Days at the River

I started walking daily at the river, once prompted by a friend.  I remember this friend in the same ways that I remember the pond, where I had for six years, taken respite from the world, from work and from my worries.  I circled the same still water and watched its changes, daily…apart from a very few days when the roads were too icy on the hill to make it there OR when I drove to Ontario to visit my mother…or to be with my loved ones when they celebrated her life.

I became a new person at the pond.  I became a soldier for sustainability there.  I became an observer of what human beings have become, in the order of dismissing their responsibilities to the earth.  My sadness grew exponentially over those years as I communicated with management and staff in many big businesses that surrounded the area, scrolled through sustainability reports,  became an activist with the City of Calgary, and talked about nothing more than what was happening in this single ecosystem.  I picked litter…garbage…most days, filling and depositing bags and bags of human filth by the one bin that remained…”$13 dollars a bin to empty”, the city worker chimed in one day when I asked him, “What is going on with our city?”  He explained that it is a vision for the city that people will learn to take their litter out with them…”much cheaper”.  I sighed.  That was when I began to lose it.  I was crying during my walks, instead of taking in the bliss of the Mergansers, the Pintails, the Coots and Grebes. 

Arriving home to upload my photographs, I would notice for the first time, plastic bags lying on the slopes as Black Capped Night Herons fed.  I’d notice a 2L plastic bottle as a backdrop to the beautiful gesture of a Great Blue Heron.  The evidence of our thoughtlessness was in my face daily.

2015 Pond Study With Litter

I left the pond about a year ago and came to the edge of the Bow River.  I’m still questioned about why the redundant act of circling the same location.  To that, I can only say that by returning again and again to the same place, one really comes to know it…much like being with one person every single day.  I really come to know this place in all sorts of weather and in all sorts of moods.  I notice.  I observe change and transition and presence with a keen eye.  New is easy to see.  I never see the same thing.  And, while there are still signs of human carelessness, I do not directly see the road development, hear the machines or feel wholly responsible to clean up other people’s mess.

I feel as though I am walking in the middle of a Clea Roberts poem when I am at the river…and that is a beautiful place to be.

Mr. and Mrs. 2018 Bow River

Please, if you can, read Clea Robert’s poem, The Forest, from Auguries.  Perhaps then, my readers will understand why I come to this same place.  Blessings for a remarkable day.

First Snow 2018

Pekin Noodle Parlour

As we left the Copper King Mansion and headed for supper, it began to rain.  What could be more wonderful than a hot bowl of soup and traditional foods served in a very historical restaurant, the Pekin Noodle Parlour.

I enjoyed reading the article written about the restaurant and will include a bit of of the content, here.  Ed Best of the Last Best News is the writer. This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the Montana Quarterly.

“Entering the building from South Main, you walk up a long flight of stairs to a door on your left. It opens on a long, narrow hallway flanked by little rooms, each with its own table and chairs, separated by bead board partitions painted a bright orange, with an orange curtain hanging over each entrance. The chairs and tables, with their legs of braided steel, date to 1916, according to Danny Wong, and the cozy little booths have never changed. There are rumors—as persistent as those concerning the tunnels—that the booths are a holdover of the days when the Pekin was a brothel, or an opium den. Nonsense, the historians say; it was simply customary to give diners a bit of privacy.

Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling over the narrow hall between the booths, and the waitresses deliver your food on metal carts that trundle noisily down the aisle.

Even the bathrooms are an experience: little side-by-side rooms that you enter through swinging doors, and then a regular door that opens inward, barely missing the toilet. You have to stand alongside the toilet just to close the door, unless you happen to be meth-addict skinny.

And presiding over it all is Danny Wong. He is 82 and has worked at the Pekin since coming to the United States in 1947 at the age of 13. He took over the business in the early 1950s from his Great-Uncle Hum Yow, who had run the Pekin Noodle Parlor since it opened in 1911. But Wong is not just the owner of a business that has been in the same family for 105 years.

He is also the owner of a virtual museum, an accidental museum of a type more likely to be found in Butte than anywhere else in Montana. Butte has lost so much population since its heyday that countless artifacts have been preserved simply because the space they occupy is not needed for anything else.

On the ground floor of the Pekin, where Wong’s ancestors ran a gambling hall and an herb dispensary, one wall is covered by a collection of large wooden drawers with Chinese lettering on them.  Inside are heaps of desiccated medicinal herbs.

