We are better than this.
Click pic to watch ad.
The picture above shows the second largest city in Manitoba in 1916. Over 30,000 men trained for WWI at Camp Hughes just west of Carberry. A town sprung up around the training base that included movie theatres, hotels, even a swimming pool. Almost 100 years after its heyday, Camp Hughes consists of some indentations where the trenches were and a cemetery housing those who died during training and local people from the area after 1920.
Camp Hughes is one of my favourite stopping spots for its solitude and subtle beauty. On Monday I happened to be power napping when two vehicles arrived carrying two Carberry men – former town mayor Wayne Blair and Brad Wells, both members of Friends of Camp Hughes. They came bearing the architect’s plan for an information kiosk on site that would expand upon the small provincial plaque that currently explains the area’s past. One of the directors of the Shilo Artillery Museum arrived and shared numerous ideas for design and information location. The aim is have the kiosk done for the site’s centenary in 2016.
The Friends of Camp Hughes hold a heritage day every fall and invite the public to visit and learn more about the base and its activities. This year the event is on Sunday October 4 starting about 11:00 til mid afternoon. There is no charge for the event. Camp Hughes is located off PR 351 about 14 km west of Carberry. Watch for signs that will direct you in via a good gravel road.
Just back from a four day jaunt into western Manitoba that began with a productive heritage meeting in Carberry where the potato harvest is underway. Hundreds of people are involved this year, potato trucks abound on the highways and caterers are kept busying feeding the crews. Over 20,000 acres of potatoes are grown in the the area, much of the crop processed at the McCain Canada plant south of town. Odds are good that an order of french fries at a McDonald’s from here through the Mid West into Texas was grown and processed near Carberry. I followed a potato truck whose model was a Spudnik.
North on Highway #5 got me to Dauphin and the Vondarosa, my cousin’s piece of paradise on the edge of Riding Mountain. The picture at the top is of Riding Mountain and the big Manitoba sky taken from her grid road. It’s a different crop around Dauphin. Thousands of acres sport lush green hemp fields that will be harvested in October for both the fibre and the seed. The fibre will be processed at Plains Hemp in near-by Gilbert Plains. The company is North America’s leading provider of industrial hemp fibre and hurd products which are used for everything from horse bedding to hempcrete (building material). Much of the hemp seed will be processed by Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers in Dauphin.
Although apparently it’s been grown in the area since 1992, I saw my first crop of quinoa growing across the road from a hemp field on this trip. The above picture is of the massive field of the stubby stalks loaded with seeds. NorQuin operates out of Saskatoon, SK and supplies stores with quinoa in numerous forms. Products made from hemp seeds and quinoa seeds are available at Sobey’s, Co-Op and elsewhere. The picture on the left is a close-up of quinoa plants.
The Dauphin Humane Society held a sold-out fundraiser on Saturday night featuring three comedians and a band. All the comedians were edgy and richly entertained the largely 30s and 40s-aged crowd. Dan Glasswick from Winnipeg and Sterling Scott from Edmonton were the headliners but I was most entertained by young Winnipegger Mike Green (right) whose spontaneous style humourously involved the audience, playing off members of the crowd. Scott will represent Canada at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas this week. The band called Revolving Door – possibly a joke – was raw, rockin’ and ragged.
As combines do the final harvesting both south and north of RMNP, the fall palette of colours is starting to emerge, especially beautiful through the Park. This is a picture of me at a ford crossing of the Vermilion River with the lush colours all around.
The federal election has spawned a temporary blight of politician’s signs on the landscape. In a field along the highway outside Dauphin these hopeful words:
One of the new events at this year’s Carberry Heritage Festival was the Transcription Electronic Varied Analytic Computer otherwise known as the Tel-Vac Series 101. That’s it behind the two happy guys above who are Father Shane Bengry and his son Ty.
For $3 the machine analysed a sample of my handwriting revealing my true inner nature and life potentials. Here’s what the Tel-Vac Series 101, built in 1968, discovered about me.
Watch a 1:23 video of the machine in operation and comments by the operators.
See the red serge uniforms of the North West Mounted Police riding against the blue prairie sky. Kick up your heels to the music of Mark Morisseau, the best Métis fiddler in the land. Have flashbacks watching the retro fashion show of glad rags spanning the 20th century. Smell the sweet aroma of heavy horses as they pull the elegant carriage you are riding in. Those are just a few of the experiences awaiting visitors to the Third Annual Carberry Heritage Festival, Friday and Saturday August 7 and 8, 2015.
“The festival is becoming more diverse every year,” says Cathy Drayson, president of the festival board. ” We’ve added lots of new elements for 2015. It’s exciting to find new ways of defining and presenting our local heritage that’s fun for all ages.”
Highlights of the festival include a NWMP re-enactment troupe complete with horses and riders dressed in the iconic red serge uniforms, along with other period costumes, a display of artifacts from the late 1800s, a rope maker and a campfire donuts demonstration.
Another highlight is the vintage fashion show on Saturday with live models wearing duds spanning the decades from flapper dresses and wide ties to ultra-cool Fifties sleek suits and tight dresses, Sixties flare pants and love beads to those ghastly Eighties prom dresses, all with appropriate music, of course.
Popular last year, horse-drawn carriage rides through historic Carberry are back as well as guided walking tours of the town and cemetery. Workshops and demonstrations include rug hooking, fermented foods, vintage cars, trucks and implements, tree trimming, antique quilt show and a display of animals and birds from Rare Breeds Canada.
Enjoy an old fashioned strawberry social and Ernest Thompson Seton’s birthday party, cut a rug to Mark Morisseau and his band at the old time dance and browse our vendors featuring jewelry, honey, local publications, fabric art and a large flea market. Buskers and other entertainers along with a bouncy house and mural painting will amuse kids of all ages. The festival concludes Saturday evening with a swim and a movie at the Carberry Rec Centre.
