Road Sailors (Part 3)

Chapter 18


“To attack a task from the wrong end can do nothing but harm.” – Confucius

Whitehorse, the Yukon

Later, without each other knowing, Remy and I leave the saloon at the same time and bump into each other on the street after having just lost each other in the melee. Just as we had walked to the bar arm-in-arm we walk back to our campers the same way though this time he’s leaning on me to keep his balance. Remy is now very drunk but he makes it back to his camper for the night. When I walk over to my rig near the hotel I see a native woman standing beside the parking lot in the sub-zero temperature trying not to be seen. I decide to approach her.

A mixture of curiosity and compassion compels me.

“Hey, are you OK?” I ask her. The woman moves from the corner of the parking lot towards me.

“Yes,” she says.

“Why are you outside in the cold?”

“I have no place to stay. My roommate won’t let me in.” She looks miserable.

“Are you warm enough? It’s cold tonight.” I walk closer. She is short and has wet hair with a dirty hood that is crumpled to one side in the freezing rain. I can tell she’s not dressed warm enough for the wet and cold night air.

“Do you want to have a smoke in my rig? I was going to smoke one before I went to bed.” She’s suspicious until I point at my camper twenty feet away. “That’s mine. I drove from Prince George.” She’s weary but after a moment she cautiously accepts and climbs in the passenger door. I start my truck and put on the heat first, then turn on the music and begin rolling a joint.

“Would you like a cigarette?”

“Yes,” she says. She tells me her name is Theresa when I hand her a cigarette.

“The heat’s on full blast. It should warm up in a minute.” There is a silence after I light her smoke for her. “I’ve just spent part of my life in Hong Kong so I’m not used to this cold.”

“What are you doing here?” Her question is a reflex.

“Looking for a cabin to buy so I can finish writing a book about China.” It sounds out of place and pretentious. “I’m travelling with my brother who’s over there in that camper.” I point to Remy’s Dodge.

“A cabin?” I light the joint and pass it to her. She takes it casually and then gives it back after three really quick puffs – just like David Miller.

“I’m Métis Indian,” I say in an effort to make her feel more comfortable. It’s the first time I have ever uttered these words. Theresa studies me for a moment and then seems to relax. It’s beginning to warm up.

“The government demolished my cabin,” she says. “The government said they wanted a new waterfront so they took down all our homes.” With her eyes she motions towards the Yukon River behind us.

“What, down here?”

“Yes, by the river. Want to see?”

“OK.” I bring my flashlight and Inge. Theresa leads me across the back of the parking lot to the hidden shoreline of the mighty Yukon River. It flows with such force that just being close to the riverbank makes me think that one small slip and the current will carry me to the Bering Sea. On a trail along the edge of the river, Theresa grabs my hand in the darkness to bring me closer, the light rain on the verge of snow, which makes it perilous walking so close to the mercurial current of the Yukon River.

We come to remnants of a wooden cabin with a tarp beside it.

“They took everything away from us, all of our houses along the river. Now we don’t have no place to stay.” She says someone had been staying in the demolished cabin during the summer and used the plastic tarp as rain protection. Theresa takes me down farther along the Yukon to the ruins of an old wooden cabin with walls but without a roof, but the surviving walls are only a few feet high. Weeds trample over what’s left of the hut. We pass through some wooded bush – the only bush left along the Yukon River in Whitehorse – to a half-standing cabin made with crumbling sticks and a transparent tarpaulin no bigger than ten feet by ten feet. There are plastic bags used for a bed mat and there is a ratty blanket in the corner farthest from the river’s edge. In the dark and drizzle, it is a depressing sight.

The riverside has been bulldozed in preparation for a waterfront that still hasn’t been built.

“My brother stays here sometimes. We have nowheres to go. Nowheres to meet.” I notice a plastic bag has clothes in it. Everything is wet about to turn into ice.

“Isn’t there anyone to stand up for you in government? I mean don’t you have a tribal leader fighting against these bills that are passed in government that affect your life?” She doesn’t say anything as Inge sniffs at the entrance to the broken-down hut. It is sad, not only in cause but in effect.

“What the government don’t know was that those was our childhood homes.” I shine my flashlight on the hut and see mud and weeds intermingled with a ripped sleeping bag soaked wet from the freezing rain.

“He sleeps here with no roof?” Theresa nods.

“We have no place to go. The white man took away our homes here where we have lived for generations. Where else do we go?”

“I don’t know,” I say softly.

“There are lots of us who have lost our homes and who can’t find anywheres to live besides the apartments at the hotel.” She tells me Whitehorse has the highest consumption of alcohol per person in Canada. She looks older from sleeping on the streets and from drinking to stay warm. Her bitterness is so entrenched that it is etched in her face and has become the foundation of her person, her primary beef and the basis of her orientation. Theresa’s resentment has consumed her so that there is no trace of a smile left on her face. As I look at her under the stark reality of moonlight, all I can feel is compassion that is hampered by the chill from the massive Yukon River. With my hair now soaking wet the cold finally sends a shiver down my spine, sending a shock through my system.

