"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Sunday, 15 July 2018


In the shadow of the building lunacy of the world, The Great Orange Toad, and now, Ontario’s own Neanderthalic, let’s-go-back-to-sticks-and-rocks, Doug Ford, I found myself resorting to further efforts to sort out God. I hurled myself deep down into the rabbit hole of early eastern mysticism. I read The Tao Te Ching, and The Upanishads, twice. I watched Joseph Campbell’s, The Power of Myth, again, and also reread the book. I was now waiting, like a trooper, for a book written by Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, to arrive at my local bookstore. My plan was to take the book with me to Agawa Bay, on Lake Superior, and spend a few days with it, reading, underlining, grokking. I pictured myself in the morning mist, standing, contemplating a passage and easing myself further and further down this most puzzling warren. 

This was not to happen. The Book of Hours did not arrive at my bookstore. I stood at the counter while the clerk gave me the news, doing her fresh-faced best to assure me that it would be in early the following week. I needed her to reach across the counter, grab my shoulders and suggest ways that I could cope. I needed her to offer to suffer with me. I needed to be back in tuberculin England during some time of gravitas, wearing, perhaps a dark cape, a suffocating corset, and bloodshot, sunken eyes. 

Bit much huh? 

I sat in the van for a few moments, trying to rejig my plan. My idea of God was solidifying along the lines of universal energy connecting us all; humans, goats, staplers–you name it. This is the kind of energy you can feel in your gut. At that moment, sitting in my van, I experienced a non-voluntary double-clutch up and out of this most Dickensian, dolorous mood. Yes, I felt a decisive inner redirect towards lightening-the-fuck-up. So, I made the very conscious decision to go with it. If this is what I believe, then tuck in, right?

I drove to the grocery store to pick up a few things–went completely hog-wild and picked up a small tub of raspberry-lime ice cream! 

“Oh, if the neighbours hear about this!” thought the dessert harlot. 

I left and, in a last ditch, odd attempt to find Rilke’s book, I visited another nearby bookstore to see if they had it. I didn’t expect them to, but if I had not checked, I would have spent the rest of the weekend wondering. Of course they didn’t have it, and I was going to leave, but on the way out, saw a new David Sedaris book, Calypso, on one of the display shelves. I mean, it was all that I saw. The rest of the books ceased to exist. I have read everything of his up to this. If you don’t like him we can’t be friends, because I think he’s brilliant. 

Oddly enough, I have an essay of his, pinned up on my wall, over my left shoulder as I write this. The essay, Why Aren’t You Laughing, was published in The New Yorker magazine June 19, 2017. It’s a thoughtful run at how the Sedaris family dealt with, and didn’t deal with, the mother’s alcoholism. The essay is largely funny, but coloured with the complete failure of the family to take control and find a solution. I envied the Sedaris family when I read this, because the kids, six of them, at least had each other, and they did essentially adore their mother. In the years when my own mother was medicating with gin, I felt that our family did not exist. We were just people who sometimes ate together; my siblings, two, were older and almost launched at the time. When mom tipped over backwards in her lawn chair at one of dad’s corporate picnics at the farm, I was the only blood relation to witness. There's about a decade worth of stories, but the point here is that the Sedaris essay(and a whole whack of therapy), brought me up above ground, and was instrumental in harnessing my tsunami-scaled disappointment towards something less dark, less paralyzing. Humour, and the delicate reframing of the tragic into the absurd, can be tremendously freeing. 

I took the Sedaris book to the cash register and bought it without even leafing through it. I came back here, put my groceries away, and read late into the night, relieved to be having some fun. It felt good to come up out of that rabbit hole and truly laugh, not worrying about the terrible men fomenting all of this global dickishness, or the very point of it all. I had even forgotten about the Orange Toad and his recent, graceless mangling of his visit with the Queen, so something was happening. Perhaps Sedaris is my key to navigating this most troubling time.

I do believe in my being guided by some universal energy. While I still am curious about Rilke’s book, reading Sedaris was like hanging out with someone who got it. I felt like he had reached through the veil and offered a hug and then a welcomed punch in the shoulder. Why? Because, to my surprise and delight, one of the chapters in the book, the one I left to read last, was, Why Aren’t You Laughing? I had no idea it was included until I was nearing the end of the book.

I read it, then ate some goddam ice cream. 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Napoleon Should Have Done Yoga

A friend and I were discussing the delicate dance of introduction and getting to know people, and I mentioned that, “I could hardly bear small talk.” I arrived with that as part of my, what you need to know if we’re going to connect leaflet that I was imagining delivered around the world, by drone. At three in the morning, I woke up and realized what a dumb thing that was to say. What the hell was I thinking? 

