"A man is worthy of
being a teacher who gets to know what is new by keeping
fresh in his mind what he is already
familiar with." - Confucius
Teslin, the Yukon
day after leaving Whitehorse we wake up just outside of Teslin parked on a
logging road just off the Alaska Highway. As usual I get up earlier than Remy
as he nurtures his dreamscapes and go for a walk with Inge. After a few minutes
of hiking, I bump into an old man riding on an ATV. He stops and I see a little
yapping dog in his jacket.
you doing today, son?" he says to me. His pencil moustache is white. A rifle is
in a holster attached to the side of the vehicle. I nod at his doggy.
good detection system for the bears around here," I say. The dog is still
‘im anyway." Laughter makes him sit up in his seat.
one is my bear protector." I point at Inge.
a big one."
"And if I run into a bear? Then what do I do?"
Despite my dishevelled appearance and half-grown beard, he can tell I'm not
bred in the country so he knows the question is sincere.
run. If you see a bear somewheres in these mountains, let him know you see him
and then ease back non-threatening. Go
slow? When you're looking at a bear that can out-run you? Yeah! Easy words!"
The old man thinks this is funny.
can outrun you, sure, but they don't want to hurt you." What? They just want to
toy with you? Dangerous fiction that will get you eaten alive.
what do you do then? Walk slowly away and hope the bear doesn't run after you
and swat you down with its claws?"
son. Make sure you shut up your dog. If you don't she will be the bear's
breakfast and you don't have to worry." We share another laugh and I depart
back to the campers. Just knowing what to do if I ever were to encounter a bear
goes a long way to diffuse my fear of walking in the forests.
I return Remy is having coffee and studying his map.
should be able to hit Watson Lake today but it's a long drive," he says. I sit
down, pour myself a coffee and have a smoke.
how is it for you north of the 60th parallel?" I ask.
good actually. It's good. I don't see any planes, but I see a lot of those
beacons. Other than that this land is free of prying eyes." My mind turns back
to my suspicion that Remy left out some of the story when he told me about his
trip to Brazil.
I ask you something?"
you ever meet that guy down in Brazil with Stuart?" His eyebrows furrow and he
looks across at the sparkling lake on the horizon.
met a few of his friends down there. And sometimes-"
you think he may have been one of those people who you met inadvertently?" He
looks into my eyes.
sometimes I think that may have happened. Stuart was like that."
you didn't say you wanted to join the team?" The question causes him get up for
more coffee. I stay where I am and pat Inge, letting the question hang in the
air. When he comes out of the camper he stands in front of me with a cigarette
in his hand.
it's impossible for me to lie to you. You know that so I'll tell you this. I
told Stuart I was interested but I didn't say a definite ‘yes' to anything. I
think I may have met this guy at one of the parties but we never discussed
anything concrete. One of the chaps I met I think could have been a
recruitment officer and I think I impressed him because that evening I was in
good form. You know how I am when I'm having a good time." I nod at his
understatement. "But afterwards - after this one night when I met lots of
Stuart's friends - I thought about the whole thing and got really scared. So
the next day I told Stuart that I wasn't in to joining the firm. But you know
these guys speak in code or in roundabout ways. There were a few discussions we
had had that I thought could have been misconstrued as me being part of the
team, as you call it. And I must admit, I do from time to time think that
someone in that great apparatus in the sky does look in on me."
why would they care so much about you?" I immediately regret asking the
they may think I'm special. Could be the Pahana
thing. But at that time I was in Brazil I didn't know - but they have ways of
knowing these things. They only need to look at my file to know I have a twin
and that we're Métis and that I have certain...abilities."
I hope you don't worry about it too much big guy. I say that because I know we
have pretty strong imagination that could play into tangents that may or may
not exist. But I know I'm not one to speak." The look in his eyes desperate for
understanding and empathy instantly brings a lump to my throat and makes my
eyes water. So alone and vulnerable.
know what you're saying Trapp. And thanks for that." I look away but not before
he sees my watery eyes. I tell myself it's fatigue but I know that he needed to
voice this because he doesn't have anyone else to talk to - not like this. Then
he puts his hand on my shoulder and it's enough to throw me. I squint the tears
away and can't look at him, but I manage a nod as I instinctively cover my
mouth with my hand. I feel as close to Remy as I ever have by knowing how much
it means to him to be able to speak honestly this way. Pertinent thought
expressing real fears left unsaid only gather steam, like water in a teapot
over a fire left untouched can only reach the boiling point. It has been
crippling him for years.
on the road we continue east along the Alaska Highway that begins meandering
more and more as we hit the northern reaches of the Stikine Mountains. The
civil engineers purposely built the road like a slithering snake so if a convoy
of trucks bringing materials to Alaska were attacked by the Japanese during the
Second World War, they would be more difficult targets to strike. But that's also
why it's so well made: corners are all angled to make your rig turn by itself.
see lots of elk and caribou and bighorn sheep grazing by the side of the road
as if we were driving through a big game reserve in Africa. We pass an Indian
reservation outside Watson Lake and then slow down when we reach town. Our
trucks are dirty and worn as we pass the famous signpost park on our left. The
park, covered with hundreds of signs from all over the world, was started by
the American military when they were up here building the highway during the
war. After the long haul, we find the local tavern where two other men sit at
the bar and nurse pints.
you come in from?" asks a big-boned trucker at the end of the bar.
