Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ballad of a Glad Cafe or The Kaslo Road Revisited Circa 1980

I remember that you asked for explanations
As we exchanged our knowledge near the rain;
The lake was down below, and broad, and snow-swept,
And I felt good in that old cafe again.
I could open up my deepest heart, and you looked in;
You'd dropped the common doubts and knew the score.
When the lightning came you stood your ground and caught it;
I wondered if you wondered if there's more.

Or do you have some questions on the history?
Not for granted, surely, you take those hours?
You claimed a lot for grace and special knowledge,
But just like that how often do they pour
So sweet and fast and freely given. . .
Well, not entirely free, there is a price:
For the victors, faith in glory, for the vanquished:
The slowly dying flame of memory changed to ice.

I think you thought that victory might be easy
Just the natural steps that lay ahead,
One conversation down and ten to go,
The route so full of the light that spun our thread.
But since I left your side I thought a decade
There is a toll of tales you'll need to hear,
Whole armies move surely in my memories,
You have to learn that wisdom starts with fear.

Not fright from me; though there are those who think so,
But there is the office, the mantle I never sought,
But that I learned to wear in the heat of roaring battles,
You might have smelled the smoke that lingers yet.
You might have called it incense, near the rain,
In all the joy of friendship's opening hour
But come the close of subsequent encounters
You'll need to know the history of its power.

So you could think on Moses in his trials,
How he pitched his life against the Pharaoh's
That if he'd scouted not Sinai, but the Kootenay shore
He might have sat in our cafe to speak at length.
Does it matter that the space was unpretentious?
The stable of stables knew no nobler stance
And nothing like that view of this green country
Where the cafe and my intentions take their chance.

And Moses is not so strange an image either,
I've not his mob, but I've had my meanderings
A miracle or two, and lots of cheek
When I've kicked the golden calf and other panderings.
And you must have guessed by the strength that shook our table
That this wasn't the first time I'd prayed around these walls
Like that old tiger I'd checked out my future desert
When I had to walk alone to hear the call.

The cafe came not to me on a pleasure trip,
I found it through a snowstorm and surprise,
Heading north in pain and a wildcat winter
An exile Caiaphas' henchmen left to die.
The sudden spring had closed and the light grew colder,
The wind was whistling vengeance from beyond,
All around the compass froze in wonder,
And both camps huddled wondered where I'd gone.

I first flashed by in the daylight with the wounded,
The next time through the dawn among the ranks
Of a wilted weekend's witless memories squad
Who would have ruined coffee with their thanks
And I had to keep my fingers on the lanyard
Hurling limping salvos south from the Duncan flats
Then I walked out in the sun to check the damage
I was never quite so out positioned after that.

So my virgin entrance came in calmer times
And though I wouldn't say my scraps were done
I'd discovered secret trails and bolder allies,
I fought from strength and rarely drink alone,
And every toast we raised of Brazilian leisure
Marked a sweet advance on the final goal,
We counted up the wounded, split the treasure;
I came not often, but with all I'd want to hold.

And now you've sat beside me in that landscape,
We talked of matters out of touch with lines of fire
But tales of the Kaslo road say it's not easy
To keep a gunner's hand sweet on the lyre;
And if you'd like to wander in the mountains
With me again, then talk above the lake,
Ask of others who shared in the early stories
There are legends before the history you would make.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cariboo Memory December 2012

