Final Reflection On My Adventures To The Canadian Maritimes
|Der Kosmonaut in full gear at Antigonish, Nova Scotia August 2016|
By Der Kosmonaut
It's been more than a month and half since I ended my adventure in the Canadian Maritimes. It's not been an easy return to "civilization". The world has changed since I embarked on the adventure. In the space of 5 months the UK exited the EU and Donald Trump won the presidency. While I watched these developments from the Nova Scotian bush, I couldn't quite grasp the extent of the profound political and social changes. Western civilization has collapsed during my absence.
40 Days In The Wilderness
What made my adventure unlike any other was spending 40 days in the wilderness living out of my tent. I had never done that before. In my 44 years of existence, the most that I ever spent in nature was 4 weeks. In my adolescent years I went on a few sleep away camps in the countryside north of New York and on Martha's Vineyard. However, those trips were barely outside of civilization. We had cooked meals, hot showers, electricity, etc. In 1994 I had my first American adventure in the Southwest but that was barely two weeks. I spent nearly 3 weeks at the European Rainbow Gathering on my first ever visit to Serbia. What made this different from the Rainbow Gathering was my near absolute isolation. The Euro Rainbow comprised of no less than 3,000 people gathering together. By contrast, I spent 40 days in the wilderness alone with no money and very little food. My contact with others was limited to going to the nearest town for my morning coffee and the public library to connect to the internet. In essence I had no practical experience traveling in the wilderness alone. Apart from all of my life possessions, I only had a map of Nova Scotia. I didn't even have a compass.
Louisbourg, Digby Neck and the Eastern Shore were as far away from civilization I had ventured since going to Eastern Serbia back in 2008. I was all alone and forced to confront myself, my thoughts and demons. Most importantly I had to confront Nature and her elements. I hiked no less than 1,000KM on remote rural roads and unpaved trails. In the second week of July I had to deal with winter conditions in Cape Breton. I had to deal with the rain, cold and the heat. Then there were the insects. Nature kicked my ass. Nature doesn't care how intelligent you are. It doesn't care how much knowledge one possesses. It doesn't care how many cities or countries that you have visited. It doesn't care how cultured you are. I realized that within the realm of the natural universe I was less than a minuscule particle. I am not even 1/16 of a particle of matter. There are never ending dangers presented by nature. I had to contend with bogs and quicksand. Most dangerous were the rouge waves that pound the shores of Nova Scotia. Poseidon is ruthless and he is keen to reach ashore and grab some unsuspecting human down to the depths of death.
I was carrying no less than 45KG (100 pounds) of weight on my shoulders and back. I reached many indelible conclusions:
-I am physically strong. Not only did I spent 40 days carrying 100 pounds of weight on my shoulders but did so hiking 1,000KM in the cold, in the heat and during rain storms.
-I am mentally strong. In addition to the physical stress of the adventure, I had to deal with immense psychological stresses. I can spend time alone with myself and absolute isolation from other people. The stresses of not having money, food, friends added to the toll. The hours which amounted to days on the remote roads waiting for lifts in all the weather elements gets hard on the head.
-I further standout from all of my friends and associates. I honestly don't know one person throughout the world who could've or would've endured what I have. Since most of my associates are artists and intellectuals from the metropolitan centres, none of them have ever spent weeks in Nature without provisions. Many of them have cottages in the countryside equipped with running water and electricity. I challenge everyone to follow in my footprints by carrying 100 pounds on their back and shoulders with no money living out of a tent and hiking 1000KM. I would estimate that no more than 5% of my friends would be able to endure. That's a very generous estimate. Should civilization collapse tomorrow, I remain extremely skeptical if most people could survive. My chances of survival are much higher than anyone else that I know.
RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH REDNECKS
|Der Kosmonaut with Ashleigh McFadden of Amherst, NS in Moncton, NB|
Though I should've known better, I had no idea that the Canadian Maritimes is the most redneck part of mainland Canada. I had always assumed that Alberta and British Columbia were the redneck regions. I quickly discovered the unsavory sides of Canadian racism and provincialism in Cape Breton. However, I was in for pleasant surprises at Digby Neck. Digby Neck is a peninsula off the Western coast of Nova Scotia where the Bay of Fundy meets The Gulf of Maine. Like all of my destinations in Nova Scotia, I picked up just by its location on the map. Digby Neck is shaped like the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens New York City. Digby Neck is very similar to Long Island New York and the barrier reefs on the South Shore. Digby Neck consists of the peninsula connected to the mainland and stretches southwest into the Gulf of Maine in two separate islands including one named Long Island and Brier Island. Like most of my experiences in Nova Scotia, it was a case of arriving at the right place at the right time. In Freeport at the southern end of Long Island, the first ever arts and music festival was held. The art exhibition wasn't as bad as it could be. Indeed, I'd seen lots more bullshit in New York and Berlin than what was on display. The music concert itself wasn't that special. It was mostly country music. I had never heard as much Country Music in my life as in Nova Scotia. This included Halifax.
