Journey – A Triptych


1.   
North

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Traumatized and demoralized

I fled into the north

Heading to Dawson City to visit Tony’s sister

We had a few hundred dollars and a bag of weed

Journeying in my orange VW Thing

As we drove further north

The car became a curiosity, a rare thing indeed

Pulling conversations from the taciturn

As we watched gasoline prices exceed our imaginations

 

One night, while there still was night

On the Stewart Cassiar highway

We came around a bend and were stopped by a wall of gravel

That seemed impossibly high and wide

So we began to prepare for a long wait

Got out the Stoned Wheat Thins

Some cheese and a summer sausage

Figuring it was time for sustenance

When the wall was Moses’d

It parted

Bright lights shone cosmically

 

A D12 dozer was our rod and our staff

Parting the chaos of gravel mounds

With the smooth dexterity of a pastry chef

We followed

Looking more than a little ridiculous to grimy goliaths

Who you just knew only drove trucks

American ones

And probably didn’t eat Stoned anything

 

We were ejected into the blackness of beyond

Heading straight up the map

Through mountains of gravel

Northward we travelled in unhindered light

To a log cabin on the banks of the Klondike

The driveway was twenty miles long

Shared with wolverines and moose

And if it took time to get there

It was a place to feel at home

Secure in the knowledge that door to door salesmen

Would never bother to knock

 

We walked the wooden sidewalks of Dawson City

Avoiding the tourist trappings of Diamond Tooth Gerties

We drank sudsy drafts at backstreet bars

With wild eyed seekers

Big city retreaters

One day we impossibly piled a dozen new friends into the car

Drove to the Midnight Dome

Where we shared the last few joints and a pint of rye

Surveying the small outpost in relentless wild

Sensing possibilities beyond the horizon

 

So we made some possibles happen

Drove the Dempster to Eagle Pass

Where a full moon rose over our rough campsite

Then made way for the northern lights

Dancing starbright with the grace of a Bolshoi ballerina

We whistled them closer until we were covered in magic

Looking out across the arctic circle to the top of the world

 

We danced across the tundra

Past the dwindling line of pecker poles

Hopping from hippy head to hippy head

Forded icy rivers that ran with the speed of the chased

Rubbed shoulders with grizzlies and the grizzled

Whose independence was declared through the intensity of the gaze

 

As the summer wore on forest fires raged

Until the plumes crept over the next ridge

And choppers buzzed our lonely cabin

So we walked a few hundred yards up the twenty-mile driveway

Discovered a command centre

Staging ground for firefighters who could always use help

So we signed up and up we went

Commuting to the smoke where we strapped piss pumps to our backs

Grabbed shovels and watched as timbers candled

Hoping for the wind to shift in time for lunch

Since we had never eaten as well as in that rough camp

Or gotten quite so dirty

Blacker than a Welsh coalminer

Soot that found its way through clothes to every inch of untanned skin

To be scrubbed the next week at the metered shower in town

Since the woodstove and hauled Klondike water only barely sluiced

The top layer leaving us a dismal gray

But we made a few bucks and beat the fire back

Flew like warriors in Bell Rangered wonder

Over undulating mysteries

To see the sea of trees saved for another season

 

A season we wouldn’t experience

But left to the iconoclasts and the lonely

Those who could drift no further

Yet could wield an axe and feed a stove

So when the leaves turned and frost arrived

We turned tail and went south

But a piece of my soul remains buried in the Klondike

Part of the motherlode of the riches of my life

 

 

2.    Alberta

 

