Friday, 18 May 2012

The edges of things

We woke up on the edge of America, drove along the edge of a lake, and are sleeping one last nite in Ontario before driving to the edge of this province in the morning. My nephew Matiu, who is following our trip on a map, pointed out to my sister that if we were in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we wouldn't need to go around so many things because we could simply fly across the watery bits. It's a good point, but seeing as we are driving a flightless car we found ourselves clinging to the edges of things all the way to Thunder Bay.

Much of the day was spent driving through long stretches of breathtaking scenery: it's hard to avoid cliches when talking about this Ontario landscape, and it's better to stand back and let words like 'breathtaking' mean what they say rather than fashioning clumsy over-eager new phrases. We mostly drive along the edge of Lake Superior, and worked our way through bodies of water and clumps of rocks and trees.

Trees, water, sky: driving between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay

I find the trees here to be a kind of miracle: when the road runs through channels and ruts, a slice of the local environment is revealed, like a slice of cake, in its bisected glory. Amazingly, the red and grey rock is thick and iced with just the merest touch of earth before being decorated with gigantic trees and shrubs, testimony to the ability of some life to put down roots and find depth even where this seems practically impossible.

We stopped at key sites today: a giant goose and a bear. The goose (a giant one, in the style of the giant nickel from  yesterday) was in Wawa, and was erected in order to commemorate the section of the Transcanadian Railway which finally included the small young town in the economic, social and cultural networks enjoyed by much of the rest of the country. According to the signs next to the goose, people in Wawa fought hard for this inclusion in the literal transport of the nation, because they were sick of living, it might be paraphrased, on the edges of things.

Daniel and the giant goose, Wawa

(One can't help but wonder about edges in such a case: isolation is relative, and distance is only a meaningful unit of measurement if you don't consider yourself to be a kind of centre.)

The bear was Winnie the Pooh, who - it turned out - was originally from White River, Ontario. Yes, if you thought Winnie was English you're not alone: so did Megan, Kent and I. But (Daniel tells me) Winnie was actually an orphaned bear from  White River who was taken to Winnipeg, where he got his name, and then finally to London where the writer AA Milne was inspired to write a story. I'm not sure if it's more on the edge if people don't know the place you're from or of people assume they know where you're from and don't imagine they might be wrong. Anyway, I digress.

The main activity we engaged in today (besides talking, singing, laughing, snacking and taking the dogs for little walks) was a search: as we drove we looked for the ulimate Canadian roadtrip fetish: moose. Apparently moose are most likely to appear in spatial and temporal edges... standing in small pools, marshes and creeks at the side of the road; in early morning as the sun rises and late in the day during dusk. I hadn't realised that moose (and bears!) were even a likely part of our trip, but Daniel told me (and Kent confirmed last nite, as did the people who sold us a latte in Midland yesterday morning) that this is apparently almost guaranteed. Wow! Moose!

The funny thing about expectations is that you are only disappointed if you know to have expectations in the first place. Certainly I would have been more than happy to have arrived in Thunder Bay this evening without seeing moose, but because I knew they were a possibility I feel a bit different. After a day of scouring the edges of the road, we have started to feel a bit like an entitlement (to see Moose) hasn't been fairly delivered. Clearly the moose are happy enough without us, but we find ourselves wondering if they are not playing the game by the rules (they don't even know it's a game, which doesn't help with this)... we find ourselves looking for one thing instead of appreciating a thousand impressive kinds of beauty which we did see along the lovely road to Thunder Bay. It's exhausting to keep focussed on looking out for moose, and perhaps - I'll admit - not entirely necessary. We're been looking out for an icon whose bulk occupies a specific edge of 'Canadiana' and I realise as I type that I haven't spent as much time enjoying the road (the black water, the bright green leaves) because I've been focussed on its edges.

Other edges. As I finish this blog, FatDog snoring like a gentle lawnmower and a tap dripping quietly in the bathroom, a single lamp on right next to my bed, I find myself at another kind of edge: that between awake and asleep. And so, I'll close this trusty laptop, switch off the lamp and say good night.

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