Saturday, February 28, 2009

September 27: Nothing more than feelings

Winnipeg was going to be a cultural haven after the Qu'Appelle and small towns of Manitoba, a sort of New York on the prairie. I was going to get out and experience those high arts, an emotional rush of giddy heights which would leave only the base emotions at the end of the day.

I was up at sunrise, and walked out into the wide world of Winnipeg, wandering its streets and footpaths until I found myself at The Forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. A man jogged with a dog. A bike was abandoned up on the path and following a foot trail down to the river I found a girl, staring out at the sunrise across the river, alone.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery was everything I wanted in an art museum. I walked into a huge exhibit of canvases stretched and warped over the third dimension, gradients of color producing a sensual feel to the minimalist works. This was the early work of Bruce Head, who graduated to explorations of work derived from strips of torn paintings, experiments in ink and color, and fields of lines that defy all description.

By the time I had gotten through the Bruce Head exhibit I was already incapable of taking in the work in the next few galleries, which were full of paintings by other Manitoban geniuses. My hasty notes suggest names like Aba and Charlotte, and I recall in particular an enormous painting of Jonah being tossed to the whale. Here the whale was round and cartoonish, cute except for the blood red eyes and bleeding mouth.

If that wasn't enough, the next gallery had a display meant to showcase all the best work in the WAG's collections. Every worker in the gallery from the cleaning staff to the head curator chose one or two works that particularly struck them. The disparate styles were not jarring but spoke to multiple kinds of genius that go unseen in galleries which emphasize particular historical narratives.

Then it was off to the used bookstores, where I sifted throuh piles of unsorted books, coming out with a couple Steinbecks, Aeschylus, and a couple books recommend by my friends: the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Moving Mars.

The sun set and I found my way to the local indie theatre which was showing the film "Red". This is about a man seeking revenge for the killing of his dog. The killer was a son of privilege and his tenacious fight against the powers that be leads to cruel disaster by the end of the film.

I was tired.

I arrived back at the hostel and played two games of chess against Alex. Alex was a high school grad who anchored a local television station, and won a short film competition which gave him a free year's pass to the movies. In his spare time he fixes up bikes, and in summers he runs a butterfly house for state and provincial fairs.

I was pleased to win both games handily.

I was exhausted. I don't think there really are "higher emotions", just complex combinations of the base ones. The loneliness of the bike girl, the sensuality of Head's abstracts, the catharsis of death in the movie theater and the thrill of victory in chess.

I really could feel nothing any more, a kind of emotional emptiness that could only be refreshed by sleep.

Day 98 ended: HI-Downtown Winnipeg

Friday, February 27, 2009

New meta-blog and meta-meta-blog

Okay, I agree with others who have said that there is no reason to blog about not blogging. I am now posting at least one entry a week, which might not be a torrent of information, but does at least mark this as an active blog. However, my goal remains to post quality content every day. One reason is it would be unfortunate if I embark on the next portion of my trip before bringing the story up to Minneapolis. Another is a couple people (primarily the couple who raised me as a child) do remark if I fail to update.

To prevent further pollution of this blog by a morass of excuses for missing a day or writing poorly, I have created a new blog Kevin's little blogging excuses, where I will speculate on the probability of a new blog entry being written up that day, and at least offer some lame apology if I fail to update.

When I got that site up, I realized that there was a problem. What if I don't update Kevin's little blogging excuses as well or often as I should? So, I set up the blog Excuses excuses where I may or may not apologize for the "little blogging excuses" blog.

Now, I admit to being a little worried about what will happen if I have trouble with that blog. If necessary I will have to petition blogger to allow an infinite progression of meta-blogs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weather advisory

Blog canceled today due to blizzard.

Be careful out there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

September 26, Part 2: Of people and paddles

"It's leatherman!" the teenage girl said. She was working the counter at the donut shop up from the boat club. She waved her arms in front of her, the left elbow went down while the right was up, and vice-versa. It was a motion that resembled the hypnotic action of a TV show magician. I guess it is also the motion teenage girls use to greet middle-aged men dressed in leather.

"Is it all leather?" she asked him. Yes, it was. I couldn't help but overhear him explain that every article of his clothing was 100% leather.

The woman at the next table leaned over to me. "Are you a kayaker?"

She must have been asking because I had a two-meter long kayak paddle leaned up against the wall next to me. "Ah, no, I'm actually going to try to sell this paddle." She nodded at this strange explanation, in which I failed to explain that I had been canoeing across Canada and for three months had not used this paddle since the first day. It was time for it to go.

The bus stop was right out the door. School must have been out because three kids were trying their skateboard tricks there. It is a mystery to me how skateboards have maintained their coolness factor when I don't believe I've ever seen a successful trick performed on them in real life. You would think so much public failure would drive kids away from the machine.

My bike was in the shop to get cleaned up, so I boarded the bus with the others. At the next stop, a young black couple were arguing. She kicked him and hit him, and the bus was not a moment too soon for the young man. He calmly boarded and paid the fare, and looked back towards us on the bus, desperate, and alone.

One of his eyes was red, red where it should have been white.

MEC had advertised a gear swap. I explained to the head gear swapper that I wasn't sure when I was leaving town, and I was looking for advice on selling this kayak paddle. I would have had to pay something like $10 just to enter it in the swap, and it was unclear whether I would be able to retrieve any money. He suggested I just take it to Salvation Army.

I walked for some time in the direction he pointed, but I must have looked lost carrying a kayak paddle through downtown Winnipeg because a businessman on his lunch break asked where I was going.

"Salvation Army," I said, "but I'm not sure where that is."

