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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Graceland part 3

Day three and a chilly one in Winterpeg. We head south, to the U.S. border and to NASHVILLE! We headed south past many fields full of Canada geese doing the same thing. The sky was full of them in places. In other places the fields were covered in Geese like some living down comforter. Fields of corm were still standing tall, the stalks drying in the fall wind. The skies were a mackerel grey and the wind had the taste of winter to it. We didn’t seem to be getting any warmer as we traveled south. But my God, what beautiful country. Huge farms, the size of ten farms in my native Nova Scotia Stretched away in both directions from the highway. Some gad farm buildings in the distance, while others were so big I could see no buildings whatsoever. We passed distributors for farm equipment, with combines lined up in huge rows. Tractors, trailers and balers were also in profusion. As we approached the border at Emerson North Dakota the talk in the coach increased as people fretted over how tough the border crossing would be. People exchanged nervous jokes about secret terrors they have had about customs agents. Others told tales of difficult crossings. People joked about making ridiculous statements. The tour director made sure we all knew that border agents do not have a sense of humour. It is true even though the crossing was routine and even easy. The agents made no eye contact and would not return the driver’s cheery wave. But in a few minutes we were in the U.S.A. land of the free, home of economic collapse. The terrain again didn’t know there was a border for it didn’t change.
We didn’t stay in N.D. too long we slid across the top corner of it then headed into Minnesota. Again the farmland looked the same. Apparently Minnesota is a native word meaning “funny talking white people”. We stayed at Prior Lake at a casino so big that in order to reach the restaurant you need to pack a lunch. Every Casino wants you to get a Players Card. They always ask for photo ID apparently they are checking to see if you always looked this stupid. They still smoke in hotels and casinos down here which came as quite a shock especially to the people who were on fire. The portions are huge down here. I don’t know why all Americans don’t weigh four hundred pounds. I couldn’t finish any meal so that says something. We will see Chicago tomorrow I can’t wait. Well it’s another early start so TTFN.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Going to Gracekand part 2

After spending the night in Swift Current we headed east to Manitoba. The prairies are in the grips of a fall freeze. The mercury was 14 degrees cooler than normal, which is a coincidence because so was the temperature. The fields were cloaked in a skiff of snow. Bales of hay lay in the fields covered in snow like giant Frosted Mini Wheats. We crossed the border into Manitoba. The landscape doesn’t know that there is a border so, not surprisingly it changed little. I think that the thing that grabs me most about the prairies, even after all these years, are the skies. Big sky country they call it, with good reason. The skies are enormous. Fluffy cotton ball clouds hang over the stubbled fields. Trucks pass us on the highways taking the crops to market. Trucks line up at local grain elevators waiting to be weighed and drop their cargos. Farmers are waiting to get paid. At a sugar plant huge piles of sugar beets lay on the ground in huge heaps. Trucks with trailers behind pulling literally tons of softball to football size sugar beets pass us. Full ones going our way empty ones coming towards us. It is thanksgiving and it seems there is a lot to be thankful for.
Being on a tour bus with a dozen farmers you can just sit back and listen to the running commentary. “Boy those fields are sure dry, just look at the dust that combine is kicking up.” “Boy the sure seed every acre with corn around here.” “That must be fodder corm; it sure is late to be harvesting corn” “That sure is a nice crop of flax!” I have a special affection for farmers, having worked on a farm as a boy. They have certain honesty and a philosophical bent that comes from spending a lot of time hunched over a tractor wheel. We pass through Brandon on the way to Winnipeg. I wish I had been here years ago; I had an Uncle here once. As we get closer to Winnipeg the scenery starts to get familiar. I have been to Winnipeg many times as our company has its’ headquarters here in fact I have stayed at this hotel before when it was the International Hotel. Oh well, it is an early start tomorrow. So I must get to bed. Tomorrow the U.S.A.!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Going to Graceland part 1

Lina and I are embarked on a 16 day pilgrimage to the holy land. The holy land of music, anyways. We both love country music and rock n roll has some of it’s’ roots are in Memphis. We are looking forward to seeing the Grand ‘Ol Opry (the old and the new) and Graceland too. Branson Missouri is home to a lot of hot acts and we are looking forward to seeing some great shows.
