Wordcarpenter Books
Road Sailors

21

"It is not the failure of others to appreciate your abilities that should trouble you,

but rather your failure to appreciate theirs." - Confucius

Watson Lake, the Yukon

In the middle of the night an animal waddles right beside my camper and sniffs around as I lay sleepless in my loft. My senses sharpen so I can hear the branches of the trees in the breeze and the crawling of the bugs and the breathing of my dog and the lungs of the forest alive and organic like a living monster supporting man and man's persistent follies. It could be a bear or a caribou but hearing wildlife just outside my door throws terror into my guts and wakens me completely. A pellet gun just isn't enough firepower for a bear. Even with Inge with me. I still feel the crippling fear of bears. How come Remy isn't afraid in the slightest whereas I am?

The aroma of thick pine sap-smelling sharp to the nose pungent and bitter and appetizing like a perfumed fragrance adds to the enjoyment of the mugs of coffee before we set out to explore the campground. It's a world unto itself. The trail is spongy with moss and fallen pine needles as we walk a kilometre from our berths to the lake with the dogs and the rifle. The pellet gun is the impetus for Remy to remember forgotten events in our childhood when we lived in Kelowna during our childhood.

"Do you remember when we had that paper route and near the end when we knew we were moving again to Toronto, we were riding our mini-bikes to school?"

"I remember. Dad never knew when we started to ride them all over the place."

"Until that guy Ryan, who I was doubling, put out his foot and had a long weed wrap around his ankle and yank him off. Remember that?" Like a thunderbolt, the memory comes back to me of a boy with blood running down one cheek and his knees scratched and bleeding and tears in his eyes. "And his neighbour was there and he was screaming at me but Ryan was cool about it, saying it was him who caused it by putting out his leg." Remy shakes his head at the recollection. "When that neighbour told Dad he didn't let me ride again after that." The mini-bikes were sold right after that incident and we moved a few weeks later.

Remy holds the rifle over his shoulder like a boy scout, his beard full and fair in the morning light beside the water.

"I don't know if you remember when I ran away and Mom found me at Apsey's General Store ten miles from home?"

"No, I don't," I reply.

"No, I didn't think so. You and I had a fight and you said some really mean things to me and I thought you didn't like me anymore so I ran away. I packed my knapsack and walked along the old trail by the pond past Apsey's store where Mom found me walking along the side of the road. I wouldn't stop walking so she drove slowly and talked to me through the window. We walked like that for at least a kilometre until I began to feel sorry for Mom, so I stopped. When she asked me in the car why I had run away, I told her that it was because you didn't like me anymore. That was in grade four. And then right after that you steered Kelly Simmons go-kart right into my shin. Remember? I was crying so loud by that mound of sand across the street that Mom came out of the house. She thought it was broken but it wasn't, but I had to have crutches for weeks. Yeah man, you were mean to me there for a while. But then things became cool, right? We became best friends again." There are some memories I prefer not to think about and some I have put out of my mind altogether, but it's poignant now how sensitive he was to whether he thought I liked him or not. Years overseas of simply not caring about him must have done some damage. Self-centred actions do have an effect on others, especially an identical twin.

"I remember feeling really bad about that go-carting thing," I say. Thinking about the moment I rammed into his shins on Kelly Simmons' go-kart, I see Remy's face as a child crying and looking at me. He wiped away the tears but continued to look at me in the eye. Now, thirty years later, I see a child crying not at another injustice perpetrated by my hands. I see now that they were not tears of pain but tears of betrayal, brother to brother, Cain to Abel, with no witness to the crime but Remy and me and God. It was the crime of broken loyalty that hurt Remy more. How can one twin be co callous and uncaring and the other so sensitive and caring? As adults I had been disloyal again by running away to Asia conveniently far away and off the hook. It's easy to avoid responsibility and to dull recall when busying oneself with frivolous pursuits in a far-off country but it would never change our stripes.

"Sorry man. And sorry if I was mean to you as a kid." Remy cocks the rifle and places a pellet in the chamber.

"Ah Trapp, all that was a long time ago." He snaps the gun back straight. "But thanks all the same for the apology." He aims the gun at a distant campfire sign and shoots. The gap of time between the shot and impact is a half second, still causing us to laugh.

