front street (prepark)
The Big Mud: New Westminster
I was returning equipment to my rehearsal studio after a late night gig. The space was on Front Street next to the Army and Navy department store and the entrance looked straight out onto the river and the ancient oily dock at the east end of Westminster Quay. This was before the city built a park and retaining wall and obstructed the view. It was raining but the parking garage above the street kept me dry when not running to the open door of the studio. A van of gear usually takes about twelve to fourteen minutes to unload. In this instance, I was alone, and it took me slightly longer, maybe twenty minutes. Distracted by the rhythm of hauling guitars and drums up a dark stairway alone, I barely noticed the coyote. The animal was coming from the left, from behind Brooklyn Pub and the Buy & Sell building; his spindly legs were slow and deliberate. I didn't understand where it came from as there wasn't a great deal of brush or even trees around. Just a tugboat yard and some rusted freight barges. The coyote looked at me, crossed the road and headed through some greasy mud to the rail tracks. It followed the tracks as far as the first break in chain-link fence along the river, before ducking through.
The Big Mud: Sinclair Mills
Not far from Mount Robson is a crooked bend where water slows and a bank has formed like the belly of a boozed-up logger. The river bucks back upon itself in a harsh curve before mellowing out in a gradual slope to the north-west. Forgotten clear-cuts dot the spruce forests like low-brush footprints of a giant mule deer, already mostly grown in. Once the site of multiple saw mills and a thriving community of families, the ripping blades are silent now. But on these banks, alongside the pine and skidway, my grandfather grew from a cocksure train-hopper escaping the hungry prairie, to a west-coast, frontier idealist who taught me the importance of Robert Service and the wisdom of the bush. Work camps were scattered all along the East Line of the CNR, teams of men working ten hour days, even in January. In those years before unions, the money came "once a week, once a month, or never." Off hours, the workers drank from pocket flasks and danced with women who rode the locomotive in from Prince George. There must have been at least one guy with a harmonica and a rhythm. I imagine us together again, maybe in the river, in different places and times, moon overhead. We are both young men. The water over our feet is glacial and khaki.