The music festival was held at a baseball little league field. The stage struck me very much as the one in David Byrne's 1986 film True Stories. Indeed, all the people on Digby Neck reminded me of characters from True Stories which is set in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas. The first act was a Mi;kmag singer and musician. I heard the story about her and the festival. When the organizers invited her to play, she rejected them: "No way am I going to Freeport!. That island is racist!" I don't know how the organizers eventually convinced her to participate but they did. I suspect that the island discussed it and implored the residents to be civil. They wanted the festival to succeed its first year. Eventually they will want to invite more musicians and they will want to have spectators from off the island. I wonder how I would've fared had it not been for the Breaking The Waves festival. In any event, everyone was friendly and respectful. I was quite aware that I was surrounded by reactionary rednecks. Indeed, I would've only spent one or two nights were it not for the festival.
After the final band played the festivities continued at the Royal Canadian Legion. Though I've lived 8 years in Canada, I had never stepped foot inside a Legion Hall in Montreal and Ottawa. Moreover, as I'm neither Canadian nor a military veteran, I had no business going. In Nova Scotia I learnt that Legion Halls are not only community centres but they are the centre of social life. Legion Halls serve food and alcohol and all have stages. Friday and Saturday night is rural Nova Scotia is where all the action is. The festival posters stated that there would be an open mic at the Legion. I arrived and tried to figure out the agenda for the night. I saw two musicians setting up and asked if they knew who was in charge of moderating the open mic. They didn't know. I went to bar kitchen to ask the staff and had the following exchange:
"Excuse me. Who is moderating the open mic?"
"You want to moderate the open mic!?"
"No! No! I'm not the moderator! I'm just asking who's in charge of the open mic."
"You want to be in charge of the open mic!?"
"No! No! I was just wondering how it works. Is there a sign up list? Is there...."
"You want to start the sign up list and be in charge of that?!"
"No! No! I don't want to be in charge of anything. I just want to know how it works."
"Just get on stage and start playing! Here's let find paper and pen so that you can organize the list!"
"No! No! That won't be necessary..." It was too late. The man disappeared into the kitchen.
The two musicians, a man and a woman, asked what music I played. I replied that I'm a Spoken Word performer. Neither knew what that was. The man emerged from the kitchen and handed me a pencil and paper. He asked the same question as the musicians. Like they, he didn't know what Spoken Word was. I explained that it's poetry performed in a theatrical form. The blank expressions on their faces said it all. I abandoned the entire enterprise. Moreover, not only was I the only non-musician, as the Legion Hall filled up, I decided that it would be a waste of time trying to do a Spoken Word set. It was a large space. People were drinking and drunk and socializing quite loudly. How would I be able to get their attention? Would these racist rednecks even be interested in what a Black outsider had to say in the first place?
I took a seat among a middle aged couple from Argyle whom I befriended during the concert that day. The two musicians played their set. It was typical Country Music fare. The barman came over and asked me when I wanted to perform. I was noncommittal. He was keen for me to perform. He went up to the musicians and told them to yield to me. He returned to me and told me that I would be up in five minutes. Oje! Now I was really uncomfortable. I couldn't back out at this point. What was I going to perform? My radical political pieces were obviously not in order. My Rapid Kinetik Elektrik IRT subway style would have also been inappropriate. The IRT 7th Avenue Express obviously doesn't fit in the setting of the Royal Canadian Legion Hall on Digby Neck!
I was called on stage. I've been on as many different stages as one can imagine. From the grand stages of the Manhattan Center, Woodstock '94 and Konzerthaus in Vienna to underground venues in NYC and Berlin. I've also played on provincial stages in rural Serbia. But nothing was as daunting as the Royal Canadian Legion Hall on Digby Neck with an audience of racist rednecks. But Der Kosmonaut has traveled through the Dark Matter of the universe and circumnavigated Black Holes. If he can do that, he can do anything.
