Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Nineteen

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            I awoke in the corner of my tent wrapped warmly in my sleeping bag. As I began to move I felt the stiffness settling into my limbs from riding. Walking out of my tent I was crouched over and limping. I took my time packing my tent, carefully trying not to strain my tight back. Doppel came back from the riverside. 

            "Another beautiful day," he said.

            "There's something very cleansing about Canada's summers. How's that bum knee today?"

            "Sore knee today but it should iron out. Pain is one of those things one has to live with."

            "Very Aristotelian of you."

            "I remember that year you couldn't walk," I said. "I know you know about pain." We seldom discussed his arthritis during that year he couldn't walk, I wonder if the scar tissue in the ankles bothers him. Both twins taken down with a limb-related illness.

            "It was more like two years."

            "Weren't you on crutches for twelve months?"

            "About that, but even after I ditched the crutches I was limping pretty badly for another twelve. In the mornings getting out of bed was the worst time. Sometimes it took me a few minutes just to stand up. But one morning the pain just disappeared. It was two weeks shy of two complete years. That was exactly twenty years ago."

            "Has it bothered you since then?"

            "The odd time, when I'm overtired my ankles and toes stiffen. It's just like an old injury."

            "Ever worry it may come back?"

            "Well, yes. If I were to become sick or run down, it could return but this time it would be longer and more permanent. But if that's my fate then I accept it. We are all lily pads partially eaten by some insect that lives around the pond, eh?"

            "We all get nibbled."

            "Pain reminds the Viking-Poet that he is living. And maybe through his exploits can attain freedom from his pain. If he can immerse himself so deeply into his flow, his zeitqualia, that he loses his sense of pain and actually skims atop the earth using his momentum to overpower gravity. Perhaps there is qualia in his pain."

            "So, this zeitqualia again, what is it?" Hand on my chin.

            "It's being in the marrow of the moment, the point zero of incongruity and the flight of least turbulence. It is the full manifestation of being in the now, sliding on the wet ice of time."

            "Okay, but what I mean is, is it a sensation?"

            "Yes. Kant calls it ‘intensive magnitude' or a degree of influence on the sense. He believed perception contains sensation and that a magnitude of apprehension causes increased intensity in the sensation. By removing the translucent glass protecting you from ontological reality, perceptions clear, become in touch with the raw texture of adventure, the movement, the strategy of conquering, the mastery of elements. There is a synergy you get, a high, from the act itself. So many choose not to undertake exploits and they lack the essential zeitqualia elements in their lives. That's the point."

            "So then this whole thing is a Crusade? You're a Crusader?" Irony thick.

            "You could say that. It's a Crusade to enlighten those still slumbering, whose instincts are drowsy, and who have forgotten the thrill of adventure. I care for my fellow man despite the fact that he is sickly."

            "Do you think I'm sick?" That laugh again, felt good and sad. Most genuine laugh I have ever heard, as if he were trying to stifle it.

            Doppel was packed up so he checked the air pressure of his tires, tightened his brakes with a quarter turn of the micro-adjustment screw. He checked the rack before he put his tent on it and discovered one of the screws fastening the rack onto the back frame had come loose. So he took out a square-head screwdriver from his tool kit and tightened it one-and-a-half rotations.

            "I'd say this was the source of the rattling over the bumps yesterday," he said. Since he was at it, he put his bike upside down on its seat and handlebars and oiled the chain lightly with more Phil's Tenacious Oil. As he rotated the pedals the chain flowed smoothly almost without sound or friction, the thick protective oil covering each link in the chain. His Miele mountain bike was in prime shape.

            "It is curious to find so many behind bars and locked in their jail cell by their own hand," he said. "One of humankind's most comic traits is shown by those who self-censor their own spiritual expression and development through the constant and perhaps uncontrollable repression of their true person. It is a fortress of self-censorship that imprisons countless people the world. It very well may be a more punishing form of imprisonment than physical incarceration."

            After I loaded the tent and my bag on the rack, I climbed on my machine and began riding along the smooth, freshly paved road by the waterway.

            For a while I wondered if that comment about self-censorship and imprisonment was directed at me. I was a brother who had shut him out. I had lost touch with my compassion and with my instincts, so he saw me as sick, not quite a 21st-century man but certainly not a full man.

