by Nicholas P. Snoek



Chapter Twenty


Jack is fascinated with the swells, the dark grey waters heaving continuously, relieved only by the spumes of foam along the crests, and little flying fish glimmering silver, skipping in the troughs. He wonders why they do that. There can't be any insects down there for them, and by coming out of the water, aren't they more exposed to the gulls?

Three or four times there is a lot of excitement, when someone spots a small whale or dolphin, breathing water into the air, like little geysers. But they're so far away no one can tell just what they are. Wouldn't it be great if they saw a sea monster of some sort? Not too big.

Thinking back over all the stories he has read about sailors and pirates, and fishermen who love the sea, Jack cannot imagine what the attraction could be. Miles and miles of nothing but water. At best it's uneventful, and at worst, -- a taste of which was provided by one very windy day, when everything not attached got thrown about wildly -- it's uncomfortable, even hazardous.

Altogether Jack cannot fathom man's fascination with the sea. He has enjoyed many books of naval adventures, so much romantic history about military fleets and fiction about pirates, but now... It makes good reading, but someone else can do it.

Land Ho!

Some of the people on deck have spotted a dark line on the horizon. It's Canada! Isn't it? What a thrill. Let's get over there! What's taking so long! Let's go!

When at last they cozy up to the steep hills covered tightly with conifer trees, rising almost straight out of the water near Halifax, an almost uncanny calm surrounds the ship. The water surface is like glass, a motionless mirror all around. It's difficult to accept that just a few miles away there must be the usual swells and heaves and waves.

At Halifax the immigrants board a train. Jack is glad to find Dora is going the same way as far as Winnipeg. They can visit and tease each other for a few more days.

The train ride is monotonous for the children, but they find an outlet in cards, in reading, and their favorite game, batting balloons around, volley ball style. Luckily the other passengers are usually quite tolerant; they even join in once in a while. Funny to see a businessman in a suit swatting a balloon about!

At each stop Mom and Dad take turns scouting for good buys in deli items and basic groceries. Their tickets allow for no berths or meals, so they make do mostly with sandwiches.

Jack wonders about this. He hasn't noticed any significant shortage of money before now, other than penny pinching, the Dutch national pastime. He watches for an opportunity to talk to Mom alone. "Mom, how come we're living on sandwiches?"

"We don't have the money for anything else, Vick."

"Was all the money used up with everyone having to go to Bhutan for the funeral?"

"No. It's a long story, but it's kind of interesting, and you may as well know. But you must not tell anyone, alright?"


"Do you remember the one large showcase, from the door of the shop to the scales?"

"Yes, the one with ceramic tiles."

"Right. It's built in such a way it can be slightly lifted and swung to one side on rollers. Underneath is a ramp, going to a dug out area below the store. During the war Dad secretly got cows and horses from the farmers, and took them down there to butcher at night. It was very risky, I was always afraid we might get caught. But we never did."

"Why secretly? And why down there?"

"Because the Germans occupied the country, and they controlled all commercial activity. It was against the law. And meat was very scarce, so there was good money in it. It's what they call the black market, doing business illegally."

"So you and Dad made a lot of money doing that in the war?"

"That's right. But after the war, the government was desperate for money, and they wanted to punish people who had made money on the black market, so they sent auditors around to the banks and other financial institutions, to confiscate any money that the owners could not account for in adequate detail as coming from a legitimate source."

"They took your money?"

"They tried several times. But somehow we always found a way out of it. The last time there was a problem with the date on the summons. I was able to show in court that no one had been at home that day. They've left us alone since then, so we still have the money."

"So just because you weren't home one day, and some lawyer made a mistake about that, they're no longer trying to get that money away from us?"

"That's right. Law can be a little strange that way. I suppose it would be embarrassing to have that come out in court."

"But then how come we're eating only sandwiches if we're not short of money?"

"Well, part of the conditions we had to accept to qualify for emigration, was that we could only take a small amount of money out of the country. So they did get their own way for that part. We own the money, but we couldn't take it with us."

