The Maritimes


Four bagels deep and I fear a breadache coming on. My two-man tent has become too small for one expanding bread body, leaving me loose-kneed until the car is packed and a key turns an old motor warm. It’s a cold sunny morning. The sour smell of dairy farms seep through the crack in the drivers side window, as “Baby Face” by Jacques Boulanger creates a happy-go-lucky soundtrack to a passing Quebec countryside. These scenes are all familiar, though not in French. KFC has become PFK and French words have replaced the English counterpart at the top of highway signage. Trailer parks, the centrepiece of each small town, are beginning to look like lifeless graveyards. Each trailer a tombstone filled with the undead waiting to die. If these monolithic motorhomes aren’t full of deceased, then the windshield in front of me certainly is. A collection of insects that have gathered here in splattered solidarity. Mosquitoes turned black smudges. The lucky ones - red smudges. And the remaining like to live in the pits of my wrists. My body has become a blood bank, paid in small black dots surrounded by a white bulge surrounded by a red ring.

As the seasons turn, winter complaints about weather are exchanged for summer complaints about bugs. Though spring sprung slowly this year, mother nature knew how to play catch up. Now full hills are blanketed in lush pine and spruce trees, coming to life with each peek the sun takes from behind the clouds. The time in between is still nature, just naked and shivering. Fresh cut lawns make sadists out of the caravan park caretakers, as they chomp the tops off dandelion flowers with sharp blades and sharp smiles. Clearing the overgrown plots for this seasons influx of living dead. I do however, meet a caravan couple who despite their middle-to-old-age have plenty of life left in them. Gary and Nicole will eventually house me for the night, but before they do we will have consumed eight bottles of natural wine and perform an adoption. Though it won’t take long before the wine is revealed to be a Costco home-brew and the adoption will merely be me supposing the role of their son for the evening. But how did we get to this point? Well, searching for places to pitch an illegal tent in small towns has its challenges. One being daylight, of which there is plenty in this hemisphere during the summer months. Having arrived in the small Acadian town of Shediac (proud home of the Big Lobster) at 6.25pm, I had exactly 3 hours and 26 minutes before darkness fell and blanketed the seaside town in a more pliable cover. My accelerator-foot hobbled hopelessly toward the jetty to retire to a chair and pursue the early pages of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Food wasn’t on tonight’s menu, instead a main course of sea breeze with a side of saved money. 

Yet just as soon as this future appeared in my near-brain, it was altered. Interrupted by a sun-drenched porch accompanied by a sun-drenched caravan and a sun-drenched couple before it. They grinned the broad grins of a couple whose healthy marriage was survived by boozy evenings, coastal getaways and regular sex. Our relationship began as a photo opportunity, but quickly progressed to “would you like to join us?”. Gladly obliging, I sat my sore frame down, relishing the opportunity to pass time quickly with company. And pass the time did, quickly as we intoxicated at a rapid rate, Nicole repeatedly mentioned her centenarian mother who had just turned 101. Nicole’s mother grew up as a French Canadian in a time where French Canadians weren’t welcome. “We are a marginalised group” Nicole preached in a proud patriotic sermon. “The Innuits used to beat my mother in school for speaking French”. Garys eyes had fogged over by this point. Blinded by the disinterest that came with hearing his wife explain, word for word, the same scripture she’d spoken since their dating days. I could swear his mouth was moving in time with the monologue that he’d subconsciously memorised over the years. His cold, patient body now simply waiting for a break in conversation so that he could light the pending bonfire. Silence fell for one second, then two. “I still can’t believe this is happening!” Nicole pierced the silence. “We never take guests in off the street like this”. Silence fell again. One. Two. Th-. “Can you believe this Ben? This is all just so weird”. One. Two… Three. Then with a spritely prowess Gary was up. Building a fire from damp not-so-dead wood. Between the both of us we spent bodies of breath blowing life into a lifeless fire. Depleting our drunken lungs and exchanging oxygen for dark smoke. We huffed for 20 minutes before Gary’s cheaply boozed brain recalled the old turkey oil he had stored in his shed from the Christmas dinner of years prior. And just as if lightning had struck - “Whoomph!”. Like a floodlight coming on and dimming to a simmer. We had fire, at the cheap cost of singed eyebrows and the smell of turkey embedded into our clothes. It must have been the morale that a flame induces or the newly restored warmth in our bones. Whatever the factor, the feeling was maternal. Just as quickly as embers turned to fire, Nicole was by my side.

