Sunday, December 27, 2009

LXXI: Mrs. Scurfield VII

Work is slow. Life is slow. I went over to Mrs. Scurfield's place yesterday. "Have a nice Christmas?" I asked.

"Yes. You?"

"Yeah. It was great."

Heads nodded. Then silence. Strangely uncomfortable silence. She offered me tea. I began searching for questions to ask.

"Whadda you do instead of gardening in the winter?" I asked.

"Sleep!" she said, laughing. I laughed too. We drank our tea. But I felt restless. Moments stretched long that would usually have passed unnoticed.

I could say it's not a big deal. These moments happen. But I dunno.

Monday, December 14, 2009

LXX: No Resistance

The sun came out this morning on a cold, white world. I woke early and left Susan sleeping in bed. I forged a path straight out from my backyard into the long, thin, white aspen bordering my property.

Eventually I laid in the snow, just ‘cos.

Then I imagined entwining this little forest with a patchwork of ten thousand steel bars, each tree burdened with just enough weight to gradually bring it all tumbling down. After the slow collapse a jumble of rust lay on the ground while, decades later, new trees pushed up through the open spaces.
In all my destructive narratives -after the imagined fires, pavement, or bulldozers scrape up root and soil- eventually some winding green pokes out through the cracks.

I walked home dissatisfied.

Susan had coffee ready for when Clarke dropped by. The three of us sat with our own thoughts.

"Whatcha thinkin' 'bout?" Susan asked me after several quiet minutes.

"Well," I said, embarrassed, "I'm thinkin' 'bout how my Trees don’t need steel rods to bend them."

Clarke laughed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

LXIX: Mrs. Scurfield VI

The ground’s covered in snow. Just a skiff. But it’s cold and now I don’t see people outside in their yards. We’re all inside watching TV.

“I’ve been doing some hard thinking,” I told Mrs. Scurfield last night in her living room at our weekly Friends meeting. “I think the Trees are bigger in my mind than they are, y’know, in real life. Like, when I don’t go out to see them, that’s when my obsession gets enormous. But when I go out there all the time, then it’s there but it’s not so emphasized.”

“Oh Matthew,” she said. I realized she was looking past my words. To a place I can’t see in myself.

“Does that make sense?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“So whaddaya think?”

“I think I’d like a cup of tea.”

Sometimes, amazingly, other people’s lives don’t revolve around me and my concerns.

And sometimes people leave comments on this site which really throw me. Make me reconsider everything. Like Joel and Jon Kramer’s comments on the last post.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

LXVIII: Dr. Bill Remphrey

I'm reeling. I emailed Dr. Bill Remphrey. Here's an excerpt:

Me: I've been interested in the Trees for a while, and I don't know that my own fascination would be so strong if I understood fully why the Trees are crooked. Do you think anything would be lost (or gained) if a clearer explanation emerged for the Trees' crooked architecture?

Dr. Remphrey: I am not sure exactly what you don't understand. We know the trait is heritable and is most likely a single gene mutation. We don't know exactly what is happening at the gene expression level, but the gene is either causing the shoots to have reduced strength or differential growth that causes them to bend over. Ultimately I suspect plant hormones are involved. In any event, once this happens there is a cascade of developmental events that lead to the crooked form.

I now fear that, rather than searching for an explanation, the hours I devoted to poring over those essays were actually an attempt to sustain my belief that there was no explanation for the Trees.

"I am not sure exactly what you don't understand."

Yeah. Damn.

Please, if you haven't already, check out Dr. Remphrey's website.

Monday, November 23, 2009

LXVII: Outer Space

Clarke knocked on my door at 8am. He let himself in and stood in my bedroom doorway. "Wake up. The Wiley's found gophers in their field. I can give you a ride."

"Fuck." I knew what that meant. A morning spent shooting. Shooting, with a hangover. "I don't want to wake up."

"Come on."

I threw on some clothes and grabbed my '22.

All these old-timers, and guys I went to high school with but now never talk to, walking in lines, killing. I was inclined to be in a foul mood. But I know we can't let gophers set in around here.

At 2pm Clarke dropped me off at the Trees. I pulled a tiny joint out of my pocket, alone in the silence of pre-winter. "Alright," I said to the branches, "it's getting cold. I won't be coming out here much 'till Spring." They can't hear me.

I wished I could've shown the Trees a snapshot of my morning. Instead, I inhaled and went to outer space.

That night I sent an email out to Dr. Remphrey.

LXVI: Clarke XII

Drunk with Clarke last night. Feeling sorry for ourselves in his living room after watching Kelly's Heroes. Peetsabooty was sleeping on the carpet in front of us. We were at a lull in the conversation when Clarke said, "I think life is generally a little disappointing."

"Yeah. A little," I replied. Too casually.

"The gifts I wanted to give were never needed."

"What gifts?"

"Oh, I dunno. The ways I'm good at being nice aren't helpful, and the ways I'm bad at it are."

I looked at Peetsabooty. He stared back with that vacant, soul-less look animals have. Nothing but instinct. Glassy eyes. Like a man exhausted at the end of a drunk.

Monday, November 16, 2009

LXV: Susan IV

Yesterday Susan got energetic and tried to pull me in. We were in my living room early in the afternoon planning our day. "Come on," she urged. So I tried to work up some enthusiasm. "Tonight we should do something," she said as I rose to my feet slowly from the couch. "Something fun."


She threw her arms around me. I grinned. She waited.

"We could go to a movie in Battleford," I offered.

"No," she said in mock disgust. "Not that."

"Umm," I began, with limited inspiration, "I dunno. Whadda you wanna do?"

"I dunno."

"We could invite some people over."

"I wanna do something, just me and you," she insisted.

"Alright. Like what?"

