By Marcus Day
As Saturdays go, this one was so surreal – specifically, the bit between 2.30pm and 5pm – that it challenges the very notion of free will.
Was I really 40 feet up on scaffolding, shrouded in a wind-blown tarp, applying mortar to brick joints?
Did I really tread wooden boards in half-lit surroundings, watch buckets of mortar being hauled by ropes from unseen depths, and use muscles that had lain dormant for decades?
Did I really immerse my brain in the language of stonemasonry and brick-laying – words and terms like slickers, hawks, parging meshes, corbelled plinth courses, stringcourses, and tap cons?
Did I really allow mortar to harden and die in my inexpert hands?
Did any of these things really happen, or did I dream them? Perhaps I suffered a flashback from a drug-addled past I never knew existed.
The Sunday morning ache in my shoulders suggests these things really did happen, and while I may have been high and packing joints, it was in the noble cause of fixing up the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre, not from taking acid.
Why I went up in the world is easy to explain. I had gone to the centre earlier in the afternoon to photograph a Cree hoop dancer. In the audience was Charlie Pirie, the master stonemason/brick-layer repairing the building’s facade. He asked me whether I wanted to see the work being done.
Of course, I said “yes”. After all, it couldn’t be scarier than the Mega Drop on the Calgary Stampede Midway, a 40-metre death-defying plunge.
I didn’t ask Charlie whether I needed to sign a waiver, although it crossed my mind. As it turned out, I felt pretty safe up by the Jasper pediment, even if the wind tugging on the tarp made such a commotion that it was easy to imagine myself in a tent on the top of Everest. Nevertheless, that all-enveloping tarp was my protective blanket. Occasionally, I suffered a “what if?” moment, as in what if I slipped through the railings, or hurled myself over them, but generally I kept these insane thoughts in check.
On the fifth floor of the scaffolding, I met Kodie Francis and her son, William.
Kodie was on repointing duty; William was mixing mortar.