Jun 30, 2012


My first visit to Banff was really an instant response to a grainy, black-and-white photo in a book called The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald. Upon arrival (the book still in hand) I stood in front of the colonial castle of a building depicted in the photo. On the slopes of the magic mountain stood the ominous, yet inviting Banff Springs Hotel, but it had the feel of a sanatorium, and the mountain behind it was perhaps the only one in the world named after an element in the Periodic Table. Sulphur gave me full permission to name all the mountains close-by: Cadmium, Strontium, Aluminum… They were hills really, but I called them mountains anyway.
The streets in the town were all named after wild animals (Lynx, Gopher, Wolf, Cougar). From Grizzly I noticed a thin veil of fog and apricot coloured dots by the green ridge of Mount Sulphur. Clumps of pure gold as if on fire. I have little recall now whether it was Mary or Chantal at the Parks museum who introduced me to a tree called a larch: a peculiar conifer that turns yellow in fall and sheds its needles (as soft as the material silkworms end up making). The larches made me climb up Sulphur, and along the ridge I also “discovered” an abandoned cosmic ray observatory.
Whenever I recall Banff I cannot help but think of cosmic rays and neutrinos. Particles that go right through you. No charge. Almost no mass. Ghost particles. They are all around us, invisible, dancing. Tens and thousands of them, passing through things immersed in time, and passing through things immersed in space, and SPACE in Banff really belongs to the natives, and the names they gave to the mountains continue to have a ghostly presence. Sleeping Buffalo, the original name given to the mound colonial engineers relabelled Tunnel Mountain. The Cloud Maker, more appropriate and beautiful than Mount Rundle, named after a missionary.