She looked at me impatiently, then sat down on my couch. I stood, watching her exhilaration settle.

"I don't know, Susan."

She sighed. I felt guilty somehow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

LXIV: Clarke XI

“Clarke, there’s nothing in Hafford.” I told him this while sitting in the lookout shed at the dump. He sent a weary look in my direction. “I mean, there’s nothing. Just some houses and a couple stores.”

“So move to a big city then.”

“Yeah.” My self-pity transformed itself into self-boredom. “Damn.”

“Or have kids.”


I wandered over to the Trees later in the day. I ran my fingers over the bark. Then I pressed my cheek against a knot. I could feel lines forming on my skin. Breathing hard I waited for the imprint. Thirty seconds.

I'm out of cigarettes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


“You know bananas are going extinct,” said Mr. Hung at work yesterday. We were working on a big order.

“What are you talking about?”

“Yeah. We’ve been genetically altering them so much that they’re just going to disappear.”

I was silent for a long time, watching Mr. Hung grate cheese as I chopped onions. “That’s amazing.”

He looked at me. “Yeah.”

“Oh man, I can’t believe that.” I stopped chopping and stared out the kitchen window. “Bananas? Crazy.”

Mr. Hung chuckled. "I thought you'd like that."

After work I delivered ten bagged meals to the Lions club.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LXII: The Announcement II

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” I said, “and I just don’t think it’s good for me to be going out there all the time for no reason.”

“What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Scurfield. Clarke was eyeing me carefully from the couch.

“Because I feel like it’s a waste. A waste of my life." I looked around the room for a supportive face. "What do you think, Susan?”

“I dunno,” she began. “It’s just, like, stupid. They’ve been such a big deal to you.”

“They are a big deal to you, Matthew,” said Mrs. Scurfield. “Clarke tells me you planted my seedling in your front yard. Why?”

I was feeling ambushed. “Because that’s what you do with plants your friends give you.”

Mr. Hung had an enormous grin on his face.

"Bullshit," said Clarke.

“So none of you think it’s a good idea?” I asked, frustrated and meek.

“Of course not,” said Susan. She stood up. “Who wants wine?”

Susan took over my hosting responsibilities, so I was free to vanish into the haze of whiskey and beer. I woke up the next morning on my couch with a headache. I opened my eyes and saw Clarke sleeping on a chair. I wandered into my room searching for fresh clothes. Mrs. Scurfield lay on my bed snoring, face-down and fully-clothed on top of the blankets.

Susan was in the kitchen making coffee.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

LXI: The Announcement I

Clarke, Mrs. Scurfield, Susan, Birdie, and Mr. Hung; everyone was assembled in my living room for the party, drinks in hand. Standing alone in the corner I cleared my throat. “I have an announcement.” The room got quiet.

“No kidding,” said Clarke.

“I’m done with the Trees. No more obsessing. I’ve decided.” I shifted my feet.

“What?” asked Susan.

“I just think I can’t let my life revolve around them anymore.”

“No,” said Mrs. Scurfield.



“Whadda you mean?”

“I mean, No, you can’t be ‘done’ with them.”

“Yeah,” said Birdie, “I don’t like this.”

I was shocked. Mr. Hung looked amused.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LX: The Way V

The Trees, the Trees, the Trees. The god-damned Trees.

I’m smoking again. A lot. My mouth feels raw, but it gives me something to do with my hands.

I laid under the familiar branches, cold, early Monday afternoon. “What is it, you silent things?” My arms were clutched to my breast. “Come on. Come on.” I’m pushing and pushing, and nothing is offering resistance.

“I can’t revolve around you anymore.” I walked home and dug a small hole in the middle of my front lawn.

"Is that what I think it is?" Clarke asked, approaching, pointing at a red pot beside me.


"In your own yard?"

"Yeah." With hesitant fingers I transfered Mrs. Scurfield's seedling from the pot to the hole.


I walked inside and made three phone calls: Mr. Hung and Birdie, Susan, and Mrs. Scurfield. I walked back outside. Clarke was staring at my Tree.

"In your own yard." He knelt down and patted the dirt.

"Clarke, you're invited to a party at my place. Tonight at 8."



The wind has knocked the leaves off many trees, but not mine. They are too dense, and so I've been watching the edges disintegrate; out there for hours, staring through the windshield.

I walked to the dump with Clarke yesterday, and brought my video camera. "How does it work?" he asked.

I handed it to him. "Try to get a shot of me walking."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

XLIX: Clarke X

“Hmm,” said Clarke.

I said nothing. We stood staring at the Trees from one of the winding pathways. He'd volunteered to join me on a mid-afternoon trek.

“So, this is what you do here,” he half-asked, half-stated. “Just look at ‘em?”

“Yes,” I said, embarrassed. Clarke examined some initials carved in one of the branches.

“So whadda you think caused it? Aliens?” He was mocking me a little.

“Yeah. Or something.”

“I meant the initials.”

“Oh. Ha. Good one.”

“'J.R loves K.T.’” he read. “It’s probably a code.” We stood listening to the wind. “They’re nice.” His arms pressed against the dying leaves.

“They’re scary."

“Yeah, maybe to a wimp like you.” He wandered off the path. I could guess what was coming. “They’re not so scary when you’re pissing on them.” I heard the sound of a zipper.

photograph by Ken Delgarno. More here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

XLVIII: Roger Shaw I

Transcript of phone conversation with Roger Shaw, Ph.D:

Me: …So, just to be clear, you’re alright with me taping this and then posting it on the internet?

ROGER SHAW: Yeah. Unless maybe you make a million dollars off it. [laughing]

M: [laughing] Okay, so my first question is, what drove you to want to study the Trees initially?

RS: Oh. Well. I think it probably has to trace back, I guess, to when I first heard about them.

