Category Archives: Traveler

Aside

I’m making plans for a little adventure, and surprising even myself with how suddenly and easily it’s coming together:  On Monday, I’m taking the day off work, driving out to the ferry with the dog in tow, and riding the … Continue reading

Another Michael.

Once upon a time, I spent a few days at a communal farm on a wooded hilltop in southern Somerset, UK. I was there as a WWOOFer, but the weather was terribly stormy and the hosts didn’t really have much lined up for my friend and I to do. Mostly, I cut firewood in the rain, then dried out by reading Harry Potter aloud to one of the resident kids next to the woodstove in the common kitchen.

One night, all the residents were leaving to go to another community’s dinner, and for some reason or another it was impossible for my friend and I to join them. We accepted this, and bid them all adieu while curling up with books in the lounge hut (Which was a little thatched cabin! So rad!). The beams of their flashlights disappeared as they departed through the trees, and the rain pelted down even harder. Suddenly, a light appeared again, and then at the door was one of the residents: He’d had a change of heart, felt bad about ditching my friend and I, and returned to spend the evening with us.

He was old, this resident, wrinkled and wiry, like a stereotype of an eccentric British man who has decided to run away to a commune in the woods and wear gumboots every day. He’d been the one to pick us up from the local village when we arrived, and seemed more concerned with the role of host than any of the other residents. Not that they were rude, by any means, just… Distant. Distracted. Whereas this old dude was busy, but also making the effort to check in with us throughout each day.

There we were, in a tiny cabin on a rainy hilltop, and we started to share stories. The friend I was traveling with wasn’t exactly my friend really, more like a random punk I had met and decided to force friendship upon. So I didn’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was from Antigonish (anyone from Anti reading this? I know three other people from there, which means I know someone you know!). We were almost strangers, talking about our lives, and it was great.

The old dude told us about growing up in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as he still called it. In the 1940s, his dad was involved in business there, so he spent his childhood on tea plantations. “I had a friend,” he told us, “Whose name was Michael, same as mine. We constantly got up to mischief together, and caused so much trouble!”

He paused, thought a second, then continued.

“Actually, that Michael moved to Canada later on. We haven’t stayed in touch, but I read about him once. He’s become a rather successful writer, I think. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

I was all of 19-years-old and a know-it-all, so told him that I sincerely doubted it.

“Hmmm,” Michael said.  “One of his books was made into a film, I’m told. Won some awards. I never saw it… The English Patient, was its title. Anyway, yes, it was a marvelous childhood.”

Young FG’s jaw was on the (packed dirt) floor. I mean, really? As the offspring of a bunch of teachers and a librarian, I grew up in homes where Michael Ondaatje‘s books were practically compulsory reading… And this old dude on a hillside in rural England was his childhood friend?!!

How very strange, the places we end up.

Anyway, I told Michael that the other Michael’s books were indeed beloved by many people, including my parents. “Oh, how nice,” he said, genuinely pleased. “How nice.”

I was reminded of this conversation earlier today, when I heard Michael Ondaatje on the radio reading from his latest novel, which is a fictionalized account of his own life experience in Sri Lanka as a kid.  He talked about being very focused on seeking out trouble, and I smiled, remembering the night in the rain when I first heard about these adventures, from another Michael.

Me at 19 years old, traveling and being too cool for just about anything.

Probably less alone than I’ve been in years and years

Oats is out of town, visiting our relatives back in Ontario, and I miss her like crazy. I’m resisting the urge to fill every moment of the next 5 days with social events, even as it’s a little compelling… But I used to spend so much time alone, and I want to remember what it feels like. Though, truthfully Oats and I don’t necessarily socialize with each other every day: We share meals and conversations, sure, but are both pretty focused on our own seperate projects and pass-times. It’s good, I mean. I’d go crazy if I had to always be “on”, and I like that we’re each up in our own heads a lot. Still, it feels lonely, without her here. I’m trying to savour the ache of it.