To accommodate the festival, one block of Main Street will be closed to traffic. Events begin at 2:00 pm on Friday and 10:00 am on Saturday. Most events are free.
For family fun and warm country hospitality don’t miss Carberry’s Third Annual Heritage Festival Friday and Saturday August 7 and 8, 2015. For updates on festival events check out http://www.carberryheritagefestival.com
Carberry is located 42 kms east of Brandon on the Trans-Canada Highway and 3 kms south on Hwy #5.
Left to right: Julia Florek (alternate), Amber O’Reilly, Larysa Musick, Tharuna Abbu, Mike Johnston
Competition was stiff and the scores were incredibly close at the Park Theatre tonight as Winnipeg’s 2015 Slam Poetry team was distilled from the eight finalists. Slam poetry is a growing subculture of modern expression that Winnipeggers are embracing. A large crowd nearly filled the theatre which surprised the organizers and elicited much gratitude.
Calgary slam poet Andre Prefontaine brought his bitter life truths to the stage with refined humour and compelling presence as the half-time show. Charming, erudite and highly tolerant Bruce Symaka (left) MC’ed the evening and rolled with the frequent audience jibes.
The four finalists will represent Winnipeg at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Saskatoon October 18 to 25, 2015.
Hey cowpunks and fervid folkies! The fourth annual Prairie Wind Music Festival happens on Saturday, June 6 in Cypress River out on Highway #2 about an hour and a half from Winnipeg. The day has elements of a country fair as well as great music with a country rock and folk bent. Here’s this year’s line-up.
12:30 pm – 1:15 pm Laura Enns
1:30 pm – 2:15 pm Micah Erenberg
2:30 pm – 3:45 pm Songwriter’s Circle hosted by Marcel Desilets
4:00 pm -4:45 pm Greg Arcade
5:00 pm – 6:30 pm The Perpetrators
6:45 pm – 7:30 pm Joe Nolan
7:45 pm – 8:30 pm To be announced (The Dead South are no longer available)
8:45 pm – 9:30 pm Kacy & Clayton
9:45 pm – 10:45 pm The Reverend Rambler, bona fide one-man band (above)
11:00 pm – end Bad Country
The day costs $40 and free camping is available on site. More info is on their website
The final eight poets who will slam for the four spots to represent Winnipeg at the Nationals have been decided. The Handsome Daughter hosted the second semi-final round last night where seven poets slammed, four went through to the finals.
The eight finalists are Tharuna Abbu, Julia Florek, Shelly Genthon, Mike Johnston, Rob Malo, Larysa Musick, Amber O’Reilly and Kortnee Stevens.
The top poet last night was Mike Johnston (left), Manitoba’s 2014 slam poetry champion. His word and presentation are unique, collegial and compassionate. Click Mike’s pic to see him perform Question Box from last year’s finals.
The second place finisher was young Tharuna Abbu who slammed two personal moments from her life with elegance, enthusiasm and marvelous control. Her first poem made me cry. Unfortunately I don’t have video of Tharuna.
You’ll just have to go to The Park Theatre on Wednesday June 3 to hear her and seven other fine performers slam their best works. The event starts at 7:00, doors open 6:30, admission is $10. Bring a friend.
Read my post on last week’s first round of semi-finals.
UPDATE: Read my post on the finals on the results of the finals
Last Wednesday night I attended the first round of semi finals in the 2015 Winnipeg Poetry Slam at The Handsome Daughter on Sherbrook Street. Seven poets competed for four spots in the final with the last semi final round coming up on Wednesday May 20 at the same fine venue.
I was one of the randomly chosen judges and dutifully received the derision of the crowd when I scored a poet too low. In my role as judge I used Andrea Gibson as top of the class, Carlos Andres Gomez a notch down. Very high standards, indeed.
The event is held under specific rules with each poet performing twice in random order. My two favourite poets of the evening were Julia Florek and Rob Malo (above), neither of whom needed cheat sheets for their powerful, emotional performances. Their poems, in word and performance, stood above the competition in my humble aesthetic. Rob’s poem It’s Quiet on Langside at Midnight is particularly memorable.
Mike along with seven other poets will be performing on May 20 for a spot in the finals. Admission is just $8. The Handsome Daughter, 61 Sherbrook has a bar and a restaurant for munchies. The final eight will compete to be among the four poets to represent Winnipeg at the Park Theatre, June 3, 2015. Admission $10.
I plan to attend the next semi final and will have a follow-up report.
Read my post on the results of the finals.
Gracious Greetings Gaggle,
Yer old pal Shirty here, conspicuous by my presence.
Back from my near-dearth experience when all my bands suddenly folded back into The Matrix and left me high and…well, just high. I should have recognized the symptoms of holograms: stiff little fingers, inability to pronounce “bilious” and total lack of spontaneous intelligence.
Never fear. My phoenix instinct has kicked in and I have a back-up!
I’ve just signed to Turd Polishers International (TPI) a new sensation from Jolly Old England called The Brittles. Four personable fellows – Johann, Paolo, Jorge and Romulus – from the port city of Livermouth who are real flesh and blood (tested them all myself) and who eat actual food. That alone should make them world giants against the dazed ditzy din of zeros and ones pretending to be human and music.
I have some PR tricks ready so you might as well start saying next month’s new household words now: The Brittles and Brittlemania. Their sudden fan base will lovingly label them The Flab Four. Why? Because all four Brittles are morbidly obese, that’s why.
Fat is the new black – you heard it here first!
My first PR stunt is an all-day, all-night eat-in for peace. The slogan is War is over if you eat it. The Brittles left to right: Paolo, Johann, Jorge, Romulus. The short one is the Fifth Brittle, Riggles who is the group’s manager and pecker checker. This is an early picture from when they performed under bridges in Livermouth and area. I’ve toned them down a bit but still leave nothing to the imagination because imagination is passe.
