Wordcarpenter Books
 Road Sailors

29

"Being fond of courage while detesting poverty

will lead men to unruly behaviour." - Confucius

West Hawk Lake, Manitoba

I 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.

Driving 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.

It 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.

"You 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.

Driving 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.

"Did 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 of attrition.

When 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.

Beginning 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.

White Lake Provincial Park

CLOSED/FERME

Despite 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.

"What are you doing here?" The shining light at my hands and face and around the driver's seat.

"I 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.

"So what are you doing here sir?"

"I 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 from there.

"You mean White Lake? Or...White River?" I passed White Lake ten minutes ago.

"White River. I reckon maybe 20 kilometres or so..."

"25 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.

"Is that beer sir?" his voice buoyant. When I answer that it is, he lets loose with a rapid-fire set of questions.

"Is the case open sir?"

"Yes."

"Are there any open bottles in there sir?"

"No," 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 to hide.

"Have 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.

"May 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 pocket.

"Here it is." He looks over my papers and he keeps the questions coming.

"Are 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 the baggy.

"May I ask where you are going?"

"I'm hoping to get to my mother's for Thanksgiving on Sunday. She lives in Toronto."

"Where have you come from?" I have no idea whether he means an hour ago, a day ago or a month ago.

"The 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 papers.

"Do 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.

"Sorry 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.

I 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 PROLETARIAT!

WHO IS NOT WITH US - IS AGAINST US!

Hair 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.

The Collective, my ass.

 

The 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.

I 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 primeval.

When 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.

It's 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.

"Sorry, we're closed," says a waiter.

"Last call is at 1:30, right?" I check my watch.

"Right, but it's 2:30." I've crossed a time zone today.

Driving 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.

As 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.

 

People 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 car.

"Excuse me, officer?" The policeman unrolls his window after scrutinizing me. I step away from the window because of the unfriendly expression on his face.

"Can I help you?" Italian descent. Polite. Young.

"Yes, 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. 

"Is that your vehicle, sir?"

"Yes. 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.

"Dear! What a surprise!" My mother embraces me. Genuinely shocked to see me, hands fluttering around my shoulders making sure I'm real.

"Happy Thanksgiving Mom."

"I'm 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.

"Is 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.

"Trapp!"

"My brother!"

"How did you get here before me?" 

"I got here last night."

"Last night?"

"Where were you? I checked all the campgrounds in West Hawk Lake."

"I 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."

"Yeah, right there." We nod at each other in understanding and give each other a bear hug. I get a faint waft of marijuana.

"Happy Thanksgiving Mom," we say at the same time.

 


 

30

"Is one who simply sides with tenacious opinions a gentleman?

or is he merely putting on a dignified appearance?" - Confucius

Toronto, Ontario

There are only a few scraps of turkey left on the carcass and some cranberry sauce, remnants of a royal feast. Never has my appetite been so veracious, a wild animal in my capacities like all men of instinct. My journals of the trip lay scattered around the table. It's not long when another bottle of red wine is opened and Remy asks me if he can flip through some pages. There's some cranberry sauce in his whiskers.

"Soccer," I say. He looks closely at me as I briefly touch my whiskers around the left side of my mouth, the cue for him to raise his serviette and swipe his whiskers and remove the cranberry. He reads some entries.

"Who wrote this in Watson Lake? The one written in large scrawl."

 "The cook. Remember him?"

"Yeah. Mom, listen to this. It's from a guy we met one night in the Yukon. 

Welcome to my world. Today I cooked for 8 hours then met Two very Interesting Brothers which have the Know how and Energy to accomblish what they put there energy two. I see good out of what they see but they will find who they are and why they are here and where they are happy for what they got and for what they know. not for what they do because what you do will make yourself wonder and wonder day in and day out. (WHY) for you yourself will be rich but it's a long road where the road becomes many. So go with Your own self for who you are and what you are and get to know your Innerself and learn how to USE THE ENERGY.'

He wrote the last three words in capital letters."

"He had a good heart," I say. Remy nods and I know he's thinking of the Coke-bottle glasses and the pale and fragile skin. In my food stupor my mind wanders to how he asked about his life and the kindness in his voice. Emotion sweeps over me like a gust of wind in a storm that hits me in the heart. In him I see compassion so thorough, so unthanked and so overlooked, and so pure and noble in empathy that my heart leaps into my throat. Morose in the candlelit semi-darkness and my eyes become heavy. In front of my mother I see one brother who seeks to heal himself and another who seeks to heal others, one selfish and the other selfless, and the one selfless, so misunderstood.

"Sounds like you got through to him. I wish sometimes you two could see how you are when you're around one another, how infectious it is. Have I ever told you what your grandmother said about you two? You weren't cry babies, you were laugh babies." A smile full of pride and joy justifies the thousands of miles we've driven, her two sons finally home for Thanksgiving after so many years away.

After a laugh-filled meal and bouts of storytelling with some key editing on both our parts, Remy and I slow in our food comas and distended stomachs, go out for a nightcap.

After we say our good-byes and leave, Remy suggests that since my camper is at the mechanic's I put Inge in his camper.

"What about your beads and stuff?"

"They're doggie-proof." When he lets Inge in his camper the dog goes to sleep on the floor. Settled.

"I called Kenny before I came in tonight. He's going to meet us at the Fox and Firkin for a pint." It's one of Remy's oldest friends.

"Kenny? Haven't seen him in ten years."

"Man, I still can't believe you made it here before me! It's a long haul from Thunder Puppy."

When we arrive at the pub, Kenny is already there. Looks exactly the same, not one line.

