By Douglas Ringer 2009
Amex vignettes? Well yes, these are for the enormous cauldron that still is bubbling away in the campfire of my mind, filled with an alphabet soup of unforgettable fragments culled from those so many Amex personalities and those so many jobs. Multi-coloured fragments, or mosaic like shards that I know that my memory collected and put carefully wrapped in my treasure chest of experiences, because it seemed my memory found so much to treasure in that moment… but the totality of that particular job has gone on a long walk about. These bits and pieces though still remain and cover what I found to be profoundly funny, full of the rollicking silly, the hopefully not to serious, the mind-bogglingly stupidity and, naturally, the totally incomprehensible.
Amex was a universe unto itself and, like our infinite homes, possessed all the wonderful complexity that nature and humans could conjure up and… speaking for myself… these delightful vignettes must have had that very special something because at 62 they are still firmly embedded and I am still chortling. Over this time they may be chronologically misplaced, burnished up a little but the essence remains.
That sinking feeling
This first one still brings a big smile to my face. This is somewhere in the Highland Valley, Logan Lake area in that busy time of summer, 1969. It’s a grid and I’m working with Gary Lyall and we are doing some exemplary lines in which we both were taking great pride in. They were not just “lines” they were masterpieces of well placed flagging, pickets that you would want to take home to and show your girlfriend, blazes that were like stars on a dark night, compassed lines so straight that plumb bobs became redundant and so well cut out that even the most disparaging geologist would have given them the nod.
It’s a really hot day and on one of our lines we come to a small lake and have to naturally stop although, in theory, the mapped end of the line would have ended up on the far side of the lake. We sit down and do the cig thing and Gary starts giggling. He has a vision that has tickled his funny bone. “Hey Doug, lets run out and put as many pickets as we can out into the lake. That will really blow the geologist mind.” I thought that great fun too. After all it was a hot, hot day and we would dry off quick enough and I had become totally inured and indifferent to walking in wet-soaked-damp, work boots.
So off we go and cut 3 very long pickets, spruce them up and write the line numbers down on them. Slowly Gary starts wading into the lake. It was, so Gary reported, not too gooey on the bottom and it didn’t seem to have a surprising drop off, as yet. He gets out about 25 feet. The water is about thigh level and I call chain. Gary sticks in our extra long picket and I wade out to the picket while Gary continues out.
The water is now slowly climbing up over his waist when he begins to gradually sink. The bottom seems to have developed a quick-sand effect and he quickly realizes he’s losing it. He knows he has a few decisions to make quickly. As the water creeps up, he thinks first of the cigarettes in his front shirt pocket…pulls them out…and holds them high in the air. Cigs in one hand, axe and picket in the other, he looks like a torpedoed ship, continuing to leisurely sink. He does manage to extract himself , but in doing so, had to reluctantly admit that he would have to use both hands and that something precious would have to be sacrificed.
On this particular day I know exactly the date and where I was.
Millions of others know it too.
It was the 20th of July, 1969. For some reason in that busy summer working for Amex I found myself back in Kamloops on some days off which were needed to replenish your bush wardrobe, doing the socials and trying to be as unproductive as possible. You were tanking up for your next 12 rounder with the bush.
These few days off must have been planned in heaven because on one of those days the Americans were going to land on the moon. I had been sitting in Mum’s living room watching the TV since the morning to witness this stunning, historical event and could not believe how long it was taking and was getting a little antsy. It was a beautiful Kamloops summer day out side and I was hoping, not only to witness this historic sight but to meet up with a few friends…have the chats and quaff a few. As it was now the late afternoon it seemed that the Eagle was getting close to landing.
Just as the Eagle seems to be getting close to landing on the moon the phone rings. It’s Ab! “I guess you are watching the moon landing, eh? Sorry to bother you but I got a bit of a panic thing here. Can you grab a taxi and head over here? Pick up a truck, drive to Ashcroft-Wallichin and pick Frosty up and he’ll take it from there.” I was naturally shocked and more than surprised to find out that Ab, himself, was not ensconced in his living room sofa, surrounded by Ella and the kids, engrossed in this incredible event. Did the exigencies of that busy summer not leave him with time to witness this historical happening? Now telling the Eagle to hold up a bit…I got a taxi and headed over to Ab’s place.
