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Last one out


I drove north and east from Thunder Bay, across the rest of Ontario, 500 miles, before stopping for the night just short of the Quebec border. It was a long road; the cat and I were tired. Driving from Winnipeg the other day he sat in my lap and in the back watching things go by but today he hid and, by the end, we were both desperate for a little more space and to stop the motion – 10 hours was enough.

I pulled onto a logging road with a sign that said “24 Hour log haul in progress”. Though I don’t see what progress there is in clear cutting. I tucked in next to a skidder with the intent of staying out of the way, popped up, and moved in for the night. The high for the day: -14ºF (-26ºC).

The sky was dark and the stars were fabulous. There was a little bit of moon, not the intense, dark-sky stars but still a beautiful showing. The snow was crunchy underfoot and the hairs in my nose froze. That always tells me how cold it is.

I awoke at 2am, suddenly and for no apparent reason. I went out into the night to pee, enjoy the stars, and appreciate the cozy nest of my camper, heater, and bed. It took me a while to settle again. I had the blankets over my head, the tip of my nose sticking out just enough to breathe the cold air, when I heard this loud, rumbling, Whoooosh. Then silence. It confused me. My head was awake enough to know this was not a sound I had heard before; it raced to compartmentalize it. Plane? No. Truck? No. UFO? Yeah, right. Then I realized the 24-hour log haul had begun. The deep snow and the thick forest surrounding me engulfed the sound of the trucks until they were just even with me and then swallowed them and their noise whole again as they sped past. For the rest of the night every 20-30 minutes another truck went by.


A mountain of timber dwarfs trucks.

Coming across Ontario is a study in lakes and spruce bogs. The Canadian Shield that is the bedrock of the province does not allow much to pass through or grow up. The towns are discreet with a start and an end and a few random houses and gas stations scattered throughout. Slowly as you move east the forest becomes more dense and more determined in its growth. With this, of course, comes an increase in logging activity and the clear cuts become more noticeable along the road.

In my mind, we are slowly dismantling the earth. We consume resources far beyond their capacity to regenerate – and not all resources can or do regenerate. Even those of us who regularly ground ourselves in the wild are not always connected to our actions.

Is buying organic and remembering your reusable grocery bag enough? Is buying a more gas efficient car enough? How many devices are plugged in? How many plugs are plugged in but not actually connected to anything? What materials do we choose for our clothing? Is there lawn to mow?

This disconnect is not new. We have willful blindness toward the things that we want even if they don’t fit our idea of what is sound. I drive across the country with my home on my truck and my gas mileage dipping into the range of a 1970s F250. Still, I drive on.

What will change this consumption? An increasing number of endangered and extinct species has not convinced us. Super storms, drought, and record heat have not convinced us.

The 24-hour log haul continues. For how long?

Last one out please turn off the lights.


Early morning light along the 24-hour haul road.

Crossing Borders

The web site said the border crossing closed at 1900hr. I turned onto Montana highway 24 out of Glasgow at 1701. A hundred meters later there was a sign: Opheim border crossing 9 am – 6 pm, 59 miles. 59 miles, 59 minutes. The speed limit: 70. I can do that.

At 5:57 I passed a sign that said, “Leaving Montana.” In the last daylight a woman in a border patrol uniform (in the failing light I couldn’t see if it was Canadian or US border patrol) waved me through as she stood holding one end of the gate she was about to swing closed and lock for the night. I pulled through to Canadian custom’s Stop/Arrêt sign. I shut off the engine, 5:58. I waited.

A few minutes later a man waved me forward. I pulled up, putting down my window simultaneously. “There’s no way we’re going to process a camper tonight,” I heard another customs agent say from the side of the road.

Standard border crossing questions: where do you live? Where are you going? What do you have with you other than clothing and personal belongings? Where are you going to stay? When was the last time you entered Canada? What do you do? Do you have any weapons?

Why are you crossing at this point? I’ve never crossed here before, I tell him. A look of consternation, perhaps, crossed his face. And then again, “when was the last time you entered Canada?” It was my turn to look perplexed. I answered again and he said, “Oh, right. I asked that already.”

“Yes,” I said. “Is this a trick question?” Another perplexed look.

They took my passport and the license plate number and went away. He came back two, three times to read the license plate. My speeding ticket rap sheet has neither preceded nor followed me.

“Do you know what time the border closes?”

I tell him the web site said 1900hr but the sign in Glasgow said 6 pm. I thought I had plenty of time. The gates close 10 minutes before 7 he informs me.

Saskatchewan, as it turns out, is in the Central Time Zone and does not change its clocks with daylight savings time. I did not expect to drive north into the Central Time Zone. We discuss Manitoba and Alberta time zones and the dilemma of me coming through the gate so late when, apparently, the American side locks the gate.

If they scan my passport and find red flags, they have me on the wrong side of their border with no way to get me out of the country. Then they have to call the American side to unlock the gate and take me away. I point to the camper and say, “Or, I could just plug in right here and you can deal with me in the morning when you get back.” Another look.

They let me through. The catnip stash left unfound, unquestioned.