The sound of wood being limbed and fell around us in the crisp cool morning brings the world to life. Stars shine brightly and puddles have frozen overnight. The smell of fresh timber and fallen leaves is intoxicating. I’ve already had two cups of weak ass, gas station coffee and I’ve been up since 1:30am. My alarm goes off in the morning and I jump in my truck and head to town falling into the busy logging traffic. I would meet up with Dangles and we’d head off into the fast network of logging roads. “Morning” he says into the radio to a processor we drive past. We pullover for a logging truck to go by us and turn our lights off. The darkness and distant sound of the bunchers working comforts us. I check my fluids and start the 848. The sound of diesel coming to life might as well be a hundred cups of coffee. We hop back in the crummy and wait for the hydraulics to warm up. It’s usually 3-3:30 in the morning at this point.
I have never been one to be able to sleep while someone else is driving. I even remember thinking to myself that I would never fall asleep on the drives to or from the bush, how could I? There was something about Dangles driving though that torched that thought. If he was driving and neither of us felt chatty I would slip quickly into a hard, fast sleep. The kind where when you wake up to the truck slowing suddenly you realize your mouth has been hanging open for some time now, and on wiping away a bit of drool wonder how you are already out here.
When September came I really soaked in the differences between working in a “woman’s” world, and working in a “man’s”. I didn’t feel the pressure of having to wear makeup or somewhat nice clothes anymore. I raided thrift stores for men’s flannel shirts and wore them with shorts over tights. This isn’t really a new look for me (B always called it my “safety gear” ) but it felt more acceptable here. Nobody commented on my non-existent make-up, or my unwashed hair (apart from Dangles, “You look like shit and you smell like cinnamon sticks.” ) Though in no way was logging an easy lifestyle, it was a lot easier to live in a world of crazy bushmen then to live under a woman’s world of nagging questions and comments. Questions and bitching comments that would ring in my ears for days afterwords.
“Are you dating anyone?”
“When do you think you’ll get married?” / “How come you’re not married yet?”
“When will you start a family of your own?”
“Don’t worry it will happen when you least expect it.”
“If you make room in your life and stand on one leg while wearing red string on your left hand it will happen.”
“If you work like that you’re going to burn out – It’s too hard.”
Nobody said any of that to me anymore and I loved it.
Dangles and I talked about everything under the sun, and whenever the topic of dating came up (though not in the damned and bitching way aforementioned) I would blurt that I was never going to date again. He didn’t believe me.
And so I was free from expectation. The more I immersed myself in the logging world, the less time I had to be in town and see or hear people talk about loved ones or family. One particular warm and sunny fall day after work, Dangles and I went for dinner. He stepped next door to quickly book a hair cut, and I was left alone to talk with the Chilean guy that I used to see so often when I had worked over at the flower shop. He asked if Dangles and I were dating and I laughed. No. He then went on to tell me that soon enough I would meet someone and I would have a family of my own. He knew it. When Dangles finally came back into the shop, give or take 10 years later – I had to get the fuck out of there. We left and I told him about how the Chilean guy had dropped the f-bomb. Family. I was shaken and instantly felt myself slide downward. The same as anytime I hear those questions or comments. It feels like something must be wrong with me to not have those things sorted. As if they are things within my control and that I must be not choosing to be in such a “lonely, vulnerable space”.
“Maybe you’re a little too independent, Cassandra.”
Everybody’s got a damn opinion.
In the bush nobody dropped that on me. I was free to be myself, and I relished in feeling more comfortable in my own skin then I had in a long time. I still struggled with loving or accepting myself but for once It felt like I wasn’t doing something wrong.
“Good Morning,” Dangles said as we passed a loaded logging truck, “Morning Dangles,” the trucker responded and then added, “Good Morning to Cassandra, too.”
I was IN. I didn’t feel like I belonged or was accepted just yet, but I didn’t feel like I wasn’t completely unaccepted. People would drive by the patches we skidded and would sometimes stop and watch as I neared the decks.
“Why is everyone always staring?! What’s to see?!” I had once asked the skidderman that I took over for.
“Nobody can believe your actually doing this. Also for someone so mistrusting of people – you’ve just walked into the wolf den.”
As the weeks went by and the temperature began to slowly fall, I continued to learn to skid. It wasn’t coming naturally and as Dangles had said before, I had to learn the hard way (the hard way saved only for the hard-headed). The lifestyle itself took a bit for me to get used too. I was used to being up early but usually I’d get up at 4:30-5:00 in the morning. Still, nobody complained and it was just an accepted fact – nobody was getting much sleep and likely wouldn’t until the ground started to thaw in the spring. Nobody whined on Facebook about having to be up in essentially what was the middle of the night. It felt so calm and fresh at that hour, the only thing expected of us – was to produce.
