Wordcarpenter Books
Road Sailors
 
  17

  "What can a man do with music who is not benevolent?" - Confucius

 Tagish, the Yukon

I get up early and take a drive to find Tagish Estates that the German in Atlin told me about, but they end up being too claustrophobic - square lots with few trees built in the middle of a field without any water around. The land simply isn't sexy enough so I return to our makeshift camp where I meet up with Remy. We decide to take our coffee to go in an effort to reach Whitehorse before nightfall.

The sun shines to its fullest in the blue sky as we pass wintergreen forests carpeted with butterscotch pine needles. Grace and justice in the balance of nature that stirs the healthy aspects of my instinct. Old knots in my person begin to unwind as we drive deeper north into the Yukon. Nothing but trees and rock un-manicured by the hand of hand and illustrations of the battle of nature with fallen trees and creeks crashing through the brush overtaking ground lost to the advent of time.

We enter Whitehorse through a valley bleached by the sun. All along the east side of the highway the mountain range is parched white from the sunsets. I don't know what the official colours of Whitehorse are but they should be white and blue: the bright white sheen of exposed rock on the mountain slopes facing west and the light blue of the cloudless sky.

In town Remy and I pass several busy taverns and then stop at a hotel bar, where there are natives hanging out in the parking lot. Remy parks way to the other side, maybe thirty yards away from the hotel, whereas I park halfway between the two extremes, far enough away from the loitering Indians and out of visual distance of Remy. Parked and relieved we made Whitehorse, I go to Remy's camper.

"Cool vibe! Looks like a party town," he says, relishing his new geography. "It's Saturday night pilgrim." Remy flicks his hair back and looks like the brother I knew when we were kids. He rolls up a joint and I bite into a Dill pickle and slobber on the front of my jacket.

"So you like this place?"

"Yeah, so far. We'll see how my dreams are tonight. I haven't seen any planes following me today or UFOs, but then again I haven't been looking for them." I really don't know if he's joking or not, which bothers me. There should never be a cleavage in our mutual understanding.

"No UFOs, that's good."

"Above the 60th parallel. A new vista. No electronic turbulence. The natural magnetic force from the pole is throwing radar out of whack so those peoples who follow me can't track me. We're protected here. My implant in my arm isn't transmitting." The knot of worry returns to my gut so I guzzle more beer before we leave for the bar. Remy follows my pace of libation intake.

"Where's your implant?" I ask as nonchalantly as I can, as if I'm asking about the weather. He rolls up his sleeve and shows me a half-inch long scar on his forearm near his elbow.

"I got it when I was pierced. Have I ever shown this to you before?"

"No."

"Sometimes I feel like ripping it out but it would be too bloody." I tell him about the dream I had a few nights ago, about throwing the stone and then the two boys putting an electronic device in my arm.

"Interesting," he says. "And yet you still don't believe me."

"I never said that."

"I can see it in your eyes Trapp. He who is free of sin cast the first stone," he says. The same words coming out of his mouth. Another eerie coincidence.

"What do you think it means?"

"Seriously?" I nod. "You arrived in Canada and are now throwing a stone to find a new home in the country, like a fisherman casting his line in the water. But finding a home might be more difficult than you think and might cause some blood. But you also have to search with respect for the laws of spiritual cleanliness and for the people of this land and for the land itself. You must learn to have love in your heart and get rid of anger and resentment that is still there. God will watch you and activate the electronic device in your arm until you learn how to love your neighbour. Only then will you have the devices removed and grow into a bigger man." There is a creeping, prickly sensation that wanders up the back of my neck in the silence. I shake my head in amazement.

"Easier said than done," I mutter.

"But you said it yourself. You decided to clean up the blood with profound sincerity only if they treated you with respect, right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So that's how you do it. You need that genuine, unfeigned affection in your heart for everyone and you will see how they will all react in kind, the same way as the Indian with the cheekbones in your dream."

