“We will start back in the early 80s. I was studying Architectural Technology at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. That’s Canada, as might know. We were in a 3-year plus 1 for work term, so 4-year course. Our class had an 8-month work term at the height of a building depression. There were no jobs to be had in Architecture. The school board was accepting anything that remotely classified as related.
My best friend in college was a different kind of outsider. I was the kind that played ice hockey on the Architects team and went to concerts, organized the floor hockey team, made a spectacle of myself and maybe most people wouldn’t even think of me as an outsider. Maybe just a nut.
We figured it would make more sense to work for a couple months to save up some money to take a bus to the Rocky Mountains and see what happened when we got there.
So that is what we did.
A bus ride from London to Calgary is about 72 hours.
As would be the case almost every day of the trip, I was up first. As soon as dawn was upon us, I was out of the tent. On the first morning out of the tent I hadn’t even stood up when I noticed a deer looking at me. I didn’t move and it didn’t move. Only a few meters separated us. I don’t know how long we looked at each other before, I’m guessing, she bounded away.
After breakfast, we decided to hitchhike to the next mountain park. It was late afternoon when we got to the path we had decided on. Since we had yet to stock up on food we went into the nearby town and picked up what we could, which wasn’t much.
Being our first mountain path we were ill prepared for what lay ahead. It was the north side of the mountain so always in shadow. Being fairly clever we had agreed before we left London that the likeliness of not getting on each other’s nerves on occasion was most improbable, we had agreed to not let it ruin our friendship or our trip. On this hike, there was one little incident where I wanted to kill Brian but instead let him go on ahead. The altitude and cold made his nose run and he sniffed continually.
“Why don’t you blow your nose.”
“I don’t want to.”
Now the thing about climbing a mountain, hiking, was that the higher you got the thinner the air and the colder the air. Because it was our first real hike, we were not in such good shape and had to rest often. But to rest more than a few minutes, what with sweating and the sun sinking farther and farther into the Pacific Ocean, was not possible. The other thing that was not possible was setting up the tent. In all our hours of climbing there had been not one bit of flat ground.
“We might have to hike all night to keep warm.”
It wasn’t the best option. Hiking in the dark on a path you had never been on, on the side of a mountain, just ain’t the best call.
Since neither of us believed the God story, we didn’t even think to pray for a place to set up our tent. But God doesn’t care if you believe in her or not.
About six minutes before darkness took over, we came upon a perfect spot of flat land. The first and only on that side of the mountain. There wasn’t a stone or a root in the spot that looked like it was made for our tent. There was only a moment’s hesitation to wonder at that spot, take in its luxury, and the tent was set up with sleeping bags rolled out with about 30 seconds of light. We didn’t bother with a fire; we crawled in and crashed.
The next morning we were up at the break of dawn. We didn’t take time to eat, just pack and go. We were in quest of the sun. Having had a pretty good sleep, the hike was most enjoyable. The farther we went, the lighter it got. After a couple hours, we were suddenly out of the trees and onto level ground. There was snow in places that received no sun and it was warm enough in the sun.
Let me set aside euphemisms and just say we both needed to take a shit. I saw where I would take mine. I dropped my backpacks and headed for the goats. White mountain goats, maybe 8 or them, were standing on a small stone hill. It was a flat hill. Big enough for 8 or 10 goats. The climb was no more than 20 seconds. Just a pedestal on the top of a mountain.
The goats had left upon seeing my approach and all that remained of their visit was goat shit. I added my shit, burnt my ass paper and noted that I was quite on top of the world. Below was a forest and an emerald lake, beyond was the mountain range and above clear blue sky.
Now one might note the feeling I had as a religious experience. I say rather it was a state of wakefulness with no regard for past or future. Not only was I in the here and now, it was giving me a big hug.
“You are alive. Look at this fucking planet, man. What are you going to do?”
I knew straight away what I was going to do. Anyone who had known me up till that time, with perhaps the exception of a few most resent acquaintances, would not guess.
Brian and I located one another and he said something about following a squirrel.
“I’m going to be a writer.”
“It’s going to take you 20 years.”
I wasn’t perturbed by his response because he was not the type of guy to discourage someone. He was just making it clear. And since I had only been reading for about 4 years at that time and written very little, it made sense.
Perhaps that was enough to convince me. But there was one more event.
We were camped beside a mountain lake with a fairly good supply of dried goods so we could just hang out by the lake and let the days take their quiet course.
At a previous lake I had tried spearfishing with a wooden spear. And it did not work. With this lake I refused to take no for an answer. There was nothing that needed doing. Brian sat on a rock and read Job and I set to my mission.
There was a little creek leading to the little lake and the water was clear and shallow. Many little trout swam gently against the current going nowhere.
I saw Brian laughing at me pacing around like a hungry monkey so rather then get fuddled with him I took a walk around the lake to look for inspiration to my situation. And I got it. On the opposite side I found binding wire likely left by loggers years before.
A net. I would build a net.
With some bending back and forth I managed to break off a piece of wire and return to camp. I then took my hunting knife and cut a branch off a tree. Around the branch I twisted one end of the wire. Through the wire I fitted a piece of plastic from an old shower curtain. We had purchased a tent fly to reduce the morning dew on the tent so didn’t need the plastic sheet.
Well, it was done. A few holes for water to get through.
Then I cut another branch off a tree and scared some fish up the creek. Some darted out to the lake but enough went up the shallow creek. It was too shallow to go far and they were compelled to return. When they did, my net was in the creek.
Don’t tell the forest ranger.
Brian had become an eager participant of cleaning fish and making a fire so I left him to it to get a few more. They were quite small.
Except for one.
Now fish, one would think, are not creatures of thought. And basically I think this to be true. There is instinct and instinct is very old and also somehow forever young.
All the other fishies went away when the above world creature came at them with a stick. This one fish did not. Mr. Fish refused to be pushed from the riverbank by any protruding beast. Had I been thinking at the time I may have left Mr. Fish, maybe Mrs., and ate his friends.
But I wasn’t thinking. I was hunting. And anyone who has had an empty stomach in the wilderness will know it is a different mind set. Only the fish mattered to me as long as I thought he was to be eaten. I pushed at the fish until I was starting to get pissed off at it for not cooperating with my wishes.
Now we must make sure the picture is clear. Like the sky and the water.Only sounds of nature. Fish not much bigger than my hand. It kept dodging my stick but would not leave the spot where it was determined to stay.
Then the moment came when it was just about coming into my mind to reevaluate and take another course. Just go eat, perhaps. That, fuck it moment. And just at that fuck it moment I felt the weight of the fish on the end of my stick. Remember, this is a fresh stick. So it has good whip to it.
Without thinking. I flung him out of the water on the end of my stick. I watched him fly up into the sky and land on the grass.
Now I am pretty certain almost no one on the planet has done that. It was a most real event. I smacked the fish on the back of the head, then chopped off the head and tail and pulled out its guts.
Then we talked about it. The real fish. And I felt a little bad about eating that fish. Only a little on account it was yummy. I have since never forgotten that fish. When I wonder if I should take the risk to blaspheme monotheistic religions or any other cultural crustification, I often think of that fish.”