Down Clearbrook Road
Commit a poem to paper, then do what it says.
Several Aprils ago, I made this poem for Yarrow Community School during an ArtStarts residency celebrating National Poetry Month and Earth Month. Later, it travelled on BC Transit as part of the Poetry in Transit program.
April, 2023, in the Age of Heat Domes and Atmospheric Rivers, it’s still speaking to me so I was walking instead of driving down Clearbrook Road in Abbotsford, B.C. yesterday. I’ve been inside this road’s thick and incessant traffic din. It was louder out on the sidewalk, and I noticed a detail I’d been missing during years of driving by:
A four-sided sidewalk stamp framing every tree, appearing eerily like a gravestone with its fading epitaph, a vestige of what the neighbourhood might have been over half a century earlier—quieter, maybe even birdsong back when people had more time to walk and Funk’s Grocery Store sold Mennonite farmer sausage at the corner of South Fraser Way and Clearbrook Road.
The Funk family had begun their businesses twenty-four kilometres east, in Yarrow where they lived in a house on Community Street. (I used to write poems in an upstairs room of that house, another story.) In 1955, the same year the family opened their store in Clearbrook, a class of Grade Three students from Yarrow School took a field trip, experiencing a portion of the last ride of the B.C. Electric Railway which had been running from downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack (stopping in Yarrow) since 1910. According to the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society, after that trip most of the train cars were burned at the rail yard under the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver, and the Number One Highway began its reign.
Friday, April 21, 2023, rain or shine: Still listening to the footprint poem, I’ll start on bike from my home in Yarrow at 5 a.m. and ride 34 kilometres along Vye Road and other back roads as well as the Number 11 Highway to the West Coast Express’s Mission Station. I’ll board the 7:25 a.m. train with my bike to Vancouver’s Waterfront Station, then ride 5.5 kilometres to Queen Alexandra School on East 10th and Clark, where I’ll listen to and watch my sister Cindy Nickel’s Grade Three class perform their poems for jumping rope (I’ve been working with them on Zoom and by e-mail). I hope to find some rail car ghosts before heading back the way I came, and plan to arrive back in Yarrow at about 7 p.m.
I’ll post about these adventures in a week on Earth Day. Happy Poetry and Earth Month!