Ab was quite apologetic and all…but I’m trying to hurry things up a bit and get back home and plus, I must confess, as well, that a little shot of anticipation was dancing through me…as this would be the first time that I had ever driven a 4 by 4! I felt I had graduated from being a mere passenger, who had to experience the oft scary-whimsical driving skills of others and now , potentially in some future, perhaps, had the power to get in a little pay-back and scare the day-lights out of those kind lads who had played havoc with my fear factors.
Scenarios like, “Going a little too fast for you…am I? Gee, please don’t put any deep, finger indentations in the dash, Ab won’t be pleased. Or, perhaps: Oh, sorry about that. I didn’t really see that heavily loaded logging truck coming around that ever so dangerously, narrow, 90 degree, wash-board, boulder-strewn bend. I was just gazing out the rear view mirror and admiring our dust plume. I think there is a creek up ahead where I can stop and you can tidy up a bit. Did you bring a change of underwear?”
I saddled up that 4 by 4, mounted, and headed off home. I ran into the house but they didn’t wait for me! The Eagle had already landed! Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon and voiced those big steps for humankind. Edwin Aldrin had also bounced around. I was probably crossing The Overlander’s Bridge when Armstrong’s foot first touched the moon’s surface. Of course, there were ceaseless replays…but was it the same?
Have to add this short offering. I could not really remember some crucial facts about Colin Macdonald’s 1969 summer job with Laura Mines and other later details so, I sent off my queries. He was kind enough to send me the asked for details and I was more than surprised to find out that Colin was not stuck deep into the green charms of the Highland Valley when the Eagle landed… but watched it in the cosy comfort of a Cache Creek motel.
This event still sticks in my mind and, can to this day, raise within me a little discomfort. A little discomfort, because it brought to the surface those rather ugly emotions that we all have deep within us…laying in wait for just that right moment to come bubbling up like an artesian well. These emotions are tied very closely to the ever strong survival instinct and we have in reality read about them and truly know they can happen. Most have seen the old movie “The Goldrush,” with a starving Charlie Chaplin up in Alaska boiling a shoe for dinner and his much bigger partner wanting badly to eat him.
It has happened where a group of people have been stranded way out in the middle of no where, with out food, and after a week or two your companions begin to look like a large platter of Big Macs with copious loads of greasy fries.
We know of some of these stories and probably have played the game of…”What would I do?” and, I think way, way back in that emotional cauldron you have probably realized that in a dire situation, that, your companion’s well turned thigh, might, just perhaps, look delicious on your mind’s menu. Terrible thoughts and they do, indeed, make me to this day feel uncomfortable.
On this day in question when these frightening emotions arose in me they had nothing at all to do with food but “water.” Normally, in the Highland Valley, water wasn’t a big problem. There were creeks of all sizes, lakes or swamps where one could quench one’s thirst. Normally, I say, because surprisingly there were one or two days… and I was not prepared for them…when it was hot and no water was to be found. It was a treed desert! I noticed, that emotionally, this was very, very upsetting to me because to drink the blood of my compass man seemed uncivilized.
Realizing, that I tended to sweat, and lose water in litres while carving out those lines, water, was my prime thought most of the time.”Beverage,” is such a beautiful word! Before the Amex experience, a friend, had noticed my almost obsessive need for water when the day waxed hot. He suggested, that when I was reincarnated, that I really should ask to come back as a water buffalo.
I remedied that whole problem, and eased my mind a lot, by investing in a canteen. Until that fateful day, I thought all was hunky-dory. It was another hot, hot day and I was now compassing and was given a long, long line which, with the time needed to walk in, would no doubt, take the whole day. I’m guessing here but I think it was around 6000 or 7000 feet and I had no idea what kind gifts the line was to give me.
My partner was a French Canadian lad called, Gil, who I had never worked with before. He was new blood and I think, he had only worked a couple of days for Ab and his English skills were similar, to my French skills.