We need small talk. It’s the way in!

Small talk usually has to do with the weather, taxes, or how the Leafs are doing. It allows us, in unnatural environments, to express our desire to get along–that we are not a threat. If I’m in the grocery checkout line ahead of you, and I take the little divider wand and put it behind my loot that I’ve unloaded onto the magic belt, and I look at you but say nothing, your brain might begin to derive myriad assumptions about me: 

I’m on the run from the law. 

I have a terrible yeast infection. 

I hate puppies and everyone else too.

Conversely, if I turn to you and say something like, “Napoleon should have done yoga,” you might take your booty and move to another checkout chute. Napoleon should have done yogais too intense, of course. The statement demands that you have an idea of, not only history, but the benefits of  a good hour of Kundalini postures. But, if I turn to you and say, “I sure do delight in finally being able to buy booze at the grocery store now,” then, I’ve offered you a comfortable, non-confrontational spot right next to my personal space. You know that I’m not a threat because my comment is nothing more than a zeitgeist nod to being human. The day is ours; your bag of chips tipping over the wand to nudge my bottle of Syrah.

Small talk, properly launched, has the potential to grow into a really great conversation. Every single person that I met on my voyage out west, I met by simply throwing out a pebble of it in an attempt to shatter what keeps us apart. Something as simple as, “It’s a lovely evening for a walk,” lead to a good forty-minute conversation about one man’s younger days in the Rocky Mountains. “It’s a beautiful part of the world,” mentioned to a woman tending a municipal flower bed in Campbell River, lead to the establishment of the theory that most people on the west coast fled from somewhere else, some terrible, soul-sucking job. “How was your trip? Are you glad to be back?” launched by another, lead to me crumpling on the ground in a moaning heap and yes, I’m still in therapy.

Okay, so not all small talk works. 

The discipline like anything else, has its’ extremes. I once listened to a person at the gym go on a kind of verbal sleigh ride, for almost ten minutes, through the day’s events, from making a sandwich to losing a purse–none of which were remarkable, or, frankly, the least bit interesting. Don’t be hasty to judge, though. Turns out that this woman was going through a mind-boggling divorce. Some people drink to ease their pain. Others talk. 

On the opposite end of the scale, I’ve made the effort with those who have no modicum of skill in this area at all. Some are painfully shy, and would rather be away from the crowd and hiding under the closest picnic table. Others, dare I say it, are tremendously full of themselves and nobody told them that a little attention thrown outside of their own ego, you know, like a bean bag toss, can bring wonderful results:  

“Hey, that shirt! I like it! Had one just like it!”

“Thank you very much! I got it in Montreal!”

“Oh how nice. Were you on vacation?”

“Yes. Yes, I was. We had stopped to do laundry at a laundromat. We brought along a bottle of wine, which we finished right before I emptied the wrong dryer into my suitcase and left. I now own several of these wonderful paisley men’s shirts, plus six pairs of boxer shorts. Boxer shorts are really comfortable!”

“I know. I actually do, because that was my laundry that you stole, which reminds me, I have a few items that might belong to you.” 

–So there’s a fun story that came out of not very much effort. In the movie, they get married and live happily ever after.  

Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation where the smallest effort on my part, appears to have an exponential effect in another. There’s an elevator I ride, once a week–well, twice, because I ride it up, and then later, down. It’s a slow beast, enough to be worthy of note. One day, I summoned the unit in order to descend from the fourth floor. The doors opened, and I stepped in just ahead of another woman. The doors closed, glacially, giving me plenty of time to grok that this woman was exhausted. She had one of those trolley bags with her, a light coat over her free arm, and a hairdo that, even in the early part of the afternoon, was in need of a little attention. 

“Man, this elevator is slow, isn’t it?” I said.

“Oh. Yeah,” she replied, eyes fixed on the floor in front of her.

“It’s almost as if there were two, very aged men down deep in the basement, relegated to pulling on ropes to raise or lower us, and today, it seems, that they are really tired!”

The woman started laughing. She bent over her trolley and let fly a rather startling belly guffaw.  I was miming the fella’s hauling on the lines, actually surprised that she thought it was that funny. The voyage ended with a slight jostle. The doors opened, and I motioned for her to exit ahead of me. 

