Thursday, November 1, 2007

Homeward Bound

So, it's been five months since I got back from my greatest adventure ever. And, in a different blog, I would spend a lot more energy talking about why I barely write at all any more, and what that does to my self esteem, and what the deeper roots of this, that, and the other thing are, but for now, I'm just going to put a bullet in this thing and kill it.
South Hero. Burlington. Finally, I get onto Highway 2. I don't know what state I'm in. I know on the map that if I stay on Highway 2, I'll get to Halifax, via most of the rest of the east coast.
And highway 2 is wonderful, if only because I tell myself that this is the last leg of my journey. After this, it's beaches, fishing, sleeping, friends, and an end to endless, heartless driving.
Highway 2 is beautiful. But I hate it. Because, from its curvy peaks and lovely valleys, I can see a lovely and fast-moving interstate, and all the fast-moving vehicles smart enough to get onto it, coursing through whatever state it is at 70 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, am stuck behind some 100-year-old pensioner who can't seem to figure out which pedal on the floor of his vehicle does what. He solves this problem by pushing neither, and coasting slowly using the power of gravity. Slow. Slow.
And there are on-ramps to the big highway. But since the map isn't great, I'm not sure how far it is to the point where I want to get off the big highway, and back onto the trans-Maine secondary highway #2.
So, to avoid getting caught on a concrete river running in the wrong direction, I keep away from the lovely onramps, and cry. And languish at bicycle speeds.
Finally, the evil highway splits from the interwoven and hateful 2, and I can devote all my energy to hating the lethargic motorized pensioners blocking the already-slow path of my small truck and trailer, without the distraction of hope that was the interstate. On and on I travel through one after another 200 year old town, all quaint and disappointing in their own ways, and all another obstacle to my final destination.
I realize at some point that I'm actually retracing my tracks through northern Maine, from the last time I tried to take a direct route through the state. I learned in New York and beyond that the straightest route is not the quickest. It's often not even the most useful.
And I learned the last time I shortcutted through the States that it's not really fast at all.
In fact, now that we're on it, I've never, ever saved any time going through the states. Using that ferry in Wisconsin was a bust, and cost an arm and a leg. But it was more interesting than driving around the lake by far. And cutting through Maine in 2006 to get to Toronto was slower than staying Canada by far. And now, I was realizing again that the USA is slower, and the food sucked, too.
Anyway, Maine is beautiful., so I really don't care. Highway 2 rambles like an armless legless man on a three-wheeled skateboard--up and down hills with no rhyme or reason. It also undulates like a roller coaster. Then you get onto the big highway. Maine's highways are the oldest in the country. They're wide, and clean, and well maintained. And they're fast. And the people are polite. It's a nice state.
Then you slip onto Highway 9, that is, if you're trying to go the most direct, least fast route possible. Highway 9 is like a trip back through time. Bangor is busy and close. Outside, on the little secondary highway Bangor never wanders onto, small towns feed sparsely off the small amounts of traffic that trickle through. These little towns, sucking at the streets for survival, never go back too far from the road, and they all have old spruce trees and brick buildings, waiting for time to reverse, or for the town to starve and for plywood to cover their already-lonely windows.
Further back from that on the highway, there's nothing. To a cashmaker, or a financier, or even a real estate speculator, there's nothing. But to a naturalist, or to an environmentalist, or to someone with as simple a goal as kayaking on a dead-still lake surrounded by trees, with no motorboats to break the silence, this is potential. This is real growth--that of trees, and perhaps deer, and possibly bears and moose--all of these hide behind the trees, waiting for someone to step off the path and find them. But that's not what I'm out for. If it were the beginning of the trip, and if I didn't have to get to Halifax some time before Saturday or Sunday, I could have stopped, stepped off the highway, and come back out when the snow started. It's not a fantasy of mine to wander off into the forest, but if it were, this is where I'd do it--in the unbroken wilderness of Maine. It seems to go on forever. Where New Brunswick would clearcut, and Nova Scotia would subdivide, Maine has ignored. Preserved. Protected by omission, or indifference. To roll through here, with the sun glaring off perfect lakes, it's as though you're the first and last to see it, and as though it might always stay that way. And that thought made it a beautiful place. To think that once the whole world might have been like this, in some way or another, before we learned to destroy it all...
But, civilization reappears, after hours of silence and steady driving. The sun sets with the wilderness, and my mind shifts from green to whatever colour booze is. I stop into the duty free and see what's allowed, and what isn't. To be brief, I haven't been in the US for long enough for duty free booze, and the clerk doesn't recommend hiding anything, either. I make jokes with the clerk, looking for hiding hints, and consider gambling, and shoving just a little bottle under the seat of the truck, just to say I did.
