Your husband has vanished while camping on the coast of British Columbia. They found his boat, a 25-foot cedar launch christened the Caprice; he’s presumed drowned.
You live with your five young children in the wilds of British Columbia, but you were raised in an upper class Quebecer family, and they’re urging you to come home. What do you do?
Dinner over, and the bunks made up, we rowed slowly into the end of the bay. From the cool, dark woods behind, the thrushes called and called with their ringing mounting notes.
If you’re Wylie Blanchet, you rent out your cottage instead. You load the children and the dog on the Caprice, and set out to explore the coast. And you do it again every summer—June to October —for fifteen years.
This is neither a story nor a log; it is just an account of many long sunny summer months, during many years, when the children were young enough and old enough to take on camping holidays up the coast of British Columbia. Time did not exist; or if it did it did not matter, and perhaps it was not always sunny.
With the rent, and some money from freelancing—Blanchet’s writing appeared occasionally in the Atlantic Monthly and Britain’s iconic Blackwood’s Magazine—she and the children wandered. They carried a copy of Captain Vancouver’s logbooks and sometimes followed the routes of his voyages.
They anchored in remote bays, rode out south-easters, shot rapids, got lost in the fog atop cliffs, explored deserted Kwakiutl villages, and occasionally met other pilgrims in that great wilderness—both human (a hermit who reads Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Emerson) and animal (whales, seals, cougars, bears).
I am supposed to look calm and collected at such moments, and my crew watch me furtively to see that all is well.
At home, Blanchet played the piano and violin. Here, when her old four-cylinder Kermath engine sighed and died, she cleaned and gapped the plugs, cleaned the magneto points, ground the valves, replaced the missing pin in the timing shaft coupling with a nail: whatever it took. When push came to shove, she got in the dinghy and rowed, towing the motorboat, at less than a mile per hour. Her children called her Capi (short for Captain), but she was navigator, mechanic, cook and medic as well.
Blanchet comes across as a woman of courage, humor and intelligence, who loves the water, is drawn to the mystical, and wears both her courage and her learning lightly. She’s also an intensely private woman who manages to reveal almost nothing else about herself or her family. You see the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and of places now long vanished, but on the fabric of daily life Blanchet is silent.
Each fall when the days got shorter and the nights got colder and the maple lit their warning signals, Little House reached out, gathering us in. . . . [A] time always came when the big south-easter kept us tied to a sheltered bay—or worse when it wasn’t sheltered and you spent a couple of miserable nights up every hour checking your bearings. . . .
Blanchet spent the winter homeschooling the children: reading aloud, studying the places they’d been, going for long hikes.
And then, years later, she wrote a memoir, condensing those fifteen summers into one. The Curve of Time was published in England—a mere 700 copies—in 1961. Later that year, Blanchet died at her typewriter, aged 70, while working on a sequel. In 1968, a tiny British Columbia publisher republished her little gem. Word spread, and it’s been on the B. C. bestseller list pretty much ever since—sales still surge every summer—until the list owners decided, in 2007, not to report books more than a year old.
Sixty feet above the sea, at the very edge and nonchalantly stepping off into space, poised a stunted fir tree. Time and the weather had worried and worn it—but there it persisted, sharp and simple as a Japanese print with the sea and snowpeaked Mount Baker in the background.
And that’s The Curve of Time. Don’t leave the summer without it.