Thursday, March 11, 2010


The morning after the dance Susan slept in. I left her in bed and went for an early morning walk to think about John Simmonds. Petesabooty tagged along. It's warming up around here so there's an optimism in the air. At least for me.

We ended up, inevitably, at the Trees. I sat on their wooden walkway and stared out through the canopy of twisted lines into the grey-blue sky, imagining what it must've looked like for Mr. Simmonds so many years before. The contorting branches split the air like a shattered windshield. Petesabooty was sitting beside me sharing the view.

"What do you see, Pete?" I asked. "Just some trees? Or something more?" His eyes didn't seem quite as soul-less as they had before. He wore the same stupid grin all dogs are burdened with, but his careless gaze into the Trees got me seriously contemplating his perspective. His and Mr. Simmonds'. And Susan's, Clarke's, Mrs. Scurfield's; what did they see when they came out here?

The exact same thing as me. And yet not.

When I got back to the house two hours later Susan had coffee ready for me. "Your little seedling looks good," she said as I stepped through the door.

"Yeah. I'm almost becoming fond of it. Almost."

"I know. It sorta snuck up on you, didn't it?"

"Yes. It's completely absurd."

"Why?" she asked with a smirk.

I smirked back. "Don't you think it's odd?"

"I don't know, Matthew. I sorta think the Trees are wonderful."

"Wonderful? Really?"

"Yes. Frightening too sometimes, of course. But mostly wonderful."

"I think I'm beginning to, I dunno, understand that point of view," I said slowly. Susan's eyebrows lifted and she lowered her head, looking ready for a punchline to arrive. "It's just that," I stammered -growing self-conscious, "well, maybe they mean something a little different than I thought they did." I waited for Susan's reaction. She was motionless for a while. Expressionless too. Then her shoulders dropped all their tension and she stepped toward me smiling. The entire house seemed to shiver.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

LXXXII: Steward of the Trees

The Ukrainian hall has a sign on the wall near the kitchen that says, "Legal capacity: 85 persons." Last night the Stepanko/Schur wedding dance brought in a lot more than that. I watched Marty Gorski park his truck (one of those trucks that is, unmistakeably, a young man's pride and joy) on Mrs.Price's front yard. He wasn't the only one. By the time I went home there were four trucks on her yard. No room anywhere else, I guess. Seemed like most of the town showed up.

They played the same old casette tapes over the 70s Yamaha sound system they always play at dances: a lot of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Stompin' Tom. Stuff like that. Those silver tower speakers were crackling away.

I drank more than a couple beers with Susan, sitting on a bench near the back. You had to holler to hear anything. There were a bunch of kids making tunnels through the enormous pile of jackets that had compiled in one corner.

"Dance with me, uh, with me," Susan said. How much had she drunk? I can't remember.

"Aww," I replied. I tried to raise my eyebrows and give her a look that said, 'I'm sorry, I know you like dancing.'

"C'mon! C'mon c'mon." She stood up and dared me to turn her down. "Just one song. It doesn't matter if you're not good." I'm definitely not good. So we danced our way through Bud the spud in the bright red mud they call Prince Edward Island. Susan was beaming. Then I stepped out behind the kitchen for a smoke. Marty Gorski was there with his leather jacket.



I went back inside. It was too crowded to breathe. Susan was deep in conversation with our neighbours on the back bench. I went to order two more pints. Which is when I noticed the picture. Hanging on the wall behind the bar. Above a bottle of Chivas Regal. Old, black and white, of a guy just standing there. I spent the rest of the night stealing glances at it.

Susan must've noticed my looks. "Didn't Mr. Simmonds used to look after the Trees or something?" she hollered in my ear an hour later, over the sound of twenty dancing couples and Life is a highway I want to ride it all night long. Mr. Simmonds? The guy in the picture? And then it came flooding back to me. The email from Dr. Remphries. How could I have forgotten?

I'd asked Dr. Remphries if he'd been out to the Trees at any point for his research.

A 1992 trip was my only time at the site. My technician visited there once. In my trip there... they took me to the person who was kind of the 'steward' of the trees at the time, the late John Simmonds. He was very keen on the trees and took us out to the site. On behalf of the land owners, he gave us the permission to take some of the sucker trees.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

LXXXI: The Seedling

I shovelled my driveway this morning. Took a lot longer than was necessary. Like I was sculpting, not clearing the snow. I was so careful. I got all the corners just right, and made sure I hadn't left any shovel streaks. No trails of snow giving away my preferred pushing direction. I smoothed everything out and even put time into shaping the white mounds of snow now crowding the driveway's edge. The seedling kept me company.