"So why did the children remove the electronic device from my arm after I helped clean up the mess? Because I showed respect?"

"Because the guilt from committing the act was causing you the pain. Once you faced up to it by cleaning up the mess you made and treating those you assaulted with respect and humility, the pain that had troubled you disappeared." I sit in silence thinking about it.

"How-" I begin to ask but Remy already knows my question.

"Because dreams are an important part of the Red Man's culture. Reading dreams is a way of figuring out how to heal people - and yourself. They are divine signs from the Creator."

"Is-"

"Yes. That why I sleep-in and write my dreams down." He lights another candle and we both drink more beer.

"Well I think it may mean something else."

"What's that, cowboy?"

"I thought it might symbolize my resistance to accepting my Indian blood. You seem to have embraced it whole-heartedly but I'm still resisting it. I grew up white and now, in my late thirties, we learn that we're part Indian? It's a bit much, non? And it's a serious hit, enough at least to cause a paradigm shift. So I've been keeping the whole thing at bay. After all, we're only about one-sixteenth Red Man or something like that."

"So then the dream is showing you that you should embrace your Indian side."

"Well, yeah. Once I decided to help clean up the blood, the Indian with the cheekbones and the two kids responded positively to me. Showing respect is a big deal in native culture, isn't it? So when I changed, the searing pain in my arm ceased. Once I stopped walking away from the issue and treated the natives - and by extension the native way of life - with respect, I was treated with respect. Or in other words, once I respected the notion of being Metis, the pain disappeared."

"Highly sallassie," he says pensively.

"Perhaps the Creator is telling me to go native like you?"

"Or is showing you the way to healing the anger in your heart." Exposed and naked, I feel like I'm in a fishbowl for others to see but that I cannot. It's all a bit close to the bone for me so we finish our beers and explore Whitehorse. In the Arctic air, we walk to the Belvedere Hotel, the place where David Miller played with his band many years ago, which is also the oldest-looking tavern in downtown. The last part of the walk we are arm-and-arm and swaying in exaggerated turns like a meandering stream. We both have drunk our share of beer and the alcohol has gone a long way to ease my anxiety about satellites and FUBAR radar. Pausing for a moment when we get to the wooden doors of the tavern, we both straighten our posture and walk into the bar trying to look relatively sober. The long drive north has exhausted me. We sit at a table in front of a band on stage. Remy is full of beans and can't sit still.

"Well, we made it," he says.

"We have indeed." I'm flat and deflated so Remy jumps up and starts bopping up and down like a yo-yo on the dance floor with a little brunette swinging her hips. His dancing technique is infectious: halfway through the song there are a half dozen people on the dance floor but by the end of it there are a dozen people up there being as silly as Remy. He is in rhythm and in his flow and his body has become one with the guitar and he twangs himself like he is at the mercy of the music and completely dedicated to the beat. The band plays several encores and there is Remy's head going up and down, clearly the tallest of all the dancers in front of the stage. But he has a slight bend in his posture that makes him stand out from the rest. I can't help feeling sad as I watch him from the table and nurse my beer witnessed such a brash display of his freedom of self. Where does it come from? Am I too sinned with pride to let loose like that?