As I write this, of course, I can hear Sum and the Captain talking quietly upstairs in their apartment, and one of their nutty cats bouncing around. I also just got a text from Jag, who is only across the backyard, telling me that Mo and her spent the afternoon together. So, being “alone” is relative. My partner may not be here, but I’m still surrounded by our chosen family, probably less alone than I’ve been in years and years.

It would have been nice if both of us could have gone to see the folks back east, as we have each of the past two autumns.  However, with me only just a couple months into working at a job that pays a living wage (at last!), our budget’s still hella tight.  When it comes right down to it, my parents are more likely to make the trip out to visit us, than are Oats’, so we’ll probably see them in the next several months anyway.  Besides which, her brother and grandparents couldn’t even make it to our wedding last spring, due to health and finances.  So, it made more sense to send Oats on her own.

While in Ontario, Oats is going to Toronto for a day to see each of my sets of parents.  I suppose this is a normal sort of thing, for a daughter-in-law to visit her in-laws, but IT STILL FEELS SO WEIRD.  Not just cuz of the gay thing, though it is funny to think that its only in recent history that Oats’ relationship to my parents really is the boring ol’legal “in-law” (as opposed to outlaw!), but mostly because she’s literally the only person I’ve dated that my family really likes, and I can’t get over it.

Oh sure, they thought a couple of the others were rather nice, but the rest of them apparently have been remembered quite unfavourably, and overall every one of them was declared unsuitable. Sometimes my parents and sisters would wait until after the relationship ended to give me their evaluation. Or not.  Then they’d just make snide remarks, while it was still ongoing.  Thanks, famille.

To be clear, the gender of my dates never seemed to matter:  Instead, it was always their creativity, their social skills, their literary knowledge, their education, their life goals, their handyness… Or total lack thereof.  Yes, snobs! I am from a family of snobs, every single one of us.  Given her quiet nature and working-class background, Oats is a little taken aback, I think, by how much they all like her.  I kinda am too, though it’s also really lovely.  I try to be grateful, to not take it for granted, you know?  But I am also surprised to have a spouse so heartily claimed by my blood kin.

With the consumerist excitement of Oats splurging on a plane ticket, I confess that I did do a little shopping of my own… A congrats-to-myself-cuz-I’m-employed gift!

Heh heh… Okay, this pic is conjuring up Santa, but ignore that for a second!  Because those are new boots on the right, of the Australian variety!  Note my beloved ancient pair on the left, the ones bought secondhand-but-barely-worn in Australia… And how completely sole-less they’d become in the past year.  So, since they cost me $10 AU, and I now have a decent job, the $200 CAN or so for a new pair seemed not as bad as it did 6 months ago.  Especially since I wear them every day, and they go with everything.  Even red leggings and thick cotton socks, or so I thought when taking photos last week… I may now reconsider this.

Birthday butch, beer, books, berries, bear

It was a certain butch’s birthday this past week, and to celebrate, we went camping at what turned out to be the raddest spot ever.  It was quiet and remote, on a lake with a dock, lots of trees and a woodland trail, plus the bonus of nearby easy-to-hike logging roads into more mountainous territory!  All within a couple hours drive from our house.  Say what you will about the timber industry (and believe me, I’ve said it myself), but at least it makes for some great campsites.

My handsome companion. And her new gun.

What do dykes do in the woods?  Shoot guns, of course!

I preferred to steady my hand using my dear Audubon field guide... And the table.

Actually, there was only one gun:  An air pistol, which Oats bought with her birthday money.  I was pretty surprised, cuz she’s usually rather focused on things like art supplies and nice clothes, but then I quickly got over it… Because it turns out that I myself have an inner sniper.

Yes, we drank beer and then shot up the cans.  Classy!

I also spent many hours swinging in my hammock and reading… Got through 5 books in 4 days, which felt soooooooooooooooo good.  You’d think I’d read more, given that I’m unemployed and all, but I just don’t make the time.

What else did we do?  Oh yes, hiked.

I love a good view.

