"Canada 2003" story # 29

Nelson, British Columbia           August 24, 2003

A lot of people who we rode with in Canada told us how we were going to be the happiest once we got "out West," to British Columbia. But, then again, a lot of the people we rode with in Canada were big marijuana-smokers, as well as big drinkers. I think this observation was less indicative of how people who pick up hitchhikers are, and more indicative of how people in Canada are.
     The province of British Columbia could claim "pot" as one of its two leading cash crops, and marijuana played a big part in its culture. Our first stop there was in Nelson, one of the most hippy-ish areas.
     We WWOOF-volunteered for and stayed with a family. This family had no "farm" - as their status as WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) hosts would suggest - they just had a house high on a woods-covered mountain hill.
     The father of the family, Brian, smoked a lot of pot. He had wild, gray, drugged eyes. I'd seen a lot of marijuana smokers before, and I'd rarely seen heavy use of this drug affect a person in any negative way other than making him/her lazy and unmotivated. However, in Brian's case, it seemed he had become completely dependent on marijuana to relax. Whenever he hadn't smoked in a while, he was either very tense or else wound-up and needing to do something.
     At Brian's house, we WWOOFers went to work helping Brian to turn the thin, tall pine trees in his backyard into firewood. Brian cut the trees with chainsaws, and we tugged them down with a rope. We also: axed small branches off the fallen trees, stacked the firewood after Brian cut it, and raked up the branches and sawdust debris.
     Brian taught us how to take down trees, and he even had Adam carve a chainsaw wedge into one to bring it down. Man, Adam was always getting selected to do the cool farm jobs. It was probably because he was the only one of us who had that look to him that said he could use farm equipment for something other than chopping off his hands. The rest of us just scratched our heads and made monkey-like "Ooh!"'s and "Aah!"'s if anything had a motor.
     Brian's wife, Debbie, made all this work pay off with her delicious, restaurant-quality dinners. She made us a mushy, green flavor vegetable stir-fry; spring rolls; chicken; and burritos with rice and beans and cheese; on separate nights. Mmm, it sure beat peanut-butter and jelly.
     Except that her hair was darker, she looked just like Geena Davis. She was a very friendly, happy-going person, and I don't know if she smoked. She worked as a teacher at the local Waldorf School, a prestigious school system that - for some reason - allows no plastics in its classrooms or toys. She didn't make a high hourly wage, but she was happy because she was doing her dreams.
     When we Canada-trekkers weren't working or eating, there was plenty of fun to be had. We hiked a trail in the family's backyard, which led through cozy, guarding, your-own-personal forest, down a slope so slanted trees barely grew in the soil and we fought from slipping, and into a deep, beautiful canyon. We jumped around on the rocks, climbed small cliffs, and tight-roped tree bridges. Rising rock walls caged us in the canyon. Creek pools and waterfalls - badly dried up - shared our hostage status.
     We escaped the canyon to play table games by night. We introduced Adam to Balderdash, my favorite board game, one night. (That's the game where everyone creates fake explanations for obscure words, historical dates, or movie titles, then tries to convince everyone else that his false explanation is the actual one.) We had a great game. In the final round, we had to explain a movie title, "On The Third Day," and Johnny made a brilliant comeback to beat out Adam for the win. His definition: "A brief documentary on salamander reproduction," had us all fooled and won him praise.
     We also played the great card game, "Oh, hell!" a.k.a. Beat Your Buddy a.k.a. Screw Your Neighbor a.k.a. Up And Down The River. We'd played this game every other day since learning it in Maine, and yet we were all aware Julie had never won a game. But, in a masterfully-played exhibition, Julie beat out Johnny and I for her first win. Debbie, standing nearby when Julie shocked the world, displayed a big Geena Davis smile to hear some of the Julie-teasing fodder had come to its end. It was a big win for Julie. Big win, Julie! Big win!!!
     The Julie coming-of-age story didn't have its end there. No. We Canada-trekkers wanted to tour around Nelson on a Saturday, and Brian and Debbie's car wasn't big enough to carry all of us. Julie was determined to hitchhike the six miles into town on her own, something she'd never done before.