“Boy, I really needed that laugh,” she said. I unintentionally followed her out to the parking lot, several paces behind as I headed for my van, and listened to her still laughing. I felt I had made a connection, small though it was, and that it had made a difference in someone’s day. I love that. Makes me feel like I've tapped into that elusive thread that joins us. Sacred, I feel.

“So? Hot out there, huh?”

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


News of the success of the Thai-soccer team rescue this morning, buoyed my spirits. Buoyed them enough that I figured I could handle a day tending to the field that we still owned, that rectangular chunk hanging on the north end of the whole farm; like an odd piece of chocolate separated from the rest of the bar. I got in the van and began the drive, listening to the music of Rosemary Clooney on the way. I listened to her a great deal when I was driving around on Vancouver Island, to the point where, when I hear her voice now, it takes me right back to the Cowichan Valley, or Tofino; nowhere near Southern Ontario. So, there was Rosemary, and of course, Klaus! 

Klaus was my German-made, plastic, bobble-headed pal. He and I nodded at each other, glad for the company, and the illusion that we keep time to the music for each other. I’m SURE that he believes that I’m real! Isn’t that a scream? 

We drove through the urban sprawl around Newmarket, the ground heaved up and tossed aside like piles of teenager laundry. “Ah, it was only prime agricultural land, Klaus. Don’t get your bananas in a knot;” my sarcastic lob meant to cheer him up. He was clearly pissed. We tried to move on but got stuck in a clot of construction traffic for longer than we should have.  I tried to convince Klaus that the reason we were moving so very slowly was because the orange and yellow men were excavating with spoons. Klaus nodded. 

We arrived at the field towards the sensible beginning of evening shade. We parked the–hang on. “I” parked the van in the shade of the great spruce trees on the western edge of the field. I suited up, with my hunting knife on my belt, in case the forest folk wanted to put on a rendition of West Side Story. I certainly couldn’t defend myself with it, should a bear, or a cougar show up, but if some problem decided to drive in and see who the dame was in the old Laitin field, I could take the knife out and pick my teeth with it, denying any knowledge of who owned the field, and even, what planet this was.

I had my secateurs, for cutting vines. (Secateur: It sounds like it could be referring to some ancient beast from Greek Mythology. The story; Lorna, now mother of Eavestrough, the child, the result of a night spent with Posto, the Great God of Mailboxes. Wife of Costco, the Prince of Bulk, and daughter of King Pleather and Queen Velour, who are not who they seem. Lorna’s brother, Bustamove, jealous of all of the attention that his little sister was getting, cursed her with toenails that grew like vines. Queen Velour held up her orange juice and vodka, and pleaded with the Zeus to help her with Lorna’s feet. Zeus never did like Velour and Pleather, but saw that the child, Lorna, showed promise as an urban planner, so he crossed a flock of scissors with a flock of seagulls, and, voila! The resulting flying beasts, the secateurs, flew daily to Lorna’s crib and nibbled on her terrible toenails with their, ridiculous, pruning beaks.) 

I also had a hatchet, but no bow-saw or chain saw, so I was relegated to dealing with small-girthed woodland problems. What I ended up needing was my bow-saw and my chain saw because while checking the stream, I found this damn-of-nonsense. 

I cursed. The dandy man who bought the lions’ share of our farm, was not pulling his fair share of work down in this forest, so I laid into him in absentia, with his gentleman farmer airs. He was letting this lovely wood, that I used to play in as a child, become overgrown and rotten. His job was to take care of everything south of the stream, but was he? Vines everywhere on his side, plus this. I have never once, arrived to the forest and been delighted at evidence of him helping to manage things.

I walked into the water and began tearing this hemorrhoid-of-neglect apart. I had been in such a great mood earlier. Now it all began crumbling. Sweat was dripping in my eyes. I was standing mid-thigh deep in water, and I was sure that some giant tick was burrowing directly into my spine in a place where I could not reach. I maneuvered one waterlogged piece of maple up the left bank, and then another up the opposing bank. I chopped down sucker trees to clear room, then wrestled with the biggest bastard of them all. I propped it up out of the stream on one end with rocks. I talked to it. I reasoned with it. Then I set my feet there in the water and, using all of the frustration of the-rest-of-the-world-sucking-and-something-had-to-be-done-about-it, pitched the end of it up and out of the way. 

I stood there in the stream, soaked, covered in mud and sweat, trying to recover my breath. “And another thing. Why am I not meeting people?”

