Where do we go from here?
Does Brittania, when she sleeps, dream? Is America her dream? -- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of Mankind, seen,-- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true,-- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe til the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied in, back into the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments,-- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair .
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon
Georgian Bay, ON 2015
I met a man on the last boat that night, who spoke of beauty like she was an old friend, whom he never took for granted, and knew what she was worth. He told me of two stars that, when they align up and down on a summer night, would tell you that it's three in the morning. He told me of the first thing he ever killed: stared the goat in the eyes as he slit the throat, felt the warmth of life spill out over his shaking hands.
On the adirondack chairs we looked up to where magenta turned to black and gave way to sparkling lights so far away, while we talked of how to make the world worth living in.
49°11'08.4"N 107°34'13.9"W, 2015
There exists a place to go and forgive yourself. It lies beyond the gravel road, past the Texas Gate and weathered signage, where the ground crunches under your footsteps and the world begins to fade in gradient. It overlooks the coulee where a great river used to flow, but there is nothing now, no tree to hide behind, only the grass and wildflower. Here, stand naked in the sunlight. The wind will blow. It’s a stone's throw to the bottom of the valley. Lie awake until the moonrise, and when the horizon fades then comes back again, climb out the tent.
There is a star up there for every mistake you've ever made. Yet it’s these very stars that bathe the hills in such a rich blue. That lets you see.
Here, the silence cracks the shell, the wind blows the layers off until what's left in your hands is a bare heart. See how pure it is, how fragile. Leave the layers to wither and die.
Coquitlam, BC and Rutland, VT, 2016
There are two quarries in my life:
One is on a gravel road by my mother's house. It snakes along the river, opposite the flooded trail to Crystal Falls, opposite the black bears, right by the giant rock crushing machines.
Grand rock face
StrataThe grinding steel and clear crush stockpiles
A rusting metal pipe rests on two pyramids of sand to block the way; we walk right on through. It’s the shortcut to the secret island on the river, where we made a makeshift flagpole. In the summers we wade to the still creek that cools our beer. We drink all we want. We make all the monkey noises we want. No one cares to call the cops, or so we thought; we learn from our mistakes.
And if you pass the island along Pipeline Road, there is a grassy field that no one goes to. At the very end a chain fence and cameras to protect the lake we all depend on to drink its water, to give us light, and take our name from.
The other one is abandoned. Filled with rainwater, groundwater...how deep does it go? The water is smooth as glass before we jump in. Square cut walls leak a rusty colour; climb the old ladder bolted to its face. Do we care if it breaks? It's only water we'd fall in to.
Dogs bark in the distance to our foreign smell. I shiver at the top of the rocks, just before the sun sets behind the Green Mountains. I am afraid of water. I am brave. I am brave. We jump from opposite ends of the corner stone. The soles of my feet burn. What is that blurry shape in the water? Emerge.
Breast stroke to the edge of camp. The twigs are dry, the fire is easy.
It's funny to piss in the water we swim in and drink from.
1. The mosquitoes hurt less the longer you go.
2. You are oddly proud of the symmetric salt crystal pattern on your back.
3. The condom you've had in your wallet for over a year is probably no good anymore.
4. You bum a smoke off a bald man dressed in leathers and ask, what’s going on? He replies, I try not to. You wonder if he misheard you or whether it is some form of cryptic wisdom you do not yet understand.
5. Shredded tire on the shoulder looks like a giant eagle’s feather. First you imagine how big an eagle must be to fit that feather. Then you imagine how big its prey must be to match. You determine the eagle must be the size of a large truck. The prey must be the size of you.
6. Rumble Strips
7ii. You want to peel the cracked pieces off the ancient lake bed, scrub away all the dead skin and feel clean again.
10i. The Grands Tétons are pronounced The Grand Tee-Tawns.
10ii. Boisé, Idaho is pronounced Boys-ee, Idaho.
10iii. Dubois, Idaho is pronounced exactly how it should be.
10iv. You remember when you were 14 years old and ordered minestrone soup as mine-strone, and all your friends laughed. You were disproportionately angry at the time. Now it is a fond memory.
11i. You thought you’d be afraid of snakes but you aren’t.
11ii. Your newly found courage lets you sleep peacefully at night while your hear howling wolves and the sound of hooves running past your tent.
12i. Prairie Dog
12ii. Mountain Lion
12iii. You finally use the bear spray you’ve been carrying on an angry bull who doesn’t like your campsite. You are sorry.