"Listen, when we find our homestead, I don't ever want to sell it. It will be our land forever, a place we'll always have." I cringe at how serious my voice sounds under the umbrella of pine.

"That's groovy brother," he says. "It'll be nice to finally have a home base. We haven't really had a home since we were 17." I'm just about to dispute this when I realize that he's right. We were 17 years old when our mother remarried and we weren't allowed to live in her new home and our father had also remarried and we couldn't live with him either. We ended up living in a basement of a house that had been sold by my father but were soon ushered out after a few months when we left for university. We had never had a bedroom or a place to call home for 22 years. I get a creeping feeling that I had suppressed many of these painful memories whereas Remy has lived with them foremost in his mind as examples of injustices.

"You're right about that. We've been homeless for 22 years."

"We're not homeless now though. We both have fully paid for homes on wheels mon frere."

"Nice one. Indeed we do. Gotta love the road buggies."

Back to our rigs we have more coffee, study the map and smoke a joint while we ponder our next destination. Remy turns serious when he talks about where we should go from here.

"I've been thinking about it and Watson Lake is cool but there's only one bar for 1000km. Have you thought about that? I mean at least Whitehorse is a city. This place is basically a truck stop on the Alaska Highway and a few cul-de-sacs and a big campground. Atlin is remote because of the mountains but Watson Lake is isolated because of the sheer space around it. There's nothing - not even a town down the road. It's in the middle of nowhere." I agree with him.

"It's a trucker town, and I didn't really like the pub either. It was a bit phybic."

"Right. And besides, the homes are too close together for me and there aren't any places to buy in the country except up the Campbell Highway, which is bumpy. I did some recon up the Campbell and had to turn back because the road was hacking up my rig. There were a few homes for sale but they weren't cool enough to be a homestead."

"So whaddya think chieftain?"

"I think we should continue east on the road to Fort Nelson. There we can decide for sure whether to continue east or gazelle south down to Kamloops to visit with cousin McFettie. Our homestead lies south, I know now. It's too hairy bush up here. We could also take Highway One all the way over to Dawson Creek and then decide there whether to go south through Jasper to Kamloops and see cousin McFettie or go east towards the prairies." Kamloops was originally where I wanted the writer's cabin to be, near our cousin Kyle McFetridge.

"So no dice then on Watson Lake or anything north of the 60th parallel?" I confirm.

"It is remote. I mean look at this punky-ass pilgrim." He gestures to the map. "There's nothing around for hundreds of miles. It takes hours of driving on either side to reach another town." I can't argue; it is too remote.

"OK then, let's go east." With that we pack up our stuff at the campground and drive out of the bush.

While we pass through Watson Lake we stop at a hardware store where I finally find a mobile propane stove like Remy's. I also buy a good pair of boots, some new maps of areas east of Watson Lake and two pairs of white leather gloves for the encroaching cold weather. I give one pair to Remy since the gloves he is wearing are two different kinds: he had lost one of each. I hand him a cigarette, light one for myself and we leave Watson Lake for Fort Nelson in northeastern British Columbia. It's new turf for both of us.

Back on the highway I feel at home on the road. The more I see of this country in my road buggy the more I respect it. There is nothing but open land in these parts, nothing but vast acreage untouched by the consuming hand of industry and the chainsaws that indiscriminately chop down trees all along the western seaboard. This is a different land up here - too far north for most and only accessible to road sailors with jerry cans in tow and the wherewithal to follow their navigational whims.

After a few hours we see more elk. Graceful animals with big antlers and a brown and white coat. Through the Upper Tetsa Valley in the Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park nothing but wide expanses of forest along the bottom of the Liard River Valley where bighorn sheep graze casually along the sides of the road. Then out of nowhere we pass a buffalo sauntering beside the highway and then a few miles later a cluster of six. A half hour later after the buffalo six-pack we run into more. About forty buffalo roam both on and off the road so Remy is forced to stop. Most of the buffalo are eating grass along the wide space between the highway and the forest. Remy remains in his truck trying to edge his way through the wild herd. Most of the buffalo move away except for two that stay where they are right in front of Remy. A standoff between beast and truck. A red pick-up truck drives up from behind me to the centerline and stops to watch what Remy does. The window goes down and a nice-looking woman smiles.