 I headed back to the van, back to Klaus. Klaus would know. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

"Ms. Crone, The Mist Will See You Now"

Eons ago, at a gathering, a man handed me a glass of water and said, “Here. This will make you smart.” I paused, took the water and sipped it, shocked. I had no idea how to respond, so I didn’t.
Back then, I had no confidence, no spine, and no idea of how to interact with people, let alone stand up for myself. I’ve learned a lot about people since then, and more about myself.

Although I am curious about how people work, what they think, I find the general population perplexing. I am fond of some, and connect deeply with very, very few. This all became clear while driving to the Pacific and back recently.  The journey was almost religious, spiritual, and I came to understand that it was the landscape; the very dirt, rock, and water I was plugging into and feeling the goodly vibes.  I cannot remember ever feeling as whole as I did during that trip, rounding off the love with a most unexpected day of pure bliss on the shore of Lake Superior. 

This is a problem because I live in a world full of people. Why the dissonance? 

For starters, the natural world is nonjudgmental; it’s not out to make you feel small. This is not to say that nature is not humbling. It absolutely can be, but its’ mission isn’t to belittle you–it offers you water because you're thirsty, not as a prop to launch a stinger. It has no mission; it just is, and when you’re near it, and open, it draws forth your truest essence. You can try to be something other than true, but eventually, the natural world will see your ruse and deliver a bear to eat you. 

While I sat on the Lake Superior shore, there was not one single wave, of all of the waves of the day, that I found disappointing. Each one, gave all of its’ time to me, and I was grateful. The great boulders lining the way up the Sand River, weren’t otherwise occupied. I didn’t have to make a goddam appointment to stand, feel them under my feet as I stood watching the rapids run between them. The mist coming in through the trees didn’t skip it’s slow, languorous embrace of my campsite because I wasn’t important enough, and while I was driving on the area roads, the views weren’t sitting off on a bench waiting to blossom only for those worthy-by-ego. Nope. I was good enough. The views were spectacular. 

Things are far from perfect. Yes, I am in a bit of a trough, but it’s a different trough; a much nicer one than all of the rest (this one has cup holders!), so I’m ahead, right? I am bonkers keen to find my tribe. Keen, keener than most, to find that spiritual other. And very much looking forward to having more neato people in my life. So, the hunt begins.

Funny, how it took a couple weeks travelling in the most beautiful parts of the country to grok this.

Oh, and as far as that, here-this-will-make-you-smart-glass-of-water scenario? Now, I would have finished the water, looked at him and replied, “Hey! It must have worked because now I see what an enormous jerk you are! Thanks!” 

Then, I'm sure that a bear would have eaten him.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Gargoyle

Hours can pass before I speak, or am spoken to, each morning. My building is quiet, except for the bass tones of someone’s new sound system near me; spilling out the deep, soft downs of a human voice, and carelessly letting them seep through the floors and walls like some ethereal syrup. In subconsciously analyzing the familiar rate of the tone’s flow, I assume that it is the voice of a news anchor. I shudder. It’s been years since I’ve reflexively turned on the radio for the news; longer since I’ve had TV and regular access to the slick, visual product. I can’t seem to handle it anymore. 

                How do people do this?

Almost two weeks before writing this, I had turned on the radio in the van to see what the deal was with the bank of dark clouds that seemed to be following me as I drove through southern Saskatchewan. I heard little chatter, and then, as if the sound originated on a different frequency–a beastly noise, hurling itself, like an animated gargoyle, through the whole front dashboard; there came the grating, puffing, raw sounds of a tornado warning. There was no way to consider this as a passing sound bite. This horror was made up of primal waves and gongs that launched themselves past any finger-tenting, turtle-necked editor lounging near the front of my brain, and careened directly to my medulla, that, at the time, may have been occupying itself with remembering the good old days of some ancestral woolly mammoth hunt, or, more likely it had given up and was planning to knit yet another scabbard. The effect was complete. I felt the fear deep in my body and got the hell out of the way; gargoyle doing its’ best to figure out how seat belts work with its’ ridiculous claws, in order to avoid being thrown like jello against the back door of my van while I stomped on the accelerator.

Over the subsequent days of my return trip, I turned on the radio to keep track of upcoming weather along my route, and found myself becoming mired in the bog of Trump. When I did have internet along the way–when I was in a hotel instead of my tent, I could scroll through Twitter and my news sources, and control how long I examined a particular post. While listening to the radio, I had no control other than to turn it off. If I wanted to understand the item, I had to endure the voices. I did. 