Remy says. "We stayed in Teslin last night in our campers. Decent drive." The
old timer beside the trucker with side burns straightens his posture.
a fair distance, that drive," says the old timer. His face tells of a hundred
brother here, who's just returned from seven years in China, is going through
shock." Remy pats me on the back as if he's checking to see if I'm all right.
I'm both lethargic and wound tight from all the driving.
anything back with you from China?" asks the trucker. I want to tell the guy
that the Chinese believe, as if it were prophecy, that the 21st
century will be the "century of the Chinese" - the moment in world history when
China will again awaken from its Napoleonic status of being a sleeping giant to become the next superpower.
But I'm not up for the verbal jousting that usually follows such a comment.
a Maoist saying," I reply. Both pairs of eyes at the end of the bar are
curious. "A frog in a well says: ‘the sky is no bigger than the mouth of my
well.'" This seems to comfort the old man but the trucker with the sideburns
frowns and ponders its meaning.
brings you here?" asks the old timer. His eyes brighten. "Work?"
looking for a homestead," says Remy. The old timer nods but slower this time.
The big guy at the end of the bar is sceptical.
no land around here. Only up the Campbell Highway to Faro."
a bit of a way north isn't it?" says Remy.
half hour or so I'd say."
an hour," adds the old timer, taking some of the bluster out of his friend.
answers the old timer.
serviced," says the trucker defensively. "And it's got good hunting." The old
timer nods more vigorously at hearing this.
campground about a mile out of town," says Remy.
campground in BC isn't it, that one?" says the old timer.
half an hour just to get to where you camp!" says the trucker.
good twenty minutes, yup," adds the old timer, trying to keeps things out of
the realm of hyperbole. "What do you work as, if I may ask?"
a teacher," I say. ‘But I'm taking a year off teaching to finish a project of
mine." I look at the old timer and his eyes say to me: ‘You're still a young
chicken with many years left to give to
the great collective - a whole life of discipline and hard work and useful
labour.' The Great Collective, I think to myself, my ass!
healer," Remy replies belatedly to the question, but before he can field a
reply from the two drinkers on their barstools at the end of the bar, he leaves
to speak with some natives at a table in front of a roaring fireplace, leaving
the two at the bar staring blankly at me. I'm too tired and in too much pain to
make small talk and soon find myself at the table with the natives, letting
Remy do the talking for the both of us. After a few hours drinking with the
Indians trying to numb the pain in my shoulder, I return to the bar where the
cook, a sandy-haired young chap with Coke-bottle glasses, is playing a video
game at the end of the bar where the old-timer had been sitting. We spark up a
conversation and I tell him about our trip.
been outside of Watson Lake," he says. He is eager to hear of my travels. I
tell him some of my adventures in Cambodia and China until Remy returns to the
bar. The three of us talk for a while and we spend most of the time laughing.
Because of his thick lenses, we both feel empathy because all three of us have
bad eyes. Remy takes to him particularly so I take out my journal to write down
some thoughts. We buy him beer and Remy makes sure he has a good time. During a
break in the conversation, he timidly asks if he can write something in my
journal so I hand him a pen. I drink more in an effort to forget about all the
money I'm spending on petrol and beer that has been earmarked for my writer's
cabin. As the cook writes in my journal and I massage my shoulder, I again join
the natives around the fireplace but find their drunken anger is a bit harsh
for my tastes. When I walk back to the bar the cook has finished his journal
entry and has left.
too plan Z to go to the
campground so I'm going to stay across the street at that other campground,"
Remy tells me.
a bit Z too but I refuse to pay any
money to stay at a campground," I say. Remy drives to the campground a minute
away where he pays for the night, but I climb into my camper right there in the
parking lot and fall asleep. The last thing on my mind is that I wish I had one
of those old red Maoist signs you can still see in museums that read:
the next morning somebody walks by the door of my camper and stops. Loitering
there, I can hear the person talking. When I exit my camper, there is a native
leaning against the back of my pick-up truck.
man, want to buy a watch?" he says to me. He's a young guy with cropped hair
and bad acne.
you buy some booze for me then?"
man," I reply, waving my hand at him dismissively. The kid looks disappointed
and leaves me alone. Then a plump Indian who is nearby approaches me.
going to the tavern. Want to come?" I remember his face from last night but
cannot remember his name.
early to have a beer, non?"
