Bones and Circumstances: The border crossing

Manitoulin and back – a solo Covid-summer road trip in 2020.

I had been outrunning a thunderstorm in my rearview mirror the entire afternoon, and I was on my third wrong turn of the day. I circled back east and was heading right back into her for a stretch. I had flown past the turn-off because the GPS couldn’t keep up with my coordinates in the dead zone of upstate New York. Hwy 87 had been oddly divine since i had the whole thing to myself due to Covid. But the back roads south of the St. Lawrence felt ominous as the storm seemed to circle in from behind, devouring the August sunset in front of me. I wasn’t sure if the windmills were helping or hurting the overall loneliness because they’re kinda monstrous. “How remote can I be if there are windmills?” The fog licked the fields and teased the roads. I was watching for deer. I was both elated and terrified and had been talking to myself or singing since Plattsburg.

I had googled nothing apart from “Trader Joe’s Hadley” before I left Boston – thinking that I would do the rest by feel. I had forgotten that I had – back in the early aughts – vowed to never drive the upstate NY route again on my way to Ontario. I hadn’t checked the weather because I was travelling regardless. The whole quarantine plan was backed out from my kids back-to-school plans – whatever the hell that was going to be. Oy.

I had spent three weeks in Boston dealing with other people’s health issues, mostly. On my way back to Canada I allowed myself a night to visit one of my besties, Tracey, in Western Mass before two weeks of mandatory quarantine. Western Mass is also where I would get my mandatory Trader Joe’s shopping in. Friends back in Ottawa had placed an order. When I arrived in Hadley the Covid line snaked around the building. I couldn’t stomach the wait, or the masks. It felt so sad and apocalyptic. Besides, the sun was getting low. I had spent too much time at Spencer Peterman’s Boards and Bowls on Route 2 in Western Mass. The owner was just about to lock the door when I ran up with a bowl I had purchased two Christmases before. “I need a matching set,” I promised her. I had put 1500 miles on that small bowl and she knew I meant business. I also only had a vague memory of where Tracey lived, 10% charge, and a broken charger.

The plan was to camp south of the border, cross at Cornwall, present my quarantine plan at 6 am, pick up my younger son in Ottawa, and end the day close to Manitoulin Island. I had been planning this for weeks. But, in my haste to prepare for a trip to the US during a race-war-pandemic-presidential-apocalypse, I had forgotten to pack a tent. Luckily, I hadn’t forgotten the inflatable mattress. So, I rearranged the car, blew it up, and threw it in the back. (poor grammar intended).

I had managed to outrace the thunderstorm all the way to the St. Lawrence. I had never encountered the Dwight D. Eisenhower Locks before.

My simple goal was to not get covid-sick while in Boston, and get back to my kids in Ontario after helping my mom and my stepdad with their health issues. It was becoming increasingly clear that their health issues were now also my health issues. In my spare time I cracked my tooth on a piece of Crab Rangoon while I was in Boston, and ended up at an emergency dental clinic in a oddly eastern bloc dental situation. I guess a cracked tooth is not technically “sick,” but it definitely wasn’t part of my aerosol-and-stranger-free plan either. I finally knew where all the dental equipment from the 80s had gone. I was sitting in it. Remember light pastel mauve?

The alarmed Tibetan dental hygienist told me I was in unimaginable pain and needed a root canal. I tried to tell her I wasn’t while I was also responding to confusing texts from my son Kasper about, “espestos.” I think this is when my quiet tears of surrender began. Then the dentist came in, became equally alarmed, and also decided that I was in unimaginable pain and needed a root canal. Kasper confirmed that it was in fact “asbestos” in the ducts. The duct cleaners had dropped thier work and left, and I was texting the landlord.

Tracey and I had walked in the woods before I left to camp at the border. We had met in a park back in Cambridge, Mass 20 years earlier. My son Caleb was 6 months and Juliette was a year. We had a childcare co-op with our friend Lisa and her son Kyle that was the envy of every mother everywhere. Our three families spent 9/11 together. Tracey and I had miscarriages together. We got divorces together, and we spent an evening together during the first covid summer.

In a very thick eastern-bloc accent, the dentist chastised me for being on my phone, and asked me why I was crying if I wasn’t in pain. Well, while I knew I didn’t need a root canal, I also knew I needed help. I did feel a cool breeze in my skull when I inhaled across my half-missing tooth. Meanwhile, the landlord was on his way to my house back in Ottawa to assess the asbestos. The dentist said that we needed to be honest with each other about pain so that she could diagnose me properly, and that my tears were confusing her. So I stopped crying. She also said that people spend too much time on their phones, and this is the source of people’s anxiety. “So, put it away.” Her needlework made me feel like she might have been a veterinarian in a past life – somewhere in the Baltic mountains. I got, and returned, a namaste from the Tibetan dental assistant. Melting pot.

While in Boston I had seen my mom, stepdad, his daughters, doctors, and nurses. I had been to a hospital, an emergency dental clinic, and four gas stations. I had walked at the Mount Auburn Cemetery to relax. I had learned an awful lot about autoimmune disorders. I had done Qigong and yoga. And, I had seen Tracey.

Kasper sketched a mausoleum during our 2017 visit to the Mount Auburn Cemetery.
The social distanced solution for my mom’s 2020 summer.

I arrived at the campsite after only four wrong turns kind of wishing that I had picked up a bottle of wine. But, I had an early rise and a ten hour drive in front of me. So, best keep things simple. I ate sardines and crackers at the picnic table that were lit dimly by a fading headlamp. A warm fog seemed to be lifting while the lightening storm passed to the north and south of me. I thought of my friends on Stanley Island in the St. Lawrence River and the absurdity of not being able to see them. The absurdity of Covid, camping so close to home, and more loved ones I wasn’t allowed to see in Ingleside. I had been on Manitoulin Island when my stepdad’s health took a turn for the worse and I was on my way back after 2000 miles of familiar roads.

Reliable road traffic on Canada’s 2-lane Hwy 17 in the summer. But line painting? Really?

The walk in the woods outside of Westhampton earlier that afternoon with Tracey seemed a million miles away. There had only been about twenty minutes of rain in the end but towers of clouds that ended in fog. It was raining hard somewhere.

My older son called from Manitoulin – his first night alone in the cabin. I walked down the campsite laneway with him in my ears as the stars came out.

Mom, there’s a bear outside. There’s definitely a bear outside.

Scat I found (from that bear) while I was walking in the woods a week after we got to Manitoulin.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers, Ingrid

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