Well, a week of pre-season prep is flying by at warp speed, leaving us all a bit shell shocked, wind burnt and bogglingly exhausted, dehydrated and giddy. It’s 4;30 a.m and I’m wide awake which bodes well for the next 2 months of 4 am start times (followed by another 2 months of early rising in the Okanagan). The familiar sound of the generator running soothes me through the night- the fridges on the trailer and the kitchen bus will be getting cold in anticipation of the arrival of our giant Sysco order this afternoon.

We’re living out of our vehicles and a job site trailer parked on a wicked angle at the shop, where we at least have hydro this year. After last season’s -13 with wind chill temps over the first week, this 22 degree weather makes me feel spoiled. Somebody’s always brewing coffee on a camp stove and we are back to pissing outside incessantly and driving to the Husky to shit and shower. You can hear them everywhere we go. “The treeplanters are back,” they say, as we trudge in to buy groceries and beer and gas. Soon we’ll be followed by close to a hundred planters.

Setting up a bush kitchen from scratch is no easy feat. The week has been pretty full with getting the bus ready after she sat in storage outdoors all winter. We’ve been checking propane and water and fixing cupboards and washing every dish after the mice made their home in the cupboards with leftover toilet paper. The tasks are never ending, although the list at the moment is quite manageable. Encouraging, after the full-on, heads down charge that was necessary to tackle the immensity of the whole project.

Equipping the pantry and meal planning for the first week took two full days of obsessive list making, poring over copies of the Sysco catalog. Everything from spices and baking supplies to toilet paper and ground beef has to be considered. The order, a two page affair, took a solid thirty minutes to phone in to our rep, who is excellent at helping us with the most cost effective products for our needs. Having done this last year makes it immensely easier for me to handle now, knowing quantities that will be needed and preferable products and what a shift will typically look like. We are meeting industry standard this year with 4&1 shifts although the first will be a 5&1, followed by the inaugural HoJo/Companion night off. Look out, Hearst!

Walking back from La Companion a few nights ago, I caught a glimpse of flickering green in the sky, followed by the briefest moment of pink. It was so brief I could have imagined it but when I got back to the shop everyone was outside watching the sky and the aurora borealis that graced us this far south, for, as north as Hearst may seem, Canada still stretches on seemingly indefinitely to the north. I have finally tricked somebody into coming up here with me and after the twelve hour drive and the warnings of snow and bugs and shittiness, the spectre almost makes it worthwhile.

‘I thought you must have been exxagerating at least a little bit when you talked about treeplant,’ he says. ‘But now that I’m here and I hear everybody’s stories, I realize you weren’t. Even a little bit. Actually, you might have underplayed it.’

Looking forward to bringing you another season of unbelievable stories. Bex out.

Bar of Silver

There are moments that come and go, flitting so quickly in and out of existence that they’re hardly substantial, brief little silver linings. We’ll remember them in a rocking chair in a nursing home somewhere, feeble and crippled, living them out over and over again.  The names of horses long since consecrated to the ground, the flash of a rainbow-bright pheasant in cedars, wind-chapped hands in December and a kiss from the lips of the chapped-hand man.

The racehorses come to us with names ranging from regal to outright absurd. Royal Rackeen, Twice on Sunday, Cashflow Expected, who never won a dime. Bar of Silver was a lean little chestnut with bright chrome stockings and a blaze, belonging to a meek, eccentric woman who would have done better with a steady cob type thing that would have plodded along the Downs trails happily. A.G, as she named him, after the periodic table of elements symbol for ‘silver’, had been acquired from a polo string. “The perfect gentleman,” the seller assured her, and while he was a polite, kind gelding, he was still all Thoroughbred, young, quick on his feet and inclined toward a bit of speediness.
I’d hack out with A.G and his owner every day, mounted on one of the full liveried horses and ponies I had the pleasure of exercising. Ginnie, one of my favorites, a highly strung colored mare with a naughty streak, Milton, a little Welsh section C named after the famous show jumper, Lucero, an Andalusian from Spain who took me speedily down the sand gallops with the bit in his teeth and lost stirrups more times than I can count, leisurely Val, the big fleabitten gray with navicular, or one of my personal favorites, Arnie, a chubby Appaloosa with a stand-up broom mane and a neck that disappeared out from under you when he put his head down at the canter. If I wasn’t riding out with her, I was riding A.G for her, deeply flattered to be trusted with the precious little horse.