“It’s cold tonight.”

“Not yet. It’s only September.” Theresa looks so miserable in the drizzle her hair and face wet in the rain. We decide to leave her brother’s hut and walk along the trail back to my camper. There is nothing by the riverbank anymore except the chronic waft of humiliation for her and the wolf’s lair of her resentment.

Back in my camper, I set her up in the other bed after I remove the fold-down table. After a few minutes I glance down at her.

“Comfortable?” She grunts something and then turns.

“I come up there with you, OK?” She crawls into my loft and snuggles up right against me. She is in my spare sleeping bag while I am in my own sleeping bag covered with a heavy blanket. I cover her too. Under the warm blanket we fall asleep listening to the rain rattle the roof of my camper. That night, sleeping beside Theresa, I have a short but powerful dream.

I dreamt of a number – 2/9ths – and realized that I am exactly ‘2/9ths’ Native, enough anyway to make me Métis. Remy was taught that if you have one drop of native blood within sixth generations then you are considered Métis – that your skin may be white but your spirit is red. Just sleeping beside Theresa brought my ancestor spirits close to me, my dream being infiltrated with benevolent ancestor spirits. Strange experience. But I cannot deny what the dream meant. I wake up in the morning knowing something about myself I have never been sure of before: I am Métis.

Chapter 19


“Is it not a pleasure, having learned something, to try it out at due intervals?” – Confucius

“Where were you? I had no idea where you were. I was just about to leave. I thought you had gone off drunk last night, driving.” It’s the stiff upper lip I can see on Remy’s face that makes me gentle with my reply.

“I just took a homeless Indian girl to where she could eat something,” I say, having just returned from dropping Theresa off at a soup kitchen down the street where she met some friends. I am parked beside Remy’s truck.

“I was just about to leave.” Remy’s in a bad mood and looks miserable, but I feel energized in the cold morning air. I let him sigh and pout for a few moments. I’m not going to apologize for giving a homeless person a place to stay and for giving her a lift to a soup kitchen.

“So what do you think?” I ask.

“I don’t like this place. I had a bad dream last night. It was so vivid, man. And you were in it.” I know from the way he says it that I was the bad guy in his dream, so I don’t ask. “Dawson City is another 500 kilometres north towards Alaska – a whole day of driving.” The thought of another day’s drive due north into a colder climate is silly. I simply do not want to live north of Whitehorse. And besides, it would be a thousand kilometres there and back along the same road.

“I don’t want to go north,” I say. “If you can’t get that magnetic force thing working for you here then we may want to head back into the interior and look somewhere a bit warmer.” This seems to perk him up and relax his stiff upper lip.

“OK. If we merge along the Alaskan Highway then we’ll still be above the 60th parallel, so we can still look.”

“Well it appears as if we’re heading east, back to Junction 37 to Watson Lake.”

“All right brother. I’m going to do a die spinnah,[1] so I’ll meet up with you ahead. Stick to Highway One all the way.”

Roger that RT,” I reply. Remy is still warming up his engine when I leave him in the parking lot. Sometimes I know when Remy prefers to be alone – and this morning is one of them. But I am buoyed by my dream, and full of the feeling one gets from being compassionate to another in need. There is something firmer in my step today knowing that perhaps a corner piece of the puzzle of my own identity has been revealed to me through a dream.

I’m not sure why but I hardly dreamed at all when I lived in Hong Kong.

I drive slowly along the Alaskan Highway a few minutes until I see ‘The Klondike’ – the old steamer used to ferry miners down the Yukon River to Dawson City. I stop and have a long look at the historic steamer. It makes me wonder how many people living up here in the Yukon are descendants of those early gold miners who set sail from the south 2000 kilometers away to find their pot of gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. Were they the fortunate ones who found the coveted gold dust, or those who made money from selling miners the picks and shovels they needed for their quest? Or those who had nothing left and were forced to stay who ran the local government who voted to tear down the cabins along the Yukon River? The men who built this town were guys cut from the same cloth as big George Carmack, the man who single-handedly started the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896.

As I walk around The Klondike, I relive the story of George Carmack by telling the story to Inge.

“You know how the Klondike Gold Rush started, little puppy dog? Well, I’ll tell you. After striking a large find in what was to become Bonanza Creek, big George Carmack casually ordered a couple of whiskeys in Bill McPhee’s saloon in a place called Forty Mile. Poor bugger had been working all year so it was his first drink in a long time. It was in August 1896. After a few whiskeys he turned to the crowd in the saloon, raised his hand and called for quiet. ‘Boys,’ he said, ‘I’ve got some good news. There’s been a big strike up the river.’ With those words the Klondike Gold Rush was ignited. The news reached Seattle that fall so the big putsch began in the spring of 1897 and the rest – as they say – is history.”

It’s strange talking to my dog but she’s an excellent listener.