Day one takes us from Edmonton Ab. To Swift Current Sk. Bright and early this morning, 5 am, that is, we crawled out of bed. Now I usually only see one 5 o’clock a day and that aint it. In the freezing cold (it was minus 6 and snowing) we made our way south (thank God). To Red Deer and Calgary, picking up more tour members as we went. We are the only people from the Nt on the tour. I love driving through Alberta. Especially southern Alberta, it is the first time I have been there in over twenty years. I have never been to Lethbridge or Swift Current. Let me say this, Wow! Coulee country rocks! The foothills are awesome. The prairie landscape carved into rolling hills, the native grasses drifting with snow leaving lines like the brain is some gigantic sheet of wood. And what would the prairie landscape be without those icons of life in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan; the iron horse and the grain elevator? I love grain elevators especially the old wooden ones. The newer metal ones have no soul, but what is more iconic than those peeling, painted behemoths that dominated the landscape for a century and marked the presence of the next town. Oh, about those towns. I love them. You cruise the bald prairie passing individual farms, often miles apart. The buildings clustered together. Huddled like huskies sleeping in the snow, relying on each other for warmth in the constant winter wind. A row of trees usually marks the edges of the property, planted to shelter the constant shifting snow. In the predawn they sit, lights burning in the semi dark. A dairy farm appears out of the gray black dawn. The barns are already lit and a farmer ducks his head in the wind as he walks briskly from building to building, his hands dug deep into jacket pockets, the brim of his ball cap white with snow. The out of the undulating golden fields of chaff left by the combines a town appears. First a gas station, empty and silent at this hour. Then a few older homes empty and abandoned their paint peeling, the driveway empty. Then a cluster of newer homes. An old railway station, renovated now into some other use tells of the importance of the ribbon of steel that follows the highway. An old wooden grain elevator proudly marks that this is, or at least was, a place of importance, of commerce. A newer steel elevator rises alongside the tracks too. It has usurped the role of the old wooden structure but these new ones don’t cut it with me. I hope they keep the old ones standing. Main street features old brick stores, built in the thirties with the western style false fronts designed to make them more impressive and certainly creating a purely prairie ambiance.
A word about the prairies, many people describe the prairies as flat and boring. This does a great injustice to this area. There are many words to describe the prairies, an entire prairie vocabulary. Words like; level, smooth, plane, horizontal and even leap to mind. And boring? Come on! What about; unexciting, dull, monotonous, dreary and tedious. That’s better, give the prairies their due! Seriously though, you would have to see this splendour every day for years to find it dull. I am from the east coast so maybe it is all new to me but I love it! It makes me want to re-read “Who has seen the wind” W.O. Mitchell’s classic piece of prairie prose. So far the Canadian part of our trip has been fun. Tomorrow we hit Manitoba, we’ll see if my love affair with the prairies continues. TTFN


Saturday, October 10, 2009

I don't need your rocking chair, but I'll take the sofa and love seat

It was Christmas Eve and my Wife and I were entertaining the staff of the department store which we run. My wife Lina had just come back from seeing George Jones in concert in Yellowknife. While there a friend took a photo to George and had him autograph it to us. It sits proudly on our wall unit. It is signed on the back so it is not immediately obvious to someone who doesn’t know country music who he is. One of our younger staff and not a country music fan picked up the photo. “Is this your Dad?’ She asked innocently. Her boyfriend Nick, who knew who was in the photo snorted with laughter. I suppressed a smile and explained who George Jones was. I flipped the photo over and showed her the autograph. She had heard of Jones but did not know what he looked like. I let the matter rest but I have a strange sense of humour so no one is ever really safe. The next day, Christmas day the staff joined us again for dinner. Lina was busy in the kitchen. “Boy was my Dad mad at me.” I said to Anna as she entered the room with a cup of egg nog. “Really, on Christmas?” “Well that’s the whole thing. He hated the Christmas present I got him.” “You’re kidding!” She exploded “He got mad over a Christmas present?” “Yeah.” I replied “He said I don’t need your rocking chair!” signing. Nick spit his egg nog back into his glass he was laughing so hard. I was howling. Anna chided me saying “You’re terrible!” So after that I always referred to the photo as “Dad”.