"Not your usual thing is it?" she says.

"No." Her husband leans over.

"How many do you think?"

"About forty or so," I say.

"How long you been here?" His moustache is blond and long and he is thin and wiry with a lumberjack jacket on.

"Almost five minutes. That's my brother there. He can't get through." The driver seems satisfied with the picture and reclines in his seat. His wife smiles at me and I rub the maturing stubble on my chin.

"Wild buffalo. I thought they were extinct," she says.

"So did I." I smile then walk to Remy where he is staring closely at the two buffalo 20 feet from his bumper. They seem to be eyeing him back. It crosses my mind that I might be exposed to danger if the buffalo suddenly charge at me but I am comforted by the fact that my door is still within running distance.

"Bloody Serengeti!" he says, laughing. "Trapp, man, they won't move!" Remy is looking at the buffalo as if it's a personal insult not to move for him. Their matted dark-brown hides and gigantic black heads make them look dangerous.

"Wild buffalo in this country. I knew it!" he says, slamming his hand on the steering wheel for emphasis. "Tom Cardinal told me of an old Cree legend that buffalo still roam in the north of Alberta and BC where they live in a valley only accessible through a waterfall. And now look at this! Wild buffalo! No tags. Nothing. This is like Africa, man. But it's our country. Very groovy. Very very groovy. But Trapp you should get back into your rig before they charge." I shrug it off but when I replace my prescription sunglasses with my eyeglasses, I feel a cold jolt of fright. The two buffalos have inched towards us and are closer than before, maybe ten feet from Remy's truck. One begins to trot towards me so I walk briskly back to my rig. The buffalo follows me up to my door and then the other one begins to follow. This allows us to sneak through the herd that still show no fear at the cluster of vehicles. In fact they look at us as if we're trespassing on their land.

By following the Alaska Highway along the Liard River Valley, the buffalo use the 100-foot wide stretch of treeless grass beside the road to graze, and judging from their gait they don't seem to mind the odd trucker or eccentric road sailor interrupting their party. They share this land with the few vehicles on the road and with bighorn sheep, moose and elk. Almost all of northeastern British Columbia is one giant game preserve set aside to protect wildlife and encourage backcountry recreation like trapping, hunting and fishing. Wilderness tourism is hiking at your own risk among the cougars and bears, but it's the roaming herds of wild buffalo and wandering elk that are the greatest danger driving the Alaska Highway from Watson Lake to Fort Nelson.

Passing more herds of buffalo of twenty to thirty, we cruise east along the long stretches of road past old trading posts until we reach the Liard River Hot Springs after dark. There is only one place to camp so we turn into the campground and park two stalls away from each other. Remy's lights go out immediately after we park but I read my new maps in candlelight. Five minutes later there is a knock on my door.

"Coming," I say, climbing out of my loft.

"I'm collecting for overnight stays," says a chubby park warden with a bushy handlebar moustache. "It's eighteen dollars for the night."

"Eighteen dollars!" I muffle a curse. "I trust that includes access to the hot springs."

"I hope it does too," he replies with a smile. After the park ranger leaves, I blow out my candles and go to sleep. I can hear him walk past Remy's camper without knocking on his door.

In the morning Remy and I walk up the long wooden path that leads up to the hot springs, past the open sulphur puddles that are hot enough to emit steam in the morning air. When we finally reach the hot springs we stand there looking at bathers that are stark naked. Crestfallen after the long walk and all the days on the road, we're speechless for a moment.

"Ummm..." Neither of us can believe everyone is nude. Silently, we both turn at the same time to face the long jaunt back to our campers.

"I think we can hit Fort Nelson by tonight," says Remy.

  


 

22

"A gentleman who lacks gravity does not inspire awe." - Confucius

Liard River Valley, British Columbia

After the aborted hot springs effort, we make good time to Fort Nelson by getting an early start to the day. We drive past more roaming elk and more herds of wild buffalo but smaller in number. A few hours out of Liard River Hot Springs I see a black bear at the edge of the forest looking at a crow poised on the opposite side of the road as if they are talking to each other. When I pass the crow flaps its wings and flies away and the bear runs back into the woods. It confirms in my mind that the forest is teeming with black bears, which for me is like a forest crawling with poisonous snakes. A beautiful jungle with tarantulas, an enticing bay full of box jellyfish, or an attractive forest full of Grizzly bears, they're all luring but scary when one knows what lies behind the facade. And like these landscapes, I am scared at what I suspect lies behind Remy's battered eye and fair beard. Paranoia of spy satellites and electronic devices in his arm is not a normal state of mind.