I am doubtful that I am unique in the visceral reaction I have when I hear Trump’s voice. This began during his run up to the election. My heart fell at his winning. It has fallen even further since, as I hear sound bites of his supporters; a hateful, mean strain of citizen–whelped and fed on a steady diet of selfishness, brazen ignorance, and a seemingly inept, consumer-based vision of the planet as a whole. Now, with children in cages, I don’t think my heart can fall any further. Add to this the election of Doug Ford as the Premier of Ontario; a small-time bully, wound up by the success of his blinkered avatar to the south. I want to be sick. The physical effect I experience when I hear those hateful voices, is similar to that tornado warning:

            Something is very, very wrong. 

My answer to all of this is mythic, and you will roll your eyes. It involves the clocking of our sights from this unserving, hobbling economy, back to our soul’s fountainhead–fully invested, and supported by our rightful connection with this planet. Such a grand arc of change will likely never happen in my lifetime, unless there are asteroids that pick off a few of the world’s most juvenile, small-dicked, leaders–and that fucking golf course, and scare us out of our petty wants and entitlements into a new story. Something that reminds us, clearly, where we stand in the universe.

I didn't say this would be easy, but haven't you had enough?

  Yes, if you look back over history, there is always a terrible leader somewhere. This reality is a lazy, shameful, and tiresome excuse to do nothing, but don’t misunderstand me; I’m not suggesting that you have to march, holler, and sign every petition. But I AM suggesting that, well, wouldn’t it be something if we became fierce in cultivating our direct, perfect line that runs from our thumping hearts to the core of this earth, instead of hiding our heads deeper into the sand? It’s difficult to convey this without sounding flakey, but this paradigm of broken, emotional estrangement, and the willingness to endure the most ridiculous financial expectations, as if they are set in stone by someone who mattered more than someone else, is nothing short of insanity, and far, far away from where from where our potential wants to take us. 

          Seriously, we are wired for this.

 I found absolute, overwhelming, heartfelt beauty while standing on the shore of the Pacific, mindfully moving through the Rocky Mountains, and sitting as a grateful observer on the shore of Lake Superior. I felt the poetry of birth, life, and death in the late spring wind over the prairies, and of course, the terror, and ultimate respect for the power of nature at the threat of that tornado.  The difference between the rich texture of those feelings, and the course trauma I feel while listening to this latest fashion of viral meanness is galaxial.   

In my quiet in the morning, our earth has no borders. There is no rampant corruption driving families from their homes. I feel the fullness of the greatest universal love, and let myself waft in the reverie of the zeitgeist having the same, vibrant hope. This is shattered by the sound of that voice, and once again, I am a fool.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Oil and Agawa

The last chunk of my drive from home–to west coast–to home again, started the morning after a rockus June storm in Brandon, Manitoba. I woke up to sunshine, ate, and headed out. I always had some protein (cooked chicken, or a can of salmon), and snacks (apples, celery, almonds, peanut butter, chocolate) in my cooler, and would make salads (I had balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and lettuce) on the fly so never absolutely HAD to go to a restaurant.  I discovered that my large, 2-litre water jug was an excellent tabbouleh container!

                          Isn't that exciting?

I would put the ingredients together at a camp site or rest area, boiling the water for the bulgur with my dandy camp stove. Once prepared, and since on this leg, it was only me, I could shovel it into my face directly from the jug. 

                            Don't judge me.

Previously, Connor and I ate fast food burgers once during the drive out. I felt horrid before I was half-way through the tasteless puck of garbage, and vowed not to repeat. I did eat at restaurants now and then, but not from any chains that supersized. I actually preferred being able to pull into an information centre in Wherever-ville, open up my van, serve myself a meal, and walk around with it  in the fresh air, instead of having to sit. You know, you sit enough when you're driving thousands of kilometres. Yes, thousands. Plus, it was cheap as hell, and I got 100% of the tips.

           There. Now you know about food.

Onward, as the wreckless gods threw their darts, because something had to happen, apparently; my oil change service message came on: Oil life 15%, plus the little wrench symbol for extra oomph. I did have the oil changed in the van just before I left, over 8000 kilometers ago but, damn it to hell, and the bears, snakes, and tornadoes of the past. I always cringe when I see that wrench symbol. I emailed my mechanic back home; faithful to a fault with my service record on this vehicle.  I told him that I could top-up the oil if it needed it, and he replied in the affirmative and that it should be fine until I arrived home. I was in Winnipeg when I sent this. 

