Hiding and Emerging

I’m sitting under a tree in the Tottenham Conservation Area in Southern Ontario, waiting for Tour du Canada riders to show up. I’m hiding. I left the tour on June 23, exhausted physically and emotionally. But in the few days we had together, we formed a bond. Even though I was closer with some of the 19 folks than others, we all are forever linked in a mysterious way. And now I want to surprise each of them as they arrive.

I stroll over a little rise from the parking lot and see that Chris has shown up. And there’s Grant, who drives the truck. Their eyes brighten as I approach and then we are three smiles. We chat about the ride but it doesn’t matter what the topic is. We’ve shared a journey, even though my physical part of it was brief. So how much time is needed for deep human contact? I say not much.

Now Jim! Now Ruedi! Now Keith! Hello, my companions of the near and far. For each of them, “Glad to see you” is a two-way street.

After each greeting, I retire to my comfy green lawn chair under the tree, ready to burst upon the next unsuspecting cyclist. Oh, it’s so delicious being sneaky!

Weeks ago, in a member’s blog, I learned that one of our riders had fallen on the highway and broken her collarbone. So sad to hear that she’d left the tour … and I didn’t even know which woman it was. Today I found out it was Jane. She’d fainted on the bicycle and was motionless on the tarmac until a Good Samaritan truck driver stopped to help. Now she’s recovered enough to rejoin the group on Monday. Good for her to be so brave.

I just said hi to Dorcas after she rode in. We shared panting lungs and assorted cycling worries in June. Now she’s supremely strong, it appears. Waydago, Dorcas. She just got in a car, heading to Toronto for the evening. Our eye contact was all that needed to be said.

This morning, I’d vowed to keep a secret: that I’ll be showing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland on August 31 to cheer the riders up the final hill. For the last couple of hours, as I renew friendships, I’ve been choosing my words carefully:

“I wish I could be in St. John’s. But cancellation insurance is a marvelous thing.”

There. I didn’t lie, just gave the folks the impression that I had taken out cancellation insurance for the flight from St. John’s to Toronto. But I hadn’t. Wanting to surprise the cyclists on the 31st, I went the devious route.

Many conversations later, my mind turned. “I want to tell them that I’m coming.” So I did. Dorcas! Sorry for sort of lying to you. Go for the gold!

My evening ended as the sun declined. A group of us sat near the tents, chatting about I don’t remember what. Ken, Terry, Keith, Jim, Mike, Paul … fine folks all. Ken asked me if I wanted to hear a favourite tune on Spotify. Soon his little speaker was wafting “The Wings That Fly Us Home” and “There’s A Lift” over our campsite. (Cool. I just said “our”.)

Yes … the we includes me.

Razzed Reunion

I was backing Scarlet out of the garage when my cell phone went off.  It was my old friend Cam.  He’s 68.  We’ve known each other for 52 years.  Cam has always been a jokester.  Actually, so have I.  “Hi Bruce.  I’m at the Belmont Library.”  (BS)  “I passed by the Diner just now.”  (BS)  “I drove around Robin Ridge Drive but I didn’t know how to find you.”  (Supreme BS)

“Cam, you’re in Richmond Hill [near Toronto, 200 kilometres away].”  “No, Bruce.  I’d never lie to you.”  (More of the same)  Back and forth we went, me almost believing he was here in my new village.  “Okay, I’m driving to the library.  I’ll see you in three minutes.”  (He won’t be there.  Sucked in again, Bruce)

Three minutes later, I turned left off Main Street into the library parking lot.  The only car was a souped up jobbie … definitely not Cam.  Darn, he got me one more time.  I whipped out my cell phone and started dialing his number, brow all furrowed.  When through the windshield, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the figure of said Cam Clark.  With a frizzled brain residing in my head, I leapt out of Scarlet and gave my friend a hug.  Gosh, I’m supposed to be the kidder, not the kiddee.

We had a great talk back at my red, blue, yellow, green, teal, purple, reddish brown and cream home.  Just like many, many old times.  I showed him around, including the developed basement.  I was first upstairs again and turned to notice Cam apparently struggling up the steps.  I felt sad.  His life has included tennis prowess, a love for skating and a golf swing almost as erratic as mine.  “Back problems.  No golf.  Still good for cycling, however.”