"So what's going to happen to it?"

"My father has it in a trust fund. Someday we'll ask him to send it to us."

"Well, I guess it's good to have that salted away."

"Yes, I'm sure it'll come in handy sometime."

When they arrive in Winnipeg Jack and Dora promise to write each other, though they both silently suspect that will never happen. Still, they feel they should mark their parting with some sort of gesture.

The Winnipeg stopover takes a whole day, and that's hardly better than a day on the train. What can a family of ten do for a day, around the railway station. Most of them don't understand English that well, and they're a bit afraid of this new country. What if they get lost. What if someone takes some of their luggage.

But, the day goes by. That evening they board the other train, and it should take them right to Kemloops, B.C. where Uncle Geis will meet them at the station.

The first day isn't too bad. Part of Manitoba does have its potholes, and there is some roll to the low hills. But most of Saskatchewan and Alberta consists of endless miles of almost flat land, without the relief provided in Holland by closely spaced towns and farms. The grain elevators are sort of interesting for a while. None of them has ever seen any of those before. But everything is so flat and all the same. However, this too does pass eventually.

And with the approach of the foothills in Alberta, comes the biggest thrill of the whole trip, the Rockies! A fairy land! Huge naked rocks rising way up into the sky, thrusting up out of the thick evergreen blanket below in exuberant erectile triumph, just like in Bhutan! With snow and ice everywhere. And herds and herds of elk and caribou and mountain sheep! What an amazing amount of wildlife!

Why don't people use them? Is everyone here so wealthy they don't need the meat? Or are there just not that many people. Why not? How can anyone who knows this, stay away?

The kids rush from one side of the car to the other in wonder, exclaiming at the beauty of this magnificent scenery. Sometimes as they round a bend they can see the engine at the front of the train on one side, and the caboose behind on the other, or the head or tail may even be hidden behind a curve going the other way again!

The train that looked so large on the prairies and in the railroad stations now looks so very small and insignificant. Steep and craggy cliffs crowd in on all sides in a wild jumble of acute and jagged angles -- the only horizontal line they ever see is the train itself and its track. And an occasional tiny lake not frozen yet because a fast creek has kept the water free, a flat and shiny jewel glassing back the blue sky.

What a beautiful country!

It's not a fast train, especially in the mountains here. But it does keep going, and going. The rumble clack and rumble clack and rumble clack of the wheels and metal gear is hypnotic. It becomes part of the somatic rhythm, imprinting its pattern on the nervous system, lodging in the lower centers of the brain. And having so permeated the world and life of the passengers, those relentless sounds are really startling, when they stop!

The train is stopped. Dead still. Right on the main track, not on a siding, not on a spur. The passengers can see nothing on either side but the sheer rock faces of a narrow cleft in the primal granite. Some uniformed officials scurry back and forth, and there are sounds of yelling and some clanking noises.

Everyone is trying to find out what is happening. Is another train going to come and run into them? Has the engine broken down? Did we hit something? The worried travellers wait, and wait. No conductors seem to be around. They can only see a little ways up the track. There is a sharp bend here.

After about half an hour a conductor comes in and announces: "Please relax ladies and gentlemen. The track is blocked by an avalanche. We do not think it is a large one. We've wired in both directions for some crews and equipment to come and work on it, so we should know more very soon. Please do not get upset, we have plenty of provisions and there is no damage.

If the snow is going to take too long to clear away we might end up going back to the last town, but we expect that won't be necessary."

Several of the men ask if they can help.

"No. That's very kind of you, but please stay where you are. We cannot be responsible for people getting off the train."

And so, they wait. Mom and Dad check the food on hand, and hope the interruption won't be too long, because they don't have much with them. There's some tension in the air now. No cards, no balloons, no games. People quietly talk about being stuck in the snow, about what might happen if it takes very long. Some are worried about being delayed and missing appointments. Others are afraid the heating system won't be adequate or may break down. It's cold out there.

