Core Samples – Lindsay Shane

By Lindsay Shane

October 24th, 2009

3:26 p.m.

She has walked for hours to get here. Under a sullen sky, dull like newspaper. Light falling snow. Down an old mining road, now a solid and deeply rutted mud track. Around a bend lined with striated stones, trembling aspen hanging on to rusty leaves, tiny sparrow-like birds. Through her apprehension and the question why are you leaving and her answer I don’t know. Passed by a father and son with rifles cradled in their arms walking in the opposite direction. Passed by a defunct mine site littered with core samples and old machinery speckled and dented by shotguns. East along a chain of rock ranges covered in naked jack pines twisted like wire and lichen, dried and frozen stiff. Dipped down into hollows filled with frozen muskeg, dense growths of spruce and tamarack. Climbing up the other side. North across a field of exposed granite and spikes of charred trees. Early prospectors, and dirty ones at that, sometimes torched the forest to expose the rock, she once read, so they could see whether or not there were precious minerals or metals to be had.

She had stopped once. Spellbound. Clouds moved at a glacial pace. Berry Hill in the distance. Endless waves of barren shield rock and bands of stunted spruce unrolled in every direction as far as her eye could see: the taiga in its most classic form. She stayed long enough to feel the cold start to seep through her clothes. Then, taking a rough compass bearing, kept walking.

Here. The east shore of Banting Lake. A prospector tent tucked in a small cove, protected from southwesterly winds. Dirty white canvas with a blue tarp covering the roof. She slides away a large grey box and a sheet of plywood that were placed in front of the door to discourage animal visitors. Unzips the flap. Inside, the prospector is fairly dark and mostly bare. Wood half-walls. A mattress low to the floor. Plenty of blankets. A green velour wing-backed chair. A long black rectangular box-stove perched on a flat slab of stone. Above this a hanging gridded shelf made of steel, a few pots and a well-seasoned cast iron pan neatly organized upon it. A bucket of sawdust with a square plywood lid. Another bucket. A small table. Tea cups sitting on a ledge. A thermometer by the door. She stands on the narrow porch and breathes cool air into her lungs, looks out across the lake. Its low shores are hemmed with rock and spruce. The water is smooth and steel blue.

7:17 p.m.

There is no wind. No moon. Just pitch-black, motionless night and stillness weighted with cold. The lake is sleeping beside the shore. In the tent, thick shadows and heat. Strong smell of boiling pitch. She is sitting in the chair beside the box-stove, staring at the roof, listening hard for hints of sound. The fire crackles. A log shifts and scrapes the side of the stove. Silence hammers down. I am completely isolated, she thinks, and anonymous. Three candles smear orange light on the walls, which falls just short of the door. She reaches for pen and paper and begins to transform her retention of the day into recollection. Notices her raw, slightly chapped hand.

October 25th, 2009

2:04 a.m.

She wakes freezing cold. Re-lights the fire. Stokes it. Turns the sleeping bag around on the mattress closer to the stove so her face can catch the warmth. Throws a comforter and two woollen blankets on top of the sleeping bag. She then peeks outside in search of the Northern Lights. But it is overcast and the only things glowing are three pale clouds lined across the sky. Back in bed she nuzzles down into the heat, remembering a winter trip to Montreal years ago to see a good friend. Em lived on the first floor of a row house in St. Henri. Her flat was like an icebox. Always. Under the weight of many blankets, and a whitish furry throw Em called “Le Mouton”, they had stayed up talking into the early morning hours about what they thought formed the marrow of love, and why we tend to smash it. They came to no conclusions.

5:15 a.m.

She struggles to wake. She has been dreaming in high speed and loud sound and she now wonders if she is dead and whether or not what she dreamt is her version of hell. Fire is out again. Slightly dazed, she tries to remember a sentence from Lacan about dreams—something about a dream being an act of homage to a reality that can no longer produce itself. Gives up and renews the fire. Burrows deeper into the blankets.

