Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land . . .
This sentiment comes to mind because I can hear the harvesting machinery ravaging the bush just across the lake from our home.
We live in Goshen’s rural domain, and if you want to imagine a Canadian’s worst nightmare, it is a feller-buncher loose in cottage country.
The train of thought upon which I now embark began last week, although I had no idea that such was the case until I punched out these words. The mind moves in mysterious ways.
Last week a prospector was trying to convince a group of us resource management advisors that the modern mining industry is a responsible player in the forest. He failed. Entertainingly.
Oh, he was a likeable guy, a very knowledgeable guy, and passionate about his work, but he was Ronald McDonald trying to convince a blue ribbon chef that white wine goes just swell with red meat.
Twenty years ago, he might’ve convinced a short-order cook, but today, in the forest industry, everyone’s a connoisseur. It is no longer cool to slash truckloads of trees and leave them to rot, to punch heavy machines across water courses without putting in place a barrage of environmental protective measures, and to complain that one can’t barge about parks and preserves anymore, looking to strike it rich. When the guy left, we just shook our heads. We were not prepared to entrust the living earth, our Grand-Parent, to this guy.
So, I am really not alarmed by the encroachment of feller-bunchers on my peaceable kingdom. I am confident that they are managing the forest as good Grand-Children should. And also, those guys are working, which is not the case for bush workers in the rest of Goshen. And forty years ago, my father might’ve been working with them.
When I was growing up in Quebec, sixty years ago, our household’s income came through my father, who cut wood in the country and hauled it to the city to fuel the wood-burners that heated people’s homes and cooked their food. Mom and dad raised a family of four on his earnings from a forest-based resource. In a sense, every scrap of food we ate, every rag we wore, every gum eraser we bought for school, came from the forest.
I am not going to trade how-poor-I-once-was stories with you – I’m sure you’ve got some doozers – but I often live my life backwards, and I am grappling with the mystery of how my parents found the cash to pamper us kids’s teeth.
I have vivid recollections of regular visits to the dentist, of yards of wire braces and pounds of mercury fillings and a multitude of excruciating extractions. It had to cost a fortune. And there were then, as now, very few wealthy dealers in firewood.
When I was a teenager, my father was a bush worker in Goshen. My summer jobs were bush jobs, and I remember one day when I walked my legs off to keep pace with a strapping road locator, and that night I told my dad that I would never seek a career in the forest industry – it was just too exhausting.
I hurt him deeply, though he never said so. Yet, since I was a kid, I’d always tramped the bush – I still tramp the bush – in fact, I just read an item today which asserted that any senior who can walk .4 kilometres at one stretch is guaranteed, statistically, to live another six years. Judging by the walking I will have done this week, I will live to be a hundred and two.
I’m committed to walking this weekend. There are some portages to be cleared along a river course, and four of us will spend two nights in the bush to do the job. It will be exhausting work – carrying packs and canoes for a kilometre, and paddling up a lake, and making camp. We will be cutting windfalls and chopping brush and displacing debris that has been accumulating for a decade and a half. In effect, we will be biting the lice from Grand-Parent’s hair, not because we hate the lice, but because we love our Grand-Parent. And then we will be paddling and packing out.
Why the hell are we doing that? Well, we call it fun. And it is a community service – in another month, a high school group will utilize this canoe route. But now I understand that I have another reason – have always had this reason.
It’s no mystery any more. I am honouring my father, and my mother.
How do I know this?
I have my own teeth, and my teeth are strong.
* * *
Knowing oneself is a lifetime job. Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime.
Originally published in The Gardens of Goshen, Volume 3, May 2006