Everyday – at some point in the day, Dangles had me in stitches. Minutes into our morning commute I would hear his ass cheeks slap against the pick-up seat and the child lock click on the driver’s side door. He would jump to crank the heat and steal a glance at me and explaining while keeping a stern face, “sorry I had Chinese last night.” During the day as either I skidded to him while he decked, or as we skidded alongside each other I would look over to see him either giving me the finger, singing or mooning me without missing a beat. He was so good – he literally could skid circles around me and do the craziest (to me) things all while making it look effortless. “Peanuts.” he would brush it off easily. I think without those candid moments I might have drown in seriousness that eventually did landslide into full-blown anxiety. One Friday night we decided to head to the local pub after work. At the end of the day however I blew a hose on the skidder. He said he would stay and help the mechanic change it and that he’d meet up with me later. I went to the pub alone and ran into a truck-driving, co-worker of mine. I caught him up on how I had been doing and gave him my thoughts on the logging world, while asking a million desperate questions. I also confessed my deepest fear to him. Something in me started seeping out and the more I talked about how afraid I was to not be good enough the faster my heart started pounding in my throat. I tried drinking that feeling back down from the hellfire place it had sprouted but it wouldn’t die. Instead it snowballed into a full-blown anxiety attack. We went to the back deck of the pub and I chain-smoked heavily. I tried not to cry. I felt so embarrassed for how I was feeling.
Finally I got up and walked around the corner of the deck and threw up over the railing.
People started asking if I was okay and the truck-driving, co-worker told them to leave me alone.
That was such an overwhelming feeling at the time. What if I wasn’t good enough and I never would be good. I would have to try to do something else for a living, back in the “women’s world”. I could honestly throw up right now as I write this trying to imagine that. Dangles knew full well about this fear and never ceased to take advantage of it. When he finally showed up at the pub that night much later – I was Jim Lahey drunk and he pretended not to know me as a group of his friends were with him. Oh yea. I hadn’t thought that he had his own friends, his age. I felt like a wasted alien and left. I remember on the way home thinking in that stupid drunken state that how dare he have other friends when he was my closest. I apologized on Monday for being a crotchety, old bitch that couldn’t handle her alcohol – that night anyway. I promised that I was actually a fun drunk. Back in the skidder I wondered if I actually was.
The fresh energy that Dangles brought into my work week however leached into my weekends. All the sudden I could focus in on my cabin and essentially make shit happen with the same discipline. Layla had started to move out as her and her new boyfriend were forgivably spending all of their free time together. It wasn’t a sad or bitter parting but a transition into a new chapter for us both. Back in July & August I kept borrowing one book from the local public library. It was an old black and decker how-to build a deck book adorned with pictures that were straight out of the 80s. Picture hot sweaty bods working on a perfectly cleared set with jeans waisted right over the navel. I can’t even look back on that book now without feeling like building a deck..(ha…)..
I had seen over the summer a picture of a cabin with an attached deck where it had a roof over it connecting into the existing roof. I had absolutely no idea how to go about any of this – but it couldn’t be as hard as learning how to skid. I broke it down into baby steps. I phoned a local guy with a bobcat and an auger attachment. He came up to the cabin one weekend while I hungoverly watched from inside with Layla. I wondered if the bobcat was that hard to operate and if this guy might have looked like Elvis twenty years earlier. He left after about an hour and left me a bill. Layla and I stepped outside after he left and noted that one of the holes was a good foot or two out. We thought maybe the structure could somehow forgive the out-of-place spot. And then came the rain. It rained, and rained and then it poured. Water ran off the cabin and straight into the holes. Mice blindly ran to their deaths at night and drown in the holes that were full of water. The ground sluffed back into itself into the holes and I stood by watching helplessly wondering why I hadn’t covered the holes. I feared for Finley. While I was away in Germany he had been driven over by a pick-up. His hip was badly broken and his spine looked horribly curved. We didn’t know at the time that the hip was broken. Layla had taken him into a vet right after it had happened and the vet had said that he was in rough shape yeah (you could apparently see his bone on one leg – the road rash was so bad) but that nothing was broken. He hobbled around the yard when he could finally sort of walk again and my fear was that he would accidentally step into one of those holes and not be able to get himself out – I was afraid he would drown.
