Buddy in the hills

By Ivan Morgan
September 29, 2023 Edition

I first met him 10 or more years ago when one of my dogs flushed him out of some bushes on the trail. My dog was barking up a storm at something in a clump of bushes. A dishevelled character came wading out griping about the dog.

I was all apologies because the dog didn’t normally act like that. I was apologizing, but secretly trusting the dog’s instincts.

He came out onto the trail, and I introduced myself. He told me his name and we shook hands. The dog was no longer barking, and he was patting her head, which put me at ease.

We sat on a log and started talking. He told me he lived in these hills and had for decades.

“How do you get through the winter?”

He said he saved up his income support (“I starved to build up welfare in my account”)  and bought a plane ticket to Vancouver every fall, where the winters were better. That involved walking with his knapsack to our airport and then walking downtown from Vancouver’s. There he’d live on the streets, surviving as best he could, saving up his “welfare” till the spring, when he would return to his camp up here in the hills.

He was a few years older than I, and clearly well educated. He was average height, slim with a grey beard, grey hair, and pale grey blue eyes. He said he earned a degree at MUN in the early 1970s.  

In short, he was a fascinating character and we talked for a while. I thought of him often as I hiked those trails in the following months, but I never saw him.

Maybe a year later I ran into him again on the trail. This time he wasn’t hiding. This time he saw me and came over to talk. I had questions. He told me that years ago he had fallen out with family members and chose to camp out up here. He said he didn’t have much time for them and had lost contact.

At that time, I worked in politics and was often at public political events. I remember being surprised to see him in the ball room of the Hotel Newfoundland (or whatever they are calling it this week) leaning against the wall. The place was packed but I made my way over to him, happy to see him in society. He gave me a wry smile. I asked him what he thought. His opinions of the event, sour as they were, were in lockstep with my own. He clearly wasn’t missing many tricks. Hilarious.

I went to get him some free sandwiches and soda, but when I came back, he was gone. More often than not over the years, he showed up for those events.

A few years later I decided to try and get him a place to stay. I contacted a legendary social worker who specialized in difficult people. We tried but no luck. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. Just getting in touch with him was an obstacle. Try as I might I never found his camp (still haven’t).  I worked out a plan with him where I hid a mason jar under a tree where I park my car, with a note sealed inside. He could then find the jar, read the note, and reply the same. Didn’t really work.

I hadn’t seen him since the pandemic but thought about him from time to time when hiking the trails. 

Then just last week I ran into him up on the trail again. I joked I hadn’t seen him in a dog’s age, as the dogs I had when last I saw him were gone and I had with me two new dogs.

Older, and thinner, he says he is now 70. Told me the pandemic had been a trial, but the Old Age pension helped. Told me he had made it all the way to Adelaide, Australia, and was happy living on the beach until immigration authorities caught up with him and sent him back to Canada.

As usual I was full of questions. He was very well versed on the history of the area. Knew where the American army buried things when they left after the Second World War. He told me of a spot he knew (I actually know where) which he claims is radioactive, as the Americans had secretly stored nuclear items there.

Is anything he told me true? Who knows?

Anyone know where I can borrow a Geiger counter?

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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