foray into journaling was tentative and tardy. I have no excuse
for not keeping a journal in my early life, for pen and paper
were easily accessible, and although my writing skills were minimal
and I was busy with tasks of hand, I could have made an effort.
Likewise, when I first went to university I had many experiences
which would be a pleasure and a pain to recall, although having
them committed to paper would arouse some interest, at least on
I was to take up the brutal story of "Killing Around the Farm,"
in which I described the horrid mix of feelings associated with
being a foster kid and also the reluctant executioner of farm
cats with scarcely less volition than me.
Only the barest
ideas of writing had entered my head when I was first overseas,
when I spent the summer of 1991 teaching in the Cook Islands and
travelling in Fiji. I relied on the many letters I wrote to my
then girlfriend to keep track of my scattered mind, but she quickly
lost that record and I have only the fuzziness of my remembrances.
I record that venture here, as much as that is possible, by looking
back over the years to my Circumnavigation
of the island of "Manihiki"
and a brief anecdote about a ghost.
I collapsed my experience of Argentina in the winter of 2002-2003
into a brief piece about the port city Mar de Plata. There I explained
the significance of two quite discrete events, and tried to make
sense of them in reference to what I called an Argentinean sensibility.
My first real
exploration of the possibilities of record keeping came when I
built the Whimsey. That, I guessed, was an experience I was unlikely
to do again, so I supplemented the photographic record of the
construction with a log book, in which I itemized the trivia of
shipboard life. True to the chronicles it was meant to emulate,
the Whimsey log, in its three incarnations over different summers,
details the wind speed and direction, the temperature, and anchorages,
as well as my thoughts and feelings. These logs are collected
in Life on the Water.
happy with the logbook, I decided to keep a record of my canoe
trip down the St. John river in New Brunswick in August of 2004.
On New Brunswick day, August third, I dropped my canoe into the
swiftly moving stream as it enters the province. In the following
three weeks I dutifully wrote in my diary each night (which eventually
found a home in Life
on the Water)
often by flashlight, in an effort to pin down a narrative on a
stream that was by times swift and boisterous, and at others calm
My next trip
journal is the voluminous How
to get to Bangkok, my daily journal of my travels to Thailand,
Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar. Like the travel
guides so many backpackers read on the river while floating through
the beautiful scenery of the Mekong river, my journal chronicles
prices, border problems, infrastructure and conversations with
other travellers. As well, that diary explains the vicissitudes
of travelling with others, and the joy of meeting many locals
along the way.
I went back
to Thailand and recorded that return with Going
Back to Bangkok, which I wrote as I traveled with my girlfriend
around South East Asia in 2011. It can be viewed as the second
part to my earlier Thai journal, since we go to some of the same
places although both Thailand and I had changed in the five years
since I'd been there.
Days of Harry the Honda" records the various adventures of
the car I bought with Jonothan in 1993. I drove Harry across Canada
more than thirty-five times, and then finally betrayed him to
the junkers in 2004. In this retrospective overview, I have tried
to offer a justification to those many people who had come on
trips in Harry, to explain why they would never again see the
dirt roads of rural Canada through his windows.
When I bought
land in the fall of 2007, I decided that I would record the early
days of construction, as I slept in my car, woke too frozen to
eat, and worked through the day building a shelter. The
Wish to Live Deliberately Building a Cabin and its Consequences
give voice to what otherwise was back-breaking labour, hauling
over two tons of materials a kilometre into the woods so that
I might begin the easier task, by comparison, of building a cabin.
This record of the day's accomplishments contains more detail
than interpretation, although the petty frustrations of faulty
equipment, uncooperative weather, and colourful local people add
to what otherwise might be a grocery list of labour.