The rain finally stopped and I phoned bobcat Elvis to come back and re-dig the holes. Also could he come and re-dig the one hole that was so out. Another $100 later and yes he could. The rain watched him as he worked and shit cats and dogs as he left the driveway. Damn.
Truck Driving-Co-worker friend I mentioned from the pub showed up one afternoon at the end of his shift and helped me level sauna-tubes (I had tried this on my own and had started grieving the sauna tubes I was wasting in the name of learning). Minutes after we finished this a cement truck pulled into my driveway. The guy driving it spoke directly to Truck-Driving-Co-Worker friend – avoiding eye contact with me – and I surrendered it to him. He was much better at talking to mansplaining men and I just didn’t really have the energy for that kind of shit. The cement was poured into the sauna-tubes and I remembered how I had slaved over mixing the cement by hand the first time, when we had filled the sauna-tubes for the cabin. Good riddance to those pioneering days and hello to greasy cement guy. As cement guy left the driveway after I had handed him a couple hundred-dollar bills, Layla, Truck-Driving Co-worker guy & I ran to cover the wet cement with any piece of scrap plywood or piece of tarp we could find. We then ran in the cabin and watched from the big front window as strikes of lightening cracked across the dark fall sky. The feeling that erupted from somewhere deep within me after finally having these hecking sauna-tubes finally poured. “Hey you guys, wanna go to the pub and celebrate?!” I askingly blurted. We went for dinner and the unnatural smile on my face wouldn’t give. I had poured over that black & decker book so many times in my mind going through all the steps, but to have this big step actually real-life complete, I felt like I was unstoppable. It was permanent. It didn’t matter if the ground froze and snow fell. It wasn’t going anywhere.
As September started nearing its end I received an email.
I was avidly searching for a workaway to stay at the cabin for the winter to keep the cabin warm while I was at work and to take care of things at home – preferably someone with a bit of carpentry skills.
A man we’ll call German Slave wrote me that he had just landed in Vancouver from – you guessed it. Germany. He was interested in my posting and thought that might be the kind of lifestyle that he could get into. I hesitantly replied that I wasn’t sure but maybe could we possibly get to know a bit about each other first. He agreed to this but mentioned that, if he were to stay much longer in Vancouver that he would soon be on the streets. Dangles thought I should give it a shot, and even one of the mechanics that came by to tighten my chains that day thought it sounded like a good idea. He was probably like, the love of my life or something by the sounds of things. Or a murderer, I thought.
So I hastily replied that he should jump on a bus and head north, and that I would come pick him up from the closest city. Red flags waved in front of me and I pushed them away feigning them to be simply anxiety over the whole thing and that everything would work out just fine.
I brought Yus with me as I was sure that if anything was up with this guy that she would pick up on it right away. She doesn’t trust easily either and I thought she would be a good warning system. Just outside of Prince George I had to pull into a gas station and throw up. My heart was pounding in my ears. What the fuck was I doing picking up a random stranger that I had just met on the internet. Not only letting them into my vehicle for a long drive but to live with me in my cabin – of in which contains absolutely zero privacy.
We met in a grocery store parking lot. He was sitting on the curb with a big hiking backpack. His clothes looked European and expensive. He was more handsome than I had imagined him to be. His english was not as fluent as I had imagined however. I did a lot of slow explaining and German Slave nodded blankly as I spoke. I drove us home and Yus seemed to like him enough. Slave knew all about the local touristy things – mountains, trails and lakes etc. He had googled the area thoroughly. When we finally arrived at the cabin I was exhausted. I had worked that day and would be working the next. I lit a fire and went upstairs to bed, silently praying I wouldn’t be murdered in the night. I fell asleep right away.
When my alarm went off in the morning and I stepped down the ladder I studied the stranger asleep on the couch and quickly left. When I came home later that day he had made friends with the dogs and I showed him the deck project in the daylight. I said what I wanted done. At this point a friend of mine had come up before Slave and together we had put together the joists. I showed him the 1×6 boards and the screws. We drank beer and got started on the deck. I watched him as he worked and I approved. He was meticulous and efficient. Go Germany.
I asked him questions about his family and about where he was from in Germany, and he had a notebook filled with words that he wanted to know. “How is this called?” he asked as he held the broom. “Broom” I replied. “Proom” he mused to himself. Who am I to correct that. For the huge risk I had thought I was taking he was turning out to be sort of alright. I peered over the edge one day as he changed and stole a glance. I noted a 7 inch long brutally awful scar on his heavily freckled back. I turned away and faced the only bedroom wall and changed too.
Who really was this stranger sharing these four walls with me ?