Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Preamble Tale

Our family has been Ontario's Algonquin Park campers for many years. Since our boys were in their early teens, we have canoed on many of the fabulously scenic park lakes..... but our favorites have always been Canoe Lake, Tea Lake and Rock Lake. As an ongoing researcher somewhat obsessed with the alleged drowning death of Canadian artist Tom Thomson, I have spent my vacations close to Canoe Lake (for study) where his body was found in the early summer of 1917. I believe it was murder. I will deal with this down the road in my blog collection.
One evening at Rock Lake, as my wife and son Andrew were sitting down at the campground's beachfront, adjacent to the famous Booth Trail, they watched in the low light of autumn dusk, a man walk through the shoreline area, down onto the beach, stop momentarily, and then walk into the water. He hadn't taken many steps into the lake when he simply vanished. A ghost? An apparition? A message to the living from someone who has passed? Who can say?
It was only a short time before this holiday weekend for us, that a gent had perished in a canoe mishap a short distance from this camping area, being found on the other side of the bay several days after he went missing. Could it have been the image of the chap repeating the events of that fateful night. This is an example of the kind of encounters our family has had, and never discounted, over the past twenty five years. We don't over analyze these events and we certainly aren't frightened when something similar happens in our day to day activities. We are open-minded to such interactions but we don't make any attempt to draw spirits into our domain, or hope to make any particular connections with the other side. If it happens, well, it happens, and we appreciate the opportunity to experience something a tad outside simple explanation.
Our many parallel encounters certainly won't make the next thriller movie out of Hollywood and I don't believe there's one story here that would be the spark for an author to embellish into fiction. These are just honest, non-sensational recollections of personal experiences with unknown entities that may abut or prutrude a tad into the true definition of paranormal. Yet the fact of their commonplace may validate your own encounters that you may or may not have dismissed as something unworthy of after-thought. Then this is for you......not stories to frighten.....rather accounts to enlighten. Please read on!

A belief in spirited things, haunted places and strange circumstances but always a joy to behold
This isn't much of a ghost story. In fact it's not really about ghosts at all. You won't find it spooky or a story you might re-tell around the camp fire. Possibly it will be somewhat explanatory about the contact I frequently make with the alleged spirit-kind. It's not as if I begin with this in mind, or have any genuine intent when I begin writing,..... to conger up some wayward, adrift or resident paranormal energy. Just happens on occasion and that's okay with me.....as long as I still get some work done at the end of the session. I've written in musty old attics, basements, front porches, in boats, at campsites, in environs that I believe are haunted, and on sun-drenched beaches that while fully populated by humanity, appear anything but paranormally occupied. I've penned material in canoes while beached in protected coves, and found time while running a local business to write between customers on a section of uncluttered counter. Business wasn't too good back then so I had a lot of time to ponder and compose. When you concentrate on the task yet need the inspiration of the location, I suppose the creative vortex attracts a little bit extra from any site......maybe I become a sort of magnet.....possibly heralding, attracting an unspecified potential for some "at loose ends" spirit-kind, looking for a mortal conduit to relate a story or make a connection. I'm always open to suggestion and glad to help if I can! My wife has explained to me.....and I didn't know this before.....that I become so absorbed by work that I appear to be in a trance-like state. I don't believe this but I don't dare tell her she's wrong. I don't think I'm any different than anyone else who writes, paints, composes music etc. etc. You've got to concentrate right? Suzanne believes, I think, that I'm passing through some worm hole between reality and the next dimension.....and she's not entirely wrong. I don't know how I get there.....just that I do find other portals to places I'm not familiar.....but by golly it's fun to travel on the cheap. I'm a writer with no budget!
