In the Greenwood: Part 3

The answer comes in Myth and Magic in Literature class. We were discussing the Robin Hood legend. The assigned reading was a photocopied sheaf of papers with different treatments of the legend. And there it is, on the bottom of the page: They slept in the trees.


My mind began to wander. Some of the trees in the Endowment Lands are huge. And who looks up when they’re picking through salal and bracken? No one. I jotted down a few things I could think of right away: Can’t be visible from ground or air. Can’t stick out. Should have paid more attention when that hippie model spent two years or whatever up in the trees on a platform. For one thing, where did she pee? Poo?

Wait a minute. Platform? That brought me up short. I got wet under my shelter last time. How to stay dry? And the wind blows in winter. How to stay warm?

I added “Stay warm and dry” to my list.

After school, I googled tree shelters and came up with some good ideas. I’m going to need a roof and walls, though. Could I build a tree house? With what materials?

I took a detour home from class to look for places to put a tree house. All along Imperial was no good. There were too many dogs and joggers, and not enough foliage. For cover, I needed evergreen, so probably a Douglas Fir. But they’re shaped wrong and are all scraggly about 20 feet up, which is where I thought it best to build.

After four days of wandering, I found the right site. To the east of the ecological preserve, not far from Musqueam Creek. There was a maple there with a promising-looking fork, right beside a Douglas Fir that obscured the trunk at about 25 feet. I could see some sky, but expected that I’d be able to make some kind of camouflage cover.

I hadn’t been walking around just looking for building site, though. I was still toying with the idea of where to get materials, how to transport them, and what to use. I costed out plywood at the hardware store, but didn’t get very far. Too expensive.


Then I noticed some construction pallets outside one of the new condo developments in the village.

Three sleepless nights + two aching arms + 3 suspicious piles of leaf mold=11 construction pallets hidden in various locations near my trees.

Three days spent nodding off in class and drinking coffee and  learning about wilderness shelters.

And then I began to build.

The Quintessential Me.

I just had one of those moments of clarity.

I’m listening to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and reading some guy’s dissertation wherein he explains the use of allusion to popular culture in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series.


In The Greenwood: Part 2

May first means it’s warm enough to go around in a t-shirt, so I figured I’d take a sleeping bag into the Endowment Lands and see if I could find a place to camp. It was a good gamble. I figured I could poke around there and find someplace inconspicuous to hide. After all, what’s a little experimentation in the face of free rent?

About five, I grabbed my sleeping bag and some sandwiches for dinner and hopped off the 25 at Imperial St. I’d spent the last couple of days researching how to make a shelter in the woods. I figured I was ready.

I have never been more wrong. You know how they say a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing? It’s also a stupid, damp, foolhardy and embarassing thing.

I found a place in some four-foot-tall bracken and erected a kind of lean-to in a low spot under a cedar tree. The air smelled fresh and green. I pulled out my 17th Century Poetry textbook and read until it was too dark to. Then I ate one of my sandwiches, thining I’d save the other till morning. My watch said it was ony 9:00, but I was tired, so I took off my shoes and crawled into my sleeping bag.

I was woken by something sniffing around outside my shelter. I listened closer, reminding myself that there were no bears here. Were there two animals out there? Oh God. I hadn’t even brought a flashlight to see or scare them off, and the darkness was stygian. I’m serious.

“Hey!” I called, in what I hoped was a threatening manner. The snuffling stopped, then started again.

“Hey, fuck off!” I called louder. Snuffling stopped. Started. All of a sudden it sounded like even more snufflers.

And then they started yipping. Of course it was coyotes, but that didn’t stop me from nearly peeing my pants in fear. Would they come in? My knowledge of coyotes was limited to knowing they ate cats.

Then I remembered: My sandwich. They’re like dogs, right? They have keen senses of smell. They can probably smell my cheese sandwich. What should I do? Throw it to them? Would they go away or come looking for more? I was paralyzed in indecision.
They yipped and snuffled for a long, long time while I huddled inside a drecky, dripping shelter made of cedar boughs. Eventually they wandered away.

Dripping? Yes. In my panic over the coyotes I hadn’t noticed that it had rained. My sleeping bag was getting wetter and wetter, and water was actually coming in and pooling in the little hollow I had thought so cozy only hours before.

At first light, I rolled up my wet sleeping bag and walked to the bus stop, my bones stiff and my pride bruised.

In The Greenwood: Part 1

The year the federal government stopped giving out student loans for university, a lot of people gave up. Sure, people with family money kept going. Kids sold their cars to keep going to school. Took extra jobs. Studied less and worked more so they could get degrees. Banks gave out lines of credit only to kids in medical school,law school, or commerce. An English Lit major couldn’t catch a break.