Now that dadbods are hot news at the checkouts, I’m trying to convince a popular magazine to name Paolo as The Sexiest Man in the World. All they need is one shot with his shirt off and this 423 pound boy is centerfold bound. Careful where you put those staples!
The video for The Brittles first smash hit Lunch is still in production. The boys keep eating the scenery! Those nutty Flabs! Snort! But you can be among the first and trendiest people in the world to hear Lunch on the player below.
Are you hungry for more? That’s a symptom of Brittlemania! Play it again. Satisfy yourself.
Another new act I have in the wings is the duo Sperk and Ank. Sperk is an obsolete, deregulated robot doorstop from Japan who sounds a lot like a young Smokey Robinson but even smokier. Ank is “a loose bone collection (19% flesh, 12% water) that escaped from a lab where horrible experiments took place,” according to its bio. Ank plays ganip ganop and trills like a Siamese cat.
As an aside: ganip ganops are now the trendiest musical instruments in the music business. Even Bjork has a matching pair!
Sperk and Ank are recording their first single as we speak. Release date pending the ultrasound results.
That’s my teaser for the new TPI acts. Many more to come as I keep turning over rocks to see who’s under there.
I dreamed I saw St. Augustine.
Surrey on down,
The temperature soared to 26 degrees today with clear skies and slight breeze – perfect hiking weather. I enjoyed the 2 hour drive out Highway #2 today with a few fields already being seeded. I had the whole Spirit Sands to myself when I arrived about 12:30. Stripped down to hiking boots and shorts I headed out on the new beginning to the old familiar trail that I’ve hiked at least 200 times in my life.
The new trail begins with a set of stairs to the top of a ridge. In the picture above you can see the top of the new stairs on the left and a bit of the old sand trail on the right.In the foreground is the newly ground trail. Long time hikers will recognize the split spruce tree as The Sentinel.
Many nice views along the ridge and, due to the heat and the freshly hewn brush, the air was redolent with the rich aroma of juniper and spruce. Mauve crocuses poked out of the dun understory on south slopes. Not much bird song and no bugs at all, not even wood ticks…yet. I watched two young chipmunks tussle over a cashew I threw them at the first shelter.
The dunes were as welcoming as ever today. I hiked to our spot and sat on the balcony for awhile. Linda and I used to sit on this little ridge on the edge of the dune face that overlooks the spruce and aspen forest which we called the balcony. It was perfect there today.
On the way back a park interpreter was taking a group of high school students on a guided tour. At the trailhead I talked to Max, the interpreter, saying how I liked the new trail route. We chatted about the changes. Lucky guy gets to live in the park all summer! I find all the staff at Spruce Woods Park friendly and always helpful plus it is among the best maintained provincial parks. It’s one of the best day trips in Manitoba with some of our most interesting hiking trails and unique attractions.
The reason for the new trail route relates to the covered wagon rides offered in the summer. A team of heavy horses pulls a covered wagon seating about 24 to the dune face where you can de-wagon and climb to the top of the open sand. The wagon proceeds to the punch bowl, a pond of eerie emerald water, then returns through savanna and mixed spruce forest. The previous wagon route was cutting precariously close to the eroding escarpment above the Assiniboine River. For safety the new route uses some of the old trail and veers off into the bush eventually meeting up with the old route. The wagon ride is a memorable family experience that reveals several of Manitoba’s hidden gem attractions. Plus you’ll get to meet Larry Robinson, a real cowboy, who operates the wagon rides. He’s a terrific guy!
There! Have I convinced you to hop in the car and find Spruce Woods Park yet? No! Here’s six other posts and videos about the park plus a map of how to get there:
September hike post
Moonlight hike on Spirit Sands post
Yurting at Spruce Woods post
Yurt #4 Spruce Woods video
Dog Day Harvest Flies on Spirit Sands trail video
Spirit Sands hike video
How about now? Great! See you on the dunes!
Here’s a map to help you get there.
The Carberry Heritage Festival received some good news this week. In addition to confirming several events for the festival, they were awarded $2300 in federal grant money. The grant, from Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage, a branch of Canadian Heritage, will help the festival expand its roster of local artisans and performers as well as aid in promoting the two-day festival slated for August 7 and 8, 2015.
I’m helping out again this year acting as publicist for the festival. As more artisans, performers and events are confirmed, watch the festival website for updates. http://www.carberryheritagefestival.com You can also find them on Facebook.
As you can see in the picture above, something is afoot with the old Bank of Montreal on Carberry’s Main Street. Wooden hoarding, scaffolding and debris netting cover the facade. The old pile has fallen into severe disrepair lately and there are concerns that pieces of it have started falling off. A sad situation for a unique building. When I asked around Carberry what was happening to the bank, the responses were quite vague. Public safety is an obvious concern but something else is going on as well. Stay tuned for future reports.
Just west of Carberry, off PR #351, Camp Hughes, the World War 1 training camp, is undergoing a transformation this year. Currently all that marks the spot is a government plaque and a self-guiding walking tour. Friends of Camp Hughes have told me that plans are underway to add a kiosk to the site providing more detailed information about its history. They hope to have it completed by their annual Camp Hughes Day in late summer.
I made my first foray to my favourite park over the last two days. The Assiniboine River is staying within its banks in the park. I saw no flooding anywhere at Spruce Woods. Further upstream there is some typical flooding of low lying areas around Brandon but the park is dry.
The south facing slopes are dotted with shy purple crocuses these days. I saw flocks of blackbirds along the road and even a few raptors have returned.
The big change in Spruce Woods Park is a reconfiguration of the hiking trail to Spirit Sands. Heavy equipment was cutting a swath through the bush around the trailhead when I was there yesterday. I asked the operator what was happening. Apparently the route the horse-drawn wagon rides take cuts close to the river bank and there is significant erosion so the wagon trail has to be rerouted. It was a surprise to see the pristine area around the trailhead broken and busted up to create the new route. The picture above shows the junction where the trail to the punch bowl goes left, the dunes trail right.
