Thunderfucked

The season’s running long- it’s running so long, I’ve lost track of how many days straight we’ve worked. Cooks have come and gone, we’ve merged camps, and the fruitful beginning of the season has devolved, as we gleefully anticipated, into a fuck around. “Things are going too well,” we said. It’s almost like we wanted things to go badly. The season’s gone so long I had to push Julia “What’s a Spatula?” emergency second cook back into the kitchen for thirty six hours for me to drive the round trip to Sudbury to drop off Jude before G.  jets off to Nepal, to pick up my bags and shove them into the dusty trunk of the Pocket Portable Pontiac Party and bust it back to the bush to finish the god damn thing off with a bang. The season’s going so long that when I roll out, there’s a coup d’etat unfolding in the staff trailer and we’re all mad about money and being salaried and how we’re not making any money now that we’ve run two weeks long, and we’re mad because we’ve been in the bush for so many days straight that we’re all out of  beers and pot and cigarettes and there’s construction happening in the pit- they’re digging up our road with excavators starting at four am, which isn’t so bad for me, the cook, with my three forty-five a.m alarm, but for the planters, it’s hell. The world is dust, sun and bugs. The mess tent blew away in the windstorm- but we five-man half ass assembled the new Weather Haven, which weights about eight hundred pounds. I think the coup’s been smoothed over with a peace offering of cash and a case of beer and some packs of smokes, because nobody’s called me from the sat phone to tell me that they’ve bagged up my tent for me and thrown it into a car that will be impossible to track down and I’ll only get half of my equipment back, but it will be ok because in just a few days we’ll be in Oyama and it will be paradise- I fantasize that that’s what’s happened, but I know it’s not the case. Rumors fly around about how many trees are left and we’re simply not sure, but I hear anything from three hundred thousand to half a million, and planters are dropping by the day with low morale and injuries and other commitments and simply not wanting to be there anymore.

It’s a weird moment to realize that your job is basically keeping sixty people alive, especially when you’re maybe not a very nurturing person, like me. I don’t want kids. I’d go Andrea Yates and drown them in a bathtub. It’s not sadistic, it’s true- I know my mind, I know my mental health, I accept it. It isn’t something I want. “It’s my turn,” I say one night, being talked down from a mental breakdown by my boss and best friend, “to have somebody fucking look after me.” We’re just all so busy- even when my friends show up, its because they need something. “Do you have any Band-Aids?” Go fuck yourself. “Where are the condoms?” Thanks for reminding me of how dry this season has been. My alarm is set for 3:45. I get up, boil hot water, make coffee, grill a hundred and twenty grilled cheese sandwiches, wrangle eggs on the tilted grill, fill dish water, lay out the mess tent with the lunch spread, make sure there’s bread and fruit and peanut butter and jam. I put out a lunch treat (or sometimes make it in the morning…) start dinner prep, and lay on the horn at six a.m to wake the camp. Hot water and coffee go out at six, then we crush breakfast out at 6:30 and lay on the horn again. We bring everything in when they leave at seven, restock, make platters, prep breakfast, have our coffee and make a prep-list for the day. Then we nap, or try to- its been forty degrees during the day recently and too hot to sleep, except in the staff trailers, but it seems like as soon as we lie down the entire camp tramps through looking for shit. We come in again around one pm after having our weird fever dreams, tossing, turning, sweating, and I lie there dreaming about scalloped potatoes and dessert and how much we’ll need and whether I need to climb on top of the bus to place a Sysco order or not with the sat phone and the spotty service. We merged camps last week- so for a few days there were three cooks, but with that damn long running season, one had to bail to go on a trip to Norway that was already bought and paid for and we had to merge the bus into the trailer and shuffle everything around and then start planning for how we were going to feed double the amount of people and I keep pushing back food orders because I think it’s the end, but it never is, so we’re running on bare bones leftovers and getting used to working with one another and I’m getting used to new planters, who aren’t used to my particular brand of crustiness. “Why the fuck are you eating my vegetarian food, Viktor, I see meat on your plate.”

“Its just food…”

At which I stamp back into the trailer and bang shit around and make my displeasure clear the next day with a cardboard sign out with dinner that reads

VEGETARIAN ONLY
I’M FUCKING WATCHING YOU.

I’ve had the chance to really come into my own this season after struggling through last year with very little guidance and a series of setbacks that were out of my control, pertaining mostly to camp moves, distance, undelivered orders and a huge amount of personal drama (oops. Let’s blame the Leo me.) This year we’ve had some dope camp food- home made buns and naan bread and butter chicken, sliders and cheesecake brownies and a pretty sick lentil loaf. Donuts have been the real show stopper thus far, though. Nutella glazed bacon maple donuts. Twelve hour days on the block can be trying but a mutiny can be squashed with good food at the end of the day. It isn’t possible to do amazing food every day with the budget we work with, but we try. We put out breakfast and a lunch spread and a block treat and dinner and dessert every day, so give me a break, for fucks sake, I’m working with less than twelve dollars per person per day and I think I do pretty damn good with what I have to work with (and the excellent help of Julia and Gabby, who are both kitchen warriors and emotional support and great friends).