One of the yard lasses who had worked there just before I arrived, a sullen Polish girl, had taken to galloping him in the same spot on the Downs every time she rode him out, conditioning him to break into an open gallop at the start of the Farm. Racehorses are easily mentally conditioned- if you begin to gallop at the same spot every day, that spot takes on the dimensions of the starting gate and with his owner on board, he would merrily shake his head and surge ahead, her flopping like a frightened ragdoll, losing stirrups and keeling stiffly to one side, hauling on his mouth until he either stopped or she fell. As a result, the horse suffered greatly, as we were no longer allowed to take him out and stretch his legs with a good gallop anywhere on the Downs, lest he take it into his little Thoroughbred brain to try the same with his owner on board.

One day, the big boss away with the headgirl at dressage at Pachesham, we drew our rides for the day, James assigning me my secret favorite, A.G, he taking a large and obstinate warmblood who could turn himself inside out bucking, and the working student on a big, able bodied colored cob who had to be coerced into moving at faster than a plod.

The blackberries were out along the hedgerows and we ate them on our ride along the bridlepath to the downs, scattering rabbit kits beneath the horses hooves. There’d been a stretch of unbelievable weather in the south of England and the sky was blue and cloudless, the ground was dry and fast and the horses were fresh and pleased to be out for a hack. James, the defacto leader in the absence of the big boss, led us at a brisk trot along the sand gallops, and while the horses were fresh, they were well behaved, moving along quickly but obediently. I followed his instruction to push A.G up into the bit and suddenly found myself moving along in the most beautiful, floating collected trot, the red gelding framing up and carrying himself almost imperiously, pridefully. Still moving along at a quick trot, James calls out, “We’ll just go for a quick canter up the hill then, shall we?”

The Downs, in addition to the famous racetrack and the miles and miles of sand gallops, features woodlands with bridle-paths, and acres of undulating hills that look out over the English countryside. From one viewpoint, you can see all the way to London, the London Eye on the South Bank evident on the horizon. There is one hill smack in the center that has a long, gradual incline that we often used for conditioning, going for a long, slow canter up the verdant greenery until, upon cresting, an excellent view of the grandstand and the track comes into view. I had breezed a good many horses up that hill, but nobody at all was supposed to take A.G out beyond a trot, lest they lose control of him, or, worse, his owner did when he took it upon himself to go for a run at a later date. “It’s just like a little picnic,” James called back, breaking Dickie into a shambling canter. “Sit back and relax!”

And in a heartbeat, A.G eased into a quick, controlled canter. I could hear my blood rushing in my head, as, seamlessly, I eased into jockey position. The line between my hands and the bit became electric and supple, the quiet contact established, hands moving in stereo with the muscular pitch and yaw of the canter that was easing toward a gallop. My body was out of the saddle, perched over the tiny and constantly shifting center of gravity of the galloping horse below me, weight balanced entirely on the ball of my foot that rested along the thin strip of metal stirrup. My weight sunk into my heels and there I balanced above the surge of muscle and blood and flesh and will that is a galloping horse. James glanced back over his shoulder and laughed out loud at the joy evident in my face, the perfect harmonious mechanical wonder of a Thoroughbred doing what it loves to do, the fat cob galloping up the hill behind us and trying to keep up, and as we crested the hill and settled our bums back into our saddles, our horses came right back to a collected trot without argument.

I dream of this, sometimes; the moment where, without asking, the horse knew my mind, and the noise of the world became hoofbeats and blood and the breathing of horses, as we stole a gallop on a day without rain.

Come down tae the pub, or else you’re fired.

I dropped out of high-school halfway through the eleventh grade to fly to England and work exercise riding horses and mucking stalls, living on-site in an apartment that was a part of the stable block. Going down to the pub is probably the national past-time in the United Kingdom, and in Epsom, they were prolific. The White Horse, with an out of tune piano and a grubby stretch of bar, one of my favorites. The Queen’s Head, where the only memory I have is being extremely, extremely drunk, playing pool with a group of locals and having to return shamefaced the next day to retrieve a top I’d left behind in the fray. The Albion, Irish Paul’s old haunt and where we met a group of perpetually drunk WWII vets who drag us over hedges and bridlepaths to see Victoria Day fireworks. I used to carry a little stuffed zebra as a purse. “Oi, Freddy!” the bleary eyed man sitting next to me exclaims to the bar keep. “Did you know Canadians skin zebras and use them as wee purses?” The Amato, my favorite for Sunday roasts and weird pull-chain toilets. And, just a hop and a skip over in Walton-on-The-Hill, The Chequers.