Subsequently the hiking trail to Spirit Sands has been redesigned starting with a new set of stairs that takes you straight to the top of a tall dune a little to the east of the original trail. The picture on the right shows the new structure. Though rather vague on the ground, the new trail is marked with direction signs. I only hiked the first few hundred yards of the new trail so I’m not sure where or whether it rejoins the original trail. The bit I hiked felt more strenuous than the original route. I’ll report fully on the new design when I hike the trail, hopefully next week.
The view below is from the top of the new stairway looking down on the buildings at the trailhead with a glimpse of the Assiniboine at the top of the picture.
Other trails in the park appear to be open and in good condition. I couldn’t tell if the lower campground and day use areas will be open or not this summer. The park office is still located at the upper campground and yurts area.
On Monday there were no cars in the Spirit Sands parking lot, yesterday there were four when I arrived. It’s still $5 daily to use the park facilities. The 2015 annual park passes are available now, $40 for the year. MLCC locations now sell the annual passes.
The first activity at Spruce Woods Park happens on April 25. The poster above about the Seton hike appears on the bulletin board at the trailhead. Carberry has a museum devoted to Ernest Thompson Seton and his work in the area. Check out The Seton Centre for more on the man. Carberry is 28 kms north of Spruce Woods Park on Hwy #5.
The day I met Montana & Lyle whorls of dry, black dust spun past me down the dirt road, dancing to the overhead music of cottonwoods. The breeze died, asphyxiating the dance. Silence and stillness returned to the Saskatchewan prairie. The swelter rose. Morning sagged in the heat.
Wearing just cut-offs and runners in the heat, my bare back pressed against the gnarled, ghostly trunk of an old cottonwood, our auras commingling. To my left the dirt road disappeared into a spruce and aspen bluff. On my right, the road ran down the flat distance and away. Heat shimmer obliterated the horizon.
Behind me was the house that my friend, Skylark, was visiting. His ailing cousin lived there. Skylark’s blue Buick sat in the grassless yard next to his cousin’s beat-up half-ton. Deep in the truck shade lay an ancient yellow Lab, prone, pregnant and panting in the 110-degree heat. It was the eighth day in a row the temperature had cracked a hundred.
I could hear Skylark’s rattle and soft chant wafting through an open window, a shaman at work. I closed my eyes. The cottonwood and I sent a plume of positive energy toward my friend and his cousin.
Before me, the prairie spread a carpet of dun August grass dotted with clumps of chokecherry bushes, wolf willow and distant majestic cottonwoods. The most prominent feature of the landscape was a huge boulder that bulged on the horizon half a mile away, a granite erratic left by some vanishing glacier. When I fixed my gaze on the boulder and crossed my eyes, a swirl of energy spun up and away, purple against the faint green aura of the place.
Slowed by the heat yet defying evaporation, a drop of sweat fell from my chin onto my chest. A curled cottonwood leaf drifted languidly to the ground settling delicately between three pale blades of gamma grass. The morning came to a standstill.
Cued by something in my peripheral vision I glanced down the black road that stretched away into the wavering heat haze. Slowly, starting a few feet away, the heatshimmer parted. A stunning clarity replaced the obscurity as the opening rolled away from me like a spool in a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, just this side of the vanishing point, two black sticks, poked in the ground, stitched land and sky together. Though barely discernable, the sticks tugged at my attention. They appeared to move but dissolved as the curtain of shimmer fell.
Overhead a red-tailed hawk, adrift on the updrafts, cried in the heat. A breeze stirred more dust devils from the hot black dirt. My attention kept being drawn to the two sticks.
Through the haze, I glimpsed them moving closer. Skylark’s rattle ticked yonder. My skin and cottonwood skin melded in the heat. Lexicon intact, the tree and I shared primal thoughts – tree to man to tree. I felt whittled.
Borne in this sizzling, August cauldron, the vague and formless sticks shape-shifted into human form. As they neared, I made out two men in lively conversation walking side by side, their voices distant, arms expressive. Nearer now, I recognized the stomp-and-sway gait of young aboriginal men. It’s a side-to-side rocking of the body that accompanies each step, made more obvious by long hair. Urban aboriginals seldom stomp-and-sway. Concrete causes the forgetting of uneven ground; the forgetting of tactile and kinetic responses to earth energies over and through which we pass; the forgetting by the body-memory of how to be where we are; the forgetting of the meaning of shadows; all gone, paved over.
As if passing through a screen of vertical shimmer, two teenagers emerged – six feet tall, muscular berry-brown bodies in cut-offs and runners. Black eyes shining, long black hair swaying, they walked toward me smiling. Their faces were bright, clear, open. And identical! Twins! Not a crazy-from-the-heat prairie mirage of twins, but actual twins!
I stood as they approached; both shook hands with a double clench. I introduced myself.
“Ahh, Aspen Smoke. You are Skylark’s friend. That’s his Buick,” one said. “We hear about you.”
“I’ll bet. What are your names?” I asked.
“Montana and Lyle. Identical twins. Rare.” I said.
“Magical. One egg, two boys,” said Montana. “We were born right over there,” indicating the big erratic in the open meadow.
“How old are you?”
“We’re eighteen,” voices identical, echoes.
Resemblance this close created a pleasant eeriness. The cell-to-cell similarity in skin tone, limb angles, bone shape and musculature seemed sculpted by two winds with a single intent; dark-lipped mouths speaking as one; casting identical shadows – this only begins to define their twinness. As we talked they stood in mirrored poses.
I asked where they were headed on a hot day.
“There’s a little lake in those trees,” said Montana pointing down the road. “We’re going for a swim. Wanna come?”
