"Canada 2003" story # 21

Kenora, Ontario           July 31, 2003

During their long trip across Ontario's "hitchhiker hell," Adam and Julie got a ride from a dirty trucker who told jokes about girls scratching people's balls. Julie was totally not amused, possibly offended. Frat-boy Adam, meanwhile, was laughing himself tickled and hooting and having a good time. He loves dirty jokes.
     And, then, Adam and Julie made it to Kenora in western Ontario.
     The following day, Johnny and I also arrived.
     Physically-speaking, Kenora town and its buildings were clean, glossy, flaw-less, and attractive. Kenora perched on brown Lake of the Woods, whose body throbbed out southward for seventy miles, encircling islands of all sizes overrun by cold-braving, hermitic forest.
     Kenora was a very well-off city, even by Canadian standards. Our hosts in town were one of many families from Manitoba and Saskatchewan who owned summer houses in Kenora.
     Kath Hill, who had studied with smart Johnny during a semester abroad in Thailand, picked Johnny and I up from the town docks in her family's boat. She had long, dark, very beautiful hair and wore glittering rock sandals. She looked somewhat like Punky Brewster. Julie, a boat lover, rode with her and let the lake wind push her ponytail.
     Kath took us to her family's private island. Adam rushed to greet us. I showed him my thirteen-day-old moustache, which was light but gross, and Adam laughed in celebration of the bet I'd lost to him.
     In an effort to get the full sleaze potential out of my moustache, I borrowed some eye-hugging, little sunglasses and said, "Kath. Can we go into town later so I can pick up some ladies?"
     So that I wouldn't suffer alone, I guess, turtle-haired Johnny had also grown a terrible moustache. He wore the pelvis-hugging navy shorts he'd bought as a joke on Adam's birthday, so he looked like a real greasebag as we went swimming. Kath joined us as we swam around the island; it was surprising she didn't kick us off completely.
     Johnny and I shaved in one of the eight or so cabins on the island, the one we Canada-trekkers got to stay in.
     We joined the Hill family for a vegetarian chili dinner, and we met Kath's parents and sisters.
     Kath's father, Paul, was the loaded businessman who made this all possible. He asked where I was from and said, "Grand Rapids, Michigan? I have a business near there. I've never been there. But, I own a business there. A storage company ..." I was unimpressed.
     Paul Hill carried and talked on his cell-phone everywhere. Even while on the beautiful Lake of the Woods, he carried out business meetings over the phone. He had a slave-to-seriousness expression, and he had an unlively, almost-void-of-humanness gaze that intimidated the hell out of me when talking to him. One night, I would get stuck conversing with him. In ten minutes, he made derogatory comments about communists, blacks in South Africa, and native-Canadian parents.
     After the chili, Kath led us to a deck at the end of the island, called "Cocktail Rock," to sit and talk, over the night lake.
     Kath seemed confident, intelligent, and open-minded. I think she was vegetarian. I think she'd studied something in Eastern spirituality, because she taught yoga in Kenora. She spoke about buddhism.
     They seek spiritual peace and simplicity in buddhism, and I said I thought having a strong passion for something could lead to a more-constant happiness, with few desires.
     Kath and I spoke of strength of mind. I said I believed sickness and injury could only come to your body if your mind allowed them to. I thought a confident, unworried person could take what would be an injury-inducing blow to someone else and simply will the would-be damage into disappearing. (For example: In L'Anx Pleureuse, Quebec, I hurt my knee in a sick fall that left my knee feeling torn. I refused to accept this injury/obstacle to my going across Canada, I immediately walked on it, and after a week my knee was back to healthy.)
     Julie, whose knee would be undergoing surgery after our trip, and Johnny, very injury-prone, disagreed with my argument here.
     Kath knew of a new movement called "Science of the Mind." She said the people who followed it believed the mind controls all. One guy was able to walk across water. She said we all could do what Jesus did - heal people, and stuff.
     It was an interesting chat on "Cocktail Rock" ...

Erwin, the head of maintenance on the Hills' island, was nice enough to give us four Canada-trekkers our first Canadian employment the following day.
     By morning, Adam and I clipped branches on the island's trails, Julie painted swingsets for Kath's nieces, and Johnny got stuck whipper-snipping. By afternoon, we raked the beach and lawn of its many pine cones. It was very enjoyable labor.
     Strong, gruff-moustached Erwin was the friendliest guy around. He was interested in the trip we were making and identified with us as his fellow blue-collar co-workers.
     He spoke excitedly all day of how we would go pick saskatoons - a form of blueberry - when we were finished working. Erwin loves saskatoons. To cap off a great day of work, we pulled down the top of a saskatoon tree on the island and picked and snacked on the many small, but sweet, blueberry lookalikes.
     We migrant pine cone rakers earned $80 each on the day. And we ran to enjoy our last dip in the lukewarm Lake of the Woods. Johnny and Adam jumped on the island trampoline to get sweaty. Adam did backflips off "Cocktail Rock."

So, it was with $80 and one cent that I set off from Kath Hill's island the next day. Adam was my hitching partner again, and we covered the four hours to Brandon, Manitoba in good time.
     We entered the flat, farmland area of Canada known as the Prairies. We passed rolling hills of daisies and flat wheat fields. In the soft, blue sky, square clouds loomed lower and larger than brethren keeping their distance in the layers above. Other times, the clouds dissipated from their single forms to twist and swirl themselves in a playground game.
     Julie and Johnny reached Brandon after us. We all went from there to get our first taste of the farm we'd be staying on the next week.
     Cattle-farming Ian met us in Brandon and drove us out of town down a dirt road amongst burnt orange fields. He took us to Howpark Farm, a simple-looking existence tucked sweetly away beside the fields. Orange hills peeked over each other behind Ian's house, the only hills visible in this land that had been roller-pinned.
     Ian showed us the stalks of grain in his barley field. The field was so fluffy, with tiny, wind-created ripples, and I just wanted to swim in it. Unfortunately, though, the barley this year was too thin to fetch high prices and be used in making beer.
     He showed us wheat fields. This grain was a darker yellow color. The canola field was green. He also had an acre of herbal echinacea plants, a vegetable garden, and, of course, his beef cattle.
     First, one cow, and then a whole bunch, escaped from their fenced-in fields. Adam and I helped Ian by rustling the cows up. "Good job," smiled Julie.
     It would be fun to one time in your life yell, "Stampede!" and actually mean it.
     It was a tough year for Howpark Farm in more areas than just the barley, though. Due to a single case of mad-cow disease in a Canadian cow, the United States had refused to buy any Canadian beef this year. This would hurt Ian's beef sales. Also, he would be unable to sustain all his cattle until the next year because he didn't have enough hay, due to an all-summer drought.
     It was a tough year. Blond, early-thirties Ian handled it in stride. He had an honest face and eyes, and he seemed a simple man. (I don't know what it means there by "simple." I guess it means Ian's farm life is one that hasn't been complicated or confused by all the false treasures an out-of-control-indulgent society has created. For Prairie farmers, only family and working the land count.)
     Ian had his four new WWOOF-program farm volunteers rest up for the night. We watched the pink, orange, and yellow sunset mix with the Prairie clouds and sky blue. We had work to do in the morning.
     We smiled, happy to be here, and went to sleep.

- Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: porcupine, some rustled-up cows

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