Open Your Eyes

The night fell like a black cloak surrounding the bay.

The snow glistens on the mountain tops from beneath the glow of the rising moon.

A polar bear and her two cubs creep quietly across the barren land, glancing carefully to and fro for predators and prey.

The darkness will keep you here, if you let it. It will devour you and any memories you keep on you.

The night is long. Sitting here in the haunting quiet all your demons quickly surface, taunting your eyesight, skewing your reality.

It doesn’t matter what weapons you hold when the terrorists are inside your head.

You sit perfectly still, straightening out your fingers, flattening your feet to the ground.

Inhale.

You didn’t hear a branch break. Keep inhaling.

You don’t sense movement.

Pause.

You don’t sense movement.

Exhale slowly.

Somewhere around you in this augmented reality are eyes watching. Waiting.

You start humming like you did when you were young, when you ran from your grandparents house to yours in the twilight, pretending that you weren’t alone.

The moon has moved two thumb widths to the right, by your measure. The mountain peaks shadow has changed direction in defence.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Your fire dies slowly. You’re cold now, but too scared to move. The glow of the embers casts a few feet of light. What lies beyond that light? You shudder.

If you close your eyes until morning you’ll never know. Maybe it’s better this way.

Another thumb widths movement by the moon and you exhale clouds into the sky. You’re tired now. You’re being watched from all directions.

“Maybe I’ll just close my eyes and get some sleep,” you decide.

You close your eyes for a second and suddenly your face feels warm.

You smile because your memory tells you that this feels like the warmth you felt from hugging your dog Hunter.

You open your eyes and in front of you, looking into your soul not four inches from your nose is a pair of stone cold black eyes, on a large grey frame. You dare not blink, but your senses tell you this is no dog – this is a wolf. It glances downward slowly. Your heartbeat races quickly as you know this is the end.

Part of you is thankful, you’re cold, alone, and you’ve been this way for too many days to count. You close your eyes and wait.

“Will he rip my throat? Will he go for my legs? My arm?” you wonder.

You dare not breathe. Your ears are on high alert, picking up every subtle movement. But there is none. You exhale slowly, terrified to move even the slightest bit. Your breath quickens again as you hear the crunching of snow.

“Is that you?” a familiar voice says quietly. Your eyes shoot open like a bullet. A lone person stands before you in a dark green coat – you vaguely remember this person, but are too concerned about the location of the wolf.

The man senses your distress and says, “He took off north of you.”

You begin to stand slowly, bracing yourself against the snowmobile at your back that had broken down days before. The wolf tracks led off to the distance, and ended at a pair of glowing eyes. The man in green starts his snowmobile and says, “We best get you home, there’s a crowd been lookin’ for you for days now.”

You struggle your way over to his snowmobile and climb on the back. Leaving any belongings you may have left by the orange pit, glowing by your broken down ski-doo.

“Am I dreaming?” you wonder.

The engine roars and you speed along, climbing hills, whooshing down paths, crossing frozen lakes, and finally, approaching the lights of your town. You had all but forgotten that pattern of lights by the old air strip. But you crack a smile now, remembering. What a virtue it is, to remember.

When you’re faced with death, it’s easy to close your eyes. But while you’re alive, it’s best to keep them open.

Dreaming

How gracefully your fingertips touched the brim of
my glasses
Pulling them gently as to not disturb the hair on my forehead.
That was the gentlest you’d ever been.
The sun beat down and paraded itself in through our kitchen window
Creeping slowly across to the spot where I sat,
Shoulders against the cupboards
toes stretching
knees bending
heart racing.
There was a playfulness in your eyes that I hadn’t seen in a while.
“You still like me don’t you?”
I struggled to find my sentence…“Of course.”
You paused.
“I’m glad.”

And with the swiftness of a fox, he jumped to his feet and stretched out his hand.
“Come.”
I waited.
His hand stood perfectly still in the air above my anxious eyes.
I glanced outward my own hand, resting lightly on the floor.
I flipped it over, the lines were still there, the lifeline included.
I must be alive.
Counting my fingertips, I raised my hand slowly and met with the hand of this man, a stranger to me now.
I wondered, as I arose, how much time I spent sitting against the cupboard beneath the window.
My feet were hot, having been touched by the passing sun and shadows.
I followed slowly, apprehensive, the body leading me down the hallway.
I walked past framed photos of someone who looked like me, with someone who looked like him. Impossible.
He stopped.
He must have noticed the essence of sadness on my face.
“Don’t you remember?”
“What is there to remember?”
His confident, boyish stance turned quickly into a slump.
He looked at me as if he could see directly through me.
“I wish you would wake up.”