I drove to Kenora, and was able to avoid the reality of that(Kenora) by listening to Allen Stone, and Radio Lab podcasts. I was still mourning the mountains, and Kenora was not helping ease the pain of that. Pancakes made with sand would have  been more comforting. More on that another time. 

I found a motel. I slept. I was up early, eager to get the hell out of there, and did–with finesse and a heavy accelerator foot. I tucked into Thunder Bay five hours later, and, as I was not feeling a particularly neato vibe, kept driving, targeting Agawa Bay; the same campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park that Connor and I stayed in on our way out, twenty-seven days previously. This was a six-hour effort, but since I knew how beautiful it was, found the stamina to continue. The boring, scrubby landscape that was so draining to look at between Kenora and Thunder Bay, began to soften and dovetail into more idyllic, mountainous scenery that, at times, reminded me of a smaller scale B.C.. B.C. HO perhaps.

My oil service message showed, Oil Life 10%Then, Oil Life 5%I had never let it drop to this before, and was vibrantly stressed. I had to find oil.

This route, in between the mining and lumber towns, was sprinkled with abandoned motels, restaurants, and gas stations where someone, a Bruce, or a Wanda, had tried to make a go of it with the best of intentions. There were proper gas stations, but for some reason, I ended up stopping at a somewhat struggling motel–gas station in the very middle of nowhere. 

At first glance, the pumps appeared to be out of service; awaiting their inevitable, rusted, decommissioned fate, but, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a small, neon, Open sign in the window of the motel office. I jammed on the brakes quickly enough to swing into the second driveway, pulled up to the office, and stopped, worried to bits about my darling van. 

There was rain coming, plus nightfall shortly ahead. I checked my phone uselessly because there was no cell service in these parts.  I de-vanned, and stood looking around for a moment. I heard a voice from inside the office say, “Come on in.”

I opened the door and stepped into a small, tired reception area. A diminutive, older woman in fuschia muumuu greeted me with a soft, motherly tone. I asked her if she had any motor oil for sale. She pointed to a shelf behind me where there were, perhaps, five different kinds of oil; one quart of each. It was clear that business was down, and there was little money to invest in fully stocking the shelves. I bought oil and a jug of windshield washer fluid. We chatted, and I gleaned that she rarely ventured out into the world beyond the towns nearby. Part of me envied her, living so close to the edge of Lake Superior, as long as she was content. I hoped that she was. I liked her. If I wasn't so stressed, it would have been nice to talk with her over a cup of tea. 

                  But I WAS stressed.

 I checked the van’s dipstick and added just a half quart of oil, which made me feel much better. I began breathing again, figuring the dashboard madness would stop, and continued on to Agawa Bay. I yipped with joy upon spotting the campground’s road sign. Since I was pulling in after gatehouse hours, I went directly in and found a site. I would register and pay in the morning which is not a problem. I set up my tent just before nightfall, and was asleep before it thumped to the ground. 

A storm came through early in the morning. I heard the waves building on the lake along with a fierce wind through the trees around me. A business-like rain hurled itself to the ground; the patter of it on the outer shell of my tent sounded like there could have been a squadron of sixth-graders firing elastic bands at it. Then the wind took hold of my tent and gave it a good shaking, enough for me to notice quite clearly.

                            Helluva storm.

In time, the shaking stopped, the wind eased, and the rain relented to a sensible rate before ceasing. There are no windows in my tent–my judgement of the kind of world I unzip myself out into comes only by figuring on the sounds outside and the general light level inside. On this morning, I emerged to a fresh, misty heaven; the air busting with the smell of wet pine, and I could not have been happier.

Yes, my tent was wet, but I was completely dry. There was quiet, with minimal surf at this point. I put on my raincoat, made my coffee, walked the thirty feet to the edge of the shoreline, and stood staring at everything. 

I watched, not wanting to make a sound. Over the space of the morning, the mist lifted, like the lid off of a gift box, to reveal a sunny, perfect sky. I’m normally not a beach-sitter (unless it’s on the beach on Quadra watching the sea, or bald eagles), but here, in this little bay, I couldn't not. The setting was oddly perfect, like something out of The Truman Show. The mist held to the edges of the bay like sideburns. The sun shone in the middle. A wonderfully refreshing breeze came off of the lake–not enough to chill, but enough to mitigate the focused attention of that sun. I brought my little chair out to the stony edge of the surf and sat for what could have been hours, looking into the glass-clear water, watching the waves riffle along the shoreline, and feeling more relaxed and at peace than I had in some time. I let myself be totally present; no unsure future, or oil problems to worry about. Nothing.

