On The Road: Doom Squad's WigWam Tour, Pt. 3 by V. Rachel Weldon

V. Rachel Weldon is on a West Coast tour with Toronto's psychedelic rockers, Doom Squad. This is her third dispatch from the road. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

It was a few days of waiting waiting waiting to get our RV, our new home back from the mechanic and move into it, start our adventure. When it was brought into the mechanic for an inspection the day after we purchased it, we were informed by Lamb and WigWam that it would cost about $1800 to fix the brakes and the steering, the same amount we bought it for. Deflating our bargain price pride a bit, and exhausting our budget totally, we comforted ourselves in knowing that our only available A-to-B would be road-ready.

But if you’re sleeping outside every night, you know when it rains it pours. Money worries from the cost of the repairs and some last minute camping and travelling supplies were intoxicating the group with tension and unease. Planning, packing and purchasing was putting everyone on edge, which is bound to happen when a transient nomadic pack, consumed with wanderlust and some light anxiety, is sitting around, day after day, thinking about what was to come and try to make sense of it. I can’t even imagine how Doom Squad et al, cooped up in their Toronto house before the tour, coped with the immense planning required for this trip. I’m told the group bickered over inane tour details until they couldn’t talk to each other anymore, until the tour was at risk of being cancelled. Lamb told me, as we were sitting on the Balsam front porch waiting for the arrival of the RV, that before they left home in Toronto, our extended Doom Squad family resolved to have a ceremony to let go of all their pre-tour tribulations. WigWam made a large white flag and painted the word Mistakes on it. They all got up on the roof of the house and waved the flag around, waving their mistakes away. Lamb frowned.

“I was downstairs when it happened. I didn’t even want to be a part of it. I wasn’t ready to let go of our mistakes, my mistakes and the mistakes of others”.

Agency and WigWam finally arrived from the mechanic’s with our RV, and only an hour before we had to leave for Vancouver Island. Any past mistakes were out of mind, at least for the time being, as we hurriedly staple-gunned Indian saris and hung up strings of flowers in the interior of the vehicle. Colourfully patterned material covered every un-flowery service, fairy wings were posted above the back door, and a children’s costume Native headdress was stapled to the back of the cabin. The gear was piled into the RV’s out-of-order bathroom, our packs crammed into the top bunk above the driver’s seat, and our bodies into any available corner. Soon we were off, racing towards the ferry to Victoria before the last one left at 9 pm, WigWam behind the wheel.

The ferry was as beautiful as everyone said it would be. When we got on the top deck, the sun was setting and the bright waxing moon was glowing in that blue-violet sky and trailing light across the ocean. We howled at it and cheered for our RV’s maiden voyage.

Later on, sipping coffee in the ferry’s cafeteria, a late-20 something tanned man sitting nearby struck up a conversation with us. He had honest green eyes and wore earth tones. His motorhome was parked behind our own in the ferry’s bottom, and he asked us if we were coming from Shambhala, the hippie electronic music festival in Vernon, BC like he was. We shook our heads, told him what we were up to and that we were heading to play a show at Poole’s Land in Tofino. I had heard only a bit about Poole’s Land from Doom Squad, but so far everything had sounded utterly Utopian. Michael Poole, the owner of 17 acres a few kilometres away from the town of Tofino, opened up Poole’s land 25 years ago as a commune for surfers and hippies alike. Tucked into the beautiful rainforest a few minutes from the beach, it was the ideal patch of land for a bunch of free people to live love and lie together in harmony with nature. Over the years it turned into more of a campsite, asking visitors to pay or work for their stay.

Our affable new friend, an organic farmer who lives on Salt Spring Island and owns an organic food store, as a matter of fact knows Michael Poole, has been to Poole’s Land and knows people living there. Cameras rolling now, we were all excited to hear this, not knowing much about Poole, and asked him if he could come out to the show. He told us he couldn’t take anymore time off from work to go to Tofino, but instead invited Doom Squad to play a show on his farm on Salt Spring Island. We were thrilled for the invitation, so we exchanged information with the organic farmer and resolved to meet the next day for coffee to try to organize the show the night after we left Tofino, and maybe get some more information on the infamous Michael Poole and his Land.

In the morning, Treymor, Aloe and I met the farmer at café Habit in downtown Victoria. Treymor’s cameras were rolling as we chatted about the possibility of a show in the barn, which would require generators and more rental equipment. After going over our budget a bit more, we realized it would be too expensive to rent generators and equipment for a last minute show on Salt Spring, but resolved to try to make it to his farm to just hang out for a night anyway. Treymor lead the conversation, asking the farmer about organics and his store. He then changed the topic to Poole’s Land and Michael Poole himself, asking what the organic farmer thought of Poole.