M: When was that?

RS: When I was eight or nine. I'm from Minnesota. A relative from Saskatoon was telling my Father about these weird trees that grew crooked in Saskatchewan. I was listening in at the kitchen table. It freaked me out a little.

M: Really?

RS: Yeah. It felt like it should have been imaginary. So that frightened me. And then I walked into the room and saw a doodle my Father had been drawing while listening to the story. It must've had a strong effect on me, because when I was presented with the opportunity to study the trees as a grad student in Regina, I was quite enthusiastic.

M: Do you still have it by any chance? The drawing.

RS: I might.

Two days after the phone call I received an email with the above picture attached.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A voice in my head today said, "Move to the city."

Another voice -emanating, it seemed, from the television and radio- said, "You must love the planet. You must." It's kinda scary.

Upon hearing of my 'Love the planet,' voice, Clarke said, "The planet's fucked. We're a disintegrating rock floating in space."

Susan leaned in for a kiss and squinted, whispering "I see you," at my beard.

Mr. Hung laughed when I asked what it was like to move here from San Francisco at 32 years old. "You have no idea," he replied.

Nope. I sure don't. But when I put certain albums on my stereo he looks at me and says, "Yes. You got it."

Birdie flew into Hung's today with a kiss for her husband, and a, "Hey Matt. Oh god, you should throw a party again."

Larissa looked quick at me and said, "So, you gonna call them or what?" An ice cream cone dripped over her knuckles.

Mrs. Scurfield and I met at the Trees again. "How are you?" she asked.

"Alright, thanks," I told her. "But this week, you talk."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

XLVI: Ashley Wade Linden I: Larissa III

Ashley Wade Linden. Former masters student under Dr. Bill Remphrey at the University of Manitoba. He wrote a paper called An Investigation into the Mechanisms of Shoot Bending in a Clone of Populus tremuloides Exhibiting ‘Crooked’ Architecture. Somebody mailed me a photocopy anonymously. It’s been spread out over my kitchen table for weeks, brushed aside occasionally so I can eat or so Clarke can set down his coffee.

Linden thinks the Trees might all come from one giant root. That’s interesting.

Last Saturday morning, at the beginning of my 9-day weekend, I locked myself in, made coffee, opened a new pack of cigarettes, and began reading the Shaw and Linden essays again. Eventually I ran out of room on the table and shifted some of the papers over to the floor. My plan was to spend the day in furious study, looking for a break somewhere in my understanding of the Trees.

At noon there was a knock on the door. Larissa Shapko. I let her in but immediately returned to my studying position on the floor.

"Whatcha doin'?" Larissa asked, following me inside.

"I'm studying."

"But you don't go to school."


"What, are you trying to be smart or something?"

"Yes Larissa, I'm trying to be smart."

She joined me on on the floor, kneeling, and took a closer look at one of the pages spread out over the hardwood. "Oh," she said with an intake of breath, "the Trees."

"You can hang out here a little if you want," I told her. "There's some snacks in the cupboard. But I really need to focus on this."

"Can I help?" she asked, running her fingers over a large book containing maps of Saskatchewan I'd pulled out for reference.

"I doubt it." I was trying to be nice.

Larissa looked at the title page of the Linden essay. "By Ashley Wade Linden," she read. I was concentrating on one of his more curious paragraphs.

Crooked aspen shoot leaning resembles, and might be attributed to, the inability to support itself due to poor strength. Whatever the cause, leaning appears to be the initial stage of shoot bending, and provides a cue for subsequent morphological and anatomical changes observed in relation to the gravity stimulus.

There was a tap on my shoulder.

"Yeah Larissa?" I said with amused resignation.

"Do you know him?"

"What? Who?"

"Ashley Wade Linden."


"How come?"

And then it occurred to me: I need to talk to these people. Remphrey, Shaw, Linden. I'll bet you I could.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

XLV: Friends of the Crooked Bush III: Meeting Adjourned

I'd stumbled long enough.

"Why do you think I hate the Trees, Mrs. Scurfield?" I asked.

She laughed at me. Quietly. Politely. In a way that was almost answer enough.

"I'd like to hear," I said, before she could begin.

"I don't know, Matthew," she said, straightening her jacket collar. "I think your hatred is a little bit ridiculous. But maybe you’re afraid that if you look it in the face you’ll see that it's unbeatable."

“Yes,” I said with all my courage, “that is my fear.”

“Well,” she offered, “I don’t know what to tell you. It might be better for you -in terms of your happiness- to just stay where you are right now, with all your questions unanswered.”

We sat in the stillness for a while.

“Happiness!” I repeated to myself. “Y'know, even if I was some genius and saint and heroin addict, hovering miraculously over the earth in -I dunno- transcendent, sinless bliss… Even if I was that, the Trees would still be there. They’d keep on growing and doing what they do. I’m not gonna to beat them.”


“I hate the Trees because I want to.”

“We established that already.”

“Then I don’t even know what I’m struggling against.”

“Try to stop thinking of it as a hatred, maybe,” Mrs. Scurfield suggested.

“Friendship, not hatred,” I joked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Like a friend you grew up with and never really liked, but are still forced to get along with. Like family.”

There was more to the night than that, but I’ll leave it there.

Susan thinks the club is just Mrs. Scurfield’s way of getting a date. Which is fine with me.

"Figuring out the Trees is like a task I've set for myself," I told Mrs. Scurfield at one point in the evening.

“Is that what you’ve been doing?” she asked me. “Because I thought you were just drinking a lot and wandering around town, smoking your life away.”

I love her.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

XLIV: Friends of the Crooked Bush II

“Okay, Mrs. Scurfield,” I said. “You win. I‘ll tell you why I hate the Trees. Or I’ll try.”