Jack has discovered westerns, the pocket novels. He gobbles them up as fast as he can find them. The porter has a whole batch on a shelf, and as soon as Jack finishes one he gets another. So, he spends this avalanche time curled up in a corner, steeping himself in the mystique of the frontier macho men, the tall and lonely fearless blue eyed heroes who ride into town from nowhere, take on the local toughs and teach them their manners, and, although they fall in love with the local snow white beauty, are compelled to ride off into the sunset at the end. A man's got to do what a man's got to do!

The time goes by fast for Jack, but when the announcement is made, he too is relieved to hear that just four hours should be enough to clear the track. And sure enough, things get underway again in about that time.

When they start up and pull through the avalanche area they can see some of the workers with loaders and bulldozers and shovels, silhouetted against mountains of snow, watching the result of their efforts. The passengers wave their gratitude, and the men understand, waving back with big grins.

The rest of the way through the pass is done quite quickly, but for several hundred miles on the other side, the scenery is almost as spectacular. It seems as if B.C. is all mountain, the Selkirks, the Cascades, the Caribous. This area from west to east is a gradually rising series of peaks, making the whole province a more gradual version of Bhutan.

If one took Bhutan and twisted it a quarter turn so that south becomes west, and then stretched the whole country to take up about four times as much space, it would be a fair representation of the bottom two thirds of British Columbia. The low lying rain forest on the west instead of the south, and the majestic crests in the east instead of the north. And the land is carved into gorges, passes, valleys and river plains, like Bhutan.

The remarkable changes in climate over short distances is another feature the two countries have in common. The locale of the Thimphu Dzong in Jack's native country is so dry that one of its defences is a field of cactuses, planted there to slow down intruders; thirty kilometers south is a steaming jungle, where fifty feet of rain can fall in one season, enough to float a three storey house! Similar vagaries of climate obtain in B.C.

The country around Kemloops other than the river valley is almost open desert, but one hundred miles away Revelstroke is in a formidable deep valley rain forest, hemmed in by steep and densely vegetated mountains.

And Kemloops is where their train journey ends. Dad's brother Geis is at the station to meet them.

After a week of being cooped up in a railroad car everyone is really glad to get out and run around. Now they can't get lost! Now they don't have to worry about missing a departing train. What a relief!

A friend is there too, with another vehicle. A travelling family of ten with all their baggage takes up a lot of space! They all pile in with great good humor, and off they go, driving over the crispy crunchy snowcovered roads, about three miles out of town. What a lot of cars and trucks all over the place! Jack wonders how the tires can get any grip on the snow covered road, but they seem to. The crunchy crystals must do that, tiny crystal pointy tips resisting the soft rubber of the tires.

The house is on the slope of one side of a wide river valley, where the sides are formed of such low gentle hills they look like the sand dunes in the western parts of Holland. There is a railroad track close to the river, running down the valley east-west, the same one they've been following for about a week.

It's early December, and cold, and there is a good foot of snow on the ground. A road crosses the track not far from the house, and the train always sounds the whistle when approaching that crossing. The eerie lonely haunting sound of that echoing whistle over the frozen countryside becomes for Jack a symbol, a symbol of the isolation he feels as he faces this enormous open empty land.

Geis has a family too, a dark haired wife Alicia who mumbles through her false teeth, and three boys, one called Victor. They live in a country place, a big one. There's enough room for the two families to stay in the same house until other arrangements can be made. It won't even be crowded.

And Dad has a job lined up already, working at his trade for a pair of brothers who own several meat operations. That was part of the requirements that held up the approval to leave Holland, he had to have a job to go to. It was arranged mostly when Dad was here before, to look things over ahead of time.

He reports for work the very next morning, happy to get started.

Mom and Alicia are not really close, but get along well enough to make the situation work for a while. Alicia likes her Harlequins and cigarettes and cards, and tends to leave things up to Mom. It works out, Mom likes to be busy.

