Here is a collection of bits and pieces that I have written over the years. I will be adding to this page.

Enjoy

The Sack of Souls: A New Year’s Story Retold by Doug McArthur
(based on La légende de la CHASSE-GALERIE)

White Squall: a memory piece concerning my adventures with Stan Rogers, Canada's premiere song writer.

The Bay: Thoughts on San Francisco

Ladies & Escorts: The York Hotel: The favourite watering hole of my youth.

Bikin' the bay: more on my adopted home.

Remembrance Day 1999: Home for the holidays

Last Best Paddle: October Evening on Lake Simcoe

The "Click" of History Reflection on 10th anniversary of 9/11

THE SACK OF SOULS

A New Year’s Story Retold by Doug McArthur
(based on La légende de la CHASSE-GALERIE)

I am living outside the village of Wakefield Québec, 25 miles north of Ottawa on the banks of the slow and powerful Gatineau River.

From my window I look across the deep cut valley to the cliffs that hold the river in.

My river speaks little English and a bit of Français, but mostly Algonkian and other mysterious murmers that voice the same clay tones as the low dark hills and the wild wide sky.

In winter when the sun burns low, the highways ice over and the snow is a silent fist upon the land, then we, alone in tiny farmhouses dotted across les collines de Gatineau, turn our backs to the wilderness and warm ourselves around a fire of myth and memory.

Before the roads and the hydro grid, before the satellites policed the starry night and before the fingers of digital information groped their way into the Gatineau Valley from radio masts high on Camp Fortune, the river was the only highway: the only way in and the only way out.

In the spring the river was filled from shore to shore with great jams of white pine. All winter was spent cutting and skidding the logs in camps frozen on the shore.

The worst time for the rough young men of the logging camps was the stretch between Christmas and New Years. This was when the days were shortest and the nights long and full of regret. Every man dreamt of home and family. Every man thought of celebrations going on without them along the North Shore in Tadoussac or on the far reaches of the Gaspésie.

It was then the light was weakest, then the need was strongest, then that the devil came up the Gatineau.

He spoke to them from the smoke and the whiskey. He spoke from the ancient forest. He spoke from the river in the tongue that was not English, was not French nor Algonkian:

“I will take you home.”

It was New Year’s Eve.

Outside in the moonlight, floating just above the river, not touching the water at all, the men found a long birch bark canoe of a kind not seen since the days of Radisson. The devil sat high in the stern clutching his great bone paddle and as the young loggers climbed aboard the devil took their souls and dropped them like heavy coins one by one into his sac å dos.

Then the wild ride began!

Up into the freezing air they flew all washed with starlight while the river wound black far below through the silver forest.

The men were afraid at first and clutched the sides of the great canoe but as they flew faster and higher down the Gatineau and swung East above the powerful Ottawa they began to laugh and point and grew more and more excited at the hope of seeing home again.

By the time they ploughed the air over the mighty St. Lawrence and the lights of Montreal and Québec were behind them their joy knew no bounds! At the devil’s feet the sack of souls writhed and pulsed. His paddle bit deep into the air.

There! There were the lights of home!

Then somehow each young man found himself wrapped in the bosom of his family. Food and drink were hungrily consumed, children hugged and kissed, presents exchanged then quiet time spent with wives and lovers - all the happy hours swirled past like drifting ice in the black river.

The morning light was thin and cruel.

The loggers sprawled in the canoe restive and uneasy. The glorious memories of the night before were fading quickly, the air grew steadily colder and the devil seemed to paddle even faster on the return up the St. Lawrence, anxious to deliver his cargo. But to where?

The sack of souls was almost still now but for the odd twitch and rattle.

The great canoe swerved north west at Lac des Deux Montagnes and up the Ottawa.

Soon the frightened loggers could see ahead the icy mist of the falls at Chaudiére and the curtain of Rideau. The fantastic canoe began it’s final turn North to follow the Gatineau but the men knew now that they were not ever going home.

Close by a bell was tolling.

A great cry went up to see the spires of the church so close above the village beside the river. As one man the terrified loggers rushed to that side of the canoe.

