The Idea of the Idea of the Idea of North

Picture3The Idea of North is the best know of the Solitude Trilogy, a radio documentary produced by Glenn Glould (any relation of Jay?) in the late 1960s and 1970s when hippie-dippie multidimensional poetry masquerading as documentrarying could pass itself off to the Canadian Arts and Cultural Affairs and Land Management Bureau and receive funding only to make its way into the eternal archives of most educated North Americans of a certain age and tax bracket to be for the most part forgotten by the vast majority of the population, including those who donate often to NPR.
The merits of the original work notwithstanding, this blogger was exposed to the idea of the Idea of North when just a young director of a media arts and educational programe. By way of another director, of a different program, a copy of a video of The Idea of North was obtained and partially watched for reasons that have been lost in the halls of memory. The work was performed or produced by Temple Grandin or some such figure – the other director was running a programe for autistic children – and while only perhaps 10 minutes were viewed before the “tone poetry” of the work make this author start rocking back and forth and banging its head against the wall, the idea of the Idea of North set off in motion what would later be known as The Incident.
Years prior, as a younger unemployed person, this author was in Canada at an old family haunt. We would visit a lake cabin set on some 800 acres in the Laurentian Mountains just outside Montreal owned and inhabited by a friend of the family and their antecedents and descendants. On the coffee table, the one in the living room with the clock and the desk with all those papers about hydroponics was a copy of a National Geographic magazine when they were still produced in paper form. On the cover of that particular issue was a photograph of a huge gash in the wilderness and the shocking revelation that there was now a new highway running up to Labrador – thus making ferry travel unnecessary and improving the local economy while raising questions about cultural continuation and patterns of exchange or whatever the article was about because, who really reads the National Geographic…
I showed our host the photograph.
That’s fuckin’ the provincial government’s plan to just make shit roads and then stop the ferry and let any town the road doesn’t go to just die, the son of the property owner, a man of my parent’s generation, exclaimed, perhaps a whisky on the rocks in hand. Fuckin’ eh! This in Canada was not a question.
But, to me I did not think of the political implications. Fuckin’ eh! This was this new highway! This was a road to North. To adventure. I was about 12 or 16 or somewhere in between… but I do remember exclaiming that I wanted a road trip, that we should go North. I wanted to see more of Canada than the city of my father, Montreal, or the small hippy mountain town the Anglophones gathered in the summertide to hide from life. However, those about me were of another mind set, the “why go there when it looks like here” mentality.
Fuckin’ nothing up there but nothing. We have trees and snow here. They were right. But I still wanted to go North.
And as life is as life happens and leads to more paths leading in other directions not planned for, and we get lost from those things we wanted to do when young, and before I knew it I was a homeowner with bills and a dog and adult relationships and responsibilities. I had traveled hither and yon about the globe – Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America, Columbus Ohio, but in the backroom of some half-rented property I was repairing like that eternal kid under the blanket reading a comic book by flashlight, I was watching a DVD on a laptop borrowed from work, and again was confronted with North. Even if it was tonal poetry delivering the message. I again wondered at that road through the most boring of lands, through an ocean of small spent pine forests called the taiga boreal where moss was about as tall as the trees in those places I had imagined when I was younger. That fresh highway, still unpaved.
Picture2I was older and while I had some of those responsibilities of an adult, I also had a car. Some money from my job for gas. I had credit cards just in case. I had basic healthcare, always a fear down here in The States.
My first attempt was a disaster. Not like the Darien Scheme, but close. My then partner and I were to drive up North in my 1989 Nissan Sentra, a little red box that had been serving me well. Just the night before our departure, a tie-rod snapped off. It was a weekend, and we were grounded, loosing valuable vacation days in the process (back then employers were stingy with time off). We then traveled North late as we were and drove up the southern shore of Saint Laurence River thinking we would hop a ferry over to Trois Pistoles – however, these ferries were booked well in advance by people in The Know. We had driven hundreds of miles in the wrong direction and, after waiting some hours for a spot on a ferry, had to drive back to make crossing at Quebec City. As we went up, we stopped at one location, creating a short film as an homage to the poet Antonin Artude called Dinosaur and Obelisk. For reasons that additional travelers will find well obvious after a visit to that location. Our journey did not improve. Frustration filled the car and we made it as far as Labrador City only to have to spend the night in a seedy hotel. We drove to the mouth of the dirt road, the real journey North and posed in front of the sign posts only to return home, having misspent our youth. The film made of that journey was later lost by an assistant or perhaps it was melted down and turned into skis. The Nissan took us back to park in its driveway, never to start again. This was a dark period of my life where every memory I attempted to make and the things and people I cared about were vanished by various means. But, at this time we had made it far North.