He dialed up 411 and I heard this part of the conversation.

"Winnipeg."

"Winnipeg."

"Win. Ni. Peg."

"Salvation Army."

"Salvation Army."

"Sal. Va. Tion. Ar. My."

"Yes, I'm at the corner of xxxx and yyyy and I'm wondering if there's a Salvation Army nearby. Winnipeg. Xxxx and yyyy. Yes, Salvtion Army. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay, thank you. Bye!"

He directed me south on the next street and my walk continued.

On the way down I saw a man in one of those hooded jackets with patterns on them, white and puffy with repeated images of skulls and things. It's a fashion I associate with people who have a need to look tough like rappers and high schoolers. He was walking a tiny terrier on a pink lead.

I arrived at the Salvation Army. "Do you take this?" I asked the dishevelled old woman at the counter.

The answer was "Yes." I wouldn't need to just drop my paddle off in an alley after all.

Just before sundown I found the Hostels International downtown Winnipeg location. It was about a block and a half from the Quest Inn where I had started the day. I met some interesting people there I will mention later, and according to my journal:

Watched debates: same stupid talking points from 3 months ago plus news that Russia invaded Georgia!


Day 97 ended: HI-Downtown Winnipeg

Ugh, Winnipeg

So it turns out I did not take very detailed notes during my stay in Winnipeg. One page of my notebook only covers two days, the next, about five. It's difficult deciding how much I can expand these entries into full posts, and to what extent I should bother.

On the other hand I did type up about a day and a half's worth of material while I was there. I'm going to try to see what I can do with what I've got, but if these posts vary significantly in length or quality it's because of the lumpy source material I have here.

I am also a bit worried now about my Mississippi River material, now. I haven't reviewed it but I remember the cold making writing rather miserable, even though a lot was happening. This is one reason the blog just shut down during that time.

I'm going to try to just keep going on, but blog updates may become irregular when I hit rough spots, like now. I'm sorry about that.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minneapolis Central Library

Central Library

Since I have arrived in Minnesota the libraries have fascinated me as being relatively larger, more connected, and newer than their brethren in Canada.

The Minneapolis Central Library is the epitome of that. There are four floors, full of books and computers. Despite the number of computers, you still usually need to book a time to use one. The stacks use the Library of Congress system, so much of my time is spent browsing the familiar Q and QA sections, with occasional forays into G465 and other familiar places.

Unlike the University of Calgary library, the books do need to be renewed more than twice a year and so I have racked up some fines.

This photo shows the almost crystalline structure of the entrance. During a thaw, police tape and pylons block off most of the entrance to protect us from the ice which falls from that overhang.

It's about a fifteen minute walk to the library, a frequent destination to pick up books or escape the roommates for a time. The Minneapolis skyway system provides a longer, indoor route most of the way when it is bitterly cold out. If I just walk down Nicollet Mall, I can see beggars, hear a jazz trumpeter, pick up supplies at the Target of Targets, and see the point where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air at the beginning of her TV show.

September 26, Part 1: Leaving Amber

In the morning, Amber insisted again that I take a pair of baggy jeans, as if that would make up for threatening me for cash the previous day. "You know I didn't spend that money on anything good," she said.

She also welcomed me to spend another night or two, saying she didn't feel like going anywhere all day. She was too tired to go anywhere except for maybe lunch later.

I said goodbye and she must have known I did not intend to come back. She said she didn't like goodbyes; we might see each other again, if only in the next world.

I wandered the city until I found the Winnipeg Information Center. I asked for a bus map and a good place to grab breakfast. The woman there recommended the "Underground Cafe". Brightly colored murals there depicted jazz musicians and Salvador Dali. The layout and hosting confused me as to whether I was meant to order at the counter or the table, but somehow I got my meal.

I didn't record what I ate, nor do I remember it. It wasn't anything special.

When I left the place, about ten, I headed to Mountain Equipment Coop, where I hoped to find gear that would make the rest of my trip easier.

While waiting for the walk light at Ellis Avenue, a familiar person was walking up the road towards me. It was Amber!

She asked if I wanted to go get drinks.

Day 97 continues.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interruption of Service

The Internet is down at home, so I could not post a blog last night. Posting will resume when I can connect again or have time to portage a usb drive to the library.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

September 25, Part 2: Meeting Amber

The phonebook listed a Woodbine Hostel as a potential place to stay. It might be cheap, and the location was 466 Main Street, which sounded downtown enough. When I arrived there the first thing I noticed is it was Woodbine Hotel, not Hostel. I walked in and so no one at what I took for the front desk: a kind of white, drywall counter. I felt foolish just standing there, so I went back to the street, walked around the block, and the second time saw 466 1/2 Main Street by the first door I had tried.

This door led immediately to a stairway leading straight up to the second floor. A dingy middle-aged couple were talking a half flight up and it was too narrow to pass them. I waited for these important people to disperse before I could get upstairs, where I squeezed through the hallways hoping to figure out what was going on here. It was still early afternoon but loud voices and televisions shouted through the scratched doors until I accidentally found myself downstairs again, back out in the street.

Once again I entered 466. This time I did not stop at the empty counter but continued into the bar behind it. There was a couple there indistinguishable from that I squeezed by on the stairs, and a plump blonde girl talking to them until I entered and grabbed everyone's attention.

I said my name was Kevin and I asked if there were any rooms available; no, there were not. But the blonde said she had an extra room available at her hotel, and without having time to think about this we were walking down the street towards it.

I asked for her name. "Amber," she said, "and wht's yours?"

"Kevin," I said, and then because I had already said this, added, "Still."