Lots of people blamed the Baby Boomers. But they wasn’t the entire problem. Canada’s population was getting, well, too welll educated. People with PhDs didn’t become plumbers, and there was no one training to be electricians or joiners or forklift operators. The governement had tried soft-selling and then hard-selling trades, but it didn’t work. Despite the fact that everyone knew plumbers made more than teachers, we were still flocking to the universities. Taking loans away from university students and giving bigger ones to trade school students seemed to be the way to get more of what the country allegedly needed.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The Boomers were somewhat to blame. They insisted on full pensions, even though there wasn’t enough of a tax base to support them. The money had to come from somewhere, and with Boomers lining political pockets, it wasn’t going to come out of Medicare. Not with a bunch of golden-agers needing hip replacements after braking them playing squash at the country club. People hypothesized that that was part of the reason Med students could get bank loans and lines of credit. That it was some kind of silver-hair conspiracy. Bollocks, as far asd I’m concerned. It’s a known fact that doctors make money. Lit students and German majors don’t.

It was the spring of my third year. I was on the B-line, heading up to study and wondering how I’d afford to finish my degree. With one more year to go, I had several options: Work more and try to find a house with even more roommates to split the cost, take fewer courses, or give up. Become a plumber.

Outside the window, the sun speared golden fingers through the leafy canopy of the Endowment Lands. It was as beautiful as it always was on a sunny day. A crow winged upwards frm a copse and a squirrel ran along a branch.

I blinked, possibility hovering in front of me. Could I be looking at Free Rent?

Christmas Thoughts.

So my dad and I were talking the other day (I know! Good, huh?) and he wondered if I had thought about Christmas at all. Well, it’s true that I have, in a sort of Oh-Lord-How-Will-We Manage-To-Stay-Sane-And-Will-There-Be-Enough-Money? kind of way. But Dad wanted to know because he was thinking of going to Hawaii.

No, stop getting excited for me. Not take his kids to Hawaii. Take HIMSELF to Hawaii. In fact, he may be taking his girlfriend and her daughter, but it still, it is the best possible situation.

Bo and Carol will be slinging their butts around to various American universities in an attempt to find gainful employment as Philosophy PhDs, so won’t be here, at least between actual Christmas Day and New Year’s.
I’d also feel strange about Christmas in Cow Bay. Call me a narrow-minded antisocial fool (actually, I am sometimes, so that’s ok), but I’m not yet ready to start any kind of tradition there.

So maybe Dad can go to Hawaii, Bo and Carol can find fabulous Tenure Track positions in cities that don’t suck, and E and I can sleep late, watch a lot of movies, and maybe go to an Orphans’ Christmas Dinner somewhere in the neighbourhood.

There’s a plan.

Willie Brown

Willie Brown is back in town, and if that sounds Dr. Seuss-ish to you, you should see the man in question.

First, Willie Brown is not his name. He is Cuban, and has about six long, grandiose Spanish names. No one can seem to remember them in order. One of them is Guillaime, so we call him Willy.

Willie’s natural ebullience is such that it spills out into the world around him. He is a physical dervish of hugs and kisses. He tries to hold three conversations at once, catching up with friends and making new ones, and when his English is stymied (It’s his fourth language), he cracks up into staccatto howls of laughter. While he’s talking, his hands are never still. In conversation they stroke one’s cheek or high-five or grab someone’s forearm in earnestness or sympathy.

Willie’s downfall is music. Sooner or later, he’ll hear something that he just has to dance to. And he really has to. It’s like an extra rule of physics for him. Sometimes he’s happy to salsa alone. More often, he will grab a startled partner from where she is sitting, whether he knows her or not. I have seen a number of women go from the verge of crying assault, to helpless and laughing abandonment while dancing with Willie. The first time he grabbed me, I was startled, and then charmed as he steered me between the bar and the tables. By the time we were done, I was gasping for breath in laughing exhaustion.

Willie’s exuberance is matched only by his gentle spirit. He is a man who is more wounded than most by the slings and arrows of life, and he feels others’ pain as well. His sensitivity can get him to sit still for far longer periods of time than casual conversation, but after a while, he has to express himself physically. He loves his friends unreservedly. They love him back, because it would be impossible not to. He shines through this world as an example of how to live in joy. He is a miracle.

Willie Brown is back! I’m putting on my dancing shoes!


Funerals are funny happenings. Not funny, ha-ha, (although they can be) but funny, strange. All those people, from all the places in the deceased’s life, together to try and say goodbye.

Often these events are held in the place of worship the deceased attended, at one point or another. This may make many of the mourners uncomfortable, as they may not be of that particular faith, or of any faith at all.

Today was one of those times. I was at a funeral for my Great-Auntie Bunny, who was the wife of my grandmother’s youngest brother. Still with me?

It was held at the Tsawassen United Church. United churches don’t squick me out. They’re a lot like Unitarian churches. But a couple of things in the service bothered me.

1) The minister used a microphone. I don’t know, but to me, microphones are distinctly un-holy.

2) Someone got up and sang. The words were something to the effect of ‘We’ll meet again and have a good time”, as is standard in these situations. But the music (a CD recording) sounded like a Disney love song. You know, where Pocohontas is singing to the trees and stuff? Not really appropriate for mourning, in my eyes.