I still had a sense of decorum at sixteen. “Oh no, going out to drink with my boss is simply not appropriate,” I must have thought at one point. Hahaha. My sweet summer child. I’m invited out multiple times and elect, instead, to sit in front of the tellie watching BBC 4, hours old horse-races and episodes of Holly Oaks (which sucks you right fucking in, no matter how highbrow you like to imagine yourself) until eventually, I am issued the ultimatum, of “Come down tae the pub, or else you’re fired,” and I go, and a beast is unleashed.

A few pub visits later, we find ourselves at quiz night at The Chequers, still in our riding boots and chaffy half chaps and dirt stained hands, guzzling cheap rose wine and badly answering trivia questions. “What has recently increased from £5,25 to £5,75?” Excitedly, we bump heads, writing down our answer. “Cigarettes! A pack of cigarettes!” The answer is ‘minimum wage’, something we should probably be aware of, since that is what we are earning during our 10 hour a day, six days a week of shovelling horse shit and galloping horses out over Epsom Downs. A new employee shows up, a Prince William look alike with a larger than life personality, and more rose is consumed. The big boss invites us back over to her house for spaghetti bolognese and I head up to the bar to get one more drink before we go. Unfortunately, there’s a minimum for debit, so I end up purchasing two half liters of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and pounding them in quick succession before departing the gorgeous garden at Chequers.

Sixteen, drunk, full of rose, stout and with a mouthful of spaghetti bolognese, seated beside my new coworker who I am just meeting for the first time, I projectile vomit across my boss’s bougie living room and dash for the bathroom, where I spend maybe the next hour with my head in the toilet, moaning.

“Canadians do everything so politely!” she exclaims, coming in to check on me, leaving a glass of water on the side of the tub. “They even vomit politely!” Later it becomes apparent that my hi jinx are not the epitome of what she has seen; one of my senior coworkers is spotted at a party a few weeks later pissing in the garden and passed out face down in the rose bushes, a high-heeled foot with her thong around her ankles hanging out into the garden where the night continues on around her.

The morning after the unfortunate rose/stout/bolognese incident, we wake up at the yard and head out to work, heads pounding, stale breath, bleary eyed, to participate in a jumping clinic with a relatively famous clinician, a former Household Calvary instructor and rider and prevalent name within the British show jumping world. We sit clad in our jods and half chaps along the side of the menage, heads in hands, and each ride our individual clinic with great success, piloting around 1000 pound flight animals over courses of fences with pounding headaches. As he rides out, the William look-alike says confidentially, “I think I’m still drunk.” I leg-up onto a blue-eyed pony and think I may be, as well.

Growing up Theater

There are years and years of theater that have run into one sort of amorphous blob in my memory, a period where my mom and I were so involved in the local community theater that we had involvement in every single production for over two seasons straight. After getting sick of spending hours doing homework while rehearsals for “Of Mice and Men” went on, or taking the bus from school to the theater to work as an assistant stage manager on children’s Christmas shows, I was a latchkey kid who lived off of T.V dinners while mom hung lights and built sets.

When you’re already a geeky, weird fat kid, the theater can be either a blessing or a curse.  It was a humble community theater in an old factory in the Ward in Guelph, full of minor (and not so minor) dramas, an eclectic cast of characters, a full bill of plays ranging from the typical Arthur Millers to the more obscure to the downright absurd from our in-house playwrights to the Christmas pantomimes that I will loathe for the rest of my life.  We had a real skeleton on loan from the University of Guelph once, for a production of ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Solution’. Cue doing homework in between laying down spiking tape or sitting in the empty auditorium during rehearsals. Somewhere in this time is where I gained my affinity for queer, over the top parties, involving nudity, tarot cards, bicycles, fire, glitter and games of hide and seek. Here too, the obscure literary references and the flair for the dramatic and the need to be the loudest, weirdest and funniest in a room.

Shakespeare roles as written for Samuel L. Jackson.

“Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war… motherfucker.”

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou? Motherfucker.”

It’s here that we howl over Richard the Third, and here that sets my expectations for quality, highbrow, bawdy humor.