Tears filled her eyes and she said she suffered from memory loss due to a car accident in 1996.

She was on permanent disability since then.

Then, she explained that she didn't really have a second bedroom.

Or a second bed.

But this would be okay because we would take the mattress off of the bed and she would just sleep on the boxsprings.

Before we arrived at the Quest Hotel, she warned me that there were a bunch of old people sitting out front who "had nothing better to do" than watch people come or go. She thought it would be best if we went in separately because the people at the front desk were "really nosy" and she didn't want anyone to think she was having people over.

Compared to the easy pace of the river her statements hit me like a supersonic train and I did not have time to think. A minute after she entered the hotel I followed her through the gauntlet of wrinkled Indians, avoided the front desk, and found her at the elevator, which we rode to the second floor.

When we got to her room I paid $40 for staying two nights. She told me to make myself comfortable, take a shower, make some phone calls, and that I looked like the guy from Nickelback and could use whatever makeup I wanted.

I took my shower, and made a couple phone calls but when she returned an hour later she didn't seem to think I was comfortable enough. Not that what she was about to say was going to help this. Allow me to quote from my journal:

When she came back she was distraught and asked for $20 more.

"Do you drink?" [she asked] -- "Sometimes."

"Ever do any drugs?" -- "No."

"How old are you?" -- "28."

"Smart. I did something 1 time and now I'm in trouble.... if I don't get $20 to this guy he's going to kick in the door."

She was very worried about being seen w/ me & although I gave her $20 I am extremely suspicious of her at this time. Hope I can contact someone to stay somewhere else tonight. Her address is Rm 2xx, Quest Hotel, (Quality Inn) ph. (204)956-xxxx

I took photos inside her room to prove I had been there. Her full name is Amber xxxxxxx.

When I left, I took all my things, just in case -- I almost hope I can find someone else to stay with, even if I'm out my $60. I feel like the rube from the country.

....At the laundromat now. I hope I can find someone other than Amber to stay with ASAP


Although Amber told me she would be back at the hotel "way before" 10, I got there about a quarter after nine, and there was no response to my increasingly heavy knocking. Now I was the the one wanting to kick her door down. I couldn't believe I had become so naive to be taken in by just anyone I happened to meet downtown.

I sat outside the hotel, on a stone wall around the nearby park. I thought I would catch her as she went in and force her to live up to her part of the bargain. I realized she was not in; her room was dark, and the curtain left as I had seen it.

After some time of the old people at the entrance staring at me, I gave up my post and went into the lobby. There were four public phones in the Quest Inn, the leftmost lower than the rest like a children's urinal. At the right one I could keep an eye on the stairs and elevator.

I hoped to get in touch with Luke, who said he knew someone who might live in town, or Kathy, who might have contact information for a mutual acquaintance who had moved to Winnipeg a couple years previous. Instead I got in touch with my friend Richard.

"Hey Richard, apparently I'm not very smart..."

"So you're saying you're a dumbass?"

(I know Richard cares deeply about me but sometimes his timing is off.)

All of a sudden around the corner came Amber, who grimaced in the direction of the front desk and said she was going upstairs. She took the elevator and I took the stairs, to appease the all-seeing eyes of the "high maintenance" people at the front desk. She asked if they'd given me any trouble.

At the hotel we take the mattress off the springs and she asked me if I wanted to do anything. I just said "Sleep."

She lay on the box springs, saying, "Don't worry, I'm comfortable up here."

...

Minutes later, she said, "How do you sleep?"

"Well," I said, "sometimes I lie on my stomach like this; sometimes on my side, my back; whatever's comfortable."

She said, "Do you toss and turn alot?"

She said, "Okay, this is not comfortable so I'll just come down there and sleep by the wall, and you can have that side." She brought down her blankets, lying beside me.

She said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to try to do anything sexual to you!"

With finality, she said, "Good night!" She reached out and slapped me in what turned out to be the most ironic place possible.

Day 96 ended: Room 2xx, the Quest Inn

Monday, February 16, 2009

September 25, Part 1: Enter Winnipeg

Winnipeg doesn't seem so big from the river.

If anything, I was surprised how many more places there were inside the official city limits that might have made good camping. Large wooded areas indicated isolated city parks. Islands formed in the river, around bridge pilings both current and past.

The houses and fenced yards gave way to apartment buildings. A man at river left threw a plastic bag into the river, and I saw where it accumulated with his other droppings. He had a tent made out of tarps there, living in the city. Not the first such rat I'd seen, but it seemed so much more wasteful, so blatantly predatory, compared to Calvin of Brandon.

Improvised dirt trails braided around the sides of the river, just missing the litterbug's tent, and grew into paved riverwalks and plazas filled with people, some out jogging, others out on lunch break.

I was in downtown Winnipeg, city founded at the meeting of the great rivers of southern Manitoba. Here the Assiniboine empties into the Red River of the North, which flows on into Lake Winnipeg and then the Hudson Bay.

My route, however, lay south. When I arrived in the city, as soon as practicable I had stopped to buy a map and try to figure out where I could store my canoe. I was interested in seeing the city, and also uncertain how I was going to get south to the Mississippi River. There was some possibility I could find a trucker to take me to Minneapolis, or I could get out of the water and try to bike some distance, or I could head upstream on the Red River.

I would start the upstream trip immediately. I found a listing for a Winnipeg canoe club about two miles south on the Red River, so it was time to press upstream for the first time during my trip.

The Red River is wide and powerful. A wind from out of the south did not help. I paddled hard. I had to cross the Transcanada Highway yet again. This time, the arches tunnelled the wind against me and it took all my strength to keep the boat under control and push through the bridge.