8:56 a.m.

Nature calls. She steps out into a grey light. Finds snow. Not too far from the prospector sits the outhouse, in this case a simple box made of wood. She has to encourage herself to relax as her bare ass touches the sub-zero ceramic seat. When she is done, she finds herself thinking about the uncanny number of Hollywood cowboys who get offed while taking a shit in some sad looking outhouse, pants around their ankles.

10:20 a.m.

The wind carries a light snow. She hears the long thunder of a plane above and later the faint, flat sound of a rifle somewhere far off. She is working to gather kindling and to cut more wood for the coming days. Splitting wood reminds her of a time when she was slightly crazed, although not in a gleeful way. It was thirty degree and almost summer. She was living in a small lakeside cabin on the edge of a town in northern Ontario, shunning the wearing of shoes. Religiously she listened to Bach (how else does one listen to Bach?). Each blow of the axe a soothing balm for her mind. She had two axes, for different sizes of wood. Far from thirty degrees now, she thinks, lets the blade fall and watches another log split neatly in two. Blonde knotted innards, preserved memories of branches long since outgrown, accumulate at her feet.

3:15 p.m.

Snow at mid-ankle. Warm water in a bladder and snacks wrapped up in a blanket sit tight to her back. She is caught up in the rhythm of naming things—sedimentary rock, spruce, paper birch, raven, caribou moss, low-lying scrubby thing. On top of the next ridge, a dull roar that is growing louder joins the the thin sound of wind. She smiles. The stream I’ve been looking for. She arrives at its side a few feet down from a shelf, at a place that she can step across with a single, long stride. The stream is a slim line of black running fast down-slope through a cleft between two low ridges. Its banks are hemmed by dead sedge grass and crisscrossed by leather-leafed shrubs whose red limbs are intricately knit and laden with ice. The heavy branches hang over the stream’s shallow body a foot above the flow. For a short time she stands surrounded by the sound of the stream, listening to the layered voices of water on water on water. Then she crouches down so she is eye level with that place where the rushing water and the ice on the branches meet, and she becomes slightly entranced by the movement created there. She turns upstream, walks a few metres to where water pours over the shelf into a pool. She stands just off to the side, gazing down into it. Watches the black muscle of water boil to white, then hurl forward in a thick twisting current. Conscious of the receding light, feeling a slight edge of anxiety, she decides to walk no further.

October 26th, 2009

9:30 a.m.

The low light of morning filters through the walls. But something is different today. Excited, she gets up. There’s a dusting of snow on the porch and the moon is still out. Most of the stars have faded except for the brightest. The lake is flat calm and full of mist. On the opposite shore back-lit spruce are blackening and beginning to stand out in crisp relief. The horizon is flooding salmon-pink. I have yet to see this country in the sun. She wanders over towards the treeline to piss. Burns a hole through the snow.

9:47 a.m.

She sweeps off the porch, and then wraps herself up in the two woollen blankets to sits with a small pot of oatmeal in her lap. She sips from a cup of hot tea. Wood smoke rises from the stovepipe behind her. The mist is lifting upwards and slowly drifts along the lake’s bruised surface. The sky is no longer dark; it radiates orange like embers glowing. Two ducks casually swim by close to shore, dipping their bills into the water. She marvels at the surface stillness of their bodies as she imagines their feet folding up and pushing back hard and fast underneath. She waits for the sun to break over the trees.

11:56 p.m.

Unable to sleep, with her face and body turned towards the box-stove, she thinks about her day. How the sun was short-lived. How she had let herself drift across the terrain, drawn by the current of her curiosity, barely stopping to rest. As her cold soles walked across what was once the trough of an ocean floor or the bottom of a glacial lake, she found her mind plodding through her past. Lost loves. Things said and unsaid. The winding path of her desires. Insecurities. How far she is willing to go for the sake of _____. Habits and repetitions. Hundreds of small lessons. She discovered a whole pack of people was walking with her. Morgan saying, don’t you think it is better to be wanted than needed? Mary Oliver reminding her that she only has to let the small animal of her body love what it loves. And in your sad machines, Mathew singing Smashing Pumpkins, you’ll forever stay burning up in speed. Their proximity startled her, if only for a moment.