The canoe began to tip.

Caught off guard, the devil slid from his seat of command, almost dropping his great bone paddle to the earth below. Roaring an oath he reached out to balance the canoe.

Subtle as an angel’s breath the bony finger of Lucifer grazed the golden cross atop the village steeple.

The great canoe spun wildly down from the sky, slid on the icy face of the Eardsley cliffs and skidded through the snowy brush to rest finally overturned hard by the rapids.

The loggers ran like laughing fools into the woods, one of them holding high the sack of souls and calling to his friends.

The devil, caught under his canoe, could only watch them go.


These are the stories that are dreamed by the dark hills of the Gatineau. These are the murmuring tales the river tells.


White Squall
Doug McArthur

Stan Rogers blew through my life like a white squall. He was too big and too strong and too successful to be ignored.

Sometime in 1972 I was sitting in my agent's office and I noticed a white circular sticker attached to a file cabinet. It read "Who is Stella Gray?" I felt the heavy gears of the world notch into place, thunder crashed, wheels within wheels....well.

Stella Gray turned out to be the heroine of a novelty song called "Fat Girl Rag", a 45 r.p.m. single released on RCA records. The non politically corrected story line concerned a "ten ton Tessie" who blocks a freight train.

The cryptic phrase was inserted into various classified columns in newspapers all over the country, eventually drawing the attention of the Mounties who thought they were on the verge of breaking the code of a coast to coast dope ring. It was Stan Rogers' first record.

The very physical Stan Rogers arrived in town shortly thereafter. Stan has published a version of our first meeting and he claims to remember the conversation, date and place. He may be right, certainly the locale was the new folk club in London called Smales Pace, created out of an old Bell Telephone garage by the fabulous Smale brothers, John, Bob and strange Jim.

Stan loved the place at first sight. The coffee was good, the conversation was tasty and the waitresses gorgeous every one. We would sit for hours, walk in the park, drop down the street to the York Hotel for 45 cent beer and return to talk and smoke late into the night. It was his introduction to a cafe society which rapidly became a way of life for many of us.


Being Stan, he immediately started to rebuild the place to suit his needs. Soon he and Garnet and Big Al, his dad, were tearing the old sliding door out and bricking in a bowed bay window so Stan could better peruse the secretaries taking lunch in the courtyard. A new stronger and bigger stage was necessary to handle Stan's ideas. He had plans for a band.

We decided to undertake a trip to Nova Scotia together with Big Al and my friend Frank Wheeler. Although we were in Hamilton at the time, it was important for some reason to head west first to pick up a truck that had been left in London. At midnight Stan and I pulled out on the highway on the five hour round trip preceding the two week trip planned for seven A.M. This is just an example of our careful and thoughtful approach to life. Why not start a long drive to the coast dead tired?

The sun was coming up red and I was driving as we returned to Hamilton. Ahead was the mysterious (to me) East coast, unknown adventure and my first glimpse of the ocean! Stan decided to become introspective.


"Doug, do you have a tape deck in your head?"


I knew what he meant. Music echoes for me constantly in the recesses of my dim little mind and most of my writing and arranging gets done on drives and walks around the country. I thought it was a fine question.
"Yeah, Stan, I think I do."

He leaned his head back on the seat and crossed his arms behind his head: "O.K. Put on Abbey Road, side two."


Stan's family came from Canso Nova Scotia, right out on the pointy end of the mainland. The boys spent summers there and worked for their various uncles in boyhood jobs. When I met Stan he hadn't yet realized the value of this goldseam of experience. Stan was doing country music and had just got out of a rock band in Hamilton. He was starting to write, but, though it seems strange now because of his later success and acceptance, he was not known as a songwriter. His few attempts seemed to me to be a little sentimental and naive. His voice was a strong warm baritone though it had a more nasal tone than you now hear on records. Stan was one of a group of aspiring song writers enjoying the fruits of being big fish in the small pond of the Ontario coffee house circuit, including Gord Lowe, Frank Wheeler, Perth County Conspiracy, David Wiffen, Bruce Cockburn amongst others.