During one of the breaks Remy talks to the keyboardist and they go out for a smoke with a few of the band members. When they come back and hit the stage they jump into a cool riff and then the guitarist strums a series of solos that has the keyboardist shaking his head up and down looking at Remy who is like a malleable pogo-stick the way he dodges the beat and leans back as if someone if pulling his hair. "Houy! Hiiiiigh!" he yells. Grunts and groans are smothered by the notes blasting out of the Gibson and the bass in the midst of smashing percussion that hammers home the groove and lights spray to the corners of the saloon and come back to the dance floor as if controlled by Remy's fingertips. His head balls around, hair all over the place, and his feet move as if governed by Bacchus himself. People are drawn to him like metal to a magnet: a hub of energy that those around him feed off gaining some elixir of life like the magic potion of Getafix of Gaul that makes you levitate against gravity and look down on that other life that holds you back and doesn't let you breathe. Like birds around a feeder they suck from Remy and bask in his light offering no acknowledgment that it is he who is giving them the excuse to shed their skin and master the Now. This is his bar, his place and tonight Whitehorse is his city but Remy doesn't live in a town or city, he lives in a country. Five thousand kilometres of traveling and sleeping in his camper and he is single-handedly energizing the whole pub. People who see him bouncing around say this is where the party is; Whitehorse, the Yukon, this band, this bar, right now is all Remy knows. This is the movie and tomorrow doesn't exist - the iron is hot now! He bounces right up to the singer on the stage and bellows lyrics of a cover song he knows by heart and I hear the signature cadence of his voice coming from the speakers in all four corners of the saloon. Even the old timers and regulars at the long bar turn and watch the sudden party that has sprung up spoking outwards from one lone figure with the big head and long hair all over the place. The song goes on as some extended remix with more guitar solos and the keyboardist going crazy with an arm flailing like Remy. I can see Remy's medicine bundle flopping up and down on his hip from his belt that follows his movements and smokers come out of the smoking room and follow the buzz on the dance floor. The floor is over-flowing now and the air is thick with screaming guitars and lights flashing and drumsticks whipping the skins all balanced on a bass riff that holds the entire precipice afloat with one tall dancer a beacon of energy emitting joy without a care in the world.

I, on the other hand, sit in the corner with droopy posture and piercing shoulder pain unable to shake a profound sadness in my heart. Yes, I think to myself, we're both mirror extremists, one in the north and the other in the south.

 


 

18

  "To attack a task from the wrong end can do nothing but harm." - Confucius

Whitehorse, the Yukon

Later, without each other knowing, Remy and I leave the saloon at the same time and bump into each other on the street after having just lost each other in the melee. Just as we had walked to the bar arm-in-arm we walk back to our campers the same way though this time he's leaning on me to keep his balance. Remy is now very drunk but he makes it back to his camper for the night. When I walk over to my rig near the hotel I see a native woman standing beside the parking lot in the sub-zero temperature trying not to be seen. I decide to approach her. A mixture of curiosity and compassion compels me.

"Hey, are you OK?" I ask her. The woman moves from the corner of the parking lot towards me.

"Yes," she says.

"Why are you outside in the cold?"

"I have no place to stay. My roommate won't let me in." She looks miserable.

"Are you warm enough? It's cold tonight." I walk closer. She is short and has wet hair with a dirty hood that is crumpled to one side in the freezing rain. I can tell she's not dressed warm enough for the wet and cold night air.

"Do you want to have a smoke in my rig? I was going to smoke one before I went to bed." She's suspicious until I point at my camper twenty feet away. "That's mine. I drove from Prince George." She's weary but after a moment she cautiously accepts and climbs in the passenger door. I start my truck and put on the heat first, then turn on the music and begin rolling a joint.

"Would you like a cigarette?"

"Yes," she says. She tells me her name is Theresa when I hand her a cigarette.

"The heat's on full blast. It should warm up in a minute." There is a silence after I light her smoke for her. "I've just spent part of my life in Hong Kong so I'm not used to this cold."

"What are you doing here?" Her question is a reflex.

"Looking for a cabin to buy so I can finish writing a book about China." It sounds out of place and pretentious. "I'm travelling with my brother who's over there in that camper." I point to Remy's Dodge.

"A cabin?" I light the joint and pass it to her. She takes it casually and then gives it back after three really quick puffs - just like David Miller.

"I'm Métis Indian," I say in an effort to make her feel more comfortable. It's the first time I have ever uttered these words. Theresa studies me for a moment and then seems to relax. It's beginning to warm up.

"The government demolished my cabin," she says. "The government said they wanted a new waterfront so they took down all our homes." With her eyes she motions towards the Yukon River behind us.