The first challenge was to fence a quarter section

160 acres

There was a tight budget so that meant recoiling downed wire

Of the fence we were replacing

Pulling staples and hammering flat the salvageable ones

Assessing posts for rot

Turned out that the convertible Thing was a handy platform

Sledgehammer blow by sweaty blow

For driving treasured new tamarack posts securely into the ground

Which we grew intimate with

Since our lodgings turned out to be a teepee

Nestled in the rolling flat lands of northern Alberta

We worked with the last family of a hippy commune

To keep their dream flickering

As we restored the back forty fence

Learnt the rhythms of this sullen prairie

Sacrificed a glade of trees for timbers for a barn

When you peel the bark off trees with drawknives

You can smell their death

Almost an offering in the crisp autumn light

At least we’d like to think so

Then came harvest and stuking the oats

An itinerant thresher arrived like a Rube Goldberg fancy in action

Hay wagons and itches filled dawn to dusk days

Next weekend the old Ukranian farmer from up the road

Oversaw the raising of the barn

He was barely literate

But knew what needed to be done

So did the dozens of others who we’d seen at the gas station

And the diner

Or not at all

But impossibly the walls rose

Chinked into place

And if it wasn’t quite finished by Sunday evening

It was damn near quite enough as we all said

Breaking bread on long trestle tables in the yard

A few days later the vegetarian era ended abruptly

When Ralph, gentle Ralph the pig

A Charlotte’s Web kind of pig

Radiant pig

Met his doom graphically

Tony missed out on some really great meals

So he volunteered to crank the separator during dinner

Until the memory faded

One day a strange car drove up

Full of aboriginal youth

They wanted to check out the teepee

Having never been in one before

We said sure

Brought out whatever offerings we had

Booze and tokes

Which were warmly received

Reciprocated

As we shared the fire and laughter

Drank into a gentle inebriation

We learnt swear words with great delight

When one of our new friends tried to leave

Couldn’t find the door

We laughed

Then we all went outside to piss under the bright stars

Marveling at the moment

A few weeks later I was given a length of two by four

Dropped off at an intersection at some ungodly early hour

Told pay attention, they’ll be here in an hour

Make sure you turn them that way

Use the persuader

Turned out the orange Thing

Or maybe my crazed look

Was enough to turn that herd

I didn’t need to smack some bovine upside the head

Thank Christ, as I remarked

To some farmer who passed me a flask a few minutes later

We learnt the art of waking up cold

Having to build a fire with one arm quickly thrust from down filled warmth

To last night’s drunken pile of kindling which is almost not enough

But desperation is a good teacher

Living in a teepee in northern Alberta

As fall met winter

We met our match

And the prairie winds blew

 

 

3.    McMurray

 

We knew we were in trouble

When we couldn’t even get a room at the Heartbreak Hotel

Which wasn’t on lonely street

But we felt lonely enough in the construction dusty hive

By the second day we had jobs

Laying pipe in the tarry clay

A one-armed foreman aimed a ruby-eyed laser down the run

Impressing us with advanced technology

We laboured rough and hard

Drank the nights dry at the Peter Pond hotel

Driving back to camp drunk

I gambled on which of the three bridges swirling in view

Was the real one, and won that bet

When the crew was laid off a couple of weeks later

Nobody panicked

Just got new jobs

In our case working for a masonry outfit

Building a warehouse in the cold

The site was tarp swaddled

Propane heaters roared

Inside it was shirtsleeve warm

Outside the snow came down and ground froze up

We discovered frostbite

Slopped pails of cement up and down scaffolding

Going from furnace to frozen like a menopausal matron

One day as wet snow blanketed everything

I had to hold long lengths of metal trusses for the roof

Perched on a flimsy skyhold

While welders arced the other ends into place

Electrical charges raced across and up my arms

Each jolt a nail driven deep

On weekends we’d drive back to the farm

Remembering the dream of that vestigial commune

In the cold light of a short day

Where tires freeze flat and if you can start the car

The wheels go clunk, clunk, clunk for the first mile or so

In order to start cars on an unwired farm

We learnt the art of placing coffee tins with kerosene soaked rags

Under oilpans and setting them alight

Which left time for a second cup of instant coffee

Which I’d drink while looking out the window

Hoping to not see more orange than I wanted to

As winter deepened the summery convertible became even more of a joke

I’ve known warmer refrigerators in my time

There were snowdrifts on the floor that didn’t melt

Until we hit the Coast

After high-tailing it back home for Christmas

With a few hundred bucks in our jeans

And unaudited revenues of memories made

Whose interest is still compounding

Even today

 

 

David Trudel   ©  2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “Journey – A Triptych

  1. These three work so well together, David.

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