Once, as a teenager, I wake up in our house, downtown Guelph, and pick my way over sleeping musicians in the living room to gather my bag and shoes for school. Somebody is still clutching drumsticks. A neighbor tells me, “You and your mom should really do ‘shrooms together,” before retreating into his home for months on end, his soul apparently consumed by a succubus masquerading as a female temptress. A house bong belonging to our roommate lives in the pantry on a shelf beneath the baking supplies. One of my piano teacher’s friends is forever offering me and mine pot infused chocolate chip cookies. The first time we get drunk, we cross the road to the river and rent a canoe and trawl up and down the Speed River for hours, narrowly avoiding disaster thanks only to the summer dry shallowness of the waters.

There’s a boy a couple of years older than me sitting on our porch. His phone is ringing and he answers. “No, mom, I’m not drinking,” he says, truthfully, although he has just set the large house bong down beside the damp, sorta mouldy porch couch that he’s seated upon with a few other members of our theater troupe. He hangs up on the call with his mom and pops a Doritos in his mouth, conspiratorially whispering “Motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ Doritos plane…”



Backstage for a production of Lost in Yonkers, a lesser known play rather than one of the Norm Foster’s or Arthur Miller’s, I watch in horror as my tenth grade coding teacher, who is also the mother of one of the young actors, reaches into the back of his pants and pulls the waistband out, exclaiming, “Campbell, are ye wearing clean underwear!?”

It is not the first or the last ‘teacher’ crossover that occurs. I also see my eighth grade history teacher star in a dramatic production of one acts, which included full frontal nudity and a variety of compromising positions, accents and catchphrases.


Perhaps not least of all, I recall with alarming clarity, closing night parties, one in which somebody rode a bicycle over the edge of the stage in the dark, early morning hours in which bad decisions are made, and another in which a young man, leaning over a Oujia board with a look of disbelief in his eyes, lit the lapel of his collared shirt on fire and declared it a sign from the spirit world not to continue to fuck around.


Mind over matter

ter Much like days I have woken up in an unfamiliar hotel with the throw-up taste of  regret and old beer in my mouth, I wake up on a Sunday morning in Montreal with hazy reservations and a sense of other-ness from the me who has made the choices immediately preceding this day. “Shut up, shut up, do you know what time it is?” I hiss at a pair of girls in the dorm who are loudly chatting about what time their plane departs and whether or not they can switch their flight. I gain a few more hours of fitful sleep and get up for the continental breakfast at the hostel, served by an Irish bartender, a Spanish receptionist and a Puerto Rican cook in a French Canadian city. I want to be full, but not uncomfortably so. After breakfast I walk up to Provigo and buy Gatorade and an egg salad wrap and a chocolate bar and orange juice. I’m pleased with myself for fumbling through the entire transaction en francaise instead of lapsing into English, and I’m pleased to have the perfect ‘energy’ foods for the blood sugar crash ahead. I want to be hydrated and in peak physical and mental form. I’m on my way to a bright, airy third floor studio on Mont Royal to have large gauge hooks resembling fish hooks strung through the skin of my shoulder blades, be lifted off the ground and to dangle there. Why? I’m not totally sure.

I’ve sought extremes in almost every avenue of my life. Nico tells me, “You awaken the hunger crazed goblin in me that just wants to experience life at its most raw form,” and I’m flattered silly. I’m really striving for this way of experiencing my life full contact, immersing myself into this world of possibility and sensation and wonder. Music, books, writing, fighting, cooking, travelling, night time drives and foolish love and all of the follies I can commit. “I feel like myself,” usually means some sort of bad choices are imminent, fur coats and lime green wigs and bottles of contraband tequila that spill onto the velour couch of the karaoke lounge. Its physical, too. I love tattoos and piercing and scarification, as may be evidenced by looking at my body. While many of my piercings no longer survive, the scars are evident, and evil unicorn tattoos speak to my impulsivity. I sat for an hour and a half for a scarification piece on my back seven years ago- I remember how it felt waiting, I remember the mental clarity and negotiation. I remember the adrenaline trembles and, afterward, the curious lightness and feeling of being present- I have reconciled my body and my mind and come through to this new understanding. I have a 0g conch that was done using a tool like a biopsy punch- I can remember coming up with new swears as my piercer was forced to use a scalpel to separate a flap of flesh that hadn’t come free.