Well I thought I would never get to see the man in person. He had said that the tour where he signed the photo would be his last. But this year he came back to Canada. Not back to Yellowknife but to Edmonton among other stops. Lina and I had three weeks of holidays coming so we booked tickets months ago. Even though we booked well ahead we didn’t get the best tickets in the house but we did get to see it all. Now some might say that “The Possum” is past his prime. You might say that his voice is cracked and he can’t keep up with the faster paced songs. Truth is George probably wouldn’t argue with you. He jokes about slowing the faster songs down into waltzes and he apologizes that his voice is hoarse. But he needn’t do either. The fans aren’t here to hear some pimple faced kid singing in perfect tones they are here to see the man, the legend. You see there are many people out there who have perfect voices and I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear them. There are others like George Jones or Neil Young or even Johnny Cash at the end of his career whose voices were not the best but who know how to sing. Knowing how to sing and having a great voice are two different things.
What George Jones has, in spades, is authenticity. George has lived the life that he sings about. His fans know that. That is what they come for. The jubilee was packed tonight with country music fans from all over Alberta. “You think we’ll see anybody we know?” My wife had asked on the way to the theatre. “Are you kidding? I bet we’ll see a dozen people we know. “ Northerners love George. They grew up on him. Every trappers cabin had a radio in the old days, it was the only thing they often had connecting them to the outside world. Country music was a natural fit and George sang songs about the types of lives that people lived. George lived that kind of life too. You could read it in the words of his songs and in the sound of his voice. That is what his fans relate to. They know George is the real deal. What you see and hear is what you get. George also never let fame go to his head. He remembers where he came from and knows what his audience wants. He doesn’t take a lot of time preaching, he gives them all the oldies, all the tear jerkers and honky tonk songs. That is what they came for.
There are signed CDs in the lobby and George laughingly points out “I don’t need the money. But my creditors doo!” the audience roars. During the concert someone throws a note on the stage. One of “The Jones Boys” reads it. “It says get out of town by noon!” he quips, then hands the note to George. What it really says is that it is the birthday of two ladies in the audience and George sings an a cappella version of Happy Birthday to You. That is the way he is. That is what country music is all about really, isn’t it? Singing about what everyday people are all about. Make fun of it all you want. Like the old joke about the country and western song played backwards where the guy gets back his girl his truck and his dog, Country songs are about life and George, for better or worse, has lived life. Lived it to the fullest, hard drinking, hard driving, hard living. He is a survivor and so are most of the people here. No Dad you don’t need my rocking chair. But feel free to come back anytime and pull up a piece of stage we’d love to spend another evening listening to you sing your life. alf the north will be there.´In a way I wish I could have seen George in Yellowknife like Lina did because I know the response, though smaller in number would be twice as boisterous and heartfelt. Not that the audience here was not appreciative. But there is a special bond in the north, where people grew up listening to George Jones. Even young people idolize him and it is hard to argue with them. I too grew up with country music. My Dad loved all the early country music. People like George, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Ferlin Husky and so on. Sure there was a lot of grey hair at the co

Friday, October 9, 2009

Labor Day Pains

To me he is the king of the animal kingdom. Without equal or better, he reigns supreme. The most sought after of all game animals. More pursued than the overrated Lion or the vaunted Grizzly Bear. Who is he you ask? Where are my manners? Reader meet Salvelinus fontenalis, Salvelinus fontenalis meet the reader. Now old Sal here is a shifty sort. Well, perhaps I am being a bit uncharitable. Let’s call him elusive. Words can be so pejorative can’t they? He has a number of aliases. He is alternately known as; Old square tail, coaster, speckled trout, brook trout and eastern brook trout. Very slippery fellow this. In fact he is not a trout at all. He is actually a member of the Char family most closely related to the arctic char. Now were he easy to peg, easy to catch, slow of mind or slow of body he would not have a following. He would not have reached royal status. The grouse has his followers, those who crave his flesh enough to brave the bracing breezes of autumn to pursue him. But I don’t expect to see a lot of ink spilt about the pursuit of the “fool hen” as my father called the grouse. Even the much touted Salmo Salar or Atlantic salmon must be fished for only with flies, because he would be so easily taken on a metal lure that fishing him wouldn’t even be sporting. But the Brook trout, he is so elusive, so hard to fool you can fish for him with just about everything short of dynamite. But he is not just hard to get on the end of your line. He is hard to keep there. Once he has taken the lure, after no doubt hours of effort, he rails against it. He lunges obliquely, diving, thrashing, he rushes to create slack so he can spit the hook. He jumps thrashing the water with his square tail in a mad attempt to throw the hook. You know his bite it surges down the line like an electric shock. There was no mistaking it. There is nothing else like it in the sporting world. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound there is no creature like him. He is the King of freshwater sport fish.