On stage I introduced myself and explained how impressed I was with the beauty of Nova Scotia and friendliness of the people. It was mostly filler in order to get people's attention. I began the piece Transition. As I went through the piece the Hall became remarkably quieter. The only noise were from those that were entering and not aware of my performance. The applause was genuine and sincere. Having won over the audience I knew that I could conquer it. I spoke more about Nova Scotia being my favorite part of the world. I then explained how those from Digby Neck were fortunate not to be exposed to what the big cities in civilization had. I performed Posters and Bulletins. That's my bread and butter poem. When in doubt that's my go to piece. It's a hit no matter where I perform it. I decided to step off while I was ahead. Many people came up to talk to me. "You're quite eloquent!" I eventually found myself talking to a group of women. One of them tried to convince me to move to Digby Neck, especially in the wake of Donald Trump's (at that time) improbably victory. She warned me that I would be the only Black on Digby Neck. There was a Koren couple that lived on the island and that would be it as far as persons of color. Then she revealed what her true motivation was. She wanted me and other Americans to move to Digby Neck in order to raise the property values. She was the most capitalistically degenerated person I encountered in The Maritimes. She obviously watched reality tv shows where people buy dumps and then "flip" them. She told me how cheap the property was on Digby Neck. "Just buy it and flip it. It's a no-brainer!" Yikes!
After Digby Neck I went into Digby town. After Sydney I was most uncomfortable there. I eventually found out that Digby county is the most redneck and racist part of Nova Scotia. Since then, I refer to the peninsula as Digby Red Neck. Still, I can't completely dismiss them. They're making a serious effort to grow out of their backwardness and provincialism. I can't complain about them. They welcomed me and actually appreciated my Spoken Word. I was even invited to live there. There's no way that I would do so. Anglo-Saxon provincialism is the deadliest in the world.
When I went to Annapolis Royal on Natal Day, there was a parade. Once again, I was reminded of a scene from True Stories. Parades are quite big events in small town North America. Everyone shows up and many of them bring lawn chairs to sit on the sidewalk along the parade route. I learnt that the reason for the high turnout is that everyone is town knows someone that's in the parade. I understood better why David Byrne was fascinated to document small town North America. There are interesting quirks in abundance when events like parades and music performances take place. I observed the parade with amusement and typical sociological scientific observation. A young man saw me with my backpack and asked if I was traveling. He invited me to stay at his house for the evening.
On my ill-fated mission to Canso on the Eastern Shore, I had to give up the ghost. There wasn't any traffic heading East after Goldboro. Again and again, I was surprised by the hospitality and generosity of the the rednecks of Nova Scotia. One woman saved me countless grief and time. She hailed from Dartmouth across the harbour from Halifax. She in effect rescued me from the dead end of the Eastern Shore and drove me to Antigonish. Not only did she treat me to fish and chips overlooking the Northumberland Strait view Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton in the distance but she even paid for the camp site. She knew that the RCMP had nothing better else to do than pass a shift harassing a Black backpacker camping out in town.
Even in Moncton, I was surrounded by rednecks at the hostels. I honestly can't say whether Acadian rednecks or better or worse than their Anglo-Celtic ones. Yet, there was a sincerity that each redneck had. They liked me. I was obviously an object of exotic fascination for them. There were many things which annoyed me in the extreme about the rednecks. It wasn't only their lack of formal education (I hardly met any that finished or even began high school) but it was their provincial trashiness which made me uncomfortable. This was especially the case in Moncton. I never spent so much personal and intimate space and time with white trash rednecks. This is the stuff of my Upper West Side of Manhattan nightmares. It's bad enough dealing with the Guido outer borough urban hicks of Canarsie and Staten Island. In The Maritimes with their poor taste in music (at best Nova Scotian rednecks like Dire Straits and Supertramp and worship Lady Gaga), their sense of fashion (1988 acid washed jeans), and favorite tv programs and movies (Cops, Prison Reality, Forrest Gump!!!), their absolute ignorance about the outside world and last but not least their social conservatism cramped my style. However, I erred by believing myself to be better or superior to them. Many of the rednecks have a simple yet profound wisdom that's not found in the metropolitan centres. Even their racism, steeped in abject ignorance, had a superficial and not so serious depth to it.
Finding My Dialectical Spiritual Homeland
I knew quite a bit about Nova Scotian history before I had arrived. Most of that history centered around Black people. Until I went there, most of the Nova Scotians that I had met in Montreal were Black. I had long felt a natural affinity for Nova Scotian Blacks that I lacked with those from New York and the USA. What most interested me about the history of Nova Scotia was the aspect of how it was settled by free slaves from the American colonies. Had I been alive in the 1770s, I would have certainly taken up the British offer of emancipation in exchange for loyalty to the British King. There's no way in hell that I would've sided with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. I would've run away from the plantation to New York City. I would've been one of the 2500 Blacks that left New York with the British navy during the final retreat to North America.
