In the early 1970s, Tarn Wilson’s father quit his job as the Brookings Institution’s first computer programmer, packed his family into a converted school bus with “Suck Nixon” painted on the side, and headed for the Canadian wilderness. He planned to give his two young children an Edenic childhood, free from the shadows of war, materialism, and middle class repression.
In charming, poetic language, Wilson captures vivid memories of early childhood on British Columbia’s Texada Island: her father’s stories of elves, fairies, and birthday weasels; her mother’s transition from suburbanite to pioneer woman; her own growing love affair with words. But her father’s idealism soon crashes against the reality of her mother’s growing loneliness and the children’s need for structure, and the family begins its slow disintegration.
Between each lyric chapter, told from the child’s point of view, Wilson incorporates “artifacts” that reveal larger cultural forces shaping her parents’ decisions: letters, photographs, timelines, newspaper clippings, excepts from radicals approaches to child rearing. In the space between the child’s vision and the adult context, readers are invited to consider the gifts and burdens of a counterculture childhood.
When the cop car door opened, it released a heavy silence. Two officers and a dog stepped out. The officers’ hair, the color of mice, was cropped even as a mowed lawn—not like the Slow Farm men whose long hair soaked up smells of sweat, wood smoke, and stir fry.
I saw the Slow Farm through police eyes: the tall weeds on the side of the road, several cars without engines in front of the barn, two children with dirty feet and scabbed legs.
I liked the officers’ tidiness, the clean lines of their uniforms. At school, I had learned the police help kittens and children and old people.
The police dog was a German Shepherd with black around his mouth and eyes. I wanted to pet him, but he put his nose to the ground and started running back and forth on the length of his lead, as thoroughly and systematically as Janet with her carpet sweeper.
Jack walked toward them, wiping the grease from his hands on his jeans. “Can I help you?”
“We got a report of drugs on this property. We have to follow up. You understand.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Jack’s voice was natural, but I felt a stiffness traveled up his spine.
“We need to search the house.”
“Go ahead,” Jack said.
As the police strode toward the door, Rima and I tried to grab Jack’s hands. He pulled them away.
“Why are they here? Why do they have the dog? What’s the dog doing?”
“He’s sniffing for drugs.” Jack looked straight ahead. “If they ask you any questions, just say you don’t know.”
I felt as if black ants were biting the backs of my legs. If those officers asked me any questions, the truth might burst right out of me without my permission. The grown-ups would all go to jail and it would be my fault.
“By stepping outside her personal version, Tarn Wilson deftly turns memoir into an interactive project.”
—from Judith Kitchen’s Introduction
Tarn Wilson has settled in the heart of shiny and fast-paced Silicon Valley, so far from the outhouses and kerosene lamps of her rural Canadian childhood, that she sometimes feels as if she’s lived two hundred years. So she tromps through the hills as often as she can, identifying plants and spying on animals. In a typical week, she devotes her mornings to writing at her red desk—and recently has been published by Brevity, Defunct, Gulf Stream, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Inertia, Ruminate, South Loop Review, and The Sun, among others. In the afternoon, she teaches high school students, who hail from all over the world and who never stop impressing her with their creativity and courage. She’s led writing workshops at programs across the US, from Maine to Oregon. She earned a master’s in education from Stanford and an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
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