Trying to find our fathers, we arrive to the northern towns where they once lived, as if they might still be found on the streets. Distance is not a time machine- the mines are changed and the trucks are bigger and shinier. There’s even a place to get lattes, now, down the road from the same welding shop that has sat there for thirty years. A rumor- Brinkman is planting the Big Pic, too, and they burned down the laundromat. Nobody quite knows where this information came from- we’re isolated on Camp 70 Road with no internet or cell access and only spotty sat phone coverage (climb on top of the bus to get service to place your food order, never mind the singeing steel and wasps). The rumors are greatly exxagerated- as it would turn out, their van merely caught fire behind the laundromat and blew up the propane. The building itself is untouched.
Heading up Twist Road at kilometer six. Over.
Roger that, school bus. Full load heading down at kilometer ten. See you at the bridge.
This is the culmination of years of waiting, a nearly imperceptible feeling of wrong-ness that materializes one day as I walk down Kingston Road. Lipstick, blouse, cute shoes, purse, on my way to some interchangeable serving job. Condos, streetcars, a manicured beach, boardwalk, waterfront airport, boulangerie, espresso, charcuterie, Trinity Bellwoods and craft beer and jalapeno duck hearts. The strong insistent beat of my heart, sad and unmoored. “This is not my life,” it chants, and I finally listen. I don’t leave, quite yet. It takes some muddling to make it back, here, some intense denial of the truth, of the north, of the woods. Oysters and gin and the St.Lawrence on a Sunday morning, yeah, that’s life, but rolling at 90 km an hour down a logging road in a school bus turned into a kitchen, three baby moose that run before us, baby bears that gambol in a ditch. Three of us and two dogs in the cab of a truck, fishtailing in the clay.
Six months or twenty six years- the hot steel hood of a truck is the same, poised once in plaid with a shotgun and a dead pheasant, once topless on the satphone, serious in rubber boots. We know what to do, here. The wrenches nestle in our back pockets, the ratchet straps in our hands, the propane tanks heft so easily for us. Filling up 110 liters of gasoline into the gold truck at cardlock, easy conversation about the bugs, the weather, the season.
How many trees left? they ask.
A million, in the Big Pic, two million in Hearst, we reply.
Leaning on the box, bored chewing sunflower seeds, where you can’t smoke around the flammable gas and diesel. We see our tribe in the towns, filling jerry cans and eating fast food, bags filled with carbs and fats and salty snacks, power drinks, 2-4s of beer that will last a single night off. I return sixty dollars worth of empties to the Beer Store, where the clerk glares at me. A rainsodden apple box bottoms out as I carry it in. I snatch the broom from her hands and sweep up the shards, sort the green from the brown, count the cans, try.
Merci! I try, my accent appalling.
We forgot the shadows of trees
traded them for square falling
so close together that
although the sun moves in the sky
we are constantly in the shade.
Apartments with windows in one lonesome wall.
We hope for East.
Bright copper new light,
What a simple thing to forget
Right there over head-