"The McFlynn twins!" He asks me about the places I've traveled so I tell him about some of the people I met and the jobs I've had. Interested but no questions come after my spiel. Instead he turns his attention to Remy. He makes snide remarks about the way Remy looks and his leather medicine bundle and straw cowboy hat and worn denims. Remy tired, gets up to call our father on the telephone.

"Don't you think Remy has lost something since his days as an undergrad?"

"You think so? I think he has gained something." For some reason he thinks I would betray my identical twin brother behind his back. Remy returns, his face ashen.

"Dad just totally chewed me out. I can't believe he was so harsh! He said I was a loser. He was so blunt." Kenny laughs.

"Yeah but Remy, look at you. You're a bum. Look at your untrimmed beard and your clothes. I don't know anyone who looks as grubby as you. I'm embarrassed to be here at this table with you." Posture now concave, exhaustion clouding his eyes, defenceless, trodden and hampered by gravity.

I ask Kenny why he's so cranky.

"I'm not cranky Trapp. Your brother calls me up once every few years when he comes into town and we go out and have a few laughs but it's always the same. He always leaves the next morning - gone like the bride's panties. Like Laura."

"I should call her," he mumbles, taking it all on the chin and filling his cup.

"Your damn right you should call her. She misses you man. I don't want to dish on you old boy but take a look at yourself."

"It's the end of a 7000 kilometre road trip," I say, feeble from the turkey and stuffing and horseradish. "We're both grubby, man. We've both been eating and sleeping on wheels for almost two months."

"Decorum. This man has a master's degree and look at him: a real-life bum. You live in a camper with all your worldly possessions. You want to help others but you can't even help yourself. Sorry to be the guy to break it to you old boy but that's just the way it is." Kenny had atrophied in both mind and spirit, his education lost out to the repetitive preaching of television writers with dubious ethics and make-believe worlds, his time spent dreaming dreams far different than mine in a world padded with soft truths from living vicariously through an electronic window to the world.

I tell him it's rude to speak to my brother like that so he stands up and throws money on the table.

Dark circles like coffee stains on a coaster, eyes sad and salt of dried sweat marked the tanned skin above the beard.

"Ever wonder why I've embraced our Indian side? It's because all my white friends have turned their backs on me just like that." We sit in silence for a while and drink as the bar begins to close down. There's an expression in Latin that describes Remy, an axis in medictate signi; an axis in the midst of signs. He recognizes signs from God. It's a gift.

"Don't let someone like Kenny put you off. You've grown while he's stayed the same." I tell him about the Twin Paradox and our crossing at the intersection of the double helix. I tell him Kenny doesn't know how the world works and I doubt he is acquainted with the ache of hunger and how you can never trust someone who hasn't experienced tragedy. We have experienced tragedy and loss because we go out into life to such extremes and that makes us different. "You have something special Remy. I wasn't sure at first but it was in Fort Nelson that morning we took that dip in the pool that I saw something in you I had never seen before. You have the courage to follow what you believe. Most people never reach that point; most people never dig as deep as you have to find their gift." He looks as weak and exhausted as I've ever seen him.

"It's been a good road trip I must say."

He tells me that what he sees at the crossing of the paths after the last seven-year cycle is his opposite, is the Wendigokaan. "I had a serious dream nine days ago but I needed nine days to interpret it properly. It was about you. I dreamed that you are a Wendigokaan - a contrary spirit. A Wendigokaan, not a Wendigo - that's something different - is associated with the power of thunder and lightning. Your spirit is that of a sacred clown who lives according to their own rules. You buck authority and live apart from others and you show what is wrong with the way things are through contrary behaviour." I nod.

"That would explain a lot." In a haze I ask where Wendigokaans live.

"Midland, Parry Sound and Manitoulin Island and some other good spots. Our Ojibway brothers are in all of those areas."

"Manitoulin?"

"I've been there. It's the land the Creator made in the image of himself. 'Manitoulin' actually means ‘the Land of the Creator.' Literally it's where the Great Spirit resides."

"I may check it out."

"It's the largest fresh water island in the world. And it has the only unceded territory in North America. It's an independent Indian reserve still to this day never taken by the Europeans."

"We've road-sailed across the continent of Canada, our Africa"

"You see I am a Red Man who walks through life without regard for rules while the sun makes a crown on my head. It says of me in the Bible:

‘My enemies say cruel things about me.

They want me to die and be forgotten.

Those who come to see me are not sincere;

they gather bad news about me

and then go out and tell it everywhere...

 

Even my best friend, the one I trusted most,

the one who shared my food,

has turned against me.'"

 

"I will not turn against you," I say.

"That's what the prophecies say."

Arriving at Remy's camper he opens the door and Inge jumps out along with bits of drapery and feathers that fall to the ground. Eagle feathers lay half-eaten on the floor of the camper and on his bed, a roll of paper towel has been chewed up and the drapes are shredded, even the bearskin having been gnawed at.

"Inge, come!" I yell. She comes to me sheepishly with her ears back.

"Get that evil dog out of here!" I take the dog for a good run around thinking of the carnage. His mobile homestead and his temple, everything of value is there carefully arranged and adorned with beads that have been programmed from sweat lodges and medicines brewed with expertise and finesse but now it's all wrecked by the dog he always thought was evil. Yelling at the dog isn't going to do anything useful at this point so I grab Inge by the leash and go. Back at the camper Remy is closing the doors and driving off. He passes in front of me for the main road and I wave but he ignores me as if were a stranger he had never once seen.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Table of Contents
 
2. Alexa
3. Remy
15. Atlin Man
23. Buffalo
25. Blow Out
27. Inge
29. The Man
30. Thanksgiving
34. Landowner
 

 
 
 

 

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