There is also a sizable collection of tin containers, likewise covered in Chinese characters and still full of various kinds of tea. Crammed into a rabbit’s warren of rooms in the vicinity of the tea and herbs, there are other relics of old Chinatown: an ancient brass cash register, hand-woven reed baskets, antique Chinese gambling devices, stacks and stacks of old dishes, lottery sheets with Chinese lettering and kitchen implements that look like they were forged in the Iron Age.

Such scenes presented themselves in every room we entered, with Danny Wong in the lead. One door led out back, into what used to be known as China Alley, when the Pekin was at the heart of a lively Chinese community that might have reached a population of 2,500 people.

Dick Gibson is the treasurer of the Mai Wah Society, which works to collect and preserve Asian history in the Rocky Mountain West and which runs the Mai Wah Museum, just down China Alley from the Pekin. It was Gibson who vehemently dismissed rumors of mysterious tunnels or an underground city. There were simply vaulted sidewalks, he said, empty spaces under the sidewalk that gave property owners a bit more room in their basements. There is no evidence that any subterranean chamber was attached to any others, Gibson said.

It was also Gibson who said the Chinese population of Butte has been estimated to have approached 2,500, though official census figures topped out at 400. The Chinese were subjected to much discrimination in the West, Gibson said, and were the target of occasional boycotts and discriminatory laws. But even the big boycotts of the late 1890s were more successful in Helena than in Butte.

“The non-Chinese population of Butte really did support the Chinese,” he said.

That has certainly been true of the Pekin, which has long been popular among regular folk, bigwigs and politicians. In 2011, when the Pekin celebrated its centennial, then-Sen. Max Baucus entered a lengthy, tribute-filled history of the restaurant into the Congressional Record. It was also much loved by Butte’s one bona fide celebrity, the late Evel Knievel. He used to bring his family to the Pekin on a regular basis, and he would often have Wong down to his place in Las Vegas. And when Knievel died in 2007, family and friends gathered at the Pekin—after one of the larger funerals in the city’s history—to mourn, reminisce and carouse.

Wong’s ancestors have been in Butte almost from the city’s beginnings. One, whose name has been forgotten, came to the United States in the 1860s and used to deliver supplies to Chinese in camps and communities throughout the West, including Butte. That man’s sons came to Butte in the late 1890s and ran a laundry that remained in business until the mid-1950s.

When Danny Wong came to Butte in 1947, he still used his given name, Ding K. Tam. He adopted the more familiar “Wong” from his aunt Bessie Wong, while “Danny” was bestowed on him by a school classmate.

Wong married Sharon Chu in 1963 and she was soon as much a fixture at the Pekin as her husband. Their son, Jerry Tam, said that through the years, his father brought over hundreds of relations to work at the Pekin and get a foothold in the United States. And in 1980, after years of delicate negotiations with Chinese authorities, Wong was finally able to bring over his parents, whom he cared for until their deaths.

You get the feeling that Wong couldn’t be much happier with how things have turned out. He seems perpetually serene and happy, even while working busily in the kitchen, rubbing spices into a pork loin or chopping up a slab of meat. In the Pekin bar—a later add-on, comfortable but lacking in history and quirkiness—just off the banquet room at the front of the restaurant, there is a plaque with a sketch of the Pekin on it. Underneath are the words: “Given as a token of our appreciation for being a wonderful friend and boss. Always working with us, side by side through good times and bad and much laughter. From all the old-time workers.”

I didn’t speak to him, but while back near the kitchen, I had the chance to see Danny Wong, hard at work.  When asked, the waitress denied any connection of the restaurant to past opium dens, just as the text of this article attests.  She did say, however, that there have been recent discoveries of things below neighbouring buildings, so that is interesting.  I enjoyed the hot food and relaxing with my friend.  We were on our feet lots that afternoon.  Outside, the weather was coming in.

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Ramona’s photos.  (thank you, buddy)  I haven’t included the one of ‘moi’ taking in the sight of my food because I look exhausted! lol  Click each image, to make larger.  I’m glad you got one of the neon sign!  After dinner, back out onto the I-15 and Boulder Hot Springs.

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Mineral Museum in Butte

I have yet to complete my archive of events celebrated with Ramona in Montana this summer.  We headed into Butte, on our way to Boulder Hot Springs.  Back in the day, Ramona attended what is now called Montana Tech Campus.  Ramona can not possibly step into nature without stooping to pick up a rock.  I’m pretty much the same way.  So, with geology being one of our common passions, we ended up in the Mineral Museum.

Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like it.  And because my photographs hardly capture the space, I hope that my readers will visit the link provided above.  I took photographs of some of my favourites.