13. The train is 4 minutes late. You can think of two countries where that would be unacceptable. You wonder if there are any more.
14i. Arco, Idaho
14ii. You shoot guns and drink beer with a right-wing conspiracy theorist and believe for a brief moment that there must be some possible avenue towards reconciliation and understanding across the political divide in the United States.
14iii. You are now unsure if you believe in those things.
15i. You fall in love with the baggage handler at the train station. Your interaction lasts no more than three minutes. You forget what she looks like as soon as you board the train.
15ii. Puppy love is a fun feeling to have in small doses, but gets you in trouble if it happens too often. (it happens too often).
16i. You snuck across the border two tabs of acid inside your tube patching kit, nestled between the vulcanized rubber pads and the strip of sandpaper. You wonder what the desert heat does to the potency of LSD.
16ii. You die and are reincarnated as a drug sniffing dog, and oooohboy does that bag smell good.
17. You fall asleep in the open air on top of pine needles and rusty red soil. A small plane flies overhead. In the quiet still of the woods, the noise is perverse. In all other cases it is comforting.
19i. You prefer the poetic ‘Texas Gate’ over the pragmatic ‘Cattle Guard’.
19ii. Texas Gate
19iii. Cattle Guard
20. You pick the same bathroom on car 3 because it's the largest. You pee five times on the train ride from Portland to Vancouver. You notice increasing degradation of cleanliness and quality. The floor around the toilet becomes unbearably sticky between Seattle and Everett. You wonder whether all the other toilets on the train are equally filthy. You continue to use the same bathroom until you arrive three hours behind schedule, rushing to reassemble your bike for the ride home to your mother’s house.
21. Someone in the back seat of a car speeding the other way sticks their torso out the window and yells something at you. You smile and wave back. For an hour you think that maybe they weren’t saying something nice to you after all; the next hour you think about the Doppler Effect.
22. Your rusting chain reminds you of a freshman chemistry class on entropy. You thought it was poetic, a good metaphor for many things. You were dissapointed to learn that this was not a novel realization at all.
23. It is early dawn, lightly raining; you are still buzzing from whatever cocktail of chemicals you ingested the night before. You go home surrounded by people you trust and love. The group spans the entire width of the empty street. For a brief moment, you allow yourself to feel the young and naive sense of ownership of the city. Some cheesy bullshit. It’s nice.
24. You are graceful when you crash and have good tuck-and-roll instinct.
25. A man on a motorcycle asks to share your campsite for the night. He is embarrassed to smoke in front of you, but does so anyways. Hours after parting in the morning, you come across his half full pack of Marlboro golds on the side of the highway.
26. Critical Mass
27. You are embarrassed of how influential Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is to you.
28i. You come across what looks like a crashed pickup truck in a ditch on the side of the road. As you get closer, you see it is two women who have spent the night sleeping on a futon in the truck bed. You stop to chat. They offer you a ride, but you are going the other way. It is another slice of life to cherish and keep in your memories forever.
28ii. You wonder about the unknowable and subconcious criteria you hold that decide what memories you will viscerally remember for decades, and what memories feel like daydreams hours after they pass.
29i. Asphalt concrete
29ii. Pouring diesel over fresh pavement prevents it from curing. You learned this when you were digging out steaming hot asphalt from inside a manhole while the foreman sprayed fuel all around you. How many brain cells did you destroy that afternoon? It is both a good memory and a useful piece of information.
30. The Argentinian man you share wine with by the dirty lake tells you a story about burning down an old farmhouse infested with rats. It is like a monologue in a horror movie. After he leaves, you filter water from the lake and drink the warm, brown result. You are convinced you will be sick when you wake up.
31. It is around midnight and you are riding a two-man paceline towards the Columbia River. The road is lit by your headlamps. The small valleys in the undulating gravel road hold pockets of deliciously cool air. Farmers having a drink in the porchlight see you pass and begin to whoop and holler. You scream as loud as you can without stopping.
32. There is an art in asking a stranger to camp on their lawn (it normally ends in a hot meal or a drink as well). You have pretty much perfected it.
33. You can trust travelers in cars for good destinations. You should never trust them for directions.
34. Things you have been given on the road despite your insistence that you have no space to carry it: a giant watermelon, a Costco size box of cookies, a bundle of firewood, a bottle of wine, a 4L jug of water, a slice of cake, a pipe wrench.
35. You walk naked into the Champlain. The grade is so shallow it takes a long time for the water to reach your waist. You fall forward, submerge yourself, touch the rocky ground, and run back to your campsite for the night.