We started off and did the big walk in and got located at our base line origin. I took my first shot and plunged downward into a deep creek crevasse and at about 400 feet down I came to a lovely, bubbling brook. We had a smoke break. Drank deep from its soothing waters and I naturally replenished my canteen. Then we headed off and it was another 400 feet, panting upwards until I crested and found myself standing on a rock outcrop with a commanding view that was absolutely stunning!
Jesus! I was on a promontory where I could look way down on the highway between Merritt and Spence’s Bridge. I could see tiny cars wending their way up and down the highway and an occasional blue tinkle of the Nicola River running merrily away to Spence’s Bridge. Another one of those… it doesn’t come any better views.
I took another compass shot to get some idea of what we were up against and it looked liked for some distance that we would be walking pretty much along these exposed bluffs. Not much vegetation and finding material for pickets was going to be fun. Up above us, you could see where the woods started to thicken up a bit and, I thought, that maybe it could be nicer up there, shadier and maybe a tad cooler.
From what I could see of the first bit of this line there would not be much blazing but we would need lots of flagging and hoped that we had brought enough. It was starting to get real hot and I was beginning to get that egg, frying on a Kamloops’ sidewalk feeling. Thought about having a drink but decided not to…brave it out a few feet. I thought, as well, that there must be some cascade , cooling creek up ahead lying in wait for us. Who knew?
So starting off the first 500 feet of terrain was quite reasonable… a little of this, and a little of that. I noticed, as well, that Gil was having a hard time keeping up and I had to make a pause or two to compensate for that. Plus, in this rather bare area, he was not so imaginative about what would do for a picket. He did lots of Gallic shrugs and many,” Tabernacs!.” They are so special!
It did not take so long before within the next 3000 feet or so and that we began to be really mentally and physically challenged .The line of bluffs that kept on running were getting quite dramatic and my rock climbing skills, dreadfully basic due to a fear of heights were really slowing me down.
The sun was now eliminating any resemblance to B.C. and I was now somewhere trapped out in the Khalahari. Mirages with palms swaying and deep pools of cold water began to cloud my senses. Amazingly, I could hear water running everywhere except where I was. The Nicola River, far below, was so tantalizing. It was so, so tempting to launch off those bluffs into a half gainer of joy and plunge into its beckoning sweetness.
The terrain became steeper in places and was harder to find ways to get up and off the bluffs…then plunging into a gully and crawling back up on your hands and knees. This was now pretty thirsty, slow going and I knew that the straightness of this line was not going to win any compassing awards. Today, I still hope that no one ever looked for that line.
Fast forwarding here…We are now at the end of the line. The canteen has been empty for many a foot now and Gil and I are not the same two lads who optimistically left that bubbling, clear brook way, way back there. Gil would rather be anywhere else but here... and I have been thinking about and wanting for quite some time now, to do insanely, dreadful things to him.
As we humped up and down those bluffs, Gil must have known he was missing something. As the sun beat down hard on us and the meaning of the English word, “parched,” was being etched on his and my mind. Gil couldn’t reach back and pull out a canteen. Gil didn’t have a canteen!!! I did, and like a good Christian shared it with him because your intrepid compass man was still dreaming of this illusive, bloody, cascading, ever so cool creek up ahead. My canteen was empty before we had done half the line. Gil, had gone from human being, to albatross, in 3000 feet.
I was more than really out of sorts. Internally, I was a mess of ugly emotions all of them focused sharply on Gil. I had never felt so much animosity flowing out of myself! Every time Gil took a drink from my canteen...I watched to see how many times his Adams apple, bobbed up and down. I counted every water molecule that entered his system! Every molecule that I was deprived of!
I was now in a Hollywood movie…force marching across the Sahara… where the sadistic, French Foreign Legion Sergeant...me... with all the water…in the middle of the hottest part of the Sahara…turns to his totally, dehydrated companion, Private Gil…and... just to piss him off…lifts up a canteen…takes a long, long draught… burps a very satisfying, water burp…then pours half a canteen of water into the sand…and with cruel merriment... watches as Private Gil collapses... and the Sergeant... gleefully, glancing upward…into a burning, blue sky… is marvelled by the wing span as vultures circle, high above.
