Winter loomed. Camp was shutting down. I had to go. No one wanted to pay me to look after the bunkhouse trailers, the wash-house and the D-8 generator over the cold season. I hitched a ride into Terrace with all my gear, spent a night in the Lakelse Hotel and considered next moves. I’d learned my lesson about going home. Home was a lie people believed the way they believed in Christmas. Nice idea but always disappointing. So, no hurry. I’d take my time. A month earlier, I’d met a fisheries worker who came up to check on the Meziadin Fishway. Quiet guy, bit of a hippy. We hit it off. He told me to look him up in Prince Rupert if I was ever passing through. His name was John. This was 1972. Those days I scribbled phone numbers and addresses into a journal I kept, which is where I put his. I had no notion I’d ever take him up on the offer. There was a new ferry to Kelsey Bay on Vancouver Island, an alternative to hitching south and the long gaps between lifts.I could also fly direct to Victoria, but the ferry was cheaper and slower, and I’d just spent the summer stuffing my bank account. I wasn’t keen to start emptying it. By 10:00 AM I was hefting my pack along the shoulder of the Yellowhead, thumb out, curious about who might pick me up. The road to Rupert was only ninety miles. I was there by noon. A young guy in a Valiant took me all the way and dropped me off by the water. I grabbed a cup of tea in a café that had a payphone, counted my lucky stars when John answered after the first ring. We agreed to meet by the government wharf at 3:00. He worked in town, but lived somewhere else, somewhere only a boat could get to. He turned up and led me to an aluminum Springbok with an Evinrude three-horse on the transom. I loaded my pack in the bow.We didn’t say much beyond “hello” and “thanks,” and within minutes we were heading across the water to a place he called Salt Lake. I’m an outgoing person. I like to talk. But I’m not averse to silence. I’ve learned to use it like a tool when I need to get answers. Better to shut up and listen than badger someone with questions or my own brilliant insights. But I don’t believe I was prepared for what I was getting into with John. Conversation was not something he did. John headed down a small inlet directly across the harbour and pulled up on the far shore in front of a house that stood above the beach, its seaward side supported on piles strengthened by cross beams and steel bolts. It was no shack, but it had been battling the elements for some time. The white lap siding had peeled in places and a wall of windows that lined the sun porch looking out over the water was more salt residue than glass. John and I dragged the boat above the high water mark, and he tied its painter to a stump. A flight of earthen stairs led up the bank to the house. Furniture was bare bones. The kitchen was the largest room. It held the airtight wood stove that was still going strong when we arrived. We were into October, and the weather turns cold quickly that far north. I was glad of the heat after the ride across. Light was starting to fade. John gestured to a mattress in an alcove off the kitchen. “Perfect,” I said. I unrolled my sleeping bag and spread it out. “Can I help with dinner.” “No,” John said. I told him I was a vegetarian, been cooking for myself for some time. “Camp was a nightmare,” I said.“Cookie put out a spread of meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate a lot of potatoes and canned corn.” John said nothing. Most people have radar when it comes to picking up on anger. Mine was better than most. My old man’s default setting was rage while I was living at home. But I didn’t sense resentment or impatience in John, so I started telling him about the survey crew, characters I’d worked with, my alcoholic boss, the young kid and his withered arm. I told him about my time in Stewart and Hyder, the serious hooch that bars sold there. I told him about the gas station girl who cut my hair so I could get the job. Nothing. Not a word. I talked anyway. About home, plans for school, girlfriends. I talked about books I’d read, movies I’d seen. I talked about hitchhiking, the month I’d spent in Ireland, the rock festival north of Toronto where I’d seen Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, The Youngbloods. I talked about mescaline and LSD. Silence. Hearing my voice unanswered drew my attention to something I’d never realized before: nothing I said needed answering. Facts, statements, opinions, declarations, descriptions, none of them needed comment, so John didn’t offer any. So I’d been in Ireland. So I was going to study languages at university. Most people pick up the ball and pass it back. John didn’t. He put out a couple of bowls and filled them with brown rice. There was soy sauce, a plate of steamed broccoli. We ate until we were full and then I washed our dishes in silence. I tried a few more times to set up a back-and-forth. No results. Unless it was something practical like “Where does this spoon go?” or “Does the fire need wood?” or “Is there an extra blanket,” John didn’t contribute. In the morning, he was up early. I heard him chanting in the sunroom, some kind of Buddhist discipline maybe. I was guessing. When I cast a glance his way, I could see he was naked. The fire was out. The house was cold. I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and powered up my own mantra. Meditation is like a filter. It separates the necessary from the frivolous. You start with all kinds of thoughts and end up with the basics. You need to pee. You have to eat. Living with John was a lot like meditating. A couple of days passed. I chopped wood. I fed the fire. I walked along the beach. I meditated and read my books. I ate the food John prepared. Once or twice I tried trotting out my past again, but I had become conscious of my voice, of the reason I spoke, which was to talk about myself. I gradually stopped. If I asked a question, I got an answer. One day, John untied the boat and pushed it into the water. “Let’s go,” he said, and indicated for me to sit. I felt like an acolyte, a disciple. Richard Alpert speaks of shedding his chatty western ego under the instruction of Neem Karoli Baba. I’d heard his UBC lecture from 1969 about the time he spent with this guru. My experience was not dissimilar. I sat and watched. We hugged the shore heading up the channel until we came to another long inlet. After a half hour, John slowed the outboard, then cut the engine entirely. We drifted towards a stream that emptied into the inlet under a canopy of fir and cedar. John put one oar in the water and quietly pushed us closer. Under the trees and along the banks of the stream I made out a half dozen black bears. They blended in with the shade, and it took me a while to see what they were doing. They were fishing. Every few moments one of them would lunge with a paw or snap at something with his mouth, and then I’d see a flash of silver, a salmon hauled out of the water and up onto land. The bears were so intent on the hunt, they paid no attention to us. John paddled closer and closer. We must have spent a couple of hours watching them. More came down, some young ones, too. There were lots of missed fish, a few pratfalls, but by the time we left, the bears had caught more than their limit. We said nothing about the trip on our return. There was nothing to say. We had seen what we saw. It was enough to have seen it. The next day, I told John I would be leaving. There were things I needed to do in Victoria. He handed me two dollars and asked me to buy him a package of the incense he liked to burn. I don’t remember the trip back to Rupert or how I got to the ferry. Some things disappear forever. The Queen of Prince Rupert had been sailing the Inside Passage for only a few years by the time I stood on its decks. The wealthier passengers rented cabins for the twenty hours it took to reach Kelsey Bay. I chose to stand. It was a clear moonlit sky, and a few of us gathered in our sleeping bags on the foredeck to watch the coast slide along. We ate pistachio ice-cream from the cafeteria and dropped our teabags into free cups of hot water. By the time we landed, I’d been offered a ride by some freaks in a converted school bus who were heading to what would become The Renaissance Faire in a couple of years. We pulled into Courtenay a couple hours later and parked. I grabbed my pack. There was music, lots of dust and many children. I hitched the rest of the way down island. My parents had no idea I was in town. Nobody did. I walked to the house of a couple of friends in James Bay. They put me up for the night, offered me a window seat shrouded by curtains. For a while I lay there in my clothes looking up at the clouds, the moon and the city lights. There’s no real way to describe my happiness then. John’s two-dollar bill was still tucked in my pocket. To this day, I owe him.