On the road again I think about Theresa and the plight of the natives up here. The Canadian government has been forthcoming with the native peoples and has taken concrete steps to compensate and rehabilitate, but their methods seem to lack finesse. The waterfront was to be built to attract tourists but at the cost of homesteads that had been on the riverside for generations.

Why weren’t they relocated to new housing?

Two hours south of Whitehorse can only be described as wilderness – vast stretches unmarked by the surveyor’s hand. Past Jake’s Corner, I stop at Johnson’s Crossing where I fill up with gas and then go inside the café beside the river. I sit down at a table with a coffee and a freshly made Danish, and open a book of poems by Robert Service that’s on one of the bookracks. A friendly woman with golden hair and tattoos on her arms doesn’t seem to mind. I find a poem titled ‘The Men That Don’t Fit In’ that catches my eye. When I read it the words rustle and then ignite something inside me. I don’t feel quite as lonely as I have in a long time.

I’m rubbing my chin and staring at the caribou head on the wall, pondering the poem and my love of poetry, when Remy walks in.

“How long have you been here?”

“Twenty minutes,” I say.

“Is that all? I thought you were way ahead. How’s your rig running?”

“Good. Humming. Yours?”

“Some pings and knocks and whatnots but no biggie. It’s a sturdy piece, mind you she’s thirty years old. Total money’s worth already.” The woman serves us coffee with a friendly smile. When Remy sits down I hand him the book and point to the poem.

“It’s a good one.”

“As a rule I don’t care for poetry.”

“It’s up to you,” I say flippantly, knowing that these are the words he needs to hear to tweak his curiosity. I get up and pay for the coffees and browse the store a bit more, letting Remy have his space to read. At the counter the woman gives me a big smile.

“Don’t tell me,” she says. “You’re twins.” My smile widens, which answers her inquiry. She can’t help but gush. “I find twins so fascinating. You’re identical aren’t you?” I bring my hand up to my short beard that is now starting to grow in earnest, and nod. “I thought so. It’s the way you walk! It’s exactly the same!”

“Ah, our loping gait.” This makes her very happy. Then she leans closer to me.

“Is it true that twins can read each other’s minds? Like dreaming and ESP?” Wanting Remy to read the poem, I take the time to tell her about something that happened right before I left Canada for Asia.

“Well, I’ll tell you a story. One day I was sitting in a café with an old roommate of mine talking and catching up on each other’s lives. My brother had just left with our father after a visit with me during the afternoon. After about an hour at the café with my friend, I returned to my place when my brother called me on the telephone. ‘Trapp’ he said. ‘The strangest thing just happened. When Dad and I arrived at his place I could hear sounds coming from behind the door. I asked Dad if he had left the TV on but he said he hadn’t. When we walked into his pad, Dad went into the kitchen but I followed the sounds into the guest bedroom. The voice I was hearing became clearer and I realized that it was your voice. I stood there for a minute listening to you, and it sounded like you were in a café speaking to a woman and there was the sound of a TV in the background. I could hear you speaking clear as day. It sounded like you were talking to an old friend. But when I called Dad to come into the room to hear you speaking, your voice stopped. Isn’t that strange?’ At that moment, when he had finished telling me about this, I was the only one in the world who knew that he had somehow been able to hear me talking with my old girlfriend in the café because he didn’t know I was there with her. Now, how can you explain that?” Her eyes light up like light bulbs, and then she claps her hands.

“Isn’t that something!” By reflex she reaches out and touches my forearm in a gesture of kindness. I pay for the coffees and Danishes.

“Those Danishes were great. Compliments to the chef.” I know she’s the baker.

“Oh please, why don’t you take these.” She hands over a half-dozen Danishes in a bag. I make a motion that I can’t really accept them but she won’t hear anything of it. I graciously accept her gift, enjoying the experience of confirming that indeed Canadians are among the kindest people in the world.

“Thanks. They’re perfect for our road trip.” I walk back to Remy but he raises his hand not to be disturbed, preferring to stay in the café so he can finish reading the rest of the poem.

“I’m hitting the road,” I say. He nods and I leave for the highway.

Driving on the long bridge over the river, the image of Remy reading the poem sticks in my mind’s eye. Something restless inside me is comforted when I see the expression on his face – an expression of vitality and truth as if what he is reading holds the secrets to unanswered questions that have been left rolling around in the corners of his mind for years.

I recite the lines again to myself:

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,

A race that can’t stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain’s crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,

And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;

They are strong and brave and true;

But they’re always tired of the things that are,

And they want the strange and the new.

They say: “Could I find my proper groove,

What a deep mark I would make!”

So they chop and change, and each fresh move

Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs,

With a brilliant, fitful pace,

It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones

Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,

Forgets that his prime is past,

Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,

In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;

He has just done things by half.

Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,

And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;

He was never meant to win;

He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;

He’s a man who won’t fit in.

The poem speaks to that self in me that no one can ever know – that self in Remy and I that is the only witness to our greatest and most profound moments, the self within the soul that is forever without a voice. They are words that give Remy’s road sailor nomadic life justification and reason and tell him he is not alone. They are words that acknowledge the life of the lonely traveler in us all, the self that has no one – out of reach from even an identical twin.