It is about a situation, a life-long profession, about vigils and holing-up to watch the world and then write about it.....in the process seeing and experiencing many aspects of existence and the supernatural quite unintended when a session begins. These creative retreats have been conducted in the most curious places, where I might be afforded a wee bit of comfortable space and uninterrupted time to work. Like Canadian landscape artist Tom Thomson, who could be found huddled in some modest shelter of field and forest, affording a panoramic vantage point....out on the frozen Algonquin landscape to sketch the Northern Lights....., the autumn storms, the blustering, thundering, howling great winds of early spring. He placed himself in a position to watch a storm unleash on a tranquil lakeland. Thomson wanted to capture the tumultuous scene. He found it enthralling as an artist, and it is said of many of his interpretations that when one studies his art panel hung in a silent gallery.....the voyeur can still so poignantly sense the day.....the season, and feel the cold,.... hear the wind blasting down over the lakeland, and tremble in the passionate embrace of nature extended by the artist's own hand. He would be thrilled when later, someone would remark that his painting of the Northern Lights gave one a sharp feeling of bitter cold and isolation....loneliness....or that a color he had used was exactly the same as the subject plant, thusly realistic and believable as a work of art. Some believe that he knew the essence, the spirit of this land better than any one. While it is a stretch of epic proportion to position myself in the same league of creative capability as Tom Thomson, there are those who maintain that the artist (as many creators have claimed), did see beyond the reality of his subject, into the enticing abyss of the spirit world.....that he saw legend from the inside out, and painted haunted, alluring landscapes that are truly storied.....dimensional, and beckon the patron, the watcher, to question what the artist was feeling being amidst the storm and fury.
It was late one afternoon, on one of those pre-snow, dark and dreary December days, while minding our main street antique shop, in Bracebridge that I set down to write one last page of editorial copy, for a column slated that week in a local newspaper known as The Muskoka Advance. In the 1990's I wrote a weekly column entitled "Sketches of Historic Bracebridge," reminiscences of town history from its pioneer days up to my own childhood ramblings in the old neighborhoods of an interesting home town. I wasn't an authority on local history but I was curious to learn more about what came before my mid-1960's arrival here, when my family moved up from Burlington, Ontario.....a locale I also explored with great fascination as a child. I would have strange hiatus periods when I'd feel as if there were people standing at the counter. I'd look up to see if I could help them and be absolutely stunned to find no one at all. On dozens of occasions there would be strange interruptions. Someone calling my name, my wife's name, our boys....my mother. I'd smell fresh lilacs, cinnamin, and something being baked but there was never, never any substance to back up the sensory perception. I'd immerse again in my work until the next distraction, which was always completely opposite anything I was writing about. I often wondered if the spirit-kind in our quite haunted old shop were pissed I wasn't paying greater attention to their presence. When I did lock into a writing jag it sure seemed as if I was inspiring contact. It still happens today in this new house. I will all of a sudden feel a tap on my shoulder in the middle of some creative plunge, and turn as if to find my wife. No body! I do however, validate many of my friends and associates who have passed, and I just acknowledge five or six names to let them know I'm still thinking about them. Funny thing, there are subjects I'm working on, such as local history for our region, that if I get interrupted then, I can narrow down the names to one of three (all authorities on the subject when they were amongst the living) who might wish to correct my copy. I do pay attention and frequently will look back at what I've written believing that a mistake has indeed been made. Why else would Dave or Charlie be bugging me in the middle of an assignment? I know why? They're still active after all these years and it's kind of comforting. I've found more than a few gaffs and extended appropriate thanks to my paranormal proof-readers. Heck I've become so accustomed to this that now I ask in advance for their assistance. My wife and sons think I'm a bit of a cracker-jack but like the man who asked the woman if her son still believed he was a chicken.....and she said, "Well, we'd tell him he's not but we need the eggs." Like I say, I'm a poor writer who can't afford a secretary or research assistant. If my help is unearthly, so be it! I learned this from Medium John Edward who maintains the importance to acknowledge and validate those who passed....and give them some credit for being able to send messages....in a variety of forms, to the living. So I do. If I had a video recording of myself doing this....it would be pretty funny......because in a two hour writing session I probably acknowledge ten or so messengers just to cover the bases and not offend anyone dead or alive.