The two miles took 45 minutes of paddling, which isn't too bad, considering. When I got to the canoe club I parked my boat out on the dock, got out and walked up to the club. I walked all around the club building and checked out their dragon boats before deciding that they must be closed. So then it was back north on the Red to the canoe club neighbors, the Redboine Boating Club. There I received permission to leave my canoe out by their blue shed.

I would have to find someplace to spend the night in this city, so I filled my backpack with clothes and books, and was securing my food in front when I saw something crawling around in my oatmeal. It scurried into a plastic bag, which I tied up and pulled out of the boat, coming face to face with a giant rat.

I should have just stabbed it there but I took it out on the docks where a worker was repainting the white stripes. He said we should just try to drown it, and so he took the rat bag from me, and held it under the water, under the dock. The first try was no good so he pulled it out and retied it, then submerged the rat again. The creature went wild under the river, thrashing it around. When he pulled the bag back up there was nothing in it but holes.

We had just released a rat in this dock with all these expensive motorboats, my gift in exchange for letting me stay.

I wished String was there. She would have known what to do.

Day 96 continues.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

September 24: Camp Manitou

Camp Manitou is just outside western Winnipeg, but the suburbs here already line the river on both sides. Before I got into Winnipeg proper, I thought it would be a good idea to stop at the campground for the night, make some phone calls about what to do with my canoe while I was in Winnipeg, and get myself cleaned up for the city as well.

The dock for the campground stuck out at river left, somehow immediately recognizable as public despite little visual distinction from the private docks owned by every other building on the river. Perhaps it was the thicker woods, or the larger area, but I have seen some significant docks connected to private acreages too.

I walked up the wood steps to the campground where I could hear only the clanging of a flagpole, and somewhere, the barking of a dog. To my right was a cluster of cabins, all but two were locked. One was full of tables. The other was the art cabin, and its sink refused to give the treated water I wanted.

On the left side of the campground, gathered around the clanging flagpole were the gathering places of this group campground. There was a giant mess hall and activity center, and the maintenance shed as well, all locked. A big empty swimming pool was gated off, and there was a garden, with the gate in its fence conspicuously open.

Further on, there was a regular two-story house, with a wooden sign on the front, "Bob's Place". I knocked on Bob's door, rang Bob's ordinary doorbell, and knocked again, over a period of some hours, but Bob, the caretaker of the place, was not there.

I walked the road to the campground's land entrance, which was closed by a locked chain-link gate.

Given the circumstances, I did what anyone would do. I ran the ropes course.

I couldn't ride the zip line at the beginning, since the "zip" part was packed away somewhere, but I walked the low tightrope, clambered over the hanging wood beams and climbed over the wooden barriers for an hour, all the while expecting that barking dog to come running out of the distance at me. In that case, I would need all these climbing skills.

I set up my tent at the top of the dock stairs and peed in the bushes there because the bathrooms were locked.

I never did see anyone there.

Day 95 ended: 49*51.964N, 097*20.818W

Saturday, February 14, 2009

September 23: Tough night

Too many people and too much mud. Explosions on the river: invisible bullets flew over through the trees. I couldn't tell where they were coming from, could not see any people bearing firearms. I alternated between trying to stay as visible as possible and hoping the banks would provide some cover.

The sun was declining, I could not find any campsites and some amplified doorbell ding-donged over the river. What song was it playing? What was setting it off? Why was it so ear-splitting?

The bend in the river past the doorbell offered a tiny inbank of mud-covered gravel. I had to bend over the weeds that grew there to provide any footprint for my tent. The site was unnatural; there was a dirt road across the river and only a neglected area of bushes and trees stood between me and the doorbell of doom.

It began to rain that night, hard. The wind picked up and so did the lightning, which came down all around me. Unlike the Saskatchewan summer storms that banged around mostly in the cloudtops, some of these strikes were close. After one flash I could not even count to one before the thunder shook the doorbell's memory from my mind. I remembered the conservation officer from Virden who had been struck by lightning; his first thought on waking was that he had died and gone to hell.

There were no trees over my tent; the brush was too thick to approach them and it was too late to move anyway. The only thing was to lie in bed.

My sleep was broken by half-awake nightmares where, still laying in the tent, I seemed to grow forked limbs and slowly grow into robotic material while a voice asked, "This is what you want, isn't it?" Deeper sleep came and went. It was still filled with nightmares fed by rain and electricity.

Fed up with the pain I woke again and again, forcing myself through the layers of the unconscious until I had woken up so often I was actually awake. I bundled up against the cold night and drank some clean water, but did not sleep again.

In the morning it was still raining and I did not have the energy to do anything but read in my tent until the storm finally broke.

Day 94 ended: 49*52.043N, 097*29.337W

Flour kills

Memories of flour
Minneapolis has spent most of its history exploding.
In 1878 the Washburn "A" Mill, then the second largest flour mill in Minneapolis, exploded. A spark ignited the seven stories of suspended flour, blowing the lid off the building and destroying a third of Minneapolis's industrial capacity.

The Washburn "A" Mill was rebuilt, better, stronger, faster than before, and ran until the 1960's. In 1991 the building caught fire again. Preservationists took charge of the property and today the Mill City Museum stands on the site.

Friday, February 13, 2009

September 22: Legs and arms

A goose crouches on the riverbank, unable to join its compatriots' migration. A lone white insect floats over the surface of the water, having missed its species bloom by two weeks. A canoeist, living on the river for three months exactly.

