Today’s Sunday Snippet is from the book Awakening in the Northwest Territories by Alastair Henry.
About Awakening in the Northwest Territories
Awakening in the Northwest Territories is an inspirational, humorous and absorbing account of one Boomer’s transformative life journey over a sixty year period. Follow Alastair’s story from his strict Catholic upbringing in England to Canada by himself at the age of 19 in search of love and adventure, where he quickly acquires a family, and over the next twenty years, climbs the corporate ladder and builds up a flourishing business, all of which subsequently go sour. He takes an early retirement and goes to live in the country in an idyllic retreat, but after a year, he feels unfulfilled and senses that there is much more to life than just being “comfortable.” Making a conscious decision to live the examined life, and having bought unquestioningly into consumerist society for so long, he chooses to go in a new direction by living with a small band of First Nations people in a remote fly-in community in the Northwest Territories. Cultural differences and a challenging environment ignite fresh perspectives, inspire a new way of life, and fuel his soul-searching.
I was eleven when I first had the dream, or whatever it was, as I’m not quite sure. It wasn’t a nightmare, nor was it scary – it was just exhausting, and caused me to break out into a sweat, and wake up. I wouldn’t have remembered it had it only occurred the once, but it didn’t; it came back many times over the next three or four years, and each time it left me feeling weak and puzzled. And it wasn’t as if I could opt out of the dream whenever I wanted to because I couldn’t. I was powerless, as if I was on a roller coaster, and I had to hang on to wherever the ride took me.
The dream had me on a sandy path, about six feet wide, and surrounded by flat fields on either side. Sometimes I would be walking or jogging or riding a bike. The first couple of times I had the dream, the fields on my right and left were a brilliant yellow carpet of buttercups, and the sky was bright and sunny. Other times though, the weather was windy, rainy, and the sky was grey and overcast. But no matter what the weather was like, the dream always unfolded the same way. Holes kept opening up in the path in front of me, and they looked ominously deep, causing me to jump over, side step, or to steer and accelerate around them if I was on a bike. And the more I traveled down the path, the more numerous and larger the holes became, and I had to work harder to avoid falling in. The dreams always ended with me waking up lathered in sweat and physically drained.
I thought it odd that I kept having the same dream periodically, and wondered if other people did too. When I mentioned it to my friends, Bob and Pete, they thought it was weird, for they couldn’t recall an instance of ever having had the same dream twice. The dream became an in joke between us, and they would periodically kid me about it. They both seemed convinced that it must mean something.
Every autumn the Fair came to Bolton, Lancashire, and stayed for about a week. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, “freak shows” were a Fair staple, and well attended. It seems rather disgusting now that we would queue up for half an hour to see the world’s fattest lady, or the hairiest lady, or the world’s tallest man, but we did. There were also animal oddities, such as the calf with two heads, and many other one-offs, including a clairvoyant standing outside a small tent with her head wrapped in a bright red and yellow scarf, tied at the back in a knot. The only reason I remember her was because she reminded me of an Apache: an Indian maiden from the cowboys and Indians films I watched at the Ritz Cinema on Fletcher Street in Bolton on Saturday afternoons.
Madame X proclaimed to be able to read people’s palms and to tell their futures. She was standing in front of her curtained stall with a large glass orb in one hand, and beckoning to the crowd with the other to step right up, and have your future read. Bob, Pete and I stood in front, and talked about what she might say to us if we went in. And then we got into daring each other. Being the shy, introverted one in the group, I was not keen on talking to a stranger about anything, and I made this clear to my mates, but peer pressure won out, and I felt I had to do it. “Tell her about your dream,” Pete said. “See what she says.” I felt I could do that because I didn’t have to think on the spot and answer who knows what personal questions she might ask, and so I did, with a fake sense of bravado to impress my mates.
As I recall, the inside of her stall was no more than ten feet by ten and consisted of a small, round table draped in a warm, red cloth that hung down to the cement floor; two wooden chairs faced each other; a low hanging red light in a bamboo type shade dangled low above the table; and the magic ball was set in the middle of the table on a bowl type base. I sat down and she asked to be paid. She spoke with a foreign accent, which I immediately took to be east European – some exotic far-away place that I didn’t know much about at the time, such as Bulgaria or Hungary – or maybe she was a gypsy: they were rumoured to be magical and mysterious. I told her that I wanted to know the meaning behind a dream I kept having. She smiled, moved closer to the table, put her hands on the magic ball, and nodded. I told her as much about the dream as I could remember. As I spoke, she moved her hands slowly and theatrically over the orb, rotating them gently from right to left and up and down in a mystical fashion. She concentrated deeply for a few seconds, peering into the ball that glowed eerily in the reddish light, and asked, “Is there anyone else in your dream?” “No. Never.” I hadn’t noticed that before, and then she asked another question. “Is the road straight or curved?” “Straight. It’s always straight, and it goes on forever.” “Do you ever stop on the road?” “No. I can’t. I feel that I have to keep going. I don’t know why, but it feels as if that isn’t an option,” I replied.
Do you believe in Destiny?
She pulled back away from the table, looked me straight in the eyes, and said with the confidence of a doctor settling on a diagnosis after listening to the symptoms, “The road is your future, your destiny. You will have many obstacles to overcome in life, but you will overcome them through patience, persistence, and plodding! I see a lot of travel in your future, mostly by yourself. You will never settle down in one place for a long time.” She looked down at the ball and that was it. I sensed that was all she was going to say and that there was no opportunity to ask questions.
I was in a daze when I parted the curtains and walked out into the bright sunlight. Peter and Bob laughed and said that I looked as if I’d seen a ghost. Peter went in next while Bob pumped me for information about what she did and what she said. I repeated her prophesy and he got all excited thinking about what she might have to say about him. Peter came out and Bob went in. I cannot now recall what they said the gypsy lady told them, but I do remember us concluding, after a little cross discussion, that she must be a fake, because none of us could relate to what she said. At the time, I must have been the least travelled fifteen-year-old boy in Bolton, for I had not yet made it to Manchester, a mere ten miles away. The two holidays to the Channel Islands to visit relatives didn’t count as travel in my mind as us kids felt more like luggage – we had no input as to what, when, where or why regarding the holiday. Children should be seen and not heard was my parents’ mantra when we questioned anything. We just tagged along and did what we were told.
As you will discover by the time you finish reading this memoir, her predictions were most prophetic and accurate. I committed her reading to memory because it was the single most exciting thing that had happened to me in my life up until then. And for a long while after, I voluntarily recalled her words and wondered whether clairvoyance was even possible. Do some people really have the gift of seeing into the future, and is our destiny pre-determined, and are we just going through the motions in the erroneous belief that we are in charge?
Later in life, as I reflected on the accuracy of her foretelling, the thought came to mind that perhaps I had been unconsciously manifesting her prophesy all along by factoring in the deeply ingrained message. Did it bubble up from the deep recesses of my psyche whenever I had a decision to make, to influence my consideration and judgement? I didn’t know, but it was uncanny just how accurate her predictions were.
What did you think of Awakening in the Northwest Territories by Alastair Henry? Please leave a comment below. If you would like to read the rest of it, you can get a copy on Amazon.