After Benjamin disappeared my family left the bush and the shores of the river. We canoed out one day and left the camp behind. My grandmother came too though she’d argued against the move. My mother seemed almost weightless by now. I was always surprised that she left footprints. There was nothing to her but air. Her eyes were empty and she walked bent over like an old woman.

My father bore it all in stoic silence. But there was an angry arc when he swung an axe, a more vicious slice of the knife when he skinned out a deer. This energy, so heavy and thick, was the opposite of my mother’s.

Both my parents had taken to the Zhaunagush drink, and we left the bush in pursuit of it. We followed the whiskey to the transient camps of the half-breeds who gathered on the discard lands around sawmill towns, waiting for the bits of work that were sometimes tossed their way. Indian work. That’s what the mill folk called it. Men and boys would plow off into the bush to cut deadfall trees and haul their lengths to cleared stretches where the skidders could get to them. It was their job to clear the bastard trees that made dropping the prime timber more difficult for the white fallers. There were no chainsaws. The breeds and the Indians cut everything by hand with Swede saws and axes. It was brutal work for little pay and what was paid out was drunk off quickly. There weren’t many kids in those camps. Most of them had been spirited away by the government men. The fact that no one ever came for me was more a testament to the invisible nature of our lives than to any good luck. I hauled a wagon around the rutted, muddy roads that led through the tent village and out to the desolate edges of the town where the poor whites lived, to sell firewood we kids broke by hand. Broke-wood breeds. That’s what the Zhaunagush at the mills called us. Broke-wood breeds.

Our lives became the plod from one tent village to another. Sometimes there’d be an abandoned tarpaper shack that we could call home, but for the most part we lived with others as displaced as we were, in canvas tents strung in a circle around a central fire. We’d share the warmth and whatever food we had. I learned to snare rabbits and steal chickens. I grew to hate the stink of sulfur at the same time I learned to endure the stench of roasted dog, the bite of the pine gum tea washing down the lard sandwiches that were our staple. Naomi told me stories, kept me away from the adults when they were in the grips of the drink. She showed me how to skin the squirrels and woodchucks we could sometimes catch in those thin woods.

We settled in at Redditt in the winter of 1960. There was a lot of work for the men there. We managed to buy a wood stove for our tent and passed the deep snow moons in a comfort we’d forgotten could exist. With this infusion of hope, my father drank less. There was more money for food, and I stopped snapping off the ends of the branches that stuck up out of the snow to haul about in my wagon. By spring I’d grown taller, elastic and wiry.

That spring we gathered mushrooms and greens and wild onions. A stream led from a bog lake to the main river, and my grandmother showed me how to lay out a burlap bag and haul in the suckers that ran up the creek to spawn. I learned to clean them with swift swipes of a knife and use the guts for bait on night lines I set out to drift in the current of the big river. We smoked those fish. Sometimes we’d slap thick coats of clay around them and bake them in the fire. My grandmother used the ribs of them for needles to sew buttons on my battered shirts. It began to feel as though we might forge a life for ourselves there on the edges of that rough-hewn town. Summer came. My mother sat with us at the fire most nights, even though she still carried such a deep sadness.