Went inside for lunch. Got restless afterwards. But it felt good. Like I had purpose. I ended up in the kitchen staring at my coffee cup. But not in a distracted, detached way. More like I was studying it. Or like a man on alert waiting for some insignificant detail to emerge with the key to life hanging from its neck.

Susan came over mid-afternoon. We talked a little, ate, then got bored. "Mrs. Scurfield's house is like a plant warehouse," I said, by way of making conversation. "Everywhere, in every room. It makes me uncomfortable."

Susan breathed deep, laughed, and said, "I think it would do you good to have a plant in your house."

"No thanks. That seedling is enough."

"Oh God, Matthew. If anyone I know should be a gardener, it's you."


Saturday, February 20, 2010

LXXX: Primary Sources

I looked out at mainstreet yesterday on break. Empty and cold. I know everyone in every building, almost. Which is as depressing as it is reassuring.

After work I packed my Tree essays into a box and hid them away in a dark corner (they've had me spinning in circles for a little too long). Then coveralls, toque, boots, and I was out the door and onto my lawn. It was just me, a fold-out chair, and the Crooked Tree seedling. I studied the texture of the bark and its already meandering shape. Thought about having a cigarette. Didn't.

I heard Clarke behind me. "That thing is gonna block my view in a couple years," he said, dragging a chair from his lawn onto mine.

I'd never considered that before. I said nothing.

"So tell me again why you planted this thing?" he grunted, sitting down.

"I dunno Clarke. But I'm glad I did."

Monday, February 15, 2010

LXXIX: Susan VIII: Leonore

"I liked Leonore with Clarke," Susan told me in bed last night. "She was good for him."

"No! What?"

"I always saw him around town," she said. "Now I never see him unless it's over here."

"Yeah, but he hates going out."

"Jesus. Who hates going out?"

I smiled. "Well, she never let up with him."

"But she's so nice."

"Of course. She's lovely," I said. "But he was miserable and she couldn't fathom why. I think she loved the version of him that pursued her, but didn't like the realization that that's just a role men play sometimes. It's part of the game. You're not supposed to like the game. Only assholes are like that all the time."

"Oh God. I hate when people talk like this." Susan's voice betrayed some frustration with our emerging battle of the sexes. "She just wanted him to make an effort."

"I think she wanted that effort to be too much on her terms," I argued, defending my side.

"Well, if it's on his terms it's not much of an effort is it?" she asked.

"I don't know what we're talking about anymore. This is too abstract."

"You just say that 'cos you're losing the argument."

I laughed. She laughed. I imagined Clarke next door, sleeping or watching TV. I contemplated his amusement if he could overhear our conversation.

"Clarke makes a social life seem like such a weight," Susan said. "Does it have to be a burden, just saying hello to someone?"

"I dunno. Yeah, sure. Sometimes."

"Who wants that?"

"I'm sure he doesn't want it," I said, feeling like Susan was misunderstanding something important. "It's the same thing for Leonore. I don't see how Clarke not wanting to go out is so different from her not wanting to stay in. It was such a burden for her sitting around the house with him, but that's who he is."

"It's probably not who she fell in love with," said Susan, quietly.

"That's true." I tried to reason the whole thing out. "He played the game of pursuit 'cos he liked her -and it worked; but she liked the game version of him better than the real version. It's the game that's the problem."

"Listen to yourself." Susan poked my ribs with a finger and giggled.

"No. This is what I really think."

"Is it?" She cuddled into me. "She wanted one thing, he wanted something else. Why can't everyone want the same thing?"

Friday, February 5, 2010


Friday, January 8th, 2010.

"Yeah, what was that?" Susan asked when we talked about our New Year's Day encounter with the Trees for the first time. It was a week after the event and we were sitting at her kitchen table working our way through a bottle of red wine after supper.

"Did you really hear anything?" I asked. The words seemed to resist leaving my mouth. A little.

"I don't know. I think so," replied Susan. "I'm pretty sure, yeah. Didn't you?" I think she was feeling the resistance too. She looked at me as if to say, 'Are you really asking this?'

I could respond only to her words. "Well, not in a reliable way. But yeah, I heard -or sorta saw- something. And you were a part of it. A part of the thing I saw."