"What, down here?"

"Yes, by the river. Want to see?"

"OK." I bring my flashlight and Inge. Theresa leads me across the back of the parking lot to the hidden shoreline of the mighty Yukon River. It flows with such force that just being close to the riverbank makes me think that one small slip and the current will carry me to the Bering Sea. On a trail along the edge of the river, Theresa grabs my hand in the darkness to bring me closer, the light rain on the verge of snow, which makes it perilous walking so close to the mercurial current of the Yukon. We come to remnants of a wooden cabin with a tarp beside it.

"They took everything away from us, all of our houses along the river. Now we don't have no place to stay." She says someone had been staying in the demolished cabin during the summer and used the plastic tarp as rain protection. Theresa takes me down farther along the Yukon to the ruins of an old wooden cabin with walls but without a roof, but the surviving walls are only a few feet high. Weeds trample over what's left of the hut. We pass through some wooded bush - the only bush left along the Yukon River in Whitehorse - to a half-standing cabin made with crumbling sticks and a transparent tarpaulin no bigger than ten feet by ten feet. There are plastic bags used for a bed mat and there is a ratty blanket in the corner farthest from the river's edge. In the dark and drizzle, it is a depressing sight. The riverside has been bulldozed in preparation for a waterfront that still hasn't been built.

"My brother stays here sometimes. We have nowheres to go. Nowheres to meet." I notice a plastic bag has clothes in it. Everything is wet about to turn into ice.

"Isn't there anyone to stand up for you in government? I mean don't you have a tribal leader fighting against these bills that are passed in government that affect your life?" She doesn't say anything as Inge sniffs at the entrance to the broken-down hut. It is sad, not only in cause but in effect.

"What the government don't know was that those was our childhood homes." I shine my flashlight on the hut and see mud and weeds intermingled with a ripped sleeping bag soaked wet from the freezing rain.

"He sleeps here with no roof?" Theresa nods.

"We have no place to go. The white man took away our homes here where we have lived for generations. Where else do we go?"

"I don't know," I say softly.

"There are lots of us who have lost our homes and who can't find anywheres to live besides the apartments at the hotel." She tells me Whitehorse has the highest consumption of alcohol per person in Canada? She looks older from sleeping on the streets and from drinking to stay warm. Her bitterness is so entrenched that it is etched in her face and has become the foundation of her person, her primary beef and the basis of her orientation. Theresa's resentment has consumed her so that there is no trace of a smile left on her face. As I look at her under the stark reality of moonlight, all I can feel is compassion that is hampered by the chill from the massive Yukon River. With my hair now soaking wet the cold finally sends a shiver down my spine, sending a shock through my system.

"It's cold tonight."

"Not yet. It's only September." Theresa looks so miserable in the drizzle her hair and face wet in the rain. We decide to leave her brother's hut and walk along the trail back to my camper. There is nothing by the riverbank anymore except the chronic waft of humiliation for her and the wolf's lair of her resentment.

Back in my camper, I set her up in the other bed after I remove the fold-down table. After a few minutes I glance down at her.

"Comfortable?" She grunts something and then turns.

"I come up there with you, OK?" She crawls into my loft and snuggles up right against me. She is in my spare sleeping bag while I am in my own sleeping bag covered with a heavy blanket. I cover her too. Under the warm blanket we fall asleep listening to the rain rattle the roof of my camper. That night, sleeping beside Theresa, I have a short but powerful dream.

I dreamt of a number, that I am exactly two-ninths blood Indian, enough anyway to make me Métis. Remy was taught that if you have one drop of native blood within sixth generations then you are considered Métis - that your skin may be white but your spirit is red. Just sleeping beside Theresa brought my ancestor spirits close to me, my dream being infiltrated with benevolent ancestor spirits. I wake up in the morning knowing something about myself I have never been sure of before: I am Métis Indian.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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