You would play the circuit from Smales in London to Bitter Grounds in Kingston to the Riverboat in Toronto to the Yellow Door in Montreal and L'Hibou in Ottawa. The folk festivals hadn't kicked in yet and hardly anyone had recorded anything so the music existed only in these warm tiny venues a hundred miles apart. You would arrive in town and head directly to the "club" where you would find all your friends and a place to crash and your favourite waitress and the latest rumours of new additions to the circuit. And the new songs. We matured rapidly in a milieu of friendly competition. Ideas and concepts migrated through each other's work with ease. Personally, I stole from the best and admitted nothing.

Stan and Gord Lowe put together the Cedar Lake group in emulation of Perth County Conspiracy, our neighbours to the North near Stratford. I stayed away from the concept of a huge unwieldy super group at first and so I was not included in the elaborate promotional package which remains the primary artifact of the group, although, since basically everyone I knew was involved, before long I was insinuating my way on stage and rapidly became one of the regulars. How many can I name today? Stan Rogers and his skinny kid brother Garnet, Gord Lowe, an old folkie even then with an amazing deep voice that vibrated like a Harley at a stop light, Frank Wheeler, my high school music friend and partner in various rock and folk groups, Jim Ogilvie who had been my bass player for a while and would become a member of one of Stan's first versions of his trio, Rick and Steve Taylor, Willie P. Bennett, songwriter extraordinaire, Sandy MacDonald, the befuddled but great hearted sound man and our personal version of Neal Cassidy: Dando Dindoff, non stop talker and roadie from Cape Breton Island. Occasional members included Brent Titcomb, Ray Materick, Paul Mills, etc., etc.

We were nominally managed by Katie Keenleyside who had extensive experience in the Hamilton Place box office. Our chorus of angels consisted of Beth McQueen, Suzanne Normand, Liz Constantenites and her lovely long haired collie dog, and Monique Burchill. Add in assorted hangers on, friends and lovers and you have at least twenty five people careening around the country in an old school bus playing gigs where the audience was often out-numbered by the armada on stage, and where the prevailing central discussion seemed to be how to divide up the $27 we had made from the last gig. We set up huge campsites in remote areas of the province, the most permanent one being in a flea market near the town of Aberfoyle. There we built a club out of an old barn and called it "The Slaughterhouse".

Our campground was close by in the shadow of the old school bus that we had happily painted one afternoon in Stan's parents' driveway. The actual colours blur in my mind and probably did in reality as well.

I remember one night, Stan, Garnet, Dando, Ray Materick, Gord and I faced off with a bottle of Mescal that had somehow materialized. When I nodded off near dawn the fat grey worm was still afloat in an inch of sickly amber liquid. When we all awoke: it was gone! No one would admit to scarfing up the worm (apparently the most potent part of the mescal experience) and the mystery remains intact to this day in the minds of concerned students of the era.

Personally, I think it was that bandit Materick.


The Bay

I wonder if I know the Bay well enough to describe it.

The first time I came here five years ago I flew in over Point Reyes and the plane stood up on one wing and took me down the middle of the golden bay on a clear and beautiful morning. I saw the islands far off shore which must have been the Farrallones, the entrance markers for the Golden Gate for generations of sailing ships, I saw the bulk of Angel Island in the center of the bay, the lesser rock of Alcatraz and we banked right over the impossible thin thread of the San Mateo Bridge to line up with the runway. I saw the city itself and the jammed stretches of the East Bay joined by the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate and the San Rafael Bridges.

Once on the ground I was taken through then confusing traffic across town to the beach at the Cliff House, then a view of the Golden Gate and a quick trip to the youth hostel at Fort Mason. Over the next week I rushed to Stinson Beach and Mill Valley in Marin, wandered Fisherman’s Wharf and Columbus Avenue in North Beach and sped through Golden Gate Park and the Haight. I missed a lot, but I saw enough to whet my appetite.

Everything is layered over here. The ground itself is jammed up from two immense earth plates that leave Point Reyes a far-flung offshoot of the Sierra, a hundred miles away.