In the early 1980's when I became editor of The Herald-Gazette, I wanted to know a great deal more about the town I was representing. In the basement of the Dominion Street office, I spent hour upon hour going through the great piles of back issues of all the various papers and special editions spanning many decades, bound and shelved to the joist of the first floor. I was always looking for good feature ideas and it wasn't long into the piles of print that I began to find stories that commanded to be re-investigated and harvested for new feature articles in the current press. Like falling gently and steadfastly into the content of any good book, I was locked into this archive's sleuthing, and I probably created twenty to thirty meaty features published from 1980 onward that had something to do with the town's past....it's citizens and their accomplishments. There were a few murders to follow up on, and many tragedies and misadventures that caused citizen loss and catastrophic property damage. I would patiently wade through several years of copy to get as much information on an event as possible, in order to get a clear understanding how the community dealt with the issue over months and years. Major news stories were often re-visited many times years later, no different than what I was doing at present with this re-investigation of long-lost occurrences.....the life-altering ones that helped shape the identity of our community. I always felt accompanied in that basement. of the former Herald-Gazette building by the spirits that dwelled within. And yes it did seem odd when I'd return to a book of clippings, after a washroom or coffee break, and find the pages had been turned to another section. I can remember books and papers sliding onto the floor where I was working, and when I'd go to pick them up I'd find the bound copies open to a page(s) where news of a major event I was researching at the time, was dated either earlier or later than what I was reading before the paper avalanche. Coincidences possibly. Or just helpful paranormal assistants with a vested interest in some stories versus others. I didn't get much help researching hockey stories. I did get a lot of help investigating fatal accidents, murders and executions....in fact, it was in this basement in the 1930's that George Cyr was jailed awaiting his execution for the death of three alleged friends he had robbed and shot. It is said he could hear the construction of the gallows from his basement cell. After his execution he was buried only a few metres away near the top of Chancery Lane, in a pit of fast acting lime....which was supposed to diminish body and bones rapidly. Maybe it was old George giving me a hand. Odd. After a while I just took the help I was being afforded, and stopped thinking of malevolent anything. These entities were helping not hindering. I must reiterate at this point that although I believe in the paranormal none of my alleged contacts with the other side, in a variety of forms, have been unsettling, frightening or negative at all. A few repeat nightmares have made me sweat but that's a story for later. As for George Cyr, a lot of folks claim to have seen his ghostly form in this area of what is now a parking lot but I've never come face to face with the villain of the story. His gun was recovered some time after his execution, and I believe it was recovered by his lawyer.....Cyr having confessed to his lawyer of its whereabouts before he was hung. He had claimed his innocence up until this point. So they did hang the right gent. Yet I think I've met (experienced) him in another way. Possibly looking over my shoulder while I studied the mounds of clippings from that period of Bracebridge history.....down that must basement on Dominion Street. Actually the story of George Cyr was one of my most popular feature articles written back in the early 1980's. It was published in The Herald-Gazette. For history's sake, there is another body of an executed prisoner, a fellow by the name of Hammond, hung quite a few years before Cyr....and who is allegedly buried beneath the oldest section of the Court House on Dominion Street. Some say his body was removed others claim he is still very much part of the footings of the historic judicial facility.
I confess to being a tad surprised by some of the encounters I've experienced over a lifetime but nothing that left me feeling aghast or that I should run away fast (some dreams have been more aggressive and frightening)..... or that whatever had made contact was evil or hell-raising as Hollywood loves to portray the paranormal for profit. I admit being somewhat startled by these events and in a wee quandry about the message I'm supposed to receive.....and relay. I have a hard time passing on messages received human to human without screwing up a detail or more, so I apologise in advance if I've under-performed for my spirited friends from the other side. I'll try to do better in the future. That's what I promise my wife when I head off to the grocery store with a "mental" list. I just need to write these things down. Well.....truth is, this has been the motivation for writing this blog collection. I'm truly afraid of forgetting all these curious events. I'm not at all sure if anybody will care about them....., including my young lads who, I think, have already heard dad's stories a hundred times already.