What lonely things should we discuss today? We'll let E M Forster be our muse:

"Furniture ... alone endures while men and houses perish, and that in the end the world will be a desert of chairs and sofas -- just imagine it! -- rolling through infinity with no one to sit upon them."

You see them all along the river, often paired but never mated. Office chairs, mostly, that have outlived their fashion or comfort, or are simply old. I commonly see discarded bait boxes or tackle, and even chests containing who-knows-what. I believe everyone who owns riverside property has established some poor seat overlooking it from which to fish.

Sofas are not much less common, and are often in surprisingly good shape considering weather. The fates of office chairs are individual and mysterious, but sofas have more public destinies. The water will rise and snatch them away, it seems, and take them to some more scenic resting place - sans cushions, of course! They are often found face down under bridges, but I have at least once seen a sofa perched high in a tree, embraced by the branches of its distant cousin.

The nylon lawn chairs seem to fare the worst, but this is something a true scientist should test. Of these I rarely see more than a folding frame swaddled in rotting fabric, collapsed upon the bank. The white plastic ones do better, regular seafarers it seems, finding some pile of branches to rest in.

Best are the congregations, the multitudes of seats -- I exaggerate -- the half-dozens of chairs half-circled about some point near the water. Typically the central chair even sits higher than the others, as on a little hillock. So we know that even at the bottom rungs of its society, furniture maintains some social hierarchy.

And Forster is right: these seats are always empty, and slowly rolled by rivers to the sea. We can only hope that once there they are put to good use, that somewhere schools of fish study at discarded desks, sharks sleep in loveseats, and lionfish-tamers do their work with a chair and whip.

When the oceans are full, then we shall be buried in furniture. Before the end we will construct castles and oceanside villas out of the cushion, as we did when we were children, but before long it will become difficult to navigate: "Oh, turn left at the chesterfield, climb down five oak chairs and then take each right until you see the pink leather loveseat: we live behind the next roll-top desk."

Day 93 ended: 49*58.053N, 097*39.362W

(I apologize for the late post today. My written journal says "I typed up a pretty awful journal for Sept 22", and the filename for this typed journal indicated the entry was incomplete. I was loathing the thought of fixing up this awful, incomplete entry so much I put it off until now, when pulling it up in my text editor I found... this.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

September 21: The growing hordes

I saw a flock of gulls and could not make out what they were doing. As high as they were, and as erratic the swarm, they resembled insects more than birds. As they circled round they flashed light and dark, top and bottom in the sun.

There was no overall direction, although my bird book listed them as a migratory species in the region. There was no obvious food in the water or the air; instead, they played in the wind and as I passed under the center of the group they formed a "donut hole" above my head.

When fleeing, gulls make fairly individual decisions. It is a strange fact that birds do not seem to pay much attention to the flight of other species, so I might see the geese fly off first, then the cormorants, then gulls, and pelicans; and always last if they even do flee, are the "fearless": the sandpipers. I had been seeing largely geese and gulls so they were the easiest to contrast. Geese always fly away as flocks, simultaneously. Sometimes I do see a goose or two start to fly off alone, but you can see their embarrassment when the rest do not follow, so they land immediately, pretending not to be afraid.

I never see an embarrassed gull. They make their own choices, and as I approach a flock of gulls sitting on the shore there is a gradual wave of flight as I broach their individual personal spaces.

This did not help me understand the donut flying above my head, however.

Later, I saw two hunters with rifles, dressed in jeans and baggy t-shirts; I guess they were kids but I could not see them clearly. Near my campsite I heard raucous young men drive by in 4-wheelers. I attended to my cooking to show I felt I had a right to be there and wasn't worried about kids running around with guns. At least I tried to convince myself this. I was glad the next day would be a Monday and there would not be so many people running around.

Day 92 ended: 50*02.398N, 097*52.004W

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Porcupine

Porcupine

He hid behind the grass and his spines. He wasn't afraid of me, but not too intent on cuddling, either.

September 20: Back filled with quills

I saw two couples at river right. Fishing or just sitting? There appeared to be a rod. Hutterites, I thought. The girl, Pamela, at the Portage la Prairie art gallery had suggested I try to meet some.

Hutterites are communal anabaptists, like Old Order Mennonites and Amish. Living by the second chapter of Acts, they renounce violence, hold all things communally in their colonies, and carefully manage the technology in their lives. Cell phones are in; televisions are out.

I have seen them around, visiting Calgary or the small towns I've stopped in, but had not met any. The mean wear dark clothes, but the women can wear colorful patterns in medium blue or red.

I waved uncertainly to them, but noticed no response. As I got closer, I called out to them, "Hello, are you fishing?"

They were. They called out to me that I was about to hit their lines, transparently winding down into the water. I just missed them and then I briefly explained about my trip, what I was up to, where I came from, and where I was going.

It was difficult yelling at each other over the wind, over the water, over the accents. One of the rambunctious women called out as I drifted away. Whether encouragement or invitation I couldn't know. I just smiled at her until they were gone, behind the curve of the river.

Something didn't sit right with me. It wasn't much of a conversation and I had any number of things to ask them about their culture, had I the opportunity. This business of trying to shout at people over the water didn't seem like any way to meet anyone. If I had pulled over the canoe, got out and tried to strike up a conversation, what's the worst that might have happened? I should try to talk to everyone I see. There aren't too many, and mostly on weekends.

Not half an hour further down a white-haired man fished with three grandsons. "Don't forget the worms!" one shouted, waking me from the book I was reading. But I didn't go talk to them.

I found an unexpectedly sandy beach somewhere after the Transcanada Highway, so excitedly set up my tent on the clean shore. A porcupine fed in the grass nearby, a spiky monkey pulling down plants with its paws to chew on the leaves.