I remained very ‘present’ on the short campus walk, enjoying the feeling that I was sharing a space that was once home to my High School bestie.  This space was like an old friend to Ramona and she knew these treasures so well.  I’m grateful that she had a chance to share all of it with me.

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Lost Creek

I haven’t been writing my daily post, because the story of Lost Creek just wouldn’t be the same without Ramona’s contribution and this morning, I received it in the form of an electronic mail.

Read this, will you?  Delightful!  Ramona is just one of those women who has created an amazing life.  I love her so much! (your stick is in the mail, Ramona!)

In 1975 a fellow named Tom G. came to The University of Montana, looking for candidates to apply for summer jobs with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. I was interested in working on a maintenance crew north of Missoula, near Kalispell. It looked promising…until he called me in to chat. He told me the 5-man crew had threatened to quit if a woman was hired to be part of the team. He said they wanted to be able to spit, fart and tell crude jokes and I wouldn’t fit in. Well…I said to Tom ” if that’s what is required I can do all those things too, and probably could share stories that would make them blush.”

He offered me another position, working mostly by myself. I would take care of Lost Creek State Park, near Anaconda and several fishing access sites on The Big Hole River-east of Wisdom.

I was issued a State pickup and found an old 1-room miner’s shack to rent near Lost Creek. A retired fellow named Sid C., from Anaconda, came with me to clean Fish Trap and Sportsman’s Bridge on the river twice a week. The summer went by quickly. Sid showed me where he picked puffball mushrooms near The Big Hole and I ate some-without getting ill.

One day, when I drove to Fish Trap alone, I saw a weird-looking 4-legged beastie in the road near a creek. It had a large head, some spots and long, long legs. Just then Mama came out of the Alder bushes. It was a new-born moose, probably with afterbirth sac pieces still on its back.

Another time I’d gone for a walk behind my shack-sweet-shack, checking out the old kilns and a mine opening. I continued up the crest of a rocky hill and about pooped my pants. A sentry male Mountain sheep and I locked eyes as he jumped up and quickly sprung away, alerting the other 3 with a huffing vocalization. I’d been downwind and coming around a rocky outcrop. After I caught my breath and slowed my racing heart I laughed.

There were both Mountain goats and sheep back then. The ewes stayed on the south canyon and bucks on the north; meeting of course during mating season. The Mountain goats were easier to find after a rain; when the rocks were shiny with water and they weren’t. I’m sorry to share that neither is found in Lost Creek Canyon now, as they all died of a lung disease. There are hopes some may be reintroduced from The Bitterroot Mountain herds.

I remember climbing all over the canyon rocks and up the talus slopes, somewhat fearlessly. I even crossed the creek near the falls by scooting my heinie along a log. On the other side I found a trapper’s or miner’s little shack- about 8 x 6 feet, made of log and hand-hewn split window and door openings. There was an old table and bed-both mounted to the wall. The roof was disintegrating and the whole shebang is no-doubt melted back into the earth by now.

This summer, when I visited with Kath, I could see evidence of a wildfire. My favorite campsite was more open. But the large car-sized boulders still held their ground, birds still sang and wildflowers flourished-maybe more so with fewer tall trees.

An afterlog…I worked with Fish Wildlife and Parks for 2 school years with the work-study program for 15 hours a week and for one more summer-doing visitor surveys along The Blackfoot River and for Salmon and Placid Lakes proposed campground improvements. In 1978 I took a job with The USDA Forest Service on The Clearwater National Forest in Orofino, Idaho; and that began a 33 year career. In May of 1979 I joined The Peace Corps and went to Chile; another story all-together. Mona 7-2018.

Isn’t that remarkable?  And, to think I was able to revisit this amazing and beautiful place and picnic with my buddy at the Lost Creek site.  Again, photos hardly do it justice.  I am profoundly grateful for the chance to do this journey with my dear friend.

We saw these two lovelies as we pulled out of the area…time to head for Butte!  Another awesome adventure!

 

 

Bannack Ghost Town

From Big Hole, we traveled the scenic byway through Wisdom…then south on the 278 and onward.  Little did we know that as we came down off the pass, we should hit a bit of construction and resurfacing along the Grasshopper Creek.  I got to speak to someone who had biked over 1300 miles and he was excited for the next UP.  We were on our way to Bannack, Montana…once Gold Town…now, Ghost Town.

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Ghost Towns Montana

Ramona and I began our wander on the lower part of this map, at location #26.  The map was collected from a brochure I purchased at entrance for $2.00.  Click on any photos to enlarge.

