Wordcarpenter Books

Road Sailors

13

  "Artful words will ruin one's virtue; the lack of self-restraint

in small matters will bring ruin to great plans." - Confucius

 
Junction 37, the Yukon

Junction 37 is where the Cassiar Mountain Highway meets the Mississippi of northern roadways: the mighty Alaska Highway. It consists of a gas station and an old saloon that is already closed for the season. There is also a campground that's closed. It's so quiet and my hangover is so intense that I can hear the grunts and calls of wildlife echo from the world of spruce and yellow poplars. Life stirs amid the hum of Nature. My nerves are raw and my head is in a vice but I enjoy the cool air and the quiet of the Yukon. I wonder if it's the first bout of silence and calm I've had since my departure in 1997. I can't remember the last time I experienced such stillness unsullied by the noise of man's motorized toys. I can hear the swoosh of wings of the birds flying south above me and the woodpeckers hammering away to build their homes. Up here the birds fly in seamless arrows all in a symmetrical line down to the last bird. And as I watch the birds pass overhead, the sky looks close enough to touch.

I'm tired from walking Inge around the campground and exhausted from my restless late-morning sleep. I can't stop reflecting on my night's drive from Dease Lake and I keep asking myself the sober questions I should've asked myself before I left: what would have happened if my rig broke down from overheating or from a flat tire? It's only this morning upon pained rumination that I realize I don't have a jack. Despite having a spare tire, I don't have the right tools to fix it. And now, as I sit here with Inge in my fragile state, I'm crippled with worry of how I'm supposed to track down Remy if he doesn't show up. My walkie-talkie is out of juice and I don't have the re-charger. Recklessness is nothing new to me but when my recklessness puts me in mortal danger, it becomes just plain stupid. I still have yet to adjust to the pace of life in rural Canada.

The quiet of the day makes the time pass slowly. Inge looks at me as if she were asking where Blue is. My hands shake and my stomach is a delicate bundle of nerves so I reluctantly sip on one of the beers that are leftover from last night's party to try to calm myself. I read through a book I bought at the gas station about the Tlingit tribe that inhabit the area around Atlin. It should be good reading but I can't concentrate. I keep looking up for Remy but am continually disappointed by the big trailers with American licence plates that drive by. It takes me a while to realize that it's not so much me that I'm worried about but Remy. When I was away, I purposely lived my life as carefree as I could muster, but now, reconnecting with my brother, I feel a long-overlooked responsibility returning. That carefree life of reckless irresponsibility not only affects me but now Remy as well. Being such a scallywag for so long, it's strange to think of anyone else other than myself. Just as these thoughts are crossing my mind, I see the brown Dodge emerge from the distance driving along at a very moderate speed. There is mud covering most of the front grill and I can see Blue first before I can make out Remy's face behind the sunglasses. He pulls up and parks right beside my road buggy.

"God, I found you!" His voice is weak with the same killer hangover.

"I was worried sick Remy. Let's not split up again." My voice is weak like his.

"OK, deal. No more splitting up." We are both feeling tired but are soon feeling better eating pretzels and drinking Coors Light at a picnic table in the campground. There is so little traffic up here that the forests are deafening with silence.

"How was your ride?" he asks, his eyes bloodshot but brave.

"It was wild. I flew over the potholes at 80 or 90 most of the way. It was like...like road sailing: sailing on rubber tires over choppy roads. I went fast enough to skim over the bumps for the most part. I hit a few biggies but hopefully no permanent damage to the rig."

"Road sailing. I like that. Road sailors."

Despite the fact that the campground is closed, we both park our rigs in separate berths give each other his space. The layered grumblings of coyotes and a chorus of birds singing fill the hung-over silence between us. Again I am reminded that the forests here in the north are teeming with wildlife. An old world unseen by most. Only extremists make it here.