Chapter 20


“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

A day after leaving Whitehorse we wake up just outside of Teslin parked on a logging road just off the Alaskan Highway. As usual I get up earlier than Remy as he nurtures his dreamscapes, so I 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.

“How’re 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.

“A good detection system for the bears around here,” I say. The dog is still barking.

“Stall ‘em anyway.” Laughter makes him sit up in his seat.

“This one is my bear protector.” I point at Inge.

“She’s 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.

“Don’t run. If you see a bear somewheres in these mountains, let him know you see him and then ease back non-threatening. Go slow.”

“Go slow? When you’re looking at a bear that can out-run you? Yeah! Easy words!” The old man thinks this is funny.

“They 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.

“So what do you do then? Walk slowly away and hope the bear doesn’t run after you and swat you down with its claws?”

“Yes 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.

When I return Remy is having coffee and studying his map.

“’Morning,” he says.

“’Morning big shooter.”

“We 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.

“So how is it for you north of the 60th parallel?” I ask.

“It’s 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.

“Can I ask you something?”

Oui monsieur.”

“Did you ever meet that guy down in Brazil with Stuart?” His eyebrows furrow and he looks across at the sparkling lake on the horizon.


“The recruiter guy.”

“I met a few of his friends down there. And sometimes-“

“Sometimes you think he may have been one of those people who you met inadvertently?” He looks into my eyes.

“Yeah, sometimes I think that may have happened. Stuart was like that.”

“But 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.

“Listen, 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.”

“Well, why would they care so much about you?” I immediately regret asking the question.

“Because 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.”

“Well 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.

“I 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 thoughts expressing real fears left unsaid only gather steam, like water in a teapot over a fire left untouched can only reach the boiling point.

I know it has been crippling him for years.

Back on the road we continue east along the Alaskan 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.

We 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.

“Where’s you come in from?” asks a big-boned trucker at the end of the bar.

“Whitehorse,” 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.

“That’s a fair distance, that drive,” says the old timer. His face tells of a hundred lifetimes.

“My 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.

“Bring 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.

“Yeah, 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.

“What brings you here?” asks the old timer. His eyes brighten. “Work?”

“We’re 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.

“There’s no land around here. Only up the Campbell Highway to Faro.”

“That’s a bit of a way north isn’t it?” says Remy.

“’Bout half hour or so I’d say.”

“Yeah, an hour,” adds the old timer, taking some of the bluster out of his friend.

“What’s up there?”

“Nothing,” answers the old timer.

“Serviced road?”

“It’s serviced,” says the trucker defensively. “And it’s got good hunting.” The old timer nods more vigorously at hearing this.

“Where you’s staying?”

“The campground about a mile out of town,” says Remy.

“Biggest campground in BC isn’t it, that one?” says the old timer.

“Takes half an hour just to get to where you camp!” says the trucker.

“A 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?”

“I’m 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.’ Words of the Chinese Communist Party still rattle around in my mind.

The Great Collective, I think to myself, my ass!

“Natural-born 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.

“I’ve never 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.

“I’m too plan Z to go to the campground so I’m going to stay across the street at that other campground,” Remy tells me.

“I’m 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:





Late 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.

“Hey man, want to buy a watch?” he says to me. He’s a young guy with cropped hair and bad acne.

“No thanks.”

“Can you buy some booze for me then?”

“Sorry 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.

“I’m going to the tavern. Want to come?” I remember his face from last night but cannot remember his name.

“‘Bit early to have a beer, non?

“No. 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 Anishinabek 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 hatred.

White 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.

In 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 becomes bored.

Soon 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 Dulorme 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 unknown.

After 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.

“Where 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.

“I’ll 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.

I 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.

“Oh! Shit!” I yell. Remy is laughing.

“Where were you? I was just about to leave. I didn’t know where you were.”

“Drinking with Indians – long story.”

“I 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-“

“Yes.” I know mischief covers my face with equal alacrity.

“Ah! Memories!

“Winchester 1.77mm air rifle. The real McCoy.”

“Let’s go get some beer and food and then go to the campground out of town.”

“You’ve been?” I ask.

“It’s 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!”

“OK, 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 teeming mischief in my voice.

“Cool. Trust me when I say you’ll know where I am in the campground. I’ll be in the first berth!”

Finding 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[2] el grande!” he says.

Oui mon frere. A full snagglepussy el grande.”

“Have you given it a teste yet?”

“No, 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 of the pellet striking the can 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.

“Your dog is getting in the way,” he says.

“My dog is ten yards away from the sign.”

“There’s 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.

“Two 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 his cadence of laughter and know what he’s up to.

“No,” 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’d 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.

“Remy!” He drops the barrel.

“What?” 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 dangerous combination that can only lead to criminal activity.

Using Remy’s crossbow in the Yukon, but the pellet gun was the star of the show

Chapter 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 awakens 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?

