It had been two years since we had seen our friend, young vagabond Hawken. “He wrote, I am meandering home to visit my parents, of course, taking the scenic route. Hawken set his life to music, it resonated in him, deeply as his need to be outdoors. He was wintering over, as a handyman, in Wabowden- Northern Manitoba- “A roadside cluster of iniquity”, he wrote, I have found in the the place, a symphony…
One dos not need city reasons, to stop off in Wabowden, cafe for truckers, “The Dubious Motel”. In remote, northern forest, burnt back in ’79, small, scruffy jackpine. I have, though stopped off in Wabowden, working on my music, to blend with spoken poetry- writing a piece I call “The Wabowden Symphony”.
Tune of winter morning, hiss of air brakes, bass rumble of semi starting cold up in the lot. Squeak of boots in snow. Swear words from Marlene The Cook, slipping on her behind, it is twenty below. “The Dubious Motel”, 10 decrepit trailers, whining with the cold sit in a row.
Midday in Wabowden, clink of spoon on coffee cup, peeping from microwave oven. Sigh of wet french fry hitting hot, deep fat. Hauling in a delivery, hoping that the lettuce is not frozen. Bananas smell of diesel from the driver’s coveralls, news comes of a wreck, bad one in the ditch, turnoff to Pisew Falls.
Wabowden at evensong- wind in the wires, highway tires playing on the bass string. nights like these set the wolves to howling. I sit outside long as I can, I do not fear their slinking shadows, we share the same, untamed curiosity. Spring will come with a pounce, frogs singing, “rivulet, oh rivulet”…parkas shedding, great flock honking over, heading north…
Thaw will turn the mud to dust, will bring the biting bugs, the paddlers and fishers heading up the singing rivers, the fabled Churchill, up the Mighty Nelson. Many will stop here, the outpost of Wabowden, for bait and snacks and fuel. The waters are cold of heart, fish rich in rapids, and grassy shallows which both delight, and lure the fool, and for poets the likes of me- round every bend adds to my symphony.
Marlene The Cook- the legend in Wabowden. Years ago she drifted north, time worn as the streets of Winnipeg, Marlene sought a husband. She has a way with caraway seeds in slaw, liberal is her use in soups and stews, of garlic and coriander. Her humor is ever crude, but the regulars who stop for coffee in Wabowden love her.
Marlene barking at me, a chorus to my Wabowden Symphony.
In a grit blown corner, motel alcove, a makeshift shrine has been created where the Coca-Cola machine had been, stolen years before. Visitors sit on folding chairs, to pray they are not stuck snowbound,or broke-down long. Faded photos from winter roads, are tacked to a cork board. There is an elegy to “Old Fred”,who braved the bush fires of ’79, got his truck full of fried chicken, diapers, beer, and toilet paper, through, a never forgotten load, there are faded, fly specked missing posters, sad stories of many gone amiss on the big, lonely road.
” This is a country where an echo lives forever, sometimes I can almost hear the singing, laughing, cursing, splash of paddle of long past Voyageur’s, wrote Hawken, easy day today, outside with rag and bucket, cleaning bear slobber off the windows of the cafe”.
“Marlene recalled years ago, a poet like me fleeing from her borscht in dismay- just may have been Godfrey passed through Wabowden way. “When we meet again will all be set to music, neath the “Bug Chandelier”, remember me, and I will play for you “The Wabowden Symphony”.