Even since Africans were forcibly brought to the shores of North America, their overriding concern was on their freedom from bondage. Even after the abolition of chattel slavery, Blacks have constantly sought emancipation of political and social repression and terror. That is the dialectical existential experience and history of Africans and their descendants in North America. There has always been a cosmic dimension to it as well. After a couple of hundred of centuries, there was no place to return. Africa was removed. There was only one direction to go: North. The cosmic objective for Blacks was North to freedom. During the period of slavery, North meant freedom from physical bondage. In the 20th Century, North meant freedom of economic bondage, social and political terror. The North Star was the guiding light for our hopes, desires and strives for freedom. Black Americans, more than other other social group in North America, have a libertarian essence to our social conscious historical being. Unlike the Africans which were brought to the West Indies who were able to form the majority of the population and lay claim to the land, those in North America were rendered homeless orphans. Outnumbered by 11 to 1 by whites we could never achieve a cultural hegemony as in the West Indies. Despite countless promises of land, we were rendered homeless. Cut off from Africa physically and spiritually and not having any claim to land, we were Americans who were not considered legitimate. North, meaning first the non-slave states without legal segregation and eventually Canada, was the spiritual existential quest.
As in the Northern States, the promise of liberation was dashed in Canada. Though the British promised land to the Black loyalists, they were never given land or were eventually dispossessed of land in Nova Scotia. Though I've experienced quite a bit of racism in Canada, I had always believed that it was less severe than in the USA. That myth was smashed when I went to Nova Scotia. I realized that I had been living all these years in a false sense of security in Canada.
When I arrived at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown for it's one year anniversary, it was a completely new experience for me. Birchtown is the oldest free Black community in the Western hemisphere. It was where the loyalists landed and established themselves after the British retreat from New York. It didn't take more than a few months before Canada's first race riot took place in Birchtown.
Though I was aware of ancestor worship of the pre-colonial African era, I never gave much thought to it. Three years ago I had a reunion with my uncle. He mentioned quite a bit about his spiritual connections and encounters with the ancestors. While fascinated intellectually, I was emotionally disconnected. Yet from the moment that I left Port Mouton to the moment that I arrived in Birchtown, I had encounters with the ancestors.
I walked along an abandoned railway line for 10KM between Shelbourne and Birchtown. It was the most excruciating part of my hikes. First it poured down rain. The trail was barely passable. I had to wade through puddles of muddy water shin deep. The yellow jackets and other insect predators followed me and bit me endlessly. I had gone so far that it was futile to turn back. Then after the downpour stopped, the temperature climbed. Recall that I was hiking under these conditions with 45KG on my back and shoulders. I heard the sound of African percussion in the distance. It seemed to come from the woods immediately to my right on the trail. Then they sounded from the left. It was the sound of the African drums that kept me going. I had to take frequent stops. Each time I was about to quit, the African percussion started again. Eventually the percussion stopped. When I was ready to give up again, I heard an electric bass guitar playing soul and gospel music riffs. I carried on. I came to the end of the trail and nearly dropped. I was in Birchtown and there were many houses. I came upon a house with a white man and his son. He saw my condition and immediately came over with a bottle of water. He gave me a second bottle. He asked if I was on my way to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. I replied in the affirmative and he told me that I wasn't too far.
I had only discovered the Centre by accident when I saw a road sign for it in Shelbourne. When I arrived the events were underway. Later on there was a solemn ceremony to pay homage to the ancestors. There was even an African percussion session. This was followed by a gospel soul concert. I realized that was the percussion and bass that I had heard earlier. An elderly Black woman, a descendant of both Loyalists and slaves invited me to spend the night at her house. She still lived in the same house as her ancestors. She told me that it was the slave quarters of her ancestors. For the first time in my life, I slept in a house for slaves. She gave me two books about the history of the Black Loyalists and others from the 1700s up until the 1980s. I had no idea that Nova Scotia had Jim Crow Segregation as in the deep South. In many respects, social and political conditions were historically worse in Canada than in the USA. Even in the Deep South, Blacks had access to schools and universities. Naturally the Black schools were inferior to the white schools but that's better than nothing. By the turn of the 20th century, there weren't any schools for Blacks in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Many Black Scotians wound up moving to the USA where there were more opportunities.
In Halifax, I learnt the history of Africville and the brutal expulsions in the 1960s to build a suspension bridge. But Birchtown was where I came to understand my identity as a libertarian conscious human in the historical dialectic. I found the land of freedom for my ancestors but we have yet to achieve liberation. I have a historical and cosmic task to continue the fight of liberation not only for Blacks but for all people. But in order to do so, I had to have a materialist base to do so. That base is Nova Scotia being my spiritual homeland as a libertarian conscious human being.
