"The virtue of the gentleman is like
wind; the virtue of the small man is like grass.
"Let the wind blow over the grass and it is sure to bend." - Confucius
rise early and brew coffee on my small propane stove while Remy sleeps in.
Wearing my new cowboy hat, I hike the circumference of the campground with
Inge, carrying a mug of hot coffee in my hand. The air fresh and the wind soft
and the aroma of soil rich and wheat fields and grain elevators stretch as far
as the eye can see. Eager to get an early start, I'm happy to see Remy reading
his maps and drinking coffee when I return. He's also wearing his new cowboy
in Maidstone, Saskatchewan."
and your maps Remy."
but knowing where you are on a map is the first rule of road sailing."
what's the second rule?"
always have a compass," he says. "We crossed the border about 20 kilometres up
the road before we turned in last night."
took us almost a week to cross northern BC but it only took us a day to cross
Alberta," I say.
drivers...It's too bad. Wish I could find a bumper sticker that says: ‘ALL TAILGATERS SHOULD
BE DRAWN AND QUARTERED!'" I nod in agreement.
a tepee over there. Did you see it?"
I did see that." Remy goes into his camper and pours some more coffee. Like the
change in scenery I change my diet from Dill pickles and crackers and begin a
new zeitgeist of rye bread and honey. Famished, I wolf down three sandwiches in
try to hit Manitoba by tomorrow. We have to go east and dip south as we go."
ideas how we ditch these 18-wheelers?" I ask.
His finger thrusts into the air. "We could take this Highway 4 south and then
cruise due east away from the traffic aguey along Highway 15. It's what I've
been trying to figure out this morning. There are so many roads across the
prairies there's no sense in taking a crowded one."
pack up from the campground with the birch-bark tepee and depart for North
Battleford and Saskatoon. The dew on the grassy plains dries under the emerging
sun causing steam to rise like smoke from a brush fire. It is so flat that the
sky dominates the prairies and grain elevators appear massive and mark the
plots of wheat fields. In British Columbia one is isolated by mountains and
forests but here one is isolated by sheer horizontal space. From a farm looking
across the field you can hardly see the next farm under a sky so open you can
almost touch the clouds. Clusters of a few hundred homes and windbreak trees
pepper the sea of land every 100 kilometres or so like an island oasis, but
anywhere outside the towns you are exposed to a great vastness that only speaks
the language of the prairie winds.
are noticeably more polite east of the Alberta border maybe because roads are
better. If Alberta puts their oil money into their Heritage Fund then the
Saskatchewan government puts their revenue into road signs. Surely it must be
the road sign capital of the world. Do not pass signs, lane change signs,
turn-off signs, mileage signs, buckle-up signs, detour signs, creek signs - one
after another they line the roadside in each stretch of highway. Remy and I
turn off onto Highway 4, a quieter road that heads due south. Immediately the
traffic disappears. We drive like a couple of prairie schooners alone and unmolested
by other vehicles under the vast blue sky. We pass a field with thousands of
white birds covering acres of farmland. There are so many birds that for a
moment the sky darkens from swirling flocks. I finally pull ahead of Remy and
motion to him to pull over on the shoulder.
gotta take a picture of this. C'mon," I say with my camera in my hand. Remy
steps out of the truck and stands there completely unaware of the photo I take.
you take it?" I'm pretty sure he heard the click but I ignore his question
because the candid photo I wanted has already been taken.
put it on self-timer." I place the camera on the hood of my rig and press the
button. I manhandle him to where we stand in front of the countless of white
‘mobile teepees...'" The shutter clicks
and the moment is captured. It is the only photo taken of both of us
"This is where Gabriel Dumont hunted
buffalo. Imagine that!" says Remy. "The prairies are like the plains of Africa,
baby. Dumont and the boys knew that. We need to get some horses!"
some dirt bikes." Both of us think of our little Kawasaki mini-bikes.
Battle of Battleford and Duck Lake were just north of here. And so was the
Battle of Fish Creek, where Riel rode around with a bronze cross oblivious to
the hail of bullets whizzing by his niblet.
