Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Greetings 2013

There was a Latvian explorer and hermit who lived in the shadow of Angel Falls who abandoned his family to pursue the Mystery of Life. He was convinced both mystery and gold could be found in this wild place, if only he could be quiet long enough to hear it.

When we moved to Grande Cache, I was convinced that mystery and discovery, just out of reach, lives here. There were two treasures I hoped to find. This place is remote, hundreds of kilometers from any other community. The protected wildlife dominates, and people live to the very edge. This is a place where the forces of nature can be watched and understood. I believe I caught the mystery before I had to leave. You can ask me about it over a stiff tea, if you are so inclined.

The second treasure is more of a paradox in human behavior. It is easier to sympathize with the poor who are far away. We have our class distinctions and our prejudices here in Canada too, even if we are polite about it. Before Grande Cache, I had intellectualized this injustice, though I had done nothing about it. I had lived with my discomfort. Here we are in a small town with a larger than average income for its size, struggling like everyone else to provide basic services, and living right beside a community with a vastly lower standard of living. I mean, how many Canadians today live without running water?

To be fully human means embracing everyone as my brother, and here I am living right beside two communities largely ignoring each other. I was graced with the opportunity to work for Aseniwuche Winewak Nation and Rachelle MacDonald. This is a community of non-treaty, mostly Cree people whose quiet mountain culture was severely disrupted by progress. They are recovering by degrees, and visionaries like Rachelle and David (the man of the infectious laugh) are masters at finagling funds to lift the community. May they continue to grow strong. Ply me with more tea and I may speak more of this paradox. Here's David's famous smoke house:

David's Epic Smoke-House

But I had to leave this place. Like everyone else, we have to work to eat. I toyed with the idea of running for mayor, but the salary could not have kept us. So I have left so much. There's the mountains of many faces played by cloud and light and people of every description.

There are the Palette Pals ladies, anchors in the community and keepers of memories. And the Koffee Klatch outside Noelle's Cafe, pontificating large on matters big and small. We have churches and pastors building the community and fighting a losing battle with nature to attract attendance to their services. We have a local paper, the Mountaineer, and a hardware store of narrow aisles reminiscent of my childhood.

We have heavy equipment operators, miners, and prison guards putting in hard hours to power industry and police our convicts. This is a town of hope, a chance at prosperity, for a man of strength to pay off his debts or make new ones. This is a town of new Canadians, South Africans leaving a hard place, and starting fresh in a country dripping with peace and security. A rough paradise less and more than they hoped for.

And I had to leave this place. The grief is a barely remembered ache, brought fresh when I write a letter of remembrance like this. Or when I suddenly realize there is no-one like Billy in this city. A man of deliberate speech and broad heart who would give a man his last shirt if he needed it more. There is no Billy here to pull up beside me in his pickup just to make sure I am OK.I am crying.

Art in the cab of our U-Haul

Art and I left this place on a rainy day, feeling the ache in our bones and moaning at the mounds we had to load. Art and I did it, one foot in front of the other and with the help of a sturdy dolly brought in on order from the hardware store. Our old bodies reminded us we aren't cut out like we used to for this sort of work. The Filipino couple Art had befriended at the local Subway store will miss us, too. They worked for hours helping us load our stuff.

We are in a cute apartment in the City, not too far from where I work for an engineering firm in Sherwood Park. We battle the commute through the construction of the last leg of the Anthony Henday twice a day. I am closer to my family and Art is back with familiar faces at the Kingdom Hall.

This summer we played around at the Corn Maze in Bon Accord.  I've got photos.

There's an edge to the city, an energy, and a restlessness. A restlessness perhaps from living with barely perceived mysteries unsolved, padded over with busy work. Don't dare slow down or you might find yourself trapped in a cab with Billy, deliberately winding around to what is really important in life. Do you have the time to hear him?