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About Treading Water

“The slab of concrete that covers the old cemetery takes me 72 paces to walk its length, 37 its width. How practical an engineering feat, an effort to ensure that neither bones nor stories would float to the surface. There is no plaque, no grave marker, nothing to tell the low-water walker that this is the Bear Creek cemetery, 1904 – 1965.

To the south, the lake reflects the passionate blue of a spring sky. The light on the water is a scatter of diamonds, sharp against the spring green of trees, the cut of rock. To the north the lake bends gently, a graceful bowing to the mossy flank of mountain.

By June, when the dam increases its flow, this will all be under water. Now, I can see the bones of tree stumps, rows traced through the sand. Here, the foundation of a house has left a depression; there, an empty stretch that may have been a road lies like a whisper. The remains of a wharf, pilings like broken teeth, stretches beneath the water from the shore.”


The voices of the residents of Bear Creek surface in Treading Water, a novel in twelve stories. Gus Sanders, a young trapper, arrives to seek his fortune in 1904, but loses his heart, and then his life; Jake Schroeder must choose between his wartime desire to join up and his Mennonite pacifist roots; Isobel Grey, suffragette, escapes the Winnipeg protests and brings her politics with her; Dutch war bride Aliesje Milner, six months pregnant, waits at the train station for a husband whose face she can no longer remember; and young Paul Doyle’s summer job demolishing houses to make way for the new hydroelectric dam teaches him more than he bargained for. The indomitable personality of Ursula Hartmann, first child born in Bear Creek and among the last residents to leave, threads through the chapters as they trace a community from its hopeful beginnings until the day the waters rise.

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