The pursuit of the brook trout is not an activity for the timid. I emphasize the word pursuit. For there are no guarantees in the fishing world and we as do it are a superstitious sort prone to avoid tempting the fates. We would never be so presumptuous as to start a fishing trip by planning what to do with our catch. So valiant and noble is our opponent that we would never assume, never insult him by presuming that we would be successful. The pursuit is the thing. It is the chase that brings us. Us, the initiated. Us who have bonded, been united by tempting the fates by pursuing the Brook Trout. Like friendships forged in any great trial; war, fire fighting or some enormous physical effort, these make for the deepest ties. Friendships that have formed and thrived under these trials run the deepest. My Dad fished with the same guy for more than fifty years. They were so close they barely spoke. There existed between them a Zen like state which was wholly beyond such feeble things as words. I would watch them with awe. I knew they enjoyed each other but they usually fished in silence.
My greatest fishing friend is John. Fitting really, it was my Father’s name and his best friend’s too. John and I have fished together since we were in our teens. John is from Ontario, but his Father was born in Malta. He never really fished with his Dad. He and I started fishing together and I showed him some of the things my Dad showed me. We talk more than Dad and his friend John did. But we haven’t been fishing for fifty years, not yet. We have had many adventures, though. We have sweated and froze. We caught beauties and we have been skunked. We have, as Winnie the Pooh would say, “Done nothing together, for there is nothing better than doing nothing together.”
Now old Sal being a cousin of the Arctic Char is rather wont to take a hiatus in the summer. Like s snowbird in reverse he heads for deeper, colder climes when the dog days of summer are around. So too do his pursuers take a hiatus, from fishing brook trout anyways. We may pursue other species, like smallmouth bass or rainbow trout, which have no arctic blood in their veins. But old Sal is never far from our thoughts. Our fingers itch to play with a fly line. We false cast in our heads, picturing a swirling stretch of water on our favorite stream. Or we dream of the slurp of oars the rhythmic chunk of oars in locks. The lines trailing behind the boat as we rowed a favorite lake shrouded in mist with the promise of a sun written in a yellow spot in the haze. We dreamt of cooler days ahead.
“What about the labor day weekend?” I asked one evening in the staff room when John and I were working night shift. “Sure!” Said John, my boss. “It should be cooler by then. Where should we go?” There was no need to question what I meant. Fishing. Pure and simple. Fishing for brook trout. “Granite Lake. I’ll get permission to use the boat.” Dad and Johnny had a ten foot rowboat on a lake that was as close to heaven as there is on this earth. “Great, we’ll leave right after work Friday and spend the whole long weekend “Now next to fishing there is the planning of the trip. It is as good as or even better than the fishing itself. There would be a trip to the store for grub. A trip down the shore for bait. A trip to the NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission) for some beer. We packed our gear and put it in the car. We worked like dogs all day and changed into our bush clothes for the drive.
Unfortunately things were already not going as planned. “It’s a bit warm.” John said in an uncertain tone. “Warm? It’s hotter than the surface of the sun!” I said wiping my brow. “It’s over 100!” John said rolling down the window of my 1978 Honda civic, which had no air conditioning. He stuck his head out the window as I drove, like some sort of pathetic Airedale. Even in the approaching dusk it was sticky, sweaty, and hot. We reached Mount Uniacke and I went to Johnny’s house and he handed me the keys to the boat and camp. “It’s too hot boys.” He said as he passed me the key ring, “I know, but we’ve been planning for two months.” “Your Dad and I always went back on the long weekend, but it was never this hot.” I thanked Johnny and he wished us luck.
