gentleman helps others to realize what is good in them; he does not help them
what is bad in them. The small man
does the opposite." - Confucius
10km outside Prince George, British Columbia
From the road
I can see the property is surrounded by rocky mountaintops and is separated
from his neighbours by a thick patch of forest with a stream running through
it. Protected and safe. A corner of the world to call your own. Along the foot
of the mountain there is a big field that has a few years' worth of alpha-alpha
to harvest and several broken-down log sheds and a barn behind a cluster of
trees protecting a wood cabin.
think there were any buildings on the property," I say as we drive past the
actually. Maybe six or seven buildings but they're all derelict. The barns and
sheds have been submerged by a beaver pond." Remy pulls into the driveway under
overhanging branches of birch and spruce that protect the entrance. The roof on
the main cabin is full of holes and part of a wall has been dismantled. He can
see me looking at the cabin in hope that it can be salvaged.
harsh," he says, jabbing his thumb toward the cabin. "It's full of mildew and
mould. There's stuff growing out of the floors." We park behind the cabin next
to a half-torn-down shed. It looks like no one has been here in a decade. Weeds
and bushes dominate the property. Planks of wood strewn across the land
haphazardly behind the main cabin. Half dismantled and abandoned. Nature taking
over, selfish for more. For a moment I wonder if my uncle has ever been here.
"Did he buy
this place over the Internet?"
It's a pretty big 16 acres. It goes all the way over there to the trees." Remy
points to where the tree line stops at the base of a small mountain. "To that
mountain over there and then to the edge of this overgrown pond." When I get
out of the truck I can see the pond eating up the main barn, which is partly
submerged in water.
show you." We grab a couple of beers and I follow Remy through the pine and
cedar trees along a trail that he has recently forged. Foliage and undergrowth,
completely protected from cars driving along the road. A world unto itself.
Ducking through a network of shrubs, we reach the pond where there are two
massive birch trees beside the water. Same height and breadth; identical.
"I was here
at night for the sunset," he says. We sit there both looking at the pond and
the setting sun in the west and there is so much I want to say, so much I feel
right now being with my brother after so long that I don't know where to
begin.Overwhelmed, we have seven years to catch up on. Looking at Remy I can
see he is experiencing the same overload. Both of us drinking and smiling.
beaver swims around and flaps its tail to talk with me," he says. "There's a
beaver dam at the end of the pond right on the edge of the property. It's
flooded the land and taken those sheds with it. Too bad we don't have a canoe."
Water like glass reflects the reddish orange of the setting sun, so calm that
in a canoe we could glide across it with one stroke of the paddle. Howling
coyotes in the trees by the foot of the mountain and other muffled sounds of
wildlife. An unexpected fear stirs somewhere deep within.
bears around here?"
say that. Black bears and Grizzlies, but I've only seen black bears so far." I
feel exposed sitting here in the woods by a pond with nothing between us and a
bear attack. Exposure and the chill of oncoming darkness send a spasm of cold
down my back.
that I don't have many fears, but there is one animal that scares me more than
anything else and it's the bear. I don't know why. I can't really explain it. I
had this dream once when I was living in Taiwan of you and me running away from
a bear. Did I ever tell you that dream?" Remy shook his head.
"No, but I've
dreamed of bears too."
"In my dream
we are running away from a big black bear. As it's catching up with you, I run
over to the bear so it begins to chase me instead. When it's gaining on me I
find a mountain bike on the hill so I hop on the bike and pedal down the hill.
You are safe but the bear is now determined to get me. As the bear is catching
up to me and just about to nibble at my heels, I pass across the border onto
American soil and the bear stops. That's when I woke up. It was so vivid I
wrote it down and gave it to my students to study. I even gave them a test on
it. Even now, six years after having the dream, I can still remember it
interesting because bears are one of my totem animals. Bears are heavy-duty
medicine. Spiritually I'm a black bear; that's why I need my space. I have no
fear of them." He lights a cigarette. Since you've dreamt of a bear, it's an
animal that will protect you, not harm you."
"I mean, are
bears common here? There weren't any
in Hong Kong. Over there I had to watch for bamboo snakes and six-inch
have to worry about snakes and spiders in these parts. It's way different here.
