Monday, September 24, 2007


Last Wednesday I paddled a canoe with my father-in-law Merle and brother-in-law Dallas past
silvery waxpaper lichen covered rocks of granite and poplar trees dressed in bark as thin as newsprint and as white as dirty snow, their leaves turned a bright yellow against the steady de-saturated greens of the conifers and requisite mosses of Northwestern Ontario, on a steel-grey windy day. We were attempting to lure fresh-water fish into our boat and into a small six-inch cast-iron frying pan heated over a fire kindled by freshly chopped up deceased Jack Pine on a small island in the center of the lake. We ended up with one slender Northern Pike or what Canadians like my wife call Jack fish which tasted mighty fine wedged into some seven-grain bread and toped with salt and pepper. The fishing got better later on after the sun came out, but that wasn’t really the point. Carrying an aluminum canoe down to a glass-surfaced lake off a moose-dropping-strewn logging trail in an utterly silent early autumn, seeing no signs of other human life besides that of a aging bearded trapper in forest green work pants who dropped in on his float plane and claimed to have known every inch of this country for 37 years and the wolves who live here, and sensing the inevitability of life deep below the surface of the dense water beneath us and the thin cutting ecosystem around us, this was therapeutic.

Our little re-treat to the Northlands was a step slower then we were used to, everything there moves at a friendly, self-determined pace. We spent the week with Jennifer’s family sleeping in a small toilet-free cabin surrounded by clumps of mushrooms and a small dead rabbit dropped by a startled fox. We played intensely competitive table games, ate wonderful meals from my mother-in-law’s garden and freezer; I brushed up on my carpentry skills such as they are and Jennifer slept all ten hours of every night. We gradually slowed down, and slowly the stress in our maintenance-starved bodies ebbed away.

When the time came to visit my grandma, grandpa and 96-year-old great grandma in Northern Minnesota we were already adjusted to life in the slow lane. It didn’t seem weird when their neighbor Sue stopped by just to chew the flab like neighbors are supposed to. Our great-grandmother’s circular story-telling was a wonderful re-collection of memory and nostalgia of a time when out-milking your dad was a source of great pride, when books and school lessons were scarce pleasures for a girl who had to “work-out” as a hired girl, and when collecting maple syrup on the family farm was an all night job beside a flickering lantern. We were regaled with tales of loss and woe, hardship and friendship; getting old is hard work. We were reminded to get our blood-work done and work hard so that when we are old we will be old like my great grandma: tired but pain-free. When we stopped in at my Uncle Dawson’s farm for a hayride and pumpkin pie we were amazed at the energy of my little cousins who swarm the place on bicycles, tractors and legs that don’t seem to stop moving. I wonder if we would have that much explosive energy if we lived like they did – probably. If we ate three meals a day and slept 8 hours every night and worked on a farm in between we would be pretty healthy.

But for now we are back in the city, back among men with rippling muscles from lifting iron bars over and over again in a gym but with no real ability to fend for themselves – like genetically engineered cows with fat between their ears unable to survive anywhere but a feed lot. Back to the women who measure their self-worth by how much they can tempt their bodies to bulge out of their clothes at weird angles rather than how much produce they got out of their gardens this year or how many cans they recycled. Back to people with jobs like us who are tempted to complain when the bus driver skips our stops and makes us walk a few extra blocks and waste a few more minutes of our scarce leisure time. Right now we still think positive, we’re back in the grasp of life, every moment a chance to make a difference in the world around us. I hope that when this optimism fades we will still be able to remember those therapeutic instances we’ve had over the past week and remember what its like to live as though every event has a purpose, every season has meaning, and every history has a present.


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