We drove to the spot on the highway where we would leave the car. We piled the gear on the side of the highway. “There sure is a lot of it.” John said morosely. “Yeah, a lot.” I echoed bleakly, wiping my brow. There was the tent, sleeping bags, pots and pans. Food, beer boots, and of course rods reels and tackle. We loaded up for the more than two mile hike to the lake and the boat. We struggled into our packs and handed one another the gear we were carrying in our hands. We started up the hill that leads to the cut line where the power grid ran. I had climbed his hill a hundred times but it had never noticed just how high and long it was. We were both bathed in sweat by the time we started down the other side. Now the break stops on this hike were well defined. Defined by Dad and Johnny and the literally thousands of trips back to the lake. I knew the rest break spot, with its cool shade and sweet, fresh spring water was still a half mile away and I groaned under my breath. I stumbled on, my feet barely coming unstuck from the ground, they seemed so heavy. Each lump of stone seemed like a stair on an endless staircase. Each step forward seemed like a step up. I knew too well that the trail was a connected series of hills of which this was only the first. I plodded on. Eventually we did reach the rest stop. Fully ten minutes later than normal. This could not be. This trail was like a tram line. Not only were the stops fixed, so was the length of time to reach them. You could set your watch by them. Man it was hot.
We flopped to the mossy ground. The shade was a blessed relief. Normally I don’t take my pack off. There was nothing normal about this trip. I slid the heavy pack from my back which was drenched. John had already done the same. Normally we stayed there only long enough for a quick drink of water and for my Dad to have a smoke. We slid to the ground and slurped heavily the cool clear water. Thank God for the water, it was as cold and clear as ever. Pure and perfect. I took off my bandana that I wore around my neck to keep the bugs off. I dunked it in the stream and tied it around my neck the cool thing was like a breath of fresh air. We donned the packs and started off again. There was only one more stopping pointy and it was a dry one. When we reached it we were nearly done. “The only good thing is that the rest of the trail is down hill.” I said sardonically. John already knew he had been here many times. He said nothing. He was fanning himself with his hat. The sun had nearly set.
We soldiered on. We reached the shore of the lake, I took the oars from there usual spot and headed for the huge maple tree where the boat was chained up. There was the tree alright, but where was the boat? I picked up the rusty old chain and stared at the broken lock. It was gone, stolen. “Great!” I said “Now what?” John said looking over my shoulder. I sat on a stump, too tired to take off my heavy pack. I looked John straight in the eyes. “Now we have to make a decision and make it quick. It’ll be pitch black in twenty minutes. We can leave now and be safely on the wide part of the trail or we can camp right here and spend the night.” “In a swamp?” John said incredulously. “I know, I know. But this lake is hell to fish from shore and we’ll never make dry ground by dark. “Well what else then?” John asked. “Well, we head back to Mount Uniacke and stay at my Aunts place and find another place to fish.” John stared at the broken lock. He felt the trip was slipping away. The beautiful trip we had waited for all summer. All through the long hot summer we had waited and dreamed, now, it seemed the dream was slipping away. He turned and started up the hill. I threw the lock as far as I could and put the oars back where I got them. It was well past dark when we reached the car.
I returned to Johnny’s place. He wasn’t surprised when I told him the bad news. It wasn’t the first time someone had stolen the boat. But it was the last. This time it never showed up. Whoever stole it probably sunk it. It wouldn’t have been worth dragging it out. Dad and Johnny had drug it back in the winter like a big toboggan. For them it was an ending of sorts. They had fished the lake for over forty years. In the old days it was a seven mile hike, involving two boats. They had built two cabins over the years but lately, since the new highway had gone through people had been coming back to the lake. Unsavory people, who stole boats, burnt the firewood and didn’t replace it from the piles outside. Eventually someone took the prop that held the roof up against the winter snow load. The cabin collapsed. Johnny and Dad only made day trips after that, they were too old to sleep in a tent. An era was gone.
“In the old days people had respect!” Dad said later when he heard of the theft. “I remember a time in the fifties when a rabbit hunter came across the camp when he was lost in a blizzard. He ate some food and used some fire wood. He left a twenty dollar billon the table under a rock.” I guess he was right. These were different times.