Bannock State Park has a very detailed website that will give my readers an extensive history, as well as current events and ongoing projects.  We shared a beautiful time, exploring.

Bannack state park

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At the Bannack campsite, Ramona and I shared a huge treat!  Preston had brought us some strawberry shortcake in the morning and so, along with a swig of campground water, we snacked on that generous dessert and listened to the birds.  It was nice to sit and do some more relaxing before moving on and out.

Stern Border Service Officers

All I could think about was getting over that border and getting to my treasured friend, Ramona.  The morning light was heavenly.  I left the little town of Raymond, drove east and then at the intersection, turned south for the Sweetgrass Hills.

To the right, I passed wetlands and identified American Advocets and a large group of Black-necked Stilts.  On road trips, one can not possibly stop often enough to capture all of the wonder as it slips past.  I was happy to see many winged friends and to see the vast beauty that is southern Alberta.  The past ten years or so I’ve made my life all about the fleeting moments and the tremendous beauty that reveals itself in familiar places.  I’m not big into world travel…but, I’m big into deepening my relationship with what is close up, if that makes any sense at all.  We all do life in our own particular way.

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At the border, I was met by a very stern border service officer.  Oh my goodness…a 63 year old lady approaches and ‘you have the need to be miserable’.  Mayhaps I was bringing some sort of bias to the experience. “Pull around and park in the back.  An officer will meet you there.”  Sure…okay.

The officer who joined me a short while later was much more pleasant.  She covered an agricultural survey with me and shuffled through my belongings in the vehicle…most concerned with plant matter, foods…yes, I get it.  And then I was on my way after sharing with her some pleasantries about high school years in Great Falls.

Continuing on to Shelby, I thought about the lack of gun controls…the shift in thinking.  I remembered how grateful I was to be a Canadian.  I looked forward to making Great Falls.  Once there, I contemplated taking time to visit special places and special people that remain.  I sat in the parking lot of the Flying J and felt so close to the memories of home that my family built in this place…thought of my friends and the house on Fox Farm Road.  I decided that this wouldn’t be the trip for packing in too much.  I needed to sip on my lemonade and enjoy the landscape.  I would have to make another opportunity to do all of the rest of it.

I love the landscape just south of Great Falls…Holter…and Prickly Pear.  There is only one place to stop and so it’s a chore to be overcome with the extreme beauty and at the same time, in a photo-crazy world like ours, not to be able to archive it.  I pulled over at the only stop on my side of the I-15.

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I thought about my Dad and wondered why the heck he wasn’t on this road trip with me.  I love to drive with my father.  These are places he knows and loves far better than I!

Onward!

In Helena, I had my first learning about roaming data charges.  Sigh.  Enough said.  Bob and Dan, I tried to track you down.  I thought I had an hour to play with in Helena.  Sorry.  I left your deets at home in my address book. (roaming, YOU SUCK!)

I had no recollection of the places I saw south of Helena, although I’ve traveled that road…a couple of times with a long-haul trucker, a few times traveling to see my parents in Colorado Springs, Colorado and likely before that, travels to various speech team competitions.  What I haven’t done is turned off into la la land at the Divide exit, west…Wise River…Wisdom…and all of that.  There were zero opportunities to take photographs of the wondrous landscape that unfolded after that turn off from the I-15 and my mind set to wondering as I saw such beauty reveal itself.  I thought about my new-found cousin, Charlene, who lives in Idaho Falls and a bit of a remote feeling took over me, that likely I wouldn’t be able to meet her on this trip.  All of a sudden, I heard the words escape my mouth…

“This is all for you, Kath.”  And yes…there were some tears.  The crystal blue waters weaving through verdant miles were beyond description.  The rugged rock reached vertical to either side of me.  I was overcome with beauty.

As I pulled to the right into the Big Hole National Battlefield, I felt exhausted, but so grateful.  Swallows seemed to beckon me.  I knew that Ramona would be working her shift in the visitor’s center, but decided to spend a few quiet moments looking over the valley.  Again, time just for me.  I knew that this place held huge spiritual energy and that the history for the Nez Perce peoples on this land held such provision and at the same time, horror, that I wanted to be present to the moment.  And then…Ramona.

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It’s All a State of Mind

I haven’t had an easy time of it the past while.  I am grateful to those who haven’t minimized my feelings during this particularly rough patch.  I am grateful for those who have shown genuine concern and unconditional love and support.  I’m grateful for those who asked.  I am grateful for those who haven’t questioned what I needed to do.  I’ve missed writing.  I’ve missed painting.  But, I’ve really enjoyed sitting still in the woods and watching the birds.  I’ve enjoyed watching the river and the pond.  The river has always taught me how dramatically everything can change.  The little critters that eek out survival on the river teach me that, in fact, life is just as brutal as it is beautiful.  Treasure the moments.  Don’t cave in the least little bit to the challenges…it only takes a moment of hesitation on the fight and you can be a goner.