I felt that I could have fallen apart–molecules into the beach with such caressing breezes. I was planning on leaving that afternoon for absolutely no good reason. I didn’t. I gave myself this day.

With my own permission, I drove out to a few other of the park’s sites. I walked a few short trails, scampered up Sand River and was transfixed by the loud, deep flumes running through the rocks. 

 I saw the Ojibway pictographs at Agawa Rock. I was careful, because there were wet rocks, wet leaves, and great places to fall terribly.

 I reminded myself that I was alone, nobody knew where I was, and there was no cell service I could use to call for help after I'd fallen and shattered whichever bones. I would have to lay there and eat moss until the next tourist came along. I still went out to the edge of the cliffs and examined the pictographs, but carefully planned every step that I took. It was totally worth it.

Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, I met a woman from Owen Sound, walking her dog. We began chatting, and were joined by a father and daughter from Missouri–all of us hanging around the water spigot like you would the office water cooler. The woman was there camping with her husband, celebrating thirty years of matrimonial bliss, and she invited me to join them at their evening fire later on. I arrived with a celebratory bottle of Saskatoon Berry Syrup that I had bought at an information centre just inside the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, near Maple Creek. I had to bring something, and canned salmon is more industrial than celebratory; the syrup was the thing. 

It began raining minutes after I arrived, so I presented my offering, then went back to my tent, serenaded to sleep by an easier, gentler rain. No sixth-graders this time. I did hear a crash during the night, and awoke to find that a branch had come down on my picnic table. Yes, I was lucky. No, it was not big enough to end me, but it would have put a hole in my tent. 

     Yay for having that completely not happen!

It continued to rain in the morning. I got up, still thrilled with how this place made me feel. This time I took my coffee and walked the length of the beach, water dripping off of the brim of my rain jacket hood when I wore it up, dripping off of my very noggin when I had the hood pulled back.

I didn’t want to go. I very much did not want to leave this place. I still missed the mountains, and now had to pack up and tear myself away from another environment where I felt such a deep connection. 


The anniversary couple invited me to breakfast, so I disassembled and threw my wet tent into the back of my van, and drove over to their site. We enjoyed a fine breakfast of Lake Superior shoreline eggs, bagels, and great coffee. We talked for quite a while, shared contact information, and then I departed. 

                    I didn’t want to go.

Did I mention that? I almost felt sick. But, there I was, back on the road, heading for Sudbury.

 My oil service message came on like I had never seen it before. I started the day with, Oil Life 5%, then later on, 0%. I added more oil until the dipstick showed that the reservoir was full. The message began flashing and then went to negative numbers

                        What the hell?

Just as I began invoking my ujjai breath from yoga, in order to calm down, I noticed a billboard for Jiffy Lube in Sudbury. 


I found the place, and gratefully, had them change the oil filter and add the best oil. The very idea of having engine trouble now, on this part of the voyage, gave me chilblains. Or something that sounds horrible like that (make up a horrible word for your own imagination). 

That done, I found a hotel, slept, awoke, and left Sudbury. I arrived home late in the afternoon, my indicator finger twitching; I could still make a run for it and keep going. 

                             Avanti, right?  

I’m home now, doing laundry, and checking my plants, but the idea of staying here is not sitting well. No, it’s not sitting well at all.

Stay tuned.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Trying to Grok the Prairies

My journey into the prairies started by having a conversation with an old cowboy over breakfast at the Tamarack Motor Inn, in Rocky Mountain House. We were seated in separate booths with terribly high backs, initially. All I could see was the top of his straw cowboy hat nodding and twisting as he spoke with the server. When I mentioned to the same server that I had driven through snow on the David Thompson Highway out of the mountains, the cowboy tucked into the conversation, so I moved myself and my house-special breakfast to his booth. We talked about horses, cattle, rodeo’s, and general human well-being. I liked him, though I did not agree with his perspective on a few things, but, I was not there to set him straight. I was there to listen and understand his character. He was a gift.

Later on, at the laundromat, I met the best couple. I was deep into the dryer cycle, and had gone outside to drape my wet tent over my van so it would dry. This tall fella, Sam Elliot’s doppelganger, walks out and hollers, “Where ya from?”  Well, he, and his gorgeous wife and I, talked until everything was dried and sorted.  They described, with great affection, their retired life in a house in the mountains, near a stream. I liked them tons. We all agreed on how much we don’t like crowds, and how much we adore the mountains. 