I wanted to get it right. But my mind was blank. “Forgive me if I'm a little incoherent,” I said. "Or tangential."

“We’re not in a hurry,” she whispered.

I was more than a little incoherent, and my speech was pocked with "umm," "well," "y’know," "like," "er," "uh." I won't transcribe it exactly. Each sentence took a minute.

“I get these moments,” I sighed, “where I realize that it doesn’t matter who I talk to or what’s going on, I know that I’m just gonna feel miserable and out of touch with everything.” I paused for a minute. “I’m sad, and it can’t be beaten. Or maybe I’m happy. I have no control. Or very little. It's chemicals in my brain.”

Mrs. Scurfield was paying close attention. “Mmmhmm,” she said, prodding my thoughts forward, though I hadn't yet begun to address her question.

“So on some level,” I continued, neglecting to explain what feeling out of touch had to do with anything, “the Trees just look scary and they’re a mystery, and they frightened me as a child, and that’s enough. I don‘t know. Maybe I’ll never be able to put my finger on what it is about them that bothers me so much.”

“Come on,” she protested.

The umm, uh, er, y’know's multiplied, and married themselves to longer pauses. “Well, maybe as I’ve grown older,” I said, “they’ve become a symbol.” I felt like I was just saying what I thought she wanted to hear. “Or not quite a symbol, but something -they have some connection to everything like nature and life and whatever.” My voice trailed off at the end. It was the worst response I could’ve imagined giving.

Mrs. Scurfield nodded. I felt a twist in my stomach.

“That’s not it at all,” I said, closing my eyes. “That’s too… Um, it’s too tidy.”

“I’ve heard that sort of thing before,” she said to me. “‘Too tidy.’ Yes. Tidy. I think that actually you have a good start there.”

“No. I don’t.”

“No?” she asked.

“It’s hard to put into words.”

“Of course,” she said. “But in this case words are all you’ve got.”

“Oh God,” I sighed. “I can’t believe how poorly I’m explaining this.”

“It’s alright. Think it through.” She was looking at me. I looked back and tried to read her face. It was impenetrable.

More soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

XLIII: Friends of the Crooked Bush I

It turned out the so-called "Friends of the Crooked Bush" is just Mrs. Scurfield.

I rode my truck out to the Trees last Friday at 8pm, as instructed. Mrs. Scurfield was sitting quiet in her lawn-chair with a thermos on her lap, in the illumination of her headlights. Alone. “Welcome to the first-ever meeting of the Friends of the Crooked Bush,” she said with a mischievous, youthful grin, standing up to shake my hand. “You’re the second member.”

“When are the other members coming?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just me.”

“Just you?”

“Yes,” she said, obviously pleased with her little deception.

I was amused, but also a little disappointed. Part of me had been hoping for a cult of people in black robes or something. What I’d been honestly expecting though was a stodgy little group of civic-duty types -school teachers and Christians- who met twice a year to decide who would repair the walkways through the Trees. Instead it was Mrs. Scurfield, and now me, hanging out at the Trees, drinking. I’d done that with her before.

“Now,” she said, after assuring me that, yes, she had put up the signs, and that, yes, she was really the only member and always had been, “to the first order of business."

"Okay," I said, curious.

"You must offer justification to the group as to why you hate the Crooked Trees,” she said in a very official tone, reveling a little in her own mock-seriousness. “The chair recognizes the member who smokes and drinks a lot.” She slammed her thermos on her lap like a gavel. "Mr. Wilkinson." She was being very child-like.

It was my turn to laugh. I shook my head in disbelief. “Well!” I said, like it summed up all my feelings. Then I settled myself into the chair she’d brought for me, pulled up the collar of my jacket -defying the evening chill, and glanced up at the car lights dancing in the jagged branches. I spent a few seconds taking it all in, then breathed deep and tried to pull my thoughts together. She’d really caught me off guard.

More tomorrow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

XLII: Clarke IX

Clarke dropped by on his way to work. I was making breakfast, and reading over those essays again. He knocked on the door and opened it simultaneously, then sat down at the kitchen table. I poured him a cup of coffee. We talked about my meeting with the Friends of the Crooked Bush for a while (more on that later. I’m still processing it) and then he started complaining about Leonore. They’ve been divorced for more than a year, but he still brings her up almost every other time we talk.

“The difference between me and Leonore came down to one thing,” he started. “And that’s the way we ate.” I raised my eyebrows in laughter and tired resignation. “When Leonore got hungry she’d think of what she’d like to have, then she’d check our ‘fridge to see if it was there, and would usually end up complaining that we didn’t have what she was looking for.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“And you?” I prodded.

“For me when I get hungry I open the 'fridge door, see what’s there, and then try to come up with something I’d enjoy.”

“So what’s the significance, do you think?” I asked obligatorily.

“Well, she was perpetually dissatisfied,” he concluded. I laughed.

“Whereas you are just the happiest guy I know,” I jested.

“No, but I accept my not being happy -in a way she never could. And I look at the world first, and then figure out what I can, y’know, reasonably expect.”

“That’s interesting Clarke. Though I’m sure she’d have another perspective. I‘m sure she thought her expectations were reasonable.”

“Yeah, well...” he began, and left the sentence hanging. It was early, I hadn’t quite fully woken yet, and I stared at him disapprovingly.

“You know what?” I said quietly. “I find it interesting that the only times you get philosophical are when you’re preparing some little assault on Leonore.” I was pushing it.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… I don’t know. I just find it a little suspicious.”

His face drew into a frown. I could see his temper rising. Neither of us said anything for five minutes as we finished our coffees. Finally he rose to his feet, looked at me and said, “Well, alright. Thanks for the coffee.”

I looked up without lifting my face, and then smiled. “Okay Clarke. Anytime.”