This is the worst blog entry ever and the shittiest way to end it, but IDGAF, it’s eleven pm and I have a solid nine hour drive ahead of me tomorrow to get back to camp and start the afternoon portion of all of my prep and dive back into the obscene amount of prep it takes to keep a kitchen trailer in the middle of the Hearst forest clean and functioning and tidy and organized and pumping out whatever various combinations of pasta, potatoes, rice, bread and canned chickpeas will still appeal to planters and staff. 10-4, pals.

The mantra

God, for one minute-

I recieve my communion on my waiting tongue, seeking

perforated sheets like a communion wafer-

God for one minute

relieve me of this burden of desire.

Lusting for a more immersive life.

God for one minute

relieve me of this burden; desire

The incessant chant demanding

More;

Bigger

Louder

Faster

Let me just let it happen.

God, for just one minute

One

Let me be free.

God, whom I do not believe in;

‘God’ as in the cohesive gel of existance

the meaning between the lines

amorphous humor and majesty and coincidence and reason and ridiculousness

the silent knowing of the vast skies-

God relieve me of these humble utterances

My back burner mantra

God relieve me.

Sun

You, sprung from streets

and cities of hot seasons redolent

of tar and fetid waterways, river

being a misnomer for these sluggish

grey channels with concrete

banks and chainlink fence scenery-

You didn’t know the smell of the sun,

only chlorine haze and burning

rubber bodied machinery.

I had inhaled it; summer

dreaming sweat stained cool sheets

of faded paisley sun dried

on the line that divided the lilacs

from the hayfield.

The farm! Three years gone

and summer with it- still internally protesting the turn from the highway to town.

I had jumped up to lead you

to secret meadows where does hid their fawns

dappled in sun and wild youth

before I remembered.

It was winter anyway and the barn

to the trees

to the sky

would be uniformly gray.

A wildly disjointed dispatch

There are any number of fuck ups that can occur in bush camp and I think I’m learning to take most of them in stride. I’ve woken up to 15 cm of snow on the ground in mid May and frozen water lines, and the propane regulator frozen so that the gas can’t run through the lines. I’ve been moved with a day’s notice to a new forest three hours away from home base (and had to three point turn the over heating cook bus on the trans Canada while towing a water trailer ) and had to find out that Sysco doesn’t deliver there. Sysco has smashed entire cases of eggs and in my drug addled next day brain I’ve fucked up placing orders.Things have broken or frozen or gone not according to plan. Personal drama has occurred and been resolved. But I never accounted for the possibility that my assistant would turn out to be a remorseless sociopath.

Pre season in the midst of the winter blues I had my doubts about the cook I met while I was belligerently whiskey drunk at the GO station two years ago. I was carrying my knife roll; I’d just finished filming a segment of an old bosses new YouTube cooking show and was in fine fettle when he started chatting to me. Needing a second approaching the season, he expressed interest and I hired him. There was no indication that he would spend literally six hours straight talking about buttholes, fucking girls in the ass, deny evolution or otherwise be a pain in the ass, until we were stuck together in the car for the twelve hour drive up north. “I have made a mistake,” I thought while screamig “Shut the fuck up for five minutes!” I don’t think he sleeps. I think he may have laid in his tent at night and stared at the ceiling unblinking. I don’t think we ever saw him blink.

Differences in personality and political leanings aside, he was a good worker until he decided the job was too easy and basically tuned out. I’m left questioning his credentials. The bush does weire things to people especially if there’s anything going on already; he found out it wasn’t the place for him and that everybody in camp hated his fucking guts but rather than quit or correct the behavior he decided to try to get fired by sabotaging me on a deeply personal level at bush prom and then pull the classical abuser move and make himself look like the victim to cancel out the bad behavior by going behind my back to the camp manager and crying about me being mean. Rewind.

