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May 2, 2015 – Hiking Shoes

Day 3 began as it should: waking up rested, awake, uninterested in much more sleep. A little shove and I was up, walking to the cabin kitchen in the mountains. Eggs and sausage from the BBQ found on my bun.

Packing granola bars and bananas and jugs of water, jugs of ice, Ger and I were ready for a day of hiking- well almost ready, just missing one thing: shoes. The need for hiking shoes a reason to travel into town first, but the carnival atmosphere was not what I was ready for that early in the morning, especially when I had already psyched myself up to climb a mountain. Space and quiet was what I had a hankering for. Instead I found myself in the middle of what Ontarians can only equate with as the Niagara Falls strip chaos- a long road of loud restaurants with animals carved into the side, Dracula themed haunted houses, and mini-golf courses dressed up with animated dinosaurs. Please just get to me to the shoes.

After the Merrels were bought and put on we took the long road to Cades Cove through the mountains. The twisted roads reminding me why I like to drive. Pushing the car around the corners and laughing at how fast the locals made me go, trapping me from in front and behind. Only one lane – get on it, get with it, stay at it if you can.

Abram Falls, our first trail. Poor Ger forgetting socks, his new Merrels bleeding out instead of just being broken in. Climbing over rocks with the others. Under the trees a band, a family, was playing southern songs by heart. A woman nearing my grandmother’s age leading the way. The voices connecting and splitting, mirroring the guitars. The slide guitar held up in the wind. Ger’s popped blisters finding a place to rest in the grass.

And then the bear. Yes, a bear. A little black mother bear eating munchies by the roadside uninterested in the folks parked, snapping shots so very interested in her. The cubs in the tree base on its side not too far. 2 black ears only just visible on the other side of the camera lens. We stood there long enough for reality to warp. We stood there just long enough to be convinced she wouldn’t hurt us if she felt the need, that she wouldn’t hit us, punch us if provoked. Wouldn’t it be great to hug her? I caught myself thinking. No wonder idiots like me get hurt by these beauties from time to time. We’re just dumb enough to think she would want to be friends.

It was almost dark by the time she wandered back to her cubs and we made our way back to the car. Another grill and hot tub waiting for us back at the cabin, a cold shower and moisturizer for my burnt shoulders, hydrogen peroxide and band-aids for Ger’s feet. A sleep to get us ready for another climb, more vertical this time, on the agenda for us tomorrow.

 

May 1, 2015 – On the Road to the Smoky Mountains

Day one of the trip is coming to a close, well day 2 if you count the drive to Windsor, sitting in my Dad’s living room, watching a documentary about the Saigon evacuation of 1975- which I do consider part of the trip I suppose now that I think about it. It’s not my real life.

In the morning, in our real lives, Ger took the morning off to finish packing and there was that late exam Louise Amambercon wrote that I picked up, marked on the way. It wasn’t until we were in Windsor that the vacation part of the day seeped in.

Today getting up a 5am, hitting the border, we watched the officers make fun of one of them named Matt who forgot he was supposed to do overtime last night as they processed Ger’s Irish fingerprints for the 90 day visa, much too long for the 18 actual days we are spending here, in this overgrown expanse of space and people and charm. The familiar becoming less familiar. Courtesies, customs, ways of being shifting slightly enough to be on the alert, hoping not to need to catch up.

There was that sticky woman at the first rest stop though, who made me ask her for a plastic bag. The thousands of drinks: juice, water, and even energy, plus the little bundle of bananas were sitting there on the counter between us a signal I thought, a need for a bag, a clear sign my arms would obviously struggle collecting these items on their own. After filling the bag she smiled at me, making me feel guilty for ever mistrusting her ability as a cashier.

And then the drive across the space where some people lived and other people didn’t I suppose. The space that uprooted and grew sharp edges along the road, prompting annoyance with Southern Ontario’s 401 flatness: Why couldn’t the mountains want to live near us? we said. Their height making us look out new points of our car windows which hadn’t been tested before.

A collection of Harleys decidedly took up the left lane for miles. They had that school of fish type existence, the sum being stronger than individual parts. Cars racing to pass them in the right lane along the mountains until a mac truck or a heavy caravan stopped them just as they were getting close enough to the head of the pack to pass. And then as a collective, with unseen signals between them, the decision was made to relinquish the left, the fish floating, withdrawing to the right hand lane.