Remy beats me to Fort Nelson. I spot his rig parked on a side street running parallel to the highway so I pull up beside him where I discover him drinking beer and organizing his medicines. I don't like the darkness of the side street where a cop could pull up beside us any time, so we depart for the nearest pub.

Inside Remy talks to a hippy Indian as I play pool against a surly short man with a moustache. With twenty people standing around the table, I find the quiet atmosphere tentative and oppressive. No laughter or merriment, funeral bleak and grey and flat. I lose a dismal game of billiards. When I join Remy, the hippy tells us that there's a better bar with a cooler vibe up the street. He says it's the old tavern in town where the railway tracks cross the main street. Outside I follow Remy to the Fort Hotel beside the railway tracks where we go inside - dark, smelly and smoky - to discover strippers on a dance floor in the centre of the room. A glass wall separates the smoking room from the dance floor where we find a table right in front of the glass. On the wall there is a handmade poster that reads:

NEIL YOUNG FOR PRESIDENT

 

A dancer appears on the dance floor and does her routine. At one point she offers her body as a target range where coins and bills land on her breasts and her bush. It's too comical to watch. After a few more beers and some madcap laughter on our part, the waitress delivers two cold bottles of Molson Canadian to our table. We're still halfway through our beers.

"These are from that guy over there," says the waitress. She motions to the corner of the smoking room where there is a man with a huge moustache, a little bigger than mine, looking just like the hockey player Lanny MacDonald.

"To the brothers!" He raises his bottle from where he sits at a table with two others. "You are brothers aren't cha?" Both Remy and I raise our beers, nod and drink.

"I can tell from your laugh," he says. "It's the same. And it's making me laugh. So cheers!" Infectious laughter garners free beer. I must say this is a first.

 

We decide to go outside for a joint but when we leave the smoking room, Remy is so drunk that he puts his arm around my shoulder both for support and to push and pull me as we walk down the corridor to the front door with maudlin sloppiness. We shimmy from wall to wall down the hallway laughing but Remy pushes me a bit too hard and I bump into an old stained window that shatters. The crash of the glass stops the music in the other room where the dancer is stripping. A few guys run from the bar to see what has happened, most likely expecting a fight. Remy is laughing and I'm checking my arm for sliced arteries but there's only a superficial scratch near my ear. The shattered window is thick and heavy and in pieces on the musty carpet of the hotel lobby, more evidence of our reckless behaviour, the wake of destruction now strewn all across British Columbia.

"I can't believe it broke!" says Remy, when his laughter ceases enough so he can speak. "Must've been old. I didn't body-check you that hard did I?" A porter from the hotel lobby walks up to us with a firm expression on his red face.

"And how do you gentlemen expect to pay for this?" He's a large man, not with muscle but from potato chips and chocolate bars and ice cream and Twinkies.

"Well, how much is it?" I ask trying to avoid a call to the police. He thinks for a moment.

"Three hundred dollars."

"That's a bit much," says Remy. The woman behind the check-in desk clears her throat and nods to the porter in agreement with Remy.

"It's not that much Steve," she says, trying to look busy. The fat man sighs and re-adjusts the fee.

"Two hundred because the window is smaller." I pull out ten twenty-dollar bills from my wallet and hand them to the porter. Remy tells me he'll pay me back but I know it's only drunken lip service and I'll never see the money.

"Would you like a receipt?"

"For what?" I say. The moustached man who bought us beer appears beside us holding both of our jackets.

"I thought you brothers might want these. A few of the boys inside aren't too happy with that stunt so you best be going." Remy is still laughing and shaking his head in disbelief so I grab both jackets, thank him and we leave for the rough feel of Fort Nelson's streets.

I'm lighting a cigarette outside when a young guy with black hair comes up to us.