“You’ll have to turn off your cameras before I answer that,” he laughed loudly.

“No, but seriously.”

Treymor did. The farmer started telling us about Poole, that he was a bit of a showman and knew a handful of buzz words that attracted young people like us. He picks up on what gets you off and works with it, drawing you in, the farmer told us. More youth filter in there every summer, and Poole always has the same tour, the same speech to deliver.

Poole’s land visitors are required to work four hours a day if they want to stay for free, the organic farmer told us. But it’s not a farm, it’s a campground, and although they do have some gardens to maintain and general work to keep up on, there isn’t exactly enough work to keep 30 or so hippies busy for four hours a day. So most of the time they are charged with some menial task, usually pulling and straightening nails or something like that. Though sometimes they do produce. Poole once ordered the labourers to build a wooden shelter after a female resident’s tent burnt down. He then started charging her rent to live in it. Not long after, the shed burnt down too — after someone tried to light a fire in it no doubt.

“And that’s the way it goes at Poole’s land, that’s the cycle. They straighten nails. They build a shed, the shed burns down. And they straighten more nails.”

We said goodbye to the organic farmer a while later, agreeing to try to meet on Salt Spring if it was possible. After picking up the rental gear and generators for the Poole’s Land show, we got on the road towards Tofino, stopping on the way for a stroll through Cathedral Grove to dig some of the tallest and oldest trees in the country, and check our egos in the shadows of some of Canada’s natural majesty.

We pulled into Poole’s Land that night after dark when our headlights shone into the small cabin near the road and woke up the gruff campground manager Peter, who was sleeping inside with a head cold. Poole’s number two, the one in charge when he wasn’t around, and probably the only bummer about this magical place, the grumpy manager enforced inconsistent and dogmatic rules that seemed to be pulled out of the air and wouldn’t hear an idea that wasn’t first his own, unless of course it was coming from Poole. He gave us a short moonlit tour of the grounds, showed us to the kitchen where there was a large deck we could pitch our tent on that night, as well as a ladder leaning up to an out-of-order rooftop greenhouse and loads of vegetable gardens that were communally available for planting and harvesting. He then showed us the back pond and stage where the show would be the night of the full moon, a large clearing in the forest where past visitors had nailed asymmetrical lumber to logs lining the width of the pond, so the stage both overlooked the water on one side, and the road on the other. It was Lamb who had been in contact with Poole back in Toronto, and so was eager to meet the man in person.

“So when is Michael coming back?” she asked. “I think he said tomorrow.”

“Ah, yeah it could be tomorrow. Or sometime in 2011.” 

Does he know it is 2011?

All of the hippie residents we met the next morning at the pond had been waiting for Poole for the past five days, and were growing bored and disenchanted with Peter’s seizure of rule. Rent for staying at Poole’s Land was either $20 a night, $10 a night with two hours of work, or six hours of work to stay for free. But under Peter’s authority both pay and hours were inconsistent and kept changing, it would seem, according to his mood. That morning we met a group of kids from Coquitlam, musicians in a folk-pop group called Community Trees staying in a three-tiered tent structure on a neighbouring site, who were especially annoyed with Peter’s charge and especially anxious for Poole’s return.

“I heard he was supposed to come two days ago, then I heard he was supposed to come today.”

“Yeah, I heard tomorrow.”

While Lamb, Wolf and Soleil went into Tofino to poster and spread the word about the show, and Treymor and Rye Toast charged the RV’s dead battery, WigWam and I helped with some of the day's work, which entailed hauling logs around, lining them up horizontally on a slope close to the stage to make a set of organic bleachers for people to chill out on during the show. In order to do this, though, a lot of piles of firewood and lumber had to be rearranged and moved and appropriate logs selected from a heaping haphazard pile on the top of the hill. Occasionally I would take breaks to hike around a bit and explore the grounds. Behind the pond is a garden growing fresh kale, and beyond that, following a path five minutes away from the pond, a tall overhanging rock face they call “The Cliff” rigged up with a levy system and a tarp for shelter.

When I returned from my walk, Lamb had returned from postering the town and joined in on the work. She was moving a pile of firewood from one spot in the clearing to another, the same pile of firewood WigWam and I had moved earlier that morning. Other visitors continued to line the logs up in a row on the hill. I joined Soleil and Aloe just as Peter was ordering them to move and organize a pile of lumber I had already moved twice that morning with other people. Rolling my eyes, I turned around to see some other workers straightening nails with a hammer. Wow: disenchantment achieved. It didn’t take long.