He was the only animal that did not bother to run away from me, and I wondered how close I could get, and how useful it would be on occasion to have quills on my own back.

Day 91 ended: 49*58.902N, 098*05.547W

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

September 19: Escape from Portage la Prairie

Since I had tried the routes to the east and west of the oxbow lake out of town, I decided to see if I could find a path south through Portage la Prairie's Island Park back to my canoe. "Island Park" is a misnomer. It is simply the center of the oxbow lake, connected by land in the south. There is a single bridge in the northeast connnecting it to town. I hoped to find some route to my shining path in the south.

I got as far south as a white pickup, parked at a dead end which also had a middle-aged man in a flannel shirt, and a small dog with cute curly hair and a cute temper when it comes to bicycles. The man called the dog off of me and drove away in the white pickup. I couldn't getaway so fast. It was obvious when riding over the grass to escape from the dog that my rear wheel was flat for the third time of the day. It had been gimpy for a while but it finally refused to hold any air. Considering how long it took last time to fix it, I figured it would be quicker just to walk it back to the canoe.

Figuring out how to get there was the hard part. I walked back the way I had ridden, using the "left-hand rule" to try to find a route down to the south. That is, always take left turns, and turn around at any dead-ends. After about three dead ends I realized walking was going to be far too slow to find the Southern Passage, so I would have to head north, past the old fighter jet overlooking the lake, over the bridge, and back onto the Community Pathway.

At some point I had a rule that I hated all cities the first day, and loved them the second. This wasn't really working in Manitoba, though. I loved Brandon all the time I was there, but I still had not come to grips with Portage. The town seems to be missing most of its sidewalks, and drivers seem to treat pedestrians as obstructions anyway, gunning it through intersections to avoid stopping for walkers. While cycling into town, I could not get any cars to pass me at a safe distance regardless of whether I rode right, center, or left in the lane. It was frightening.

"Left!" a man yelled behind me, annoyed at this person walking his bike on the all-important Community Walkway. He cut in front of me on his hundred-dollar dual suspension mountain bike, with the seat all the way down so he had to ride frog-legge and fat. He was fat! Arg, but that wasn't important.

Not one single person in Portage la Prairie was interested in the Brompton. This is not a matter of demographics but the spirit of the city. In Brandon everyone stopped me to ask questions about it, young and old, rich and poor, natives and immigrants, single men and single mothers. Portage is all cheap mountain bikes, rusty ten speeds and silly cruisers. No one probably knows enough about bikes to notice it.

No one in the town seemed happy. Mumbling waiters who can't listen right even to get a tip -- hey, I only asked for $2 back, and he gave me everything back. I managed to shove some of it back in his direction, but not as much as he would have gotten if he had actually listened to me instead of just mindlessly going through the motions. And I don't know how many times I had to repeat to the hotel agent that I was canoeing for her to understand that I had no car. Even the woman at the art gallery, who understood about the canoeing park, still told me I should "drive" here, and "drive" there.

That isn't fair. The women in the art gallery seemed happy, and why not? They had to be proud of the quality of the art exhibit they could put on in such a small town. I had to think hard about who else I had seen that didn't seem utterly depressed. There were two in the art gallery, and the two park workers who helped me portage. Two young, native fishermen I met at the park were positively blissful. I don't know if that park should count, though; it's outside city limits.

I did witness one spontaneous outbreak of joy. My first night I had made it to the library just before closing time, and there was a girl leaving, twelve or thirteen. She checked out and broke into a huge smile, saying "I just looooooove books!" She had glasses and pigtails. No, maybe she was Hutterite. It is hard to tell. The gloom of Portage presses in on this memory and I can't recall if she had braids or a kerchief, wore a dress or jeans. The gloom set in immediately.

"I know you do," croaked a librarian, almost sarcastically. The bookgirl was one of maybe half a dozen people who could save the city from divine wrath and she was unknowingly mocked by one of the people she might have loved.

The library was new and in nice condition on the outside. Patrons are limited to six books out at one time, and are charged for checking out DVD's. One woman wanted to check out two DVD's, and that would have costed $6. She didn't have the cash, only Interac, her debit card, which the library doesn't take. She considered running out to an ATM, but then just said, "Oh, forget it." I thought the librarian was happy that her discs would avoid the psosibility of extra scratches.

I could go on. A woman had difficulty renewing her card because she didn't have a driver's license, and of course how can you read if you can't drive? Two native men wanted to use the internet terminals, but were turned away for not having picture ID. Maybe this is normal, but it seemed like a lot of incidents in such a short period of time. Maybe the men were lucky, though. This is the only library I've been that actually charges people to use the computers.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I was now walking alongside Crescent Road. I was told in the art gallery to keep my eye out for a statue of a bird on top of a tree. I had seen it in the distance, over the woods, but as it got closer I was thinking about the library, and remembered my brief, fragmented chat with Shawnti. She had said the event that had caused me so much grief on Day 45, the killing of the boy on the bus, had happened in Portage la Prairie.

Wait, that was in Portage la Prairie?

Was that why everyone was so gloomy? Surely that couldn't be the only reason. The fur traders used to have about a 15 mile portage from the Assiniboine up to Lake Manitoba here, and they used to carry everything on tumplines, which put all the weight of their gear nd merchandise on their foreheads. That is not the happiest origin of a town name.

I had thought the violent act was entirely due to the strange internal workings of the mind, but what if it was actually more based on the sad clouds of the environment? What kind of legal precedent would that establish when the verdict comes down "Not guilty by reason of Portage la Prairie"?

