• mapletree-vickimcleod.com


    It is June in Maple Ridge B.C. We meet the in-between people, past and present. Trees and opinions abound, but compassion is elusive. A racoon makes a cameo appearance.

    In June, Maple Ridge B.C. is a soft place. The leaves on the maple trees come into their fullness. The dogwoods and chestnuts are blooming. The Fraser River swells as the freshet looms. It is an in-between time. The spring is not yet over and summer has not yet arrived. Last week I drove along River Road, along the ridge itself looking down over the river as a train whistled past.

    I drove through the old part of town where I live. It’s called Port Haney, and on a sunny afternoon, bright light winking off the river, it is easy to imagine the wharf as the bustling place it must have been in years gone by. Fishing boats unloading their catches, passengers spilling off the trains at The Port Haney Station, workers perhaps, headed to the brickyard.

    My town was built on bricks, and salmon, too. We sit on the North side of the Fraser River, a little out of the way, home to prisons and suburbs. The town is not beautiful. But in June it gets a little showy and you can see that it could be. The part of town I live in, where river meets rail, has an oldness to it, a heart and feel of bygone days.

    I have a sense, whether I walk or drive, of people gone before, of watchers from another time. Haneyites who forged the bricks, built the tracks, fished the banks of the Fraser eating blackberries. There are today’s watchers too. I see the hobo trails that wind through the shrubs toward the tracks, find the cardboard beds abandoned in the dark ravine next to my home. The shopping carts freed from their paved lots are twisted into the brambles.

    I have learned that this part of town was home to a large transient camp in the 1940’s, nearby the once-railyard adjacent to the wharf and where the Haney Bypass cuts through history.

    Where transients once gathered, smoky fires smudging the sky, we now have multi-family apartments, the West Coast Express station and a quaint pub.

    I am aware of these people who went before – down on their luck, fallen on hard times, riding the rail, camping out along the river. I think of them romantically, strong men probably, smoking, eating beans from cans, trying to make a go of it.

    Transient people live here today, too. In this in-between time, this soft June, I see them, on bicycles carrying their pots and pans and bedclothes. On foot they pass by loaded down with grubby backpacks, grimy jeans sliding off skinny hipbones.

    There are beggars at the new train station, soggy hoods over their faces, wet shoes, reeking. They are tired, even their shoes and sodden socks are tired, even their bones.

    I think of them as the in-between people. They are in between some past that I cannot even imagine and a future that no one can see. They are between one life and another. As though at sea, they’ve left some unseen, perhaps unsafe shore and find themselves floating here, shipwrecked. Making a perch across the bypass on a sliver of grassy verge between highway and road. Tents and cardboard boxes spring up like June blossoms in that noisy place, bright and sad at the same time.

    Some well-meaning citizen has suggested we should clear that verge of tents and fragile homes – shelters that are not likely to survive even a gentle June rain – and make a park. I do not care to have a park there if it means these desperate sailors become once more unmoored.

    The in-between people are falling. Into the cracks, they say, but I see them falling away on their islands, further and further away from any safe shore. Some fall like petals, gently with no sound, and others crash to ground like trees, smashing limbs as they go. Some thrash wildly, and still surrender to the pavement, a paramedic’s fatigue their last sight of this world.

    These are my neighbours, yet they float past on the horizon of my known world.

    As I write this it is raining. Across the river in the mist, smoke from conventional campfires curls into the grey. There is a camp on that shore, too. Invited by the Regional District for a fee of a few dollars per night, the Winnebagos are lined up in a neat row, generators humming smugly into the gloom.

    One night, a few summers ago, in my yard I saw a raccoon cross the fenceline in the moonlight. That intrusion overjoyed me. Robins, too, and wrens are welcome. Pigeons, even. My housebound neighbours and their guests – noisy expats and clumsy athletic grandchildren, the mouse that eats my grass seed and the hairy spiders that patrol the dark corners – all are welcome. The other humans? The in-betweens? Should they trample my yard, I would roust them out, press them to move on.

    Even though I know how hungry self-destruction can be, I offer no safe harbor. Apathy too is boundless in its appetite.

    What do I want for them, my temporary neighbours? Somewhere to pitch tent or box with a place to defecate, and clean drinking water. That is all.

    The same day the shelter closed in my town, an injunction was served to the people living in the tent village. Where will they go? I do not know. I imagine them being shoveled up, tumbling like detritus or like piles of dirty snow before a plow. Pushed away past the edge of town, past and over the edge.

    There was a Mayor once who knew these people by name. Knew their stories, too. This one, abandoned at birth by a crack-addicted mother. That one went to war, saw and did unspeakable things, came back with his mind broken. That one’s father took her body when she was just a child. I could hardly bear to hear these stories, to know the troubled shores these flimsy ships set sail from.

    We do not know each other’s histories, nor can we truly know the history of place that maps its way along our arteries. I know this shady town, its darker corners, and the bright Golden Ears mountains that grace us every day, patient peaks that watch over our meanness.

    These traveling neighbours of mine, they float like grass in the wind. Touch down here and there and are swept up and move on. Homeless. Vagrant. Human.

    There are trees that do not blossom in June. Still, cottonwood fluff gathers where the river curves, caught then freed, then caught again. Wearily, it carries our brokenness, away past the borders of our town and out to sea.

    Maple Ridge is soft in June.

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