My visit to Canada is drawing to a close.
I spent the past weekend exploring old haunts with my friend Rob Wilson, partner in crime from many teenage exploits and camping expeditions.
The weekend got off to a great start when we drove out to his old farmhouse on Buckwheat Road, behind Spencerville, and set out into the woods with camera and tripod to find one of our old campsites.
After stepping quietly around a trail of bones — the fresh dismembered remains of some animal — we pushed through weeds and nettles and clouds of mosquitos and plunged into the woods.
We shunned tents back then, because tents were for wimps. We only took a hatchet and a can of beans each. We built fragile lean-to’s out of sticks, and slept on plastic rain ponchos on the ground. After eating the can of beans — I was a fan of Clark’s while Rob swore by Heinz — we were supposed to forage for food using a book about edible plants.
I normally lay awake all night, eaten alive by mosquitos, with hunger pains in my stomach. But we were out there and did that again and again, in the woods around Buckwheat Road and on uninhabited St. Lawrence River islands just west of North Channel.
And now we were back in those same woods, nearly 30 years later.
The fields near the road threw us off, but when we got into the shelter of the woods, it still looked the same. The underbrush had grown a lot, but we could still see the path Rob used to follow each weekend to his job at the egg farm over on the next road.
The sticks from our shelters were gone long ago, as were the stones from our fire pit. I think we scattered them back then so that we could leave that spot with no trace. But we definitely found the little clearing where we’d made our camp. And that was worth a few rounds of celebratory beer in the evening.
We had big plans to borrow a canoe the next day — the very same canoe we used nearly 30 years ago — to search for a couple of our old campsites on those islands. But time was pressing, and so we giggled over breakfast at a greasy spoon instead, and explored the woods behind my grandmother’s house.
Those woods were the scene of too many early adventures to count. It’s where we attempted to rappel off the railway bridge, but none of us knew how to do it, and Rob — who went first — hung screaming by his testicles until he finally fell 15 or 20 feet to the coal bed below. It’s where I nearly got hit by a fast passenger train while pulling my grandmother’s dog off the tracks where it was sitting frozen in fear. And it’s where Rob shot scenes from his very first film.
I’m going back there one day to map those woods and gather notes for a book. I want to write up my childhood adventures and exploits. To write a book that inspires the housebound video game playing kids of today to get out there and have real adventures like we did in our day. But I still have two other books to write first.
We ended our Memory Lane explorations by driving around my hometown to look at the scene of so many urban adventures: Newell’s Woods, my house and the homes of our friends, the warehouse where we threw rocks to set off the alarm, and the park by the river where we hid out when we were in trouble.
The pavement where I carved my name with a stick at the corner of James St and West St — right by my house — is still there:
And so is the spot where me and Jason Saunders carved the names of our heroes, Rick and AJ Simon from the 80’s detective show:
Rob shot a lot of footage over the weekend, and I’ll share the video with you when it’s ready — as long as you promise not to turn us in for some of the pranks and old stories we discussed as we walked.
But for now, it’s time to get back to work on my Mongolia book.
I’ve only got one more week to work here in Ottawa semi-seclusion. And then I’m flying back to Europe for some new adventures.
I won’t be back this way for at least a couple years. So if you’re an old friend and you still haven’t done so, now’s the time to buy me a drink, or bake me a nice rhubarb pie!