Monday, February 15, 2016

There’s no friend like a Good Stick by Gerry Warner

Bull River Rumble
NOTE: Thanks to Gerry Warner for agreeing to launch the "Good Stick" stories. If you would like to participate, please email me at mj.morris@live.ca with Good stick in the subject line. MJM

By Gerry Warner

My “good stick,” which I’ve carried faithfully for almost 40 years, started as a birch sapling growing on the banks of Carpenter Creek near the ghost town of Sandon in the West Kootenay. Its bark was red like cherry wood because birch trees don’t develop their distinctive, peeling white color until they get a bit older than my wooden companion which was probably only a few years old when I cut it.

It was a handsome stick, unlike its owner, and I did some carving on it to give it a square grip, which made it even more distinctive something like its bearded owner. Now this was back in the mid-1970’s when few hikers carried sticks or even poles like so many do today. So I was a bit ahead of the curve in those days unlike today when you see hikers and walkers that seldom stray from sidewalks shuffling along—not with a beaten up, old, organic stick – but but with a gleaming, set of space-age, titanium or steel poles in case they get blown over by a summer breeze or a butterfly lands on their shoulder causing them to fall down and break a leg.

But I digress.

No, I’m not kidding about the age of my stick. I’ve probably had it more than 40 years and it’s showing its age. Most of the gleaming, scarlet – it really was scarlet – bark has long since peeled off even though I used to wax and varnish it on occasion. A short section also splintered off the lower end of the old birch wood stick and the wood left now is a dirty gray color far from the translucent red. But oh, the places we’ve been.

I carried and leaned on that stick for more than 200 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, starting in Manning Park and going as far as Snoqualmie Pass in the Washington Cascades. I still dream of taking it, or it taking, me, all the way to the end of the Crest Trail in Mexico, but that will probably remain a dream. On another occasion, I used my trusty, old stick as a mast to hold a sail as I canoed down Lake Laberge on my way down the Yukon River to Dawson City. It shortened that long northern trip by at least a day.
Moyie Falls

Oddly enough. I didn’t take it with me when I walked the 400 miles or so along the El Camino Santiago in Spain because I was afraid its trail-worn character wouldmake it a likely target for a thief or it might have ended up as lost plane baggage on the trip over and back. Nor did I use it when I hiked into Everest Base Camp for largely the same reasons.

But I’ve hauled it almost to the top of Mt. Fisher several times, but abandoned it temporarily when I reached the exposed section of the peak where I needed both hands more than my faithful stick. And yes, I always hide it under the boulders and crevices of the saddle because it has been with me for so long I get more paranoid about somebody stealing it every year. And don’t knock paranoia. It gets worse with old age.
Summit Over Kindersley Pass

As I reflect back on the history of my “Old Stick,” I can’t help but wonder, who’s going to be around the longest? Tempered by all those hiking trips and being banged around from hither to yon. that stick, if anything, is stronger than it was when I rudely cut it down in the leafy, wilds of Carpenter Creek. As for me, I’m doing pretty good for a septuagenarian, a new septuagenarian I might add. But I’m not kidding myself. You only get so many years on this mortal coil. The flesh, if not the soul, is growing weaker and my day of reckoning is coming.

And you know something? If that damn stick outlasts me, I’ve just decided to change my will.
I want to be buried with that old hunk of Kootenay wood.

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