The state of things in the U.S.A. and the exposure to the media via the news and social media have, in part, impacted my mind set.  While it’s not the whole picture, it certainly did not assist in a feeling of hopefulness or optimism.  Through this impact, I’ve become very mindful of supporting the Canadian economy in my purchases and spending.  And, I will continue to do so.

However, I wavered in one regard.  The only way that I would have the opportunity to see my high school bestie before she left her volunteer position at Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana for her home in Michigan, was to travel across THAT border.  My heart ached to be with Ramona, so, setting all of my concerns and worries and sadness aside, I got up one day and decided to go.

There is something inherently magical about road trips and I am no stranger to doing road trips on my own, but this time, I even left my beautiful and loyal companion, Max, behind.  This was the second time in 12 years that we were separated.  I think I heard him barking, “POOP HEAD!!”, as I pulled out of my spot in front of the house and headed for Magrath.

My Auntie Ruth doesn’t mind me hanging out with her and I really like her company.  You want a Wild Cherry icecream cone?  Of course!  You haven’t got milk or bread?  Let’s go!  It’s been a while since you saw your sister?  Heh, hop in the car!!

Driving on roads that I used to share with my grandfather…evening light…canola fields…magic!

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I cut across from Claresholm to Barons on my trips…this time, got stuck going 30 kms and hour behind a line-painter. What a hoot.

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I’m not so great with selfies…but, Auntie Ruth was willing, so the effort was well-worth it.

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Ms. Independent at 92 years of age.

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I adore these two women. I’m grateful that they are in my life. I treasure every moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my recorder with me because we had such a great yack and many more memories of family were shared.

I didn’t sleep well that night, so was up and on the highway at around 6 the next morning.  I filled my travel mug with hot coffee and topped up the gas $1.28 and headed east for Raymond.  I love early-morning driving.  The journey continues in Road Tripping.

Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

I’m struggling with writing lately…it’s been so long since I’ve posted to my blog and yet so many amazing experiences have come and gone.  Something that is keeping me from the comfort of writing is that the past six months or so I have had a number of ‘floaters’ appear in my vision; first the left eye, then the right, and now the little squiggles have moved in my left.  It’s as though my brain is constantly having to edit out these obstructions to my vision and looking at a screen just makes it worse.  A symptom of aging, the eye specialists have assured me that, as yet, the retinas are not involved.  As a visual person, this has been disconcerting and I suppose I could write an entire piece about that, alone, but I’m here to write about Solitude.

I met Michael Harris at Wordfest.  The particular session I attended impacted me so much that I ended up purchasing books from each of the four authors and am happy to say that Christmas vacation was the perfect time to curl up and read them all, as well as others from my book shelf.  I had a very intense reading period through the holiday and I spent most of that time alone, eating a little too much chocolate.

I found the book, Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World, compelling.   If you troll the internet, you will see that reviews are either very positive OR are insistent that this is a book written for ‘old people’.  So mayhaps ONLY BOOMERS will like this book.  I disagree!  I think some very discerning and weary millennials are suffering the backlash of ‘real’ disconnection.

I am one of the ‘old people’ who, in retrospect, feel concern for the gradual erosion of our time alone, our sense of creativity and playfulness, our disassociation with ‘uncomfortable-ness’ and our loss of ‘written’ language’ and mark-making.  The past few years, I have become a part of a very odd little subset of humanity…people who watch birds…people who photograph birds…and in my encounters with them, I see a particular kind of desperation to connect with the innate need for genuine solitude and as a result, genuine connection.

Solitude (shortening the title for a matter of expediency) was a book that suited my constantly-inquiring mind and opened up some revelation about the current state of the human family inhabiting this earth.  From what I can see, in my very small sampling of that earth, the author is right on!  This was one of the most invigorating reads that I’ve enjoyed in a long time…well, since reading Kyo Maclear’s  Birds, Art Life and that wasn’t too long ago.

For the first many pages/chapters…I read, turning pages, while curled under a blanket on the red couch.  But it wasn’t long and I pulled out a highlighter.  My review will take the shape of the posting of some of the views that align with mine.  Here are some of my highlighted bits…please, don’t let these bits keep you from reading the entire book!

