"Being fond of
courage while detesting poverty
will lead men to
unruly behaviour." - Confucius
Hawk Lake, Manitoba
feel like I'm coming apart at the seams like a piñata left outside in the rain
prodded and pushed around but not yet broken. All I want is to find a modest
place to write that I can call my own - my own private Idaho. Now I'm looking
at heading back to Ontario where prices will be too high. Something has gone drastically
wrong. I'm doing everything backwards and counter-clockwise. I want to blame
Remy but I'm the one to blame. The mirror. Christ, maybe I'm the one
who's going mad.
In the campground I consult the map and
mull over my options. There are a number of places where Remy could have gone.
My finger follows the highway to Vermillion Bay, a place he once called one of
the most beautiful on the planet. That would be the next nook von crannie.
After a lunch of honey and stale rye bread in my camper with Inge I drive in
the wet snow to Vermillion Bay. Overcast. When I arrive something tells me Remy
isn't here. Slowly explore all possible nook von crannies under the willow
trees. I don't find his camper so I spend the night near the water and leave
early the next morning for Thunder Bay, our old tree-planting stomping ground.
My twin intuition tells me he would be there if anywhere from here to Toronto.
to Thunder Bay I pass miles of green forest following the Canadian Pacific
Railway through Kenora and Dryden until I get sick of the 18-wheelers and slip
south on Highway 622 through Turtle River Provincial Park down to Atikokan and
Quetico Provincial Park, the canoeing capital of the world. It's the first time
I've been alone wince I've been back, free to roam and now without the need to
slow down for Remy. I open up to 100 on the open road and am confident that
I'll make it to Toronto for Thanksgiving. I think about Remy and the Twin
Paradox and wonder what happens when the lines cross during the seventh year,
when the double helix doubles and halves, doubles and halves, the storm more
severe when the breakage is so complete. Thunder and lightning and waves and
rain, the crossing point was full bore, the intersection of the latest
seven-year cycle. A shaking of the hands in the passing night of time, a nod at
the crossroads on our tandem journeys, two hitchhikers heading on down the
road. The crack when the fire ignites.
doesn't take me long to reach the city of Thunder Bay where I follow the signs
to downtown and I find the old Inntowner tavern, the scene of many good nights
during tree-planting season. I'm expecting Remy to be playing pool with a
native talking about the medicine wheel and the Pahana. I walk into the pub and stop in my tracks.
The old long bar that was always so crowded is boarded up with old Coke signs.
Pool table still and abandoned, scarred and wise. The bar empty save a few old
timers sitting on bar stools and a Chinese woman behind the bar with cheap
Chinese decorations on all the walls.
wanna a drink?" The Chinese woman stern with an accent, impatient in her
endoplast gait. I look around again making sure I'm in the right place. I
decide against the drink and leave past the billiards table for the east.
out of Thunder Bay for the open road I ponder some of the themes of my
yet-to-be-completed book on China still kicking around in my hears like an
unseen mosquito in a darkened tent. Susurration cannot remain unattended so I
employ Inge to be my sounding board.
you know China has moved away from the extreme left of the political spectrum?"
Her ears go back and she smiles. Good doggie. "In 2004 capitalists were invited
to join the communist party so with capitalists as party members, is the
Chinese Communist Party still communist? It now wants the proletariat to act on
personal self-interest for material gain for the good of the Motherland.
Chinese by the millions educated at English-speaking universities in the West
are now returning to the mainland to lead a new economic renaissance, sweeping
the nation in a fever of state-sponsored nationalism. If political conformity
is the dominant religion of China today and anything other than good economics
is politically undesirable, then what does that say about good business in Red
China? International trade reveals China exporting way more than it imports
that has resulted in China having one of the biggest bank accounts on the
planet and the biggest gap between the rich and the poor. But they need the big
savings account to pay for oil. The merging of private sector oil exploration
and the military is a blurry picture - especially when one is reminded the one
party also makes the laws thus no division between the executive and judicial
branches - yet it is understandable because China is now the biggest consumer
of oil. And a country without enough oil flirts with a constant national
security risk. So when the United States invaded Iraq, China lost about 20
percent of it oil supply coming from Iraq. All existing contracts were declared
null and void. The American invasion of Iraq was a war against China by Proxy.
Oil makes people and nations do crazy things." My throat is scratchy so I don't
tell Inge that the last two wars the United States lost were to China: the
Vietnam War and the Korean War were both wars against China in the background,
the Korean War being the more severe example of how Americans cannot win a war
I come out of my thoughts on China, I am driving along the north shore of Lake
Superior where geographically Canada boils down to one strategic throughway
along the Trans-Canada Highway. I remember Remy warning me that the chances of
being pulled over along here were high for the slightest infringement.
to tire after passing through Nipigon, I look for a nook-von-crannie in the dark when I spot a provincial park and pull
in beside the sign.