She hears waves striking a steady rhythm on the shore. Realizes she has to piss. Outside, a curtain of green light extends up from the treeline and arches across the sky, appearing to waver: aurora Borealis! More excitement. Stars fill the sky. She goes inside to get the woollen blankets. Comes back. Stands still, watches. I can see every star there is to see, she thinks. A sound makes her stop and look around. She strains her ears for things moving in the dark. Searches for shapes looming, malicious green-lit eyes of some higher order creature that eats small adventuring boys. She finds herself without courage and does not resist the impulse to go back inside. And she is cold. Yes, cold.

October 27th, 2009

10:25 a.m.

More snow during the night. The air is colder than yesterday. She is down at the water’s edge, pinkie finger stuck in the lake after burning it on the door of the box-stove while adding wood to the fire. Her breath forms a white mist. Sun pours through a gap in the overcast sky and lights up a tuft of grass almost entirely encased in ice growing out of a crack in the rock. She watches the unfrozen tips of each blade lift in the breeze and wave back and forth as water splits itself around the base of the tuft. Spots of white foam crowd the shore. She is trying to remember her dream. It was about Morgan’s ass. A long and smooth ass that curves firmly with authority on the undersides. In her dream, she is lavishing much attention upon it—rubbing and licking it along its broad faces and where its two halves come together. It sits solidly in her cupped hands and, for some reason, it makes her think of bullets.

Mid-day.

Flash of a cliff in the not-too-far distance catches her eye, tempts her to change course. She meanders down the broad face of a slope, breaks out of a tight pocket of spruce, and is met by a wall of greenstone rising sheer out of a small, thin lake. Around a bend in the shore she discovers the cliff acts as both a border and termination. Clustered at its base, where the water ends, massive angular chunks of rock. Many of the rocks have fallen to sit in such a way that one can look at the cliff face and mentally fit them back in their exact spots. She climbs up on the top of a boulder that sits tight against the sheer. She looks up: the crown of a dead jack pine peering back over the edge. Looks east: lines of low rock, dome-shaped like a school of surfacing grey whales arching out of a frozen bog. She jumps down and scurries across their spines, follows them into a small clearing where she decides to snack. She is joined by a talkative red squirrel that seems curious about her presence. Or maybe it’s unhappy. The squirrel chirps and chatters and moves amongst a few nearby trees, eventually settling on a branch overtop of her. It looks down with small black eyes and a trembling tail, and unleashes a scolding that goes on for a long time. She reaches into her pocket, pulls out a bag of nuts and seeds, and leaves a pile on the crust of snow—a nomad’s tithe.

8:15 p.m.

She lies in the dark listening. A log ignites. A jack pine creaks. Between thick rushes of wind, snow crawls across the roof. She waits to feel tired, hopes for unbroken sleep.

October 28th, 2009

Late afternoon.

She is moving up along a slope on the side of Berry Hill, her footsteps falling like anvils on the hard snow. She feels a growing sense of familiarity—an at-homeness. Two hills over, a raven rises from the trees, circles wide, and drops down again through the canopy. She discovers freshly churned up snow and dirt, the tracks of a four-wheeler, and finds herself unsettled by traces of human existence. Eventually she makes her way up onto a high rock, eye level with the treeline. Plays a game of finding form in the split and misshapen crowns—a jack out of its box, an inverted tripod, a shaggy fleur-de-lys, a flagpole, a naked lady. She senses a start of wind. It’s subtle, the kind of little breeze one would find in a hospital corridor. Motionless she listens—treetops click—then turns slowly on the rock. In the distance, land, lake and horizon have dissolved into a wall of thick, snow-filled air.

5:15 p.m.