I’m heading to Toronto on Thursday and hopefully Cam and I will get together on Friday.  I’d love to go for a walk around a tree-shaded lake near his home.  We’ll meander and reminisce and make plans for future adventures.  Fifty-two years is a delightfully long time.

Haida Gwaii … Islands Of The People

I was aboard the schooner Maple Leaf for seven days in June.  Thirteen of us experienced the wonders of Haida Gwaii, north of Vancouver Island.

Part of the learning centred on humpback whales, sea lions, black bears and many species of birds.  But there was more.

Haida watchmen are the guardians of ancient villages and their totem poles.  We got to visit five of these sites.  Many years ago, there were hundreds of villages scattered among the islands of Haida Gwaii.  Then came the white people.  Then came smallpox.  Ninety per cent of the Haida died.

For much of the 1900’s, another reality was residential schools.  Kids were removed from their homes and sent away, as far as PEI.  They weren’t allowed to speak their language.  If a brother and sister were at the same school, they weren’t allowed to talk to each other.  Their long hair, a deep symbol of identity, was cut.

At one of the villages, I stood beside Ken, a watchmen in his 30’s.  Do I ask him what I really want to ask him?  Yes.  I mentioned the smallpox and the residential schools.

“You folks seem so happy.  Have you forgiven us whites for what we did?”

Ken smiles.  “Oh yes.  We welcome everyone.”

Oh my.

The people are alive and so very well.  It was a privilege to spend time with them.

Daypacks

I’ve owned a small backpack for 20 years or so.  It’s been my faithful companion … in the Rockies, on the beach in Cuba, and in the gym.  If an inanimate object can be a friend, this is it.  But my maroon and grey Bruce attachment is showing its age.  The rubberized coating on the neck of the bag is pulling away in big messy globs.  Plus one of my beloved liquid black pens gave up the ghost a few months ago, spilling ink over big parts of the exterior.

I decided today to replace my pack with something bright and new, and give the old one to Goodwill.  It’s not like I’m recycling a person, of course.  I would never do that.  This is an object, and I’m willing to let it go, with sadness.  So many adventures we’ve shared.

So off I went a couple of hours ago to Mountain Equipment Co-0p to see what 20 years has wrought in the world of daypacks.  Turning down an aisle, I was welcomed by countless packs of every size, hanging proudly on their hooks.  My eyes fell on a bright red jobbie – my favourite colour.  The salesman owned this exact model and waxed poetic about its virtues.  On MEC’s website, here’s what I encountered:

What sets this full-sized daypack apart from the rest is the unique Aircomfort suspension system.  A powder-coated steel frame tensions a mesh back panel between the pack’s body and your back.  The result is a narrow air space that allows continuous ventilation and airflow, which leads to greater comfort for the wearer.  The pack also features two sets of zippers and an internal bag divider that can be quickly removed.  This means that you can access the bag from the top or bottom and retrieve items without unpacking the entire bag.  It’s a great size for long day-hikes.

Who am I to argue with such praise?  Maybe with the price, though – $160.00.  Ah, what the heck?  It’s an investment.  I grabbed my red treasure and headed to the till.  When what to my wondering ears should appear, but a totally unexpected dollar figure – $49.00.  The supervisor told me that my choice was “on clearance” because of the colour.  People didn’t want a red pack.  They were all for Granite/Black and Forest/Emerald though.  How strange, I thought.  Red is so passionate.  Granite/Black is so trendy.  I’ll take passionate any day.

The salesman told me that there was one more of these red packs in the store.  Another $49.00 and it would be mine.  First I said no.  “Let someone else buy it.”  Even if I intended the second one to be a gift, the double purchase seemed excessive, another example of knee jerk consumerism.  Planning out my future.  Making sure I have enough.  But that’s wrong.  The second one’s not for me.  It’s a gift for a special someone in my future.

So I paid the guy $98.00 plus tax.

I now own three daypacks.  One will always be in my heart.  One will be on my back tomorrow and will gradually work its way into my heart.  And one will help someone else move through the world.