In Monterey there is a rocky point where the water is always in motion and the feeling is never the same. Over the last hundred years, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London and then Steinbeck and friends all used to party and wander on these reaches of land, paying homage to the restless Pacific with pseudo nautical costumes or brooding melancholy as befitted their temperaments. They called it the "Seacoast of Bohemia" when George Sterling et al were here. Afterward the nexus moved south to Big Sur for the rule of Robertson Jeffers and Henry Miller and eventually even Hunter S. Thompson. I have spent many excellent sunsets there with wine and friends. I hope to spend many more.

In the city itself Kerouac and Ginsburg jammed in North Beach at Specs and Vesuvio and gave birth to Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, archtypes for the hippie goofiness to come. Jazz and poetry amongst the trattorias and bagels. Always the ocean shows up behind the urban clutter, sudden unexpected views of eternal nature reminding the most self centered losers that there is a world out there. Someone in Vesuvio said that "San Francisco is 49 square miles of perfection surrounded in every direction by reality."

The sea is the essential thing. The Spaniards passed by outside the Farrallones for two hundred years without ever seeing the Golden Gate or suspecting the giant bay. The bridge and headlands still disappear on a foggy morning and Angel Island fills in the gap from the ocean side. It was only a lost patrol bound for Monterey that eventually wandered up the peninsula and from a ridge saw a harbour large enough to shelter all the navies of Europe. They didn’t think it was important enough to report but their superiors in Mexico dug the information out of them.

There were almost 400 Ahlone villages around the bay. At the bottom of the bay near Dumbarton bridge we visited a reconstruction on one of the village sites. The houses were built of Tule rushes and we learned the people were healthy and strong and well fed here. The average Ohlone male had the cardiovascular efficiency of a modern professional athlete. The village is on a lonely stretch of marsh surrounded by hills and is probably the closest you can get to a whiff of pre-history. Most of the other sites are under parking lots or one of the many bayside highways. The missions and military made short work of their health and removed the burden of land and self government from them. Souls for Europe!

The Spanish moved in fast as always and built the military and religious axis of San Francisco, the Presidio and the Mission Delores, one of a string of 21 missions on the coast set up a hard day’s ride apart from Mexico to Marin. The Spanish King gave huge land grants he had never seen to Spanish worthies all around the bay and the de Peraltas ended up owning Berkeley and Oakland and half of Richmond. The usual sad treatment of the natives ensued, with knee jerk Christianity, poverty and disease the inevitable results.

The Spanish were tough and mean but the Americans took their land away in about ten years of semi legalized thievery and violence backed by the powers of Manifest Destiny and, of course, divine right. In 1849 they found gold and all the rules went out the window. San Francisco exploded from three thousand souls to a hundred thousand overnight and every lost cowboy and roughneck in the world arrived here in one afternoon.

Photos of Yerba Buena harbour in 1850 show a vast forest of ship masts, many abandoned by their crews. They used a lot of them for land fill and they still find old hulks when they dig for a building or a subway. There are actually maps of the wrecked ships under the streets of San Francisco.

The Barbary Coast ruled the waterfront while the railway barons manipulated the terminals and factories. You could go out for a quick beer and wake up on a clipper ship bound for Cape Horn with a hangover and the first roll of the Pacific under your feet as you crossed by Mile Rock. Enormous stone mansions crowded the hills while Dickensian scenes stewed by on the Embarcadero.

In 1906 at five in the morning the great earthquake came ashore at ten times the speed of sound North of Point Tomales. It followed its age old path, visible on any map, down Tomales Bay and outside the Golden Gate. The major part of the city was destroyed instantly and the fires raged for three days, eating the rest. The water lines were broken, the army declared illegal martial law and began to use dynamite and artillery on the mansions of Van Ness Ave. The wind changed and they started to rebuild. The Bank of America consisted for a month of two Italians giving loans off the back of a horse drawn wagon. The population lived out of doors in the parks, suffering through aftershocks and anarchy.

Seismologists now talk of an unimaginable quake that took place in the sixteenth century and carved most of the coastline from Seattle to California. Within memory, the big guy in 1989 took down sections of the Bay Bridge and weakened freeways and the city is still rebuilding.