In the morning the thick-pine-sap-smelling-sharp-to-the-nose-pungent-and-bitter-and-appetizing-like-a-perfumed-fragrance aroma adds to the enjoyment of the mugs of coffee before we set out to explore the campground. The Yukon forest is 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 dog and the rifle. The pellet gun is the impetus for Remy to remember forgotten events in our youth 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 the most. 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 halfway across the world 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 his broken family.

“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 Alaskan 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 too bumpy. I did some recon up the Campbell and had to turn back because the road was hacking up[3] 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 but there are a cluster of big-ass buffalo on 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 Alaskan 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 while driving the Alaskan 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.

Chapter 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 alluring 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 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:


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 have 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.”


“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 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 above the pool. 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.

That morning, right after the pool

Chapter 23


“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” – Confucius

Fort Nelson, British Columbia

Too wired to sleep, we climb into our rigs and drive into the rising sun. The deep, luminous blue of the sky morphs into a crimson and saffron hue and the first arrows of burning light pierce the sky and strike my eyes through my rose-tinted sunglasses. I whistle to the music and shake my head at what I just experienced, mulling over the ideas that were exchanged in the hotel room still aghast that there are others out there clamouring to be the prophesied messenger. Passing more orange and yellow landscapes on the way through Prophet River to Fort St. John, we enter wide-open foothills along a windswept corridor of the Rockies. The chinook winds are like an avalanche of nails screaming sideways that push and pull us back and forth in 100-kilometre winds.

I watch Remy’s truck being pushed from side to side in front of me like a toy.

Remy is the first to stop but he parks on a peak above a thousand miles of forest where his camper sways violently in the crosswinds. It’s the only place to pullover along this stretch of highway so I park behind him but am unable to sleep because of my camper is still being manhandled by the wind. The image of my camper being blown over and then thrown down the small escarpment into the woods is foremost in my mind. The swaying is too violent so I leave Remy there and drive farther down the road. Wind – the stalking silent master that gives air texture – has me clutched in her talons and won’t let me go, my two tons of road buggy like a plastic plaything roughhoused and thrown back and forth at the peril of tipping.

I drive down the barren highway on bubble gum tires until I find a sheltered side road protected by trees but still visible to the cars so Remy can see me when he goes by. Despite this I’m still convinced that my camper is going to tip over so I lie there in my loft grabbing the sides of my mattress, trying to acclimatize to the swaying. Unnerved on the windy steppe, exhaustion soon overcomes my fear and I fall asleep.


A few hours later, the sun is shining in my eyes through the little window in my loft and I hear Remy’s familiar voice saying my name.


“Come in.” He opens the door to my camper.

Found you! You scallywag, you’re always taking off!”

“Well, you parked on a peak right in the middle of a wind tunnel. And your camper isn’t even tied down! I thought I was going be blown over.”

“Yeah, pretty serious chinooks eh? But no biggie. Builds character.”

“I always thought a chinook was a fish,” I reply, deadpan.

“I thought I was going to have to peel you off the shoulder. Major turbulence.” We have a smoke and then leave for Dawson Creek with the sun in our hearts. Just before reaching Dawson Creek near a place called Loosegun Lake, we pass a sign that reads:



Heavy trucks with radioactive symbols on them come and go from a road leading north into the bush. It’s an odd sight after days driving through wilderness bliss. We finally turn off at the train station that’s mile zero of the Alaskan Highway. A red grain mill dominates the old town of Dawson Creek. Oil country, farm kids in pick-up trucks with money in their pockets and booze on their breath, a dangerous combination.

No longer a gold rush in the north, it’s now an oil rush.

Dawson Creek is a rough town with territorial tattoos to show for it that attracts those in need of economic gain from the east and the west. Young kids operate heavy equipment making three times as much as any salary man in Toronto, New York, or Hong Kong. An under-the-table no-brainer just like they do it in China.

No taxes please.

We park in front of an old saloon that hasn’t changed in a century. Without a word we both walk into the saloon thirsty, windblown and dusty like cowboys. Old log beams stretch over the bar where hundreds of bottles line the walls. Old-timers in lumberjack jackets with white moustaches and beards sit proudly by the wooden railings, smoking their pipes and no-filter cigarettes eying us suspiciously. The beer is stale so we switch to Bloody Marys and move to the smoking room in the back with a pool table. Remy challenges for the table against a large unshaven man with his shirt tail hanging out and greasy hair who is more intent on drinking than playing billiards. Remy wins the table and keeps ordering more Bloody Marys at the same rate he drinks beer. Soon our games become sloppy and balls begin to fly off the table.

“Not as many buffalo today,” I say. Something about being outside the orbit of wild buffalo makes me feel like we’re going the wrong way. I’m feeling tense returning to the outskirts of civilization; I hear the call to the wild. Before we get too far away from the wild buffalo I think for a moment that locating in Dawson Creek would be the solution so we could have forays into the wild and yet live in a town with an arena and a library and a decent saloon. 

“I saw some places for sale on the way in, a few anyway,” I say to test the waters.

