Over the Hills and Far Away

by Brendon Sturgeon

I’ve heard it said that some of your memories may not be real. That they contain fragments of your imagination. If this is true, then that would explain those aliens and monsters of my memories. These little stories are my memories. Yours may differ.

Sometimes I try to imagine kids of today doing half the things we did. First, would they even be allowed, second could they be pried away from the internet and video games. Not all but some.

Case in point, we were fans of the Canadian show, The Forest Rangers. Of course we acted out what the kids did on that show, or tried to. Picture this, age 8 or 9, you ask your mother to wake you early in the morning – in the summer – no school! Why? Because you and your gang are planning a trip to the woods to work on an old log cabin and you needed her to pack you a lunch.

We made our plans the day before and that each one of us would bring a specific tool required for work on said camp. I was in charge of the hammer, Chris, the saw, Darren, the axe, Dennis with some wood. My younger brother of two years Dwayne would also tag along and bring the nails. Chris’s dog Chopper would also be joining us, as he was always around and free to roam the neighborhood.

With backpacks filled with tools, lunches, water canteens and jack knives (Swiss Army ones, perhaps), off we would go across the street and thru the field following a well worn path that lead to an area of trees we called the “Jungle”. But today we are going past this area. We would need to climb up the embankment to the railway tracks that would lead us to our adventure of the day.

The reflection of the sun beaming from the rails added to the summer heat. It was so hot that a haze would rise from the tracks distorting your view like a mirage. The smell of creosote from the railway ties along with the clicking sounds of grasshoppers, which seem to everywhere along the tracks, would add to the atmosphere that stays with me to this day.

The walk along the tracks would not be long until we would make a detour to the ‘ Y”. This is a section of rail tracks that is shaped as; you guessed it the letter Y, used in the early days when a train engine would change directions. Having never been used in years, this section of track was rusty, so no sun beams to make it hotter. Grass and large weeds have grown up all over and we would often come here to catch Gardner and grass snakes, but not today, we must go beyond. This meant climbing a high cliff at the end of the Y. Once at the top, we made our way along a tree line that separated a large field. To get to this field, we would have to navigate thru the trees and over an old barbed wire fence, which no doubt left some scratches or cuts. But we are rangers and must take any punishment along the way and keep treading.

Having never been past the Y before, reaching the field on the other side of the tree line was very exciting. Another world. This new world would be Park’s Field, owned by the same people who ran and still do a popular ice cream stand on the King George Highway. One of us, I am not sure who, knew how to get to the cabin, and as I was told was built by our older brothers and now left to us.

Here we are, walking along another path that followed the tree line and I am being told to keep an eye out for foxes, weasels, rabbits and maybe… bear. Bears?! I thought, ok I am not walking last in line, let my younger brother be eaten I don’t care, he can be last. But they said not to worry, Chopper is with us and can fight any animal off. That eased my frightened mind somewhat. But we never did see any bears, or any other wild life for that matter expect for a few crows and blue jays. So we would not get lost in the woods, we knew to mark the trees by scaling the bark with a knife. The path seemed to take forever, but we finally reached its end and onto an old road. Not really a road per say, as it was made with years of truck tire tracks that lead to The Beaver Dam. That is a story for another time.

We did not walk too long on the road until I heard, “right here” being shouted by whoever was up at the front. At this point we would have to make our way thru the thick forest of trees of all kinds to the cabin. After a few more scratches from getting whipped by tree branches, adding to the ones of the barbed wire fence at Park’s field, we could now see a clearing up ahead. “Are we here”? I thought with excitement. Yes, we were.

And there it was, a small cabin made out of logs no bigger round than my arms. Laying down our back packs, we all entered the opening (no door) that lead inside. With large smiles and exhausted wows, we sat and marveled at the sight, and smells that surrounded us. But we had much to do, the cabin needed repairs and that is why we were here. Someone made a camp fire (imagine that for a moment), and each of us had a job to do, either cutting down small trees, gathering twigs or collecting moss. The moss would be jammed between the logs for insulation. So while some of us were doing that, another would be hammering nails into the small pieces of wood on the flat roof.

After much work, it was time to eat our packed lunches. And how we knew it was lunch time was the sound of a horn blowing from the pulp mill located at the other end of town. The horn we knew would blow at noon every day, and that the sound carried all over the town. Once lunch was over it was back to work until it was decided we had better head back home. We had to put the fire out before leaving – you will have to use your imagination as to how young boys put out a fire. Exactly.

The walk back did not seem as long as getting there, but I will treasure this memory forever. We all did eventually join boy scouts clubs, some until our teens and we made other trips to our “playground” of fields and forest close to home. I don’t remember if we ever went back to the cabin, but I know as we got a couple of years older, we were finally allowed to go further down the old road on a new adventure, to the Beaver Dam.

Brendon Sturgeon is writer, musician, and a life-long Miramichi resident. He grew up on Sweeney Lane in Newcastle during the 1970’s, and spent his boyhood exploring the outdoors through adventures that turned into life lessons and cherished memories. He has written short stories about his childhood, and is currently working on his first full-length fiction novel. Brendon is also an amateur photographer and musician.

This article was first featured in the 2020 Winter Issue of Giv’er Miramichi Magazine.

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