            Coasted with the current of the St. Lawrence getting close to the Quebec border. The eastern peach warmed the morning air as we cycled past cozy motels littered along the Parkway near Maitland. A plaque:

LIEUT.-COL. THAIN WENDELL MacDOWELL,

V.C., D.S.O., 1890-1960 

Born in Lachute, Quebec, MacDowell moved to Maitland in 1897. He attended local schools and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1915. During World War 1, he enlisted on January 9, 1915, in the 38th Battalion, C.E.F. On April 9, 1917, during the battle of Vimy Ridge, assisted by two runners, he captured two machine guns, two officers and seventy-five men. With the vision of the enemy obscured by a turn in a passage in the dugout, he was able to convince them that he commanded a vastly superior force. His action eliminated a serious obstacle to the gaining of his battalion's objective, and he was awarded the British Empire's highest decoration for valour, the Victoria Cross."

            I took a swig of water and let it all sink in.

            "Sounds like our own Sergeant York," I said.

            "Good example of someone who thrived in the art of exploit execution. Remember an exploit is when one can see ones own worth, whether mediocre or filled with modest greatness."

            "A good war story."

            "Well, that's it isn't it? We don't have wars to fight - not our generation. So this is our battle: the choosing and the excellent execution of exploits."

            "Interesting worldview."

            "Well, without the outlet to exploit, a man with passion will implode from lack of use of vital sensibilities that make man full."

           "Addictions and whatnot."

           "Abuse like that, yes. Give a man a battlefield or playground; it's the same thing. But playgrounds can be truly unique, like the mountains of Taiwan or the rugged beauty of the St. Lawrence Seaway. But exploit or war, it's the same ancient codebook of behaviour that springs into play. The important thing is to expend that energy so that the organism may grow."

          "A snowballing action."

           "Precisely. It snowballs, both in abilities and from the inner glow of accomplishment. Part and parcel with the accumulation of creative achievement is the fervor and flush of what I call infinite goodness. The outlet of expression is compassion you have for others. Over time the snowballing glow spills over creating an urge to spread the goodness around. The act of giving is poetic; so manifesting this action only adds to the richness of ones brush. "

           "Howie."

           "Good doggy."

           "I don't know how you did that."

           "Howie adapted quickly after that dangling episode off my thigh."

           "She did have excellent balance at the end."

           We rode until we came to the town of Prescott. We were about halfway to Montreal.

 


 

Chapter Twenty

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At the base of a shallow peninsula surrounded by a jutting log fence with sharpened ends was Fort Wellington, a key stronghold during the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans. Above the fence a twelve-foot ridge where the British could eye anyone attempting to take the fence. Halfway up the thirty-foot earth mound were more log spikes jutting out of the wall at an angle designed to create the highest degree of difficulty. The actual wooden building 30 feet up was quite small for a fort that had seen so much action.

  FORT WELLINGTON

The first Fort Wellington was erected on this site during the War of 1812 to shelter British regular troops and Canadian militia defending the vital St. Lawrence River transportation route. In February 1813 these soldiers crossed the ice to capture Odgensburg New York. When rebellion threatened Upper Canada in 1838 the fort was in ruins. Construction had scarcely begun on the present fort in November 1838 when a band of Canadian rebels and American sympathizers attacked; they were defeated nearby at the Battle of the Windmill by troops assembled at the fort."

            "Key location this fort."

            "It's such a wicked design," he said.

            "It's the artist in you."

            "It's so simple yet effective. No turrets. Simple construction. Very effective fencing technique."

            "Hard to believe there was an Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838. Such a seldom mentioned point in Canadian history."

            "Unlike the War of 1812."

            "Which the Americans never mention." Doppel's laugh bounced off the pointed fence of the fort. I walked over to another historical plaque near it and returned the favour of reading it.

COL. EDWARD JESSUP

1735-1816 

Born in Stanford, Connecticut, he forfeited 500,000 acres near Albany, New York, by taking up arms for the King on the outbreak of the American Revolution. He raised the Loyal (Jessups) Rangers and served under Burgoyne. This corps was disbanded at the end of the war, its members settling in the present Leeds and Grenville counties, and on the Bay of Quinte. In return for his services, Jessup received extensive lands from the Crown. In 1810 a town site was surveyed on this grant, which he named after Robert Prescot, Governor-in-Chief of Canada, 1797-1807.

            "Loyalty. The primary underpinning of all."

            "Radical loyalist. He gave up half a million acres."

            "Loyalty to Crown, loyalty to purpose, loyalty to his brother," he said.

            "Sounds like he ended up with a fair shake from the King."

            "Unlike Radisson."

            "Along this stretch of boundary between Canada and the US is where all the crossing went on."