Jack soon finds something to keep him busy, too. The place is heated with wood, and even the cooking is done on an old wood range. So there is need for a lot of kindling. Geis is doing several part time jobs, and has scrounged piles and piles of dressed lumber ends from planing mills and house construction sites. So Jack sets to work with an axe, splitting up this dry wood, and makes boxes and boxes of kindling. It feels good to contribute something. And it gets him out in that wonderful clear cold air, a welcome change after the confining smoky secondhand atmosphere of the railroad car.

He hasn't felt that good to be outside since before the soldiers came and shot Borg. How long ago that was!

He goes for long walks too, relishing the peppery crunch of frozen crystal snow underfoot; and the biting cold seems like a friendly nip to him.

The valley is dotted with small orchards, and lined with wood rail fences, and along the fences and among the orchards are areas of low brush, good habitat for ringnecked pheasants, and there are lots of them. They're very visible against the snow. The plain striped tan of the females, so well suited for camouflage in summer, now makes them stand out like little blobs of thick brown gravy on mashed potatoes, and the gorgeous crimson shining-brass feathers of the males, especially in clean air sunshine, is a source of never ending fascination.

Strange, if they have camouflage for summer, that they wouldn't have it in winter, the way rabbits do. Maybe they're not native to this country. The only way their coloring would make year-round sense would be in an area where it isn't white in winter. Around here they're exposed to predators after every snowfall. Perhaps they do best near settlements because of that.

Geis and Alicia have some friends not far away, the Franks, another Dutch family, and they live right on the river bank. The Tompson is shallow and wide here, and the slow moving water freezes over to make great stretches of windswept ice, so that even with the excessive buckling and heaving characteristic of ice over moving water, there are patches where the kids can skate to their hearts' content, though the open spots usually have some slant or curvature to them.

This is Jack's first experience with skates on a sloping surface. The sensation of negotiating curved ice is something altogether unique -- the sudden and unexpected forward rush or braking holdback and the weird sidepulls... they make him think this must be what it would be like to move around in an environment where gravity is not a steady state but an eddying and fluctuating force. Like magnetic fields on moving metal discs.

The family on the river have a son about Jack's age, and a daughter somewhat older than Neddie. The daughter works in town, and likes to make a little display of handing her cash earnings to her dad in front of others.

Jack has a small communication problem with the son, about cash. There are one hundred cents in a Dutch guilder. The friend explains that the Canadian dollar consists of one hundred cents as well. Jack can't believe that. How can one hundred cents be one guilder and also one dollar, when a guilder and a dollar obviously have different values?

He comes to realize some time later, with some embarrassment, that each cent is just the one hundredth part of its parent, and shares the parent currency's value standing -- only the name of the coin is the same, and the name here is just an expression of ordinal rank.

The power of a name, again. We ascribe essential qualities on the basis of a name. Is the name of an individual, a proper noun like Jack, the same in relation to that person called Jack as a common noun is to its referent? Does the name Jack, or Victor, have the same relation to the referent-person as `youth' has to all the people who are `youths'? It doesn't seem so. And that must have something to do with the singularity of Jack or Victor, and the plurality of youths.

How does a common noun differ from a proper noun? Jack Spiets is the only one of Jack Spiets; but the youth Jack is only one of thousands of youths, all different. A proper name is like a piece of land. There is only one, and ownership has something to do with that uniqueness. But what exactly is the difference? Does Jack relate to `youth' the way species does to genus? Only a further level down, into singular? Or up? Confusing.

This must have to do with universals and particulars. Now where do you go for a clear answer to that?

Brother Cyprios, where are you?

There is some discussion about whether the children should be registered at school, but it seems Dad's job is not steady here. He works more and more at Enderbush, a town about an hour's drive away, where the bosses have a slaughterhouse and a general store, with a large meat department and meat storage lockers. And since he spends most of his time there, it's decided Dad will work there on a permanent basis.

And the family will move to where the work is.

So, we're moving to Enderbush.


Chapter Twenty-One