The bridges came in the mid-thirties, changing the lifestyle and settlement patterns of the whole area. Any photo previous to 1935 shows a hundred ferries boiling over the bay. Now it is just a few container ships and an irregular navy of pleasure yachts out there.

Like Toronto, the city is a patchwork of neighborhoods. North Beach shows the Italian flag to the waves of tourists, Chinatown sits next door, the thronging streets walled in by mysterious faceless buildings. The financial area could be New York, the Mission could stand in for Funk City, the long tracts of housing run forever out to Daly City and the mansions of Nob Hill and Pacific Heights frown down on everything. Hunter’s Point and the Tenderloin are no-go areas for wimps like me. I’m careful even in Berkeley at night.

Over all, like a bad movie set, hang the gentle slopes of Tamalpais. There you can rest in the shade and view the great bay, the driving pure white city, the rolling ocean in peace. Only forty minutes from traffic and business, the eternal is on display any day, in any weather. The fog mostly just makes the view more dramatic, shifting suddenly, closing vistas, filling the city like a great river.



Ladies & Escorts: The York Hotel
Doug McArthur

I have spent much too much of my life in bars. I love the careless talk and the instant comraderie of people who may never see each other again. Some truths only ever come out in these situations, and that has value. Against these tiny insights I have to place the terrible alcoholic costs, the ruined lives, the shattered relationships, the carnage of the drunken driver. Still, I have spent a lot of time in bars.


Probably my all time favorite was the old York Hotel in London, Ontario. It was a decent looking stone building from the outside, graced by a giant painted Mandala on the rear wall by the parking lot, but through the open doors on a warm summer's evening, the soul of the place glowed like mould in a shiny fridge.


The doors opened at 11 A.M. and the first of the heavy fuelers took their place at the beerstained tables under the huge prints of belching locomotives that reflected the proximity of the Canadian National Railway station across the street. Dust from the swamper's broom clouded the floating shafts of sunlight. Cigarette butts nestled quietly in the black shadows and corners. Many a traveller made the York his first stop after a jarring two hour rail ride from Toronto or longer from Montreal.


When I began attending the York, Ontario's archaic liquor laws were still in effect and there was a MEN ONLY room and a LADIES WITH ESCORTS room. Single men were relegated to the splendor of the locomotives and couples were given the tiny two extra rooms at the side. The ratio of women to men gradually increased as the York became known as an artist's bar until finally it was only necessary to have one woman at a table for eight likely lads to secure entrance to the couples' rooms. A single girl could thus have a very cheap evening at the York. Then that law self-imploded.


Joining the two areas was the three sided bar ruled over by two brothers who owned the place, Eddie and Moe. Eddie was slim and looked like a bookie while his brother was heavy and resembled, well, a bartender. Both were world weary but kind, classic bar owners and easy touches.


Eddie had written a song that was published in about 1942 and printed copies adorned the "Wall of Heroes" in the escort's room. Fading glossy 8x10's of local jazz musicians many years and pounds ago were gradually supplanted by folk and country shots as tastes changed through the `70's. A battered piano and a tiny corner stage were the focus of the back room. A glorious juke box ruled the middle room.


Over the years I watched fresh faced young beauties turn to hard painted tarts, good talented and decent men rot slowly into the bleary face you shy away from in the street, and some old boys never let it bother them at all, but to be there on a sunny day with the juke box cranked and the doors open and the girls parading through was to be present at the making of primal memory. I still get giddy when I hear the sax opening of "Baker Street."


One early Tuesday evening, not busy, I shared a number of draught beers with my buddy Ken and we talked the talk of young men the world over. Through the door came a guy in a gorilla suit. The gorilla jumped up on our table and kicked the empty glasses to the floor. He proceeded to do the boogaloo.


Fat Moe was in charge that night. He dropped his towel and rumbled around from behind the bar. He ran up to our table. With the gorilla dancing over his shoulder he gasped: "K-K-Ken - Doug! Is this g-g-guy with you?"