The return journey back across the Kalahari-Sahara was oven-like. This time, I knew there was no water, except at that long ago, bubbling brook…way, way, way, back there! Looking down at the Nicola River had gone from pleasant scene to knowing how unreachable its blessed succour was. Tongue, wrenching, torture itself! In fact, my tongue, is now glued to the roof of my mouth and my inability to spit, intriguing.
Atacama dry! Moisture free winds played havoc with my drought-racked senses! My hearing was all over the place. Water sounds flowing everywhere! I even thought I could hear... from those wee cars down on the highway…way down there... imaginary sounds that might quench. I could clearly hear the liquid, swishing, swaying sounds that the designated bottle opener made while reaching into the cooler. The cooler, strategically set, with much thought, in the back seat... while eyes feasted on scenary.
The holy, perfect, cubes of melting ice, crashing together like ice bergs. His fingers seeking out the coolest! The “holy” designated, pulling out a fresh, cold-cold- beer! His, well sung, ritual prayer upon opening the bottle: “Here is to you and here is to me,” type of thing! How gracefully he opened the bottle! Well tended finger nails! How he so enjoyed, the so, so very cool, so cool, pop-sizzle sounds on bottle opening and the following... vocal,” Cheers” to life!”
Worse for me, was the fascinating picture of the, “chug, chug,” as a tidal wave of cooled, liquid went down his throat! A mind wrenching vision while the sun pelted down!
We scrabbled over those bluffs and made it back to that bubbling brook, half demented from thirst. I wanted to tell Gil not to drink too fast because being so dehydrated... his body might find it difficult dealing with multi litres of water in such a rapid succession. You see it in the movies. But then, I thought the better of it. We must have spent about a half a hour pouring that bubbling brook into ourselves. I never worked with Gil again.
I learned that if it was hot out and I was working with a new guy…I never, at first, asked him to entertain me with the interesting details about his drugs, sex life or latest book read... but asked, politely, if he had a canteen?
MY FIRST BONUS...1969.
My first summer with Amex is over. It is late August, and I’m looking forward to a two week trip with Joe and Don, more than friends, to Mexico. We would travel in Joe’s 1955 Chev station wagon. We would sleep and drive a mammoth distance through the complex nature of our large part of the world in that beautiful car. What did we know of the enormity of North America?
So job over... and Ab said, I could pick up my last check at his place. I made my way over to Ab’s place. I think Ross Rd, before Ella and Ab had moved to Brocklehurst. They’ll have to check it out.
So, I walked over there to North Kamloops from normal, Kamloops. Having no car at the time I liked to walk and hitch-hike. Hitch –hiking... what a learning experience and how noble the good people who picked you up were.
I saw that Ab was in the small front yard they had. Ab was leaning over the fence, as I remember it. Perhaps chatting to a neighbour. We, greeted each other...and he went inside... and then brought out my check. I said how much I liked this bushy, scary experience. He said: “Come back next year.”
With check in hand, I walked about 20 feet down the road, when I heard Ab say: ” Whoa Doug, whoa!. Shit! I forgot your bonus.”
At this point in my life, I must confess, I had never heard of the word “bonus” before. I stopped and turned around and walked back to Ab. He had opened his wallet and fished out fifty dollars and gave it to me. Well shit!
It gets a little difficult here to describe my emotions at that perfect time. I was so elated and so full of good wishes to all. So, blown away, that my body grew wings and I flew home! 50 bucks! 50 bucks! Fifty dollars! A very, awesome, spending power in 1969. You could bet your bottom dollar that I was coming back!
LEAVE THIS OFF YOUR RESUME
It is now 1970 and I have rejoined Amex for the summer and my first
Job is up at East Barrier Lake. We are not camped on the lake but high
above it on one of the many logging roads found in the area. It is a
big job for Noranda and the geologist on site is Laurie Rhynerson.
Laurie, fantastic man and a guy you really want in a camp with you, in fact, later on other jobs… it was hard to know if he was working for Noranda or for Amex. As well, I met Colin MacDonald and John Watters for the first time.