I finished my breakfast and wandered over to the Trees.

Friday, September 25, 2009

XLI: Friends of the Crooked Bush: Preface

I'm on my way out the door to join the Friends of the Crooked Bush. I'm pretty nervous.

And sad. The temperature's dropping. Winter's not so far away really. Visiting the Trees is inconvenient once the cold arrives.

XL: The Way III: The Party

“We've decided. You’re gonna take next week off,” Birdie commanded, standing on my doorstep last night with a bottle of white wine and my paycheque. Mr. Hung stood sheepish by her side with a twelve-pack. “Chan’s exhausted; you‘re exhausted,” she continued. “Let’s celebrate the money you boys made.” Mr. Hung and I looked at each other and smiled. I invited them in.

“Call Susan,” suggested Birdie.

“And Clarke,” said Mr. Hung.

I made the calls while Mr. Hung filled our glasses. Within ten minutes Clarke and Susan had arrived. “Hey kids,” Clarke said, waving a whiskey bottle. Susan followed with more wine.

"Kids?" laughed Birdie.

They all got very drunk very quickly. I drank ‘till I felt the click, then stopped. I watched the foolishness and high spirits rise with a mostly clear head.

By midnight Susan and Birdie were dancing to an old Beatles record on my back deck. Us guys were sitting on chairs on the lawn. “This is the way to do it,” Mr. Hung muttered to himself.

“To do what?” I asked. Clarke laughed.

At four o’clock I forced everyone to drink some water and then watched them all wander home. Mr. Hung was singing ‘Oh Canada’ walking down main street. Birdie kept whooping and hollering beside him. “Oh Jesus,” said Clark, stumbling over his lawn. Only Susan remained.

“Look at you, all sober," she said, putting on her jacket. "You’re changing,”

“Only temporarily,” I promised, laughing at her slurred speech. "I’ve got a week off. I need to be sharp. I've got to figure some stuff out."

"No, yeah. You're really changing."

"Whatever you say, drunk girl," I said, and kissed her forehead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

XXXIX: Mrs. Scurfield V

Mrs. Scurfield came by early this morning. Woke me up. I stood scratching my head in the doorway, waiting for an explanation.

“This,“ she said with a smile, “is for you.” I became aware of a small red pot in her hands. Full of dirt. “It’s a Crooked Tree seedling,” she whispered, and handed it to me.

I raised my eyes to meet hers.

“You can do whatever you want with it,” she said. “Pave it over. It’s all yours.”

I was astounded. The unexpected weight of the soil pulled on my arms.

“But,” she continued in decreased volume, “I have a favour to ask.”

I smiled.

“I want you to join the Friends of the Crooked Bush.”

I was looking again at the red clay pot. I coughed.

“We’re meeting on Friday at 8pm at the Trees,” she said matter-of-factly. I began forming a response, but before I could begin to answer she turned and walked away.

I felt like shit all day. I tried smoking a cigarette but stopped half way through.

My kitchen table is covered in pages of photocopied essays. I look without reading. Now that I have time off again, my obsession returns.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

XXXVIII: Bujalski Reunion Interlude

There's this big family reunion in town. The Bujalski Family. Hafford is, strangely, overflowing with people. On Saturday there was a parade. Lots of American license plates.

What this translates into for me is, I've been busy working at Hung's feeding all these visitors. One guy, a tall man from Turkey -of all places- offered me a Turkish Marlboro when I was on a coffee break. It was a longer cigarette than ours, and tasted immeasurably better. "Tobacco is so expensive here," he complained to me.

"Oh yeah. Big time," I replied.

I realized today that this blog has been fading. My efforts at distracting myself from battling the Trees, and then this Bujalski reunion, have kept me away from the keyboard for too long.

Let me assure you readers, old and new, that The Crooked Trees of Hafford, Saskatchewan will be returning in full force shortly. Shortly, shortly, very shortly.

I was out at the Trees last night for the first time in a while. It was cold, and I just felt distracted, sitting there on a picnic table in the tourist' parking lot -knowing I had to work in the morning. I stared at the gnarled branches and felt nothing. Visiting the Trees is a ritual for me, obviously, and so -like all rituals- sometimes you just do it, and can't work up any emotion, or don't want to. I guess that's how it works. And I suppose that's not so bad either. But I'm not feeling quite philosophical enough to take that one apart.

Excuse any spelling or grammatical errors in this entry. It's 3am, I'm drunk(ish), and I work in four hours. Damn those friendly American Bujalskis to hell. No. They've been lovely. Americans usually are.

Friday, September 4, 2009

XXXVII: The Demons Bite Back

I know I haven’t posted in a while. After my impassioned conversation with Clarke last week I decided to give my head a rest. I was supposed to face my demons, but I don't know if I'm quite ready yet. I asked Mr. Hung for some extra shifts at the restaurant. I thought it might distract me. It didn’t. Now I’m stressed out from days of long shifts and an unsettled mind. I haven’t been to the Trees in more than a week, but I‘ve been thinking about them incessantly. Also, without meaning to, I've cut back on cigarettes, alcohol, and weed. I feel awful.

Larissa came over last night to offer me a Popsicle. I accepted. We sat on my front steps talking about all the things she’d done over the summer. Camp, vacation, and two boyfriends. School begins next week, and she’s dreading it. I don’t blame her.

Autumn looms.

Larissa went home. I wandered inside, sober for the seventh day in a row, to examine a parcel sitting on my kitchen table. It arrived yesterday. Someone anonymously mailed me a photocopy of another Masters Thesis proposal on the Trees. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Several times this week I've caught myself sitting on the edge of my bed, or on the couch, staring into space, focused on nothing. In fact, that's what I was doing just before I wrote this.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

XXXVI: Clarke VIII, The Way II: The Wrong Way.