A few nights prior I had brought to fruition an elaborate scheme involving a kiddie pool filled with jello for jello wrestling at prom. A little lit after gin, I’d enlisted assistance by saying ‘Help me make this jello or you’re fired.’ That’s obviously a joke. I can’t force somebody to help me boil dozens of liters of water to fill every hotel pan we own with jello and then fill every fridge with it and then clean up the next day. Yet this is the incidence he chose to focus on, after going to a friend of mine at prom abd intentionally telling her about something pretty shitty I’d done the year before that didn’t really need to come to light. That scheme backfired when it only solidified our friendship and reliever the tension of the secrecy. During an enforced and mediated meeting in which we tried to make our work relationship continue to stagger along, I apologized for the jello and the firing jokes and waited patiently for the return apology for being a literal sack of shit. It never came- reports later reached me that he said “I don’t apologize. Ever. I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

Having been fucked with and not being the forgiving type, I enforced a new staggered shift schedule in which we were never on the bus at the same time, if there was overlap I wore headphones and if we had to communicate it was via written prep lists. Collectively as a camp we watched with horror as he proceeded to have a psychotic break. Julia came to get a coffee from the secret cook coffee stash one morning and turned about face to quietly leave when she heard him talking to himself on the bus. “Ooh Jakob,” he cackled. “You’ve been a bad boy. You’ve been a bad bad boy.” We didn’t exchange words for an entire four day shift while we stood an an obviously unsustainable stalemate. I am not an unreasonable woman but I do not tolerate bullshit behavior either. The next day off rolled around and I was made aware of ways he was making other people in camp uncomfortable and the mad shit talking he was doing about me behind my back. At the shop picking up my car the Big Boss, not usually at work on a Saturday, saw my face and asked what was wrong. I divulged all and the words were barely out of my mouth when he said ‘Thats it. He’s gone. He no longer works here as of today.” He added later “It’s nice to see you smiling again. I’ve never seen you look so distraught.”

When the news was broken to my second cook he smiled and was happy. He had wanted to leave, he said, and thought maybe he had done it on purpose to get himself fired. While waiting for somebody to drive him into town we heard him talking to himself again, always in the third person. “Jakob doesn’t like the yelly birds!” he murmured darkly, “No he doesn’t like them at all.” Knowing he was leaving in disgrace, he didn’t say goodbye. As the truck drove my problems off in a cloud of dust, I cracked a beer and seared off a celebratory steak. “Don’t fuck with me brah.”

Henderson the Rain King

“Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it got even stronger. It said only one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, ‘What do you want?’ But this is all it would ever tell me.” Chapter 3, p. 24 , Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow.

 

So I approach life full on, exploring the alleys and corners and plains, the backstage theaters behind velvet curtains and the forests. I’ve wanted cool forest glades shaded by fir and dew damp and mercilessly primal but upon arriving found dry hollows that burned with the scent of fires and scorched earth and beetles that clicked over the carpet of dead, dry needles, unfeeling, unthinking, motivated only by the drive of ‘need’ not ‘want’. I’ve found I wanted, without knowing, the small fresh blossoms of wild strawberries that grow prolific along the roadside, and release the smell of berries underfoot. or wanted for a loon to cry out at night, passing over a neighboring lake and shrilling eerily as she touches down between reeds and turtles, but not until it had happened could I put a name to it.

A cold and rainy hell

I don’t know what time we went to bed or how we got there; it wasn’t my bed, anyway, it was four of us crammed into the tent Michaela had set up in the back of her $800 Ford Ranger. Four of us and the dog in a tangle of limbs and confusing body parts and bad breath and treeplant smelliness. We had to evict one after it became clear he had sleep apnea; we laughed relentlessly at the ground shaking snores and then gave him a headlamp and the old heave-ho over the side of the truck, listening to him crash away through the brush and party detritus. It had been cold and damp for longer than seemed fair and the bare metal of the truck, under only a layer of tent canvas, seemed aggressively chilly. At one point I fought my way through the layers of tarp and fly and tent to lay my head disconsolately along the bed and puke red goon sack wine and acrid Baby Duck and tomatoes (tomatoes!?) into the grass. When the chill of the metal became too much to bear, I left Jude, glaring at me balefully, and stumbled out to the dying embers of our fire, free of spectators, and turned myself around it like a slow spit roast, trying to get warm and occasionally spitting surprise bits of puke into the sand, suffering the worst psychological and physical agony I can remember experiencing.

This was still preferable to the hangover day spent on the side of a logging road in temperatures hovering near zero, the bus overheating and leaking coolant and the grey sky spitting out an incessant drizzle that made our clothes smell like wet dog and plastered our frizzy hair to our blackfly bitten foreheads. This is hell, I thought. A cold and rainy hell.

Goodbye Howard Johnson

We are banned from the Howard Johnson, rightly so, for the hundredth time. Instead of climbing the log pile (bad bad) they’ve gone swimming in the sawdust pile and left a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail of sawdust all through the hotel, leading the very angry receptionist right to the room containing the culprits.

The dance floor at the Companion on a Hearst Saturday night is lit, there’s a bachelorette party we are crashing, a swarm of big pupilled treeplanters taking over. My favorite Hearst activity; buying cigarettes at the Esso at 3 a.m