In fact, John drove me up to the camp from Kamloops so we had some initial contact there. The lads from my 1969 summer who were also there…as I remember…Bruce Bried, Gary Lyall, Gordy Seimens, Dennis Siemens and I think, Frosty. And maybe there were others who I can’t remember.
!970 was to be for me, a most incredible time with Amex. We covered areas in B.C. that I had never imagined seeing. Plus the lads were probably the best you could ever find to spend the rest of your life with.
At East Barrier Lake, I had an inkling that it was going to be a super summer when John Watters on his way to our out house, passed me just leaving and kindly asked…..”Clean break, Doug?” That stopped me in my tracks. “Clean break? Clean break?” Suddenly the lights came on and I brightened up immensely. Now knowing that our days and evenings in camp would not only be conversationally filled with, infinitely interesting topics such as films ,literature, oral sagas, myths, music, science astrology, psychology, entomology, biology, genecology, axe and power saw sharpening seminars but rollicking takes on faecal matter.
One unforgettable story that is still firmly intact from the East Barrier Lake job concerns a lad from Edmonton. One day in the morning there appeared in our camp a few men, who were accompanied by Ab. One of the men also had his son with him. The man, as I remember, was a higher up manager with the construction company ,Mannix. Why they were there…I don’t know. As it transpired, Gordy and I had drawn an all day line. I believe it was 10 or12 thousand feet long. It would run from the baseline all the way down to the edge of East Barrier Lake and due to its length we were given a third person… who happened to be the inexperienced son of the man from, Mannix.
The son was about seventeen years old and wore a high school football jacket from his Edmonton school. He was husky built and looked pretty fit. He followed us down the baseline to our starting point. He was to cut out behind us as we made the run to the lake edge. Gordy showed him the basics of cutting, blazing and flagging. We had the smoke and chats and off we headed....I think around 10 o’clock.. Unlike my first day, I could keep up to Gordy, make those pickets, throw those blazes , tie that flagging. and even do some limbing on the way. The vegetation was pretty bushy so it would mean a quite a bit of limbing on the way out.
We took a couple of breaks along the way and reached the lake at around 2 in the afternoon. We had lunch, admired the view, and naturally wondered how much line the lad would manage to cut. Much speculation here, but, .I thought if he could do half the line that would be pretty good. The line didn’t have to be perfection because we could tidy it up on the way out. Gordy hoped he could do more because he looked pretty tough. Around 5:30 or so, it would be time for supper and that was becoming a bigger factor in our lives.
We headed back about 2:30 banging and hacking away and I think at about 3000 feet up the line we stopped for a smoke and listened to hear if we could hear the lad’s axe. We could only hear ourselves breathing.
At 6000 feet…the half way point, we still couldn’t hear his axe .I personally was a bit surprised because I thought he could do 6000 feet and began to think that he had hurt himself somehow. So off we went and at about 3000 feet from the baseline we were becoming more than surprised that we had not met up with the lad. Not a sound to be heard from his swinging axe.
Gordy was now starting to get a little testy…yelling loudly up the line, but getting no response. Now I really thought something must have happened to him and I imagined gruesome axe cuts to bear problems. Or maybe he had wandered off the line and was hopelessly lost.
.We, chopped on…stopping occasionally to listen for his axe sound, and hooting and hollering hoping that we would get some response from him. Gordy was beginning to really spice up our hooting and hollering with some rather coarse references to his work abilities. We were starting to get really hungry and knew we had missed the serving of supper. On we hacked away and at 1000 feet from the baseline I knew something had happened to him but not knowing is what made it a little scary.
At 500 feet from the baseline an amazing thing happened. We could hear an axe chipping away…slowly coming towards us. In astonishment, Gordy and I looked at each other and Gordy immediately started up an incredibly, large barrage of profanity aimed in the direction of that chipping axe. Gordy was pissed. I was totally stunned. When we met the lad he had only cut 300 feet! Gordy was not verbally gently all over the lad. That remarkable English was marching up one side and down the other. The lad didn’t say a word and meekly followed us back to camp where he disappeared. Where, I don’t know.
