Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart
wrote David Guterson in Snow Falling on Cedars. Perhaps it is the location of Guterson’s novel, set on an island tucked in the strait between the state of Washington and Vancouver Island, that makes the accidental more likely.
Visiting Canada in July, we travelled from Vancouver deep into the interior of British Columbia. On the Trans-Canada Highway as one journeys towards the Rockies is the pretty town of Revelstoke, on the Columbia river, surrounded by mountains and with its heritage buildings, it is an attractive place to pass time.
Staying at a house in an idyllic setting, we enjoyed the hospitality of an English family who had emigrated to Canada four years ago. Breakfast was taken at a big wooden table in the stone-floored, timber-beamed kitchen. A German couple shared the table with us; they were delighted with their visit. we were heading southwards for Nelson and then westward to Penticton; they were going the other way, to Whistler and then to the coast to cross to Vancouver Island. We returned to Vancouver for the last two nights of the visit, staying in Richmond, just to the south of Vancouver city.
The last morning brought one of those loose end days. Thoughts were on the early evening flight rather than on what might be done in the time that remained.
Just to the south of Richmond is the scenic fishing village of Steveston; we drove there planning to walk along the waterfront and find somewhere for coffee. Wandering to the edge of the village, we discovered a history trail along the boardwalk to the south. Boards with photographs told the history of the area; tales of the fishing industry and the fish factories that had stood on the water’s edge. The boards told of the communities that had lived and worked in the village – communities that had included the Japanese. Steveston lies about thirty miles north of the San Juan Islands; this would have been territory familiar to Guterson’s characters.
There were few people around when we discovered a house that had been furnished as it would have been for the Japanese family who had lived there before the Japanese community was sent into internment in 1942. Standing in the house, pondering the quirks of history, we were joined by two other visitors.
I watched them, they had a vaguely familiar look; the man turned and saw me. “You are from Ireland?” He asked.
The couple with whom we had shared the breakfast table some four hundred mile away; who had travelled in a different direction; who weren’t even staying nearby; had arrived in this Japanese house.
“Do you know Snow Falling on Cedars?” I asked.
“Yes”, he said, “I was just saying to my wife that this was the experience of the people in the story”.
Only afterwards did I think that this was the experience of the people in more ways than we had imagined – accident did indeed appear to rule every corner of the universe.