Canada is like Africa if you look at it from a west-as-south and the
east-as-north perspective. Different terrain, different climates, different
wild animals and even different peoples in the different geographic time zones,
just like Africa. But one can only really know this by living the semi-nomadic
life I live."
saying we're in a bear zone?"
"So how do
you protect yourself against a possible bear attack?"
"Blue has on
occasion protected me from wild game. And if you plan to go bushwhacking then you need some sort of
buffer against running into dangerous mammalia. We're right in the middle of
the Rocky Mountains here cowboy. Actually we're between the Rockies and the
Coastal Mountains. Prince George is in a plateau in the middle of two mountain
ranges. We're something like 6000 feet above sea level right now. It's barely
out of August and it may go down to zero tonight." I can see his breath when he
"I should be
warm enough in my tent, shouldn't I? My sleeping bag is effective up to five
below." Remy chuckles and shakes his head a little.
get a rig like mine. In a couple of weeks it's going to be too cold to sleep
outside in a tent. Trust me. This isn't southeast Asia." Suddenly there's a
loud THWAHMP! from the pond.
beaver saying hello. He knows we're here." I look at Remy and see how at home
he is in nature. With his full-grown beard he looks like a real mountain man in
the tradition of Jim Bridger.
"Is it a
friendly beaver?" It's a question I would never ask anyone other than my twin
brother because I know he would never attack me with sarcasm. Between twins,
having the courage to be honest is valued more than anything else.
"Yes, it is a
friendly beaver. And this is a healing pond." We both sit silently watching the
ripples on the water. Kodiak boots, worked-in denims, Indian leather jacket and
a bushy brown beard make Remy look like Gabriel Dumont - the fierce and
respected Métis buffalo hunter and loyal friend of Louis Riel during the Red
River Rebellion 130 years ago.
I ask, beginning to be aware of a new reservoir of knowledge he has.
you look into the pond you see yourself."
"Why is that
shows you that he who attacks the mirror also attacks himself. Soon the
attacker will reap what he has sown." At the same time we both look to the
water for the beaver. I shrug my shoulders. I can't see how attacking a
reflective pond can heal someone who attacks it.
because the attacker is showing his own shortcomings and therefore can see his
own faults." I look at him and then stand beside the pond. I can see my
reflection only a little since the sun is now behind the mountains. I pull at
the handles of my moustache but for the first time feel as though my moustache
is not enough. I look at Remy's beard and realize that that's what I want.
beavers and wolves and waterfalls and all this wilderness all over the place,
there must be bears around, so I'm not liking the idea of sleeping outside in
my tent up here." I look at Blue and feel the need for a protective dog.
with such a close water source like this pond," he says. I shiver. "You might
think about getting yourself a dog." I realize this is another thing I miss:
Remy expressing the exact thoughts that are in my head.
"Nice one. A
With the sun
now completely out of sight for the day, I tell him that I need to pitch my
tent before it gets dark so we walk back along the trail to the driveway and
open more beer. I pull out my tent and sleeping bag and throw them on the grass
near the cabin, just out of sight of Remy's camper. But first, perhaps as
procrastination, I get my flashlight to check out the abandoned main cabin. The
floor of the cabin is wet and soft and strewn with organic matter. Part of the
roof is exposed to the sky and there is a large pile of saw dust in the corner
of the main room where part of the wall is missing. No furniture except for an
old, torn-apart couch with mould growing all over it. Bedrooms are both
enshrouded with debris. Too bad I think as I return to pitch my tent, the cabin
is way past the point of recovery.
environment is dictating my hand more than I expected. The tent will not
suffice, and sharing Remy's camper is out of the question. But three thousand
dollars for a twenty-year-old pick-up truck and camper is way out of my budget.
An old van might be a better option only because it's cheaper. In the back of
my mind something tells me that this one-month journey to find a writer's cabin
will take longer and farther than I think.
When I'm done
pitching my tent, I go to Remy's camper. There are talismans and beads and
crystals adorning the walls and countertop. My eyes take a moment to register
what I am looking at when I look at his bed. In the semi-darkness I see a large
"It's my bear
rug," he says. "I use it to keep me warm when it gets really cold." That's when
I see the bear head, complete with teeth.
with that over you? That bear skull and the whole thing?" The only thing
missing from the bear rug are the claws.
me from the negative. As I said, the bear is one of my totem animals. It's
medicine for me. Here..." Remy reaches out and rolls his bear rug back to the far
end of his bed, and then he puts his pillow gently on top of the bear's head.
