The whale trail, part II

The Jackman Trading Post signals you have arrived in town. This is redneck heaven. The Post has the usual tourist paraphernalia—with a grandson, I’m addicted to stuff like this – fake moose ears and the like. It possesses a Down East flea market air. Not long ago, you could still buy cassette tapes there—Roy Orbison’s greatest hits was one I think I picked up. I also recall a time when the trading post had two outhouses stacked one on top of the other. The top outhouse was labeled “Conservatives” and the one below it, “Liberals.” It hasn’t been there for some time—my local guide, the ancient Stinger, claimed the owners might have sold it.

Stinger comes from Hyde Park, but is an unofficial Jackman-nite. He’s been roving its woods perennially, gun in hand, with the regularity of Elmer Fudd pursuing Bugs Bunny, for four or so decades. He recalls the days when the region was full of woods, and the woods were full of moose and bear and deer, and the town was full of hunters and sight seers. The hunters also pursued the women of the region in the smattering of bars in town. From the 1960s people traveled freely over the border to Quebec—till the border patrol became serious in 2001. It was a hub of excitement for hunting, skimobiles (not my favorite past time), and fishing.

It’s more of a ghost town, now, however. The town once had a theater—but that went under years ago. The historical society even had the playbill for the night “Rocky” played. Now people rent DVDs from the local general markets. Jackman is a slowly dying town depending on outsiders to keep it propped up, the tourists especially.

Other outsiders include the lumber concerns. Jackman is perhaps not so much a town with a lumber company as a lumber company with a town. Jackman may have been the inspiration for the mythical village of “St. Cloud” in John Erving’s  quirky engaging Down East novel“The Cider House Rules.” Like the rest of America, the lumber companies have largely killed off the best hunting by destroying the native forests of their hardwood. Instead, they planted pine. The past few years the moose and deer are largely gone. Despite this, the locals will talk about how the demand for wood products is down….The old joke, that the food in this joint is both bad, and it’s in such small portions….All day long, the lumber trucks rumble through town on their to and from Quebec.

I The bartenders all work where they drink and everyone will tell  you they all have two or three jobs. Some left the city life for this.They are a direct bunch, a tad crude, and even the middle aged women swear like crude truck drivers with hangovers. This is life at the top of America – desperate, sad, slipping. The white haired intellectual looking owner of the Jackman Hotel—the core bar in town – can only console himself: “We never enjoyed the boom, so we didn’t get the bust and so it’s the same,” he says.

I like to shoot pool, and although both tables and sticks in the Jackman Motel bar are crookeder than Dick Cheney’s smile, it’s fine to to do so there. The Down East accent is super thick—molasses dense, and sounds like a stage affectation. If I make a good shot and miss, the locals will sagely declare: “Gud awffah” – that is, “Good offer.”

The drinking here, like life itself ,is hard. I was here for New Year’s Eve 2010. When the motel closed I wanted to walk to the lake  in center of town, the light was so bright, mysterious and lovely. I thought I’d hike on the ice – I’d been cross-country skiing in excellent virgin powder. However, walking down an abandoned boat ramp slicked with ice,  I slipped and struck my head so hard I nearly passed out. That would have made me a statistic. Luckily, it just hurt, and I made my way back to the motel to tell the tale. Jackman is what America used to be—and it is, I think what America is going to be. No particular future, nowhere to go, a bunch of part-time jobs and some friends to while away the time.

But enough of Jackman. It’s a way point for this trip. So, Ed, the adventure partner and I are up early on Sunday, feeling the excitement as we start up the Corolla to head to Canada and that other world.

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