A traumatized young man steps away from his protective family and embarks on a transformative two-month stint as a tree planter in Northern Ontario. There he seeks comfort and healing in new friends, a mix-tape and letters to his dead brother.
After experiencing one season as a tree planter in Northern Ontario, Ross Breithaupt was a middle school teacher in suburban Toronto for twenty-two years. He has since spent his time writing his debut novel, Midland, as well as a series of essays for the Globe and Mail. He lives in Toronto.
There's a rhythm inside things. Everything. Let's start with that.
I don't mean the rhythm to things, their seasons, as in that sad old Byrds song that you used to sing. Or the rhythm of things, like Dad launching a curling rock. That's not it either. I'm talking about the rhythm inside things.
Like inside my running, say, when my pace and breathing combine for a firm eighty-two beats per minute. That's always my target.
Or listen! Right now, all along the seams of my pup tent and across the perfect square of screen and dusk in my ceiling window, a vibration. Blackflies! Thousands of blackflies, or probably millions, humming with one purpose and one steady pulse. Their purpose, their crazed mission, is to get in here and taste my warm mammal blood. Their pulse is also, by chance, eighty-two beats per minute.
That is the rhythm inside a million blackflies.
I have another good reference point for eighty-two beats per minute-another song you used to sing. 'Ain't No Sunshine (When She's Gone)' by Bill Withers. Remember? You were really good at the break in the middle of the song-the part where old Bill loses his marbles and sings that he knows, he knows, he knows over and over. Just those two words, twenty-six times in total and then back around to the sad conclusion, made even sadder somehow when he reaches the end of his tirade and comes, once again, to the realization that the titular 'she' took the sunshine with her when she left.
You muted the guitar strings and kept your eyes closed through that whole business because this is the part that freed you inside. That's what you told me. That's why I made it the first song on VOYAGER 1.
Thing is Mike, hard as it is to believe, I'm older now than you were then, and I know there's more to it. Maybe you thought you'd lose the groove, the freedom. The way you lost Trudy. That sad repetition, that circular Bill Withers groove, laid-back and unrelenting. That's why you kept your eyes closed, is my theory. Because you have to feel it-it's not just naming the tempo. I know because I'm a bass player now. My eyes are closed most of the time.
But still, I have to write this. I have to find the words, to sort all this out. I have to open my eyes and look at it.