One Saturday night the place was jammed to the locomotives. The music was everywhere. The door opened and in rode a cowboy on his horse! He ducked his hat under the door top and got the whole animal into the tiny jammed room. The big table went over and the whole crowd jammed up against the back wall on top of the band. The cowboy, never seen before, doffed his hat. "Howdy" was all he said. He sawed the reins and backed the horse out the door. I rushed outside with the others, but he was gone. We looked at each other. Did that really happen? Far away we heard a high pitched whinny.


That small room was decorated with the chopped off ends of a hundred garish ties. Every Friday afternoon the office workers from Bell Telephone took over the big table and held mysterious and boisterous rituals as the draught glasses multiplied. These events always culminated the same way. One worker was chosen to sacrifice his tie to enhance the decor and was then attacked by a less than sober person bearing large gardening shears kept behind the bar for that purpose. No one else in the room could ever decipher how the sacrifice was chosen. The Bell workers were the heroes of every Friday afternoon and the main entertainment and none of them was ever seen at the York at any other time.


You were as likely to end up sitting with the mayor as you were a biker. The place was resolutely non-racial, pan-social, non-sexist (after the liquor laws changed) and non-judgmental. Eccentricity was encouraged. Even demanded.


The music policy was demented. Avant-garde jazz alternated with bluegrass and blues. The Nihilist Spasm Band performed on home made instruments that were indescribable in appearance and sound. All the members were artists of some sort from London's extensive and vigorous painting fraternity and the music was kindly described as "unstructured". The Spasms later toured all the Canadian Embassies in Europe to confound those who expected Moose and Mountie music. Rumour has it that after their first well attended concert in London, England they never actually were allowed to perform at any of the remaining venues on the Continent. Word spread fast in the diplomatic community and food and booze were laid on to distract them from their instruments and discussions on painting and sculpture leapt to the fore.


I still remember Jim and Melissa playing, Jim ever so cool on clarinet, Melissa about fifteen months pregnant on banjo or something, sitting in a summer frock, legs splayed, pumping out the deep blues.


A couple of years ago the newspapers were filled with a "20 Year Reunion" for York alumni. The place had often changed hands in the intervening years and was now a "new music" club though I never heard much there that hadn't graced the stage of the York years ago. Stories about the York and interviews with Eddie (Moe had disappeared) saturated the consciousness of the little city. Who could resist?


I arrived about ten o'clock. Bluegrass music was rolling out the door once again and familiar ruined faces were five deep at the renovated bar. The locomotives were replaced by potted ferns but the place smelled the same and the festivities were subdued.


The reason? Eddie had dropped dead the night before. He just hung around for the publicity, I guess. His picture was on the front page of every publication in town for the last week of his life. It seemed to fit somehow.


The building is still there and some evenings if I walk down York Street by the station the old hotel still seems like a refuge, warm and inviting in the night. I rarely actually go in, what I'm looking for isn't there anymore. I remember a dozen hazy returns from various tours east and the mounting anticipation as the train neared London. I would always have a number of plans but the first stop was always across the street to the York Hotel. Many times it was the last stop of the evening as well.

If you walk up to the doors today, carved into the stone forever are the old warnings: " Men Only" and "Ladies & Escorts".


Bikin' the Bay

Tuesday February 6 1996:

I drive across the Bay Bridge toward the city with the mountain bike in the back. The city entrance is guarded at the toll booth by a beautiful black lady who is dancing wildly to a boombox. "Thanks, Darlin’," she smiles. San Francisco is different.

I park at the Marina on the bay. The sun is out and it is warm in January. The Golden Gate Bridge is bathed in fog at the Marin end and Mount Tamalpais is floating like a temple in a bad movie backdrop.

The ride along the bay out to The Presidio is jammed with tourists, joggers, other bikes and dogs. Some of these people must live in the gym, judging by the muscle tension. I huff up the hill to the Golden Gate. Half way up I lose my chain off the rear sprocket and while I fix it, the bike upside down on the grass, several cheery amazons stop to offer help.

Up at the bridge the Asian tourists are out in force faithfully snapping each other. I don’t blame them, the view is fantastic over the Bay. A hundred sailboats are carving their paths past Alcatraz.