After I left them, I was still in mourning, so when I pulled into Drumheller and saw this: 

I had a difficult time adjusting.  Can you blame me? 

Then, there was this, 

a Hoodoo, which I felt was closer to something on Mars.

When I left Drumheller, I started to sort of settle into this part of the world; sort of.

I pulled into a cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. 

It was set back behind a thicket, and surrounded by grazing land. I half-expected to see Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne standing, toasting some unfortunate they'd just buried. There was nobody there though. Just the wind, a dozen or so grave stones; some quite old, and a large herd of black angus cows and calves watching from over the barbed wire fence.

They didn't much care for me, or the horse I rode in on, and began running around like great, meaty fools; mothers hollering for their young as if I was the one that the cow legends said would come. I left quickly, because spooking a farmer's herd of expensive cattle can make them a little mad, and I didn't want to come back to Ontario with a bullet hole in my hat. 

I drove to this:

Dinosaur Provincial Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. What a kick! I was not expecting to see geography, or Hoodoo geology like this, anywhere in Canada.

The campsite itself, was clean and quiet, tucked down as it was, in the valley along the Red Deer River. Oh, sure, there were signs warning of snakes. There has to be something, doesn't there?



I tended conflicted feelings about this. Part of me was childishly keen to see a coiled rattler while here, but the other part was just as childishly sticking to the middle of each trail, glad to be sporting solid hiking boots.

I saw no serpents, dangerous or not, during any of the several hours that I hiked. I didn't sing though, as I did to ward off bears further west. Here, I figured a snake might hear me and assume that I was injured; easy prey.

People were relaxed and friendly in the park. I met a young couple from Sweden, I got to use my french with several other campers, and while having my keenness for the mountains validated by an older skier/mountain biker, I spied a coyote wandering through the park like it weren’t no thang. The skier told me that it’s common to hear them in this park and he was right; they were in full song that night. I heard them again in the morning, but then heard a cow bawling and wondered if the little bastards hadn’t caught themselves a new calf. 

 The birds were up and insane at 4:30 in the morning. Fucking birds. So, I got up and went for an early hike, loaded the van, and departed. The early start meant I was a bit tired later on, and frustrated at the lack of mountains on these prairies.

Why did B.C. have to be so damn far away?

I was grumpy, again, but began to notice these velvety glacial features though southern Saskatchewan. I came over a hill and for no specific reason, pulled off onto a field access. I got out,  just in time to see this:

I was amazed at my timing. I stood and watched the train, and felt that warm, relentless prairie wind. This was nice. This was another gift.

I made my way to Moose Jaw where, in the morning, I saw this:

You figure it out. 

I drove, and saw cattle everywhere, and these:

Fitting that they resemble the T-Rex, right? I mean, that damn beast got us into this mess in the first place. Always good to be reminded of who to blame. Why couldn't the dinosaurs have decayed into layered terrines, or a nice merlot? We would have evolved into a culinary society where fast food was the worst offence! No, it had to be oil. 


Notice how dark this shot of the oil well is? The reason is that there had been a bank of very dark clouds over my shoulder for most of the day. I wasn't concerned. "Just a little rain," I figured. 
I normally don't listen to the radio because the news makes me nuts, so I wasn't aware of what was brewing. Without having an inkling though, 
I had changed my destination from Estevan, Saskatchewan, which was more south, to Brandon, Manitoba, which was further north and east. Shortly after this decision, I happened to turn on the radio and heard that gut-churning sound of a tornado warning for the area, specifically Estevan. Late in the afternoon, things got real.

Close your eyes and imagine a big old, dangerous sky here, because my photos don't do it justice. Imagine, until you are slightly unnerved. There. THAT'S what the sky looked like!

I could not believe my luck in my whimsical route change. Still severe weather throughout, but I drove like hell (I love my van), and was very glad to arrive in Brandon shortly after the sky launched its' cloud-bile with an impressive rumble-and light show. 

Normally, I don't mind bad weather, but when I'm not familiar with the landscape, have no co-pilot, and continually get north confused with wherever I feel that it damn-well SHOULD be, it can be a drag. Or exhausting. Or both, but I did figure out how to calm down so I could be efficient. No point in being a complete idiot and ending up in the ditch.

The day ended well. So far, on this trip; bears in the Kananaskis, snakes in the Hoodoo's, and then a tornado to avoid. I will update my resumé when I get home.

–if I DO go home.