Maben W. Poirier
Have you noticed that there are places–often quite memorable places–that are more states of mind than spectacular sites to behold? Have you noticed that, like their strictly physical counterparts, they too can be discovered and explored in that dimension we call time? And have you also observed that such places are frequently remarkable, not for their grandeur nor their physical beauty, but for the mystery and special nostalgic quality they inspire in the collective consciousness of all who have known, or, who imagine they have known them? Like Delphi for the Greeks, they seem to constitute contact between the finite and the infinite, between the usual and the strange, and between the "now" and the "then," which cannot be ruptured easily. Memories and mysteries permeate their earthly dimensions, and assure them an enduring quality which none would contest. Well, "the Gobi" was, and still is, just such a place in the collective consciousness of all long-time residents of our village. It has haunted the imaginations of generations of young people in our community, and in varying degrees has been for innumerable individuals over the years a privileged place, an enchanted spot, a magical terrain on which time itself is seemingly suspended–and maybe even abolished. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Gobi has, over the generations, permitted old and young alike to establish some sort of communion with the spirits of their youthful predecessors of long ago. Truly, it is a miraculous place, as are all such places which manage to reconcile generations and bridge centuries.
Were we to adopt a completely neutral and somewhat unpatriotic perspective, I think most, if not all, of the long-time residents of our village would agree that a more pompous name for this strip of sand created at the end of the last ice age in the middle of the woods off Harwood Road would be difficult to find. But, I'm also sure it would be said, and not only by the guardians of our memory, that this mildly negative assessment of "our Gobi" by any true resident of our community could only be made under duress. As for strangers–well, what can one say about strangers? What do they know about our memories? Over the years, many have belittled our temerity, as have those occasional few who would define themselves as "our own," when we speak of "the Gobi." If it could, the Great Gobi would be offended by this unworthy comparison, we are repeatedly told. And yet...? And yet, how can they be so sure the great desert would take umbrage at our presumptuousness? Is it so certain and so clear that we are being pretentious in calling our three acres of sand, "the Gobi"? Is not this inversion in logic a way of honouring the spirits of our past, the fathers of our fathers, in an unending chain of remembrances, which the greats of this world are especially apt to appreciate and understand? Of course, it is, and, deep down, we suspect even the scoffers amongst us understand that a less dignified name could not adequately capture and hold the memories of our people? And so, we are increasingly one in recognizing the importance of this place in the collective consciousness of our community.
Being invited to "the Gobi," for whatever reason, has always been something of a rite-of-passage for the young and would-be young of our village, and not only in recent times–in fact, especially not in recent times–but as far back as anyone locally can remember. And, as in all rites of initiation, it has for years constituted an invitation–an invitation that has always had something to do with being acknowledged as an accepted member of the group, a trusted friend by one's contemporaries. In a semi-official way, it affirmed that you had made it, made it into the annals of our village, and, perhaps, more importantly, of "our people."
Being invited to "the Gobi," usually on a Sunday afternoon, in the 1920s and '30s, invariably meant you were expected to demonstrate your prowess as a marksman. People from all over the area, from up Harwood, ("...up Harwood," Oh, how those two small words evoke memories amongst the older generations), and from along the river road, came to the Gobi to prove that there was no target too small for them to hit, nor too strong for them to perforate. The S. boys from down along the river road, as well as their cousins from "up Harwood," could, by themselves, constitute more than fair competition for others in any shooting match. And, of course, there was A., the ever-present "city-slicker," who had taken to "living in the country," and was always game to try out a new rifle. He too was a good shot, it is said, despite his questionable origins. "Bang," "Bang," and "Bang," once again, went the guns on a Sunday afternoon. A veritable war, you would swear, had been declared on the western outskirts of the village. But, of course, it was only the sound associated with the rituals of initiation, and, in any case, there was no one around then to protest the noise and spoil the sheer pleasure of firing a rifle at a distant target.
In the early '40s, the Gobi enjoyed something of a respite from the too-playful young of our area. It was only the rare individual who made his way back to his youthful haunts. The "Bang" "Bang" of earlier decades, associated with long-forgotten rites, was rarely heard in the Gobi. It was now part of the cacophony of sound taking place on a different continent, and in much less hospitable surroundings. But, when the war ended, the Gobi was once again a meeting place for "the boys" on a Sunday afternoon. However, for most of them, an interest in guns was a thing of the past, and with perhaps good reason. Oh, there is no doubt that a few of them carried a rifle along when going for a walk in "the Gobi," in the expectation, no doubt, that they might pick up from where they had left off a decade earlier. But the truth is that most had had their fill of guns. Now, "the Gobi" was the meeting-place in the bush, where one could go with one's girl-friend or boy-friend for a leisurely stroll in the woods, and, if one had a mind to, have a conversation around a camp-fire with a group of friends, for, as always, this was the place where one met ones' friends.
During the '50s, the Gobi somehow was an all but forgotten place by the young and not-so-young of our community, with perhaps the single exception of the horsy set. Regularly, a fancier of horses could be seen exercising his or her mount in the sands of the Gobi. In fact, many of us well remember the many trips to the Gobi that a much respected younger women, from along the Main Road, made to the Gobi with her horse. But no longer was a new rifle demonstrated nor a new friendship made in the Gobi. The civilities of a new era, it seemed, were taking revenge on those of the old. Sadly, to the extent the Gobi was thought of at all, it was thought of by those unacquainted with its memories and its charms. And, when it was visited, it was usually visited by those who knew next to nothing of its past.
As for recent times, the Gobi is suffering the fate of everything that was typical of life in our community prior to the war. It is all being made "precious" by recent arrivals in our area, whose mission, it seems, is to plunder our memories and rob us of our dreams, by converting these, ever so discreetly, to be sure, into marketable commodities. How I have come to hate the word "precious." It speaks fraudulent sentiment, fake interest and false concern. To the extent that the Gobi is considered at all these days, it is seen as "charming" and "special," and any and all references to it are, ...well?, ...designed to indicate that it is 'oh, ...just so delightful.' What disgusting words when applied to "the Gobi." I have news for those amongst us who see the Gobi as "delightful," "charming," and "quaint." The Gobi is NOT charming, and it ISN'T delightful–far less is it quaint. It's "the Gobi"–a very important place in the memory of some amongst us–a place not to be trifled with by the insensitive and the ill-informed.
poirmw on Sat, 2007-05-19 11:19.