another place, yet another drift….a mountainous preamble toward my Appalachian Amble
January 5th, 2014, vancouver, bc
I am quite grateful whenever I get the urge to turn my desire for writing into something more concrete–and then i realize just how cumbersome it is to remember too many passwords.
still though, I am glad that despite the initial password reset for word-press that threatened to thwart me I am going ahead with this.
Clearly, it has been a while and I really do apologize for not keeping up as often as I had wanted. Especially to you, Neon whose timely reminder that I i have been lethargic even if I was spinning faster than trout spoon in a rushing stream over the past few weeks since I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia.
I fell in love with BC a very long time ago, even before I ever set afoot in these wondrous segments of the pacific North West. i grew up between two relatively large bodies of water you see, the indian ocean to my east and the Batticaloa Lagoon mostly o to the west but all around me. Lake Ontario was always a solace while I learnt to transplant myself there. And always the dense woods of the nearby park lands. Sometimes, walking the four mile distance from high school, I’d cut across our paltry football field just to feel the grass beneath my feet. And occasionally, when I grew a bit more surefooted in my “translated” world I’d walk through the small game trails meandering through the parks in North York, Toronto, where I grew up for the most part midst concrete and muffled-out lives.
BC was beckoning, always, but it wasn’t Vancouver that I wanted to see, beautiful as it may be. When I finally decided to go, it was to the interrior British Columbia I went, to the Kootenay lake region, specifically to this stubborn and rugged region called Johnson’s Landing, population 25 people, only one of those people was under 1 years old, most were over 50.
Johnson’s Landing has stood for a very long time and its people are fiercely loyal to the landscape. The ‘newest’ settlers to the region had been around for quarter of a century. in 2012 it suffered a massive landslide, one of the worst geological disasters in Canada, though very few know or knew about it even as it was happening. Had the slide hit a more populous region it would have taken out thousands of lives. Johnson’s Landing suffered 4 losses. The indifference of geology to human endavours lay bulldozed over along a two mile long strip torn from the mountain side–debree and pieces of broken lives littered everywhere, even after substantial clean up efforts by locals and regional authorities.
I once went for a walk along those snow-banked ridges and couldn’t shake the dense silence. To say that it was eerie would be misleading for the wreckage was full of life, both wild and not. Always the deer and elk tracks, sometimes large and small mountain cats. A cougar once managed to track me. I once also found a very large gurkhi knife in a splintered sheath burried in the wreckage–i took it with me back to Toronto. It now sits among my travel collections. My souveniers aren’t always practical.
Less than a stone throw away from a feeble hand lives too a very special person. His name I cannot say for he loves his quiet, steady solitude. According to him, he wandered into that charmed spot all those years ago on a whim, chasing an elusive thought, a place to stick his feet in the water. “i heard they had nice beaches and a good hippie community,” said that mountain hermit, referring not to Johnson’s Landing but to Argenta, a nearby community of 240 eclectic souls from Quakers, nudists to retired CBC hosts. ‘So I packed the canoe on top of my truck and drove and when I saw the beach I was like ‘well is that it’ and kept driving, and drove right into Johnson’s Landing, neary Bulmuer’s Beach, there’.
THere was a cherry tree there, or was it apples, I can’t remember but anyway fruit trees So i tied my canoe to the tree and fell asleep in it, floating on water–always liked that feeling, sleeping in a rocking canoe, he said
i nod as if I knew that feeling, taking in his warmth and hospitality near the old woodstove–you see, the landslide had taken out whatever little infrastructure was in the area and this hermit had been living resolutely without for few months now. They said they’d get it back to me in a month but it has been now four months and I hope they’ll get up and running by new years. It was November at the time and already quite cold.
What do you do for food and heat, I ask, incredulous. Surely we live in Canada, even remote communities have basic necessities, like hydro, yes, and heat for winter?
But this is a vast country with vast amounts of smallish problems that are just so large for those who face it everyday. I painfully recall Attawapiskat tragedy and cringe silently.
first world problems.
I run the generator every evening. I have to start it up at four though so it starts to do what it is suppose to by the time i want to sleep, says he.
So what about all this wood, I ask.
Oh I chop it down over the year and whenever I can. Harvest dead trees here and there. split them when I can.
My mountain hermit is 76 years old and had been a surveyor for very long time. He is practically the cartographer who mapped out much of waterways British Columbia’s interior.
No, I don’t like to borrow the mechanical wood splitter from the neibhour. I’d rather chop all of this on my own. At this I timidly offer to help, knowing that he would refuse it but unsure that to not do so would seem impolite.
what strangers we are to one another, those of us who share this space.
He throws another log into the hot coals and the douglas fir instantly catches. On a cold winter day, surrounded by silent, snow covered mountains, there are few things more precious to one’s senses than a woodfire smoke. I had grown up in Tropical Sri Lanka where I associate woodfire with open kitchens and steaming platters of curries and rice. Still, to be among the mountains, with that man, in that place..it was Canadiana for me, truly. And I felt it, sharing that smoke with him.
So I went to sleep in my canoe and woke up and went for a walk. I saw a naked woman with another man earlier that day and this morning I saw her again. She came over and I said hello….next thing you know I moved into her house and got married and stayed married for years after, until, that too ended.
He was quiet, then, and so was I. We both watched the fire. I got up and put another log in it, a piece of Ceder this time, to add some more debth to the smoke profile–a former bartender by trade, I couldn’t resist the urge to play with smoke.
I spoke to him again a few months ago when I came back to Vancouver after spending half the year prior in the appalachian wilderness. He has power now, they restored it few months into the new year. My hermit was without power, doddgedly sticking to his routine of turning on and turning off the generator like clockwork, harvesting firewood to warm his hearth. It had cost him over 70 dollars just to keep his food cold, even after I helped him transfer the freezer into the the earthen cellar. He wasn’t necessarily a vegetarian but he rarely ate meat. Having once been a hunter, he now shows off his impressive collection of winchesters with pride. He even let me hold onto an enfield 3.0.3 from the second world war, a rare piece of anglo canadian history.
and that is a story for another time.
I decided to hike the appalachian trail not long after that, witnessing day after day how resolutely and deliberately one can live if one but decides such is how one would like to live, even if few others would care to understand or appreciate.
Life without frills maybe difficult but it rewards that much more in small details…I went for what I thought at the time was a very long walk, from Johnson’s landing to Argenta, 24 KMs, roughly 15 miles. Pondering: should I go back to Toronto, try to get into a PhD program, find some sort of ‘meaningful employment,’ stop giving my mother anymore heartaches…..or, well, i didnt know the alternatives.
I saw a very graceful log by the side road as it curbed around the mountain bend. Thought to myself, what a graceful log and then it flicked its tail.
took me a while longer yet–seconds really but it felt longer–to confirm for myself that I was now stalking a cat of my own, the closest relative to the leopard–which I carry on my back as a tatoo–the Canadian Lynx. He caught my scent and turned to look at me full, for a mere moment, and she casually sauntered into the woods.
I knew that I had decided something and it wasn’t until I got back to my bed, staring at the ceder lined celing wall i said to myself aloud:
I am going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail..four months later I got on a train
and I walked the Appalachian Trail!
here I am, once again in the West coast, on my own terms…
sometimes you sit in your single room, so far away from places you called ‘home’ over the years, from people u loved, love and will love, you see a single bed, a backpack in the corner and then you see the mountains framed between your window sills, awash in sunshine, rising strongly above wisps of cloud–and suddenly, ineffably, you are happy
life is charming
– 5th of January 2014, Vancouver, British Columbia