Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brothers (#171)

I was reading a newspaper last night. Yep, despite being a hep guy plugged into the interweb, I still get much of my news via the newspaper.

It was, in fact, the Toronto Sun, my paper of choice, and not solely because it features the incisive, witty, extremely funny writing of that gorgeous and brilliant entertainment columnist, Liz Braun. And I’m probably not saying that just because she reads this.

I was catching up on the international news, still dominated by the horrible natural disasters in Burma and China, when a picture caught my eye.

And held it. And held it. And I found myself returning to that page again and again to look at it.

The photograph was by Andy Wong of the Associated Press. This is it:

(If you’re reading this online you can click the picture to see a larger version.)

The caption said: A young earthquake survivor feeds his baby brother with noodles at a refugee camp in Yongan town, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Beichuan county in southwest China's Sichuan province, Sunday, May 25, 2008.

I was struck by many things in the photo. Not the least is the focus in the older boy’s eyes. His furrowed brows indicate he is taking his job very seriously. His lips are slightly pursed, his mouth prepared to mimic his little brother’s upcoming gape when he fully accepts the noodles. (I learned long ago, when watching someone feed a baby, to keep my eyes on the feeder, not the baby. It’s hilarious how they contort their mouths with every spoonful. And yes, I know I did it too. Pretty sure it’s one of those autonomic reactions, like knee jerks and hanging up on telemarketers.)

The little brother’s attention appears to be on his hands more than on his brother, or the chopsticks. To me, his distraction is indicative of the confidence and trust he has in his sibling. He can afford to focus elsewhere because he has faith that his brother will look after him.

Could the faceless woman in the background be their mother? I hope so. But something tells me she would be feeding the baby if she was the mom.

The colours in the photo are warm and vibrant, adding much to the gentle beauty of the scene.

If we were to zoom upwards from our view of this peaceful tableau, we’d likely see thousands of people packed into refugee camps. We’d see mile after mile after mile of rubble. We’d see rescuers pulling bodies from the ruins. If we could hear, I’m sure there would be moans from the wounded and wailing from the bereaved. If we could smell - we’d wish we were just about anywhere else.

I’m sure that Mr. Wong’s camera has recorded many photos that would make us recoil in horror. He’s clicked on scenes of near-unimaginable misery. I’m deeply appreciative that he snapped this one. If I had one, it would get my vote for a Pulitzer.

We can’t take over that little boy’s job. We can’t hand-feed those who need it. But most of us can afford a few dollars to help buy more noodles.

Mr. Wong’s picture is a gentle reminder that we are all our brothers’ keepers and that man is never more ennobled than when he is helping others.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love Among The Flotsam (#170)

What my sons refer to as “Dad repeating himself” I like to think of as “expanding upon a recurring theme.” Or maybe it’s “expounding.”


The point is I’m a writer, and as such, know a lot of words. I may as well use them. And there’s only so many topics that either interest me enough, or that I know well enough to write about. Which is true of any writer, really. So, the old adage of “write what you know” is true. Baron’s Corollary is “but use different words.”

So, on to yet another story about time and change and perspective....

Near the turnaround point of my evening walk with Ben, on the eastern edge of a cedar grove, there’s a bend in the creek which collects a lot of flotsam. Usually the flotsam is in the form of tree branches and sometimes, after a severe flooding, whole trees.

This particular piece of land is boggy and I largely avoided it throughout winter and early spring. The footing can be treacherous, particularly when snow-covered or muddy.

But it’s been dried out for the last couple of weeks so Ben and I wander that way now and again.

We did so last week on a glorious evening. It was about an hour before sunset, and the light filtering through the trees turned the ferns on the forest floor just about as green as green can be. Pleased that I had remembered the camera, I crouched down to take a couple of pictures. Ben, as is his wont, was somewhere ahead, blazing his own trail.

As I rose to my feet, I heard voices over the usual sounds of the wind in the leaves and the chattering of the nearby rapids. This was a first for this part of the walk which is in a fairly secluded area.

Fearing Ben might be making a nuisance of himself, I hurried toward the sounds.

Well, of course he was. A couple, facing each other while straddling a large log, were contending with a bouncing bundle of Benny on their laps. As I neared them, saying something along the lines of, “I see you’ve met Killer,” I noticed both were young men. And not only were they facing each other while straddling the log, but one also had his thighs astride those of his friend. Both grinned at me as they patted the ever-enthusiastic Benny.

I semi-apologized for Ben’s intrusion but thankfully, like 95% of his assaultees, these boys seemed to enjoy his whirling dervish-like greeting. (If I had an iota of that dog’s charm and chutzpah, I’d rule the world.)

Both boys were about 18 and wore black pants and white dress shirts. Probably students at the Catholic school. One was blond and one was dark and danged if they didn’t make a pretty good-looking couple.

As I called Ben to me and we continued on our way, one of the boys pulled the other’s head onto his shoulder and they hugged.

I live in a small, conservative southern Ontario town. Quite a few residents would be upset if they saw those boys being so affectionate with each other. Probably the majority would be discomfited in some way. Some would be appalled. I suppose that’s why they chose such a normally-secluded spot.

Yet neither lad evidenced embarrassment at being “caught.” Indeed, on the contrary, I may have detected a little extra delight in those smiles.

I’d characterize my own reaction, initially, as mildly disconcerted. I felt somewhat like an intruder but the boys’ relaxed attitude was contagious. And there’s little doubt I’d have felt similarly, to a slightly lesser extent, if I’d come upon a boy and a girl being openly affectionate. At some point in my life, probably my middling-late teens, I’d be “grossed out” if I’d seen them. Somewhere along the way though, my perspective has changed.