I got emotional last night.

"I've got to finish this thing with the Trees," I said to Clarke over a beer. We were sitting in chairs on his backyard lawn, watching the sunset.

"Yeah, you sure do go out there a lot," he said. "But I don't know what you're all upset about." I had my eyes closed in quiet, intellectual anguish. I lifted my face, lit a cigarette, and took a deep breath. He laughed at me, asking "What are you getting so worked up about?"

I laughed too -obligatorily. "Yeah, you're right. But I'm scared I'm wasting my life on something unworthy of my attention."

"Well, I don't know," said Clarke, uncomfortably, watching the light tone of the conversation collapse.

"It's like you divorcing Leonore," I insisted -getting a little too personal. "You look back on that time with her and you've got regrets. Imagine you could talk to your 27 year old self and tell him how to avoid whatever needed to be avoided with that situation. I'm trying to figure out what mistakes not to make, and I'm afraid obsessing over the Trees might be a doozy. Or I'm afraid of failing to act properly on that obsession."

Clarke was looking at me, hard. "But how can you know," he asked, "what's a mistake until you make it?"

I started to ramble. "Clarke, with the Trees," I began, then changed direction. "No." I exhaled and started over. "It's just that we live in a time when you can't do heroic stuff. Y'know? Unless you join the army or something there's no big moment where you get to discover if you're a coward or whatever, and so I've got to look at the way I walk to the grocery store or behave with my friends, and try to discern the same information. Am I doing these things well? Am I living well generally? How do you live well in a quiet world where nothing changes and people are mostly pretty content? Should I be out looking for injustices?" I took a sip of my beer.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Clarke replied. "But whatever it is, I think you're talking about it the wrong way." He refused to be any more specific.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I'm nursing my third Guiness, with two Dabs and a shot of Crown Royal also spinning around down there. Susan came over earlier and said, "why don't you get drunk, and I'll make you supper." She had 4 Guiness in one hand, and a grocery bag and some white wine in the other.

That girl wants to marry me. I'm sure of it.

I'll bet you anything I'm having sex tonight.

I probably shouldn't write that.

Susan put on Veckatimest. "I love this song," she said as 'Ready, Able' came on. Thank God for downloaded music. Album of the summer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

XXXIV: Mrs Scurfield IV

"Sometimes I think I’d like to just pave those Trees over,” I told Mrs. Scurfield as I watched her pull weeds from her garden yesterday. I’d been sitting on a lawn chair most of the afternoon, studying the Shaw essay while she worked.

She looked up alarmed. Like a parent with a child. “Oh no. I don’t think you would. You’ve got to be careful with that.”

“Well, in any case,” I said, “I can’t, ‘cos I don’t own the land they’re on.”

She straightened her shoulders to give me a second of hard attention and a grin, then began pulling out a large root system.

“I think I like hating them,” I offered. The noise of her work stopped again.

She looked at me for a while before saying, “I think you do too.”

“It’s comforting,” I offered.

She waited.

“But it’s not like I can get rid of them. And I don’t know how to stop, y'know, obsessing. So maybe enjoying the hatred is the best option for me.” I felt bad making this admission.

“And yet, here you are -dissatisfied,” Mrs. Scurfield observed, and resumed her selective apocalypse.

“Yeah.” Damn.

I think it really is time to confront my demons.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Woke up to the sound of a bird hitting my window. Put on some bacon, eggs, and Dylan’s Nashville Skyline -real quiet. Clarke came over for coffee before going to work. His eyes were wide and red, like he was forcing them open.

“It’s too early to be alive,” he said, sitting down.

“It’s 8:30.”

He grunted.

I pulled a joint out of my shirt-pocket and laid it on the table, for after breakfast.

“First thing in the morning?” laughed Clarke. “I wish I had your life.”

“You do have my life. You don’t need to work so much. What are these bills you’re rushing to pay?”

“Oh I know. But I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t work out there.”

“Okay. Fair enough.”

He left at 9. After breakfast I decided against the joint, and wandered over to the dump. Petesabooty met me at the gate. “How’m I supposed to beat the Trees, Pete?” I asked, throwing a broken hockey stick into a pile of ovens and refrigerators. The dog jumped into action. I could see Clarke in his loader across the yard, pushing stuff around. The sun was hot already.

Later, sitting in the lookout shed listening absently to CJNB with Clarke, he eyed me a little steadier than usual. “What are you doing spending all your time with a fifty year old?” he asked.

“I don’t like people my age, generally,” I answered. Which is true.

“That can't be healthy.”



“I dunno. I just see too much of myself in them, and I don’t like that. What’re you doing hanging out with a 27 year old?”

“I’m hoping you’ll bring some young girls around eventually.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

XXXII: Populous Tremuloides Explosion

I drove Birdie into Saskatoon last Sunday. She was catching a flight. I needed weed. Plus, it turned out the U of S had a copy of that Roger Shaw essay I've been looking for. Birdie was in the sky, heading towards Vancouver. I sat in a park reading the freshly photocopied masters thesis. Pretty heady stuff.

For example:

Management of the
Populus tremuloide's agroecosystem has led to an increase in local soil salination. While previous research... cites the diversion of water from atholassohaline water bodies for agricultural purposes as a possible indirect contributor in the morphometry of the crooked bush, recent findings... indicate successful micropropogation [of the crooked trees] is not dependent on soil factors.

My mind wandered. I got nostalghic.

I remembered first seeing the Crooked Trees when I was seven or eight, on a picnic with my family. I began having nightmares soon after. Always some variation of the same thing: the Trees were growing -writhing- in a large hall of mirrors, and I was locked in their roots and branches -which sprawled out over a marble floor. I'd wake up in a sweat.

