This Generous Moment The Silence and the Song

 

This Generous Moment

The Silence and the Song

The Jagged Heights

It was after we developed chair ballet that I found myself hanging from a ceiling rafter.

Kamloops, BC to Banff, Alberta
23rd August, 2001

It's ten years, more or less to the week, since I saw Nirvana playing as a support act in a roller disco in Dun Laoghaire. Of course, as nobody watches support acts, we waited for Sonic Youth to come on in the pub outside. I wandered in to the back of the hall for the last two or three songs which I believe included Teen Spirit, and remember thinking, not bad, put a bit of work in and you might do all right in a few years, boys. Bayete, Kurt.

Still travelling with Moose Travel, the guided shuttle bus service. The experience is very different here in the west. When we went aound the eastern route, the core group of friends that I made on my first bus leaving Toronto traveled at the same pace as I did, and we would get off one bus and onto the next at around the same time. Here almost everyone stays on the same bus, rushing quickly together around the route, leaving me behind by myself whenever I choose to get off. Earlier in my travels I had become used to a shift in reality every few weeks: as I spent say, two weeks, in Havana the friends I made in that time would remain the same before it was time to say goodbye and start the next phase.

Now my reality changes every day.

I get on Mad Steve's party bus with twenty young people mad for it - we go out and get drunk and leap off podiums - we say goodbye. The next day a new bus rolls up - I have twenty new friends to make, introductions, chat, win them over, justify my existence - and then they're gone. The strain is intense. It's all too young, too wild, too much. Emotions sweep through me unawares - sudden savage bursts of jealousy, rage, longing, feelings I have not felt so intensely since I was a teenager. Where will it all end?

Pissed on in Whistler

There was a greatness to the rain in Whistler, a proud, unabashed continual downpour very unlike the whiffling on-again off-again drizzle we get in Ireland. It just did not stop for the three days I stayed there, waiting in franchise coffee shops for a break. Occasionally the clouds would part briefly to allow the mountains behind to peek through and taunt me. I was supposed to be hiking up there, and after two days of Starbucks grande lattes I had had enough.

I was going to go up that trail rain or no rain. I found some Germans - who better for some meaningless, punishing exercise - and off we went. After four hours of pushing up a track made out of tree-roots and mud, we came to the top. A sodden pond. We stayed for about thirty seconds and left. Most miserable hike since the Duke of Ed in Limavady made us walk in a circle in an Antrim bog for four days in November to learn the wonders of the of the outdoors when we were fourteen.

My next bus was full of twenty-nothing English girls. We went out drinking and dancing together and I made the mistake of chatting to them in a decent, friendly fashion instead of to the two stoned-out lads at the back who drink and play pool. Fool. In the peculiar logic of young women they pegged me as a obvious loser, ignored me from that night on and spent the next week following the two boys around, on the basis that, as they don't talk, they must be cool.

I got drunk and pranced around.

It's Hard to be Popular in Kamloops

All my life I've avoided vertical rock climbing. It's the domain of suicidal lunatics in suspiciously well-fitting lycra tights. If I wanted to swing in space anchored by only my finger nails, I'd at least do it making risky get-aways from voluptous eastern hareems.

In Kamloops we gave the climbing wall a go for kicks and now I love it. It was such fun! Sorry Sara, for doubting you all these years, I take it all back, rock climbing is great and I intend taking it up. Oh crap. One more outdoor sport to pursue to mediocrity. I already sail, windsurf, dive, ski, canoe, hike, orienteer, rollerblade, and none of them well. Of course not. I never have the time to focus on one to a state of proficiency. Mind you, I can't stand sporting fanatics with their continual drone of shop talk and their looks of complete disain every time you get your transom mixed up with your carabiner, or your salapets stuck in your johnny-whatsits.

The group went out dancing where I join forces with the lads and two dissidents, Selena and Teresa, against the girlie coterie who are by now ignoring everyone and spend the night dancing in a tight circle. Ridiculous! Ridiculous! I am over thirty and suddenly have a starring role in a teen highschool it's-hard-to-be-popular drama. Ridiculous!

So I got drunk and pranced around.

Advice for Women

Teresa informs me that local women keep sharking me, giving subtle signals of female interest which I missed completely. Note to the women of the world: I don't know the significance of a raised nostril hair or a flared finger nail. Kindly signal your intentions directly, loudly and with the appropriate amount of gesturing and pouting. An imaginative arial display would also be good and help ensure your place in the line.