We got back to camp at close to 8 o clock. Ate our late supper and, of course, the lad was the main topic of conversation. We still didn’t know why he only managed to cut 300 feet. During the story, Laurie popped into the tent and heard a little of what we were saying. Laurie realized immediately who we were talking about... and told us that about six o clock he was making his way back to camp when he almost step on the lad who was curled up in a ball sleeping. Laurie actually woke him up and inquired as to his health. He was okay.
Even today, I often wonder what became of him and if he achieved what he most desired. Sure hope so.
KENNY KILLS A BEAR.
Kenny was a great guy from Barrirer. I think 18 years old at this time, His father, a bulldozer artist, who had been hired by Laurie to punch in some roads and potential drill sites on the East Barrier Lake project. Amex, in need of more lads, had hired his son, Kenny. Coming from Barrier, Kenny was used to the bush and all that lies therein and suffered no adaptation problems.
This was all pretty much the norm for him. I believe he was in love at this time, and preferred to be at home and do a hug or two. More preferable than the camp. He enjoyed our company, but, in the past, had seen camp life up close and knew the smell. But, under duress, but would dine and sleep a few days in our camp…Barrier was not, after all, that far away.
The camp was set up beside one of the many logging roads that crisscrossed the area. There was a cook tent…I think two sleeping tents and the necessary outdoor biffy smelling, hopefully, lemon fresh.
Gordy’s Dad was cooking for us at that time and slept in the cook tent. One night he was awoken by a bear enjoying the delights of the of cook- tent food. I think he was pretty calm about this visitation but those in the know…knew the bear would come back.
Kenny said I’ll just run on down to Barrier and get my gun. Of course, we knew that he was going to get more than his gun and wished we could be there too. I think one or two days passed.
During these couple of days…Kenny slept beside his gun…when we were awoken by a clanging,falling of tin sounds from the kitchen. Kenny, reluctantly groans, half-asleep rolls out of a comfortable bed in his “Stanfields”…grabs his rifle, yawning, leaves the tent…then you hear “BANG!” Kenny comes back…flops back onto his foamy-cot,falls quickly asleep. After the shot, with Kenny definitely sound a sleep…I…, but it seemed nobody else...,, was still wide-eyed awake wondering about it all.
In the morning we had to drag the dead bear out of the kitchen before Gordy’s Dad would cook breakfast.
FEAR OF FLYING
Gordy …like so many…enjoyed having the gas pedal pressed very close to the floor and, as well, enjoyed seeing your finger nails dig deeply into the dash-board and seeing the margarine, smear of fear spreading across your face. This would be the first time that I would drive with Gordy and, unknown at the time, I would enjoy more times while Gordy drove. I did survive all the fear and somehow, overcame it all.
In this case, I think, Gordy and Dennis had an important appointment to make and were quite wired to their own world and scaring the be-Jesus out of you was secondary. His brother, Dennis, was accustomed to his brother’s love of motion on high octane and proved to be more than an able navigator. Cautioning and urging on in appropriate breaks when the dust gave a slight inkling to what might be manifesting itself around the next corner.
The East Barrier Lake job is over and we are decamping and heading back to our various haunts for reconnection time and hopefully, an interesting beer or two. In that way, as it goes, the dice were rolled…and one other guy and myself ended up been driven to Kamloops with Gordy and Dennis. The drive to Barrier…I think…is about 30- 40 miles. At this time it’s mostly a dirt road with lots of … look out...I’m coming around curves and other surprising potholes and gravelled tid-bits that faithfully followed the terrain downward into the North Thompson valley.
Being a dirt road, for most of the way, it is blessed in the summer time, with heaving humps of spitting gravel and surprising dips where you raise your hands high trying to wrestle your stomach back in place. A rodeo for those in the back seat…sort of. Lots of rattling, quick like snare drum cattle crossings and fearsome, loaded and unload logging trucks coming up and down the road claiming right of way… and, in hot weather…lots of dust plumes that could hide surprising closure.
So we left the East Barrier camp in the blast of a deeply depressed gas peddle that must have left a vast spray of every mineral-molecule found on that park place hanging from the greenery.
