"I was one with Nature, and it was nothing but terror": Canada was a cakewalk, Pt V
Previously: Part IV
They say cold and wet are the same sensation, and you can add “poor.” Cold and wet and poor.
With our car burned out, it was a three-mile hike each way to the propane nozzle at the gas station, and a tank only held off the cold for one of the long nights. The whole sky and angle of the planet had turned against us. And not just us. All the unlucky who aren’t allowed indoors, the unhuman majority.
I found that out in mid- December, the day of the big wind. I rowed Katherine to the dock in the morning, when the wind was just hitting its stride. It was already choppy enough to capsize that ridiculous plastic dinghy. We dropped her off, the giant depressed dog and I, then rowed back to the boat to spend another day doing nothing. The wind got bigger and meaner every hour. It wasn’t neutral or impersonal; it was mean. I became an animist and a Manichean around the time the wind hit 70 mph. There was nothing to do but lie on the bunk and stare up at the sky. The crows and gulls were screaming as they banked and ducked the wind. It was terror. They were terrified. I was one with Nature, and it was nothing but terror.
Next morning, when I rowed Katherine to the dock, we saw hundreds of beautiful sea birds were floating near the docks, their dark wings still outspread, their white heads under water. They’d just run out of heat, calories, propane. Heroes, immortals, far more beautiful than any human — and just dead in the water. It was nothing but terror. I thought so then, and I’m not at all sure I was wrong. I’m indoors now so I don’t have to know about it, feel it — but that doesn’t mean
I was wrong. I tried to sleep away the afternoon, but surprised myself, and disgusted the dog, by waking up screaming. It was a new experience to me, waking up screaming. What surprised me most is that it wouldn’t stop when I was fully awake. I woke up screaming and kept on screaming, annoying the dog intensely, and even when I ran out of breath the scream just subsided to a babyish whine and sobbing. I had to get off the boat, go see Katherine, and I got the dog into the dinghy still screaming quietly and whispering “Help, help, help.”
We reached the dock, I threw the dog up and climbed after her, and walked the two miles to Katherine’s job. The bossy hippie mom was there, a nasty combination of farm wife and new-age preacher. She looked like a van Gogh potato eater, and their house was situated like a farmhouse in a painting, at the end of a half-mile driveway. Katherine said the woman was capable of talking about angels at the least provocation, but I didn’t care; I was indoors and had left all dignity somewhere far away. I begged her to let us stay in their house, indoors, for the night. She went into farmwife mode, none of her inspirational crap about rainbows and angels now, and finally said we could stay in the basement, “just the night.” Then she told me to get in the truck to help her clean her oyster floats. That was fine, anything was fine, even that unheated basement. At least it stayed still. She came down the next morning to remind us, “Time to go.” The dog growled at her — that dog was not an asset in delicate social situations — and we were packed and marching with hardly any delay.
By the time we’d walked the two miles back to Brentwood Bay, we agreed that it was time for me to call my brother in Seattle and ask for help. He sent us enough money for the ferry to Seattle, where we spent the rest of the winter huddled in blankets by the wonderful gas stove in their guest room. The two fires — Jimmy’s propane sunflower and my brother’s gas fireplace — those are the good gods in this story. Little gods, admittedly. We didn’t even want food, just heat. Food is the caloric middleman; we wanted to cut out the middleman and hug the stove directly.
At first we couldn’t talk, and later, when we’d thawed a little, we tried to tell people online what had happened. But we found that our story was implausible. We were informed that Victoria was a wonderful place, and that what had happened to us certainly had not happened. Or if it had, our online interlocutors suggested with varying degrees of courtesy, it was our own fault. Which it was. But there’s plenty left over. And I still think very bad thoughts when I remember the blank indoor faces of those ethical chocaholics.