The following morning we take our coffees and dogs into our respective rigs and leave the campground unbothered by any campground officials. We depart Junction 37 for Atlin due west along the Alaska Highway with Remy leading the way. The smooth road slips and turns its way through the passes, and the exposed grey rock is arresting to my eye after a thousand miles of thick woods. Then I see a beacon: a small red-and-white radio tower perched high on top a small peak not far from the highway. There is what looks like a huge sub-woofer in the middle of it facing east and another one on the other side facing west. That pilot in Dease Lake was right, and Remy's theory about geomancy is holding true.

We only stop once all day for gas until we hit Teslin, a town about halfway to Atlin where we find a deserted campground near a river. We camp for the night in separate berths. During the night the temperature drops to below zero and my sleeping bag is tested. The Yukon's sharp mountains scream in bitter cold silence. Only a deaf man cannot hear the cackling laughter in the shadows of the Yukon night. Up here I there is no sugar coating, no diet soda for the weak at heart. Only the primal scream of that which the weak call injustice is experienced this far north. Hard laws of nature are still in power up here, a land that can kill those who choose to ignore man's healthy instincts and who choose the comfort of cotton over the scratchiness of wool.

After coffee the next day, Remy and I walk with Inge and Blue to the river where we stop and read the historical plaque beside the fast-moving water. It reads:

TAGISH

This region has traditionally been the home of the Tagish Indian people. The word ‘Tagish' has evolved from the Tagish name Taagish Too' E' and the related Tlingit word Taagish Heeni, meaning the place where the ice goes out.

Contact with the outside world came in the last century. In 1897, during the Klondike Gold Rush, the North West Mounted Police established a post upstream from here. The post operated as a post office, customs station and mining recorder, as well as checkpoint for the thousands of boats that past this point on their way to Dawson City. 

A forgotten history is whispered from the water. The coldness of the water seeps into my denims and the wind bites through making my kneecaps feel like pieces of ice ready to shatter at any sudden movements. I feel the endless rhythm of nature at my feet from the sticks and the mud and the ripples of the current under the bridge and I hear Mother Nature in the wind through the trees and am aware of the vibrations of time flowing in front of me. Hardship and suffering and death lie muted and trampled in the gentle soothing hum of the water. The Yukon really is Canada's true north.

"It's strange to think that the first contact with white men was only a hundred years ago," I say.

"What's strange is that this place is called Teslin and Tagish Indians came from here, but the town of Tagish is another day's drive due west."

Back at the campers we eat a breakfast. Mine consists of corn chips, Dill pickles and coffee as we both study the map.

"Should hit Atlin today," I say with alacrity.

"I concur. Let's do some road sailing." The mischief is there in his grin when we both start our engines, but since it's so cold we let the engines warm up and each proceed to roll a joint. We spark them up at the same time and drive off laughing on our way to Atlin. We pass by the purple mountains beside the curving Alaska Highway to where there is a break in the mountains. The winds shake our campers like toys.

We reach the natural part in the land at the top of the hill and the crest in the landscape. For most people it's just a sign along the road, but for me it's like reaching the Arctic Watershed: a tangible mark on the map. It reads:

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

THIS HEIGHT OF LAND DIVIDES TWO OF THE LARGEST DRAINAGE SYSTEMS IN NORTH AMERICA. THE YUKON RIVER AND MACKENZIE RIVER WATERSHEDS.

WATER DRAINING WEST FROM THIS POINT FORMS THE SWIFT RIVER. THIS RIVER DRAINS INTO THE YUKON RIVER AND CONTINUES A NORTHWEST JOURNEY OF 3,680 KILOMETRES (2,300 MILES) TO THE BERING SEA (PACIFIC OCEAN).

WATER THAT DRAINS TO THE EAST FORMS THE RANCHERIA RIVER WHICH FLOWS INTO THE LIARD RIVER THEN THE MACKENZIE RIVER. THESE WATERS FLOW NORTHWARD AND EMPTY INTO THE BEAUFORT SEA (ARCTIC OCEAN) AFTER A JOURNEY OF 4,200 KILOMETRES (2,650 MILES).

A few hours past the continental divide, Remy stops on the shoulder so I park in front of him. This time it's Remy who gets out of his rig.