I headed to my Aunts house; she was delighted and surprised to see us. “Sure, come on in,” She said. “No, Aunt Violet, we’ll just camp out in the yard.” “You have to be kidding” she said. My Aunt Violet was as nice a human being as ever walked the earth. We insisted so she relented and told us to join her for breakfast. We spent a fitful night sleeping on the ground, in the heat. By morning we were sweaty, tired, unshaven and unkempt. We cleaned up before a delicious breakfast. Aunt Violets jam and a fresh cup of tea did wonders for our mood. The day had dawned bright and it was already getting hot. “Well,” said John after breakfast. “Where to?” “You’ve never been back to the mines right?” “Mines, what mines?” John said puzzled. “Gold mines!” I said. “They mined gold in Mt. Uniacke for nearly one hundred years. Just a couple of miles in that direction." I pointed. “Any fish?” he asked. “Well there are a couple small lakes. Must be fish.” I said ever the optimist.
“At least we can drive.” I said enthusiastically. It was already climbing to one hundred degrees. John was doing his impression of an Airedale again. The road to the mines was old and unmaintained. There was a ridge or crown to the center of the road. A crown of solid granite. I tried to straddle it as best as my little Honda could. We drove along then there was a crunch. “I didn’t like the sound of that.” John said. We slid under the car. The corner of my gas tank had a fresh scrape and a dent. A steady drip, drip, drip of gas was coming out. We exchanged glances. John was chewing gum. He took the wad from his mouth and stuffed it in the dent. He pressed it flat and the leak stopped. I looked at him and shrugged. We got back in the car. We made it to the first lake with no further problems. The patch was holding. I took the meat from the car and placed it in a cool stream. We pitched the tent in a small clearing at the lake shore. “This used to be a saloon right here in the old days. My Dad told me.” I said handing John a cool beer. “Cheers!” he said clinking my bottle. We sat down and cast our lines into the idyllic little lake. It was hot but we had no place to go right now so we had a good afternoon. No fish, not even a bight but a good afternoon. I told John some of the history of the mines. How there were two saloons, churches, a school and a telegraph office. Stages came in from the Mount twice a day, carrying passengers and mail.
Toward night fall we built a fire, not that we needed it for heat. We turned in early and spent a quiet if hot night. I awoke early and unzipped the tent. I stuck my head out the door and found myself staring directly into the eyes of what is possibly the biggest raccoon I have ever seen. He was twirling his whiskers in his hands, or paws. He cocked his head and looked at me like I was crazy. He ambled off and I stood up and took a step. “Whooooooooo!” I shouted as I slipped and fell and rolled down a small hill. John stepped out of the tent. “Crap!” I yelled. “You hurt?” he said hearing my cry. Then he too slid in exactly the same spot and fell and rolled down the hill. “No.” I replied. “I meant I stepped in crap! Raccoon pooh! Big bugger too!” “Well thanks for the warning!” John said standing up and hopping to the waters edge to join me washing the raccoon pooh from his foot. “Hey. I tried.” John was looking at me and laughing. It was contagious. IO started laughing too. The cool water felt good and I dried my feet and went to the stream to get our bacon for breakfast. “Crap!” I said when I saw the bacon. “What now?” John said. “You didn’t step in something else did you?” “No, but we aren’t having bacon for breakfast. I guess that raccoon beat us to it.” The bacon had been opened and what was left of it was writhing with leeches. “Yum!” said John as I held up the bacon. He started to laugh again and I did too. I sat down my side were still sore from the last laugh. We ended up slicing up wieners and frying them crisp and they weren’t half bad. The eggs were good and the toast made over an open fire was great especially with some of Aunt Violet’s jam.
