Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 4: Nightlife

Figuring I was nearly halfway to the Bassano Dam, I got out my map and tried to pinpoint my exact location. But something was wrong."

Surely I would have remembered passing that bridge", I thought. That bridge in this case was only a quarter of the distance to the dam, and if I wasn't even there yet, I would probably have trouble getting off the reserve in just one day. Eschewing my GPS unit, I anxiously tried to match river features to my map, and came up with many hopeful conjectures about my location, each of which was dashed by the next bend in the river. Some of my facies placed me near the lake behind the dam itself, which would have required me to miss two bridges and a ferry.

When I finally hit the first bridge, I realized I needed to do more paddling and not rely so much on the current as I did the first day, which was almost strictly floating. By the second bridge, I was seriously wondering how Clinton, my contact at the Siksika Department of Lands, could have thought I might have made it all the way, starting in the afternoon!

In my fantasies before the trip, I figured I would take two days to get to Carseland, and then maybe rest a day and do all of Carseland to Bassano in one day. And this plan makes some kind of sense if you look at a map that isn't very detailed. But this portion of river is at least 60 miles (80 km) on the water, with a slower current, bracketed by the weir and dam. But in my fantasies, based loosely on the journals of Lewis and Clark, I imagined meeting with the Siksika elders, in a teepee of course. There I would explain in detail my trip, and how I desired only one day to pass through their lands, that I was not there to take their fish and game, and indeed! I wouldn't even set foot on their lands if they so desired it. They would show some reluctance still, and so I would offer them a gift, "Take this axe; though it be of no special value or construction let this be a goodwill offering to you, as I go unarmed into your land." Then we would smoke the peace pipe and I would set forth with only the verbal agreement of one of their chiefs.

And I knew that was all ridiculous, but I still was disappointed to find out that this business would be conducted instead in a mundane government office building like any city hall, and rather than meeting with tribal chieftains my case would be handled by a quiet civil servant in casual clothes named Clinton. He took me back to his personal office which had Catholic images on the walls and a calendar recording the saints' days.

But I must have been unclear that I was hoping to canoe the entire stretch from Carseland to Bossano, because he seemed sure a one-day boating permit would do it. "Well", I said, "I guess the river's going pretty fast." And then I handed over $30 for the permit, bland government documents were signed and dated, and we exchanged idle pleasantries before I left.

But he seemed to think at 10 o'clock I could bike back to Carseland, and boat the entire distance to Bossano in a day. Did he think I was so strong? Did he underestimate the distance as well, or think I was putting in closer to Gleichen?

I don't know. But I now suspect that in my meeting with him I never used the word "canoe", only "boat", and that it is really only natural that he would have assumed a motorboat. Only in my silly mind which romanticized his race as the inventors of the canoe as the ideal instrument for Canadian river travel might I have expected differently.

But then on the water I still carried the notion that I should try to get to the dam by midnight, to keep within the letter of the law. For, as I told myself, there had been centuries of people who looked sort of like me taking the land of people who looked sort of like him I should avoid camping and thereby furthering that kind of injustice. This itself, of course, is a kind of racial thinking probably no more correct for its slightly increased sophistication. I changed into warm clothes, and put my rain suit on top, after seeing the dreadful stormclouds which were developing ahead of me as the sun began to set.

As I passed the ferry the sun left only twilight in the sky with that storm, which it became clear would pass just north of me. But I was now on the dam's lake and there was no current. Worn out from the day's paddling, and not having eaten anything substantial since breakfast, I pulled over to the side of the river and paddled some small distance, hugging river right so as not to become lost. I found some muddy bank, wedged a paddle between the gunwhale and a bungee cord, and pushed it deep into the mud below me to form a kind of temporary anchor as I drifted into sleep.

When the stars came out I woke and paddled a little further on the lake.

When the dogs howled at the appearance of the moon's waning half, I woke again, and paddled further.

When the first pink of morning crept over the horizon, I woke a third time, and paddled further, in the direction of what sounded to be the dam.

Each time cursing the cold, the loss of my gloves on day one, my self, and my foolish choices, as I prayed the kind of prayers born only in desperation.

Day 4 ended: no permanent location (between the ferry and the dam)

1 comment:

Justme said...

Oki (Hello) Kevin,
I enjoyed reading about your little adventure through our territory (Siksika Nation). Had to laugh out loud about your imaginary mtg. with the Chief. And your thoughts on our housing was quite interesting, I've often wondered how it was from an outsiders point of view, to us, it's just life as usual....good luck!