-30-

M.

Trapped on the Labrador Barrens.

I was thinking tonight, as I was trying desperately to fall asleep, about a skidoo trip that my Dad and I took when I was 14-15 years old. We took a three hour run to Red Bay, Labrador from St. Lewis. Our intention was to pick up my Aunt’s new skidoo, but we got a lot more then we bargained for.

I remember the ride up was really warm. The sun was particularly bright, the trees in the heavily wooded trails cast big shadows over the perfectly groomed snow. I was sitting on the back of my dad’s Skidoo, enjoying every minute.

We reached Red Bay perfectly, stopping only once along the way at half-way Cabin, which I believe was in a place called Eastern Brook.. which locals call “Easter Brook”. I remember having a raspberry flakie, and sharing a can of vienna saussages with my dad.

When we picked up my Aunt’s skidoo I remember it being quite beautiful. I loved the color, it was dark metallic blue. I wanted to drive it, Dad said no. I didn’t care much because it still meant I could drive one of the two skidoos by myself, and driving Dad’s was a big deal.

Before we left to go home, we took a trip ‘up along’ to Forteau and visited the Riff’s store. I remember nagging Dad until he bought me a pair of sneakers, they were Adidas, and called “Savage.” They were blue, grey, and had metallic piping. I was really proud of them.

When we got back to Red Bay and were ready to hit the trail, dad was hesitant. It looked a little overcast but nothing that probably wasn’t already cleared up on the other side, so we were off.

I remember feeling all powerful handeling my Dad’s skidoo all by myself. I remember the first 20 minutes being particularly hard, as I had to try and keep up with Dad as best I could. Eventually I got the hang of it, and I was tailing Dad like a race car driver. More then once I almost slid into his bumper bar.

The next thing I remember was the snow. It was falling so thick. And it just kept getting thicker, and thicker. And soon it was dark. I didn’t think the ride home would take that long, as often time seems to go faster when you’re returning from somewhere. But the night seemed to stretch on forever and I was getting scared.

We were at the point where Dad was going really slow, and being an experienced outdoorsman who operated the grooming equipment for that trail for many years, Dad looking lost made me very frightened.  I kept as close as I could, but oftentimes I could barely see his tail light. He stopped.

I remember driving up along side of him and seeing the look on his face. He was scared and I didn’t know how to react. Then we saw lights, there were more skidoos approaching. Something good was happening now, I thought.

There was a parade of them, I think maybe 4 or 5. It was a family and some friends from the Lodge Bay area, a family of Pye’s. They were driving from Red Bay as well with Komatiks’ full of groceries for their general store. We all proceeded ahead, together, in a row, and one by one we faced the challenges.

We drifted off trail I believe, either that or the trail had gotten so overpacked with snow it was unrecognizable. I recall a large hole full of tree boughs that every skidoo managed to get stuck in, and I was the last in line. I stopped before the big hole, dad on the other side unable to help me, waving me forward. What do I do? I thought. I put my skidoo in reverse. I pushed the button again to put her in forward gear. I gripped the handlebars as tight as I could, clenched my legs against the seat and gas tank, and hammered the throttle against the handle bar, and In and out of the hole I flew – the only one to not get stuck!

And then another incident. The man towing the komatik with the heaviest goods lost sight of where he was going momentarily and ended up skimming quickly down over a large embankment of snow, he jumped off his skidoo in fear of the komatik falling over on him. When he got up and looked back at his skidoo, the towbar that held the komatik to the back of the skidoo was bent like a very large U. It took him and my dad several tries with all of their might to shape it back somewhat to be able to tow it again.

Eventually we found a cabin. We all piled in, a very tight fit. Once the fire was lit everyone started to relax a little, but there was a lot of chatter as to what people back at home were thinking.. they couldn’t have known we found shelter. I remember going through my backpack and hauling out a flashlight, I put it on the table and people asked me why I packed one. When I woke up that morning before my trip something inside me told me to pack that flashlight, and I never questioned it. Little did I know people would be relying on it that night to keep watch outside, and run back and forth to the ‘bathroom’ with it.

