I started my travels yesterday with a visit to the Terry Fox Monument near Thunder Bay. A long and winding road carried me past orange cliffs and stands of birch trees to the top of a hill. With leafy lawns to the left and right, accented by picnic tables, I walked out into the open, with a 20-foot statue of Terry facing west, hobbling along on his one good leg. On the walls beneath Terry were lots of writing carved into the stone. I didn’t read them. I sat on a low wall and gazed up at the man. Terry ran about 25 miles a day for 143 days, starting from the east coast of Canada, to raise money for cancer research. He had to stop near Thunder Bay when the cancer overwhelmed his body.
My eyes were wet behind my sunglasses. Thank you, Terry. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada because he wanted to “improve our country”. And so he did. And so do we all, with the little kindnesses we show each other, with letting someone else go first, with putting an arm around a friend.
I watched the folks who joined me on the outlook over Lake Superior. One cyclist took off her sunglasses and wiped her eyes. Some folks, though, didn’t even look at Terry. They came for the view. Most people hardly glanced at the statue, but spent minutes reading the various messages. Only a few lingered with the young man, no doubt imagining his pain and determination. I wanted everyone to “be with” Terry, to let his humanity touch theirs, but that was not to be. And it’s okay.
When I want to meet people, and there’s a couple or a group, I’ve discovered a surefire way to do it … ask them if they’d like me to take their picture. At the monument I asked, and only about half of the people said yes. I was sad that the others didn’t choose to record their closeness with loved ones. “I don’t like having my picture taken.” “No, we don’t need one.” Okay.
For the folks who said yes, I had to sit on the stone floor to get both them and Terry in the photo. Several people were amazed that I did this. I don’t know why. It just seemed like a natural thing to do. No one left out. We had good conversations. One of the women I met lives three kilometres from me, in Port Stanley.
On the road again. Somewhere north of Thunder Bay, I saw a storm greeting me in the distance. I switched Scarlet’s digital display to temperature – 28 degrees Celsius. Then the rain … intermittent wipers, regular wipers, fast speed wipers. A logging truck leaned a little on a gentle curve, with the water leaping off the logs. The temperature gauge started dropping and didn’t stop till it had reached 21. During all this, I was listening to songs on a CD that a friend gave me years ago, including “Language of the Kiss” by The Indigo Girls.
“Oh the fear I’ve known, that I might reap the praise of strangers and end up on my own.” Yes, I have felt that. The wind blew and the wipers frantically swept the rain away. I was alive, so very much.
As the storm said goodbye, I drove on, fixated on the temperature gauge. 22 … 24 … 26 … 28. There was something about returning to the previous state of being that I liked. Actually, the physical world so often offers me symbols that help me live my life. I’m glad about that.
A dead black bear cub lying on the gravel beside the road.
A fruitless search in countless marshes for a moose sighting. I know they’re there and maybe that’s good enough.
Slurping a chocolate walnut waffle cone in Vermilion Bay, followed shortly thereafter by a hunk of chocolate walnut fudge.
The corridor of asphalt through stands of welcoming pines near Kenora.
Waiting and waiting for the Prairie to say “Hi” west of Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba.
And then …
A jolt of lightning touched the twilight horizon to the west, turning the length of a horizontal cloud a brilliant orange. I turned south towards Steinbach as the storm hit. Wipers on high right away. Couldn’t see the ditch. Barely saw the middle yellow line. Slower and slower. Tailgated by some two-eyed monster. And I was happy (really). I was so engaged in life. I knew that my guardian angels would see me through. The Frantz Inn was on Highway 62, east of Steinbach. All I saw ahead was darkness. Had I passed it already? I pulled off onto a gravel road and stopped. A phone call to the hotel revealed that I had a kilometre to go. And so to the parking lot. Gas gauge reading = 0. “There you go, Bruce. Yesterday’s fantasy came to pass.” I raced for the lobby and was immediately soaked. After the paperwork, I ventured back out to get ta-pocketa off the trunk rack and into my room. Since there was a lull in the liquid action, the task was accomplished sweatlessly. Thank God. As I re-emerged from the building to get the rest of my stuff, the hurricane had recommenced. I threw my body into Scarlet. And there I sat, for at least half an hour, as the rain threatened to destroy the windshield. But I was safe.
Whew. Life in Manitoba is lots of fun. I mean that. May I be so vividly alive for the rest of my life.