“Where are you staying the night?” she purred in a loud whisper.

“I was going to pitch my tent next to the marsh down the road.”

“Pitch it here” she responded in the obvious bluntness of a mother. Following orders, a tent was pitched gratefully, albeit not so gracefully, given my wine mind.

My body clock was set to an ungodly hour that morning. The result of an early rising sun and a translucent tent cover. The sun warming my body to uncomfortable boil. A boil that couldn’t be calmed by an unzipped sleeping bag.

10 minutes: Folded poles, pulled pegs, a hanging fly layer.

45 minutes: My nightly breath drying on the walls of my portable home.

5 minutes: Avoiding sober contact with the inevitably still-drunk caravan couple.

1 minute: Disappearing without trace.

Many places have been called home these last months, but home is currently St Marys Road. About twenty minutes from town and about fifty minutes from a bigger town. Charlottetown. The land bares potatoes and the sea bares lobster. That’s what this island has known since the French and British waged battle over it in 1745.These days, Irish and Scottish accents blend awkwardly into a Canadian twang. In the same way that I’m awkwardly trying to blend into this country town, sporting an ill-fitting flannelette shirt and a softened Australian accent. If that’s managing to fool them, then my Chevrolet Spark is where the façade comes undone. It handles well, but doesn’t handle these gruff roads. Pot holes have formed where pot holes have been covered before. Emptied and filled. Emptied and filled. Like the many growing pot-belly’s in this town. Emptied and filled. Emptied and filled. Mega marts are packed with chubby people buying chubby bags of bulk foods. Marshmallows and chips and hormone helped chickens. Energy drinks a staple for the fishermen and energy drinks a staple for the fisherwomen. Keeping them sharp until the boat docks and they can finally let their mind turn blunt. My brain, like theirs, has been blunt for the past few days, yet manages momentarily to harp back to home, and to a girl that could be named ‘Home’. Then she’s gone. Only to return the next day and the next day and so on for the months that will follow. Her red ringlets wrapping around my mind and drawing it back to home. Because although home is where the heart is, home is not where Home is.

For the time being, home remains St Mary’s Road – Prince Edward Island - Canada. The reason for my being here is simple: Jonathan. A handsome island boy with long blonde locks that he plaits with the finesse of an African mother. His arms and hands decorated with a slew of unplanned tattoos. I first encountered Jon in Ecuador. He housed me, taught me how to make leather goods and exposed me to the power of couch surfing and home sharing. His kindness stayed with me over the six years that we remained distant, manifesting within me until now, when yet again he houses me. This time in the bedroom he grew up in as a child. Jon has returned home in an attempt to make some money for his newly formed family back in Ecuador. Alas it is proving harder than he thought and has obtained fix-up jobs via his father whose let his dwelling go neglected since the family moved away, one by one. I’ve been helping, to the best of my ability, with the chopping of the winter wood pile. Doing a couple of hours here and there when the bugs aren’t biting and receiving payment in the form of shelter and fresh lobster. Both of us have retired for the day and Jon’s mother is cooking the clams we collected earlier in a DIY pancake batter. This concoction will eventually make me violently ill, but until then I feel nothing but healthy and strong. Jon and I are throwing a hatchet at a tall tree as the surrounding forest swallows the sun. I stick the small axe and he responds simply with “nice”. I stick the big axe and he responds with “Nice!”. He’s impressed at my quick learning, in the same way that he was impressed by my talent with leather work. I’m just happy that he’s impressed. The crackle of clams bursting open in a boiling sea-water broth are competing with the whines of Beaucoup the dog. Named peculiarly after the French phrase “merci beaucoup”. A title given to the yappy creature by one of Jon’s two brothers, Matthew who has remained mute through the fleeting moments I’ve encountered him. His shaved head and sunken eyes are the result of a uniquely personal past that belongs to him and only him. Matthew dwells in a small cabin on the family lot and emerges for fishing work and laundry duties.