For some reason it helps me relax.
brother. Make yourself comfortable. This is my home. Bought and paid for, no
mortgage. I guess you could say I'm the only one in the family who completely
owns their own home." Thinking it's a joke I chuckle, but then I realize it's a
simple statement of fact.
I am after: buying my piece with no mortgage," I reply, nodding at him. "But
with the little amount of coin I have, it'll be tough to find something that
even resembles a home."
confidence in you man. You have a long track record of going out and getting
what you want. So what do you think of the camper?" I look around and nod.
than I thought."
campers are designed for pick-up trucks. It sleeps four: two up there in the
loft and two here where the table goes." The loft, as he calls it, is packed
with boxes and Native regalia. "I took out the table and sleep here all the
time. I like to keep it open like
"Is it warm
"I have an
electric heater I can plug in if I'm at a campsite with an outlet, but when it
really gets cold my bear skin keeps me warm enough." One side of his camper is
a long kitchen counter with a dry sink and cupboards. There's even a closet.
of space," I say. He chuckles at the use of twinspeak and then pulls out a
baggy of weed and begins rolling a joint.
"I met this
guy down at the saloon the other night who was selling some plan W so I stocked up on
"I should have
snagged some in Gastown last night." It's always good twin etiquette to have
your own supply and never to rely on your twin's resource base.
"So what do
you think about this place as a potential homestead?" I ask.
cold here, man. And there's the air issue. You'll see in the morning."
that bad here is it?"
"I'll bet you
ten bucks you'll wake up with the driest tongue in the history of mankind." He
uses the same words I usually use: in the
history of mankind. It gives me a
weird sensation as I don't think we have ever used those words between us
before. It's an expression I began to use when living in the Philippines five
that bet matey. Ten bucks, you're on." We shake hands to make it binding. I
don't think there is anything more binding than a handshake between identical
where are you thinking is a good place for the homestead?" I ask. Remy lights
the joint and thinks for a few seconds.
the land with the best geomancy
in this country is in northern BC, near the Yukon in a place called Atlin. It's
where the Indians believes Atlantis was once located before the Great Flood."
it's called Atlin. Weird eh? And
since the magnetic force from the North Pole is so strong up there, any
electronic eavesdropping or surveillance from satellites won't have the ability
to follow me. I have an electronic device in my arm you know." Coyotes growl in
the distance and the wind knocks at the camper door. Eccentric I think; Remy is
where I think we'll find the retreat we're looking for," he says. "It's like a
natural jamming force that comes from the magnetic pole and it throws off any
electronic forces. My research shows that northern BC and the Yukon are the
only areas in North America that one can live free of modern spying devices
like satellites. I should be able to heal better up there." Remy gets up and
picks out a turquoise bead from an abalone shell on the counter.
"Ah, I almost
forgot. This is a gift for you," he says. "It's a turquoise rock that will give
you the power of eloquence." For a second I'm not sure if giving me a rock is a
joke, but I am solemn as I accept it. He also hands me a cigarette. "Whenever
you give presents we, as Métis Indians, should always give a tobacco offering
too." There had always been a rumour that our mother's side of the family had
some native blood. Having a passion for history, as well as a degree in history
from the University of Toronto, Remy investigated our family tree and
discovered that we did have some Ojibwa blood from our great great grandmother.
But I wasn't convinced. Neither of us looks even slightly native.
Remy." I start to tie it onto my silver chain along with the amethyst hanging
from a leather string already around my neck.
should smudge it first before you put it on." He takes out some dried sage from
beside a pile of plants lying in the dry sink and neatly slides two fingers up
the stalk of a sage branch. All the leaves end up between his two fingers,
which he drops into another abalone shell beside the sink. Remy repeats this
action again with a second branch and then takes his lighter and ignites the
sage. Thick, fragrant smoke rises from the shell, quickly covering me in a
cloud of smoke. Remy takes an eagle wing (a series of eagle feathers that have
been fastened together to make a wing), and begins to brush the sage smoke at
your arms," he says. He smudges me around the head and torso and then finally
my feet before he does it again to my back. Only then, when the camper is
filled with smoke, is my new turquoise rock ready to go on the chain around my
neck. When we finally sit down, we can hardly see each other through the smoke
in the candlelight, but we can both hear each other's laughter.