Thursday, September 11, 2008

Algonquin memories of September 11

Every generation has defining moments that cause people to ask "where were you on such-and-such a day." Some are celebrated, like "the day a man stepped on the moon," but sadly, most of these days are tragic, like "the day JFK was assassinated" or "the day John Lennon was shot." September 11, 2001, is now one of those defining moments and I can't help thinking thinking about my own experience that day.

My wife and I were finalizing plans for a road trip down to the eastern seaboard of the US, specifically to Assateague Island. Just before 9 am, around the same time planes were crashing into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, I was trying to call the US National Park Service and change my camping reservation. Of course, I had no idea that all the government buildings in Washington DC had been evacuated, so was getting a little frustrated that I couldn't get through to anybody. Eventually I called the park directly and the friendly park ranger told me that he couldn't get through either and that something funny seemed to be going on. While not that far away, that person, like me, had no idea what was happening. So, off I went to the hardware store to get a few items. While there, I noticed that an unusual number of people were gathering in front of the display television and that the news coming from it was very strange. I watched for a while, then went home and like many people, spent the rest of the day glued to the television watching the bizarre and tragic events of that day unfold.

The strangeness didn't end there, though. Over the next few days, back at work at Algonquin Outfitters, I had the unusual task of explaining to people returning from canoe trips what had happened in the world while they were out in the park. I would say something like this: "OK, you are not going to believe what I am about to tell you but...." Reactions were predictably shock, disbelief, sadness and frustration over messed up travel plans. I remember one woman who absolutely refused to believe what I told her. How could you make this up? After I explained to him that he might want to call the airline, since all fights were grounded, a British fellow commented that he had noticed the absence of jet trails in the sky. He had assumed, since he was in the wilds of Algonquin Park, that planes didn't fly over the area at any time!

Needless to say, we changed our travel plans as well. We were planning to leave on Sept. 15 and our route would have taken us through both New York City and the outskirts of Washington. It just didn't seem like a good idea to go there at that time. We opened up the road atlas and drove east, to our own Maritime Provinces and had a great trip with no itinerary.

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