The form here is to duck under the bridge on weekends to get to the Western sidewalk and that brings me immediately to the outer edge of the Golden Gate. The open ocean is right there and the tourists back on the bay side are missing a great shot.

Up on the bridge the bikes returning from Marin are on a downhill slant so they are generally going faster than you expect.

I stop several times against the rail to check out the view of the headlands on the West and the white city on the East.

After a mile and a quarter run there is a concrete causeway off to the left just as the bridge reaches Marin and it takes you on a fast wind down and under the abutments to the little harbour at Camp Baker, an old military base, all whitewashed barracks and neatly trimmed lawns, then up the hill to a great view back toward the islands and the city, then a snaky downhill run to Sausalito. It Is always busy in that town and the tourists lurch unconcernedly out into your path, so it is best to be wary there. About a mile further on I join the paved bike path and glide along for several miles past the community of houseboats, under the highway and out across the estuary, over tiny wooden bridges with Mount Tam hanging overhead and an endless wall of roller bladers dividing like a Cecil B. de Mille effect before me.

Across Blithedale I start up a long easy winding hill and the sea falls away behind me. The run down to Corte Madera is fast and shaded and full of dangerous curves. The town itself is friendly until I have to cross the highway, then traffic jams up and caution is the key once more.

I am close to San Quentin here, just across a little bay. For a while I climb slowly through a suburban stretch but soon I am among the trees again. The road folds back on itself and the bay flashes out through the forests and the beautiful cedar-shake homes that are hidden along the road.

Several miles later the road drops to Tiburon. Angel Island is the first sight, then a welcome rest as I walk the bike along the beach path into town. Just across the rocks the bay is spotty with divers looking for shellfish and behind them the city and the Golden Gate are shining in the distance.

A long path leads along Richardson Bay back toward the highway, thankfully level and dotted with drinking fountains. Lots of older couples strolling here, dogs and families.

The traffic jams up again across the highway and then I am back on Blithedale, back into the estuary park towards Sausalito and then a long climb, difficult because I am tired, up the hill to the bridge. The sun is going down as I cross the bridge and every few minutes the light changes everything. The last little sails are funneling into the bay and the giant tankers are pushing bravely out past the Farallones.

Back in the dark of the Marina I am tired and happy as I horse the bike into the back of the car. If traffic is reasonable I will be under the hot shower in Berkeley in another half hour. Of course traffic is never reasonable.



Remembrance Day 1999


Some thoughts on the Remembrance Day services as observed in a small town remote from the centres of power, located on the shores of Lake Huron on what is now being termed by the Tourist Board “Ontario’s West Coast”.

The main variation is the weather - this year cold windy sunshine, much preferred to the driving icy rain of last year.

Otherwise its pretty much the same deal. The parade of veterans grows shorter and younger, the sound system always squeals and needs adjustment, the national anthem is always sung weakly and with the wrong words (the lignes français are always somehow unavailable).

After a hearty intonation of the Christian values of War, the interminable laying of wreaths is buffered by the listing and re-listing of the commercial firms responsible (for the wreaths - not the war): “Walmart I repeat Walmart”. Never "Krupp I repeat Mitsubishi”. No wreaths from Colt’s and Kalishnakov.

It drags on and on. My father pressing his face out of the window of a yellow school bus drawn near for the benefit of those veterans no longer able to hike the block and a half to the cenotaph located on the picturesque town square. Hurt in the war.

Names are recited, the long dead, the value of their deaths is never spoken of except in pious hopes to avoid the future horrors of war.

My brother, a wounded decorated veteran of the wrong war, is not invited or recognized or mentioned at all.

Only the silence seems real. This year two minutes when the whirl of the town rests and draws its breath. It seems the town is anxious for this respite as the silence falls a good 40 seconds before the agreed signal of the chiming of the courthouse clock.

Indeed the town remains almost silent through the long windy afternoon.

As I walked by the harbour I saw a mobile sign reading : “Never was so much owed by so few ...Winston Churchill.”

I went into the office and explained that was not correct.

When I walked back an hour later they had not changed the sign..