The mountain view almost untrustingly beautiful from the deck of our little pretend future in the Smoky Mountains. This is the type of place we’ll get one day said out loud many times to each other, reminding us how difficult it is to be present even when the time feels so right, feels impossible not to be live in right now. How hard it is to appreciate the life around you, not getting stuck in the future to come.

The hot tub helps a little with that though. Here, I am floating and digesting the grilled meat, digesting the milky dip which we spread onto carrots. Where I’m digesting the chips we found at the dollar store claiming “ribs flavour.” The very chips now finding their spot just below my own clunky bones for the night.

 

 

 

 

Feb 28, 2016 – Kawartha Cabin Part 2

Alone here this time.

Well not alone – with Winston, my dog.

Instead of a vacation the Kawartha cabin becomes my office.

My office with a wood stove & bunk beds & a view of the storm

puffing in just after we arrive.

The open field, through the door’s window, losing its top layer of snow.

The wind – the bully – pushing and shoving the snow up

only to let her fall back down again

confused and suddenly covered with a new fresh layer from the sky.

The camera unable to distinguish between flakes flying sideways.

Pale lines against the pines captured.

The drive here dry.

Dry and cold enough for me to park through the meadow.

Driving over hard mud, thinly masked with ice.

The wheels bumping, the water cracking

that free feeling where you’re not sure if you’re going to be stuck.

Here on my own this time.

Must seem peculiar to Glen and Yvonne

my airBnB landlords again for the next 60 hours or so.

My reading week I explain, I teach

and I’m a writer too I guess

a playwright mostly, they nod, like nice people do.

Glen asks about a comedy for his town in the summer.

I say something about Norm Foster

like he needs any more work in rural Canada.

Before going back up to the farm

Glen said something about coyotes

and the pup’s droppings drawing them near.

“Bobcaygen” is coming out of the shower radio

a Christmas present from my father.

Bobcaygen in Bobcaygen

How could I be so lucky?

Nostalgia for me

Identity for them

Do you think there’s a limit on how many times they can play that in a year?

I’m excited to hear it really.

Nobody plays the tragically hip in Toronto

but we do have tall men with no teeth

who say stuff like, “Who’s walking who?”

when I’m out with my dog

standing together waiting for the light.

At the cabin Winston runs

free from concrete and leashes.

I worry I’ll lose him to the squirrels and the birds

but he’s pretty good at finding me.

3am fires almost out

but with the help from old news

and a splinter in my right hand

she’s back full force.

I look at the dog annoyed at the movement

I guess he’s right it’s too early

to write on my own in the dark

or is it too late?

There’s howling outside.

Winston’s immediately alert.

Glen’s coyotes have come.

I know the door’s locked

but I check again to be sure.

The dog mistakes this for a sign

for an early morning walk to the howls

and I spend the next hour

petting him to sleep

breathing my heart to rest.

The moon much too large to fit in the window.

Feb 13, 2016 – Kawartha Cabin

The dog licking his paws cold from the snow

tucked in next to him on the bottom bunk

reading his Rolling Stone 90s edition

a reprint of past articles zeroing in on that nostalgia factor

Britney Spears, Tupac Shakur, Red Hot Chili Peppers, & Nirvana of course

Bill Callahan playing from the dying ipod speakers

filling the Kawartha Cabin our retreat

3 nights, 4 days

On the way here three cars in the ditch.

A woman in a fur coat sitting in an impala smashes through a wire fence

The tow truck scratching its head as to how to retrieve her.

Another car facing the other way as confused as we are

as to how it got that way.

A third, an orange SUV, head first in snow.

If it had cartoon legs, they would be kicking up in the the air.

We pick a few wrong lane ways first.

He shrugged walking up to a small church

recently renovated to house a small family.

Everyone: dogs, humans, cats pile out pointing behind

to the farm with many horses and one pony

an impulse buy we’re told later by Yvonne and Glen

our airBnB landlords for the weekend.

The horses follow our every move as we step outside the car

Our pup pretending to be brave

Their long faces, their hard hooves

A growl full of hot air.

The cabin at the back of the property.

Quiet & hot from the wood stove

Oil lamps soon in need to be lit

Dark coming up on us

Unpacking, rummaging, organizing, dinner, bed – early

That stiff feeling all around

Air real

able to take up space

Reminding our city necks how to inhale

And I wake up cold

It’s country dark in here – like when I was ten.

His survival skills tested as he brings the fire back to full force

The dog finds that warm spot against the back of my knees

I miss being in a room this dark I hear him thinking.

Both country kids, albeit different parts of the world

Toronto residents now where the work is

The cabin’s bottom bunk full

with man, woman, and dog.