Night is falling. The air is so full of snow she can hardly see a thing. She is remembering sitting in the backseat of the family station wagon, a 1978 Ford Country Squire, her mom driving, and watching the snow break up and over the hood. It looked like they were moving at warp speed.

9:21 p.m.

Wind is keeping her from sleep. It howls and wails, steadily beats on the walls, swallows all other sound. She does not want to go outside to piss so she uses the extra bucket.

October 29th, 2009

9:35 a.m.

The storm has long passed. Her eyes snap open as she wakes to the cold edge of morning pressing down on her. She takes in the shadow of snow on the roof, notices that snow has found its way underneath the door. She shivers as she dresses. She lights a fire and then opens the door to a hushed forest and at least a foot of snow covering everything. Bark sparkles with frost. There are the looping tracks of some large bird stamped in the snow in front of the porch. The unruffled surface of the lake reflects a cloudless pale blue sky overhead. She goes to get water; she breaks through a translucent crust of shore ice and dunks the pot, pushing the lake away. When she takes the pot out she watches the lake come back.

Noonish.

She is following a thin corridor running between ridges of shield rock. Single lines of tracks made by animals, none of which she can name with certainty, cross the trail at all angles. A raven calls out from a tree edging the corridor. She calls back, stopping beneath the tree it is perched in. It calls again. She reciprocates. Both are still. She watches a clump of snow fall from a branch and disintegrate. Minutes pass before the raven jumps up and flies off. She watches until it disappears, smiles and walks on. She moves across a clearing strewn with juniper and network of gnarled roots no longer attached to any sort of tree, over a lumpy carpet of frozen muskeg and through a long hollow full of curvaceous, black-boned paper birch skeletons with three inches of light snow draped on their limbs. Finally she comes to rest on the top of a tall, saddle-shaped slope. There is a breeze blowing from the north, but it hasn’t the cold bite of the previous days. It shakes her collar and slaps her in the face, but she does not feel it. Far to the left a significant break in the trees suggests the presence of Jackson Lake and Banting Lake. Beyond that sits a radio tower and an ocean of hills shrouded in snow. To the south and west are a number of small unnamed lakes, long fingers of bedrock reaching through the spaces in between. A dead jack pine stands out against the sky. She watches the wind move its arms, crossing and uncrossing them over and over again. The sun is strong enough to cast lean, soft blue-edged spruce shadows. She sees the hint of a trail that might be her route home four days from now. In the distance, Yellowknife. Behind her, the slow rise of Berry Hill. Everywhere spruce runs over the land like the veins in her hand, their spires puncturing the horizon.

On her way back, she is struck by an impulse to run. And so she does without a second thought. She bounds down the corridor, bouncing from hummock to hummock, sprints under the canopy of a spruce stand whose floor is covered in a spongy blanket of green white lichen under a thin veil of snow. She continues to run, simply because she can.

8:37 p.m.

Inside the prospector the air is hot. A touch of summer in the mouth of winter. Light from the stove keeps her from becoming part of the dark. She is sitting in the chair arms folded over her chest trying to piece together what she is becoming. She catches the scent of overly warm clothes and sweaty armpits and decides a quick bath is in order. Stripped down she squats over the extra bucket, pours warm water from a pot over her bits. Feels a strange satisfaction. She takes a cloth to the rest of her body and then dries off. She sits back down in the chair wearing only her pants and tries to write about the day’s impressions, the patterns she sees, but the quality of her thought is poor. She is surprised to find that words have gone missing.

October 30th, 2009

8:30 a.m.

Wind calls through her sleep, wakens her. A draft sucks out the canvas door from within the wood frame. Whump! A coldness floods over her as she open her eyes and finds the canvas soaked in a deep blue glow of early morning light. It’s like she is beneath the sea. She is thinking about Morgan working at her desk and sipping tea, while she lays in bed in another room, book across her chest, watching the plastic on the windows breathe, feeling the house surge. Whump! Draft pushes the door back in like a sail under full wind.