It’s not too surprising that Gerry Bracewell didn’t recall myself, as we were actually around the ranch very little, and I was not, by my job description, scheduled to be there at all, but with my survey crew well down the river.
But the regular skipper of the freight boat, a combination cook and gopher, cut himself with a power saw and had to go to the hospital and later recover, so he couldn’t run the little launch.
I had come out of the jungle along the Mosley to meet Mom, Dad, and Ricky, who had driven into the Chilcotin on holiday. This coincided with the power saw incident, so Ralph Spinney, our boss, gave me the freighter job, which lasted for about three weeks, until Don Phillips got hurt, although not so bad he couldn’t run the boat, and I was sent back to the front lines.
Thus I had an idyllic little stay at the bottom of the lake, during which time Gerry invited us nearby types to come to a party she was throwing for anyone handy, but especially in honour of three young American fighter pilots stationed at Puntzi Lake. They had come to the ranch for a holiday.
Eric Gleddin and I went up in the 16-foot clinker built, on a calm Saturday evening.
I not only wound up singing with the late brother’s guitar, but warming up in the pantry, singing “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” to little Johnie Perjue, son of our cook Jarrod, I realized that I was going to be a teacher.
A wind came up, and Eric decided it would be the greater part of valour to accept Gerry’s invitation to stay the night.
The next day it was somehow decided to have a “rodeo,” starring the Bracewell family milk cow, a Hereford with polled horns. (The polling is very important to this story.) I don’t know why the airmen were not out riding on real horses. Maybe they had done the normal thing, but were still thinking about brahma bulls. So we all wound up at the corral, where the three of them took turns at being tossed off the Hereford’s back without ceremony.
Alf Bracewell looked a bit bemused by their suicidal determination, and I  wondered about the effect on Betsy’s milk, but we soldiered on and gave the Yanks their money’s worth. When the heaviest of the three hit the dirt with a particular shuddering thump, I got the bright idea of changing the routine.
I’d read enough of Hemingway in Spain to know a little about bullfighting, so I borrowed a large red bandanna from someone, possibly Gerry, or maybe Jarrod’s wife Bonnie, and strode into the centre of the corral waving it in front of me in the appropriate fashion. I possibly really scared Alf, but of course we side hill gougers of the Homathko were in fabulous shape, with reflexes like hockey players, so I wasn’t worried. Well, not initially. So strutted my best matador pose, waved the red bandanna, and shouted insults at a mightily bemused milk cow.
Obligingly, she caught on, and charged. In an admirably straight line, covering 20 or 25 feet quite nimbly, heading for the bandanna. She swept by, I triumphantly lifted the cloth above her head as she did so, and received a generous round of applause from the fence sitters. With apparently no hard feelings, or second attempts at my limbs, Betsy trotted back to the start line, possibly assisted with directions from Alf.
But on her second getting into position, I thought I detected a slightly different knowledge at work in her bovine brain, and it might have been at that point that I recollected some of Hemingway’s research.
He had pointed out that the last thing desired by the Spanish ranchers who raise the fighting bulls is for their animals to have been able to study the human body in motion on foot. Their worst enemies in this regard are boys who sneak into the pastures and practise matadorial ambitions. Bulls with experience of human footwork can become very dangerous in the ring.
So I went through my provocative routine, and again Betsy obliged. But this time she was totally annoyed, and, as I say, wiser. And cunning. She did not head directly for my pelvis. She only started to curve to her left as she got close, late enough that her nice little half-ton of angry bone and muscle would have nailed me dead centre if I’d not studied Ernest and not seen the dark gleam in her eye.
My evasive action was very fundamental, and in no way in the best matador tradition. I simply dove backwards and to my right, and as it was, she managed with  her chopped left horn stub to nail me on the left hip, with a blow I was to feel for several days.
So I gave back the bandanna and ended forever my career as a bull fighter. But out of that exchange I found a new vocation: rodeo clown. Now that I was Betsy’s number one enemy, with or without the red flag, as she continued tossing her would-be riders, I was immediately the focus of her attention.
Thus I loitered near the corral bars, waved at her each time she dumped one of the pilots, and then scampered up the rails as she headed my way. I continued to be useful in this fashion until Alf decided Betsy had had enough.
We all went back to the ranch house, where Gerry cooked up a huge meal. After the feast, which had required every pot in the house to cook, we played darts for the honour of doing the dishes. With my score the lowest, the chore fell to me.
Meanwhile, the boss and another of the crew had showed up with the little freighter. The wind had dropped, and we sailed back to camp later that evening on gently rolling swells, under a full moon.