It had been very warm the last couple of days, and I walked in shorts and short sleeves. Mosquitoes rose out of the mowed grass and speckled my arms and legs, their stings surprisingly blunt and painful, like shots of poisonous medicine.

"I've got to get out of town," I thought.

"I've got to get out of town before I kill someone!"

Day 90 ended: 49*56.395N, 098*14.028W

I can't just leave it there. The girl at the art gallery had wanted to call the newspaper, and I refused adamantly. Eddy Harris and Matthew Mohlke, when they met with newspapers, had both felt the tedium of waiting for the reporters to arrive, and then seeing their epic personal quests cut down to soundbites, to five minute feel-good stories. The girl had said, "Well, it's just such a big deal for this town," and I couldn't see why. Why should the people in town care what someone who was passing through was doing?

Well, the murderer and his victim were both just passing through, too. It really wasn't Portage's fault that event happened there.

I had a little light, this idea that yes, you can go out there and do things, strange things, that it is safe enough, that there is adventure and excitement to be had in this world, and a newspaper would reduce that light to just a faint glimmer. A spark might be just enough to give someone a bearing in the night, but I hid my flame under the bushel.

Monday, February 9, 2009

September 18: The shining path

I've decided that the best way to get to know a town is to walk it first. Otherwise the sights move too fast and there is no time to take it in, to get a feel for the place under the feet. The feet tell you how far apart everything is, the eyes and ears show what kind of people live here.

For the second night in three months I had a bed; I took out a hotel room, perhaps only because Murray in Brandon had mentioned staying there, and so it seemed like a good idea to try the strange life of sleeping in bed, showering in the morning, and, uh, washing clothes in the tub.

I still needed to get back to my bed, though. It had been a long day. As you might expect, the portage was difficult. The string of white buoys did little to indicate the severity of the dam. In Saskatchewan a drop of even a couple of feet was always accompanied by a warning sign at least as tall as me, and often orange barriers across the waterway as well. This innocent string of buoys, however, is all that floats between an innocent paddler and a fifty foot drop. The portage nearly finished off the frame that holds those wheels to the boat.

So then I had rented the room and walked into town, which was a couple miles away. Getting out would be tougher. I decided to go around the other side of Crescent Lake, the large oxbow lake in the south of town. I didn't start until 8 o'clock, and the sun was setting.

That was okay, though. The "Community Walkway", as they call it, skims around the outside of the lake and is well lit. I followed it around west. According to the visitor's guide, there are "several accesses", which are nothing more than asphalt strips with painted lines across the street, as if pedestrians will only walk on asphalt between painted lines.

Oh, look! A salamander! It was thick as my thumb and longer than my finger. It stood still and raised a spotted tail towards the sky. Somehow it made that tail look so appetizing even I was tempted to lean over and snap at it. It was not the only salamander. I counted four, all sitting in the middle of the pathway, perfectly still, although only the first raised its tail like that.

Oh, amphibians. There were three frogs too. Cold blooded creatures that jump far too late to escape any decent predator, or perhaps pedestrian. I felt something crunch under my foot, but convinced myself it was only a clod of dirt.

The Walkway fed into residential streets with no sidewalks and few lights. I followed the streets through turns: left, right, left, right, until I was walking into a minor footpath. It started in the middle of the street and was shaded by trees. I guess my way was already too well-lit, anyway.

The path was white, limestone, I assumed, and just bright enough I could see it although the trees sheltered all else in black. Black, black, oh, the path! I had little idea where this path would go, other than some hope it would lead me to bed.

I knew the moon was only a couple days waning so it would be coming up soon, but until then I could only follow the path blind to all else, just following that white road. A creek was at my left-hand side, and I heard some major animal, like a stegosaurus or possibly a beaver struggling in there as I passed. A number of goblins hopped off the path as I walked down it. Eventually I came to a fork: straight or left?

I needed a bearing, but the trees to apparent north were too tall for me to find Polaris. I found Betelgeuse easily enough, and took it as roughly south. There was still a bit of glow to the west, but that would fade soon, and besides, was difficult to distinguish from the city lights. There was a spotlight to the apparent north-west, but how could I know how close it was?

My hotel was to the southwest, across the Transcanada Highway, which was roaring... to the south. I didn't need a visual bearing, I could just walk towards the noise. I turned left, still following that white path, sure that stepping off of it was like stepping off the world.

The path crossed the creek, but the bridge was not white. It was a dark grate, and I could just see the water splashing below and to the sides. There was nothing to do but hope that the grate was true, and walk across to the shining path on the opposite side.

My path did not lead to the hotel. It stopped suddenly, dead-ending in the darkness. As I stepped off the end I saw the moon rise in the east, a small chunk eaten from its right side. There was a dirt road here.

The dirt road led through a grove of mysterious trees, all different sizes but the same shape, and not the Christmas one. Could fruit really be grown in Manitoba? Where am I? But the answer would not come, for soon I was out on the north outer road, and then running across the Transcanada Highway, and then sauntering down the south service road to the hotel, and there to bed.

Day 89 ended: 49*57.044N, 098*19.345W

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Voyageurs in my veins"

I was curious whether I'm the only one in living memory to have canoed the Qu'Appelle River, and it turns out I am not. I found this article "Voyageurs in my veins" by Jean-Philippe Bourgeois. He describes how in 1996 he and Alain Bourbeau canoed the estimated 3700 miles from Calgary to Montreal, taking the southern route. Alain had never slept in a tent before this trip.