After breakfast I turned to John. “Wanna explore?” I said. “Yeah, I think we fished this place out. I looked at the car and then at the road. “Maybe on foot, eh?” John laughed, “O.K., O.K.” he said as we started down the narrow road. Alders had filled in the edges of the clearings that once held houses and fields. Amid the alders and wild flowers Lilacs and Roses bloomed. Not wild roses but actual rose bushes. Apple trees were in fruit. Old basements and foundations showed where people had once lived, loved and toiled. Ghost town is a good name for them. It feels as if there are eyes following you everywhere. Grouse and deer graze among the apple trees, though there were none this day. “Kinda spooky.” John said, breaking the deafening silence. “Yeah. “ I said turning over a bit of broken porcelain with my foot. Across the road stood one of only a few houses still standing in the mines. Tattered white curtains fluttered in the broken window. There was a well in the front yard, a bucket still sitting beside it. “When did they quit mining here?” John asked. “In the early war years, but it took some time for the last families to leave. My Aunt Violet was among the last to leave. Her house once stood over there.” I pointed to a small hill on the opposite side of the road. Lilac bushes still grew in the yard. The lilacs in my Mothers yard were cut from them. Well cut from ones in Violet’s yard which were cut from them. Generations, I thought. Generations of lilacs like generations of people still connected genetically to this place. This place that I am connected to, too. Just as surely as these lilacs, like them my roots were in a different soil but my genes were here too. “Come with me.” I said “I’ll show you something.” We walked the road to a place where it forked and curved. When we walked around the curve there was a faint trail leading to the left up a small hill. There in the ground was a suitcase sized hole. It was full of water. “That” I said “Is want is left of the Hogan mine where my Father worked as a boy. In this blacksmith shop.” I said stepping into a square of stones on the ground. “You have to use your imagination.” I said. John smiled. “It has seen better days.” He said “Once a week they sent the gold to town.”
We sat down and took it all in. Right here I thought. Right here my Dad, a little younger tan I am now worked for his Dad and dreamed as did my Granddad about the seam “Of quartzite in a serpentine vein that marks the greatest yield.” As Stan Rogers had said in his song “The Rawdon hills once were touched by gold”. It was like I could still here the ring of the hammers and the sound of the steam whistle that marked time in the mines. Now the wind was silent save the hum of bees and the smell of lilacs. The alders were slowly eating the fields and clearings. The scars of man’s folly, the shafts and pits were still there and you had to be careful, for they were partly hidden.
Far from hidden was the open pit. It was full of water to within twenty feet of the top. It was almost half the size of a football field we walked to the edge and started in. A fish jumped. I looked at John and he looked at me. Then it jumped again, with a splash. We hadn’t brought the rods. We were half way back to camp so we dashed off and grabbed the rods and gear. We baited up and tossed bobbers in to the pit. “How are we going to land them?” I asked. John Shrugged. “Look we haven’t caught a thing yet so we’ll burn the bridge when we get to it!” He was right. But soon he had a fish one. John is a good fisherman. That is to say he is lucky. He reeled in a small silver fish with a lateral line down its’ side. It weighed less than half a pound. “What is it?” he asked. I stared at him blankly. “I don’t know. Maybe its’ just a big shiner, you know, a big minnow?” I said. “How’d it get here?” he asked. Good question, I thought. I had read about herons and shore birds carrying fish eggs from pond to pond on the mud on their legs. Or maybe somebody let them go. We discussed it over lunch, the rest of the wieners.
We caught a few more but let them all go. They were too small. At one point a fish took John’s bobber under for a good thirty seconds but when he got to it the fish had spit the hook. “That was no little one!” John said his voice shaking. I heartily agreed. I still wonder about that fish. We stayed for a few hours then headed back to camp. “I hereby declare the saloon open!” John said handing me a cool beer from the stream. It was still a scorcher. I slid to the ground and took off my heavy hiking boots and put on my camp shoes. I felt like I was floating on air. That’s why I carry them. John looked at the dried Raccoon pooh and started to laugh. We were both in hysterics. “What’s for supper?” John asked. Supper had been two New York strip loins that were now in the raccoon’s belly. I dug in my pack. I took out a can of corned beef. “I’ll cut it into steaks!” I said with gusto. John howled even louder. Just feed it to me without reading the label and I’ll pretend.” He said. It went into the pan and it tasted surprisingly good. We did dishes and watched the sun set over the lake. “Tomorrow’s Monday want to fish the lakes around the Mount?” I asked from under my hat, tilted low across my eyes to keep out the setting sun. “Sure.” Said John “How about a real meal at that little take out?” “What do you mean real meal?” I said feigning offense. But John was already asleep.