"Hey, you guys were the ones who crashed that glass?" He must of run out of the strip club from another exit

"Who wants to know?" I reply, suspicious that he wants trouble despite the fact he's younger than us.

"I'm no cop, man." He pulls out a smoke and lights it. "Naw, I saw you brothers in there and wanted to come over to talk but you just got up and left. And then I hear the crash of the window breaking so I thought I'd come out here to see if you were still around."

"Yeah, so?" I'm still sceptical, but he seems like an innocent chap.

"Well it's no fun in there and I just finished a contract up north driving a rig and want to blow off some steam, you know. And you two look like you're having a good time."

"We have a knack for that."

"We're just about to roll up a joint. Care for a puff?" says Remy.

"Weed? Is it good stuff? I have some crack." I make a move to leave but Remy's interest is tweaked.

"Yeah, we have some good weed. Speckled Alder - a tall deciduous shrub up to four metres in length," Remy deadpans. The guy with black hair invites us back to party in his hotel room above the bar so the three of us flick our cigarettes on the road and run through the lobby where the porter is cleaning up the broken glass. Up in the hotel room Remy is now very drunk and moving his head to the music coming from the television. The guy with black hair looks at me and motions with his eyes at Remy.

"Don't worry about him. He's just a little loose in the steering."

"What do deaf, dumb and blind people have on those with all their senses?" he asks me. In the light it looks like he has already sampled the product.

"I don't know."

"They never have to pay attention." It's a lame joke but I nod in appreciation to encourage him. He looks lonely up here so far north in a town without charm overrun by contract workers with fat wallets from working in the oil fields. I watch him construct a makeshift pipe out of an empty can of Sprite and he begins puffing at it expertly. He hands the homemade crack pipe to Remy who smokes it expertly, and when it's handed to me, I smoke it awkwardly. First time with this drug. He introduces himself as Trevor.

"But my friends call me Jesus," he says.

"And why's that?" I ask.

"Because I am Jesus. My friends believe I am the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And I have come during the time predicted by the Hopi prophecies." There is something spine-chilling in hearing these words.

"Are you Métis?" Remy asks. Trevor's face reddens in warmth and recognition and excitement.

"Yes, I'm half Indian."

"We're Métis too, part Ojibway on our mother's side." We smoke and talk about being Métis and about spiritual beliefs and religion. Remy and Trevor talk in a language of prophecies and places with Biblical names and about negative forces in society and how it's imperative to defend yourself with armour that repels the negative. Trevor becomes so overwhelmed by what comes out of Remy's mouth that he is soon belittled through sheer awe at the edifice of knowledge that stands before him. Coincidences of birth, zodiac signs, background, race and being identical twins and a hundred other coincidences explained by Remy in rapid-fire succession make Trevor think twice whether he is the Second Coming or not. He thought he was the stand-alone Messiah before, but now he sees someone who has dedicated his life to living as the Pahana. Instead of an uneasiness hearing the Messiah-speak come from my brother's mouth, I am surprised to feel the warmth of pride, but also a nagging fear. Granted it's a form of extremism and any form of extremism is dangerous, he's become awfully good at expressing his beliefs. I wonder if that might be the secret to prophets and messengers of God throughout history: a thorough belief and unmoving faith in themselves? Was it not William James who said: ‘The only reason for failure is man's lack of faith in his true self?'

I realize I have heard a lot of what Trevor says from Remy, but when Remy asks Trevor what his message is, that's when Trevor falters. He has said his spiel about being the Messiah but when he cannot explicitly enunciate what his message is, it's Remy's turn to talk.

"We each have the light of God in us," says Remy. "It is an energy un-harnessed until we nurture it. But there needs to be that awakening, that spark, and I am the one who gives first light. And to ignite the light you need to know that the essence of the Creator is our essence." Trevor nods. He is thrilled to talk about the Hopi prophecies.

"We must see," Remy continues, "that it is crucial to keep all timelines harmonious and truthful because when we graduate into the spirit world, we will still see those people we knew down here while we were living. All of our ancestor spirits are working around us all the time, translating our prayers into a spirit language - a language which we have no ability to understand. Our ancestor spirits are the messengers who bring the Creator's reply to us. He smiles upon us when we honour the Creator's gifts."

