Voyage into the unknown

Russell Wangersky
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Sometimes, you break rules. Sometimes you break a few; sometimes you break a lot.

Travel with teenaged boys and you’re bound to break some eventually. The only question is when.

I’m reminded of that in Eastport on the day summer comes back, when there are scudding clouds instead of a solid grey wall above, when the sky is up there in a light-blue bowl.

When the smells are back: the iodine of the kelp and the shattered carapaces of sea urchins already stripped bare by the gulls, when the shoreline tuff of blueberry and juniper and turf are competing, building up into their familiar two-toned and heady summer perfume.

The perpetually dropped under-note of low-hanging fir, the brassy metal of sawn birch as you head down a cutline along a power line that goes exactly nowhere, except to one single bright eye of a navigational beacon that never, ever turns off.

He has a glass eye, you know. A bright glass eye that never blinks.

Down a straight-line cut over freshly chainsawed wood, stepping like careful hopscotch into the gaps between former branches, the leaves brushing up at your ankles as you go. The sun dappled in, semaphore of light and shadow, hearing the definite and opinionated sentences of people around you young enough to eschew all the grey areas, because they already know their lights and their darks well, but haven’t been touched by the gentle constant nudging doubt of undercutting nuance yet.

Rough route

And everyone who knows even one bit about this province knows what approaching the ocean means: the sharp draining dives where brooks cut down through the rock on their way to the sea. Crevasses and sea caves and sharp undercuts, the angled topography that breaks hearts or legs, the ground that you look at and say, “I can’t take even one single step more, I can’t do this even one more time.” The topography that wants you to sit down hard and fold your arms, elbows out and stubborn.

The map that says that any other route back, even blind, has to be simpler than the one you’ve already taken.

(I hear you whispering, “Bad decision there,” and truth is, I heard it at the time in my own head, my own logical older head, but I was already slack-tongued and sweaty and tired, willing to go along with bad suggestions and outlandish ideas.)

Out on the point, where it fingers into the sea in a beckon, you could spread your arms and pull in the whole sky, grab it all with your fingertips and feel it on the hollow of your neck where the sun has so rarely recently been, that spot where you feel the heat and say “Yes, I know that.”

The gulls were wheeling overhead, because there are scattered ramshackle nests of scraps here, nests with one or two grey-downed chicks that specialize in trying to make themselves small.


And probably there was someone here last week, maybe yesterday, because someone has taken the opportunity to break a few beer bottles and the glass is still razor-sharp-brown, the labels jagged where they’ve torn, the paper not yet softened by rain. Lord knows, there has been rain.

Out there on the stone poured like petrified bread dough, I was halfway to back — right then — the way you always are, just when you turn the other way and turn your back on the next.

Taking advice from teenagers.

Perhaps the best rule is “never take advice from teenagers.”

Or “always do.”

I’m not sure.

“We can beat back along the shore. It’ll be easier.”

Crevasses and sea caves and undercuts. You can say that like the rosary, if you try. Crevasses and sea-caves and undercuts. Oh my.

And it is easier, for a while:

up one side of a stone drift and down the other, watching for where tongues of bogwater seep out

and lick, algae-slick, down to the sea.

Handholds many, wrong-feet few.

Things change.

That’s the problem with the unknown: it’s never what you expect. By definition.

And, truly, it takes you a long time — years often — to learn to expect.

You probably know what’s coming, so I can spare you the details and the stupid solutions, the ones that could just as easily end in head injuries and the static-filled crackle of helicopter airlifts to the nearest hospital.

To make it short: there are places where you have to jump four-feet-over, places where you have to jump down seven vertical feet too far into unknown footing, places where you make your way into cliffsided-corners where, until you’re down inside, you don’t know if there’s any clear way back out of.

A hundred ways it could go wrong — exactly one that it didn’t.

Break a few rules, why don’t you?

Stupid ideas, stupid chances and the great wide unfolding sharp-in-breathing world.

Take some bad advice.

Some adrenalin-pulling sharp advice.

Just once.

Bright eye, never blink.

Wake up in later nights, with the word “hello” fresh and round on your lips.

And smile.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Geographic location: Eastport

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Recent comments

  • Carl
    August 24, 2011 - 12:22

    I have to agree with the others who have commented here. Try as I might, I cannot make any sense whatsoever out of this latest bit of doggerel by Wangersky.

  • John Smith
    August 22, 2011 - 08:23

    Another award winning peice of grade nine writing Russel.

  • W BAgg
    August 21, 2011 - 10:39

    I ussually figure em out...............but ya lost me on this one Russell

  • Newfie Adam
    August 20, 2011 - 09:51

    *yawn*.... lost interest in about thirty seconds.