Gabriel Dumont took a bullet in the head but was all right. He was more upset
about his younger brother being killed." The wind pushes the hair off my
forehead like an invisible hand of God.
you know that at the Battle of Fish Creek, the Métis suffered four dead and two
wounded and the Dominion forces suffered ten dead and 45 wounded but the Métis
were outnumbered 2000 to 200 - or ten to one. That was the last battle of the
Métis Rebellion of 1885. It all happened right around here." It's different to
me knowing I have in my blood a mixture of two cultures - the fire of the white
man tempered by the earth of the red man, a melding of the two, an estuary,
that marks my character.
continue south down the road until we turn due east on Highway 15 and we drive
between the prairie grass rolling in waves from the wind that makes it feel as
if I'm surfing on ripples of wheat. Crops of shiny gold glow in neat squares
beside century farms painted red and tractors the size of small apartment
buildings working the land under the yellow-orange sun. We pass through a town
called Amazon where the winds nearly blow Remy off the road in front of me.
Driving in high winds on a long flat patch in a camper is like a boxing match:
each move of the steering wheel to the left and to the right is a punch against
the invisible force. Witnessing the winds whip Remy's rig to the shoulder so
easily convinces me that there must be a case of a road sailor capsizing in high winds, or at least of a camper
blowing off a truck. These winds are as powerful as the chinooks we drove
through at the foot of the Rockies in northern British Columbia.
stop for fuel in a place called Craven but it's so clean and pristine we doubt
there's a tavern around. Remy asks the gas attendant and gets directions to the
lone bar in town. I couldn't live here because there are not enough trees and
no places to hike, which is a requirement for the homestead. Off the main
street we find a roadhouse and on the front lawn there's a large electric
guitar in neon lights. We park at the entrance.
Country Bunker!" says Remy.
No one in the tavern except a bartender and someone playing one of the gambling
machines. Remy puts money in the jukebox and I buy the beer and we meet at the
pool table. Strangely, all the music Remy selects are favourite songs of mine,
and most of them are obscure.
can finally meet Tattoo Jimmy and Dougie Bell, my two buddies in Manitoba," he
says to me as he racks up the balls. "These two guys are my best friends in
Manitoba. I partied with them when I wasn't preparing for a sweat lodge with
Grandfather. You'd like Dougie Bell. He has all sorts of toys: dirt bikes,
snowmobiles, ATVs - the works. He ran the unofficial pub in Seven Sister's
Falls where everyone would go after the local bar closed."
break," I say. He nods in agreement.
then there's Tattoo Jimmy who is notorious for his three-day parties on his
farm. Great guy." The waitress comes over with a loaded tray of green shooters.
Her brunette friend from the bar follows her.
the house," she says. Remy and I look at each other in an effort to see what
we've done to deserve them.
playing good music," says the brunette, a small woman with severe features. She
hands Remy and I the green-coloured liquor, raises her drink and we shoot it
good that's not country music," says the waitress.
I hear you on that," replies Remy. "We've been driving all day." They both
smile and hand us more sweet liquor.
saw you drive up," replies the creamy-skinned waitress.
our road biggies."
neat road buggies." They laugh at the
term and blush as we all shoot another free shot from the bartender's tray.
you to Craven?" Her voice is as creamy and soft as her skin. I tell her about
idea. There are some nice places in Manitoba and Ontario. Manitoulin Island I
heard is good for that kind of thing. Like lots of artists go there. Writers.
should put Manitoulin on your radar, Trapp. It's good place to check out," he
two are twins, right?" The waitress blushes. We both nod.
hope your parents never dressed you the same."
never happened. Thank God."
like being twins?"
says Remy. "I've missed this fella. He's been overseas wandering like a nomad -
from Tokyo to Taiwan, and from the Philippines to Hong Kong and somewhere in
China. He's a wanderer like me, or should I say like Cain." The waitress
straightens her posture when she hears the name Cain.
probably know the story of Cain and Abel, right?" We both nod. "OK, so you know
that the traditional interpretation of the story is that Cain is a murderer
because he kills his brother out of jealousy. Right?" More nodding as we take a
pause from shooting pool. "A Cabalist's view- you know the Cabala?"
ancient Hebrew text," says Remy, trying to encourage her to say what she has to
according to the Cabalist's view, Cain is called Yaqam, meaning he is elevated, raised and exalted above Abel. This
gives a reason why God accepts Abel's offering and rejects Cain's."