Do I get a thumbs up for this? (laughing, as I type)

Having driven the 401 so many times, all by myself, with Max, the chapter where Michael Harris explored our reliance on Google Maps and a GPS really spoke to me.  I’m ‘that lady’, out there, with paper maps and slipping in and out of small towns along the way.  I’ve been lost and I’ve gotten off the highway, using the wrong exit.  Those experiences created some initial panic at times but, in the end, I found my way.  I met new people.  I saw surprising things.

These past years, since retirement, I’ve been circling a pond…I’ve been exploring my city…I’ve been traveling Canada by road.  I’ve been traveling inward and seeing magnificent worlds.  It is a different sort of travel…not better or worse than international travel.  The only thing about my sort of travel is that people don’t ask about it.  There is no sort of admiration or public support for my kind of travel.  While one person may see a pyramid, I might be seeing this. The same wonder is to be had…the same awe.

Reading!!  When a person shares something on a social media site, how many people ‘really’ read it, from beginning to end?  I agree with the following insight.If you have not yet read Rebecca Solnit’s A History of Walking…please do.  She is another one of my favourite authors, currently.
Ah….the lost act of letter-writing!  While my Christmas cards have yet to be written, I do try to write letters with intent and it always feels wonderful to put things in the post box. I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandson and solitude.  It’s natural when you’re a Gramma for the first time.

I really treasure the ideas captured in this book.  I hope that my readers will enjoy it as much.

In the meantime, I will continue to nurture and enjoy my solitude.  It has left me, recently, being honest about not enjoying large group events where I must mingle.  It helps me admit my enjoyment of being alone and apart, as well as helps me understand why I enjoy small group visits so much.

 

Coming Home

Taking to Canada’s highways is just one of those things I love to do.  Nothing is better than a road trip!  While I didn’t snap a lot of photographs on my journey home, after eight weeks away, I did feel very emotional and in awe of Canada’s landscape and its people.  I thought as a wrap up to my blogging about my experience this past summer, I might dig into my night time notations and see if there are some moments worthy of mention.

Leaving Belleville, I took my ‘balcony shot’.  Let me go and see if I can find it.  There you go. I’ve taken one of these as a ritual when leaving Parkwood Estates every time I’ve made the drive.  (and there have been more than a few drives) Typically, five minutes away, I start crying my head off.

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I had a small container on the passenger seat next to me, filled with Dad’s hermit cookies, a recipe that was given him by my sister-in-law, Ann Marie.  The highway 401, heading for Toronto, is a rush of a place to begin a morning, but with the early start, things seemed to really move to Whitby, where I pulled off, refreshed my coffee and gave Max his first break. (And, no!  I am not going to go into such detail as I continue.)

The point in all of this is that the first leg of the journey is the toughest part of driving home, because I feel like I’m leaving family behind and it is time to turn west.  I am also somewhat on edge through Orillia (because I take hwy 12 to hook up with the 400),  concerned that I make all of the correct huckle buckles when I arrive at the Midland sign.  Once I’m on the 400, I just motor it to bypass Sudbury (my birth place) and beyond.

Driving in September meant there were fewer vacationers on the road, a few red canoes on top of cars, but not what summer brings.  I was sad that driving cottage country meant witnessing a bear cub, struck by a vehicle.  The road kill scene always breaks my heart, as does traveling behind transport trucks moving pigs and cattle in what I feel are inhumane practices.  I pledged to myself that this trip was going to be the start of different eating practices and that I wanted to become a more evolved person in regards to what I ingest.  This is not something I take lightly anymore.

However (all that eating-consciously discussion aside)…I DID stop to have fries and gravy, just because I knew it would be my last chip truck, a regular thing in this part of Ontario.  Outside Parry Sound, I noticed a remarkable memorial.  There are so many marks of humankind along the highways of Canada; many heaps of rock along the shield, in the spirit of the Inukshuk, and many memorials.  I scratched a note in my notebook…

Once home, I looked up the circumstance connected to the beautiful drum kit sculpture.  It was placed as a memorial to Cole Howard, a young man, along with three other teens, who lost his life in 2012 in a head on collision.

A Family Photo that appeared in The Star By ZOE MCKNIGHT Staff Reporter Tues., June 17, 2014

A Family Photo that appeared in The Star By ZOE MCKNIGHT Staff Reporter
Tues., June 17, 2014

A road trip as extensive as the one I take on a fairly regular basis reveals so much about the heart of Canada.  I have thought about Cole’s family as a result of their memorializing this event in this way.  The sculpture was built by retired welder and artist, Laval Bouchard.

