the lake makes this place humid. its humid all year round – its what makes the winters so deep and cold, and its the first thing i feel every time i walk off a plane in the summer time. its what taught me to avoid heat and hot places. its not like arizona-hot. heat in thunder bay comes with water in the air, a mobilization of the elements that makes me think of home every time i feel it in other parts of the world.
its like that now. my clothes are sticking to me. im reminded of my childhood, when my mom and dad would take us into the basement of our house to sleep at night, with the fans blasting over us just to make sleep a possibility. even then it was hard to pass out. it makes for these kinds of heavy nights, when the greens and blues that surround this place feel more like wet paint than a finished mural. the water animates this picture.
this humidity makes me remember. the house my dad lives in now, out in anishinaabekwe bay, is not the house we grew up in. the house standing there now, the standard contemporary INAC-issued shit box, was built behind the house that used to be there. that house, “the old house”, was built some time in the 50s. it had hard wood floors that were painted over with rusty-red exterior paint (it started as my brother spilling an entire can of paint in the kitchen, so we just kept going until the whole floor was done). the wood siding on the outside was painted white; i remember painting it once. the ‘foundation’ was actually a set of perfectly cut and set bucked logs, notched and stacked in place under the floor beams – going under the house to see why the plumbing was broke was always an adventure. but that was only after 1990 – before that we didnt have indoor plumbing. that house had been renovated so many times that by the time we tore it down in 1993, it was just a collection of half-finished walls, and the floor had a matrix of gaps mapping rooms from a different time.
i learned to not chew with my mouth open in that old house. my aunt and her two kids, jolene and jim-bob, often lived with us through the 80s. one morning, before the school bus, jolene told me to not eat with my mouth open. i was eating rice crispies.
jolene taught a lot of lessons – years later, in her teens, she would teach one of my fully-grown uncles a lesson about getting in her way, when she kicked the shit out of him in my drive way. i can still see both of them rolling down the rocky lane in a tussle of fists and screaming, ending with them rolling straight into my garbage box. at the time, i thought that that must have hurt, hitting the wooden garbage box like that. i figured they’d probably have slivers, but i never asked.
jim-bob and i used to rip around all over the bay. we started our own little gang, and we called ourselves the “beany brothers.” i think it had something to do with the fact that we both had shaved heads, or “bean shaves” as we used to call them. it might also have had something to do with the beatles… i dont know why, but i have a faint recollection of asking jim-bob whether we should spell it “beeny” or “beany”. whatever the case, we were brothers then, and we left our mark: there is a gigantic boulder on the shore of the bay, just a short distance across the water from my house. it rolled down from the mountain that overlooks the bay at some point, and is at least the size of my house. that rock became known as “the beany rock” because its where jim-bob and i, as beany brothers, would go to play. it was our hangout, and its still called the beany rock today by everyone in my family.
the summers then, like now, were humid. the old house was built to accommodate this. my earliest memory of that house is of me and my mom and dad standing out on an large deck that was attached to the front. i was drinking tea with milk and sugar. my dad called me a “tea granny” because i liked tea. i was young. maybe 6. but i dont remember when they tore the deck down. the house had a screen door though. and that helped in the summer humidity.
and in the summers, the thunders come. they come from the west, the storm fronts always seem to squeeze through the narrow alleyway between the mountain and my house – a distance of only a kilometre. i remember the skies turning bright green, and within 10 minutes there would be a massive cloud, like a million stories tall, ripping over our house in a warm gust of wind, picking up my tent and toys from the yard.
but sometimes the thunders came at night. and when its dark and humid and stormy, no kid wants to go to sleep. i love those nights. and always have. jim-bob must have too, because we were both at the screen door the night we saw those blue eggs falling from the mountain. i remember it clearly. it was that kind of rain that comes in swaths, not steady, but light and then heavy, light then heavy. the rhythm is refreshing now that i think about it.
we had our faces up against the screen of the front door, and those blue eggs were tumbling down. they looked like blue fire balls. they left streaks as they fell, leaving marks that were brighter and lasted longer on the sites where the egg must have hit a rock jutting out of the face of the mountain. i dont know how many there were, but i remember seeing more than three, and probably less than 10. i dont remember talking to jim-bob about it, but i know he saw it with me. i tried to tell my mom, but she didnt believe me. i was 8, after all.
the humidity makes me remember that. and so does the mountain. this place does. and i remember remembering this a bunch of other times, but i never told any one about it, mostly out of thinking it was insignificant. but maybe its not so insignificant. maybe its a part of this place, and all the relationships that make it so important.
there are many stories about thunder and lightning in thunder bay. but this one is mine.
(the above was written a few summers ago)