     Being sensitive guys, Johnny and Adam and I scoffed at our lady friend. We laughed and said she couldn't make it on her own. We re-kindled turtle-haired Johnny's analogy that we guys were the angler-fish who did all the work, and that Julie was merely the light on the fish's head that reeled the cars in.
     Adam sucked in his cheeks and made a worried, fluttering motion to represent the angler-fish light without its fish.
     Johnny said cars would see her, a lone girl hitchhiking, and think: "Psycho."
     I said the rest of us would need to hurry up and drive to Nelson in time "to see someone pulling up and kicking Julie out of the car."
     Adam chauffered the rest of us to Nelson, while Julie hitchhiked. She had no problem getting driven in. She accomplished something Johnny and Adam still hadn't yet: she'd hitchhiked a ride by herself. There was going to be a lot less picking on Julie from now on!
     Our tour guide around the town of Nelson was going to be fifteen-year-old Zach, the friendly, curly-haired stoner son of Brian and Debbie. Nelson was where the Steve Martin film, "Roxanne," had been taped, and there was a mural of the movie on a building wall.
     Nelson was a quaint, stone-laced town and, like I said, populated by a high percentage of hippies. We visited the farmers' market. Many farmers and many young hippies with dread-locks convened there and sold fruits and teas and vegetables. I debated briefly with one long-haired guy with a banner in his hair who looked like Jesus. He conversed by pausing long and then selecting hippy slogans to recite in errant places. "Well, maybe you just need to ... uh ... reflect on what you're saying," he would say. He had one of the weakest minds I'd seen in a while.
     We touring visitors went also to a marijuana-paraphernalia shop, where Zach and some of us smoked. Afterwards, we raided the supermarket for junk food. We mixed a huge tub of ice cream, chocolate-covered almonds, chewy Mike & Ike's, and Reeses-Pieces, and sat in Brian and Debbie's car pigging out and giggling. Johnny - normally a health nut - commented that he would only have to be high for me to be able to sell him on my all-ice-cream-diet.
     We only had to wait for Julie to steer us back to Brian and Debbie's to witness some of the less glamorous side of marijuana use. Grizzled, wild-eyed Brian spoke eerily calmly all evening, as if he was a bomb teetering on the brink of explosion. He seemed dangerously chemically imbalanced. I felt bad for his nice wife.
     During much of our five-day stay at Brian and Debbie's, Brian was rude - mainly to me - and cold and unsocial. As Debbie drove us to the highway to hitchhike west on Sunday morning, Brian called her cell-phone and asked to talk to me.
     Directed at me, he said: "I didn't appreciate your presence in our home, I didn't think you met the speculations of the WWOOF program ..." He was referring, probably, to how I'd gone out to try and earn money selling golf balls while we stayed at his house. I'd made our first enemy of the trip.
     A lot of people in Canada had told us how we were going to love being "out West" so much. But, this negative experience was just:
     THE WEST IS WACK, EVIDENCE # 1 - Brian, our WWOOF host, was a wacko.
     Brian could've said something to me earlier if he'd had a problem with my golf ball excursions. Otherwise, I worked for him while I was there, my friends worked every day, and I fed myself sometimes when I was out by myself.
     The names "moron" and "moronic hothead" were used to describe Brian by Johnny and me, respectively. He thought immensely of himself, refused to hear anyone who disagreed with him, and preached to us his views and boasted to us of his skills. It had been unsettling for all of us to be around him.
     He left a sour taste with us towards the WWOOF program.
     But, when we think back and remember the times and relationships we shared with Dr. Jim and Loretta in Nova Scotia, Diane in Quebec province, Ian and Doug's family in Manitoba, and even Debbie and Zach in Nelson, we're easily reminded of how fantastic the program really was for us.
     Planning Johnny had discovered the WWOOF program for us during pre-Canada research, and the research paid off. I would strongly recommend WWOOFing to anyone who would like to take a long or short, cheap trip and get to meet local, usually friendly country folk.
     Debbie and her son, Zach - who was very angry with his father - consoled me and insisted Brian's views weren't the family's. We said good-bye and started hitchhiking.
     ... to the end of the Canadian road, Vancouver. You can't go much further than that.

Later. Modern Oddyseus.
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

Much thanks to Debbie, Zach, Jeremy, Jake, & - any ways - Brian for the place to stay!

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