Dad assuaged my fears by taking me out to the Trees several months later, and letting me watch them for long enough to realize they were harmless.

But when I learned about photosynthesis in school I was horrified all over again. Nature was not as stagnant as I'd hoped. It seethed with energy, like in my dreams, moving invisibly. Science conspired against my tranquility. The earth was breathing, like a sleeping giant -passively swallowing life; and the giant itself floated in hostile waters.

Hope lay in our increasing ability to manipulate the elements. We needed to be in control.

At thirteen years old I made a major discovery.

“The world's nuclear powers,” a teacher informed my class one day in grade seven, “have enough bombs to destroy the planet ten times over.” Something to that effect.

I smiled. Beside me in a notebook a friend drew the globe exploding. I copied his drawing. My notebooks in school were covered in versions of that doodle for years.

I used to lay on our thick carpet at home watching documentaries on the destruction of rain forests in Brazil, with a feeling rising in my belly that maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

XXXI: Clarke VI

“I used to believe that the vast majority of people were, y’know -decent, and relatively intelligent. But I’ve lost that in the past couple years,” I told Clarke in the silence after a film in my living room. Clint Eastwood again. Escape From Alcatraz. Great movie.

“Well, God knows I’m a living genius,” Clarke said in reply, lighting a cigarette.

I laughed.

“You just thought that ‘cos you were young,” he said, as if continuing his previous thought. “And when people’re young they’ve got potential. So you looked around at all your friends in school and thought, ‘they’re just like me.’ And they were, ‘cos you were all going somewhere. But now you‘ve all arrived at the places you were going. And some of those places are better or they’re worse than others.” He cleared his throat and moved his eyes like he was trying to see inside his own head, going over his words. Then he shrugged.

“Think so?” I asked, smiling.

“What the hell do I know?” he said, rising from the couch and walking towards my kitchen. “This is a young person’s conversation. I‘m 56; I just want to watch TV, go fishing, and see some nice scenery for a couple decades. Maybe go to Alaska. Then I can die. The rest, I just don't care about.”

I laughed again. He looked at me from the 'fridge with a melancholy face. “Matthew, I coulda never done this with Leonore.” He reached deep into the top shelf. Two beer bottles emerged, gripped between his knuckles. His head was shaking. "God damn that woman made me miserable."

“I know Clarke. I remember.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

XXX: The Way

I had a vision.

The sky was blackening in my painted-bright community. I was a man with disproportionately large features. 7 feet tall, but in way that in photographs made me look like a short man enlarged.

I could run so much faster than everyone. I saw above the world, like an emerging airplane. And I was smarter.

No one knew where I was from: Hafford, Hawaii, or Ho Chi Minh.

Finally, Clarke appeared -but looked different. He warned me, “Don’t spread the wisdom. If you’ve wasted your life, at least you can still brush your teeth without looking away. You figured out how to beat them, and you did beat them. And that is the end."

The Trees. I think I've found a way.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

XXIX: Susan II

It got windy yesterday afternoon. A hot wind. Susan and I were sitting beneath the Trees. It began as a long, sleepy gust that grew into hard, thick waves of summer air. We were half-way through a joint. “I feel so comfortable,” she said. “Like chocolate cake.”

I grinned.

The sky got loud and the Trees began to shiver. Our t-shirts whipped around our bodies until even our shoelaces got picked up in the gale. Susan’s hair was pressed like fabric over nose and mouth. We sat motionless in the dry, mounting bluster.

That’s the best I can do to describe it. Or I could just say, ‘The wind was incredible.’ I’d never seen the Trees move like that. It was like watching a lover cry for the first time. Though I acted more casual.

It reminded me of heaven, the way it was described in Sunday school.

Friday, July 31, 2009

XXVIII: A Secret

Here's a secret: I’ve been pissing on Mrs. Scurfield’s restaurant parking lot for years. In a corner near the garbage.

The restaurant is on my route back home from the Trees, and it’s become a bit of a custom to pee there. I do it almost every time I pass by after dark. I can't remember when it started.

Some places just make sense to you, so you build a sanctuary around them. The Trees bother me enough to surround them with ritual. And dreams. An entire life at the disposal of crooked branches.

I try to look these things in the face. I don’t always succeed.

This picture is of a billboard, also on my route home from the Trees, that was recently erected.

A great recent collection of Hafford images is available here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

XXVII: Brenda "Birdie" Hung-Walbrandt II, Chan "Mr." Hung II

Even in the bar it's "Mr. Hung." Not Chan.

"We've forgotten the effect financial insecurity has on our mental state," said Birdie last night at the K-Bar to Mr. Hung and me. The place was almost empty. "Almost the entire middle-class in our debt-soaked world is mentally burdened. At 47 I'm just now, finally, out of debt. I feel so empowered."

I think I nodded. We were all several pints in.

"That's why you've got to live in a small town with an economy like Hafford's, and work part time," I replied. "I'm free. I'm 27 and I own my own house and that beater of a truck. I can tell the world to fuck off whenever I want to. But the government considers me below the poverty line." Then I added, "The problem with Marxism is that it's trying to get the working class unshackled by telling them to climb out over the top. The best way out is actually through the bottom."

Mr. Hung smiled. "And bureaucracy!" he said, adding to my pontification. "Marxist states are inevitably built on a large bureaucracy, and every sane person knows red tape is evil. You wouldn't believe, with my business, all the..."

"Why're you guys talking about Marxism,"interrupted Birdie. "Who brought that up?"

I walked home later shaking my head, wondering why we'd talked about politics at all. I hate that.

Photo taken from here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

XXVI: University of Manitoba

I dialed the number. After two rings I heard a woman's voice say, "Hello, Sciences and Technology Library."

"Hi. Yeah, I'd like to get a copy of a masters thesis written by one of your students in 1997."