On New Years Day my mom and I participated in our gym’s usual New Years workout- a mile run, followed by a hundred sit-ups, two hundred push-ups and three hundred squats, followed up by another mile run. In extreme cold temperatures of -13, before windchill. We finish and we pack into our cars and drive through a white-out blizzard to Grand Valley, where a very small handful of us from the gym are participating in the Polar Dip, a fundraising activity for the local Lion’s Club. I loathe cold more than anything in the world. The mental agony of huddling outside in the cold while volunteers cleared ice from the hole sawed through 9″ of river ice was tremendous. Finally, the horn sounded and the participants plunged into the frigid Grand River, climbing out of the ice pit via aluminium ladders that stuck to our cold, wet hands and feet. It was a strange moment of feeling almost unbearably high- endorphin survival mode kicks in, and I had laser eyes for my pile of warm clothes, layering on a housecoat, fuzzy leggings, jeans, sweater and huge fluffy socks and jacket. I was cold for days after the plunge, and a friend with pretty god damn near to zero percent body fat might still be feeling the freeze.

Sometimes (many times) have worked schedules that are absolutely inane, both mentally and physically. I’ve gotten up at 4:30 a.m to jog the 5 km to the horse farm, muck 20 stalls, ride 3 horses, jog the 5 km back and get changed to go and work an 8 hour shift on my feet as a line cook. Fucking insanity. I’ve swam competitively and biked 40 km a day and mucked stalls and ridden horses and played roller derby (the last time I can remember being thin!) I have punished my body, severely, in attempts to keep it slender and strong. I finished a treeplant season which I initially resented, as, I don’t like doing things I’m mediocre at. On a planting day where I exceed 2600 seedlings in the ground, with the worst party hangover ever, I’m pleasantly surprised. I flex, topless, in the hotel room that night, dirty, rats nest hair, pants falling down. “Treeplant fat camp,” I send my mom, ignoring the pure strength and willpower that it takes to accomplish something this ridiculous, hungover, moving through uncleared alder thicket and swamp, bending over every 7 feet and cutting the ground with a spade, stomping the hole shut, never mind the blackfly swarms and the lunatic mosquito hordes and the deerflies who are repelled by absolutely nothing, not even the 30+ percent DEET obtained illegally from the states.

I let my body stop me from a lot of things. We have a complicated relationship. I’ll place an opportune pillow on my lap if I’m sitting on a couch somewhere, as if that is somehow less conspicuous than my gut. I’ll weigh myself eight times a day and pinch and prod and lace and suck in and slap, and my body is still what it is, varicose veins broken on my calves and behind my knees. “What the actual fuck,” I think, looking at the scale. Its fucking inconceivable. I eat healthy, I work out, more than most people I know. Why is this so? Why is my metabolism such an absolutely massive cunt. I go out with my peers, who throw back pints and dozens of chicken wings and burgers. “I can’t, I can’t,” I say, and it’s true, I just can’t afford that kind of decadence. I’m an optimistic size 10 and I TRY, I TRY so fucking hard, it just isn’t fair. I achieve something resembling slender, when I workout ten hours a day and don’t have time to eat. When I work for it, the closest I seem to get is “chubby but not obese, fat knees, giant boobs”. I’m 25 pounds lighter than I was three years ago at the end of the debacle that was my time living in Toronto, and I feel it and look it, but am still absurdly insecure. It shouldn’t matter, if I look at my capability to spend nights with really absurdly good looking young men and women. We eat and drink and talk and laugh and touch, and I’m still conscious of my body. How to tuck the tummy away or wear high-waisted pants or how to do a face full of makeup perfection to draw attention away. I score above myself each and every time, in my opinion, and am pleasantly surprised. “Well, you’ve just had a prom date with somebody verging on Calvin Klein attractive levels,” I think. “You’re not completely grotesque and repugnant, I suppose.” Still, every second of every day, I am pinching, poking, prodding fat, sneaking furtive glances in any available mirror and sucking in my gut at every waking moment.