Even if it comes with sombre reminders of *why* there’s a good view… Hard to imagine how it would have been to walk up this slope before it was clearcut.  Those stumps are massive.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this land, and how I feel about it, mostly in light of the notion that I’ll be moving to a completely different part of the country this time next year (I hope!).  I read a lot of sci-fi, and it has forever altered my ideas about spatiality and colonization, complicating all my thoughts on “here-ness” in delightfully interesting ways.  I feel like my love for this place is so deep that I can leave and be okay simply knowing that it exists.

A wild larder:  Magic!  Not this fungus, I mean… It’s a lobster mushroom, and very much so edible without causing euphoric insights.  Or at least not yet.  I still haven’t eaten more than a nibble, because I was saving them for tonight’s dinner… I’ll let you know if they get me high.

More magic: Wild fruit!  I picked just over three pounds of thimbleberries (the ones that look like raspberries), tiny native blackberries, salmonberries (the orange ones), red huckleberries (the smooth red ones), and salal berries (the smooth dark purple ones).  Today they are becoming jam, to be sent off to my more eastern relatives as solstice gifts this winter, provided we don’t eat it all first.  I would’ve picked more, but there was much evidence of others wanting the fruit too and sometimes I like to avoid competition.

Yes, that’s shit… Bear shit, to be exact, which is what I’m referring to in my previous sentence, in case it wasn’t obvious.  It wasn’t totally fresh, but new enough to make me give careful consideration of the needs of my wilderness friends.  Three pounds of berries for me seems pretty good.

 

Euphoria and memory loss

Feral sweet peas, growing on the cliffsides next to the beach near my house.

DentalFest 2011 ended a couple days ago with a real bang of a grand finale:  The extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth by an oral surgeon, for which I was put under general anaesthetic.  Awesome!  It only took 20 minutes, and I woke up to find myself  mid-conversation with a lovely assistant type person who removed my IV and nodded sweetly as I prattled on and on about all the reasons why I love my partner.  Said partner was in the waiting room, ready to pick up my prescription and drive me home to bed (and oblivious to the fact that I was waxing poetic about our relationship to a complete stranger…. Awwwww!).

I wasn’t going to take the prescription at first, thinking it’d be for Tylen0l 3, which turns my stomach.  Then Oats told me it was for Perc0set, and I was stoked:  Hurrah for euphoria and memory loss!  That beats the bloated nausea I get from the T3s, hands down.  The pain has been a lot worse with this latest removal compared to my other recent ones, and I’ve been glad for the relief provided by the pills, even if they also make me gap out a lot.  Sadly, I think the drugs can also be blamed for my writing this blog post at 3 a.m… Sometimes, it really zonks me into oblivion, but apparently can also have the opposite effect.

The shitty thing about being awake this late at night is that I’ve actually got to get up early tomorrow, in sharp contrast to my usual unemployed-haus-frau routine:  Some friends are going camping on a small island several hours north of here, and as their route takes them across another small island where my friend O has just bought a place, I’m catching a ride to visit her.  It’s the sort of sudden opportunity that makes me really love my current freedom… I can’t really make too many plans more than a week or two in advance, in case I get a job offer, but I can leap at lucky connections like these.

I asked O if I could bring anything:  I know that she and her partner are in need of a lot of stuff to get their sweet little homestead going, and though I’m not really able to toss a freezer or tractor into my backpack, I figured there oughta be something I could help with.  Surprisingly, their number one request was PROTEIN.  Ha!  Turns out they’ve had a lot of visitors since moving in a couple weeks ago, and have already blown through their month’s food budget.  They’ve got ample fruit and veg coming in, but with no grocery store on the island, meat-type things are a little lacking.

I totally remember this from when I was a kid, living my parents in northern Ontario:  City folks would turn up for multi-day visits completely out of the blue, bringing only a bottle of wine or two, like they would at any urban get together… Not realizing that the closest supermarket was actually a significant drive away, and one could not simply skip down to the corner store for a last minute block of butter.  It used to drive my mom completely bonkers!

