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Kirkland Lake

Memorial to miners who died underground in the Kirkland Lake gold mines
Memorial to miners who died underground in the Kirkland Lake gold mines

Rock curves out toward the road, jutting, thrusting at right angles toward road. As you go north this formation becomes more common, more urgent somehow. Driving up the long, long hill north of North Bay, where in my mind "true north" begins; everybody has a different idea about this, depending on where you are from. The height-of-land rock is soothing-pink, white, grey – it's the core experience, the fundamental experience. The tree stands around Temogami are spectacular, but as you go further north the trees are not substantial, mostly scrubby jack pine.

When you live in Kirkland Lake you think it is the centre of universe, but the first road sign appears 84k south of town! And the first "Mile of Gold" sign is 30k from KL.

It is a gorgeous evening – low clouds, sunlight, lakes, the trees casting sharp stripes on the road. Last time I was here at the end of a hard winter, it was so depressed. But things are lush now green and clean, lots of rain, scrubbed roads.

Earlton is protesting the garbage dump, because the train tracks go right through the middle of the town. I am conscious of now being a southerner, with barely the right to speak on the subject: jobs vs environment, and nothing in between. The proposal the City of Toronto is considering is cut back from original, which included recycling, and pulling out methane and using as fuel, with 600 jobs promised. Mile of Garbage doesn't have the same ring as the Mile of Gold. Adams Mine is only 200 feet deep.

From Toronto, to the Kenogami Bridge Inn: 6 hours, 600 k. I walked into the bar, hadn't even ordered a beer, and I hear, Marian? A man I had not seen for 34 years. This wouldn't happen to me in my neighbourhood. Men drinking with their sons, drinking a lot, ready to party on a Friday night, ready for night cruising, on the lake in the barge in the dark, with beer.

Conversation about the spring bear hunt, and the dump: "We're not all gun-toting guys with a closet full of unregistered guns..."

Drove through KL, it does look miserable, what were beautiful old stores the Eaton's, Kresges, the three old cinemas-one destroyed by fire, one running, one a bowling alley. So many buildings closed, for sale, boarded up. Gaps like broken teeth in the streetscape, the mouth of an elderly man...

The road from KL to Dobie is the road where I learned about perfectly engineered curves, according to my father the kind of curve you did not have to steer through. This is also where I learned about moose on the road and backseat necking; over the 13 miles from town to home, you could get a lot done... Also where I got my first speeding ticket, going 90 mph in the Buick Wildcat, on my way to choir practice; you'll be singing in the heavenly choir, the cop said.

It is the road where I learned about Indians, walking in from the highway to get to the village at Lake Beaverhouse. and about frost heaving, the surface so susceptible to winter damage. And stupid partridges. The road acquires more and more significance as you get closer to home.

We owned this territory as kids; there was no such thing as no trespassing. The bush between mine road and houses was our bush-now the water is very high-this bush was our kingdom, where we played built forts and castles, played cowboys and Indians.

Now the bush is thick, impenetrable. What shabby ramshackle places mines are, now Upper Canada is just the mill, a low rambling rusting place. The staff house, where I learned about lilacs, the same bush is still here, it must have been blooming for 50 years. Somewhere here is a little bronze plaque commemorating containing ashes of Mr. Brown, first company man I ever met.

Memory and underbrush, getting through...

Our house! With beautiful gardens, our mother would be thrilled. Here is the dip in the road where I learned about bogey bears, imaging a large shapeless black bear in this little scoop of road. And the curling rink where I learned about desire, and the curve where I fell off my bike every spring.

When you come up here you speak a totally different language. It unleashes a kind of honesty, well, you can't lie about your age because everyone knows exactly where you fit in or where you used to fit in. It's important to be one of the guys. People are robust, supportive of one another, they have huge affection, passion for the town. Some of the men are suspended in some way, still teenage boys; it's still part of ethos to talk about how late you stayed out drinking. Fundamental ethos: love kids, be loyal to families, send your kids to college, give them a better opportunity, build a big house or cottage if you can, those are the values. The real things are real.

Northern resource towns are like dancers; they get thrown on the dust heap when they are deemed useless. Big companies, big cities exploit and continue to exploit; they have never paid a price, they just ship up their greed and take out what they can.

Up here you drive your car like a truck, one hand over steering wheel, knee up against the door, preferably wearing a peaked cap...