 

Day Thirty-Eight … Cameron Lake and Missoulan Friends

The whole family was having fun on the rocky beach of Waterton Lake, with the somewhat smoky view down into Montana still spectacular.  Nona found some cool rocks, a couple of them with a heart shape imprinted.  She took a sharp stone and carved messages on a few of the tablets, such as “Live. Love. Laugh”.  “I’m hoping people walking on the beach will find them.”  What a marvelous idea.  The boys and Lance were skipping stones and in general hanging loose.

It was time to head back to the camper and the family left the beach before me.  As I roamed over the stones, here came a family: mom, dad and their daughter, perhaps 20-years-old.  I couldn’t resist saying something silly, so I looked at dad and said “How about if you and I have a race, swimming to the end of the lake?” [7 miles!]  Dad laughed.  I conveniently forgot to mention that I couldn’t swim.  Anyway, we stood there blabbing about the mountains, the trails and other good things.  I talked about myself too much but these folks laughed easily at some of the stuff I said.  That made me happy.  I told them about Jody dying last November and that I had written a book about her.  Theresa (mom) immediately said that she’d like a copy.  Emily and Kevin seemed keen too.  Oh my, I was happy some more.  I had new friends – from Missoula, Montana.  We agreed that the next night I would come over after supper for a visit, with a glass of wine a possibility.

Early the next afternoon, Lance started driving up the steep highway from Waterton townsite to Cameron Lake.  I remembered the first section of road.  In the early 70’s, some Prince Of Wales Hotel employees created the PWSJMA, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, means the Prince of Wales Slow Joggers Memorial Association.  I created the “Memorial” part.  I was actually quite proud of my contribution.  Many evenings, the group of us would run (jog, walk, totter …) onwards and upwards to a big rock on the edge of a pullout.  As far as I know, none of us ever died.  Yesterday, I kept looking out the window, searching for that rock.  My goodness, did we really run that far?  I must have been a man of steel!

We were all in the van, with Nona in the front passenger seat, Jace and me in bucket seats midway, and Jagger and Jaxon goofing around in the back.  I thought of my dear wife Jodiette, and of our travels with the family in 2011 and 2012.  Jody was always in the front, and Nona at the back.  I looked at the back of Nona’s head and saw Jody instead.  It was lovely.  It was loving.  I was sad.  How I miss my wife.

Up at the lake, Lance and the young guys decided to rent a canoe.  While Nona was doing her thing somewhere nearby, I strolled onto another rocky beach and saw three familiar human beings – my friends from Missoula.  I was happy to see them.  They were happy to see me.  How can it be that I’d only known them for less than a day?  Such comfy folks.  We talked about mountains, I guess.  The topics didn’t matter.

Now, back to family doings.  The guys were off, smiling into the wild blue yonder.  Nona and I wandered down the lakeside trail and stopped at a beachette.  We sat down.  We talked about how we each had traumatic experiences in swimming pools.  We watched the canoeists from Longview head way down Cameron Lake.  Later, we strained to see the little canoe shape, wanting our loved ones to be safe.  Mostly though, Nona and I sat there in silence, comfortable.  A woman came by to cuddle Ember.  Another woman and her young daughter walked past us on the beach.  Ember didn’t like them for some reason.  Lots of barking.

That evening, I walked over to site A2 and saw Kevin sitting at their picnic table.  A bottle of red wine was also in place.  Emily and Theresa soon joined us.  We talked about how Theresa and Kevin met.  Emily told me what she was doing in college.  All of them were missing Elyse, the older daughter, who lives near San Francisco.  It was natural.  I had fun.  I do hope I see the Finnegans again.

After darkness had come visiting, I got up to leave.  I hugged Theresa.  I hugged Emily.  I looked at Kevin and we decided to hug with a laugh.  I waved goodbye, turned towards the home camper, and felt my eyes moisten.

Oh, what wonders can appear in the space of a day.  Lucky me.

Day Four … Rows And Flows Of Angel Hair

“And ice cream castles in the air.”  So said Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer-songwriter.  And that was my life behind the wheel yesterday as I crossed a lot of prairie on my way to Weyburn, Saskatchewan.  The flatness of the land embraced the vastness of the sky.  Clouds billowed.  Others wisped their way across my windshield.  I was enthralled.  Sometimes, as I was rocking and rolling to my tunes, a shaft of sunlight burst through a break in the clouds to say hi.  “Pay attention, Bruce.  The songs are nice, the lyrics and melodies transforming, but look past your nose to the beauty of the world.”  So I did.