Many artists, musician and writers know what it means to reach a point in creation, possibly that pinnacle of concentration, maybe on the brink of absolute exhaustion, when it becomes apparent you have arrived at a strange sort of place in the mind....an almost transcendental-like sensation of nirvana by chance......., finding what some might suggest is a portal to somewhere else. A vantage point that you kind of stumble through, with unceremonious awkwardness. Being green to the experience but willing to learn by immersion (and without booze) you begin to sense that there is a greater force and expanse of enlightenment unfolding. I can remember on this afternoon in particular, feeling quite euphoric....in an ethereal mirco-moment, where it seemed I had finally experienced my first full-spectrum spiritual connection.....with what many artists have discovered when finally reaching that portal between dimensions. It was as if my soul had taken one step through this incredible linkage, from the rub of reality toward the ecstasy of enlightenment, beckoning me to follow and fear-not the possibility of perishing within. Some would argue it was simply the clench of exhaustion and boredom....., the heavy weight of a day's work on a weary mortal. Was I on the brink of sleep? Was I refusing to surrender consciousness? Was it more likely I was experiencing one foot in Neverland, one pen outside....a sleep limbo? I have read about this ecstasy sensation amongst artists and writers, and what wonderment and visions dwell beyond. Maybe I found it, maybe not but in my own humble opinion, I was duly initiated to something wonderous just beyond.......its nature, quality and quantity, I truly could only guess. It was a writing jag I couldn't believe. For the next two uninterupted hours that day, I wrote like a man possessed. (I didn't have even one customer in my store that whole afternoon). Any way, I survived to tell about it!
There are people who claim to be historians because it suites them at the time. It's apparently vogue to be historically inclined but when I began in the 1970's, in this region, being one of the founders of the Bracebridge Historical Society, there was no real attraction amongst my contemporaries, and you certainly didn't get invited to parties because you were a professional "historian." In fact just being historically inclined (boring) was all a party-host needed to keep you on the list of "the uninvited." This has changed a wee bit today and I'm always surprised to find out who's next to don the robes of honorary historian. For this historian, well, I began by reading everything I could about local history from the first documents to the present, and there are very few books of local heritage I haven't consumed, cover to cover, over the past 30 years of dogged research. And through this research enterprise I have now developed a pretty solid opinion of what happened back then that has today....most clearly, influenced the hometown and home region we have become. When for example, I read one of the surface-tickling, ink-generous features published in the local media, by someone who is quite literally "a dock over dry land," having an untutored, under-experienced grasp of local history.... other than the popular dime-store version, I can't help ponder the fate of serious researchers in the future, one day mired down in this weak-tea, emotion-laden, fact-deficient self-blustering, to then properly address an event tied into a community's skeleton...tied into a social/cultural provenance. Stock the fish, catch the fish, eat the fish and then leave for something more exciting. That's what annoys me about so called historians who prefer only part of a story to the whole messy deal. And yes it takes a hell of a lot of time to research properly.....but you can't just look at a single event and not the obscure interconnecting cogs and pulleys of the host community. I've read many of these surface scrapings and pondered what purpose they truly serve other than to annoy folks like me who cross-reference material to exhaustion to get a story right the first time. If not, I'll write a correction and add a chapter if new information comes along. The surface renderings serve no real purpose other than to rid a few more trees from the earth and entertain some readers who care not for weighty tomes or responsible reporting.
It has been during these intense periods of research and documenting my finds, that I have had these period of glorious exhaustion, I suppose you might refer to it, yet always with an almost contradictory outcome. Instead of falling face-first into my work, tumbling down gently into a sudden unconsciousness, instead it is quite the opposite. I become rabid with desire to know more, explore deeper and write it all into the cobbles of a well laid path. This feeling of nirvana is as much about the joy of discovery as it is a physical sensation, which seems to border on the precarious zone between sleep and acute awareness about where you are travelling, why and whether it's too far to go....but possessing the strong will not surrender. This is not the way to drive a car but for a writer it's a place we really like to visit. A cheap high some will say. There's too much to experience to dawdle with enquiry!
The experience of finding this alleged portal of enlightenment, even by accident, was as much a validation of what I had always believed, by the exercise of basic intuition about life and times, the people around me, existence itself....and the many thoughts and reminiscences of friends and family who had passed. I have long subscribed to the belief that one can attain a better understanding of all life if it is sought after with sincere passion for discovery. My first experience with this portal was when I was a youngster, sitting on the peak known as Grey's Rock, a pinnacle of rough terrain adjacent to Highway II, only a few kilometres from my home neighborhood in Bracebridge. I sat on a sculpted ledge high on the bald rock, getting blasted by a cutting spring wind, and I loved it. At the time an aspiring writer, I was so bloody invigorated I could have written a new version of War and Peace on that cliffside.....as an artist, it was the vision of a Tom Thomson landscape screaming to be painted. I saw legend unfettering in that windswept field below, as if I was viewing something from another century.....as if the glaciers had just now retreated and this was the magnificent world uncovered. I felt as haunted and possessed as any watcher could..... without falling in fear and trembling about what might come next....the fist of an angry God punching down through heaven to punish all sinners. I was seeing clearly, honestly, but there was an emotional aspect I didn't understand. I had felt something beyond the living green world, felt something above the bitter cut of wind, and sensed something quite spiritual I had never encountered before. It wasn't a case of being born-again, or discovering God all of a sudden. It was discovery..... undoubtedly, I just wasn't sure of the message or how to connect what was abstract by dimension with prevailing reality. I was afterall still clinging to this cliffside, a tumble which would have meant my sure demise. I was in a euphoric state of acute awareness but a slip is a slip regardless. I did survive the climb down.
