Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 77: If we don't release the past

A fisherman helped me drag the canoe past the broken Brandon dam. It was late afternoon, and at last I was leaving town.

White insects drifted over the river against the current. They drifted like snow at first, but when I saw their round wings and double tails they looked more like shining fairies. Many of them were not alone. There was a flightless sex, and when one of these fairies found one they allow it to grasp onto their tails, and then fly back out over the waters with their partners in tow. These were not weighed down more than the others, but floated as effortlessly as the others. Many would tire and hit the water, or hit my canoe, and be unable to recover, slowly dissolving.

I saw a tent and a bicycle on the left side of the river. A man was waving. I slowed down and drew near the shore.

"Are you traveling?" I asked.

He said, "No -- waiting."

"It gives me time to work on my beattitudes," he said.

This was his second summer occupying that location on the riverbank. He spent 121 days his first time out, and had already gone longer this year. It must be a good place to stay. Some wooden steps had been built from the water up the bank.

I asked him if he minded me spending the night there, that we could talk tonight and then tomorrow morning before I left. He hesitated for a moment before inviting me up. We found a deer bed that seemed to be just the place for my tent. When I was done setting up I walked over to his firepit, which was a ring of small cinderblocks around a discarded computer tower. There were two log benches there, but he insisted I sit in one of two canvas lawn chairs.

His name was Calvin. As he stoked the fire I got a closer look at him. He was missing his right front tooth and had wrinkles radiating from his eyes. His eyes were always smiling, and without those wrinkles I might not have known he was middle-aged. He talked in circles around what he wanted to say. I was talked out in Brandon and spoke little. How can I relate our conversation to you? I must straighten it out into a story, by cutting out all the wandering meanders he placed in the way.

He was divorced. He had a son and a daughter. He had not seen them in a decade.

He asked me what inspired my trip. After Crooked Lake I had written a story in my journal that purported to explain why I had decided to go to school in Calagary, and why I didn't find what I hoped there; why I had to leave.

"My friend died in a car accident," I said. That was only part of the story; I didn't want to go into details. I was growing unhappy with this as an explanation, however.

"Was she your girlfriend?" he asked.

"No." That was another part of my story, and I felt guilty. Her parents had told me after her death how already people were beginning to mythologize her life. It is too tmepting to burden our memories of the dead, and because I didn't want to go into my entire story I was hanging too much on one important part.

"It's harder when they're closer to you," he said. After his marriage he was dating a woman who had some sickness; she was hooked to some medical bag and a couple of times had to be driven to the hospital.

Once he did not get her there fast enough. That was shortly before he began living by the river.

"You've just got to believe that they aren't gone forever," he said. "You go to sleep, you wake up. Look, all these insects around here, they are born and live for just a short time, but they lay their little eggs or seeds, whatever you want to call them, and next year they hatch!"

Calvin had gone without any money for more than a year. Whenever he finds a coin or two on the ground, he just picks it up and drops it in a donation cup somewhere. At night he bikes into town, sometimes taking his trailer, and picks up supplies to live with. He had a fishing pole, and a tent covered with tarps. A couple of nylon lawn chairs he found in the trash, and I think he got bread and fruit from the trash as well.

He told me he was waiting for people to do what "they're supposed to do." Since he hadn't paid alimony in two years I gathered he was waiting to be taken to prison, which would somehow fulfill the theology of suffering he had developed.

Day 77 ended: 49*51.384N, 099*43.084W

1 comment:

John said...

I'll only apologize for mythologizing others when I mythologize them more than I mythologize myself.

Therefore, I recommend your answer become something along the lines of: "because I crave adventure for its own sake, and I found the intellectual adventures of mathematics alone insufficient when encountering the gravest matters of life, and instead choose to challenge life's gravity by incorporating the visceral as well as the intellectual, in the physical, social, and financial adventures found in my travels"

Unless that's not right. :-P But still, maybe you know what I mean...