"Umm... could I get your student I.D number?"

"I'm not a student."

"Oh, well, do you have a library card?"


"You'll need to come by the library to get a card for accessing..."

"Actually, I don't live near Winnipeg."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Are you from another university?"

"No, I'm a part-time cook in Hafford, Saskatchewan."

Long pause.

"What's the name of the thesis you're looking for?"

"It's called Ecology of the Crooked Bush by Roger Shaw. I'm pretty sure you guys have it, but I can't get access to search for it on your site."

Two or three breaths, then typing sounds.

"Alright," she said, "I think... Do you have a pen?"

"Uh, yeah. A pencil."

"I think the best person for you to talk to would probably be Marie at 204-474-7063."

I wrote it down. "Marie at two zero four, four seven four, seven zero six three?"

"Yes. Her information is on our website."

"Okay. Thanks."

"Good luck."

Did she really need to know I had a pencil, not a pen?

Friday, July 17, 2009

XXV: Where Eagles Dare

Woke early and enjoyed a cigarette. Heard the sound of light rain.

Sure enough.

I looked around my house, then outside. I thought of all the possible places I could go, and how I didn't want to go to any of them. My house is gray and uninspired. The weather keeps us imprisoned.

I put on a hat and jumped on my bike. Pedaled out to the Trees. I sat for a long time under their protective leaves, moisture from the ground soaking into my jeans.

What am I doing? 27 years old, still in Hafford, working 3 days a week as a cook/dishwasher.

"Am I wasting my life?" I asked Clarke an hour later in his kitchen as he offered -and I accepted- some toast and eggs. Coffee was brewing and Clarke was still in bedclothes, his hair tousled from another slightly hung-over sleep. He eyed me wearily. I paused and looked at a mountain goat magnet on his fridge. "I'm just venting. You don't need to actually say anything."

Clarke laughed. I yawned. He yawned. After breakfast we went to my place and wasted the remaining morning hours with some coffee, Clint Eastwood, and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weather's been dull. My life is aimless. That's the state of things.

All I've got is tired. Calm. The Trees.

The trees. The Trees. Capitalized or not?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

XXIV: Clarke V

Drinking on my lawn last evening, a truck passed by. I recognized the boys inside.

"Faggot!" they shouted, and spun away laughing.

Even when I was one I never cared for teenage Saskatchewan boys.

"Those fuckers," said Clarke, stepping out of his house shirtless. I laughed. He used to be a violent guy, I think. Like once he told me if anyone ever stole his chainsaw he'd bust their kneecaps. I smiled and nodded in agreement, but got the feeling he wasn't kidding at all. "I'd take a wrench," he said, motioning toward his garage, "and I'd hit them right there." His finger rested on the spot where shin becomes knee.

"Jesus, Clarke."

He looked at me. "Sorry. But that is what I'd do."

XXIII: Mrs. Scurfield III

On Sunday Mrs. Scurfield knocked on my door, still in her church clothes.

“I want you to see something,” she told me, and I followed her out the door and over to her place. “Sit there," she demanded. "I’m gonna change.” One of her green fold-out chairs was ready for me on the lawn.

Emerging five minutes later, she began to garden. And she really went at it.

I’m not one for gardens. A flower is a flower is a flower. I watched for a couple minutes.

“You can go home whenever you want,” she said without turning. Which made me feel bad, ‘cos I was enjoying watching her. But then she said, “And you’re welcome to come sit in my garden anytime.” So I felt better.

“I’ll be right back,” I told her, and ran home for a case of beer. She saw the beer and rolled her eyes a little.

“Don’t be so enigmatic,” I charged, seating myself. “Why’d you want me to see your garden?”

“Because," she began, then paused. "Because I thought it would help you understand something about those trees. And because I wanted you to see what I most enjoy doing.”

I responded with something along the lines of, “You want a beer?”

On Monday after work I walked around town with a plastic Zellers bag, collecting dandelions. Then I wandered out to the Trees and buried those weeds everywhere I could.

I'm lying. I only thought about it. But the detail of the Zellers bag made it convincing, didn't it? What I actually did was sit in Mrs. Scurfield's garden reading A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s hilarious.

I don’t have any real friends my own age. Except maybe Jon, Forrest, and Boyda. But they live a long way from Hafford.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

XXII: Anglican Church

They leave the Anglican church open. All night. So I go in sometimes and play the piano or read the hymn-books, pamphlets, and pew graffiti. Or I sign in as John Diefenbaker in the guestbook.

The pastor’s office isn’t locked either. I’ve resisted going in there up ‘till last night. Moment of weakness. All those pictures of family and friends, and that big map of Israel. Calvin and Hobbes cartoon on the door. Half-finished cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup.

His library was all concordances and self-help books for couples. And The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

I saw the souls of the fathers of the world…

That’s from 3 Enoch 44:7. I saw the souls of the fathers of the world.

The souls of the fathers of the world. Christ, what does that mean?

At 2:30 am in the silence it means something. And then it's just words.

The Trees.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

XXI: Rain

Mr. Hung was sheepish the next morning at work. "I drank too much last night."

I tried to give him a smile that said, 'I don't care. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.' But I wasn't sure he'd get it, so I said, "I don't care. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself."

He patted my back and raised his eyebrows.

After work I grabbed a jacket from my truck and headed into the woods behind my place, where everything grows straight up and down. It looked like a small rainstorm was gathering.

I carved an inch-thick line through the middle of a trail. When it began raining the water gathered in my path and swelled the path into a river, draining water all over the grass and dirt.

I stood watching.

The water followed my lead for a while, but after a couple minutes, when the raindrops swelled large enough to cause splashes on my arms, my path dissolved. There was no record of my effort.

I contemplated going home for a shovel.