But not everybody’s has and many never will. I’m quite sure some people stopped reading this when they learned the couple was two young men. Some continued reading on but with a curled lip. It won’t surprise me if I get a couple of canceled subscriptions.

I don’t care. Life is too short to get into a dither over other people’s business. Those boys could be any of our sons.

Some will say “I don’t care what people do as long as they keep it private.” I’m pretty much in that camp and have been for a long time. But who among us hasn’t been openly affectionate when in the giddy throes of young love? And these lads weren’t exactly posturing in a busy intersection in order to be seen. They had every reason to expect to be unobserved in an out-of-the-way part of a small town.

Son #2, a senior in high school, has informed me that it’s “known” that several kids in his school are gay but he’s never seen any of them kiss or hug each other openly. He says they’d be teased mercilessly by a goodly proportion of the students if they were seen doing so.

So maybe Smalltown Ontario isn’t as nonchalant about gays as I might like to think. But it’s only a matter of time.

40 years ago, when I was their age, 30, 20, heck, even 10 years ago, those boys would have hurriedly separated at Ben’s approach, let alone my own. They probably would have run away. But these kids felt comfortable enough, brave enough, to stay.

Good for them.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fishy Feline (#169)

About 50 years ago, my father took me fishing for the first time to a small mill pond about 40 miles from our home. Brook trout inhabited the pond, sharing it with coarse fish like chub, suckers and sunfish. I proved adept at catching the latter and every once in a while a beautiful, silvery trout danced at the end of my line.

Most every year since, I’ve returned to the pond to try my luck. At first, I’d go with Dad and his friends and my brothers. In more recent times I’ve taken my sons. The fishing fanatic gene seems to have skipped a generation though, so these days I mostly go alone.

The best fishing is in late Spring. When the water warms in summer, algae blooms carpet the surface, making it tough, bordering on impossible, to present any bait or lure.

The mill is over 150 years old and still works, if irregularly. The only place one can fish is from the road directly opposite it, near the spillway which tumbles under the roadside bridge.

To tell you true, the fishing’s been no hang there for quite a few years. I keep going back because I just love the place. Part of the love stems from the happy boyhood memories which were born there. Part of it is the peaceful, idyllic surroundings. The pond nestles in a small vale between hills, like a jewel snuggled between bosoms.

And partly it’s the cats.

Over the decades, several generations of cats have lived in, or under, or beside the mill. They’re all quite feral and almost always, pregnant females. I can only recall one allowing herself to be stroked. For the most part, they keep a wary distance - closing the gap only when they note a bent fishing rod. At that point, they meow for a donation but still rarely venture closer than five or six feet.

I would always oblige, often switching tactics so I could catch a few chub. (For the uninitiated, chub are small, minnow-like fish, of use to humans only as bait for larger fish.) Most of the chub were 3"-4" long, with the occasional behemoth reaching 7"-8".

Yesterday I went to the pond for my first visit of the year. It was a grey, cool day, punctuated by several brief but fierce showers. Usually the mill owner’s dog visits to see what I’ve brought for lunch but there was no sign of him. There was no sign of trout either and despite catching and releasing a few chub in the first couple of hours, no kitty emerged from the bowels of the mill to mooch.

I was thinking of moving to another nearby pond when I heard a meow. A grey and white, very pregnant cat approached to within 10 feet and made it plain she’d sure appreciate something to eat.

A couple of minutes later I caught a large chub, about seven inches long. I thought it should keep her belly full for a couple of days at least. A sharp rap to the head dispatched the luckless fish. I bent down and offered it to the cat.

She came nearer but remained well out of arm’s reach, obviously torn between wanting that fish and needing to steer clear of this Two Legs. At that point, a car approached and the cat dashed back into the mill through a permanently ajar door. When the car passed, I walked to where the cat disappeared and left the fish just outside the door.

Within 15 seconds she reappeared to snatch the fish, turned, and disappeared inside once again.

A few minutes later, she announced her approach, still licking her lips.

“Good grief kitty! That fish should keep even a preggers lady satisfied. You want pickles and ice cream now?”

She gave me that look that cats give when they’re carefully considering one’s words. Or maybe the fish was backing up a tad. Then she meowed plaintively again.


I caught another, smaller chub a few minutes later. Again, she refused to take it from my hand. I tossed it towards her. She quickly picked it up and dashed back to her hidey hole in the mill.

About 10 minutes later, we repeated the performance yet again. I now assumed she was stockpiling the fish. She might be only days away from giving birth and even a rank fish would be better than nothing while she was indisposed.

When she reappeared yet again I was having my own lunch. Part of that lunch was a hunk of cheddar. I broke off a piece and tossed it. She picked it up and dashed off to her larder.

When she returned again, I knelt and held out another bit of cheese. She came within two feet of my outstretched fingers, reached out with a paw and made a half-hearted swipe, falling inches short.

It was something. I tossed the cheese a few inches and she snapped it up. This time, instead of running back to the mill, she sat near me and ate it.

“Well, I suppose I’ll take that for my thanks, you deciding to dine beside me and all.”

She licked her paw and then her face. I returned to my fishing, figuring on giving it a few more minutes before trying that other pond.

While focused on watching my float, I felt something brush against my left ankle. I looked down in time to see her rub her cheek against my leg once more before she turned away and sashayed back towards the mill.

I grinned like a god-fearing Irishman who’d just been high-fived by the Pope.

I’ll wander by again in a week or so and see how she’s doing.

This is the hungry mama-to-be. To the left, you can see the crack of the door through which she appears and disappears. (You can click the picture to see a larger version.)

This is the view of the pond from where I fish.

Here's the mill itself. What? Well, you wouldn't look too good either, if you were born in 1854.