What I didn’t know then


“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then”
–Bob Seger, Against the Wind

This callow youth of barely twenty-one has just finished his first contract as a tree planter, somewhere along the Armstrong highway north of Thunder Bay, Ontario in the summer of 1990. He’s shaved his scruffy beard in celebration—and to aid in crossing the border to a Rainbow Gathering in Superior National Forest, just along Highway 61 from Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.

There, he will be led into a woodland camp occupied by hundreds of Rainbow people, by a young man celebrating his nineteenth birthday—having been born at the first Rainbow Gathering in 1971. He will photograph a Rainbow Family wedding, live on the charity of Hare Krishnas for several days, encounter the spirit of America in a drum circle at high noon on the Fourth of July, lead naked wanderers to discover foxfire in the dark woods, and—under the influence of free LSD—receive a dolphin tattoo that will be a silly souvenir for decades.

He will sleep in a hobo camp under an overpass in Duluth before Greyhounding to Portland, a three day journey of cigarettes and window-gazing. He will travel with a carload of old friends to Vancouver and kayak around the Ballenas Islands. He will hitchhike through the Rockies to Alberta, driving a truck full of Okanagan peaches through the mountain passes at night so an old farmer can catch some sleep. North of Whitecourt, along the Athabaska River, he’ll sweat out the high summer on another tree planting contract before taking the long Greyhound ride back to Montreal to begin his first year of a Fine Arts program at Concordia University, majoring in photography.

He will become stranded on the highway beyond Hope, ride in a helicopter over the boreal forest, harken to the echo of Leonard Cohen in a cheap hotel in Edmonton, bounce on a trampoline over the wide prairie, and visit his beloved grandmother, drifting into a surreal senility in an old age home in Sault Ste. Marie.

Along the way he will meet wild animals, wisdom teachers, intimate companions, lifelong friends, dangerous strangers and a passel of his own demons. And that’s just in the months of July and August of 1990.

He has no idea, in this moment, about any of it. That’s why he’s so damned cocky.

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