The girl who is on the schedule before me for the suspension cries out during the piercing and lies still. She struggles through getting off the table, holding her shoulders still and stiff and moving in tiny, mincing steps. After a glucose tab and a couple of faint-y episodes in which she sits upon a folding chair, the hooks protruding from her shoulders linked into the rigging that hangs from the rafters, braced by a gregarious and kind young man wearing something resembling a rock climbing harness, she gets off the ground. “Down, down, down!” she cries out, immediately, and she calls it a day. She is cut from the rigging. This is pure bravery- she has struggled through every aspect of the experience, but she has achieved it, she has made it off the ground, she has said, “No!” to that which would have had her quit before even achieving lift off. Still, I am concerned. Will I struggle? Will I vomit, will I black out, will I slip out the door before it is even my time?

“Your turn!” the facilitator calls out, cheerily, and I sort of wobble my way over to the piercing table. As they pinch and pull at my skin, feeling for the best place to pierce, I’m not really there. “That seems like a huge chunk of flesh,” I can’t help but think. “Eh, the Polar Dip was worse,” another part of my brain reassures me. From my teen years, the sterile antiseptic smell of alcohol and sterilizing spray and the tray of piercing instruments laid out on blue surgical paper is weirdly reassuring. Two nostrils, a septum, two vertical labrets, a medusa, multiple nipples, a bridge, an eyebrow, an anti eyebrow. Multitudes of truly painful tattoo sessions and scarification pieces and large gauge piercings. Surely I know how to do this.



So I lie, face down, and summon something that repels panic. On the count of three, both shoulders are pierced. I carry all of my tension in my shoulders and have thick, knotted muscles and terse, thick skin. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth like a demented hot yoga class, the hooks are worked into place. There are some jokes about lube, I participate. I’m thrilled- they’re in, and I haven’t vomited or blacked out. I rise from the table and approach the shower curtain duct taped underneath the rigging. It’s a weird small world, the world of more ‘extreme’ body modification. The rigging is a design by my friend Steve Haworth, who was responsible for my triskelion scarification piece between my shoulder blades. The hooks actually pierce through the triskelion. My skin pulls unpleasantly, but surprisingly unpainfully, as I start to walk back and forth on the shower curtain, gripping the arm of a piercer with an extraordinary black and violet mullet and scuffed Doc Martens. “Squeegee punks,” I think, calmed. I could be a greasy mohawked teenager again with a gorgeous bridge piercing and Value Village Doc’s. And skinny, in my pleather tights and tank top. And in a moment, on my tiptoes, I felt the weirdest sensation of pressure and sort of grunted “Ugh!” in mild panic, but before I could protest I was off the ground.

Being in the air is kind of a blur. I wish I had stayed  up longer, but I did stay up, went higher, spun around, flailed, cracked jokes. And despite the fact that I have conquered this thing in my mind and my body and gone where so few have gone before, I look at the pictures and the videos I have from Sunday and think, “Fuck, am I really that fat?” instead of “So fucking cool, I’m a strong bitch!” So I still have that to work on.

I have long had a fascination with the history of body modification and tribalism, that I don’t intend to delve into too deeply here, but as a huge fan of consciousness altering experiences and physical challenges and what we can conquer when we put mind over matter, the entire thing fascinates and delights me. My mom is an amateur MMA fighter who texts me throughout- “I imagine you’re feeling what I feel before a fight right now.” She’s right. The readying, the reconciliation of pain with payoff and the capability to handle it.  Big, big thank you to the team at Montreal Suspension Group for facilitating so professionally. Your team is truly amazing.

Alter ego existential.

I’m having a not entirely unpleasant existential crisis in the bush, participating in a circular conversation with a friend.

“But what makes me, ME?” I am truly troubled.

“Well,” he says, thinking. “The things that you do make you, you!”

“But what if I don’t do the things that I do?”

He reassures me. “I can’t do the things that you do, that would make me you!”

This conversation probably could have gone on indefinitely, or at least until we were sober, but its broken up by the arrival of a large, green moth that floats through our midst to land on the shower trailer door. It is an absurdly neon, fluffy creature, too solid to be insect, so substantial it verges upon mammalian. I didn’t remember the moth until Nico brought it up- am I the kind of person who is a reliable narrator? Do I remember the details?

