Thursday, September 16, 2010
Kristian Fjeldståd gives me a map that Jozéf left behind, a map of the Telegraph Trail, ending at his destination of Telegraph Creek. But first I must find my west and north, to Hazelton in British Columbia. Kristian thinks there is a railroad in Canada, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Kristian’s father, Karl, is not pleased to have me at their farm, a visible reminder as I am of his resentment towards Jozéf. I am not one to linger where I am not wanted. After two days, I accept Kristian’s kind offer of a little food and new boots – boots that he had outgrown – and I am on my way again.
I walk for days, heading west. The land is flat and open, wilder the further west I go. No welcoming lights of a farmhouse, no shelter from the sun. The boots Kristian gave me are too loose. I stuff them with grass, and keep walking.
Then, good fortune. I come to a broad lake which would have taken a full day to walk around, had it not been for the people I meet there, gathering wild rice. They call themselves Métis, and come from the north, from Canada. They speak mostly French and, I, little English, but we manage to work out that in exchange for helping them harvest rice from the lake, they will transport me north in their canoes.
Somewhere on the lakes and rivers we travel, we leave America behind. I do not know much about Canada, only that it is cold in winter and very large – larger than even the United States. The untamed wilderness of North Dakota gives way to endless fields of golden wheat, rising up from the river to tidy farmhouses. It feels orderly. It feels safe. Daydreaming as the Métis paddle, I picture myself living in one of these houses, working in these fields alongside my man – safe from the soldiers and police back home. I imagine what it would be like to belong here. To belong anywhere.
We part ways at Old Wives Lake. From here I walk to Moose Jaw, a small railway town with fine brick buildings -- mostly banks, it seems to me. I hop the first train I can, westward.
I travel curled in the corner of a freight car. I ration my food and water, for I have no idea how many days it will be to Hazelton. Or will it be weeks? I keep my pistol close at hand, wary of the hungry, ragged men who come and go – arriving with a thump and a fright as they hurl themselves into my car. I am constantly afraid that the railway police will spot them, and my hiding place will be given away.
When the box car is too hot and airless to bear, I take a chance and sit by the open door to feel the wind in my face. I watch the sun-bleached prairie roll by -- wheat, wheat and more wheat! -- until, one day, I see in the distance blue hills. The train stops at a place called Cow Town, according to the hobos. Next we go north to Edmonton, where I must change cars – running to catch the westbound train on legs like rubber from disuse.
This train goes through mountains so high they are capped by snow, even in mid-summer. Then Jasper, then Prince George, then countryside where the trees are as high as the mountains. Until at last we reach Hazelton. When the railway police are not looking, I leave the sanctuary of the box car. I must gather supplies, for it is from here that my most difficult journey begins – north through the wilderness along the Telegraph Trail to Telegraph Creek. To Jozéf.
Labels: Travel blog