What poets and artists, philosophers and the great bards.... from all the centuries had witnessed of nature and the supernatural, was it possible for an ever-daydreaming kid, a casual voyeur, to be elgible to receive this great and life-long enlightenment? I felt it necessary to write, to paint, to talk about the experience. But I didn't. Not for many years of self imposed exile. I thought of myself as unworthy. I needed to learn more, experience and discover the dynamic of life and life beyond. At the very least, some of these early introductions, connections and fulfillments created an insatiable appetite for more. The intrigue has never waned over these many decades. I am still a wanderer of this planet, so full of enquiry and expectation.....still anticipating that at some point, some corner of this world, some strange unanticipated moment at a crossroads, my intuition will pay off and I will witness what I have expected for a lifetime.
When I accompanied a girlfriend, a number of years later, to an elevation of land near Lake Muskoka, that afforded a wonderful panorama of farmland and mist enveloped lakeshore far in the distance, I again succumbed to the sensory stimulation of wind and windsong in the evergreens clumped up the hillside. After a short hiatus hugging for warmth, we sat back and truly enjoyed the moment and a most enchanting vista of our home region. We lost ourselves in the embrace of youth and hopefulness. Yet after awhile in this isolated alcove in the landscape, there intruded a most eerie sensation of uninvited, unwelcome melancholy that we both felt.....much as if we had just then been passed over by something cold, threatening and ominous. It wasn't frightening but the mood definitely changed. It wasn't the decline of sun or the prevelance of cloud cover that altered the aura of the moment. I might best describe it as the feeling we were, by accident, sitting upon a forgotten grave.....and the history I was sensing at that moment had a distinct sepia tone, like a dog-earred photograph stuck askew in an album. It was a strange and short-lived feeling. I have experienced this sensation many times since, particularly when hiking back and exploring old homesteads in this region. Possibly it was a message coming from those who had farmed this land generations earlier. Maybe there was a grave here on this impressive hillside above the lake.
Sitting with my girlfriend on this windswept hillside for awhile longer, I felt strangely compelled to seek out what had inspired the feeling of demise and departure.....the mournful side to what had been so inspirational and endlessly joyful from the onset. I sat there for a long time trying to re-invent that shift of atmosphere which heralded reverence and remembrance for something we had no knowledge about. Why this intrusion of sadness? Was it a subtle shift of natural light we hadn't noticed? The cooler wind wavering the grasses on the slope....., a solemn, haunting refrain of air currents singing through the pinery? While my chum eventually came to slumber against my shoulder, I filled page after page of my notepad with observations about, and from this vantage point. It was at this time in my fledgling creative odyssey that I honestly believed I had come close to knowing "a portal" to somewhere beyond did exist. I knew Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven artists would have adored this place, where craggy old rocks and bent-over old trees, stumps and boulders seemed to animate in the spirit of keen observation. Such that after visiting here no painter, writer or poet could believe nature to be soul-less..
I have found many places to watch over nature that inspired generous composition. As I found even at my shop desk, in a most humble main street basement, amidst the commerce of a day, I could lapse into the strange but welcome ecstasy of creation, and truly celebrate what spirits and good hauntings existed in kind.
It has all somewhat explained, in my own mind at least, why for example, I can so clearly feel the presence of all the former inmates of an old abandoned farmstead I visit,....I am drawn to them as a moth to light.....and I find it quite a favorable and welcome experience......being appreciative of all the hauntings I'm afforded. It is a wonderful and dimensional life indeed.

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