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Did you know you can disappear into a million-dollar Tom Thomson painting steeped in Canadiana, our history, and rugged beauty? Escape the threatening snow moats that bury your front steps and lay one hand down into pleasant, cool lake water from your perfectly balanced canoe, just like that? It is possible to teleport from a far-away country with an impossibly different climate, crossing time zones and the intangible barriers that even the same words in the same language carry across those miles, and land on a precise, elegant metaphor, as easily as pressing play on a virtual button in an a digital realm and know all there is to know about us Canadians?  Its magic is contained in our great literature, and its contained in our great music:

I traced my finger along your trails
And your body was the map, I was lost in it

Floating over your rocky spine
The glaciers made you and now you’re mine
Floating over your rocky spine
The glaciers made you and now you’re mine

Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine”


To know these things is to know that Canada still, always, holds a significant wildness in our vast, largely untouched landscapes, in our geography, and in our souls.

The boldest, or least rooted, jump on a motorcycle or a train or a plane and go to one or the other of the coasts, with no confirmed return and a vague notion to put down roots in what may be fertile or may be an impenetrable rocky surface.

The rootless feel the expanse of our wild country most of all as they keep moving:

“My feet don’t just bark, they roar” – Mark Martyre

The rootless keep harnessing various forms of travel, with the spirit of adventure a necessary part of both forward motion and loss – you can read  Martyre’s  “ I threw off the bowlines” multiple ways.

The uneasy see-saw of the trade off between expensive, big city life and the idyllic boredom of the country makes natural, though silly, enemies of many, when the truth is that both worlds enrich us all in vastly different ways and are part of the bitterly impossible goal of “balance”.

Great poets know the struggle to create art and make sense of history while moving forwad across so many landscapes, Martyre  cautions in a spoken word poem “don’t get too attached” all the while, the writer by nature is (too) attached, to a view, to a desk, to a home that might have been fleeting, to a garden that was never ours to cultivate or see the seasons of. Writers are attached to the meaning of the memory they long to forget, and the act of writing it down gives memory a manageable framework and fixes it in time. This act of writing is complex, as it also lends events, emotions and attachments a permanence and a public type of attachment that is nothing less than brave.

Canada, and Canadianness is rugged and wild. It has one foot, always in the now desolate, now peaceful forest floor, one hand reaching for a train that disappears forever from our view carrying our one true love on it, who can never return to us for the temporal shifts of the solo journey are real and not sci-fi.

To feel Canadian is to know this big land is unknowable and to keep trying. To smile at a stranger in a place like Toronto and hope it will be taken as friendly and not as hostility, for Toronto thrives on being difficult to read.

Southern Ontario kids have spent their lives peeking over the border and wondering if there are really any deals to be had in those outlets, through all that rigamarole and if the gas is worth it. We knew way too much about fires in upstate New York and longed to go to Darien Lake not understanding that our TV was not local and had no bearing on whatever was the news here, or what theme parks our dads were willing to drive to, or that this map for them stopped at that invisible border.  We know most of our great artists and actors blended in, lost the “eh?” and ripped up their passports to be accepted.  Yet, we’ve learned that there is another way, that those that stay and claim Canadianness in their heart and in their art transcend borders, barren spaces, and regionality, becoming one with the land.

Mark Martyre’s third album, Red Letters,  is available HERE

Great Lake Swimmers sixth album, A Forest of Arms, will be released on April 21 2015

More information on the album and tour are available HERE

Photo: Mark Martyre's Facebook page/ Mystery Man Photography
Photo: Mark Martyre’s Facebook page/ Mystery Man Photography

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