My first thought was… this is what astronauts must feel like…the forceful thrust of your body thrown deep into the back seat upholstery unable to lean yourself forward…. your body trapped in the force. Your face strangely distorted.. In the first, very frightening few miles, I knew this was going to be a very taxing emotionally... hang on for your dear life ride. I had no idea what hell or tidal waves of the scary that I was to experience on this run. The Robert Mitchum movie...“Thunder Road”…ran continuously through my colourful imagination. He died in the end. Robert, playing a southern moonshiner who left the road at only 90 mph, chased relentless by the tax people. Revenoures!
So the guy, seated with me in the back-seat, who , as well, had drew a short straw, we both were to be treated to a virtuoso performance of nervy driving that had you either wishing you were totally somewhere else or thinking about safety features that were still on the drawing boards…thanks to Nader.
No fire extinguishers, no seatbelts, no cell phones to call emergency services, no parachutes: No! If you hit something solid or found yourself kissing the inside of the roof… none of that how the auto would kindly fold in on itself… cuddling occupants in a warm hug of security until responsible people arrived to cut you out. No! It was just a basic early sixties model that did not give a shit about you.
So, there we were roaring down that East Barrier road with a dust plume miles long. The car doing a lot of roller-coaster ups and downs...doing dips and leaps like some circus acrobat…zipping into the air and crunching down on a frame that you bloody well hoped wasn’t built on Monday. You try…though helpless… to sketch imaginary survival strategies. I quickly realized, that looking between the shoulders of Gordy and Dennis, straight at the road, was simply too horrendous. Every real and imaginary, micro and macro horror, could happen at any second.
I chose to pretend that I was a tourist in these parts and that by, looking out the side, car window, I could admire the beauties that nature had so gallantly laid on the areas plate. As they very quickly passed by...it provided only seconds of relief…not really relief, as I was scared–shitless... but I was not going to let on! But, as I looked at my partner, sharing the back seat… I realized his eyes were just as fixated on the road ahead, and, he, no doubt, was thinking quite seriously about his future.
The future he may not experience. He would never experience the alarmingly, fullness of the sexual thing. Thinking a lot about the potential, miserable way in which his young life could end. All a-tangled- up in the metal and plastic bits of a failed rocket, ship-car...without bandages or sutures...and all of this could happen in the most immediate of seconds of the right now. Who could even conjure up the obit?
We did get to Barrier unscathed… and we pulled in to tank up. Gordy and Dennis were still pretty keyed up about this appointment and were hurrying it up a bit. I was enjoying the feel of cement under the soles of my boots. That very alive feeling and the smell that gas has as it wafts through the air. I was still alive!
In this small repose...amazingly...I saw my back seat partner lifting his kit out of the car and with all of that in hand... he walked over to me and said. “Fuck this! I’m taking the Greyhound into Kamloops.” I was astounded! Wordless! Who was I going to hold hands with when we had to face the uncertain road histories embedded in the curves of the infamous, Louis Creek Canyon? All alone in the back seat!
I think Dennis said..”Chickenshit.” Deep down I admired my former back seat partners love of life...as we rocketed out of the Barrier gas station.
I like to think, I remember a few details of that last phase of the trip to Kamloops. I remember passing cars where you would glimpse looks out the windows from the people in the cars we passed. Nobody was passing us! Did I see a mouthed...”Holy Fuck!,” here and there? See lips, silently moving, uttering a prayer or two for our safety, in passing?
Was that a small boy, in the back seat of one passed auto, with enormous round, blue eyes...waving a friendly greeting or a, I hope you make it? It all went by so fast. With my eyes faking allergies...tightly closed... Gordy mastered the Louis Creek highway maze with frightening élan.
I knew I would survive when I saw the Red Bridge up ahead. You simply had to slow down for it. Gargantuan waves of relief bathed my nervous system. All we had to do now was navigate Lorne Street. Whip up eighth Ave, turn on Battle Street and I was to see another day.
This did indeed happen. I can’t remember how I lied about the pleasures of the ride. Riding high on survival, I think I said we should do this more often. But I can tell you a ride like that makes you know how great it is just to breath Kamloops air with a shot of Pulp Mill air in it.
Later on, I was to learn that the young man, who shared that back seat with me to Barrier, was not the only one to decline a ride with Gordy.