With that in mind, I visited the local wholesaler this afternoon and bought a housewarming gift that I hope will do the trick:  A couple dozen Spicy Italian sausages, 4 cans of tuna, 3 blocks of tofu, 2 kg of dried black eyed peas, 350 g of blue cheese, and a pork butt roast (all for $40!   I love the wholesaler).  I’m also going to throw in a batch of yoghourt and bread that I made today.  Hey, I should put it all in a nice basket, add some jars of pickles and jams, and tie it all up with fancy ribbons!  Oh, the excellent ideas I get in the middle of the night… In reality, I’ll be so friggin tired tomorrow morning that I’ll be lucky if I remember it all. Making it look pretty it out of the question.

What else do I have to tell you?  Not much, really… I submitted a resume today to a local company that isn’t union but was advertising their need for electrical apprentices.  I’d prefer to work union, of course, but at this point I just want to log hours.  I also submitted a general application to another provincial utility, one that is much smaller than hydr0 and located mostly in the southern interior of BC.  They didn’t have any current job postings relevant to my work, but do hire electrical apprentices each year, and I figure that it’s good to try to get noticed.  I’m also watching the hydr0 job board like a hawk, ready to pounce on the next chance to apply for the apprenticeship (again).

To be honest, it would be kinda strange, to suddenly get a job somewhere else in the province just as Oats is figuring out her grad school stuff and we’re making plans to move our  little family across the country.  On the other hand, the utility jobs pay so well that it’d be a fantastic way of funding this big life change!  Even if I couldn’t stay in the position, out of desperate desire to be nearer to Oats as she embarks on her studies, it’d be worth it for just a short while.

On that note, I’m going to try out sleeping now, and see if it catches on.  Wish me luck.

Being tough on ourselves.

Not Regina... This is the view along the highway somewhere between Winnipeg and Kenora, December 2007.

I once spent the night in the Regina airport, after hours, in the time before it was open round the clock.  My dad had given me a free trip to visit him in Toronto, which turned into one of those adventures that involved many airplanes and stopovers across the country.  In Calgary, my friend Oldandmoldy drove out to the airport from his parents’ place and we spent an hour talking about music and his latest crush.  When I got to Regina, I sat down on a bench and did a sudoku puzzle while everyone else left.  Eventually a security guard told me I’d have to leave too.  It was past midnight, on a snowy November night, and I had no money.  The final leg of my trip was a 6 am flight to Toronto. He relented, but apologetically explained that I’d have to move to a bench where he could see me on the closed-circuit camera system, and that both the heat and the main lights would be off within the hour.

Sure enough, I was soon pulling out all the clothes I could layer from in my backpack, trying to stop from shivering.  On his rounds, the security guard apologized again, and offered to buy me a soft drink from the vending machine.  I thanked him but declined, figuring that the caffeine wouldn’t help much.  Instead, I distracted myself with a book.  It was pretty dim, but light enough to read by:  I tore through Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness from beginning to end.  To this day, whenever I hear about Regina, I think about that novel, about being different and being yourself.

***

Oats and I have been having hard conversations about finances.  No, I should correct that:  Not hard in that they’re difficult, but hard as in we’re being tough on ourselves.  Hard conversations that are also inspiring, really, because they are focused on big questions such as what do we want, where do we want to be, how shall we live our lives?

The terrible truth is that we’re living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, while carrying debt, and while I attempt to retrain in a new career and Oats works in a career that she does not like.  Basically, if we moved anywhere else, we’d be doing better.  In particular, if we moved somewhere with a low cost of living and where Oats could cheaply go to school for her masters’ of fine arts, we could get out of debt and Oats would stand a better chance at making a living as an artist, illustrator, art instructor, or whatever else she wanted.

So where are we looking at?  Regina, no joke.  Also, Winnipeg… And Windsor, Ontario.  Three cities neither of us barely know, but somehow seem to be logical places to hang our hats for a couple years.  It’s crazy, that we’d leave, considering how much we love where we live, but it feels like that’s the only way we could eventually live here and be more than just treading water, financially.