"This is it. We turn left here and go due south, and we'll hit Atlantis." There's only a decrepit road sign that indicates the turn off. I'm surprised he saw it. There's a lake behind the sign along the road to Atlin that sparkles under the sun.

"Major Louie then," I say. Somehow Remy lights a smoke in the wind.

"It's about a hundred klicks." We turn off the Alaska Highway for the road running south that will bring us back into northern British Columbia. For the first few miles it is a smooth, beautiful drive beside the glittering waters but soon the road turns into pothole hell. Road sailing is heavy going until finally we stop after an hour of not seeing a soul. Before getting out of my road buggy, I crack open a beer and then bring Remy a couple cold ones for the ride because I think we'll need it for the chewed up road. I tell Remy to go faster so he can sail over the turbulence, then we leave for Atlin. This time we both go fast. Sailing over the bumps from Dease Lake is enough to prepare me for this anarchy on the road. Gunning it, I fly over the majority of the bumps while Remy can't keep the pace and returns to his pussyfooting. I want to see Atlantis so I keep the throttle open and surf over the ruts. Avoiding potholes for me along the gravel road becomes a new art form. Rivets left by chains on truck tires have to be avoided at all costs because at high speed it causes a vehicle-long rattle that makes me fear I'll blow a tire, or worse that I'll break an axel. Only with delicate hands can I negotiate the steep inclines and uneven angles of the road to Atlin, running through mixed forests beside a peppering of ice blue lakes to the west. The beauty is dangerous: as soon as I look away from the road I risk hitting a pothole dead on. The beer soon makes me fearless so I hit some bigger bumps head on but knowing Remy is behind me and has a jack, I go forth with serious automobile bluster, carefree and worry-free like a condemned man on the way to his own hanging. New rules of moderation take time to fully incorporate.

I reach Atlin and drive through a village untouched by the hand of modernity. Hardware store, wood-built hospital, saloon and general store still the same as they were during the Klondike Gold Rush. Like most of the time for our generation, those who came before us plucked the fruit from its vines so we had to go without, but Atlin remains unsullied by cultural poachers as if Wyatt Earp himself had been running the saloon here and not in Dawson City. Three mountain peaks rise up from the lake like a cathedral reaching the sky.

Following the road beside the lake I come to a campground where I park at the shore. Letting Inge out, I walk to the water's edge and look at the clear bottom of the lake. I am looking at my unshaven reflection as I hear Remy's Dodge approach. He parks just out of eyesight from my camper and in a moment the dogs are busy playing. There is no one around except us.

"Beautiful," I say, as we both look at the three distinct peaks across the water.

The avalanche-striped mountains of Atlin have three equal summits that divert the eyes away from its most remarkable feature: a symmetrically balanced pyramid-shaped sister mountain that looks identical in geometry to the Temple of the Sun in Mexico. It is like a natural landing beacon right beside the highest island on a fresh water lake in the world. This island glacier is like one massive graphite antenna sticking up to heaven. It occurs to me that Atlin is the sanctuary and Garden of Eden Remy has sought for years. It is here to which he wanted to escape, his fortress against the eyes he thinks are looking at him, his safe zone from the unseen eyes in the sky. A place far off the grid and far away from a system that's broken down. Up here we can only hear the roar of the Great Quiet until a small Cessna airplane circles the lake and lands right in front of us, then drifts over to an old Klondike Gold Rush ship moored to a wooden dock behind the saloon.

"See? They still follow me," Remy says. "I try to get away and yet they still come." These words mar my revelling of the landscape, my utter euphoria of this great discovery, this special symmetry that creates a synergy greater than its parts.

"You think that plane followed you? C'mon, man."

"Of course it did! Why else would it land just at this moment? Of all the times for the plane to land. You can't tell me that's a coincidence." Remy doesn't look too upset about it; he looks indifferent.

"The sun is setting. It's rush hour here," I say.  "One plane." We both stare at the strange symmetrical mountaintops. The site is breathtaking and conjures up different thoughts.