Which should have been enough.
However, it wasn’t. The following year I had risen in rank and increased the coffers at the programe I was working at, and, like the workers of old, I was rewarded with more time off than many of my contemporaries. The media arts program had a healthy benefactress and the summer was a slow season, so I was able to argue for some funding for a greater adventure. As I was an adult, now of some means, I also had a 1981 CJ 7 Jeep I bought (originally sold as parts or restore as it had holes in the floor… sides… etc). I made my case to her about the importance of my making a film as a working artist in order to be a good role model, and she supported my Northern scheme as long as I took a small crew – the junior of our staff at the time- and make a film of this process. This left me separated from my spouse but we would be rewarded with additional time off as this was now… a work trip.
And so, thus, verily, forthwith, started the first installment of my own personal Idea of North and an unlikely crew of fallen angels three members of a crew locally known as The Lost Boys, one of whom did not show up and was left behind. For the sake of this space I won’t go in to that long and very personal epic journey as that story can’t be given away for free on this forum. It’s worth paying $3.99 on Kindle I’m sure. Or send me $10 and I’ll phone you and tell the story personally. While I am not sure the artistic merit of our final work, the film we intended to make, I can say that this event did something, it arrived at a certain time in my life and the lives of my companions. I cannot speak for them, but for me, this trip marks a split in my life, and when I returned…. I took another path, not a better one, but a path nonetheless. Impacted, perhaps, by my experience with North.
And again, this should have been enough.
But it wasn’t. On some years later, and again the Idea of North came up. The time of disruption from The Incident had passed and while a few bumps lay in store, there was ample time to plan and attempt to gather an expedition party. This time another route and in a 1984 Dodge 600 convertible that had survived its journey to a place called Meat Cove the summer prior. No longer through Labrador, this was to shuttle up the interior to James Bay, to move ever north along dirt or crudely paved roads into the wilds to drive the farthest North we could go on the Eastern Shores of this continent. We would pass the French settlements to those of the Natives, the First People of the Cree or other tribes, and journey to the end of the road. I was joined by my partner and while we found no friends who could join us, we did meet a random French boy on an abandoned boat that had been turned into an art camp and while I had invited a great many people who would drunkenly agree and then sober up and decline, this one agreed and joined us as our interpreter – which came in handy when we met park police. Again, a great story. Much more of an adventure vacation that that journey by Jeep, but those nights where the sky pulsed with the aurora borealis or by chance on the road we caught a glimpse of wolves, or fox, or small stoat-like creature that ran off afraid we were to turn him into a hat or a fur trim, there was again this feeling of the wonder of The North. That wonder that as work-a-day adults far too many of us lose sight of. We frequently mistake being childish for seeing the world as children. The wilds of The North have a way of reminding us of those best aspects of children, but tinged with that cold night, the promise of long darkness and a deep quiet of ice just around the corner that makes those long warm days and the ripe blueberries that much more savored. And that trip should have been enough.
And so, to this, again, this author is about to embark on round three of the Idea of the Idea of North. Again into a vehicle of questionable utility – the 1984 Dodge 600 convertible – and gathering of camping equipment and portable electronics and with the assistance and company of a few select, setting off North. We went to Happy Valley Goose Bay so we could say we went and never have to go back, one of the members of the first Idea of Idea of North team exclaimed upon my invite… But, like the stream of Aristotle or Plato or Playdough or whomever said one never dips your body part into the same water, this trip will be old and new.
Picture1Part three will attack the North from a base in Boston and a secondary access through Maine. From Fundy, to Newfoundland. A ferry to Port Aux Basques by night. Then up the coast of Newfoundland to the next point of embarkation and to enter Labrador, this time to the south of North and to drive up those roads that were established well before and turn on to a road that had not existed in a cleared and usable state when we first traveled North some several years ago. Again, unknown roads, a highway but four years old connecting nowhere to never-heard-of-it. From there to enter Happy Valley Goose Bay, but from that south. To not this time camp at the landfill (long story but involves Walmart and bears so it has to be worthy of the Moth), but to take in a rustic charm of a bed and breakfast or comparable lodgings. Then, if the Dodge 600 is still worthy, to dive another several thousand miles through the screaming wilds to camp, adventure, and find ourselves once again in quaint historic Quebec City, to then make way back to our native land.
I am not sure why this seems like a good idea. But it sounds like at the very least there has to be a few good turns in the road, and who knows, perhaps I will finally understand and settle this idea of the idea, which is now itself an idea, of North.

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