We headed down the road.
I left a thought at the cottonwood for Skylark so he could find me. He always finds me whether I do this or not. I glanced back at his Buick, now bright purple in the shivering sun.
We walked three abreast and I immediately adopted the stomp-and-sway, kicking up small clouds of dust. Grasshoppers stuttered crazily before us. We were an intent trio, mostly silent, yet in touch. I sensed a powerful bond between the twins, boundless and fluid. This quickened me. My intuition became prime source. I shared their thought experiences, wondering ‘who’s doing this – they or I?’ I felt they were allowing me this awareness.
When we rested under a grizzled, old oak, I sat across from the pair, genetic dittos defying difference, everything in duplicate. Their skin twitched from bugs in the same pattern; cuticles, areolas, eyelashes, finger joints, laughter – identical. Sometimes belly buttons can be the only point of distinction between idents. Not here.
As we entered the trees, the heat became oppressive. The trail was easy to follow and soon we arrived at the lake. The path skirted the shore under cottonwoods and aspens. A sharp decline and we arrived at a clear pool indented into large flat rocks and shaded by three huge, laconic cottonwoods. We were alone.
“Here’s the swimmin’ hole,” said Lyle.
I knew it was Lyle because there was one small but distinctive feature that set them apart. Lyle had something Montana did not: a thin half-inch scar on his forehead above his right eye, a pale blemish on his dark skin. I surmised some sort of accident but, when I asked, Lyle said he was born with it.
A scar from another lifetime? A cosmic safeguard against rascalism? A mark of distinction inflicted by his brother during womb time? Whatever the cause, a borderline of some kind existed in the scar, expressing the only degree of separation between the two.
I slipped out of my runners and cut-offs and waded naked into the shady pool. The twins did the same. The water felt cool and healing against our crackly skin. I ducked under and broke surface laughing. I heard the ringing, echoey laughter of the twins across the water. We were brothers now in this flickering amniotic pond, coddled by the Great Mother, enlivened by Great Spirit. Our cavorting and splashing sent cool wet sprays into the heat, making the local spirits blissful. We expressed our gratitude aloud. We imitated otters.
Floating on my back, staring at the cottonwoods that towered over the water, I saw speckles of the sky dance in the quivering leaves. I watched the shadow of a curious eagle dodge branches and make a figure eight over the surface of the water. I heard the shy, delicate whispers of the willow. In slow pulses morning became afternoon.
In the pool, we were fishes, lungless, coy and oblivious to the existence of water, happy for no reason. Time passed unnoticed.
Prune-skinned we climbed out of the pond onto the flat, shaded rocks. Something resonated as we emerged from the water with glistening primal skin; a sudden remembering repressed for millennia burst into light and sound. We sang the song the stone taught us. The pool breathed below, the cottonwoods above.
From the eagle’s aerie, we were dabs of fat smeared on a rock. At ground level we were laughing, crying flesh singing the truth song of stone.
When I stood to stretch, the twins laughed at my tan line. They had none.
“White man’s burden,” I said cracking them up. “I’m still evolving.” They clutched their sides in glee.
I looked into their faces. Mystery danced in their eyes, their lithe bodies writhed as they laughed. Again I was struck by their twinness.
Linked from the moment of conception, born on a full moon during a meteor shower, Montana and Lyle had been reared in a place where magic played a significant role. Raised for their specialness, their wisdom, and for the role they were destined to play, the twins were watched closely by everyone they met, watched for some sign, some sacred posture or sound, a warning, a blip. They were watched for hope.
Montana and Lyle’s young parents had tried to conceive for almost five years without success. One day in early fall their mother, Fawnheart, was walking in the sparse forest that covered about one-third of the reservation. She encountered Old Smoke, an elder who still remembered the traditional ways and the old, old songs. He was a kindly, energetic man, related by blood to Fawnheart’s partner, Fire Hawk. Old Smoke sat with Fawnheart on two sitting stones in a shady part of the forest. The old man listened quietly as Fawnheart told her story.
She spoke of the deep, precious love she shared with Fire Hawk, how they endeavoured to love all creation, hoping to conceive a child out of that love. It hadn’t happened and Fire Hawk was feeling disheartened and inadequate.
“I am feeling the same way,” she cried. “We don’t know what to do now. Is Great Spirit punishing us?”
Comforting the young woman, Old Smoke put his right arm around her shoulders. Instructing her to breathe deeply and slowly, he placed his open left palm on the woman’s abdomen and held it there for a few minutes, his eyes tightly shut.
“I can help you,” he said suddenly, breaking the silence. “You know the buffalo rub stone?”
Everyone knew the buffalo rub stone, the big erratic in the meadow.
“In three days it is full moon. That night you and Fire Hawk meet me at the big stone.”
“Yes, I will tell Fire Hawk. We’ll be there.”
“Tell no on else about this,” Old Smoke cautioned. “No one.”
On full moon night, the trio arrived at the big stone, a solid slab of granite over seven feet high surrounded on all sides by short prairie grass. Flat-topped with sides smooth from the rubbing of countless animals, it seemed to float above the ground in the moonlight. The stone was ringed by a grassless, dry moat, hewn from the hardpan by millions of hooves tramping the circle seeking the satisfaction of the stone. Much of the pleasure the stone gave was returned to it by all the creatures it soothed. Not just buffalo but white-tailed deer, pronghorns, elk, mastodons, wooly mammoths all sought the stone’s relief. Even the odd coyote rubbed a flea-bitten haunch against a corner.
A vast reservoir of itches relieved, scabs removed, horns shucked, molting fur and antler velvet rubbed off, hot bug bites quelled and countless unknown pleasures abided within the buffalo rub stone. The pus from infections broken onto the stone from time to time attracted a certain kind of sand wasp with a huge pink thorax, transparent yellow abdomen and a shiny blue head. If you were quiet, you could hear the tiny three-note tune the wasps sang as they sipped. Everyone knew all this.