"I'm beginning to feel as though all this outdoor beauty is affecting me," I say. "I don't know if it's because I'm a philosopher or because I've been city-bound for so long, but the forces of nature are putting me back into my original dimensions of natural elasticity. A bit more malleable and more in tune with the flow and that type of thing." Remy nods in understanding.

"Which is a good thing. You are reconnecting to the holy fabric, not so much to Christianity, but to the Holy Fabric of Nature."

"Maybe it's the symmetry of landscape." An energy is lifting me as if there's a hidden holy gemstone emanating from the glacial waters of Atlin Lake.

"I hear you pilgrim," he says as though he's reading my thoughts again. "It's the Indian in you that's coming alive - your love of nature. Being part Indian, we have a need to be outdoors because we get medicine from being in the bosom of Mother Nature." I can feel the flush on my cheeks, not from embarrassment, but from the wind and the sun and the vibe.

"I feel like I've been here before. It's an ancient déjà vu."

"Vibe el grande," he says. "It's the Holy Grail of geomancy My Son."

Just as I turn around to face Remy, a golden eagle swoops down and brushes my shoulder with its wing. Startled, I look over my shoulder at the massive bird gliding just above the ground until its long wings begin to flap, rising slowly into the sky. The eagle is so close that I can hear the delicate brushing of wings in the air.

"Did you hear that?" I say. When I look at Remy his eyes are as wide as they can be.

"Did you see that eagle? It swooped right down and bounced off your shoulder."

"I felt it brush me with its wing. I heard it too - the sounds of its wings." We are both still staring at it. The bird is the size of a flying beaver.

 "Do you realize how hardcore that is, man? It was huge. Its wing was longer than my arm!" There is only the sound of the water lapping on the stone shore as we stand at Atlin Lake lost in our own thoughts. Still we watch the golden eagle ascend higher towards the peaks across the lake. Our dogs play beside us but we only hear them. Somehow I know the golden eagle is a big deal in Remy's life view, and I wait for him to speak because it's his turf.

"The eagle is the totem animal of the east," he says finally. Remy looks closely at my shoulder where the eagle has brushed me for evidence of feathers. "That was as close to a hug you could have with an eagle. Did you see that? It swooped down and touched your shoulder! It was flying right towards me, and then it floaties on your shoulder." I see an intensity radiating from somewhere in his person emitting power. Lit up like a match to oil.

"Why?"

"It's a sign from the Creator," he says. "We are meant to be here." He takes out his cigarettes and lays a tobacco offering for the eagle. I can't hear his muttered prayer except for ‘Amen.'

Before I rankle him with questions, I let him enjoy the event with the eagle, and sit down on the picnic table by the water's edge. I realize that Remy's utter immersion in the serendipity of fate enables him to always be on the lookout for reading divine signs from above. Living in this point-zero of incongruity allows him to distil life down to the immensity of the moment - an art that has made him into a man who lives entirely in the moment. It's a way of living I had not mastered but Remy had learned how to manifest his life philosophy by becoming an artist of how to live life in the now, and in the process he had learned how to be free.

 


 

14

  "The gentleman stands in awe of three things. He is in awe of the Decree of Heaven.

He is in awe of great men. He is in awe of the words of the sages.

The small man, being ignorant of the Decree of Heaven, does not stand in awe of it.

He treats great men with insolence and the words of the sages with derision." - Confucius

Dark, cold and bone silent, there is only one place we want to go. From our travels we both know that the pub is always the social centre of any town and where we'll meet the locals. We both drive because neither of us wants to be dependent on the other. Moving through town again I realize that Atlin is almost a ghost town, a village that proudly displays plaques on its historic wooden cabins still standing from the gold rush 107 years ago.

Inside the saloon, I walk to the bar and Remy walks to the billiards table in the middle of the room under some long pool lights. It's huge inside, with high wood ceilings, wood tables, and wood floors and a long bar. I hear the familiar racking of the billiard balls as I place a pitcher of beer beside the pool table. We are halfway through our game when a long-haired guy in a denim jacket comes over to watch us play. He sips from his pint of stout and asks us where we're from.