"Abel is a
shepherd content to tend flocks of sheep and so he offers God a sheep as his
offering. But Cain is first a tiller of soil and then a farmer. He imitates God
by creating new life in the garden. God recognizes the godliness in Cain so
when Cain offers God the fruit of his labour, Cain commits an act of
self-worship and thus his efforts are rejected. Cain's offering reflects a lack
of self-knowledge." I'm not sure I follow what her point is so I look to Remy
who looks equally perplexed.
Cain's lack of self-knowledge led to his downfall of being cast out to wander
the earth?" he asks. "Is that what you're saying?"
are you saying that Cain's lack of self-knowledge led to Abel's downfall?" I ask.
you're both right. Like God, Cain has the ability to create. Cain's ignorance
of his divine nature led to Cain's jealous anger, which caused Abel's death.
But it also led to Cain's curse from God to be a homeless wanderer on the
Cain wasn't aware that he had God's power to create. But because Abel was not a
creator like God, his offering was not an act of self-worship. The two brothers
were different. Cain didn't realize that he was different to Abel. One was of the Creator and one was not."
wasn't aware of the divine nature of his person and because of that, was
rebuked by God." Something has tweaked Remy's interest. "And so Cain was cursed
to roam the world without a home."
he was cursed to roam the world in an effort for him to finally gain
self-knowledge?" I suggest.
point is that Cain has long been regarded as the bad guy, but the reason for
his act of murder is what has been overlooked. He was part God since he has the
ability to create, and this lack of awareness led to his tragedy. It's ignorance
that led to Abel's death and Cain being cast out." The waitress is obviously
someone who knows her Bible.
who creates is honouring the gift of the Creator," Remy says.
are you telling us this?" I ask gently.
as identical twins, I wonder if you are like Cain and Abel, or if you are two
Cains or two Abels. It's a question I've wondered about ever since I was a kid
going to Sunday school." Jesus, I thought to myself, Remy and I are like Cain.
We want to both create books. We have both been wandering the earth alone. Have
we achieved self-knowledge?
waitress follows Remy outside for a cigarette and I soon forget about Cain and
Abel as those tangle foot shooters
hit me stronger than I anticipate. After more pool and jukebox music, the bar
closes and I soon find myself on a shooting frenzy with my pellet gun outside
the bar, stubborn and hell-bent for Watson Lake payback. Using the big neon
guitar on the front lawn as cover, I fire a pellet at Remy's camper. A dull
thud of lead hitting soft metal is heard after each shot causing me spasms of
laughter. Inge rolls around with me on the grass as I shoot more pellets at
Remy's camper. I keep expecting Remy to roll out of his camper after each shot
but he is dead asleep so I readjust my sights and fire at the tavern sign
beside Remy's rig. I'm laughing like a madman, firing without my eyeglasses on.
It's the last thing I remember.
the morning I wake up on the lawn with the rifle in my hands and my cowboy hat
bent out of shape. Inge is lying beside me on the grass beside the big guitar.
sleep?" I open my eyes and I'm not sure where I am. A car goes by and Inge begins
to wag her tail beside me as pain screeches through my shoulder. I squint up at
Remy and then look over at his camper with guilt when I see a splattering of
centimetre-long black marks. When I assess his face I can tell he hasn't
noticed my shooting spree yet, but I must look guilty as hell.
was shooting at that sign over there," I say, leaning on my elbow. "Laughed
myself to sleep I reckon." Remy points at the sign.
thing?" I still don't have my eyeglasses on but there's only one sign in that
not a sign. It's a propane tank!" He
cracks up laughing as I sit up and blink the sleep out of my eyes in disbelief.
propane tank?" It is a propane tank with painted words on it that looks like a
"You could have blown it up with a spark! Classic! Look at you passed out on the
lawn under Bob's Country Bunker guitar with a rifle in your arms and a white
dog sleeping beside you. The citizens of Craven are going to have a good laugh
over their bacon and eggs and coffee this morning!" Remy's laughter is
infectious. "Such recklessness." I
squint at the tank and see the words: ‘Joy
Propane Ltd.' written on it. The irony is not lost to us. I'm not
embarrassed but surprised. Something needs to change; this wildness cannot