“You want to live here? This is where northern BC meets the Alberta border – practically the heart of the oil fields. It’s rough here. And it’s Yukon cold. No messin’ around here cowboy. You get your fair share of rednecks, which isn’t cool. It’s dicey. Need to watch your posture and all that stuff. Too much swagger and one of the boys will pull rank and break your nose.” A 300-pound guy with a blousy face and full jowls looks at Remy shooting pool and mumbles something about his Indian medicine bundle. I can tell from his demeanour and his rake-thin alcoholic groupies that he doesn’t like hippies adorned with Indian beads, but he is part of the dominant demographic group here and there’s nothing we can do but stay out of his way.


“Hungry?” I ask, after I sink the eight ball.

AWS.[4]” Remy nods in understanding as the roughness of Dawson Creek creeps closer to our heels. We go next door to the café where it smells of homemade food. Our hunger causes us to order several large dishes. Hunger is like a ghost that can find no peace, so we drink more Bloody Marys as we impatiently wait for our food. The café is empty. Everyone is next door drinking. We ask the waitress to plug in our walkie-talkies behind the counter as we wait.

“I need somewhere that’s conducive to writing, not somewhere that’s going to be too cold and too hostile,” I say.

“Right. That’s why I’m saying that there are better spots than this place.”

“And where is that?”

“Maybe in Saskatchewan. There are lots of century-old homesteads that are for sale. Or maybe there’s a cabin in the south of BC near Kamloops or Nelson?”

The food arrives and we eat quickly to satiate our hunger. We begin to laugh at each other because of how fast we’re eating, which leads to Remy casually flicking a chicken bone at me. It hits me on the forehead. This one act brings back a flood of memories in both of us – past birthday parties and failed dinner parties during university. I’m not surprised that this is followed by a French fry that hits my cheek. More laughter. I nonchalantly toss a Brussel sprout at him, striking his hand but landing on his lap. Remy picks it up and throws it with full rotation of the arm hitting me in the Adam’s apple, the Brussel sprout bouncing onto my plate. The laughter increases dramatically. I take the orange slice garnish and lob it at him where it happens to land in his half-open mouth, dangling there for a second before falling.

“Direct hit,” I say, words that open the floodgates. In an instant we are flinging food at each other without restraint. More Brussel sprouts, hot potatoes, uneaten vegetables all fly through the air. The waitress looks from afar but since we have ordered so much food she keeps her distance and lets us play, hoping for a big tip. Remy’s laughter affects me like a disease; I can’t stop laughing because of his laughter and he doesn’t stop laughing because there’s no one there to stop him. In a minute or two the front of the café is trashed with various colours of food, but the waitress is rewarded for her tolerance. She ends up getting her big tip when she returns our walkie-talkies fully charged.

At night the mercury drops to freezing. I can’t find sleep as I lay in my camper on my left side. My right shoulder is throbbing with pain and my mind swims with thoughts of what to do. I’m barely able to tread water. Too much hinges on where we drive from here so Inge and I walk the streets of Dawson Creek for hours in the morning darkness block after block, until the sun reveals the first frost of the year on the front lawns of sleeping homes. I want to stay in this wild part of Canada where there is still wild buffalo. I always saw myself buying a writer’s cabin in British Columbia so I know we are at a fork in the road: either we go south to Kamloops or go east towards Ontario where the family is.

I don’t care as long as I find a place to finish my work.

After hours of walking trying to figure out this puzzle, I realize I’m lost until I cross a street and finally recognize a park I saw four hours before. Inge and I go back to where the campers are still parked in front of the old Dawson Creek saloon where there is a monument commemorating the completion of the Alaskan Highway in 1943. Remy appears from his camper and walks to the driver’s seat. I can tell he hasn’t slept well in the cold. There’s something about sleeping in and around concrete and brick that suffocates.

We’re both born and bred to be among the trees.

“I need some fuel,” he says. I follow Remy to a gas station where we fill up and then have a coffee. Standing in front of our rigs we can see for miles and enjoy the colourful fall landscape of Dawson Creek.

“Let’s go east to where our Ojibway blood is,” he says. “Somewhere in Ontario, like Georgian Bay or the Bruce Peninsula or Manitoulin Island.” Maybe that’s it I think, a yearning to match my Ojibway blood to the landscape. Maybe that’s why I haven’t found a home in British Columbia.

And perhaps that’s the secret to finding the right geomancy.

“I don’t know Remy,” I say.

“Ontario is the size of France and Germany combined. There are lots of lakes and nook-von-crannies there, probably more than anywhere else in Canada. The British knew what they were doing. It’s where we spent most of our lives no matter how you slice it.” Birch trees, Finger Lakes, fallen maple leaves with the rich aroma of autumn.

“But I want to stay here, near the buffalo. There’s nothing wrong with Dawson Creek. They even have an arena.” I say these words out of desperation and we both know they ring hollow.

