The bride arrives at the groom's side, and the small squadron of Mounties flanking them in their crimson finery comes abruptly to a crisper version of attention. The minister, a grim-faced middle-aged woman whom my brother-in-law says looks like "some kind of animal-sacrificing pagan shaman" on account of the funny icons that adorn her vestaments, begins to mutter about her god and the crowd tries to inobtrusively shoo back the blackflies. The schism of simultaneous love and hate the guests feel for the creeping thunderhead grows more pronounced.
Sweat runs down my face. The heat amplifies the unholy stench from my daughter's loaded drawers. I try to pawn her off on my wife.
Some familiar readings about love are recited tearily by guests, and afterward "interpreted" by the pagan Christmarm in a placid two-tone of pious cheese and uninspired hallmarkia. Vows are exchanged through sobs. Kissing happens.
I am mildly disappointed that none of the handful of soldiers present chooses to discharge their firearm in tribute. That would've been cool. Nevertheless, I am not alone in being pleased that things are wrapping up: the cheap showiness of nature provides a gorgeous, sun-drenched backdrop for the ensuing formal photography of the wedding party. The moment is captured.
And the thunderhead, now our friend, ever respectful of my wife's cousin's feelings, finally envelopes the sky in a decisive surge, discharging sheets of cooling rain splattering through the leaves. The guests are in a flurry to change out of their special duds and into their shorts and sandals. Those who can't find a spot in the house change clothes in their parked cars or in the bushes. Beer is dispensed, belts are loosened, everyone laughs under the tents while the world beyond scintillates with the roar of falling water. The bastard front becomes a blessing by way of good timing. The rain is toasted repeatedly, and thanked by several. The monster is transmuted into a friendly spirit, switchem-changem presto.
The rain tapers off, and I'm sitting at a bonfire. The bonfire has been built by a forestry service firefighter from out west; she is well familiar with taming that particular wild beast, and she manages to make the pit draw hot, high and bright while channelling most of the smoke away from us. I fail to ask her if has ever had an experience in which fire became an anthropomorphosised monster for her, because I am too drunk. "Somebody get this cheeseburger another beer!" she laughs.
Still, monsters are on my mind. They are also on the mind of the artillery sergeant who has flown in from Bosnia-Herzegovina for the occasion of this wedding. The boyfriend of some third tier cousin, a bearded Klezmer musician who studies molecular physics, has asked the sergeant about day to day life peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia.
"What most civilians just can't get their heads around," explains the sergeant, "is the hate between neighbour and neighbour over there. It's this monster that they can't get away from that's not just in an individual or a specific group -- it underlies the whole community. That kind of force just isn't a part of our reality here, it's not something Canadians can understand. It possesses these people."
(Like I said before: how easy it is to awaken the frightened pagan inside our most cynical selves, when the threat is just right.)
I wander past the crowded tents to find a peeing bush, and I marvel at the absence of monsters to which I have been awakened by the artillery sergeant's fireside chat. The Filipinos, the Latvians and everyone else are drinking together, and laughing together. The fact that this is a "mixed marriage" has not even crossed most people's minds, when I ask them about it.
I pee into the lake, light up a marijuana cigarette and have a skitter across the dancefloor with some boisterous Filipinas and drunk Mounties. I return to the bonfire where the musician has lost interest in Bosnia; now he is going on about the new Macintoshes, and I learn that his girlfriend plants flowers at a large city cemetary professionally. They'll probably get engaged to be married soon enough, and it doesn't matter to anyone that he's Jewish and she's not.
"That's what I'm talking about, that's what your average person takes for granted," says the artillery sergeant; "and it's that fact that warps most people's views on tolerance and geopolitics. Basically, Canadians have a fucked up perspective on the world because they accord everyone too much rationality."
"I'll drink to that!" enthuses a sun-burned carpenter.
The firefighter has wandered off to the bar, and the carpenter volunteers to stoke the flames on her behalf. We all end up having to move our chairs and logs back to give us wider clearance from the raging, thrashing beast of heat and sparks he unwillingly creates. "Whoops," says the carpenter. Smoke gets in everybody's eyes.
We are driving back home to the city, rushing to get into town in time to see Ben Harper in concert. We have bought cheap grass seats so that we can bring the baby. My wife is driving, and I am supposed to be keeping an eye out for speed-traps...
Instead, I am sticking my hand out of the window and alternately cupping and extending it, shaping it into an airfoil and surfing the wind with my arm. Catch some air, feel your arm forced upward; change the angle of your hand and the wind whips your arm down and around. This is a game I have played since I was a kid.
It's funny to think that until the last century the only way to know this kind of force would be to stand in the face of a raging monster. Winds in excess of one hundred clicks per hour simply could not be experienced without actually being in the very middle of a violent tempest of a storm, or braving the crosswinds at a high mountain pass.
I try to imagine the awe that a man would feel in the face of such a wind, but I can only feel the fun of my childish game. I don't live in a world with those ancient monsters.
My hand zooms up and swoops down in the rain-cooled air as it blasts by outside the car window. Our old animosity behind us, I welcome the sun's warmth on my forearm.