One person slept on the floor by the woodstove. I slept up on the loft, still fully clothed in my skidoo gear. I peed my pants that night out of fear of going outside the cabin and running in to a Polar Bear. It was an irrational fear, but one I didn’t mind the wet pants over.

After dawn broke, the storm had ceased some. We got on our skidoos and started the voyage home again. One person, who was probably just a few years older then I was, kept tipping her skidoo and slowing down the crowd. Eventually she agreed to get on with me and leave her skidoo behind, but I think that was only because she had ran out of gas.

When I saw the tiny houses of Lodge Bay that day I couldn’t have been happier. The family that had been travelling with us had a relative who invited us in for tea. I went in with Dad, reluctantly, but I was itching to get home. As Dad took sip after agonizing sip of his tea, he finally said, “Let’s go home maid.”

When we got outside he told me I could drive my Aunts skidoo home, and I was in my glee! A brand new skidoo for me to break in. I felt like I ruled the world. After I got on, Dad motioned for me to go ahead, and I led the way home back to St. Lewis, proud as a peacock.

When I got in my warm, toasty house that afternoon my mom gave me the biggest hug I think I ever received. I was so glad to be back in my house, and thankful for the warm bath that followed. I remember eating a turkey and dressing sandwich and I chomped it down as fast as I could – I remembered I had new sneakers in my backpack!

I scurried to the room and hauled them out of my bag. They were freezing. I went to school after dinner wearing my new sneakers and people were asking me questions about what had happened. I told them bits and pieces, but being a youngster, unphased by danger, I was concerned only with how proud I felt about my new sneakers.

Even as a little kid I always loved snowmobiling. Looking pretty fierce I think! ha ha.

What you need to know about a Labrador child

Labrador winters are harsh and sometimes uninviting, but you can never take Labrador from the heart of any child, man or woman who rides the rugged terrain on a snowmobile. It is in our blood.

I feel the need to make comment about a recent situation that has made national headlines. A 14-year-old boy from Makkovik Labrador who went missing on his snowmobile and was found frozen to death on the ice.

From what news organizations have been reporting, when this boy had gone missing his parents instantly began a search with members of the community. I have no doubt what-so-ever that they did everything humanly possible to find their child. Yes, I say their, because we all know that in this province the community raises a child.

Canada’s DND didn’t respond right away. It is said it’s because of weather. I won’t make any direct comments regarding that because I –nor anyone else- may never know the exact reasoning as to why these search and rescue helicopters didn’t make it to the scene.  But one can’t help but question that these aircrafts are certainly better equipped then the regular old chopper that takes workers back and forth to mining operations and fishing expeditions.

I’m responding to this situation not as a reporter, but as a concerned Labradorian. This could have been my little cousin. This could have been my best friends child. This could have been anyone.

I know from having lived in Labrador for 20 years of my life that the weather is anything but predictable. I know that I’ve been riding my own snowmobile since I was 13-years-old. It’s a right of passage and a way of life in small communities – you can’t dismiss it if you haven’t lived it.

To anyone casting blame over the parents in this situation – shame on you. Do you let your child go outside your door to ride a bike to school, to take the bus to school, to walk to their grandparents house? Yeah you do. Anything can happen at any time, this couldn’t have been predicted.

Accidents happen. Tragic accidents happen. Instead of casting blame over something that nobody would have dreamed to happen, try having a little sympathy. Walk a cold mile in young Burton Winters shoes.

Pocket knife

As far back as I can remember my grandfather Hubert carried an old wooden and brass handled knife in his pocket. Often times I would see him sitting outside widdling a small stick with it ( or scratching at his fingernails ha ha). That pocket knife, sadly, belongs to me now.

My grandfather passed away May 25. He was 85 years old. He had been ill for a while, but was doing a lot better in the long term care facility where he spent the last 2 months or so. It happened very quickly, we were told he was in no pain.

Pop was the father to 12 children, the grandfather of 23, the great-grandfather of 27, and the great-great-grandfather to four.

I sat down and figured out all those numbers a couple nights ago because no one had ever tried to. I told my Aunt, whom was closest to him besides his wife Doris of 63 years, and my Aunt said, “Jeez, someone was busy.”

It has been a sad few days for the Poole family. Siblings are starting to drive back to their homes again, and I can’t help but feel a big tear in my heart when I look at my Nan. She’s going through a lot of things now, I really hate to say good bye.

Here’s a picture that I took for her, her request. Here are 10 of her 12 children, the ones who were able to make it to Pop’s funeral.