This is a great, well-written article, and I enjoyed comparing their experiences with mine. For instance, the discovery of the Qu'Appelle:

At the top, I look east, and see no water. If the river's there, it's hiding down in the trees. So I climb down the far side of the dam, on the left side, where my map indicates the channel picks up. I see no water.

I look down at my feet. The Qu'Appelle is a drainage ditch, and empty.

I knew this was a possibility, but I honestly didn't think it would come to this.

-- Kevin Saff, from Little boy lost.

Atlases differed because of the dam which backs water up, the South-Saskatchewan either joined up with the Qu'Appelle or it didn't, leaving a huge gap. An earth dyke separates the two systems.

Alain, through a deviant lack of shared information from my part, did not share my anxiety. We paddled from Calgary to Winnipeg using the "Canadian Tire Road Guide to North-America". Page 112 failed to reveal where the anticipated link with the Qu'Appelle was.

Standing on top of the dyke, we peered into the horizon and saw nothing but a few cows, ankle deep in a mud puddle, the only water in sight.

--Jean-Philippe Bourgeois, from Voyageurs in my veins.

Their Qu'Appelle met this disappointing first impression more than mine did. For the first five days, they had to pull the canoe over the muddy river bottom, in water never exceeding four inches. Their photo of the Qu'Appelle is horrifying. I was so lucky to do this in a high water year.

The entire article is worth reading. Their experience in Ontario, which I never got to, sounded surprisingly similar to mine on the Mississippi.

Airplane in Island Park

Portage la Prairie
Oops. I meant to post a blog entry every day, but I accidentally skipped this one. So instead I will post this photo of an airplane I saw in Portage la Prairie, the town which is the subject of the next two posts. I have started posting some other photos as well, not in any particular order.

While I'm here, I may as well mention the ads you might have noticed running all around the page now. I had an ad up during the blog's hiatus that pulled in a couple bucks, so considering that I don't have enough work right now I am going to see if I can pull in any real money with content rolling again. Let me know if these get too annoying. I am thinking of writing up summaries of the OLPC, Brompton, and other things targeted to certain communities in the hopes of pulling in a couple waves of people.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

September 17: POWER

Human beings are accustomed to feeling powerless. It is their uniqueness versus all the world, all of society. It is this powerlessness that makes us moan in pain against all the injustices perceived against us. And it is this powerlessness that makes us fight back, to use our power against the forces of the world.

We underestimate our powers.

Since few people are doing what I am doing, it is a struggle to proceed when society is not well structured for this kind of journey. Witness my anger at Buffalo Pound Lake. In ranting against big lawns and camper trailers I am using the power I have, and must be careful.

North American culture is enamored with this kind of trip. I have power because what I am doing is valued by society in a way they can relate to. I get free meals, lifts past dams, and other kinds of help. And, well, I like it too. I want to be able to encourage people, showing there are other ways of using space and time available to them if they want it. I belive these ways can be good for them and for the land. But I must be careful not to use my power as judgment against them. I have youth, freedom, and resourcefulness to do this, and while these are not necessary they are helpful.

So, I must use this power to encourage, not to judge. A difficult thing. Since we rarely recognize our power it gallops along without control, steamrolling the powerless mercilessly.

Day 88 ended: 49*52.718N, 098*23.943W

Friday, February 6, 2009

September 16: Bob Crain

Bob Crain builds glass houses.

I suppose one day he was taking out the trash and noticed all the bottles. He realized he had a problem and decided to make something of himself. Or just the bottles.

Somewhere in southern Manitoba he started stacking them up. I don't know what he used for mortar, but he built a house with his addiction. When that was done he built a church out of bottles, and I guess that fixed him because he stopped there, with his house and church whistling in the wind.

I don't know how they are positioned, or how the sun glares off the surface at dawn or dusk. I don't know how tall, or wide, or deep those buildings stand. I don't know if they are close to each other, or far.

I did know they were ten miles from the Assiniboine and my bike had a gimpy tire.

The tire could have been fixed, or at least managed. The distance was not great but harder to negotiate. I did not want to see Bob Crain's glass bottle houses, so intriguing on my map and I did not see them.

I negotiated with myself. It's okay not to see everything. If you try to, you won't anyway. I could build something myself. A tribute to Bob Crain and his construction out of destruction.

Once while at a retreat stationed around a muddy lake, I went down to the lake and saw all the twisted rebar and concrete slabs there, and decided to build. I started with sundials and ended with cities five foot tall. I was the master of time and space, and pants of mud covered my legs.

It was joyous to build, knowing that these buildings would not last. In those days I hated photography and every attempt to preserve the passing world as if anything were permanent.

I could do it again, I thought, bargaining on the river. I won't go to Bob but I'll bring his spirit here.

The bargain made I passed under the bridge to Bob's house.

And, you know, I did not build my cities after all.

Day 87 ended: 49*45.265N, 098*29.262W

Thursday, February 5, 2009

September 15: Snow Geese

I saw three snow geese.

A large flock of crows.

Maybe two hundred.

Drifting down the river is so passive, waiting for the next thing to show up.

Sometimes,
nothing does.

Day 86 ended: 49*45.486N, 098*42.572W

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

[LIVE] What's going on

Okay, so it turns out I've got this blog about a little floating adventure.

Tomorrow, February 5 I turn 29 years old and the next post will go up.

Just to warn you, that one is rather short but some long ones are going up after that. Some of these I wrote on the river, some I just typed up here.

Here is Minneapolis. I am still carving out a life for myself. I am tutoring some Somali students in mathematics and volunteering at Leonardo's Basement. I'm still looking for a job that will keep me in the black, but I'm eating better and staying warmer than I was out on the Mississippi.

I am still planning to finish.