Lake Provincial Park
the park being closed, it crosses my mind that I could find a spot to crash in
the park but I'm prohibited by a metal bar. Instead of leaving the park
entrance I roll up a joint. I put on the indoor light and am at the de-budding
stage of its construction when a car stops in front of me. I kill the indoor
light and place the half-rolled joint on the floor by my feet and slip my
one-gram baggy of weed under my right thigh all the while thinking it was a
park ranger. I slide it into drive and move for the highway but the car guns
forward to prevent my exit. It's only then that I realize it's a police car.
Headlights crossing my path, I see a MAG flashlight in the dark coming towards
me, slow and thorough, cautious like a lion to an antelope.
are you doing here?" The shining light at my hands and face and around the
was just seeing if the park was open so I could stay the night." He doesn't
answer. "But then I saw it was parked... er, I mean closed." I don't feel nervous
despite the half-rolled joint.
what are you doing here sir?"
was just looking at my map to see how far it was to White River." For a second
I want to share information about how the story of Winnie-the-Pooh originated
mean White Lake? Or...White River?" I passed White Lake ten minutes ago.
River. I reckon maybe 20 kilometres or so..."
kilometres." The cop seems to lose some of his swagger but then the flashlight
focuses on the pile of junk and Inge in the passenger seat. The light flashes
on my map, a jerry can and an open twelve-pack of Coors Light. The light stays
on the box of beer.
that beer sir?" his voice buoyant. When I answer that it is, he lets loose with
a rapid-fire set of questions.
the case open sir?"
there any open bottles in there sir?"
I reply, but suddenly I wonder what he means exactly by ‘open bottles'. "Ah
well, there are a few empties in there," I throw in as if I have nothing
you consumed any alcohol today sir?"
"No I have
not." It is then that we have direct eye-to-eye contact. The cop is in his
forties and keeps his moustache bushy in the middle.
I see your driver's license please?" Pulling out my wallet without exposing my
baggy of weed becomes my total focus like a surgeon crouching and about to cut
the treated area. The flashlight becoming very active, I can hear the crumpling
of the baggy as I adjust my weight to retrieve my driver's license from my back
it is." He looks over my papers and he keeps the questions coming.
there any firearms or illegal narcotics in the vehicle sir?" I say there aren't
but it sounds noticeably weaker than my answer about the booze. For a moment I
contemplate telling the cop that I have a hunting knife in my camper, showing
him I have nothing to hide. In that vein I'm about to confess I have a small
baggy of marijuana for ‘personal use.' How many people have told me that cops
only bust you if you have more than an ounce on you? Facing this moment of
crisis I know if asked to step out of the vehicle I won't be able to conceal
I ask where you are going?"
hoping to get to my mother's for Thanksgiving on Sunday. She lives in Toronto."
have you come from?" I have no idea whether he means an hour ago, a day ago or
a month ago.
Yukon." I momentarily take delight in how much I have traveled since the
Vancouver airport. The flashlight stops on the map that lies unfolded by my
arm. The cop walks in front of my rig and checks the license plate against my
you also have insurance and registration for this vehicle sir?" Still hyper
aware of the crumpling baggy of weed under my thigh I lean across and open the
glove compartment and hand him more papers. More Chinese communist words come
to my mind: IF YOU LET ME GO, I WILL TELL YOU SOMETHING! Words
that were screamed at the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. He
examines the papers one more time and gives a final flash of his flashlight.
sir. Have a good evening." As I accept my license and registration back I can
again hear the crumpling of the baggy. Placing my papers beside my map, I slip
it into drive and leave.
drive stoically to get myself far away from the bottleneck, an hour along the
stretch of road between Thunder Bay and Wawa, a pressure cooker of connecting
tissue for the road sailor
linking west to the east. The civilized
world in the post-World Trade Tower age has become a place where one can no
longer get lost in the timelessness of play without being suspect and watched
by an invisible enemy that makes all good people on guard at all times. Anyone
who stands out from the crowd is scrutinized for the markings of a criminal.
Conform or be hassled.
LONG LIVE THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE
WHO IS NOT WITH US - IS AGAINST US!
should be presented in a certain way and beards and moustaches severely frowned
upon distinguishing you as one who answers to Satan's call. The warm blanket of
security that kept me warm throughout my early years is gone. Conformity is
used in China to consolidate opinion for political ends. In Canada one conforms
to separate oneself from the suspicion of being a terrorist. Suspicion now
reigns where the security of innocence once shone brightest in Canada. More
Chinese communist party propaganda pops into my head:
THE INDIVIDUAL MAY FALL,
BUT THE COLLECTIVE LASTS FOREVER.