“Here’s something you don’t know about this stone,” said Old Smoke standing with his right hand pressed against the smooth rock. “This is a Spirit Dancing Stone. Sometimes – only the Mystery knows when – you will see this stone alive with ecstatic dancing spirits. Their laughter crackles in the night. I have seen them myself.
“When I was younger than you I was riding my pony here one evening past sunset. A spinning bluish light encircled the stone. It made a whirring noise. On top of the stone danced two spirits tall as people. They pulsed together like northern lights, a throbbing dance, commingling in mid-air, their faces painted with bliss. I watched them til my eyes had to look away.
“Since then I’ve wondered why I was chosen to see that. When you told me your story Fawnheart, I knew why I’d seen the Spirit Dancers. Here’s what we’re going to do tonight.”
Old Smoke explained the ritual to the eager young couple. They agreed to proceed.
He lit a sage and sweetgrass twist and smudged himself with a soft song on his old lips. He made a slow circle around the stone along the path of the moat; smudging the stone, the young couple and a buffalo robe he’d brought along. While Old Smoke spread the robe over the top of the stone and took a few items from his medicine bundle, Fawnheart and Fire Hawk stripped naked and climbed on top of the stone. They sat cross-legged on the soft robe facing each other, hands resting on the other’s knees.
“Breath deep and slow now,” the shaman told the pair. “Look into each others eyes and do not look away. Let your souls travel the path of your gaze. Know and experience each other this way. Be generous. Share yourself. Be creative. Be love. Create! Great Spirit is with you.”
Old Smoke danced a halting path around the stone. Moving to his rattle in a sunwise direction, he sang a welcoming song to the spirits. The path soon began to fill with glowing spirits dancing alongside the old man. An ecstatic whirlwind began to form around the stone; it funneled upward into the blue-black night toward the tumescent moon.
“Make love now!” Old Smoke shouted to the young couple as he stepped out of the whirlwind into the calm prairie beyond. A spinning cocoon of light enveloped the stone. Inside, the couple looked like vague coupling embryos, dark motes pulsing inside a wild shimmer.
Burning in ecstasy under a full-eyed moon Fawnheart conceived. The Great Spirit smiled and her egg split in two.
That was the full moon in September. Montana and Lyle were born on the same buffalo robe on top of the same rock under the same full moon in June. Perfectly healthy, identical twins. At birth, glowing red lanugo covered their little bodies. Aches and Pains, Old Smoke’s wife, gently scrapped the red fuzz from their new skin with her wizened old fingers. She saved it in a moleskin pouch that she buried until the twins were one year old. Then it was safe to dispose of the fuzz but only by burning it after dark. Overhead meteors streaked the sky as Montana and Lyle entered the world.
The shade had moved off the rocks as we basked in the late afternoon sun.
Suddenly from nearby I heard a shout. “I COO COO AAA! I COO COO AA!”
I recognized Skylark’s voice full of humour and lightness. Montana and Lyle didn’t hear a human voice. They heard a too-close-for-comfort timber wolf howl. Such is the nature of Skylark’s magic. The twins, alert and tense in the presence of a wolf, couldn’t understand why I was laughing. Their bright faces filled with confusion.
“I COO COO AAAA!” Skylark’s laughter, then came a brown streak that vanished in a huge splash of sparkling water. Skylark’s head bobbed up spraying water in our direction, no longer wolfen, now an embodied human in cool relief.
Montana and Lyle relaxed at the same moment, synchronized change of posture followed by easy smiles and laughter, identical.
“Come on in. It’s Indian soup!” shouted Skylark.
We all jumped into the pond, energized by the sudden coolness.
“Hey there’s a white guy in the soup!” yelled Montana.
“This ain’t no tan line soup,” laughed Lyle. “Get him.”
I was beset.
“Let’s throw white meat up to Great Spirit. Let Him decide if he should be in the soup or not,” suggested wise Skylark. Of course, the twins thought it a great idea.
Floating on my back, they lifted me out of the water with gentle strong hands and tossed up toward the low branches of the cottonwoods. It felt like I would crash into the trees but stopped short, seeming to hover before falling. The water barely settled over my belly before I was lifted and tossed skyward again, nearly crashing, hovering, falling. Lifted, falling again and again.
My body recalled a vivid sense-memory from childhood: six years old, being wheeled back to my ward after appendix surgery in Brandon General Hospital. Delirious, nauseous, struggling out of ether-induced sleep, wailing in terror I felt myself rise rapidly from my bed as if lifted, sailing out of control toward the ceiling. Just before crashing I stopped, hovered and descended back down gently to my crib-like bed. I was lifted over and over, almost crashing each time. Each time I thought I was dying and God was pulling me up to heaven. My soul was fleeing the scene of the infection.
Under cottonwood trees, my body translated that memory of early terror into a feeling of comfortable abandon, wiser now, context clear. My soul sailed on wings of laughter and faith, finding safety in this moment among friends, already in heaven.
“Nine times and Great Spirit didn’t take him. Welcome to the soup,” said Skylark. The twins, their long black hair plastered wet and shiny to their shoulders and heads like helmets, laughed as I sank below the surface. No hands sent me flying this time.
As we splashed about, the afternoon grew old. Skylark said he and I were due back at his cousin’s for an evening meal. We dressed and departed after handshakes.
“I count you among my friends,” I told the twins as we left.
“Friends forever,” they both said, their faces lit with beatific smiles.
As Skylark and I walked down the narrow path through the trees, I turned and glanced back at the two men standing at the water’s edge. Almost imperceptibly, they nodded my way.
On the walk back Skylark told me about the twins’ conception and their birth.
“They are special. Great Spirit has important work for them. Did they sing for you by any chance? Skylark asked.
“We sang together. With the stone. The stone made the song. We sang along.”