A winter spent in isolation renders me in the middle of a minor existential crisis, again. This is becoming not unusual. But I’m starting to piece it back together. The things that remind people of me are useful. I receive no less than 5 messages from different people over the course of the winter to let me know they’re drinking Baby Duck. My party thing has been to buy a bottle of the frothy pink witch’s brew and pass it around a select circle until it’s gone. Pre-drink, BAM, bitches. One eventful night in Hearst, my ride back to Southern Ontario leaves me in town, having forgotten that I was supposed to drive home with him in an MDMA and cocaine fueled memory loss. To be fair, the car turned around an hour away in Kapuskasing and came back for me, but it wasn’t terribly useful, because I wasn’t in the room I had rented at the Queens. Nor was I at the Companion, where I had stolen a comforter from the staff room. I was happily ensconced in the Companion blanket in a ground floor room at the Howard Johnson across the highway, my room key for the Queens tucked deep into the recessed of my fanny pack. When, at the relatively respectable time of 8:30 a.m, I made it back to the Queens, I swaggered into the room in my dirty floral dress, a line of dried blood running down my calf from the night prior.  I have been wearing the dress for three days, and underwear are a foriegn concept.”Where have you BEEN!?” my companions exclaimed. I picked up my half empty bottle of Baby Duck from the radiator and proceeded to swill it down, washing away the alkaline throat taste and dregs of whiskey. Earlier in the night, pre bar, pre hotel jumping, pre adventuring, I had poured it into large McDonald’s cups for us to enjoy in the hotel hot tub and sauna. Did you know you get drunk quicker in a sauna…

Others send me messages about roadkill and dead animals. “I saw a dead baby kitten the other day! I thought of you!” This is not as morbid as it sounds, or, perhaps it is. I have a weird fascination with taxidermy, beginning with mice that I gutted, tanned and arranged into small (mostly Shakespearean) tableau’s, graduating to wondering if it was ‘too weird’ for me to stop on the side of my 5km run home from the horse farm and collect the fresh carcass of an opossum into my bag. I eventually decided to delay the collection until the next day, as I had no garbage bag on hand and didn’t wish to soil my backpack, but by the time I returned, the creature had been further flattened by passing traffic and bore an unpleasant scent, as well as a collection of flies and imminent maggots. I want to taxidermy my dog into an end table when he dies, with a convenient spot for a fancy glass of gin (or, perhaps, Baby Duck.) I may not be at the point that I can pull of such a feat when he passes, though, so if you know any wonderful pet taxidermists, please let me know.

I am forever tagged in posts about bad mushrooms trips, bad acid trips and excessive partying. From whence does this trend come? My first season of plant I was drifting so hard and in this weird limbo of existence. I lived, I breathed, I worked, but I was not a person. Upon being interviewed for treeplanting, a job widely regarded as one of the hardest in the world, I hesitated. I could continue comfortably, numbly existing within this purgatory, or I could bust back out and continue on this trajectory I had set early on in my life, of extra-ordinariness and asceticism and general extremism. When I spent ten hours a day walking through the forest, physically exerting myself in a way I didn’t know was possible, I came forth like a butterfly from a cocoon, selling my dirty panties on the internet and dating white boy rappers, peeing over the edge of my balcony on first gin-drunk dates and climbing bridges and playing the piano along to Buster Keaton films while straight fucked up on MDMA. “LOOK, LOOK!” we scream, pounding out chords. “In the 1940’s,” I say, fingering out a light blues scale, “They had live pianists in theaters who played along to the silent films.” This is straight up Bex. This is party Bex. This is PEAK Bex, and still, I’m screaming about Lord Byron and reading Rilke in my tent coming down off of three tabs of acid, thinking I might, just maybe, be able to learn German.

Another yet sends me a link to a CBC article about the “Sour toe Cocktail”, a Dawson City Phenomenon in which one downs a shot of whiskey that contains a preserved, frostbitten toe. I’ll play the role of the hipster here and say, “I’ve wanted to do that since before it was cool!” but anybody who knows me will attest that it is true, hence the glut of links and tags over the past few years as the severed digit shot receives more media attention. As my year shapes up before me, emerging from the darkness and stolidity of winter, the plan unravels. “Northern Ontario,” I say, “from May to July.” Then we will roadtrip to British Columbia, to the fertile and rich Okanagan for the relative vacation of cherry picking, littered with afternoons off at Kalamalka and in mountain streams, in valley towns and Lake Country beachsides, where maybe, just maybe, one of the transient vagabonds you’ve met over the seasons might appear on the sand, to blend in seamlessly with the group you’ve accumulated around you.