“In Dawson Creek? There’s no one here you know.” An 18-wheeler passes us and the trucker releases his air brakes, which makes Remy curse. We sip our coffee in silence for a while. The old grain elevator across the road comforts me because nothing else symbolizes Canada more to me that a red grain elevator. The love I have for my country is returning like a re-acquaintance with your first love.

 “Why don’t we head to Manitoba? You can meet some of my friends and maybe we can make it back to Mom’s for Thanksgiving?”

“Thanksgiving? That’s only a week and a half away. We can’t-“

“Yes we can, but it’s whether we want to or not. With you just being back from the Far East after so long away, it would be great to visit Toronto and see Mom. There are lots of cottages and cabins in Ontario north of Toronto, more than up here anyway. And it would very cool to surprise Mom.” I think about the cost of crossing the country.

“It’s too expensive. I’m too poor.” I’m a wreck and I’m coming apart at the seams. Shoulder pain, exhaustion and dwindling finances. Remy can sense it so he puts his hand on my good shoulder.

“It’s OK man. Better to make the hard decision here than to buy in BC and regret it for years. Besides, you’re not poor brother. Poor is a lack of integrity, kindness, love and humour.” He doesn’t let me go until I look at him directly in the eye. I can see as much emotion in his eyes as mine. Fatigue is chipping away at us both, but he has a knack for knowing when to show compassion to someone in need.

Back in our rigs and on the road, in no time we cross the border into Alberta where I quickly learn that the drivers here are different. Alberta thinks it’s more beautiful than it is, and tries too hard to be Canada’s Texas when really it’s really Canada’s Oklahoma. The roads are so hacked up along the north that I begin to suspect that the cracks in the pavement have been purposely put there by truck companies to make sure all people buy pick-up trucks.

We take the buggies slow because of the deep cracks in the road and get our share of angry honks from passing cowboys. The mountains have morphed into rolling hills and the ubiquitous coniferous forests change to the occasional patch of poplars. There is an element of the anti-government rogue in these parts, signs of lawlessness like bumper stickers saying “Back off government” and “This land is ours.”

On the radio I find the first period of the Calgary-Edmonton NHL hockey game, a pre-season game that is the biggest rivalry in the Canadian West, and on par with the Montreal-Toronto rivalry. When we pass through Edmonton and its endless malls and gas stations and fast-food restaurants, it’s easy to see that the locals are hockey fanatics. All the signs outside taverns boast:


Hockey is a religion here in this frontier town after which nothing exists but buffalo, elk and bighorn sheep. It’s an outpost where oil pays the bills and hockey passes the time.

Past the turn off for Fort McMurray – the real hub of oil exploration in the province – the rolling hills disappear and the land begins to merge into flat farmland marked by miles of fences. Oil donkeys that once covered the fields of Alberta now have stiff necks; I don’t see one that is pumping. There is a strange absence of wildlife in Alberta compared to the lush foliage and wild game of British Columbia, maybe too many rifles and not enough tree huggers here. The forests are gone and the landscape is sparse; trees have been used for firewood and fences and homesteads. The only wildlife I see are the thousands of Canadian Geese flying south in a long arrows. I drive over roadkill left by truckers.

It’s littered with porcupines, foxes and groundhogs.

My walkie-talkie rings.

“This is the Tall Standing One. Over,” I say.

“Roger that, Standing Puppy. This is Rainbow Thunderbird calling from a few minutes ahead of you. Shall we take a break from these maniac drivers if we see a store that sells cowboy hats s’il vous plait? While we’re passing through cowboy country, I want to snag one. I’ve wanted a real cowboy hat for a long time. Whaddya think pilgrim? Maybe some cowboy boots too. Over.” I know he doesn’t have any money above his go juice ration but the idea of finding a real cowboy hat makes me overlook that.

“I’m game Loping Gait. Will follow your lead. Over.”

“Roger that Small Pine. Take my cue. Over and out.” I replace the unit into my breast pocket and catch up to Remy. West of Edmonton in a town called Vegreville we hit a stretch of stores running parallel to the railroad tracks that has a rodeo theme. Remy pulls into the parking lot past the old train station and I follow.

The store has everything Western: jackets, hats, boots, ropes, tack – all the vital ingredients in the cowboy kit that one needs to look the part. Behind the cashier the entire wall is covered with every kind of cowboy hat you can think of. I try on several pairs of boots but we both end up in the hat section where there is a style and colour that appeals to both of us. The hats are made not of leather but of finely woven straw. Cut in the cowboy hat style, there is a leather rope around the head and a wire running through the brim of the hat that gives it structure. Remy grabs a thickly woven hat the colour of flaxen straw that matches his beard, and I choose a finely-woven straw cowboy hat slightly lighter in complexion.

The hats are identical except for the texture of the weave.

Looking at the mirror I see my unshaven chin is now sporting some serious growth. Remy and I are becoming more and more alike in appearance. I begin to laugh at how the hat already looks as if he has been wearing it for years. He begins to laugh when I put on my cowboy hat. For a minute we stand in front of the hat stand laughing at each other ignoring the stares from the girls behind the counter. The hats are such a good fit that I put them on my credit card. We leave quickly before I buckle and spend more money.