Despite the excessive hardships, the only reason why there wasn't a mass extinction of Blacks in Nova Scotia was the result of whites. Since the 1700s many whites have never been satisfied with the condition of their neighbors. The reason why there wasn't a catastrophic famine was because whites shared food with their neighbors. Many whites went to court to demand jobs and access to schools for their Black neighbors.
I was rather surprised and impressed by the social and political awareness of many whites that I met in Nova Scotia. Canadian whites generally are very skittish on the topic of racism. They will often point to the USA as to declare themselves more enlightened. At best, Canadians will acknowledge the genocidal history of the First Nations. At worst, Canadians will deny that the country treats Blacks with less than equality. I was taken aback when Nova Scotian whites initiated the topic of racism. The depth of their understanding of the political basis of racism was startling.
This leads back to my encounters with the rednecks. I wasn't pleased, to say the least, of hearing the N-word used liberally in my presence. I had to take an Acadian redneck to task when he called me one. Even the ones that I befriended said it to me on several occasions. Most of them immediately apologized as soon as they said it in my presence. Yet they not only accepted me in their circles, they liked and respected me. If I were ever in a dire situation needing food, a warm and dry place to stay or with my life on the line, these very same rednecks would come to my aid. I seriously doubt that I could say the same thing in the rest of North America.
Finally on my second to last day in Nova Scotia, I participated in a Spoken Word event organized by queer youth of color. I was quite impressed with the poetry and spoken word skills of the young Blacks. I met Eluned Jones when she performed Police Brutality Bingo. Another young woman who's mixed with Mi'kmaq and white gave a gut wrenching account of having a cop as a mother. As a child she was intentionally pepper-sprayed by her mother, in order to prepare her for attacks by the police. It was beyond my comprehension. She went on the recount how a Halifax policeman pepper sprayed her while she was in a telephone booth downtown. The featured performer was a young woman of Korean descent from Waterloo-Kitchener Ontario. With the social tensions between Asians and Blacks in the USA, I was quite impressed with her level of consciousness as well as her formidable creative ability.
Nova Scotia is in a process of change. Its history is becoming more known to the inhabitants. Even in Digby Red Neck, they're taking immediate concrete steps to become open and inclusive.
The seven weeks that I spent in Nova Scotia along with twelve weeks in New Brunswick was the greatest adventure of my life. I learnt so much about myself and North America. I've had the most intense and interesting adventures in my world travels but nothing exceeds The Maritimes. Nova Scotia surpassed Serbia as my favorite part of the world. I met the most generous, caring and welcoming people that I've ever encountered. The natural landscape of Nova Scotia is second to none. For 40 days I became one with nature.
It was imperative at this point of my life to get away from the noise and distraction of "civilization". Indeed, I attribute this retreat as the reason that I've maintained not only my sanity but also my intellectual and philosophical integrity. Within a week of returning to Montreal, Donald Trump was elected. I'm still watching with a toxic cocktail of disgust, dismay and disbelief how all of the writers and intellectuals that I've followed for the past decade have aligned themselves behind Trump. Upon my return to civilization, I'm watching the disintegration of Western intellectualism and the death agony of the Enlightenment.
I now face the very uncertain future from a position of strength and integrity. Most importantly, I know who I am as a social historical being. Birchtown was the proverbial "missing link" to that. Finally, it's not only my historical and intellectual knowledge that is unassailable but who I am as a person. I've too long tolerated others undermining or causing me to question not only my sanity but my perception of reality. No one can tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about. This is because no one has my experience and certainly no one living in "civilization" has the wherewithal to survive in the wilderness for 40 days without provisions.
I will continue to write and comment on reality. Undoubtedly, I will find myself more isolated as the masses accommodate themselves to the era of Trump and extreme reaction. Readers will be more vehement in their criticism and opposition to my ideas. As Chuck D of Public Enemy stated: "Bring the noise". Again, spend 40 weeks in the wilderness, discover your spiritual homeland and become aware of your historical social being before calling me an idiot, a brainwashed crackpot and out of touch with reality. Until you have an experience as I have shut the fuck up. Get out of my way or get run over by by the IND 8th Avenue Express traveling at speed.
Adventures of Der Kosmonaut has been around for ten years. This blog will remain one of the few sites online that's neither corporate propaganda or conformist reactionary drivel. I am a starving artist. Please donate to this blog by clicking on the Paypal button on the home page. Thank you.