            "Makes sense. It's just a question of crossing the water."

            "Or in the case of the British troops, crossing the ice to take Odgensburg."

            "Which is right there." He pointed across the water to the treed riverbank where the river was wider. I welcomed the breeze.

            "Do you know where the Battle of the Windmill is?"

            "Wish my Canadian history was better."

            "We'll find it."

            "Darn right we will." He hopped on his bike and I rode beside him down the road. A car came whizzing by me, missing me by a hair. Dust flew up in my face that gave me a surge of adrenalin shooting through me.

            "The bastard didn't even give me an inch!"

           "Ah, the 21st-century man. You're bugging him by enjoying yourself."

           I picked up my pace and rode ahead of Doppel, sweat soaked into my socks and the sun warmed my legs, unceasingly generating my flow. The heat fired my inner hue of intensity. We rode for kilometers. Way past the fort I reached another historical marker indicating a right turn to see a windmill. I slowed for Doppel and we both headed down the quiet road going with the current of the river. In a minute we came to a Dutch style windmill at the water.

THE BATTLE OF THE WINDMILL 

After the 1837 Rebellions many fled to the United States where a few joined American sympathizers in a new attempt to overthrow British Rule in Canada. On 12 November 1838 they landed 190 men here and seized this windmill and nearby buildings. The local people remained loyal, reporting to their militia units; in a few days, 2,000 militias and regulars, supported by naval vessels, besieged the mill. Although British guns did little damage to the mill, the insurgents, seeing no escape surrendered on the 16th.

Twenty rebels were killed and another 20 were wounded in the battle, while 15 soldiers were killed and 55 were wounded. The captured rebels were tried. Eleven were hanged and 60 exiled to Australia.

             "The local people remained loyal."

             "Four days it took for surrender," I said.

             "They were outnumbered ten to one."

             "It seems as if the militia was effective."

             "A trip to Australia to a new life doesn't seem so bad. One exploit results in another exploit." There were white caps on the water in front of the windmill, where the grass on the field shimmered in the wind.

            "This was a crushing defeat to the rebels. It paved the way to a united Canada in 1840."

            "That's what I'm saying: one exploit is the cause of another exploit."

            "Quebec and Ontario united."

            "And the guy who fought at the Battle of the Windmill ended up getting drunk on his own ranch telling stories of how almost took over British rule in North America for the United States because he was a patriot."

            "It was because the Constitution Act of 1791 was a dud: didn't reflect the true state of affairs."

            "The Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-1838 was an aftershock of the War of 1812. The States simply couldn't believe the British were still so close by. They were singing no more Red Coats!"

            I sat down by a cluster of birch trees close to the sandy lip of the shore. Scraps of wood and shells scattered on the gray sand. With the small green islands around the outer waters of the bay, there was a sense that the clouds above were at full speed. Nature stirred and the seagulls glided in the bantering wind.

            I took out my Walt Whitman and read:

            You are also asking me questions and I hear you,

            I answer that I cannot answer,

            You must find out for yourself.

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            At the top of a hill I can see the St. Lawrence snake northeast between rocks and trees near Cornwall, then a national park. Manicured greenery had been separated from the mainland due to the massive flooding, I stopped at one of the picnic tables. There was a line of trees marking the 45th parallel.

           "I feel compelled to stop."

           "Why?"

           "Because this is a mark on a map. And I usually take time to acknowledge points on a map. See, I can pinpoint us to right here." My fingernail was on the 45th parallel where it met the river.

           "More than halfway."

           "Still in British territory," I said.

           "Not for long."

           "For some reason I'm feeling weak today. So I wouldn't mind resting." I opened my bag and put on a sweater before I lied back and watched the trees rustle in the wind. Gulls caught in the breeze were motionless as they floated, most missing feathers but all sharply watching. I saw Doppel fall in balance with the row of trees straddling the line on the map, and felt sure I was going to make it to see my father and grandfather. Two boats sailed by upstream, one barren with no sail and powered by motor, the other laden with sails and a spinnaker hanging off the mast. I laid back in the sun and fell asleep as if on the drop of a penny.

           I dreamed I was riding my bike uphill turning left with the St. Lawrence wind coming from the left. It felt like I was going sideways buffered by wind and gravity, cruising in 16th gear, approaching the sun at 45-degree angle. With perfect traction, I slid into the turn with my rolling wheels in a perfectly straight line, with my wheels straight, I fell into a floating turn.

 
 
 
 
 

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