It was only a very short while after passing a sign for Algoma Territory that the weather changed.  Dark clouds surrounded me, but I pushed on, thinking that I’d still like to make it to Iron Bridge for the night.  I was pushing nine hours driving, but it would make the drive in to Thunder Bay do-able the next day.  Max was agitated in the back.  I told him everything was going to be okay.  I remembered Dad’s words.  Weather is moving east.  When you’re traveling west, drive like the wind and you’ll go through it.  When you’re going east, hold off for a few hours and the weather will speed ahead of you.  The lightening was straight ahead of me and over my right shoulder.  Everything boomed.  Water poured in sheets across the windshield.  On the highway, some pulled over.  Transports pounded me with flying ground water.  I was being pummeled, but persisted.  Sure enough, the weather thinned and like the great monster, it hurled its way east.  Ahead, I saw the sun behind the clouds and the rain became dancing sparkles as my wipers continued to thud.

We made the Red Top Motor Inn in Iron Bridge...and happily, I chatted with the owner…more about art, this time.  He is a collector of Norval Morriseau and is a local enthusiast for the visual arts. His partner, in the back kitchen, prepared me a dinner of Huron White Fish, tiny carrots, green beans, braised roasted potatoes.  I went back to my comfie room, after throwing the whizzo for Max countless times in the beautiful yard, and poured myself a nice tall glass of red.

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The next day was a day of magic on the road…something about the rain of the day before and the sunshine the next morning.  I set off early toward Bruce Mines, tickled by the romance of the Mennonite horse drawn buggies, straw hats, little girls in black bonnets.  There was a 3/4 moon and a single vapour trail straight ahead, on a perfectly blue sky.  The soft light hit the side of a red barn in just a particular way and a soft haze danced on the fields, now ripe and full.  Red maples were set into dappled forests of olive green and yellow.  Autumn was evident around the lakes, although this would be my only encounter with the season on this drive, while I thought that I had left it late enough that I would enjoy that particular Ontario colour.

I delighted in the drama of Lake Superior on Day II  At 10 in the morning, I pulled over to spend time at the water’s edge.  Something about Lake Superior gives me confidence and causes me to bask in a sense of celebration.

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Beyond Superior, both east and west, the roads reveal the economic times to the driver…small towns are lined with abandoned buildings; eateries, motels and gas stations; and there is evidence of graffiti everywhere.  Broken windows are like giant dark eyes, that lead to past narratives and histories of the people who have now moved on.  Nailed boards cover over a former life.  I drove past Orphan Lake, Dad Lake, Mom Lake, Katherine Lake.  I sighted two eagles.

I stopped at Old Woman Bay, where a man with a very thick accent, wanted me to take his photograph, not in front of the wild and dramatic water, but in front of his sports car in the parking lot.  I fixed a lunch of Italian meats and cheeses.  A honey-mooning couple offered to take my photograph.  A wonderful offer as I am rarely a part of my archives.

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More exploring at Rossport, knowing that the beautiful and abundant experience of being at the water’s edge would be over at Thunder Bay.  The third day is always the most difficult for me, given the drive in land through the most isolated and creepy landscape I know.

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People were all off the highway.  I had very little traffic sharing the road with me.  I let the truckers chug past me on big hills.  I just wanted to take in the scenery.  Awe-inspiring. Miles later, we hit Thunder Bay and not a single room was available in a ‘cheap’ hotel!  More than once, I’ve thought how much I’d like to be driving my own little customized pull over ‘bus’/camper.  So many picturesque places along the way. But, I didn’t have a customized camper.  And, I needed to get off the road.  It had been another epic day by the time I rolled in and so I took a room in the only posh hotel in close proximity to the Trans Canada highway and I headed for the shower.

Max liked this place.  He knows class when he sees it.  I poured myself a glass of wine.

Day III, my least favourite day, but I aimed to enjoy it…to relax into it…to really look.  The encounter in Upsala with this roadside attraction pretty much says it all…

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Google Maps

Google Maps

A train thump thump thumped along a track, for it seems like, miles.  I listened to country music.  At first, the trees were dense…then ferns, gold and sepia, lined the edges of the road as the marshlands encroached closer and closer to the highway.  More Moose Crossing signs.  Cars disappeared.  I felt alone out there, so I hit cruise.  (my father would be proud) I remembered, as I do every time I drive through English River, the movie, Deliverance.  Think of the Squeal Like a Pig scene…or the Red Neck Scene…the disturbing sense of these envelop me every time i drive this road.  At Ignace, I pulled into the Scenic Viewpoint.  I had never done this before.  I drove for quite some time and came to a circle of dirt road, a bobcat, a port-a-potty and if I were to hike into the dark woods, I might be able to see a bit of the valley that the highway sign professes, is an awesome view.  I returned to the car and headed back to the highway.  Max was unnerved by the silence of the viewpoint.