Skylark stopped in his tracks, and turned slowly towards me. “You sang with them?” He was stunned.
“Yes,” I replied. “It was prairie planxty. Earth music. It felt and sounded, well, indescribable.”
After a silence Skylark said, “You are very lucky. Montana and Lyle share songs only with ones who have lived the Mystery. Do you remember the song?”
I did. Still do. The crux of the melody is a subtle tune with a hint of melancholy. Or is it a relaxed certainty? Serenity, perhaps? The song stays with me, at times welling up from my heart, seeking expression, sometimes in the light of day, other times on clear moonless nights.
Later that night when we left Skylark’s family after hours of food, music and laughter, I found a crumpled paper bag on the hood of the blue Buick. The bag had my name written on it. Inside were two short round pieces of wood with smooth black bark, slightly speckled. The sticks were from the same branch, each about four inches long, flat ends, as big around as a nickel. On the cut end of one stick, carefully carved was the letter ‘M’, on the other, ‘L’.
With the sticks was a hand-written note: “When a person forgets their earth/sky connection, these will help them remember. Be well. M & L”
“Do you know what those are?” asked Skylark, a smug grin on his face because he knew what I’d say.
“Haven’t a clue.” I was puzzled.
“Memory sticks. For between the toes,” Skylark said. “Grandfather had a pair. I believe he was given them when he was a young man by twins, like you. They were female twins. His sticks were dark and speckled, like yours.
“Grandfather carried them in his medicine bundle right up to the time of his death. A few days before he passed on Grandfather called me to his tent. He was alone, sitting on a stone. He had the two sticks clasped between his hands when I entered. He was chanting a prayer of gratitude to the sticks, thanking them and the Creator for all the healing they’d done together. He told the sticks it was time for them to be transformed, just like him. After smudging himself, the sticks and me with sweet cedar, he motioned me to open my palms. He gently placed the sticks on my hands. Still covering them with his hands, he told me to take the sticks to the nearby stream to a certain spot we both knew. I was to push them into the ground where the earth was soft but not muddy with the initials facing up. I don’t remember the women’s names but the initials were M & L, just like yours.”
That familiar tingle of synchronicity blossomed in me.
“The next spring,” Skylark went on, “where I’d pushed the sticks in, bright green shoots sprang up even before the snow was gone, as early as crocuses. They grew rapidly into a willowy tree with dark red branches, bright shiny leaves and supple limbs. It still grows there. I’ll take you sometime.”
“Your Grandfather continues to teach us even to this day,” I said. “Now I know my responsibility to these sticks if I use them for healing.”
“He is very generous,” said Skylark wistfully. “And now we know the reason for Montana and Lyle’s visit: to give you the memory sticks. Everything is a circle.”
“How long have the twins been dead?” I asked.
After a pause, Skylark said Montana and Lyle died over fifty years ago in a car accident just down the road from his cousin’s place, not far from where I’d met them.
That night back at our campsite I smudged the sticks and said prayers of gratitude for them and my new spirit friends. Then I added the sticks to my medicine bundle.
Since then, I’ve used the sticks many times: to help people sailing on a balloon of depression, to help women conceive, in cases of Ancestral Calling and as tools to help me remember my humble place in the universe. Each time I use them I sense Spirit contained in the sticks and I am reminded of that perfect summer day, the day I met Montana and Lyle.
She wasn’t just another woman.
Skyway, Speedway, Bayway, Skytrain, Gotrain, Bullettrain. I rode them all. I’ve seen women on them all, millions of women.
She wasn’t just another woman.
She was golden.
She exuded some kind of chemical that glommed itself to every man and every woman in her presence. A chemical transformation followed that created a little furnished room in everyone’s mind where she could live. She’s there right now.
Like Cleopatra, she wore a golden headband in the shape of her assassin. She proceeded through the world fully aware of the end of her story.
On the other side of town a boy was waiting.
He took a drag on his Pall Mall, ballooned smoke out his mouth, sucked it back in, exhaled dragon exhaust.
His boot extinguished the butt in the dirt.
From a passing car, Eagles sang, “This old world still looks the same, another frame.”
The subject line on her email read, “jus what yu ned ^ mor crapp 22 reed”
She was right about the crap. It was dreadful writing, unapproachable from any direction, almost incomprehensible. However, I had signed a contract to edit her memoirs and she could well afford my $50 an hour fee.
At the outset, though I had spent almost no time with her, I was excited to have a large new project. We met just once and talked very briefly. From behind her large dark glasses, she said she liked the look of my “facial face.” I gave her my resume, clips and book. We talked on the phone twice, on the second call she hired me. She sent a courier right over with the contract, signed, sealed, redelivered.
She struck me as wealthy but lacking sophistication and trying to conceal this lack with eccentricity. When I asked for specifics about her life and the purpose of her book, she was vague and indifferent, saying, “I know you’ll surprise me.”
She told me when she finished writing a chapter, she would email it to me for editing. I awaited Chapter One.
I vividly remember seeing the subject line of her first chapter come up. It said “Chapter On…Lovly Death.”
Excited, I clicked it open.
“Chapter On” was like a message from Jupiter.
I read it, reread it and reread it. I was baffled, a sheet of confusion. Her ramblings were devoid of structure, grammar, reason, intent, subject, focus and purpose. The vaguest syntax awkwardly weaved in and out of some profoundly warped English.
Flummoxed, I kept rereading her words hoping to distill even an ounce of meaning or intent. None came, nothing. My frustration grew until the epiphany: I was trying too hard!
There was no literacy here, no depth, almost nothing to go on, just hints spattered across the pages, memories from shadowy places crying out for light, my light. I started to rewrite.
That was six weeks ago.
After Chapter Two, a long and grueling account of her strange, cruel mother who was more interested in raising chickens than children, I began to dread checking my emails lest her latest chapter awaited my attention. A lone click away there might lurk something uneditable that had merely swum in the same ocean as English and based a language on that experience.