"Tough to say," says Remy. "Never lived in one place more than two years. You?" It's true; throughout our lives we have never lived in one house longer than two years. For 20 years we were constantly moving.

"I've been here for nine years," he volunteers. "I'm the chef at the only restaurant in town." He introduces himself as Gord and places his coin on the pool table for next game.

"What brings you to Atlin?" he asks. I dislike direct questions like this aimed at my personal life.

"My brother," I answer. "He thinks Atlin has better geomancy here because we're so far north. Isn't that right Remy?" I'm aware of a woman sitting at the bar watching us play.

"So what do you think Gord? Is this Atlantis or what?" Remy's eyes are bloodshot with a turquoise hue in the middle, pee holes in the snow.

"I'm surprised you know about that," he replies. "So few people do." I can tell Gord has some education.

"Well, we're different," he says sinking the red ball.

"The Indians in these parts believe North America was destroyed more than 3000 years ago by a natural catastrophe. Only the oral traditions have been handed down through history," says Gord. "The Tlingit tribe that is in charge of this knowledge guards and protects Atlin from outsiders still to this day. They still commemorate the Great Flood and the lost civilization every year." We're both sitting on chairs because Remy is sinking a string of balls. He's in the process of clearing the table.

"You're reaching aren't you - a bit," says Remy with an encouraging smile.

"No, I don't think so. Plato described Atlantis as rich in precious metals and minerals didn't he?" Remy nods and I look on with interest. "The Chinese used to come over to the Cassiar Mountains and mine jade over the millennia. Atlin was re-discovered by miners in 1896 when Fritz Miller and Kenneth McClaren discovered gold here in what was to become known as Gold Creek. That's their statue outside on the main street."

"Haven't seen it yet. We just arrived."

"The point is that Atlin's still rich in natural resources. Case in point: a huge gold nugget was found here in 1981 weighing over 36 ounces. It became known as the ‘Atlin Nugget.'"

"So?"

"So it has minerals - like Atlantis. The We'suwet'en and Gitksan tribes of Northern BC believe that all Native peoples of the Americas originally descended from the same place in Northern BC from a place called Dzilke. They believe it was a civilization located along the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers, which is right around here. There are many legends and songs celebrating this legend."

"Yes, I've heard of that."

"So the question is: why would so many native tribes all have a similar myth about a vast civilization in Northern BC that was lost to The Great Flood? I think there must be some sort of thread of truth that binds all these stories together." Remy nods with increasing zeal.

"Where there's smoke there's fire."

"Right."

"Are they stories or historical fact?" I ask.

"Well these ‘stories' were used in court this century against the Queen of England by the Indians when they were forced to defend their traditional homelands from white pioneers. The tribes argued that they originated in Northern BC from a great civilization that was destroyed by the flood about 3000 or 3500 years ago just as I said. These stories, which were told by different Native tribes in different parts of North America, were finally taken seriously enough for a team of anthropologists to be put together in 1915. Searches for remnants of a lost civilization in 1915, 1923 and then in 1966 yielded no evidence to support the claim, but then again the mountains of Northern BC are vast. And they were looking in the mountains when I think they should've been looking underwater."

As Gord goes on about Atlin and Remy keeps sinking balls, I go to the bar for more beer and speak to a woman. She has rosy, wind-blown skin.

"Your brother hasn't lost yet," she says to me, smiling.

"He spends a lot of time in bars. Besides they're talking history and I tend to get overwhelmed with dates and bugged when fact is merged with fiction." When the bartender comes over I ask if he can turn up the music. He goes over to a stereo piled on top of a half dozen other stereos so the system looks like it packs 50 million watts.

"Are you from here?" I ask.

"I'm from Whitehorse. I came to visit an old friend of mine but there's something wrong with my car so it's being fixed right now. I'm sort of stranded at my friend's until I can get back to Whitehorse. What about you? What brings you to the Switzerland of the North?"

