I spotted Hugh on the side of the road 10:30 Friday morning. His back was turned to me
and to the sun. He hadn’t yet stuck out his thumb but I knew he was looking for a ride. Once
he got inside it took me a moment to catch his name. A lot of Newfie accents sound the same,
but his was Labrador West Coast – coarse and hoarse even to my ears. I’ve practiced
listening Newfanese for years, spending time in North Sydney talking shit over beers.
He’s 82, Hugh.
Long time Logger.
Knows the backlands.
I notice his hands arthritic and tanned. His sunken cheeks and a mouth that barely moves
when it speaks. He’s got family in the Craignish Hills and hikes the cleaves between the
peaks. As we’re rolling along and shooting the breeze he’s pointing out roads tucked into the
trees. Places I’ve seen and never considered go in very far, and even if they did I don’t
imagine taking the car. The kind of road you think goes nowhere, leads you back the way
you came there.
It’s news to me that a 200 year old church stands partway to Judique, on a logging road
that starts outside River Deny’s. He says a Minister comes in even mid February to give
service for snowmobilers keen on communion. These roads I’ve never considered now seem
important to wander on.
He’s happy when I show him my favorite fountain just at the turn to Orangedale. It’s a
popular spot to fill a jug or pail with clean water all year round. We wait a minute and listen
to the sound of water through green undergrowth – Green even now under all last years
death. Driving on we talk about water and he shows me 2 more spots to fill. It’s pleasant
conversation with my new pal.
He’s solid, reliable.
Totally himself – undeniable.
A man thumbing his own roads,
Carrying his own load.
I drop him off at another roadside dirt track, telling him if he’s lucky he can catch up with
the Grader carving down the flatpack. He seems unconcerned about catching a ride,
hearing my witty and letting it slide. He’s taking his time. In my mind, that Grader is his
only hope in Hell.
He steps out on the gravel,
He knows it well.