4:34 p.m.

She arrives back at the prospector at the onset of twilight. There is a coating of snow spread across her shoulders. Bits of stowaway spruce branches stuck to her sweater. A white fur of ice covers the ends of her hair. From the knee down, her pants are frozen armour-hard by the cold. She amuses herself trying to make them stand up by themselves before hanging them above the box-stove. The ice loosens. The melt-water falls onto the surface of the stove for a few minutes, a constant hiss as it evaporates. She feeds the fire. Unpacks. Feeds herself.

October 31st, 2009

11:11 a.m.

Around the curve of a corridor and over the crest of a hill she is met by two tall spruce bent at the hip who usher in a scene of absence. Thirty feet from the shore an old shack half-sunken, slowly being swallowed by a small frozen bay. It is not yet rotting, but its face is water stained. The front door is missing, as is the pane of glass in the window beside it. She can see a pool of open water just inside the doorway. On the front right edge, running half of the shacks length, a section of roof and overhang is also missing. She walks around to the left side of the bay to look at the cabin in profile. The side window is intact. In the background, on the eastern shore, a tall ridge stands with one of its knuckles gone. She wonders if the shack was built by men with dreams of gold and dynamite strong enough to shatter stone. She turns to leave but pauses, moves closer to the treeline, and crouches low on her heels to shit. She feels eyes from somewhere behind her back and slowly rotates her head to meet the silent and fearless stare of a grey jay. She stares back, slightly sheepish. Is nothing sacred?, she says aloud. Laughs. The grey jay flies off.

SUNKEN CABIN

4:10 p.m.

Steep ridges rise up and edge both sides of the lake. She climbs up one side of a ridge, steers along a plateau, and starts down the other side. Repeat. She weaves between jack pine, passes by rose-pink boulders with mint-green and rust-orange splatters of lichen covering their surface. To her left an island follows close to the shore, forming a narrow channel. Dusk is approaching and there is no sign of the trail that was marked on the map just past the tip of the island. Trust no map, she thinks as she scrambles up a steep incline of jagged rock to get her bearings. Wind attacks her body. To the southeast, Berry Hill. Always take a compass. Slips it back in her pocket. She drops down into a frozen fen filled with sedge and hummocks and moves through it quickly. In her wake she leaves a trail of footsteps and a small snow-white duck with black tail feathers hurriedly beating itself into the air. She clambers up the side of another hill, panting, sweating, balancing on the balls of her feet to grasp rocky outcrops as she goes. From the top she sees the cliff face from days before and an arm of Banting. The ledge she is standing on ends at her feet. Carefully she leans forward and glances over. Below is a grove of spruce, a small stream. Beyond, another hill to climb. She turns and walks to the left, looking for another way down.

5:03 p.m.

First she smells it. The faint odour of woodsmoke. Then she sees it. The blue tarp. She stumbles out of the forest, relieved to be home.

November 1st, 2009

7:53 a.m.

She wakes up laughing out loud, contemplating the edge of Morgan’s hip bone in her mind. The laughter and image entirely unconnected. She realizes it’s November. Forgets about the extra hour given back during the night. Outside the world is still sleeping under darkness and a fresh layer of snow.

11:14 a.m.

Green-grey crinkly edged lichen stiff with frost. A parade of paw prints stamped in the snow. Old Man’s beard hanging from down-swept branches. The bright red hips of a wild rose bush off to the side of her well-worn trail. How did I not notice those before she thinks as she slides through a wall of spruce like a blade. The air parts, then moves back in to fill the space where her body has been. Memories come and begin to fray. Thoughts arrive and fall away quickly. Her movement has longer breaths in it. Each step falls with the gravity of a consciousness becoming more feral. Her efforts create the sudden luxury of an envelope of heat around her body. A sheen of sweat begins to form. She takes her hat off, screws it into her back pocket. Opens up her collar. Stops. Feels a strong pulsing in her ears. Sniffs. Nothing but cold and the faintest hint of Labrador tea, even down on her hands and knees, nose to the ground.