I’m still establishing a value system for myself, a code to live by that establishes everything from how I treat my friends to the kind of salt I buy. Its an on-going process, and this, too, will be incorporated into the bit of performance art I like to think of Bex as. The summer lies before me, rich with opportunity- what mythos can I create, what  status can I achieve? Can I piss out the window of a moving school bus, can I buy a potted plant while on acid at a Northern Ontario garage sale and make all around me worship it as another living being? Can I summarize my adventures into a cohesive manuscript and submit to a celebrity chef with a publishing line? “The Treeplant Cookbook- “Nobody Wants to eat Hotdogs on Acid.”

This is who I am.

Who am I?


Same old

Not too many weeks now until Jude and I pack our lives into my little car and depart for Northern Ontario. Actually, the packing has already began, the culling of clothes and books and supplies and packing a huge Rubbermaid bin full of spices, TVP, curry pastes, Freezies, sprinkles and other odds and ends more readily available in Southern Ontario then they are at the end of the highway in the north.  Its the time of year where the elation about returning to the bush is at its high point, but when you also start remembering all the crummy details you’ve let go over the winter. Maybe when we stop going back is when we stop forgetting the shit details, even just for the winter.

“Oh fuck,” I remember I’m going to have to coerce the bus into starting after a winter of sitting at Ryland, climb into the hood and fill it with coolant and pray that it will last through the season. A sticky-note on the dash of my car reminds me to buy chlorine testing strips at Tap Phong, a mop head, nitrile gloves. I know there’s a cupboard door that needs to be fixed, a countertop that has to be caulked back to the sink, a fridge that needs to be screwed back into the wall. The entire thing will need to be emptied, scrubbed top to bottom with bleach, swept of mouse nests and detritus. The gas lines need to be checked, the propane hookups repaired. The stoves need to be cleaned of dust and lint to prevent the fun of fireballs shooting out the doors at random intervals. Add zip-ties to the shopping list, and a 7/8 crescent wrench. Oh, and a paint scraper for the flat top, and low gauge wire to tie the burners in place so they don’t fly free when jouncing down the thawing logging roads.

Many years of restaurant experience, cafe management, bush seasons and travelling are culminating into a more organized season. My desktop is covered in laminated order sheets, par levels included, printed recipes, a day planner, a binder with handily marked tabs for invoices, orders, meal planning, vegan recipes, a pouch for pens and markers. Laminated check sheets of sundry items, a planter ‘survey’ for food preferences, allergies, and birthdays, a budget assistance sheet. I have absorbed and learned this information over the past years by exposure and practice and it is a strange and gratifying feeling to call it into service and have it there. I am forestalling what I am capable of forestalling, combating what can be combated with prep. There’s nothing that can be done in advance about days where Sysco runs late and food doesn’t arrive, the reliable roar of the diesel generator abruptly cutting out, a snowstorm blowing into the forest in the middle of May and freezing both water and propane lines. There will be days of total bullshit where something fucks up with the water pump or the bus breaks down on the side of the highway, or somebody steals the 2×4 used to secure the dry storage trailer door, or a bear invades the dry storage trailer (which hasn’t happened yet, and god willing, won’t.)

Restaurant cooking has become pretty pale in comparison. I’m tired of little boy’s egos and egotistical chefs who don’t even make good food. I’m tired of sacrificing my personal life and happiness to make absolute garbage food and listen to man-children talk about pussy and cocaine while plating meatloaf sandwiches, as if they’re rockstars of some sort, marooned in small town kitchens. I know there’s another restaurant world out there, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, but I’ve lost my access to it. There’s a restaurant world where we fire out 100 cover services in a 30 seat restaurant, laughing so hard we cry and staying late to butcher chickens and octopus and seal endless bags for sous-vide and blanch potatoes and start bread to proof and work, industriously, on every, tiny detail of sublime food made from scratch. That’s the world where I can handle the criticism and the sixteen hour days and the egotism, when my boudin blanc and my sourdough compete for attention and when the bewildered chef asks, “Are you fucking retarded?” it isn’t out of meanness, just legitimate curiosity about the fact that I can’t seem to work to his standard. And somewhere else, there’s an old Bluebird bus, where I dig a hole for the grounding plate and hook up the generator, the propane and the water, light the pilots and smelling of diesel and pine needles, the primordial cries of cranes and forest creatures echoing around, crooked cakes baking in the bus that’s parked on a slant and a bottle of Baby Duck chilling in the freezer.