"It was like I was inside a feeling," she said. "A feeling and a sound." She looked excited and sympathetic, but still unsure. As if an expressed skepticism might blow down her paper walls.

The whole situation was getting to me. I put my head in my hands, overcome by a feeling as vague as the one Susan was describing. Something like a holding back, a blocking, a backwards-downwards motion. "This is too much." I looked at her and knew she understood.

She said, "maybe we shouldn't be talking about it."

"Okay." I rose from the chair. "Let's just go out there again. To the Trees."

"You should bring your video camera."

Nothing happened. Just us, cold, looking at some trees. Trees. All I shot was the snow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My habits are changing. Like, I keep waking up earlier and earlier. 6:30 this morning. Also, somehow I've cut down to a cigarette or two a day. But it's not on purpose. I'm not trying.

Clarke was over last night. We watched The Outlaw Josey Wales. Afterward he drifted over to my 'fridge. "You're out of beer," he said, surprised.

"I haven't had a beer in a week."

He cocked an eyebrow. "What?"


"A week?"

"I dunno why I haven't."

"I've got beer," Clarke said, returning to the living room. "Let's go to my place. "


"And smoke a cigarette, for chris-sake."

We put on our boots and trudged, jacketless, through the fifty feet of knee-deep snow separating our doors. As I stepped out I could see my Crooked Tree seedling poking through in the front-yard. I pulled out a cigarette as I arrived on Clarke's doorstep. He handed me a bottle when I stepped inside.

"At some point when I was in my early thirties," he said as I took off my boots, "I realized, I am who I am and there's no turning back. This is my lifestyle. And that's all there was to it."

I nodded. He waited for a response, but I had none to offer. I stood in the doorway, waiting for him to finish.

"You'll get there too," he said in a fatherly tone.

I was amused by his condescension. "I am who I am, hey?"

"You'll see."

"That's very pessimistic, Clarke."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LXXVI: Mrs. Scurfield VIII

"I used to really enjoy going fast," Mrs. Scurfield told me in my truck yesterday. We were driving to North Battleford to run a few 'going-to-town' errands. Groceries, banking, and a stop at Family Pizza. "It's a very powerful feeling."

"I prefer walking to driving," I said as a response.

"You don't like machines generally, do you?"

"I like my stereo."

Friday, January 22, 2010

LXXV: Clarke XIII: Home Alone

Most of the time I spend with Clarke is wordless. Ten minutes of silence, and then a few words, then ten more silent minutes. That's about the rhythm. I read through my old Clarke entries on this blog recently and realized all I've written so far is our talking. 'Cos what else can I do? But it's not like that. Not really. Mostly we sit and drink and smoke and think our own thoughts.

"I'd make a good hermit," Clarke told me last night. I was on my way out the door after an unusually conversationless evening.

"You are a hermit, Clarke."

"Yeah, Leonore thought so too." He looked at me knowingly. "She always wanted to go out, be out, get out. But I'd much rather sit on the sofa, drunk, at home."

“I met a hermit once,” I said. “When I spent that summer logging up north. He grew potatoes in an oil barrel. He was really nice."

"I couldn't be alone with Leonore. She wanted me to share my thoughts with her. All of them. That's why there're no female hermits."

"Goodnight Clarke,” I said laughing.


I shut the door and walked home. I was glad to be there, alone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

LXXIV: Mr. Hung IV: Chan

I stepped outside the restaurant on my break. Stood looking out past the edge of town. The snow shielded all sound and I grew increasingly aware of my own breathing. It seemed too fast. Too loud. Too big.

I hate winter.

“Cold enough?” mocked Mr. Hung, sticking his head out the door.

I nodded. "Seriously Mr. Hung, why did you move to this climate?"

"The cold gets your blood flowing,” he said, and pulled his face back into the steamy kitchen.

I thought about my veins, criss-crossing under my skin, gusting like wind. I squeezed at my neck with a gloved hand. The pressure of blood grew. My head throbbed.

I clenched my teeth. The pulsing increased. I held my breath, pushing at the sensation of a body about to burst. After ten seconds my vision seemed to shift. I let go.

I breathed out, then in, and sat down on the front hood of a car in the parking lot. I focused my thoughts on the Trees.

Nothing. Silence. I hope no one saw me. I must've looked like a fool.

"Why do you do that?" asked Mr. Hung when I stepped back in. "You don't like the cold, yet you're always stepping outside on your breaks."

I thought about his question for a second. "I don't know, Chan."