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Surfing is Surfing:
an essay on Grant Shilling
by Clayton Webb
Don't Care What You Say
in the Woods
off Main Street
& Play & Adults
People, Vulture Culture & Cars
of the Fittest
Travel & the Dead
& Roll Road Kill, Kill, Kill!
By Grant Shilling
These houses, I’m building, houses that I’ll
never afford or inhabit, houses my friends will never live in, houses
that will be visited, what? For a few weeks in the summer are, yup--
I’d been to the trailer many times. It was out in the bush and
it was abandoned. At least I thought it was.
The trailer was doublewide with a wood porch built onto it and a wind
chime hanging from an old school room type door. It was called ‘The
Happy Wanderer’, and was made in Omaha. It had an Alberta sticker
on one of the windows of the door. On the floor of the porch was a dartboard,
a dog dish and a car battery.
The first time I went to look in the trailer I clapped my hands and
called out h-e-l-l-o-s from a ways back so as not to startle anyone.
It seemed like it had been lived in recently and I was prepared for
someone to show up. But I was curious. I like to imagine the lives humans
leave behind in these outer shells of themselves.
I peered in the window. Whoever left didn’t leave in a hurry.
Maybe they’d be back. As I stepped down from the porch step where
I was looking in the window I noticed a kitty cat by the back window.
It seemed comfortable and at home. Was it hungry?
I decided to not disturb the kitty. It knew what it was doing there.
But I would be back. There was an enormous Gary oak beside the trailer
with a big swing hanging from it. I got on the swing, a big cedar board
tied to heavy fishing rope and swung around awhile. Venus was just peeking
out of the sky.
A few days later I’m back at my place fixing the fire when I notice
an old-timer walking up the hill with a book in his hand. How did he
get here? No one comes up this way. He has that look. That ‘man
of god’ look. Shit. A ‘man of god’ in the middle of
nowhere. I step out the door and ask him if I can help him with something.
He looks up at me and asks if, “there is a time when we all love
each other.” “I hope so,” I say wanting him to go.
I don’t bother to ask how he found me. That will just delay things.
He asks me if I’m interested and I tell him I’m not interested.
I’m busy. He takes his cue and heads back down the hill.
I go back to the fire and this memory of walking into a trailer comes
up in my mind (or my screen as I call it). The trailer is warm and a
television is on. Snow flakes on the TV. Mr. Magoo in amongst the snowflakes.
A big roly-poly man is sitting on a kitchen chair saddle style with
the back of the chair facing him and his back facing me. He is watching
the TV. He has a ponytail, a sensual warm skin and he turns to me...
That is all I can remember. I try to conjure up the image, again. I
try to remember the next thing, but it’s not there.
I think my imagination has been acting up lately because I’ve
been working so much. Construction work. Put your mind in neutral and
go. ‘Just attending to my rich inner life,’ I explain to
my fellow workers when they catch me smiling for no particular reason
to myself. Most of the work we do is out in the bush, taking me to places
I’ve never been to before building places that I’ll never
inhabit. One day at work this German voiced fellow shows up with his
dog. His dog gives a pee on one of the forms and the German fellow asks,
“Who is da boss here.” “There is no boss,” answers
one of our sharper workers. “There must be a boss!” Says
the German agitated. “Nope,” says our new spokesperson.
“Some people don’t need to take orders.” I’m
liking this. Well the German out of nowhere persists and he says he
wants property but doesn’t want to put anything on it. “You
might want to do that,” suggests Diana alluding to island angst
and bullshit politics.
The German is on his way and my mind shuffles off to Texada a few weeks
earlier. We’d given these hitchhikers a ride and we were talking
about Texada and its history and this person mentions how most of Texada
is owned by this German who visited many years earlier. “The Germans
valued our land here more than we did,” says the hitchhiker.
The last couple of days at work I’ve been framing doorways. Doorways
are interesting. A doorway is that place that is not a place. You are
not exactly ‘in’ nor are you precisely out. You are in the
act of coming or going… exiting or entering… leaving here
and entering there. What could be more magical than that?
October 31st, Halloween, The Day of the Dead or Samhain as the Celts
and Wiccans now call it, is thought of as the time when the veil between
the worlds of humans and spirits is at its thinnest. It’s a time
that lies exactly between Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
What with the weather being so shitty this year and all, I thought maybe
the spirits have become confused. They’re early. And all these
folks visiting me in the middle of nowhere are spirits. Spirits that
plan to inhabit the houses I build. Real Estate monsters from the Crypt.
These houses, I’m building, houses that I’ll never afford
or inhabit, houses my friends will never live in, houses that will be
visited, what? For a few weeks in the summer are, yup- haunted.
Trailers are the temples of the holy. In trailers we commune with the
dead. The weekender. The summer visitor. Our trailers are restless spirits,
always in the act of coming or going. Wandering the earth looking for
I begin to think of cats. Of that cat I saw at the trailer. I begin
to think of my cat. Sitting at the door. The door is closed. The cat
can’t stand this. I open the door for the cat and say: “C’mon
either you are in or you are out… I can’t stand here all
day… Make up your mind already!” The cat starts talking
back to me in German. This has never happened before! There is more
shouting. The cat is telling me to get back to work! Huh! What? Oh never
mind, I was just drifting off.
‘The GIG’-Gulf Islands Gazette,
September/August 2000, Galiano Island