"I'm looking for property to buy." I bypass any mention of the word ‘geomancy' because I don't want her to think I'm weird. She says her name is Paula.

"The land here is expensive believe it or not. It's nice but it's so remote that I think even connecting electricity is costly." Still not used to the cold, I shiver. "There's fire on in there," she says, pointing to the fireplace. An old man sitting alone in front of the fire in flannel and wool.

"You're not cold?"

"No. It's warm in here." Her face is lined by past winters. A snowmobiler's face.

The bartender arrives with the pitcher of beer I ordered.

"I may need to watch the hangover tomorrow," I say, returning to the billiards table. Both Remy and Gord show signs of drunkenness but now Remy is giving it to Gord about Atlantis and all the theories he's read.

"Reports of the existence of Atlantis come from all over the world. Plato's writings mention Atlantis as does the history of Egypt under the leadership of Pharaoh Ramses III who repelled an Atlantean invasion in 1187BC." Remy glances at us to see if he should go on. Remy has a thing for historical dates. He throws around dates as if they're candy. "The etchings of these ships and helmeted warriors on the walls of Victory Temple in Egypt bare remarkable similarity with petroglyphs found in North America. This suggests the legends and rumours among the Red Man that the original location of Atlantis was in Atlin may be true. Hell, we drove all the way up here so I could find the right geomancy for my person. Over the years I've learned to have faith in the Red Man and his beliefs."

"To find out the geomancy you should marry a local Tlingit Indian like I did."

"Severe sampling technology mon ami," says Remy.

"Full dippage el grande," I say, unable to not respond to his language. "Perhaps just a taster to begin with?" Gord looks confused as Remy and I both look around the bar. There is only the snowmobiler from Whitehorse. Gord pours himself a glass of beer from our pitcher as Remy pulls me aside.

"See that woman?" He points to Paula.

"Yeah, the one with advantageous plumage I was talking to?"

"She's evil. I'd stay away from her." The words catch me off guard.

"Why do you say she's evil? She-"

"She's evil. I spoke to her before on my way to the washroom. Trust me." I think he's only being dramatic and immature. I don't see anything evil about her. Remy spills some of his beer when he drinks from a full glass. He's drinking to get drunk. Something has gotten to him.

"She doesn't seem evil to me. So I guess I'll need to discover that for myself." With these words we both know the conversation about her is over. Besides, I sink the eight ball and lose the game so Gord is up. As he racks up the balls, I ask him if there's any land for sale around here.

"Not much. Only in the subdivisions but there are only one or two plots on the market. I'm still paying off my bloody mortgage. My wife and I can't seem to get in front of the eight ball."

Now more curious about Paula, I go back to the bar with all my weight against the bar. Fatigue, beer, smokes, endless driving and a dubious diet catch up with me, but the tanned skin, fair hair and athletic build beside me makes me even weaker. Such a stunning face in the Atlin saloon so isolated and desolate.

"How are you going to get home?" I ask.

"I'm not sure. Taxi if there's a service."

"I can give you a lift if you want. My rig's outside." I tell Remy I'm driving Paula home and that I'll meet him at the campground tomorrow. Paula and I walk out to the cold night air where we stand for a moment witnessing an awesome spectacle of northern lights. In the quietness of the Great Roar, rays of light like powder from the lips of God streak across the sky like piano keys morphing into swirling forms.  The loose streaks of intangible white before us are both violent and symphonic - like nature herself.

"I can't say that I can ever remember northern lights quite like this," she says. Like moving crystals of energy bouncing off a dark canopy of black, the northern lights are silent frosted notes of the true north. I realize that these curtains of God's smile dancing in the night sky can only be experienced, like immersing oneself in the geomancy of a land.

"Do you want to go to the campground by the water to see more northern lights?" I ask.

"Sure, why not?" I drive to the campground and park just outside the grounds by the fence so I'm technically not staying in the campground and won't be charged, but instead of watching more northern lights we have our own version of northern lights in my camper
 
 

 

 

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