I’m not desperate to own a house or a fancy car or attain many other parts of the middle-class dream: I love our cooperative household and am so happy riding my bike all over the place.  At the same time, despite our very frugal ways, we’re paying a lot of money for basics while also paying lots of interest on student loans.  Oats can’t get paintings done let alone network with the local arts communities because she works long hours just so that we can stay afloat.  Our situation isn’t dire, but it’s not getting any better either.  I want to have kids, and to travel more, and for Oats to be working at something she loves, and it’s not really gonna happen until we ditch the debt.

So that’s the plan.  This next year, Oats is going to fine tune her portfolio, and send off a bunch of applications.  Then we’ll move, not this summer but the next, to some far off urban centre that I can’t even picture… Well, except Winnipeg:  I’ve been there a few times, and enjoy visiting… But to live is a different story.  It’s all rather romantic, really, which I find very appealing at the same time as completely terrifying.  I spent my entire twenties on this island, and am hoping that if I invest some of my thirties in the middle of the Prairies (or the Great Lakes?), I’ll be able to enjoy my forties, fifties, and onwards, here as well.

Economic geography, FTW.

A book or two to keep me company.

When I left for my job interview (screening) on the mainland last week, I needed a book or two to keep me company. The stack by my bedside were all related to keeping chickens and making pickles, plus a couple heavy tomes from the GLBTQ Reading Challenge that I really couldn’t deal with (Trumpet is just so sad, people… How are you getting through it?!! I gave up!).  Wanting the comfort of something familiar, I looked to my shelves of books that I’ve already read.

What I needed was something inspirational, a story about making it, or at least trying to make it, even when you feel like puking and your lips are scabby with stress-induced cold sores… My eyes landed on Sarah Hall‘s The Carhullan Army. I first read it when it was shortlisted for the Tiptree Award (which it won!), and found it so perfect and dark and freeing and terrifying. Would that make me feel better or worse, in my current context, I wondered? Better, something inside me said. Much better.

Yes, it was perfect. Fighting the patriarchal systemic oppression in a dystopic future society is hard, and by comparison, being chosen to compete for a coveted trades apprenticeship is easy-peasy.

I also brought along Derrick Jensen‘s How Shall I Live My Life?: On Liberating the Earth From Civilization, which I find to be a welcome detour from Jensen’s other more philosophical musings: This volume returns to his talent for thoughtful interviews with awesome people, and is great for every day inspiration.

Mandatory supplies for an out of town job interview: Fiction, non-fiction, and a surprise box of treats from my love

I finished The Carhullan Army on Thursday afternoon, on the way to the panel interview. Afterwards, I had some spare time in downtown Vancouver before my friend PBall was picking me up, which I was happy to spend at MacLeod’s Books.

MacLeods is the sort of used bookstore that simultaneously infuriates and delights me, because it is so completely packed with piles and piles of books. The shelves are overflowing and there’s stacks every where you look, even on the floor in front of the shelves, blocking the view of their contents. I asked for memoirs and was told that they are incorporated throughout the store, according to theme. What…? Okay, I suppose I can see the sense in that… But as a browser simply looking for someone’s recollections of their somewhat interesting life, it’s not a particularly useful system. That said, I found a book about women singers (in the Music section!) that I thought I’d enjoy (turns out it’s terribly written, but I’ll still try to finish it), and then bought Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, and a copy of Sarah Hall’s first book, Haweswater.

I also eavesdropped as a woman came in with a wishlist, and was impressed to see that the staff were able to find most of what she wanted. Given the chaos, it was an impressive feat.

Slammerkin wasn’t quite what I expected, and I’m glad I didn’t read it before the job interview, because it’s not exactly… Triumphant.  Well, I suppose some may say The Carhullan Army isn’t either, but to my mind it is.  These are the sorts of discussions I’d like to have with a book club, as I’ve mentioned here before, but since that’s not something I’m likely to get going in the near future, I’ve joined Goodreads… Please be my friend.