It’s a curious dynamic, but the Jamieson clan know it as nothing irregular. To truly understand this family is to uncover silent wounds, but I’ll briefly attempt to explain the current state of affairs. Jon and his father share the family home, albeit on different floors of the property. Laurie (mother to Jon, Luke and Matthew and ex-wife of Kevin) occupies a tent next to a swamp not far from the house, but far enough away from intruding or being intruded on. Luke has pulled his newly purchased 2nd-hand caravan behind the barn and is sleeping there while he builds his new slice of tiny home heaven down the road. And I’ve informed you of Matthews predicament. It is a family re-union of sorts, but a family that is recalling why it is that they aren’t united. There is a tension that all are privy to and judge without doubt that the reason is Kevin. Kevin is a burly man, sporting a disheveled Santa Claus look. His hair isn’t overly long, but he is long overdue for a haircut. He has more jeans than there are days in a week and rotates them like clockwork. His seasonal depression has progressed to seasons of repression. Early days as a nomad, turned to later years as a hermit. Cooped up in the memories of his youth and drowning in the trinkets of a family that moved on.

As his family did, I am moving on too. So let’s fast forward to me driving again. Accelerate to an unshaven me, not having showered in days. My dry drivers hands sliding over an oily forehead. Rolling skin dirt into small sausages and scraping the tops off of premature pimples. Refusing to pull into gas stations and then pulling into gas stations with a bloated bladder. Reveling in the opportunity to piss the caked shit of the side of the drop toilet.

It takes timeout

to remember to breathe in.

On a solitude toilet I sit

and remember to inhale - shit.

On the topic of toilets, I’m pulling up at the border of Trumps America. There might not be a wall on the North Border (yet) but I just hit a wall of anxiety and feel the need to put on a facade of ‘studious’ and ‘compliant’.

It doesn’t take long to encounter my first white Trump supporter. Interestingly enough I’d met a black one before named Doug Harris whose Fox News mouth spewed of xenophobia. This white man however, was different. Charismatic almost. He doted over my home country, wooed me with vast knowledge of the world through a war veterans eyes and spoke in childish tongues to his pet Chihuahua. It was becoming hard to reconcile his likeable nature until, like clockwork, the conservatism began to seep through the mold in his walls.

“I love your country, but what a crying shame that you were stupid enough to give gays the right of marriage”. My nose became poisoned with the reality of stale breath, of flaking scalp and unscheduled naps. A smell that would permeate my hire car until I eventually returned it. I remained silent, my eyes avoiding his gaze at all costs.

“I mean come on” he appealed.

As it occurred with Doug, the charisma had lifted to reveal a scared, ailing man cowering in the confines of his antique gun store. Leaving behind nothing but a legacy of stuffed animal carcasses and low Google ratings. Passersby would continue to treat him as an attraction. Attracted by the “Maine for Trump” and “LePage our Governor” signs that doubled as blinds on the front facing windows. Like myself, some would go in to “meet the freak”. Others would write reviews from the safety of outside, typing one and five-stars depending on their leaning. I leaned both ways. I leaned right away from his direction and then left in a hurry.

Hugging the Maine coastline, I continued south on Route 1 with my windows wound down in a bid to keep my eyelids from lowering. Often, I would glaze over in a blissful brain fade, only to emerge in a panicked state, convinced that I was driving on the wrong side of the road. The coastal Interstate was near empty and the sea breeze was full. With the sun inching closer and closer to the North Atlantic, so did I inch closer and closer to refuge. The great ball of glowing gas docked gently on the ocean as I anchored my car in Bar Harbour. Sun was quickly exchanged for moon as I tented myself in a postcard. It resembled a landscape that we all know from coastal watercolors. From beach house art where the weight of the paint is more impressive than anything else.

I’d slept beneath fulls, quarters and halves, but tonight it was gibbous. A humongous healthy-looking giant of almost full compass. Waxing or waning, it didn’t matter, the slight piece of pie removed from the whole was enough to keep me sane. Through the tent mesh I gazed, lying in the warmth of my loneliness. It’s easy to remain alone when you make the moon your friend, I thought to myself. On this night my moon friend was a pregnant woman. Curvaceous, near maturity and days from giving birth to her entire being. She remained silent, offering me light to read. Yet, the contours of her surface were more captivating than the pages of my book. Eyes fixed firmly on foreign constellations, I fell asleep in search of a Southern Cross where there wasn’t one. In a Northern sky.

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