3) The minister quoted from the New International Version of the Bible: “In my Father’s house are many rooms”, said Jesus. I much prefer the King James Version, where “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.” Note to Y’all. No New International Version for me, if you’re wondering what to say at my funeral.

4) The minister tried to keep it timely and prayed for the victims of a shooting crime that happened in Montreal today. Hey, I thought today was about Bunny, not some people in Montreal!

It was strange. I’ve only ever been at home in one church, but I guess My Father’s house has many churches as well.

Staying Sane.

It’s a fucked up world. Everywhere you look, people are in pain. From the constant low-grade snubs that those in the service industry get, to things peope do in the name of love, in honour, in personal freedom. Fucked right up.

The only way to make it through is to find a way to stay sane. To let off the steam that grows and can blow up, leaving only confusion and more hurt. The thing is, staying sane often looks like insanity. It’s a human thing, I guess.

I have a friend who lashes himself to the mast with alcohol. If he doesn’t drink, he may drown in a sea of introspection. He’s carrying a fist-sized chunk of pain, and when he gets drunk, he doesn’t have to think about it, weighing down his heart and soul. When he wakes up hung over and late for work, he doesn’t have to think much about his heartache, only his pounding head and dry mouth. He drinks because he is afraid of the insanity that threatens to engulf him if he acknowledges his pain. His liver may give up before he decides to. I hurt for him, but I cannot face his pain for him.

I have another friend who digs into sanity in her garden. She has an HR job doing something that I couldn’t do for a million dollars, and has to wear panty hose to work. In her heart, she is screaming defiance at the Establishment and going to punk concerts in condemned buildings. But her health can’t take that anymore, so in order to stave off the self-loathing she accrues working for The Man, she gardens. And stays sane.

There’s also the guy who works the till at the liquor store below my work. All day he works in a subterranean store, the fluorescent lights turning his already-pale skin almost green. He is freckled and looks slightly defeated, scanning through alcohol for a depressing number of people he sees every day. So on his breaks, he comes up to the parking lot and faces the sun. Soemetimes he does a little half-jitterbug jump, a twitch to shrug off the assholes and the drunks. When he jumps, I imagine him leaping like a salmon towards sanity, shucking off the bugs of the tedium of his job.

Me, I read to stay sane. Things get strange? Open a book. Can’t handle reality? Open a book. Want to avoid something? Open a book. Killing time? Open a book. I stay sane reading, because it is the fastest and easiest way of getting ‘elsewhere’.

We need to work harder than ever before to stay sane in this world. There’s too much at stake if we abandon ourselves to the cruel vagarities of the world.

In Which I Confess to Art.

I painted a lot growing up. Watercolours, mostly. The supplies were always available and it was something I was encouraged to do. Through practice, I gained some skill. I didn’t take a class until university. That class made a huge impression on me.

During third year, I took a class in scene painting with the Theater Department. There were several assignments over the term, and most of them involved creating perspective through the use of line placement and shading. I was very bad at those. Any time there were straight lines involved, I did not excel. The teacher, a tall, commanding man who always surprised me by being more involved behind the curtain than in front of it, never hid his disappointment that I was not a better painter.

Then he handed down the final assignment: Foliage, of any type. We were to copy from a picture. I chose a Monet painting and duly started filling the grids on my four-by-twelve-foot flat.

I worked hard on that flat. I made mistakes. But even a BIG mistake looks small on a canvas that big. And I could always go back and correct it. I loved that ability to change what I had done wrong.

I was in my element. In the big art studio behind the theatre, listening to classic rock, smelling paint and the cavernous dusty smell of that place, up on a ladder, sponging cherry blossoms onto a tree that bloomed long ago.

The teacher came in. His boots rang on the cement floor. He appraised all our work, then stopped when he looked at mine. He was silent, and I made a few more pink splotches on the canvas.

“You did this?” he asked.

“Yep.” I turned to look at him. He was coolly checking out my work.

He was silent for a moment. “Keep working.” But I heard the approval in his tone.

His approval bolstered my painting ego immeasurably. I knew that I could paint, and paint well. Just not straight lines.

I still can’t paint straight lines, but I have spent the evening painting, and I’m happy with my skill.

Baxter’s Big Day

8:30am: Look, you guys! I caught this thing for you! It flutters and stuff, so I know it will be fun prey for us to all take down as a family!

8:47: Wait, you’re hogging it! I brought it into the living room for us to share! Why are you taking it outside? Oooh, are we going hunting together! Cool! Hey! Why are you blocking me? Wait, that’ s not fair, I can’t reach it there!

8:50-1pm Cool! Let’s all play, you guys!

1:pm You guys are totally boring. I’m going exploring.

1:20-5:pm You guys, you GUYS! I am trapped on a roof and no one even cares! I might DIE here! I haven’t had any food for…I don’t even know….I feel faint…....

5:20 :Oh God, I’m here. I’m heeeere, trapped here for all eternity! HEEEEEERE!

5:30: Thank God, you found me! I’m safe now. Hey! Do you guys want to play?

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