Out of the Wilderness
i just got back from spending three weeks in what they call “Northern Ontario”. “Nothern Ontario” is a misnomer because i was staying only about an hour and a half up from the US – Canadian border, but the lake i was at is north of Toronto and anything north of Toronto in Canada is called Northern Ontario.
What i can tell you about where i was staying is that it was rustic. There’s no road to get to the cottage; you have to park your car across the lake and take one of our many aluminum fishing boats or our pontoon boat to reach our shore. There’s no electricity. The stove, the refrigerator, the hot water all run off of propane tanks. There’s no television and there is no telephone.
i’ve been going up to this place since i was 6 years old and, as Neil Young so eloquently phrases it in “Helpless“,
There is a town in north Ontario
Dream, comfort, memory, despair
And in my mind I need still need a place to go
All my changes were there
This year saw another one of those changes. It was the first time in 30 years i didn’t spend my day getting slowly drunk on whatever i hadn’t yet finished.
One of the first things i did after arriving in Detroit was to call up Alcoholics Anonymous in Canada and find out where the closest meetings were to my summer place. Turns out there was one in Boonies (pop. 584) on Sundays, Sticks (pop. 1696) on Thursdays and Middle of Nowhere (pop. 1312) on Tuesdays at noon. i had to drive between 30 minutes and an hour to reach these towns but what i found there was well worth the drive.
The meetings were small, sometimes as few as 5 people, and the sobriety they preach there is the backwoods, down to earth, into the dirt mad wilderness variety. They got lumberjacks with missing hands, mentally handicapped volunteers and truckers with stories of passing out in dumpsters for warmth in winter only to wake up and find a chunk of their cheek missing from frostbite. They got stories that will make you glad you are sober.
During the long drive back from these meetings, i got to think about AA. Here i was, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and i could still find 3 meetings a week. i understood how lucky i am to 1) recognize that i’m a drunk and 2) live in a time when i can find a meeting literally anywhere. Imagine if I’d been alive at the beginning of the 1900s, before AA was created: i’d be either dead or in prison (or both).
So i said a little prayer to all those who suffered before the program came about and i said a personal prayer of gratitude that there is a path out of the wilderness and that i was able to find it.