Collective, my ass.
mixed bag of Canadian Shield and trees is a unique landscape strangely
familiar, an ancient kinship. The land with its rich soil isn't flat enough to
be prairie nor can the jagged Precambrian bedrock hills pass for mountains. You
can't call the woods a pine forest because there isn't enough pine but you
can't call it a birch forest because there isn't enough birch and you can't
call it a poplar forest because there aren't enough poplars, but you can with
maple. Her autumn multi-coloured canopy houses countless rivers and millions of
lakes carved out by receding glaciers like a tiger's paw through butter. It is
widely believed that Ontario's geologists lost track counting the number of
lakes at about three million. Its labyrinth of waterways provided
transportation routes for the Anishinabec and les voyageurs fur traders of past centuries. A canoeing paradise
and the largest supply of fresh water in the world.
hit the first limestone church of the journey at Brace Mines just past Sault Ste.
Marie, an experience that make me think I'm home. I bypass the turn off at
Espanola to explore Manitoulin Island because the ferry to Tobermory is closed
for the season. Crossing the north shore of Georgina Bay I reach Parry Sound
where the two-lane traffic turns to a four-lane feeder highway into Toronto.
More buildings and factories appear and the traffic appears out of nowhere.
Like a beehive the speeds become faster along Highway 400 and dangerous on
Highway 401 to the city. New companies and films on billboards are like a new
language to me, a foreign culture born from the ashes of the old, world-old and
I arrive in the streets of Toronto I decide to pass through my old
neighbourhood where I went to school. Quiet and the same as I remember it,
nothing changed in this safe niche of the world. Treed and safe.
too late to call my mother but just enough time for a pint of beer at the local
pub. I park and walk in the Fox and Firkin.
we're closed," says a waiter.
call is at 1:30, right?" I check my watch.
but it's 2:30." I've crossed a time zone today.
up Yonge Street to a park near my mother's place I begin to experience engine
trouble. Sounds like the engine isn't getting any fuel but I have lots of gas.
I chug along and barely make it to the park and pull into a shady area beside
the river for the night.
I lay in my loft, I dreamt I was in a field where a long "V" shape of birds
appeared overhead. I took my pellet gun and shot at the birds so high up in the
sky. Miraculously I hit one and it fell to the ground so I ran after it with so
much delight and amazement that I forgot I was carrying my rifle until I
encountered some strangers in the field. They looked at me and my weapon as if
I was a serial killer. I stopped to debate whether I should pick up the bird,
and decided not to retrieve it. I turned back without the bird.
take their morning run along the creek the next morning, well-rested and crisp,
urban in posture and earnestness, in gait and structure. I want to drive to my
mother's to surprise her but my engine won't start. I turn it over and it won't
catch. There happens to be a police car parked only ten yards from me. For all
I know I'm being watched. I hesitate for a moment before I approach the cop
me, officer?" The policeman unrolls his window after scrutinizing me. I step
away from the window because of the unfriendly expression on his face.
I help you?" Italian descent. Polite. Young.
I hope so. My truck won't start. I was wondering if you could call in for a tow
truck. My mobile phone is out of credits." The policeman looks back at my rig
and then gets out of his car.
that your vehicle, sir?"
Could you call for a tow truck? I could take it to a mechanic. I think it's the
fuel line. The engine's not getting enough gas." He asks me to try the motor
again so I go to the driver's seat and try it again but it still doesn't start.
The cop radios for a tow truck that shows up in fifteen minutes. I ride in the
passenger seat of the tow truck, with Inge still in the camper and am dropped
off at my mother's house.
What a surprise!" My mother embraces me. Genuinely shocked to see me, hands
fluttering around my shoulders making sure I'm real.
so glad you made it for Thanksgiving. I couldn't have asked for a better
Thanksgiving present. It's been too many years." The familiar and unwanted
guilt for being away for so long sneaks into the room like a fox watching from
the corner of the room.
Remy with you?" I'm just about to tell her I lost him on the road when Remy
arrives. Standing in the doorway he's unaware that I'm in the room for a
moment, until he takes off his jacket.
did you get here before me?"
got here last night."
were you? I checked all the
campgrounds in West Hawk Lake."
was there. Well hidden. I was behind the thing with the metal-" I immediately
know where he had been, the one place I neglected to look."
"I know where you're talking about," I say,
interrupting him. "Beyond the thing there on the right."
right there." We nod at each other in understanding and give each other a bear
hug. I get a faint waft of marijuana.
Thanksgiving Mom," we say at the same time.