Last Best Paddle of the Year

I pulled into the empty beach parking lot about 4:30 - sun shining, warm breeze, water rolling gently. No one in the park but a biker and his girl cuddling on a picnic table.

I hit the beach towing the kayak on my cute little two wheeled cart which then disassembles and hides inside the hull and pushed off into the clear blue.

A long pull out over the shallow water to where the channel deepens with the sun lowering to my left and the colours and shadows vivid. I aim for the point about half a mile away and when I get there the gorgeous cottages are back lit by the sun and the white fishing boats are lined up against the far shore. The shallow point is peppered with huge sunken remnants of the Canadian Shield dropped here by glacial giants eons ago. The gulls and loons are cooing and burbling in the shallow water and a flotilla of Canadian Geese become alarmed at my gliding menace and take off into the sun with a roar and a cackle.

I drift along the North side of the point where the vistas open up along the lake and the mist dissolves the big island in the distance. Every once in a while I pass an anchored fisherman and wave. The biggest cottages are lined up here facing the sunset and workers are rebricking a huge rich man’s dream castle and calling to each other like loons.

I loop out into the deep water and catch sight of the Georgina Island Ferry chugging along the misty skyline.

Back around the point and I feel strong so I work my way along the inner point to the far end of the bay and glide through the long narrow grass of the big swamp. The sun is turning everything gold now and I turn silent circles off shore to absorb the stark contrast of setting sun and shadow on the clear water.

I paddle slowly back past the anchored boats to the beach and as I approach the shore I slow down. This will likely be the last best paddle of the year and I don’t want it to end but I know better than to strain my shoulder. The biker and his girl have wheeled off into the night.

I push myself out of the kayak and mount it on the cart and trundle back to the car. I put the protective blanket on the roof rack and lever the boat onto the roof then tie it solid with the nylon rope. My kayak buddy Ed showed me how to do this with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of safety.

A local walks his dog through the parking lot and we both say that this is likely the last great evening we’ll see this year. We both stare out at the lake and then he goes on his way and I wind my way back through the smoky evening to Eaglewood, arriving just after dark.


The "Click" of History

by Douglas McArthur on Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 11:56am ·

Most stories of 9/11 start with the weather.

It was a late summer day rather than early fall with a remarkably clear blue sky that held no hint of terror.

By 8 am I had finished my daily run up Hamilton “Mountain” (actually part of the Niagara Escarpment), showered and breakfasted and I was planning my busy day. I was CEO of a large arts organization, Hamilton Wentworth Creative Arts, and we were in difficulties. I had been brought in at the last moment to organize three festivals and various programs for a troubled organization. August’s huge Festival of Friends in Gage Park had been a great artistic success pulled together frantically after I was brought onboard in February. A quarter of a million people had enjoyed what the Hamilton Spectator, referring to my Saturday night program, had called “The best five hours of music Hamilton has ever seen”.

But reality had set in with the financial reckoning and we were fighting the residue of many years of monetary confusion as well as some recently acquired debt and now much depended on the remaining programs for the year.

I was to meet with the Gage park staff this morning to plan a smaller fall festival combining the beautiful botanical gardens there with a large popular craft fair.

This was new ground for me and I knew I had to focus.

Since I had an early start on the day I decided to walk to the park, about an hour long stroll. CBC radio was murmuring as I left my downtown apartment just before the first plane hit the tower.

And as I think of it, it was the silence of the walk that struck me. It seemed that the city had stopped - no traffic, nobody on the streets. The beautiful sky domed overhead and the day grew warmer as I wandered through orderly neighbourhoods full of my own thoughts but also absorbing the serenity that I was moving through.

The city softly hummed around me.

When I reached the trees at the edge of of the park the deep greens soaked into my eyes, washing the blue of the sky to the edge of my vision and the dark shadows under the groves were cool and inviting. What a peaceful moment.

Odd that there is nobody on the front desk of the administration building.

Nobody in the halls either.

Something is happening in the back office though - I hear a TV and there seems to be a lot of people in there. I hope the meeting hasn’t been cancelled for some reason.

Sometimes the world changes and we don’t hear the click of history as it ratchets into place.


BACK