Cee went to a spa retreat that promised a refurbished body and an enlightened mind. I too went away, another three days in the bush; this time the cabin was peopled.
Cee and I got together last night to compare our experiences over some martinis and munchies for her and a smoothie and some carrot sticks for me; the vast difference in our choices of refreshment reflecting the vast difference in our choices of a time out; we were both recovering.
Her retreat was also peopled. There were seven other participants in her ‘program’ and there were seven other participants in mine. Hers were an osteopath, a farmer of organic vegetables, a customs official, a denturist, an alcohol and drug counsellor, a social worker, and a hospital dietician.
My list was quite different; I shared my three-day weekend with a bush pilot, a trapper, a pot farmer, an outfitter and guide for big game hunters, a camp cook for a mining exploration company, a taxidermist, and a guy who drove heavy equipment.
I don’t know if Cee’s crowd had other careers before becoming what they were for the retreat, but some of mine had been involved in hugely different jobs before they became what they are today. The trapper used to teach Mongolian languages, and the taxidermist was an equestrian of some note in her other life. The pot farmer was a butcher at one time, and the camp cook had a history as a rodeo clown.
Cee’s holiday food was strictly rationed and the servings were meagre; she dined on roasted sesame crackers with a dip made from soy creamed cheese and tahini, chased down with wheat grass shooters and finished with reverse osmosis water.
“I was so hungry that I started to imagine I could see God,” she told me as she ate her third egg roll, “and he looked like Colonel Sanders. His angels all resembled Chef Boy R Dee. For three days I swallowed more of my own saliva that anything else.”
“Oh, that is too bad,” I said. “I, on the other hand, dined on gigantic breakfasts of bacon and eggs and toast and hash browns, washed down with ‘camp’ coffee. Our dinners were roast beef, or turkey with all the trimmings, and there was pie every lunch and supper. We had Bailey’s in the coffee in the morning, beer with lunch, good whiskey for the ‘happy hour,’ and wine with dinner. In the evenings, around a campfire, we drank more beer or whiskey, our conversations accompanied by guitar music and singing.”
Cee shot me a look of pure loathing. “No alcohol at my retreat, and no meat. All anyone talked about was how their bodies were feeling and how their spirits were elevating. The only music was some bloody tinkling noise in the background.”
She mixed herself another martini and slathered an onion roll with pate. “We all wore these robe things made of recycled pop bottles, and we slept in bamboo sheets and dried our cold-bath bodies with unbleached cotton towels that had been sun-dried and were as stiff as used cleaning cloths. Our rooms were more like cells and they were cold. I think the floors were cement.”
“We wore jeans and jackets and boots,” I told her. “I had a room in the lodge with its own fireplace and a feather duvet on the bed and a sheepskin rug on the floor beside it.”
“We might as well finish this,” Cee said glumly. “We were to learn to levitate while discovering and claiming our personal power. This after a 5 a.m. wake-up call with a bell; our first activity of the day was to sit cross-legged in pairs and stare at one another while widening our eyes as far as they would go and sticking out our tongues.
“It’s called a lion pose, I think, and you would imagine it caused gales of laughter but no one so much as cracked a smile. After the levitation thing we would get beaten with bunches of willows; it was to promote humility and stimulate blood flow. It was also supposed to help us access repressed emotions. Lots of people cried; I just repressed my feelings of being pissed off and cheated. Every night we had to do something called ‘ecstatic dance,’ after which we were encouraged to have a little tantric sex if we so desired. The sex looked like the lion pose, and about as much fun as the high colonics were. To make it worse, I kept thinking about the $1,150 I’d paid for this!”
“We live and learn,” I told her blithely. “I rode a horse one day, and went hiking part way up a mountain the next; both activities accompanied by an enormous picnic lunch and cold beer. The third day I just hung out at the lodge and listened to people’s stories.
My trip cost me gas for my truck to get there, a bottle of wine and a case of beer to share, and some chips and snack foods.” I crunched a carrot stick before adding: “Thanks for introducing me to Mary and Boyd; it was really nice of them to invite me out there. We were all sorry you’d booked your retreat and couldn’t come along.”
“Oh just shut up and drink your slop,” was Cee’s unkind response. She refused my offer of another drink, choosing to go home before I could regale her with more descriptions of my wonderful little holiday.
I didn’t tell her about the night I was on my way to the outhouse and was frightened by a horse, looming out of the dimness, wearing a bug protection mask and a nose bag. For a wild moment all I could imagine it to be was something mutated, or an alien. My shrieks brought heavily armed men from the lodge and provided everyone with at least an hour of entertainment.
I didn’t tell her about the makeshift mousetrap in the lodge. It was called the Stairway to Heaven and consisted of a plastic bucket of water with a ramp to the rim and a plastic pop bottle threaded on a pole across the top. The bottle was smeared with peanut butter; an effective trap, but one that led to my first night in the lodge being full of suspense as I waited to hear the frantic splashing, the tiny despairing calls for help and the wee gurgle signifying the end of a life.
I learned that the word ‘party’ is not a noun in the North; it is a verb. One does not go out to a party; one goes out to party. There were stories of men partying; one of my favourites was the fellow who interrupted his frolicking with friends to go home and get permission from his wife to continue the fun that had already gone on for a day and a half.
His method of receiving her sanction was arguably an effective one; he went home to pick a fight with her.
He sat himself down at the family table (at 10 o’clock in the evening) and demanded breakfast.
“What would you like, dear?” his wife inquired, sweetly.
“I want bacon and fried potatoes and toast and two eggs,” was our hero’s surly response.
“Certainly, dear; and how would you like your eggs done?” was her next question.
Becoming anxious to provoke the needed response, he said “I want one egg poached and the other one fried.”
“Of course,” she replied, “Coming right up.”
In no time at all she was setting his menu in front of him, all prepared exactly as he’d ordered.
He looked at his plate; he looked at his wife, “Goddammit, woman! You’ve fried the wrong egg.”
The breakfast was right behind him as he ran out the door, triumphant, to rejoin his partying friends.
It was a really interesting and fun few days and I was happy to spend time with some of the known characters of the north and to hear their yarns. Hopefully, I will be invited again.
Meanwhile, I leave you with another anecdote about the fellow who, on a dark and cold winter night and on a road less travelled, was driving home from a few days of hearty partying when his truck went off the road and into a deep ditch. He was 12 miles from his house and had walked most of it, when freezing and exhausted, he remembered the snowmobile in the back of his truck.
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.