"Right on. Louis Riel knew that," says Trevor. "He was prophet of a religion based on Christianity and Native American Animism." Hearing Trevor speak, who we met only because Remy steered me through a window, I wonder if there is a whole underground movement devoted to this cult of the Second Coming of the Messiah - the True White Brother.

"That's what I'm working on: continuing that belief system," says Remy. "That's why Grandfather's teachings to the Lost Generation is the key. It's the cornerstone of a Native American Métis belief system and the foundation of our new religion. Like the religions of the past that have fallen into extinction, such as moon worship of the original brunette peoples of Europe and sun worship of the Celts, the current religions of mankind based on the Indian Vedas, the Hebrew Bible and the Arabic Koran will soon be replaced by this new comprehensive religious philosophy by the Métis Messiah."

"Yes!"

"It will be a religion that unites all of mankind and show him that he has the essence of the Creator within himself, and that through his ancestor spirits can he be in touch with the Creator. This is the whole point of the Messiah: to provide a new divine morality led by the Métis. Riel's Métis movement was supported by the church right from the beginning." Trevor is nodding like a crazy man.

"Yes, in fact the local bishop was the one who selected Riel for a scholarship to study in Montreal in 1859 - ten years before the Red River Rebellion. It was always a religious movement in the cause of land rights and self-governance."

"That's who Riel was: the religious leader of the Métis people. During the uprising of 1885, Riel didn't even bother with a rifle. He rode around with a large bronze cross on his horse ignoring the hail of bullets whizzing by his head at the Battle of Fish Creek. No rifle, just a cross and his divine leadership on a horse. He was a prophet."

"He knew the Métis are a hardy stock capable of self-exploration," says Trevor. "Riel knew we are a race of people born of the collision between east and west. He hung to death for the Métis Rebellion of 1885 after giving a speech that is found in all Canadian history textbooks." Trevor is pacing now, like Remy, each on opposite sides of the room divided by a table. I sit wide-eyed on the bed between them, watching each one speak as if at a tennis match.

"Did he find himself in the position of being leader simply because he believed it to be true?" I ask, trying to contribute.

"He struggled with it," says Trevor. "After he left Canada and was a school teacher near Fort Benton at St. Peter's Mission in Montana, he still didn't want to face his destiny as leader of the Métis. He struggled with it so much he checked himself into a mental asylum in Quebec to try to determine his true calling. His struggle was immense."

"But in the end he became the leader simply because he believed that that was his true path," says Remy. "Although it was his handler Gabriel Dumont who was the real hero of that rebellion. Sharpshooter, horseman, hunter, gambler, drinker, he was a man who never went on a buffalo run on a Sunday! He was the Métis people's chief in Saskatchewan and one of the best-ever Métis hunters. Yep, Dumont was the guy who rode down to snag Riel in Montana that led to the rebellion. Dumont - he's your man. He was the Real McCoy. Lived off the land and travelled far on his horse. That's the real Canada man. He had self-knowledge."

"And Jerry Potts too."

"But it sounds like Dumont never believed himself to be anything more divine than what he was, while Riel basically went for the jugular," I say. "Like Cain, Riel was cursed to wander the earth."

"Except instead of a road buggy, he was on a horse," says Remy.

"Riel is our Métis leader - our first Messiah!" says Trevor.

"But Riel couldn't be the Pahana because he didn't have an identical twin brother!" The revelation stuns Trevor into silence; all his bluster is now gone. The room grows quiet and Remy looks over at me motioning that we should go. Trevor looks as if he's been wounded, not with a knife but with words. But there is a moral goodness in Remy's spontaneity and rhyme and reason in his swirl of madness.

When we leave the hotel room we find the indoor swimming pool on our way downstairs completely empty in the morning light. Without a word, we both strip and plunge into the water. Nothing could be more refreshing than a baptismal dip in the pool after so long on the road. When I glance over at Remy the sun at that moment shines on him through some high windows. The way his head is angled and his arms are outstretched, he looks just like Jesus with his wet beard and his hair wrapped around his head as if he is wearing a crown of thorns. It startles me. The archetype of the saviour who suffered for the sins of mankind stands next to me as if he were standing in the River Jordan
 
 
 
 
 

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