I'm waiting for a bus but I'm early, and I want to stay out of the cold," he
says easy as pie. It is cold - too cold to stand outside and talk - so I follow
him into the bar and sit with three other natives in front of the fireplace,
all of whom are women. The hair of
the dog I tell myself. I'm nearly forty years old and I'm waking up in strange
parking lots and drinking with Yukon Indians in the morning. Why? I tell myself
I have a duty to see what life is like with the Anishinabe in Canada, that I am
part of that culture through blood and that I have an obligation to find out
like Remy did. I stay at the bar all afternoon, half waiting for Remy to show
up but also enjoying the company of my new friends. After a few hours the women
are drunk and Jeremy has missed his bus. They call a taxi but one of the women
isn't allowed into the cab because she's too drunk and belligerent. When she is
asked to leave the vehicle, she turns from a fun drunk to a shrieking mass of
cunt!" she screams at the woman taxi driver in a ferocity that scares the hell
out of me. She screams loud enough that the entire town can hear it. Rage
usurps her face and then, just as fast as it appears, evaporates after she
slams the door shut. I'm glad I had let them all know earlier that I'm a Métis
Indian to quell any anti-white feelings they may harbour.
my Ford I drive them first to the liquor store and then to their reservation
just outside of Watson Lake where they invite me in for a drink. Marlene, the
Indian who owns the house, curses a blue streak because she has lost her keys
so we stand outside and drink until one of them returns with a neighbour who
has a spare key. I can tell this has happened before as one of the windows
beside the door is smashed and boarded up. The neighbour with the key gives me
a disapproving look and then unlocks the door. Beer bottles litter the room and
junk and broken toys make walking hazardous. I have never seen a house so
filthy. Dirt and candy wrappers and soiled pillows in the corners and mould
growing on the dishes in the sink. A brand new computer sits half-unpacked on
the dining room table with dust on the wrapping paper, so I tell Marlene I can
fix up her computer. I take the plastic off and blow off the dust and
re-arrange the pieces on the table, connecting all the cords and finally
plugging it in. It has been sitting on the table for who knows how long, and
all it needed was someone to connect the cables to the CPU and plug it in.
Jeremy is happy the computer works and plays on it for five minutes until he
the party dies down so I take my leave and tiptoe between the passed-out bodies
on the floor and drive through the reservation. There are some newer homes but
they're small and few compared to the wooden shacks that look half-abandoned
with lawnmowers and rusted car parts and broken wooden chairs sprawled across
weed-strewn lawns. It begins to rain so I put on the windshield wipers but I
accidentally pull off the knob. I spend a few minutes trying to fix it but am unable
to refasten it. When I return to town after a brief drive around the desolate
reservation, I swagger into a store to look for road sailing equipment, but
instead of finding a propane stove I find a Winchester pellet gun for sale. The
rifle is a remembrance branch. When Remy and I were in grade four and living in
British Columbia, we had a pellet gun and could never shoot it enough. We loved
it. The rifle was eventually lost in one of our many moves but it has remained
something I always associate with my brother. With the Winchester air rifle in
my hands, I am overwhelmed by a flood of memories: the barn behind our house
that we used to shoot at from our balcony; the dirt-biking trails behind our
backyard where we rode our mini-bikes with the pellet gun strapped to our back;
Kelly Simmons the Jehovah's Witness chasing us in his bulky three-wheeler; and
Mark Delerme leading the way in his YAMAHA 80cc trail bike. Even now, thirty
years later, I can still see Remy riding his KAWASAKI 75cc mini-bike and laughing.
Every time I watched him riding his mini-bike I laughed at him as he had
laughed at me. We loved those mini bikes. If one twin had one the other had to
have the same thing, so our father bought identical green mini-bikes for us.
But there was only one pellet gun and yet somehow we were able to share it. It
brought Remy and me closer together since it was only him and I who snuck it
out of the house for spontaneous after-supper and weekend excursions into parts
reliving these forgotten memories, I pull out my wallet to count my money.
Knowing Remy would love the pellet gun yet aware my petrol fund is quickly
drying up, I go to the cashier with the rifle and a big bag of candles.
are your pellets?" I ask the woman behind the counter. She places four
different types of pellets in front of me: super-accurate pellets, hunting
pellets, hyper-velocity pellets and blunt-nosed pellets.
take one of each - all four." I plan to test each one to see which one I like
best, and knowing Remy wisdom tells me to get a good supply of ammunition.
leave the store with the rifle box under my arm keenly aware that I am carrying
a weapon. I quicken my pace and carefully slip the rifle into the passenger
seat before anyone can see me. When I get into my rig, I hear a familiar voice
coming from behind me. Startled, I turn to see Remy walking towards me.
Shit!" I yell. Remy is laughing.
were you? I was just about to leave.