But I don't.
I get into the truck, hating the sticky cold dampness of the seat that I didn't really notice when it was still warm from my body, and roll over the bridge in Calais onto Canadian soil.
"Good evening, sir."
"Canadian citizen?"
"Good to have you back."
"That's it?"
"Do you want to see my birth certificate?"
"Nope, not really."
"Well, they sure raked me in the states."
"OK," I say, already lamenting my cowardice. I could have brought 300 bottles of anything I wanted back into Canada with nobody saying boo. They wouldn't have even known it was me!
Oh, well. That one bottle would have been gone fast, anyway.
So, through the dark of New Brunswick I roar. The big toll bridge panics me the same way it did last time--only in that I don't think I don't have any quarters. It costs 50 cents or something to get over the massive, amazing 70s-looking bridge, and I do have quarters.
So, it's a boring story this time. Just like the drive through the rest of New Brunswick. It's dull. The highways here cut through the landscape with little concern for aesthetic or view or trees. The whole province looks like the rest of the province--or, at least that's what's easiest to believe from the highway at night.
And it is night. And I am tired.
At one point, I realize that my lids are drooping, and I'm not really paying attention in the conscious sense. Really, I'm letting the reptile brain jerk awkwardly at the sight of a drifting yellow line, and correcting my course in large, awkward jumps. I cross into Nova Scotia barely alive. It's been 13 hours since I left South Hero yesterday morning, and there are still two and a half hours left to go.
I try to change my tack by waking myself up with loud music, which works in that I can't sleep. I pick favourites, and blare them. The moon is following me along, and I realize at one point that, no, I should not be watching the moon for two minutes at a time. Luckily, it's a divided highway.
Looking up, though, and looking forward, I feel a certain comfort coming on to me. I can feel my bed beneath me already, in my small room on a quiet tree-lined street in a town full of friends. I can smell the ocean--not the shitty, polluted swamp-ocean New Brunswick has, but the clean, clear, Fundy-shore ocean, and the long, light beaches that tuck under the shores. I can hear the ... well, I'm trying to be dramatic, but all I can hear is my stupid music, at three hundred decibels, and the rattle of the little engine. But it all sounds relaxing.
But I try not to notice that I'm almost half dead, and that my ears are ringing, and that I'm almost completely full of garbage food. Right now, I can't even remember which trip I'm remembering--did I stop at that Big Stop this time, or in 2006? Was there really absolutely nobody else on the highway? Where is my Crash Test Dummies tape? Where did I get that tape in the first place? Where am I?
I roll up to the toll booth, and give the guy some American dollars. Or debit. Or I crash through the gate. Who knows.
Finally, as the sun starts climbing over the horizon on what will probably be a nice summer day, a crest the final hill before Halifax proper appears. This is the first time I can see the ocean in my province. It's a day's walk away, but from here I can see lighthouses and islands and blue and green, and, if it weren't for the disgusting gigantic commercial park right next to me, I could almost believe I was flying into town, into this eblue and green paradise. Then, I'm back down the hill, and I see the whole town. My town. It's pretty big. And it's green. And I breathe a sigh of relief. It's still there. And it's still beautiful, in all its ugly, messy, disorganized, unplanned, unsprawled, inbred way. The streets are a little unkempt-looking, same as always. The biig trees are still crucified with parking signs, and the old neighbourhoods are still a little run-down and unpainted. My street isn't far. The trailer is close to its new home--which, for now, is at the curb on Black Street. I roll a little further. It's all familiar. It's all beautiful. It's all for me. I walk up the steps to my house, leaving maps unfolded and garbage uncleaned, and windshields covered with bugs. The trailer waits outside with the truck, unaware that neither is going to move for a week. I don't ever want to drive again.
Clumsily, I bang my way through both doors into our apartment. Everything is the same. All the old weird pictures are on the walls. A huge picture of me is still stuck in the front entrance from my 30th birthday, more than a year ago. Space Janitor. And of course, there's Jenny. The little thing wakes up to my racket, and isn't mad at all. She's relieved. We sit around our kitchen table, like we have a million times, and I tell her this story, possibly more abridged, and maybe we had tea, or maybe I stood and talked while she sat, in her housecoat. It's been four months since I've been here, and I'm glad it's her that sees me first. Because, best of all, once I tell her a good piece of the story, she lets me go to bed.
I shake some of the dust off my pillow, unused for so long, throw all my clothes off, and fall asleep before they hit the floor. I'm certain I dream something, but it really doesn't matter. My dreams still have half a summer to come true, in every simple, perfect way that they seem to in Halifax, starting the moment I wake up tomorrow.

--Neal Ozano

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