Then all those clouds would just go poof, and I was left with an empty blue sky.  Maybe somebody had called for a celestial coffee break.  First of all I was disappointed but then the blueness seeped inside. and I got to see another vastness … of the soul, of all our souls.  Compared to our daily routine of tasks and responsibilities, there’s a silence of love that falls upon us all.  The sky didn’t have little flecks of darker blue activity in it.  It was all one.

I also loved sloughs yesterday.  They’re pronounced “slew” … little ponds ringed with tall grasses and usually populated by small ducks, or so my prairie memory told me.  I started seeing the waters in southwestern Manitoba but there weren’t any birdies.  I was sad.  Where were the ducks?  And then … “There’s one!”  Happily, their numbers multiplied as Scarlet floated west.  I was happy.  I’ve been in some environments where it seems that the wildness, and all its creatures, have been squeezed out.  Not yesterday.

Then there’s the world of pumpjacks, the devices that pump oil from the ground.  They look like the mechanical beasts  from The War Of The Worlds.  Their elongated heads continually dip down towards the earth.  At one point, there was a slight rise to my right, and two of the pumpjacks were silhouetted on the horizon.  I could just imagine what was going on over there – assorted Saskatchewanians being devoured by the aliens.  Horrifying!

Did I mention yellow?   The greens and browns are usually muted on the Prairies but once in awhile a mass of canola blasts my brain.  So bright.  Another time I passed at least two miles of sunflowers, stretching to the ends of the earth.  They were all lifting their happy sunflowery faces, welcoming me to their land.  I nodded back.

***

Okay, how about a pleasant interlude?  I’m staying with my friends Henry and Louise in Weyburn.  It’s morning and I’m sipping my coffee.  Here comes Louise.

“I think we have enough milk for cereal.”

(Why not, Bruce?  Go for it.)

“I once put a box of cereal on the floor and stomped on it.  I was arrested for being a cereal killer.”

(Giggles)

***

One cool thing about travelling is that you come across things that jolt you, things that the locals probably don’t even notice.  Such as logging trucks and “Do Not Feed The Bears” signs in northwestern Ontario.  Somewhere east of Weyburn, I saw this billboard:

Do you have a problem getting your casing to the bottom?

Truthfully, I’ve never really thought about the problem.  Things seem to be working fine.  But it’s nice that someone wants to come to my aid about such a delicate personal matter.

Now, Henry and Louise.  Henry and I went to social work school in Ottawa and were roommates.  One evening, he was clearly distraught.  “Bruce, I’m getting old.  [25!]  I need to find a woman.  [Sex is great but I think Henry was especially referring to a life partner.]  I’m going to the lounge at the Chateau Laurier to find someone.”  So he did.  He met Louise that evening and invited her to dance … and so began a waltz that’s lasted 43 years.  Wonderful.  Last night the three of us sat in a restaurant and laughed and laughed.  Love means being able to pick up with friends where you left off … in our case, in 1980.

Quite often, I forget my life.  Someone says I did or said something years ago and I have no memory of it.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t walk around Ottawa one day with a roasting pan on my head.  I mean, really.  What fool would do something like that?  Henry told me that I used to say “Go shit” a lot.  Hmm .. that doesn’t sound like me.  Then he added, “No, you were saying ‘Gauche it’ as I was driving, as in ‘Turn left.'”  Okay, it’s coming back.  Louise and Henry also reminded me that I went to a Hallowe’en party in 1972 wearing a sleeping bag over me.  Ahh … I remember, especially the part about having trouble breathing.  My costume was actually an orange mummy bag.  I came dressed as a penis.  Think I called myself The Pumpkin Pecker.  These added details were news last night to my friends.  We laughed.

Today the three of us will see what beckons.  Scarlet gets to rest.  We’ll all have fun.