The night makes eastern Alberta feel wintry and cruel and the cracks in the road bang at my suspension with stubborn persistence. We purposely drive late into the night to cross the border into Saskatchewan and into a different time zone, where we see a campground beside a river and park for the night. There is no one there by the birch-bark tepee beside the river and no one around to honk. We have escaped the angry white man syndrome of Alberta and fall into a deep, contented sleep beside the bosom of the river and tepee.

Chapter 24


“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

Maidstone, Saskatchewan

I 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 rich soil 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 hat.


“’Morning,” I reply.

“We’re in Maidstone, Saskatchewan.”

“You and your maps Remy.”

“Ah, but knowing where you are on a map is the first rule of road sailing.”

“And what’s the second rule?”

“To always have a compass,” he says. “We crossed the border about 20 kilometres up the road before we turned in last night.”

“It took us almost a week to cross northern BC but it only took us a day to cross Alberta,” I say.

“Alberta 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.

“There’s a tepee over there. Did you see it?”

“Yes. 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 minutes.

“Let’s try to hit Manitoba by tomorrow. We have to go east and dip south as we go.”

“Any ideas how we ditch these 18-wheelers?” I ask.

“Yes!” His finger thrusts into the air. “We could take this Highway 4 south and then cruise due east away from the traffic aguey[5] 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.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

We 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.

Drivers are noticeably more polite east of the Alberta border maybe because roads are better. If Alberta put their oil money into their Heritage Fund, then the Saskatchewan government put 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.

“I 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.

“Did 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.

“Let’s 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 birds.

“Say ‘mobile teepees…’” The shutter clicks and the moment is captured. It is the only photo taken of both of us together. 

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!”

“Or some dirt bikes.” Both of us think of our little Kawasaki mini-bikes.

“The 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.[6] 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.

“Did 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.

Two opposite poles that make a whole.

We 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.

We 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.

“Bob’s Country Bunker!” says Remy.

“Exactly!” 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.

“You 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.”

“My break,” I say. He nods in agreement.

“And 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.

“On the house,” she says. Remy and I look at each other in an effort to see what we’ve done to deserve them.

“For 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 down.

“Anything’s good that’s not country music,” says the waitress.

“Yes, I hear you on that,” replies Remy. “We’ve been driving all day.” They both smile and hand us more sweet liquor.

“We saw you drive up,” replies the creamy-skinned waitress.

“In our road biggies.”

“They’re neat road buggies.” They laugh at the term and blush as we all shoot another free shot from the bartender’s tray.

“What brings you to Craven?” Her voice is as creamy and soft as her skin. I tell her about the homestead.

“Good 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. Painters.”

“You should put Manitoulin on your radar, Trapp. It’s good place to check out,” he says. 

“You two are twins, right?” The waitress blushes. We both nod.

“I hope your parents never dressed you the same.”

“No, never happened. Thank God.”

“You like being twins?”

“Yes,” 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.

“You 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?” 

“An ancient Hebrew text,” says Remy, trying to encourage her to say what she has to say.

“Well, 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.”

“Why’s that?”

“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.

“So 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?”

“Or are you saying that Cain’s lack of self-knowledge led to Abel’s downfall?” I ask.

“Actually 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 earth.”

“So 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.”

“That’s right.”

“Perhaps he was cursed to roam the world in an effort for him to finally gain self-knowledge?” I suggest.

“The 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.

“He who creates is honouring the gift of the Creator,” Remy says.

“Why are you telling us this?” I ask gently.

“Because 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.

But have we achieved self-knowledge?

The 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.

In 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.

“Good 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.

“I was shooting at that sign over there,” I say, leaning on my elbow. “Laughed myself to sleep I reckon.” Remy points at the sign.

“That thing?” I still don’t have my eyeglasses on but there’s only one sign in that direction.

“Yes, that one.”

“That’s 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.

“A propane tank?” It is a propane tank with painted words on it that looks like a sign.

 “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. Lucky a cop didn’t drive by this morning.” I squint at the tank and see the words: ‘Joy Propane Ltd.’ written on it. The irony is not lost to us. Lack of self-knowledge. I’m not embarrassed but surprised. Something needs to change; this wildness cannot continue.

[1]Die spinnah’ is Twinspeak for ‘rolling a joint,’ because it’s similar to ‘spinning one up.’

[2] ‘Snagglepussy’ is Twinspeak for ‘buying something,’ in this case the pellet gun.

[3] ‘Hacking up’ is Twinspeak for ‘destroying’ or ‘wrecking.’

[4] ‘AWS’ is Twinspeak (acronym) for ‘Angry Whiteman Syndrome,’ used here as a head’s up and warning to hotheaded hicks ready for a fight.

[5] ‘Aguey’ is Twinspeak for adding emphasis to something, in this case ‘traffic aguey’ means heavy traffic.

[6] ‘Niblet’ is Twinspeak for ‘head.’