Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Saturday, August 05, 2006

836 - Big Rock Candy Mountain

NOTE! To read this in chronological order please scroll down to the first post and start reading at the beginning. Thanx!

The green line marks my route on Canadian National through Canada.

Well, 5310 miles later and I'm here at my end destination. This fact doesn't really sink in for a day or two, but when it does it makes me a bit sad. After exiting the Rockingham yard I caught a bus to downtown Halifax and went looking for some familiar faces. The girls that I met in Winnipeg were coming this way and I'm hoping to see them again. After some wandering about I spot a few travellin' kids and go over to speak to them. As it turns out, one of them is Dale, who Rodney told me about back in Winnipeg. I decide to go have a look at the city and eventually find the VIA station and stash my pack in a locker there. While at VIA I got a quote on a ticket from Prince Rupert to Halifax. It's was almost $CDN 1600.00. Ha ha! After a while, from directions provided, I find The Arch which is a drop-in center for homeless and travelling youth run by an ex-catholic nun. After brief questioning they take me in and provide a shower which is welcome at this time. A meal is offered and I accept. Before leaving there I check email and such since they have an internet connection.

Going back into the city it seems that these fine Haligonians are of a rather liberal persuasion. The other thing that I discover about the populace here is that they are very involved in their community. I find this refreshing compared to the apathy that rules most american cities. The dominant accent here is decidedly Irish but without the rolling R's and not nearly as broad. The cost of living here is very low compared to what I have seen elsewhere in Canada, except maybe Montreal. Apartments are dirt cheap and the price of food seems to be somewhat lower than it is in Denver. After roaming around the city for most of the day I go retrieve my pack and go in search of Dale and his crew.

They are nowhere to be seen and instead I run into a completely different group of travellin' kids who are hanging out near the Sebastopol graveyard. It's getting late by now and these guys tell me that they're waiting for the graveyard to close in order to jump the fence in the back to sleep in there. I'm told nobody bothers you at all once you're inside, so it sounds like a good deal to me. After dark an attendant rolls up and closes the main gate which is a huge, heavy, wrought iron affair almost twice as tall as me. He speeds off and we all go around to the back side where the fence is lower. The Sebastopol cemetery is referred to as the burying grounds by the locals in Halifax. It was opened in 1749 and was used into the early 1900's. It's estimated that over 12000 people have been buried here, mostly in unmarked graves. The grave markers that are here are clean and simple in design and decorated in a pre-victorian gothic style with winged skulls as a primary motif. We roll out under a big oak after sharing of food and spirits and go to sleep.

The next day is spent just hanging around Halifax and observing this place. I really like it, and could definitely see myself living here at some point. This is the most attractive place I have been to on the North American east coast thus far. The climate is most agreeable and I think that I would love to visit in the winter to really experience it further. Towards evening time I end up down on the water and despite being somewhat of a tourist thoroughfare I decide to have a celebratory meal and drink to mark the end of the journey. On the way to find some grub, I pass a girl with a little dog of some unknown breeding and an accordion. She is kicking a ball across the pier, which the dog runs and brings back to her. While she is doing this she is playing the accordion. Pretty clever way to get some attention as nearly everyone is attracted to the dog. On the way back after getting some fish & chips and a beer I pass them again and now she is playing a pretty fast version of "There's whisky in a jar". I stop to listen because it reminds me of my own accordion and the lessons I took as a kid.

She takes a break after a while and I ask her if she is from around here. "No, Vermont" she says and adds "I travel a lot, my name's Beverly". After introducing myself I ask her how she gets around, because I have a hunch that she might be a freight rider. "Usually I hitchhike, but sometimes I ride trains" she says. I tell her my story and share my food with her and the dog whose name is "Tinker". As it turns out she has pretty much done the same route except for the distance between Jasper and Prince Rupert. This conversation reminds me of a saying that the hobo's home is everywhere and nowhere just the same, and I mention this to her. At the mention of this, a sadness is drawn across her face and she bids me adieu to return to the accordion. As I turn to walk away, the notes of a familiar song come through the air loud and strong. It's "Big Rock Candy Mountain" by Harry McClintock. I have to hear this, for it could not be a better ending to the casual meeting of two strangers who share a similar experience in life.

It is dark now, but I can still see the tears that are grudgingly making their way down her face... It makes me a little uncomfortable but mostly sad, because it seems I inadvertenly triggered the memory of sadness and time lost somewhere.
As I turn away a second time there are a few tears of my own rolling now, but I can't help but marvel at the beauty of it all.
I suppose this means that I will be seeking new adventures in order to learn more about life, for life is an unending saga of learning and understanding. But that will be a story for another time...


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