My fee – now billing almost 200 hours – is my only consolation. The content of her remembrances provides no rewards. She mostly recalls pointless, uninteresting things about nearly everyone she knows or knew. It is awful, just awful. But she is rich and her big idiot ego needs a book.
To that end, I have become her ghostidiot.
I clicked open her email. The subject said “Chaters 7 Lovly Death”
The name of her book is “Lovely Death.” Wonder why?
You’ll just have to read the book…no, no you won’t. I’ll tell you.
To finish each chapter about a family member or a friend, she ends by hoping they have or had a lovely death. She is adamant about this so I must go along with her feeble, morbid hook to give this thing any cohesion.
Sadly, most of the deaths she remembers, not because they were lovely, but because they were rending and gruesome. Her parents died very unlovely deaths, which shall not be recounted here.
Since I have spent several hundred words carping about her writing, it is time for you to get a taste of the raw beast, to be sprayed with her toxic slurry. The sharp, swirling chopper blades of syntactic apocalypse are approaching. Be brave. It is messy.
Junie Bug Rupple
thens maw ant juniei liki in……juneie bug junie bug sh from cromartys yondr fouk to brindle county wif wifves all ^ tangl in theyer birches sh from thym junie painned purchures merteerials merteenials sh foun sh…….like painnne wifbalrushs an cabs an chic bons an beeks sh sur lik a lotta reshut beeks clim clim junie …..sur di lik lota beeks a dung, her lik a dung fur purtchers too…lota he purtchures soll… in wedrich stors fur art… fir hunnrs hunnrs dolards an an I. ama membr dermtun sh clim mea stay wif her ize bout ten year fur ^weeks…at hers sumer….sh live in harnit ol… wrekety ^ hous poin tee roofs wodt starcases up an don sh chas ame up a don starchezzs wift a stinck…..stink izeize…bofh laffin lik wis ach earlee crazzee in uur owen wayts, ech laffin too ..peein up usselfs…sh lock mea in .room att nitt….juniei me misses^^ sh bein preshenit reel wi her. i wuner whirr thyms beeks clim purcchures is tonitt.
You now have a fuller appreciation of my job as ghostidiot.
Junie’s story goes on for fourteen more pages with much, much more about beeks. Eight of the pages are nearly incomprehensible tangents about glunock and klepsums.
What could dermtun and preshenit seek to signify? Their context, such as it is, is not helpful. I will add them to my long list of questions to ask her. From Chapter 7 alone, there are now 19 “words” about which I am meaning-impaired.
I don’t know what the dots are supposed to signify since there is no repeatable pattern to them. Perhaps they are thinking marks. They and ^, another mystery, are her only punctuation, if that is what they are. All this gives me enormous grief and latitude to interpret whatever she may be trying to say.
My client doesn’t talk at all like she writes. She speaks in sentences and creates syntax. The written form plumb eludes her. I have transformed her life into English, which she appreciates when she reads it. She just can’t seem to create using it.
Maybe she’s putting me on for her own amusement, getting her money’s worth.
Maybe she’s channeling someone.
Despite the liberties I have taken with her words, she has indicated approval of my work on the first five chapters and quickly paid my weekly invoices. On the back of one of her cheques she wrote, “thees s vury terorpull’ddic fuour i me as”
I suppose you will now require me to put my fee where my mouth is and edit. Fair enough.
A couple of things: I have two partial family trees that she gave me, one for each side of her family. That is where I found June’s middle name and her husband’s first name. The Cromartys are some kind of inter-marriage group, like, but not, cousins. She is related to them but not through June Rupple, as she suggests. I haven’t figured out the relationship yet. It’s on the list.
Here, after fourteen hours of consternation, contemplation and imaginings, is what became of Chaters 7. (I know I’m out of sequence but I needed a break from Chapter Six, which is over fifty harrowing pages about her twin brothers, one a genius, the other an imbecile.) I have spared you the whole chapter and just translated the original section quoted above.
June Ninette Rupple
June Ninette Rupple was my mother’s older sister. People called her Junie Bug. She married Biggaty Cromarty and lived in Brindle County where they had a large family.
Aunt June was an accomplished artist who used unusual objects as brushes, applying paint to create unique textures and depth. She used corncobs, bulrushes, chicken bones, dung and even chicken beaks, to which she was especially attached. City art galleries sold many of her paintings, some fetching hundreds of dollars.
When I was about 10, I spent two weeks that summer staying with Aunt Junie. She was quite old by then and lived in a big ramshackle house with a many-pointed roof. It had several wooden fire escapes coming from the top floor. Junie and I would chase each other up and down the fire escapes, laughing til we peed ourselves. I have such fond memories of Aunt Junie. Perhaps she was a little crazy.
End of my translation and I’m sticking to it.
Even as I bask in the pleasure of preparing my invoice – 37 hours billed this week – my bliss is blemished by the dreadful certainty that, somewhere out there, Chapter Eight percolates in the nethersphere of her need.
I am repelled and attracted at once.
I had better check my emails.
Wish me luck.
Finally! After multiple tries I’ve Gone Masonic as you can tell by the hat. What a proud expression I wear. It’s not the Freemasons. I’ve been accepted into the Affordable Masons, we’re different. No conspiracy theories here. We’re affordable. No Masonic temple. We meet in Tony’s garage and knock back a few. No blood rituals or aprons. Just the hat.
The hat BTW has been handed down in my family since the Dark and Scary Ages when Coke came in glass bottles with caps that had little round corks inside them. That’s what the hat is made of – the corks. They’re shellacked and the tassel, made of sheared Aumlomian yak tail, added. If you are lucky enough to find one of these in a thrift store these days I’d wager you’ll pay upwards of 85 cents to a dollar for it.