The Contrary Canadian

The Contrary Canadian Ebook_pic0002

A casual hike in the early 1980’s changed the course of my life. I was a meteorological technician stationed at Alert, a Canadian military site on the upper tip of Ellesmere Island—just a few hundred miles from the North Pole.

I’d persuaded an army buddy to accompany me on a prospecting trip for some of the unique black crystals that were on display at the base. We spent a few hours working our way through a maze of gullies, fording ice-rimmed streams, even crossing paths with a herd of reindeer. Another thirty minutes of walking over relatively level bench land saw us arrive in a narrow valley formed by the bases of the twin mountains we’d chosen as our destination.

Unaccustomed to such treks, I found myself winded and loath to take another step. I set down my pack, lowered an aching body to the ground and tried to put my focus elsewhere. It wasn’t long before I noticed the face of the smallest mountain was covered with ugly scars.

“Those are holes left by people who were digging for crystals,” my friend said.

“What about the other one?” I asked, indicating the unblemished surface of the larger sister.

“No one goes up there,” he replied. “No crystals.”

We turned our attention to laying out a lunch of sandwiches, fruit and hot coffee. Then, sitting with our backs against the foot of Big Sister, sheltered from the wind yet able to enjoy the sun, we studied the mountain in front of us and contemplated our next task.

My companion wanted to work some of the existing holes on the lower slopes, but something about those excavation marks didn’t sit well with me. I bit into a sandwich, turned my gaze away and looked up at the pristine slopes of Big Sister.

It came to me then, an old Robert Frost poem entitled The Road Not Taken. The implication seemed obvious: Two roads diverged, and I was going to take the one less travelled. Still, I invested a few moments to make sure I really wanted to give up my chance to acquire the rare stones I so admired. In the end, though, I chose to persuade my friend to change targets, to join me in climbing the mountain no one visited.

And what a climb it was! You’d take a step, sink at least ankle-deep into loose shale, then struggle to keep from slipping backward. Two steps up, slide a step back. Sweat poured. A stitch developed in my side. Lungs clamoured for air. Both of us questioned my intelligence.

Until, that is, we reached the summit and found a cairn that couldn’t be seen from the ground. About four feet wide at the base and just as high, the unexpected mound of rough stones made quite an impression.

“Built to last,” my friend commented.

He and I caught our breath. Then, both being convinced the structure served a special purpose, we began to poke and prod the thing. Our excitement was palpable, and justified. Within minutes we discovered a metal pipe protruding from one corner of the cairn’s foundation. In a hollow behind the pipe was a metal box which contained, written on scraps of paper, the names and comments of adventurers who’d come before us. Some dated back to the early 1960’s.

After adding my name to the cache, I walked to the northern edge of the mountain, leaned into the wind, and stared out over the partially frozen Arctic Ocean. To the east, the mountains of Greenland rose upward out of the sea. Inland and to the west,  the sun glinted off Ellesmere’s peaks. Some twenty years later, I still consider it one of the perfect moments of my life.

An important lesson was offered to me the day I left my name on that mountain at the top of the world. I learned to walk the unbeaten path, began to understand the importance of taking unique, purposeful actions. And over the years, as this lesson became an ingrained part of my life, it slowly evolved into a guiding attitude I call The Philosophy of The Road Not Taken.

The investment world has developed a similar convention known as Contrarianism. Advocates of this path pursue success through views and actions that tend to contradict prevailing wisdom. Sounds about right. Just call me The Contrary Canadian.


Clayton Bye is the author of 9 books, has worked as an editor and currently operates his own traditional publishing house, Chase Enterprises Publishing. Visit him at or view our products at





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15 thoughts on “The Contrary Canadian

  1. Delinda

    Clayton, this is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve read. I too travel the road less taken in many aspects of my life. I get discouraged and wonder why I spend so much money writing books that nobody reads. Your message gives me the encouragement to keep writing and to keep warning people about the dangers of prenatal exposure to toxins-an activity less popular than my books.

    1. clayton bye

      Hi Delinda,

      One should use the idea of the Contrarian, of taking the path less traveled, as a guiding force rather than a rule. If the average person does something and you don’t want average results, then you need to look at what more successful people are doing in that situation and, perhaps, emulate them. But it’s not an automatic. Remember, by taking the mountain (road) less traveled, I missed my chance to collect the crystals I had come for in the first place. I was okay with that, but what if I wasn’t?

  2. Martha Love

    Beautiful story and picture of you! Wow, what an adventurer! So alive! I do believe your “unbeaten path” was teaming that day with life and wisdom!

    Following your philosophy of following “The Road Not Taken” reminds me of how one feels following their gut feelings. Your gut may tell you one path is best, but your head may say the other, with your head often just being a parrot of what is conventional knowledge, accurate or inaccurate. In reading your piece, I am reminded of all the very successful investments some giants in business have made from wild gut feelings. And of course, there are those days that our best intuitions about taking the “unbeaten path” turns out not so great. You have to be willing to give up the payoffs of mediocrity, and “just average” rewards feels sometimes like quite a lot to lose. Am glad it worked out so well on this one important day for you, Clayton.

    I’d make a poster out of that picture of you!

    1. clayton bye

      Hi Martha,

      I actually used that photo for a book cover. Never made a poster out of it, but I did have a 4 ft long poster of me standing at the base of an iceberg that ran aground in a fjord at an other settlement on the same island. I could look at it each morning when I arose from bed. Very cool 🙂

    1. clayton bye

      Hi Jim,

      The metal pipe both marked the hole where the tin was and protected it from the elements, kind of like rolling a stone over the opening. The cairn? I never found out, but over time I think I have put together a likely story. You see, back in the late 50’s or early 60’s they would have been building Alert. The initial airfield would have needed a line of sight marker for coming into the base. This mountain which was about 10 miles out and a few thousand feet high would have been the perfect place to build a marker–hence the cairn.

  3. Salvatore Buttaci

    Though I have not had your experiences, I’ve always considered myself a Contrarian as well. Never a crowd follower, I enjoy exploring new venues and avoiding the politically correct. A great article by an excellent author!

  4. Linda Hales

    Bet you have a real treasure trove of experiences Clayton and many of them worthy of your immense talent at story writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece and I appreciate all the angles that you have discussed with your commenters.

  5. Clayton Bye Post author

    Thank you all for your kind comments. If you are interested, the above story is actually the first chapter in a book called The Contrary Canadian. It is a collection of my experiences as I traveled about Canada and lived in interesting places. Each story has some kind of philosophical side, just like the first story does. You can purchase the book directly from me for $19.95 (there is a full colour photo to go with each story). My email is

  6. John B. Rosenman

    A very moving story, Clayton. I used to teach “The Road Not Taken” in school. Taught it a lot in fact, and your experience perfectly exemplifies it. In this case, your hunch or instinct proved right, and this cairn was your treasure trove. You’re right to be a contrarian and not to follow the crowd, although of course, you don’t want to do it all the time. One way this situation might have differed from the poem was that you could (?) have had time to climb to the top of the other hill or mount. In Frost’s poem, he knew he didn’t have time to follow the other road. But perhaps I’m wrong about that. I can see why the experience was so important and formative to you.

  7. Anne Sweazy-Kulju

    My “top of the world” is often the cliffs over the Pacific, at sunset. I am fortunate to live across the street from them; nearly each night I am reminded of God’s “perfect moments”. I know these are blessings; I know how lucky I am.

    I loved the story, Clayton. Clearly, you are lucky, too.


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