Percy: The ongoing search for love. The Art of Compliments. 1972 or 1973:
So there we were. The crew was composed of Colin MacDonald, John Watters, Percy and myself. We found ourselves way North of Fort St. James on a long staking job. On finishing the job we crossed over to McKenzie...a real, new town of no history. We were hungry and went into the local supermarket.
A few days out in the bush can cause a strange, overwhelming taste for
the opposite sex. Every female looks so delicious, tempting and so
desirous regardless of form or shape. So, when we had collected our
goods in the McKenzie supermarket, and standing in line to pay, Percy
strikes up a conversation with the nice looking cashier. And in the
hormone fever that erupted... Percy can only say to her...” Gee,
that’s a beautiful apron you have on.”
I think we made Prince George that night.
Randy and “The Chain.”1971 Merritt-Princeton area.
This is a “short-chain like story that still makes me laugh. An Amex, really true,inspired, priceless pearl. Truth be told, there are no “pearls,” out in the bush. You may find that some interesting antlers lay upon the surface, scattered bones of prey, great, growth mushrooms singing and hanging from rotting trees. Perhaps an interesting-shaped rock or two may lay upon the surface, awaiting your eager hands...I took all I could find...but no nuggets will wink at you. It was a dream time to, expect so.
The pearl in Randy’s story, which I write, has nothing to do with the geological creations of long ago but a 100 foot, nylon chain.”The Chain,” was our master! It determined speed and footage and complexities of life when tangled in vegetation. Knots and a long-time slow-voiced...”Chain”...” meant bad bush. A fast- quick-voiced...“Chain”....meant good going. Repeated over time.
If you worked side by side on different lines but not that far apart...”Chain!” indicated how well your partners were progressing. 100 foot space between Amexers’ could mean hell or heaven. In B.C. nature spreads its difficulties pell-mell in the bush. 10 feet can mean heaven or hell! In B.C. vegetation is complex in its emotional distribution of forgiveness and punishments.
Now, in The Princeton- Merritt, area we find ourselves doing a property 20 kilometres north of Princeton. It is a mountain. We park cars on the side of the highway...facing Princeton way. Where, later,survivors Cheese burgers and milk will nurishbekon.
We climbed up this mountain following the before cut out base line. The mountain has many dips and doodles...it has wrinkles where water has pooled to create alder swamps and being a mountain... many trees have fallen in the direction that gravity dictates. It was the alder swamps that were difficult. My partner and I were doing a few lines to the south of Randy but we confirmed that we would meet up for lunch.
Shared tinfoil wrapped sandwiches... where the tinfoil drove your cavities crazy.
So we had done our bit and located Randy’s start point. Some Dante
expert had written on a nicely blazed –start point branch...”Abandon
all hope ye who enter here.”
I remember starting off...and...as my boots filled with water realized the intricate horrors of this complex alder swamp. A Darwinian night-mare!
We followed the cut, flagged and blazed line both feeling like a python on the slither. Soon in the distance I could hear...”Chain!” We were going up, down, under, over, above and, on stomachs under the warp and weave of the Alder’s life's watery-carpet. But I knew that we were closing. I heard “Chain!” again!
In fact... I heard ...”Chain!” Getting faster than I thought possible in this Alder swamp. When, On my belly...I looked up and found a 10 foot strand of nylon-chain hanging forlornly off an alder branch. I knew now the twist. The tail chainer was setting new standards of the cut.
This can easily happen when bush is too entwined...tail chainers can cut-chain and not notice their transgressions In that run before meeting up with Randy at the base line...the tail chainer had cut that nylon chain four times. Randy was probably pulling, at this time, sixty feet.
As we closed in on Randy all I could hear was a singular, vibrant-well-vocalize word through the dense, bushy, air...”Chain! Chain! Chain! Chain!" Which meant that they had stumbled upon Ab’s famed...”Park-Land.”
When we finally met at the base-line and I presented Randy with four pieces of the cut chain. He did not laugh.
Even now in his prime...Randy can be quite prickly when I sound out with..."Chain! Chain! Chain! Chain!"