I ditched the work scene after that, decided to head into town and get some writing in as well as a shower at the laundromat. Walking towards the main road, I noticed the blue bird watching me from a branch above. It wasn’t the first time myself or other Doom Squad tribers noticed the blue bird, the gatekeeper of Poole’s Land. He circulated the grounds, constantly checking things out and singing his tune at visitors and residents. The more and more I saw him, I began to think the blue bird was a spirit or divinity, or maybe Michael Poole incarnate, keeping an eye on his land. Our friend David named him Jimmy, but that name didn’t strike me as an appropriate one for an avian rainforest spirit. My eyes lowered as I passed Pat, a 40-something strung out female resident.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Oh, y’know. Just waiting for Poole.”

“Yeah. Right.”

When I returned to camp a few hours later, the work day was over and everyone was in good spirits, uncorking bottles and sitting around the old woodstove that we had dragged out of a bush and installed at the stage’s edge earlier that day. Doom Squad had strung up fishing net on posts around the edge of the stage and splattered paint on an old metal door that was found in the area. They painted the words FULL MOON on the door, and leaned it against the front of the stage. I approached the RV and saw a pretty blond girl smiling and laughing with some of our tribe. Her green wide-eyed gaze met mine as I arrived there, and I noticed the feathers tied into her hair. She drew me in and greeted me warmly, introducing herself as Lily Poole, Michael’s daughter, the heiress of Poole’s Land. We chatted about the show, and she told us how everyone in town was excited for the full moon trance party in the rainforest the following night. We soon learned she had once attended high school in London, Ontario, the same hometown as Doom Squad, Soleil and myself. The now fully-waxed moon seemed enormous compared to our ever-shrinking worlds. She left shortly after, bidding farewell until the following evening, her own bright smile reflecting ours.

Community Trees, a pack of eleven young subterraneans and adept musicians, so beautifully tuned into nature and each other that their vocal harmonies flowed through one and out the other like the tide, joined us at the pond and proposed heading to the Pyramid. En masse, we headed down the road and off into the forest, uphill along a path and finally up a rope on a steep slope. There we arrived at the Pyramid, a prism-shaped treehouse tucked in among the treetops, cozy with couches and hammocks on the first floor and ornamented with painted signs and images, words like “People Not Profits” scrawled on the weathered wood. Ropes hung from branches all around, ropes for swinging to other ropes swings, slack lines for scurrying from treetop to treetop, and a huge old fishing net suspended between trees that one could, with a bit of difficulty, shimmy up to, swing by a rope and slide into to, lay in comfortably above countless branches and a 20 foot drop to the rainforest floor. Climbing a spiral staircase to the second floor of the Pyramid, a four foot wide boardwalk of plywood around a little room with a sliding glass door, the extended Doom Squad family sat up there giddy with happiness and altitude, watching the other ape-like hippie residents swing from tree to tree.

We all hung out in the Pyramid for a while, drinking beer and shooting shit. Peter was there too, loudly recounting stories even we had already heard before earlier that day. Westing Crow joined us soon after, reporting he had found a beautiful spot up the path a bit further. So we all followed him to the top of the hill where we were greeted with a beautiful coral sunset and blue ridge mountains. We all sat closely together on the slope, our Doom Squad tribe, which now included some other friends who drove up from Vancouver, and the Community Trees tribe, plus some other loose campers here and there, and gazed out at the sunset, breathing it all in. One Tree behind me starting playing the guitar, and without notice, all of the Community Trees started harmonizing, pitch perfect and with unearthly ease, all tuned in and falling into their vocal patterns. It was so beautiful; we all smiled and gushed to them.

Someone proposed the beach, and rallied everyone to head down. Dusk now, we returned to our camp for some warmer clothes and strolled down the main road to Mackenzie Beach, marching and playing acoustic music along the way. After walking through a dingy campsite, we arrived on the beach to behold the setting solar spectacle, a purple-blue bruise smeared across the sky, with the bright, near full moon peeking out behind backlit clouds. Campfires peppered the beach. We spun and danced and tripped on the beauty of the world, falling to the powder-fine sand, unlike any sand I’ve ever felt before, and made sand angels. Some of us dipped in the water. We howled and marvelled at the incredible moon. It was all so beautiful. Some collected firewood and built a campfire; we all gathered around it and started playing more music, singing more songs, songs we all knew and songs we made up along the way, all harmonizing together. One of the Trees started playing the blues on the guitar, and Treymor and I went with it, started scatting, singing the Michael Poole blues.