Visiting Kym

I was looking forward to yesterday.  It was time to drive west for two hours along the north shore of Lake Erie.  Kingsville is the home of Kym Brundritt, an exquisitely gifted artist.  Months ago, Kym had given me permission to have her painting “Cosmic Tree” grace the back cover of Jody’s book.  It was so kind of her.  I drove with a copy of the book nearby.  I knew that I wanted to meet Kym and give her the book face-to-face.

I found Kym’s art shop – Paisley Dreamer – parked my car and started down the sidewalk.  A woman turned towards me and said, “Are you Bruce?”  I certainly was.  “Kym’s father has just died.”  Maybe an hour before I pulled in.  The woman was Kym’s mom.  We hugged.  Such overwhelming sadness.

I decide to give Pam the copy of Jody’s book and then head back.  But she said, “Would you come to the house?  I think Kym wants to meet you.”  I didn’t want to intrude on the family’s grief, but the answer was natural … “Yes, I will.”

I followed Pam’s car and parked behind her.  A woman crossed the street and talked to her through the driver’s open window.  I recognized Kym from her photograph.  She was walking towards me as I opened the door.  She was crying.  We hugged.  I don’t remember if we said anything to each other before we touched.

We talked a bit – I don’t know what about.  I gave her Jody’s book.  Then Kym asked me to come inside for a drink of water.  We sat and talked.  Two old friends who had never met.  She mentioned that our timing was surreal.  As the funeral folks knocked on the door, I said that I should go.  “No” was her response.  “Stay.  You’re family.”  Oh my God.  How beautiful.

Kym and I decided that we’d go for lunch someday in Kingsville.  Whether that will be weeks or months away, I’ll be there.  Hugging people I’ve never met.  Isn’t that lovely, Jodiette?  “Yes, husband.  It sure is.”

Donna and Pete

During the summer of 2012, Jody and I spent two weeks visiting her brother Lance, our sister-in-law Nona, and their three boys – Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. They live in the village of Longview, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rockies southwest of Calgary.

We had a great time, camping in the Kananaskis, hiking in the mountains, sitting around watching TV, and talking at exquisite length to people we love.  I wanted to spend some time on my own as well, and so dipsydoodled around Longview to see what’s what and who’s where.

I wandered into a gift shop on Main St., and was thoroughly welcomed by the woman behind the counter.  She was Donna.  We just fell into conversation as if we’d been bosom buddies since the beginning of time.  We talked Alberta and we talked art, since she was selling originals and prints done by a local artist, Bernie Brown.  I ended up buying a drawing that showed a medicine man in mid-dance, but that wasn’t the important thing.  Donna was important.  She glowed.  It didn’t matter the topic – she breathed life into every word, and the wrinkles by her eyes got a workout.  Other folks came into the store and she lighted up with them as well, drawing out their humanity and humour with ease.  Then she’d chat with me some more. Ahhh.  I went back to visit her two more times.  Such a pleasure.

One day, Jody and I were walking along a residential street when along comes a gentleman dressed up cowboy, complete with a ten-gallon hat.  He was smiling at us from way back.  And then we to him.  He was Pete.  As we got near each other, I noticed that he had a large pink price tag on the toe of one boot.  After a few minutes of good-natured Easterner razzing on Pete’s part (and a similar repartee from Jody and me), I decided to broach the footwear topic.  “Oh, that.  Still haven’t decided if I want to keep these boots so I left the sticker right where it was, for an easy return if need be.”  We laughed. He laughed.  Pete became an instant friend.

Later in the week, I was sitting on the front deck of a bar on Main St., having an orange juice (or some reasonable facsimile), when I spied Pete strolling along on the sidewalk across the street.  He spotted me too, and started waving madly.  I naturally waved back, and yelled “Hi, Pete”.  Neither he nor I was remotely troubled by the looks we received from the other sunning patrons.  Truly, who cares?

The following week, having found out where Pete lived, I knocked on his front door.  How did he respond to the unscheduled visitor?  “Come on in.” (Big smile)  He was preparing supper and listening to the day’s rodeo on the radio.  Sure, he wanted to hear the results of the bull riding and the bronco busting, but he kept me and our conversation front and centre in his brain. So very much like himself.

So .. friends around every corner?  I think so.  Just gotta say “Hi”.