We had been driving for hours. Endless twisted pines, craggy rocks and sapphire lakes as we wound our way through northern Ontario, until finally we were within about a half hour of the Sleeping Giant, our destination for the night. A small liquor store came into view, and we pulled off into the dusty parking lot to pick up something to drink by the fire later that night.
We were three days into the first adventure we had taken together, and had settled into a rhythm, settled into being renegades, the open road ahead of us, a cab full of gear behind us. Our parents were both thrilled and shocked that we had taken on this journey together, curious of the outcome. We got along fine, now that we were older, but we were two very different people. He was a homebody. I was a gypsy. We had never spent so much time together before, as we were now, but several years of travelling abroad had created an ache within me to see the rest of my own country, and to make memories with my family to balance all the solo adventures I had boldly set out on. As we blazed westward at highway speed, the stresses of life after summer were pulled out the windows along with the smoke from my brother’s cigarettes. Somehow we never ran out of things to talk about. We told stories, we told jokes, we sang songs.
The old wooden screen door banged behind us as we stepped into the quiet shop. An older woman shuffled up to the front counter and greeted us. Hello, we both said as we perused the shelves. The woman chatted to us from behind the counter as we browsed, her voice following us up and down the two or three aisles, asking where we were from, where we were heading. To the park, we told her. We’re driving across the country. We placed our purchases on the counter. The woman had one strange eye, which she squinted as if trying to keep it from falling out of her head.
To the Sleeping Giant? she asked.
Do you have your firewood yet? she said in an almost warning tone. We looked at each other, slightly confused.
We usually just buy a bundle at whatever park when we’re at.
She leaned towards us slightly, as if to tell us something in strict confidence. Well, you sure are lucky you stopped in here. Her strange eye narrowed even more. I happen to know they are out of firewood at the park. Won’t have another load until Friday. I’ve got some here, five dollars a bundle. She slapped her palm on the counter as a punctuation mark to this revelation she was imparting on us.
Oh, we said, turning to each other once again. I guess we’d better grab some then.
I’m just happy I could save you some time, she said as she tapped away on the ancient cash register. It’s a long drive back out once you’ve reached the park. About thirty kilometres. Not worth coming back for. Not worth it at all. Not much would make you want to turn back after driving as far as you have. This way you can have yourselves a nice fire tonight!
Thank you, we said, paying her and heading out to the woodshed she had directed us to to grab our wood, the smell of campfire already filling our noses, fingers itching to strum the ukulele while sipping tea and listening to the waves of the great lakes.
Enjoy your trip, she said with a wink, as she began shuffling towards the back of the shop once again, where a television was humming through a doorway.
We were relieved when we finally rolled into the park, and anxious to set up camp and stretch our legs. We had been on the road too long, and needed a rest from the thrum of the highway. Nick waited in the truck while I dashed into the little office to pick up our site pass. Usually I did the talking. He didn’t much like talking to strangers.
There was a bit of a line, campers all flooding to Ontario parks to enjoy the weather and the freedom of summer. I felt at once a part of the collective Canadian consciousness, the one that tastes like beer and smells like campfire and seaweed, which I had been away from for so long, exploring foreign soils. When it was my turn, I gave our information, picked up our pass, and asked where I could get ice for our cooler. It’s in the shed, just around the corner.
I jogged back to the truck, put our pass on the dash and asked Nick to come help me grab a few bags of ice. He switched the truck off and hopped out, following me to the shed. There were two doors, one of which was open with an ice cooler inside. We loaded up with a few bags, and were about to turn to leave when a gust of wind caught the second door. It blew open with a dramatic creak, revealing floor to ceiling piles of firewood, with a little wooden sign.
FIRE WOOD $4 A BUNDLE.
We turned to one another, speechless for a moment before his eyes narrowed and he said, We’ve been bamboozled….