Selena tried that with Alex, lauching herself at his bald head from the top of a speaker when he wasn't looking, crying "Catch me, big boy!", missed entirely and fell with a crap to the floor. In between pointing and laughing I was really quite concerned.

Coastal BC was verdant and well watered granite mountains, Kamloops is semi-arid foothills. The change in one days drive is quite shocking. What's next?

Valemount Evergreen

The evergreen forests of the Caribou range. We stayed at a ranch miles from town, set among forests and looking out to snow capped peaks. The house was enormous, clean, modern, with an outdoor hottub and a barbecue. The clique ate their food and watched a video. The rest of us had a few cans out under the massed stars of the northern hemisphere.

We all got drunk and pranced around.

I think it was after we developed spinning chair ballet that I found myself hanging from a ceiling rafter by my hands and feet, inviting all comers to "horizontal pole dancing" that I thought, this has to stop.

Sascha, one of the boys, came up to me yesterday with real emotion in his voice, and said, that was really beautiful, man. Not good. I fear I have become a drunken buffoon. I fear I may have become "Irish".

Jasper and the Columbia Icefields

I bid that bus goodbye and geared up for my next fourteen new friends who arrived exactly five minutes later. Fortunately, they were a more relaxed bus load of couples. For the first night in a week we sat around a campfire and talked like adults. Julia, a kind, funny student teacher visiting the west of her own country for the first time in her life. Bryce and Nicola, a pleasant, relaxed couple of Kiwis had come to Banff from New Zealand to work and snowboard all winter in the Rockies.

The Rockies! I had wanted to see them all my life and finally we were there, crossing into Alberta to a land of old fold mountains standing up from the plain like the broken paving slabs of some ancient race of gods. A land of jagged edges, primeval forests, limestone cut waterways and huge grinding summer glaciers. A land of endless perpectives, valley on valley, and edge on edge. If ever you go anywhere, go there.

We stayed in a rustic hostel in Jasper, where we had to fetch our water from the river. The outhouse was a short run across open bear country. The bears! Everywhere you go in Western Canada you see bear warning. You are given grizzly advice. You are taught black bear encounter strategy. As far as I could tell, when you meet a bear you should not eat their porridge, and you should always have a hiking partner who can't run as fast as you can.

They had me so hyped I detected bears at every yard from the kitchen to the latrine. What's that? It's a bear! Oh, a tree. That's a bear! Oh, no, it's Katie, the bus driver. Sorry for throwing a pine cone at you. A bear! The same tree again. And so on.

We saw a bear at last by the roadside. It was cute.

Banff Jigolo

Banff is a resort in the heart of the Rockies, surrounded by glacial blue rivers and lakes, and stern upthrust sedimentary rocks. We went whitewater rafting, I fell out so that my friends could practice their laughing-too-hard-to-save-your-life technique, and then climbed a mountain.

The land unfurled easily around us in an adventure playground of greens and greys under the perfect blue sky. All of a sudden I wanted to be a ski guide, a rafting guide, a rock climber, anything to allow me to see this place through its changing seasons. Maybe I can get a job as a mincing jigolo.

My new friends have gone again. Julia, who had kept me laughing all the time, sat up with me last night and we talked at random, spilling out various odds and ends and scrag parts of old emotions. Thank you for that Julia, you eased my heart. Tomorrow I must make twenty new friends, and maybe this time if I keep my mouth shut and they play no ballet music, they'll let me be a quiet old man who just smiles and nods to himself, and if he looks out the window sometimes, perhaps he remembers that things are just fine.

 

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Caribou Mountains

 

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Indoor Climbing

 

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Glacier

 

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Lake Louise

 

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Glacial Lake

 

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West Moose Route

 


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The Facts

Where I stayed
Kamloops: HI Kamloops. Hostel in converted courthouse. Large dorms, good kitchen, entire court room to sit in.
Valemount: Twin Peaks. The most amazing hostel I've ever seen. It's really a huge private log-built ranchhouse with all mod cons inc. enormous TV, jacuzzi, fireplace, BBQ, forests, bicycles, horses, deer, bear, you name it. Owner built it from the sales of plastic dildos (really), and I believe only Moose Tours are allowed to go there.
Jasper: HI Jasper - Athabasca Falls. Wilderness hostel in the middle of wild forest full of bear. You have to wash in the river and be careful with food, but a beautiful place.
Banff: HI Banff. Excellent hostel, clean rooms, large bar/restaurant and terrace.

How I got around: Moose tours. Excellent hop-on/hop-off service. The staff struggle to do their best for you wherever they can. Can be heavily booked.