“Bin’ waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting/
For Michael Poole, the Michael Poole bluuuuues”

Someone had brought glow sticks, and Lamb would take one, put one end in the fire until it melted and broke off, and then wave it around in the air, covering everyone with the neon Day-Glo yellow-green. We all became vibrant Jackson Pollocks, galaxies designed across our bodies as we danced around the fire. Day-Glo speckled the sand too, and we fell to our knees and manipulated the neon constellations with our hands like we were gods. We felt like gods, howling at the moon every time it would come out from behind a cloud. Until eventually two disgruntled campers showed up and said they called the cops, and that we had better get the hell out of there and back to Poole’s Land. Grounded now, we collected our things and marched back to our tents, still singing along the way.

The following day, Doom Squad was sound-checking by the pond as a few of us sat around the stage. Nick, Echo’s friend from Vancouver, was wrapping two sewing needles around a twig with black thread while I thought of which design I wanted to get tattooed on my arm. I had been thinking about getting a stick and poke for a while, and after the previous night, I felt as if Poole’s Land was the perfect place for the memory to be infused into my skin with needles and India ink. It’s not like I would ever forget this place anyway, even if I tried. I decided finally on a crystal shape, modelled off of a Lumurian crystal I’ve been carrying around for a few weeks, inspired by the natural beauty and energy of this place, this province. We headed up to the Pyramid and sat cross-legged on the wooden floor. Nate, another friend from Vancouver, had done stick and pokes a handful of times before and started sketching out the design on a wooden post. We decided on one and started applying it while one of the Community Trees, fondly remembered as le bébé écureuil, strummed the guitar and sang sweetly. After the image was permanently stained on my upper right arm, we all headed back down to base camp to get ready for the show, to make more permanent memories.

Wolf, onstage known as Ghost Prom, started DJing his set as some local kids, surfers and ravers, started arriving, including Lily Poole, dressed vibrantly in Day-Glo and fairy wings. Treymor and WigWam had weaved solar powered L-wire through the fishing net around the stage that pulsed a blue-green glow with the sound of the bass. The sun was setting and the full moon rising. We were all rising ecstatically now, dancing to the music. Peter had lined the side of the road with recycling bins, and tarps were hung from a rope for emergency shelter from the sporadic Tofino rain. A few locals were perusing WigWam’s handmade silk-screened t-shirts, running their hands over the multi-coloured design: WIGWAM GETS WHAT WIGWAM WANTS. The rest of us were all shaking in the twilight now, ripping into the night as Ghost Prom choreographed the flow and conducted our malleable bodies. Community Trees joined us then and started dancing too, waving incense in the air above their heads.

The crowd of hippies and party-goers grew, and those of us dancing were hanging on tight to every pulse, every drop. Doom Squad came on when the full moon was perfectly centred in the clearing of trees, beating down on us lunatics like the midday sun, our blood boiling now with ecstasy. Treymor, Aloe and WigWam rocked back and forth, stomping, beams of light from their headlamps waving through the air and following the progression. The sisters and brother looked extra extraterrestrial that night, outer-dimensional big dippers, locking us in their dark trance draw. The trees melted around us as the whirlpool of glowsticks swallowed us whole on stage. The scene was utterly surreal. Soleil rolled around with the camera, filming with only the light from her headlamp spotlighting what was in her gaze; hypnotized dancers, incense smoke trails, and the three Doom Squad musicians filled the frame. A group of teetering dudes pulled a canoe into the small pond and floated around below the stage, barely visible other than the red glow of cigarettes and a glowstick or two.

Doom Squad drove through their set and closed with “Land of the Silver Birch (Home of the Beiber)” when a friend from Vancouver lit and set off a hot-air lantern into the sky, lifting off and disappearing behind treetops. Sparklers were lit and handed out, waved about. The spectacle was brilliant, and closed with a flash of blazes.

Ghost Prom launched into his second set and kept us pulsing to the beat. We were all reverberating, expelling our energy and sacrificing it to Wolf, now resembling a witch doctor, waving his arms around, conducting our energy into sound, noise and light. It continued like that, the energy flowing in and out of us like the tide, reigned over by the lunar god in the sky. We had all lost our minds now, all stark raving lunatics. Behind Ghost Prom, I noticed our Doom Squad family was huddled in a circle beside the RV. I approached and was drawn into the circle.