I entered Ignace and pulled in for a coffee and maybe a tart.  I learned quickly that the home made tarts were back in Upsala.  I was disappointed.  A burly man in a plaid jacket moved a fridge.  The grapefruit juice I pulled from the other one, duct taped handle, was room temperature.  At the counter, paying, the middle aged woman entered into the dance of conversation.  Lonely, likely, she pulled out her phone and we proceeded to goo goo over the photos of her chocolate lab…this went on for quite some time.  The man, red faced, continued to struggle with the fridge.  The conversation ended as another customer drove over the bell hose stretched across the wet dirt at the pump.  I was relieved to get back into the car.

There were miles of straight road.  There, finally, Savanne Portage and a huge sign for the Time Zone Change.

Early fur traders used a portage at Savanne Portage to connect east to Lac du Mielieu (near Raith) to the Kaministkwia River to complete a fur trading route between Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior, at Thunder Bay. Raith marks another Continental Divide, with points to the north and west flowing into Hudson’s Bay, and points to the southeast flowing to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic.

A painted bear and moose sign dominated the side of the road, at a point, Hand crafted, it was more evidence of the remote feeling that echoes through my day.  All water, from there, flows to the Arctic Ocean.

A bloated moose in the ditch was being  pecked at by crows and buzzards.  I turned to CBC radio after miles of listening to Spotify selections.  Static, but I was absorbed by interviews and such.  Jane Jacobs spoke about gentrification.  Emily and Ogden played.

Kenora meant a picnic and a walk about.  I always take the drive through the city.  I think about Jim and Sue when I make Kenora.  I feel closer to home.  It happens suddenly.  More up and down, the landscape edges water and feels more open, in a less mysterious way than the landscape I have left behind me.  We walked under the bridge to the big muskie.  The tourists were gone.

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On the outskirts of Kenora, I felt about trees, the way I’ve felt about cattle…their heads stretching to see out the back door of transport trucks,  eyes wide, seeming to be asking…asking me.  The trees, fallen, seem to be asking…asking me.  It goes on for a couple of miles.

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Making Winnipeg, the ring road seemed forever.  I thought to call up Angie and Rylan, but I was drained.  I flopped in the Motor Inn and felt comfortable, having stayed here on route to the east.

I knew already that I would not go north to Neepawa again, as much as I wanted to visit Margaret Laurence’s home town.  Two extra hours of driving north and then back down seemed excessive, given my state at the time.

Max seemed accepting all the way along…he also flopped every time we stopped.  Happy to receive his walks every hour and a half, he didn’t look for a lot of exercise in the evening.  He took a pose…and this was it!

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We would make Moose Jaw the next day.  The weather was shifting again, becoming grey as we made our way west.  Many hawks, a truly unreasonable number of hawks, were seen in a field just west of Regina.  I wondered if they were mousing, given that the crops had come in and just stubble remained.  I’ve never seen such a spectacle.  In golden fields, horses stood neck to neck, all facing west.  I think that we can take our cues from animals.  Weather was coming.

By Moose Jaw, it was raining.  Max waited patiently while I stepped into the CHAB radio station to see if there were any archives kept.  My father used to sing live on radio with his sisters.  That would have been the early 1940s.  The receptionist explained that it would be a nightmare to keep historical archives.  This was a disappointment to me, a chronic archivist.  Who are the keepers of our histories?  I guess I thought that radio stations, newspapers and such would be a safe bet, in terms of our contemporary narratives.

Driving home the next day, was a celebration-drive.  I felt to be floating as the sky opened up so beautifully.  I love Saskatchewan and Alberta skies.  I had left home for home.  My father and sister and brother are HOME, my children here in Calgary are HOME.  Canada is HOME.  I know her well and want to know her better.  I dream to drive north…to stop…and really take in what makes the north HOME.img_1805 img_1841 img_1850

Perching on the Edge of the Bay of Quinte

Thank you, Maureen, for lunch.  Sharing time with dear friends is such a gift.  You have a pretty spectacular view from your balcony and I love how you were able to bring so much of your gardens to your new residence with you!  Thank you for lunch and conversation.  A real blessing!

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Elements of a cozy home…things that grow.

Good friends…dear friends.

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Dad…IMG_0346

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