I didn't know where you were."
with Indians - long story."
can't believe I just bumped into
you." Remy looks at the box. That unmistakable look of mischief crosses his
face when he sees the picture of the rifle on the box. "Is that-"
I know mischief covers my face with equal intensity.
1.77mm air rifle. The real McCoy."
go get some beer and food and then go to the campground out of town."
been?" I ask.
huge. I went there earlier to look
for you. You need to see it. That old timer was right: it takes twenty minutes
just to get through the forest to the grounds!"
you go and get the beer and I'll grab some food and then let's meet at the
campground," I say, trying to ignore the alacrity in my voice.
Trust me when I say you'll know where I am in the campground. I'll be in the
the campground is easy but the road leading to it is a nightmare. Ruts and
potholes and washouts ravage the gravel road as I go deeper into the
wilderness, and I don't find any signs indicating where the campground is.
After a long twenty minutes negotiating bumps and incongruities I have almost
given up finding any sign of life when suddenly I see a small sign pointing to
a turn off. There are no other people in the campground. The actual campground
is a circle of berths cut out from a dense, mature pine forest in the middle of
the bush. Finally I see Remy who is sitting at a picnic table at the end of the
first berth. He laughs at me when I walk towards him with the rifle hanging
lazily over my right arm as if it's a cat sleeping on my forearm.
"Snagglepussy el grande!" he says.
"Oui mon frere. A full snagglepussy el
you given it a teste yet?"
not yet. I wanted to baptize it here with you." I know I have exercised good
twin etiquette by waiting for him before testing out the rifle. I aim at a
tree, pull the trigger and hit it. This simple equation of events causes robust
laugher in us both. I reload then place an empty Coors Light can on a branch. TING! I hit it on my first try. The
sound it causes us to laugh harder. Remy demands to shoot the rifle. Since
shooting the gun causes a raw barb of pain in my shoulder, I hand Remy the
rifle to shut him up. I reset the beer can on a higher branch. TING! Remy hits it on his first try. We
both laugh a little harder. Remy shoots the can again but misses it. I laugh
this time as Remy reloads. TING! Remy
hits the can again but it remains on the branch. TING! He hits the can and it falls off the branch. Soon there are
Coors Light beer cans hanging from branches all over the place as well as cans
perched on the picnic table and strategically located boulders. The TING sound is enough of a reward for the
first hour or so, but then the plexi-glass encasing of the campground sign
becomes the preferred target. I take the rifle and shoot at the sign in the
distance. THAWP! confirms a direct
hit, and the half-second delay between the release of the pellet and the THAWP is cause for added laughter.
However it becomes less desirable when we discover that the plexi-glass is too
strong to break and that the pellet only leaves a two-millimetre circle of lead
dust. No cracks. No embedded pellets. With Inge chasing the sounds of the
pellets hitting targets, Remy's shots become increasingly closer to the dog.
dog is getting in the way," he says.
dog is ten yards away from the sign."
a cross-breeze through the opening of the trees,' he warns. Remy shoots and
hits the sign in the distance. I warn him not to hit Inge so he knows I'm
watching. Then, weakening himself more and more on alcohol and suppressing his
mischievous giggling, Remy offers me a bet.
bucks if I can hit my rig from here." Quickly agreeing, he lets off a volley. PANG! The pellet strikes his
white-seventies-camper siding leaving a long black mark. Remy screams with
laughter. I take out a two-dollar coin and hand it to him. I linger a moment
before I follow Remy back to his camper but halfway there he begins to laugh. I
instantly recognize the laugh and know what he's up to.
I say. Remy's laughter becomes more boisterous. "If you shoot my camper, you
might begin a war." From this point on Remy keeps trying to sneak in a shot at
my camper. He continues to shoot the beer cans and the plexi-glass sign but
soon grows bored. Then I hear a loud WHAWP! A pellet smashes my water can that
is tied down to the roof of my camper. Remy's guilt is manifest in a hard,
almost painful laughter that borders on hysteria. Shouting at him only adds
kindling to the fire of laughter. I didn't think he'll choose the path of war
by hitting my rig because it's my gun. Then Remy, starting to look drunk, aims
for the dog again.
He drops the barrel.
Then he surreptitiously changes his aim towards my camper. He shoots. PANG! There is an unmistakable soft
metal-on-metal sound of a lead pellet hitting tin. I see a dark mark almost a
centimetre long right in the middle of my shiny-white-seventies-camper siding.
Remy is laughing as hard as I've ever seen him. He watches me playing it calm but
then I begin to laugh too, not so much from his infectious laughter but because
I can't help but think what his camper is going to look like after I get the
gun back and ping his camper. Laughter seizes both of us to a manic state.
Alcohol, tobacco and firearms and twins unsupervised in the bush is a
combination that can only lead to criminal activity.