“Rocky! It’s him! He’s here!”

Michael Poole had arrived. Treymor told me later on that it was Lily who was the first to realize it. “I can feel him! My dad is here, I can feel his energy!” she had said. She ran off towards the main road and sure enough returned minutes later with a tall ethereal-looking man, dressed in neutral colours, with white hair and maybe 60-something years behind him, but without a wrinkle on his tanned face. His eyes were green like Lily’s, clear and magnetic, drawing us in like Narcissus to the pool. When I entered the circle of my friends and loved ones, wide-eyed and mouth agape, grinning like a fool, Poole lowered to one knee and took my hand, raised it above his head and made me feel like the only person left in the universe. The youniverse, Poole would have said. All of our arms were around each other, rubbing circles on each other’s backs and laughing. Poole was utterly otherworldly. We breathed in his energy and got high on his aura, until he told us he had to go, had been travelling all day and was beat, needed rest, rejuvenation. He ran off to his modest cabin behind the kitchen with Lily on his back, but we could still feel him. We felt it, the shift in energy. Poole had arrived at Poole’s Land, and most people pulsing to the music didn’t even know it yet. But he had affected something, affected us.

To be perfectly honest, before I met Poole I was beginning to think he didn’t exist, that he was perhaps a figurehead imagined into existence by hopeful, blissful hippies. Maybe he really was the blue bird gatekeeper. Or maybe he was the land itself. But I met him, we all did. We met his gaze, touched his hands, heard his voice, and were all a bit different because of it. A paradigm shift, and not necessarily one for the better. The music kept pulsing but the spectacle was over, the mystery disintegrated, the curtain pulled back to reveal the Wizard of Oz to be just a man. An extraordinary man, yes, but until then hidden behind a smoke and mirror show that intoxicated our sense of wonder and mysticism. But even though some of the grandiosity was unavoidably deflated when we met the man behind the mirrors, it was nevertheless evident that he was a generous, sage, compassionate, spiritual man who had blindly welcomed us onto this amazing land. And his energy was undoubtedly powerful, we all felt that. With some reflection on the whole event, I’ve come to realize that it didn’t take the Wizard of Poole’s Land, or a pair of ruby slippers, to make me feel right at home on this land, in this rainforest, with all of these beautiful people, with Doom Squad, with each other, with the ocean, trees, dirt, sand, waves.

Ghost Prom kept spinning and we clicked our heels to the beat. 

There’s no place like Poole’s Land.
There’s no place like Poole’s Land.

In the end, Treymor decided to not shoot any footage of Michael Poole for the movie, and I fully support that decision. He wanted to keep the man himself alive for our memories only, put on the smoke and mirror show for viewers, keep the mystery alive.

Ghost Prom’s set finished and the equipment was quickly packed into the RV. Community Trees grabbed their acoustic instruments and started playing, weaving their sweet harmonies into the silence. Hippie attendees weren’t at all jolted by the shift in sound, the almost immediate decompression of abrasive trance to smooth folk-pop, and we all sat cross-legged on the stage once again around the woodstove, singing along.

Late that night, when everyone had left or gone to sleep, myself and three other amazing beings climbed into the net, throwing our sleeping bags in first, to sleep in the rainforest suspended between treetops. Not that we slept at all, we were too happy to sleep, to tired to move. Jimmy the blue bird flew over, whistled to announce his presence, and moments later flitted off, apparently content enough with what was going on. So we just lay there and laughed until the sun rose and the rain started to fall. We stared straight up into the oncoming rain, not sheltered and not giving a damn. Until we did.

So now, a few days later, in Portland, Oregon for a show tonight at the Someday Lounge, followed by a bush bash the following night at some yet to be defined location in the greater Portland area, Doom Squad and I sit in the Stumptown Café, a variable symphony of sniffles, heads more full of mucus than music, and I am finally able to articulate what happened this past weekend in Tofino and put it to the page. The rest of Doom Squad are as sick as I am; I’m positive WigWam will not likely forget a fly for the tent the next time we camp in the rainforest. I'm also positive we won’t likely ever forget that magical weekend at Poole’s Land. I know I never will. It’s more a part of me than the ink in my arm.


Part 4 here.

Photos by V. Rachel Weldon.

V. Rachel Weldon is an arts journalist and English Lit student currently traveling the West Coast of British Columbia and the United States, on tour with Doom Squad. Some names have been changed to protect the subjects, and some just for fun. You can read her all of her posts here or at her blog for full tour coverage Hot Wax & the Ecstatic Sound.


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