We awoke early and skipped breakfast. We packed the car and carefully threaded our way out the mines road. Aunt Violet was hanging clothes. We told her of our adventures and that we were sorry there was no fresh fish. “It’s too hot.” She said. We stopped at the gas station and replaced the gum with some body putty the guy had. We grabbed some snacks and headed for the railway tracks. The old D.A.R. (Dominion Atlantic Railway) had once been the lifeline of the community. The station had still been there when I was a kid but it was gone now. I parked not far from where it had stood and we walked the tracks. We walked the tracks towards the Uniacke estate. Built in 1813 by Richard Uniacke as a summer home, the estate sprawls on the dappled shores of Martha Lake. It is as beautiful as any English country estate. The estate fronts onto Martha Lake. Named after Richard John Uniacke’s beloved wife. When you are rich you can do that, name a lake after your wife. Well I guess you don’t have to be rich to do it, I mean I could name a lake after my wife but nobody would pay any attention, though she deserves it. We stopped on the shore opposite the estate and fished in the beautiful lake. In spite of the view the fishing sucked. The sun beat down like a blacksmith’s hammer. When Richard Uniacke was Attorney General he could jump on a train in Halifax and get off right where we parked the car. Servants would be there with a carriage to pick him up. Him and no doubt a pantry full of fresh foods from the city, those that didn’t come from the local farms. The Attorney General could take high tea on the veranda under the portico while looking out over the perfect lake. “I bet it teamed with trout back then.” I said wistfully. “I’d have servants swimming the lake herding the trout into my end!” said John with a smile. “Let’s move.” I said and we picked up our gear. We took a break for lunch and I had fried clams and chips at the little take-out on the old highway. They were delicious. John had fish and chips. “I am eating fish this weekend if it kills me.”
After lunch we made our way back down the tracks. Further down this time and the opposite side of the tracks. We found a small lake whose bottom was strewn with sunken logs. A beaver’s paradise. I baited up and cast. John put on a float and reached back to start his forward cast. There was a click of plastic on plastic then John started the forward cast it was smooth as usual and just as sudden. But there was a weird sound like an open window in a car at highway speed. And by my head, in my peripheral vision flew the dull orange plastic tackle box that John was using. It sailed high into the air and halfway across the small lake. In an arc not unlike a rainbow went the contents. Lures, flies, hooks, floats, spools of line, leaders, spinners and all the paraphernalia that fishermen collect and covet and garner over years of cruising tackle shops and department stores. In an instant years of cruising discount bins. Numerous yard sales and flea markets dozens of lucky finds along the banks of lakes and streams. All this came to an end as every single piece of tackle that John owned headed for the convoluted bottom of a lake strewn with logs. No hope of even pursuing it. The tackle box hit the water upside down. As the trays filled with water it righted itself briefly and like a submerging submarine it headed for the bottom. Its brown plastic handle the last thing visible as it sank like some sad conning tower. John looked at me with eyes wide and wild. “Wait!" I shouted and pointed. A flat package was drifting to earth. The only piece of tackle except the hook on the end of his line that John now owned. It landed on the gravel at the side of the railway tracks. John picked it up and turned over. It was a package of snelled hooks with a yellow clearance sticker on it marked 25 cents. “Great! Of all the things to be saved it would have to be the cheapest thing in the box.” His eyes were looking at the ground. I half expected him to be crying when he raised his head. Instead he wore a smile; from ear to ear he had the look of a man too stunned to cry. We both started to laugh. We laughed and laughed. We continued to fish, John using my tackle when he wanted to try something else. At dusk we headed back to the tracks. We put the gear in the Honda’s tiny trunk. I closed it firmly there was a crunch. I quickly reopened the trunk and took out my two piece fly rod. “I guess it’s a three piece fly rod now!” I said holding the wreckage up for John to see. He was in the passenger seat. We laughed all the way home. “That was the most disastrous trip ever. I punctured my tank.” “A raccoon ate our food.” John added. “We both slipped in that same raccoons pooh.” “I lost all my tackle.” “I broke my rod!” “Where do you want to go next weekend?” John asked. “I hope it cools off before the season ends!” I added.
Now here is proof that the Speckled Trout is the king of fish. We never once in that weekend disaster considered turning tail and going home. Nor did we stop fishing. Through it all we kept casting, kept hoping.