2:30 p.m.

She looks. Daily the taiga offers more of itself, lures her to keep looking. It empties her in increments. Tattoos itself in her imagination and holds her in rapt attention. Atrophies other desires and enticements. Shifts her frames of reference. Edges her towards silent contemplation. And she looks. Casts out a pressing stare. The taiga stares back. Looks right through her. Unmoved. Untouched. Then leans away as a tapestry of muted black-green trees mottled with snow extending headlong into the distance. A limitless play of density, colour, grain. Absent are feelings of Romantic awe. She neither mistakes the land for pastoral and pretty, nor is she consoled by its vastness. Instead she feels homely, ragged, and small in the order of things. The land doesn’t need me at all she thinks, but I need it. All she can do is look at it. Stretch out alongside it. Attend to it, quiet and still. Move on, wondering.

9:30 p.m.

Lying on the mattress she watches the firelight from the box-stove dance across the floor, candle flames pitch forward in unison as a shock of air comes from under the door. It is her last night here. She goes back to the city tomorrow. Her head is packed with images of slender branches, the smell of woodsmoke and an awareness of her growing addictions. To the horizon, to the momentum of walking and the slow trance of the mind working at three kilometres an hour. To unfettered space. To the blindfold of not knowing. She blows out the candles, angles her body away from the light. High above her an orchestra of wind plays through the trees. Eventually it lulls her to sleep.

November 2nd, 2009

4:00 a.m.

Where am I?
This is the House of the Church of Comfort For the Soul.

She looks at the old woman quizzically. Fingers the curtain to look outside. From the hall she can see into a room. In the middle, a long box. And just off to the side, mostly obscured from her view, a pair of wizened, purple-veined legs and bent knobby knees. Is you mother dead?, she says to the old woman. I can help you put her in the box. She moves down the hall and opens a door. A zombie is rising from a bed. She closes the door and opens the next. Another zombie is coming towards her. She opens the next door and steps outside. There is nothing except the horizon and open space. The ground begins to ripple as though something is burrowing just under the surface. And then, suddenly, buildings are bursting forth, spreading out like an accordion. She awakens with a start—Whump! Draft blows the door in—and opens her eyes to absolute darkness, her sense of whether she is awake or not so uncertain, that she has to strike a match and light the candles. Yellow flame leaps up from the wick, smokes for a second. She rises to piss and look outside. Catches sight of a hard small moon passing by and then disappearing behind a bank of clouds. She tries to go back to sleep but feels the dream trying to come back. She doesn’t want to go back. Pulling up the blankets she rotates onto her belly knowing she has to get out of her head and into her half-awake body. She imagines roughly forcing Morgan back-tight against the door, pulling off her grandma-knit cardigan, unbuttoning her shirt, wanting her bad you want it, pretty bitch, bad enough to take her then and there, until Morgan is twisting into a corner, until both of them are utterly exhausted. Her breath quickens as her pelvis rocks forward into the mattress, and her spine stiffens like a frozen hydraulic jack. A liquid snap; she trembles and falls back into a deep dreamless sleep.

SPRUCE GROUSE IN BIRCH TREE

 

Lindsay Shane is an adventurer and writer just getting back in the game. After a brief stop over in Toronto for a couple of months, she is now back on the move. When she settles again, Shane will continue working on her first novel. Many thanks to Andrea Zanin and Laura Kane for their amazing feedback and editing.

Comments from old site:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/27/2011 – 17:54.

Delighted. You still have a wonderful voice. Will be following your work; very excited about your novel.
– a thankful admirer.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/08/2010 – 03:16.

it’s good to see what you’re up to. I look forward to the novel.
– an old friend

Submitted by Anonymous on Wed, 03/03/2010 – 13:14.

Beautiful. Looking forward to your novel.
Anna

Submitted by Mél Hogan (not verified) on Sat, 03/06/2010 – 12:25.

Me too.