Wish I'd Said It

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

- A. A. Milne

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twit Of The Year - And More! (#212)

Well folks, we’re not just peeking over our shoulder at a year slipping into the past but a whole darn decade.

Dang. You know you’re getting old when decades whisk by like seasons used to.

It’s been a remarkable one for a host of reasons, led by two numbers which came to represent a new, world-wide reality: 9/11.

~ The election of a mixed-race man to the office of President of the United States was certainly a notable event. (More’s the pity.) Surely, it will hasten the day when race, gender and sexual orientation play no part in deciding who is fit to lead a nation.

~ It was a decade in which global terrorism both helped and hindered the spread of tolerance. It subjected many innocent Muslims and people of Mid-Eastern descent to uncomfortable scrutiny and even outright bigotry. At the same time, identifying a small minority of fanatics who pose a real danger to the world helped put into a more realistic perspective the “threat” posed by such horrors as gay marriage and female clergy.

~ Personally, my path took many turns. It was a tumultuous time, featuring the death of my wife, the closing of my business, my Stupid Heart Attack, the publication of my book and the arrival in my life of Hilary and Benny. (There were other high and low-lights but I’ll leave their recounting to my Boswell.)

~ There were many falls from grace. Tiger Woods’ belly flop probably came from the loftiest height. It’ll take a goodly chunk of Tiger’s money to try to knit together the tatters of his reputation. Serves him right. He was a twit.

~ But I have to award the Twit of the Year to Michael Vick. (Background for those unfamiliar with him: He was a multi-million dollar quarterback in the NFL who served 18 months in prison for running a dog fighting ring. His treatment of the dogs was horrifying, killing those who lost by drowning or electrocuting them. After serving his time, he was allowed back into the NFL and is poised to re-make millions of dollars.)

Vick is not my choice because he’s an asswipe who tortured dogs. He’s my choice because, upon receiving an award from his teammates, he had the gall to say: “I've overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can handle or bear.”

He doesn’t get it.

18 months in prison plus a million-dollar contract (and an option for $5.2 million next year) does not add up to overcoming more than a single individual can bear!

I think he needs to talk to parents who’ve buried children or children whose Daddy isn’t coming home from Afghanistan or maimed soldiers who left body parts on foreign soil.

But I suspect even then he wouldn’t get it. Which is what makes Michael Vick a major league twit.

~ What’s in store for 2010 and beyond? I dunno but I’m sure it will be interesting. My hope is that we remain, or get healthy, and find fulfillment in what we do and who we are.

I’ll leave you with a YouTube video of my favourite song of the year. This clip is a live version from the Letterman show. On my computer, it's very slightly out of sync but that doesn't detract from the performance too much. Hope you enjoy.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thank You (#211)

Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

-Alanis Morissette
I suppose we’re a tad past the traditional season of thanksgiving but I’m feeling it this Christmas. Got to thinking about all the people, places and things that enriched my life over the years. And I don’t mean the obvious ones. This isn’t going to be about my loved ones, friends and family. I always hold them dear and trust they know so.

No, I’m talking about a few of those souls who have no idea they’ve brightened my days and lightened my load.

- Folks like Jerry Howarth, who calls the Toronto Blue Jays baseball games on radio and does a fine job. Jerry paints a verbal picture without unnecessary embellishment - letting the sounds of rawhide and wood and leather-lunged umpires tell half the story. His new side-kick, ex-catcher Alan Ashby, knows the inside game well, and is a fine communicator in his own right. There’s way worse ways to while away a fine, summer afternoon than listening to Jerry and Alan call a ball game.

- I wish I could thank every person who’s bought my book. They number in the many thousands now and have kept it in print for going-on six years. It’s quite remarkable really, because I’m a publisher’s PR nightmare. I refused to do book signings or radio or tv or print interviews. I sure appreciate every reader, most especially those who contacted me afterwards.

- I’m grateful to Mother Nature. I’m writing this on winter solstice night, the longest darkness of the year on my part of the planet. I anticipate the coming, gradually-lengthening days. Without darkness, we’d never appreciate light. MN has innumerable goodies in her basket that deserve gratitude. To list them all would take much more than a blog post. But here’s a handful: storms, rainbows, dragonflies, sunsets, trout, trees and dogs.

- Many actors have moved me with their performances and I could rhapsodize about a couple of dozen. But today I’ll focus on one: Susan Sarandon. I fell a little bit in love with her in 1970's Joe. And a little more in 1975's Rocky Horror Picture Show. I realized it wasn’t just a passing fancy with 1980's Atlantic City and 1988's Bull Durham. As the years passed, and we continued to never meet, I gradually came to understand that there would be no little Barondon babies. So, I gallantly stepped aside and gave that Tim Robbins guy a clear playing field. Ms Sarandon should  be declared a cinematic treasure. I can’t think of another actress today with a comparable body of work (that’s not what I mean!) encompassing 40 years. She elevates whatever movie she’s in and is still undeniably sexy in her 60s.

- As with actors, there are dozens, nay, hundreds of musicians and other artists who have spiffed up my life. One who gets little air time on this side of the pond is Britain’s Chris Rea, one of the finest slide guitarists these ears have ever heard. For over 30 years, he’s been playing blues, rock and a little jazz. A few years ago, he was dangerously ill and survived a tricky operation. He promised that if he lived, he’d devote himself to the music he loved best - the blues. The blues are my favourite genre, so I’m doubly happy he’s well again.

- I’m grateful for the everyday pleasantries exchanged with store clerks, cashiers, gas station attendants and the three Karens who work at my bank. For quite a few years, if not for them, I might have gone weeks without an adult conversation.

- Lastly but not leastly, I’m deeply appreciative of you folks for reading my emailed, and now blogged, scribblings. Over the six-plus years, I’ve been made to feel like a member of many families.

Thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here's a little taste of Chris Rea's music. Gaunt and haggard-looking from his illness, he shows he's still got the right stuff:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Root, Trunk & Limbs (#209)

Some of you know I spent a goodly portion of my life working in a retail furniture store. One of my favourite aspects of the job was dealing with wood. I loved unpacking a new shipment of oak, ash, maple, cherry, mahogany or birch coffee tables, dining tables or bedroom suites. I love the smell of raw wood and the look and touch of smooth, shiny finished pieces.

I believe trees can be cut but wood never really dies. Like true love. Like us.

What follows are some pictures I've taken over the last couple of months of wood in various forms. (If you wish to see them larger, click on them once. Some will expand even more if you click a second time. To return to the post, click your "back" button.)


Stumps and roots are like fire, in that one can stare at them and see...things....

Other...things...might be seen in  tree trunks.

The true majesty of trees can only be appreciated by looking up.

This upright, elongated stump with its amputated limbs still harbours life. It provides support for surrounding bushes and plants as well as food for insects, which in turn keep birds and other critters nourished.

Roots, rocks and water. Three enduring symbols of Canada's north.

A single flower keeps an old fence post company.

This is one of my favourite shots. I like how the moving water at the shoreline has taken on a metallic sheen. And I never cease to be amazed at the lengths (and bends!) some trees, especially cedars, will take in the course of seeking light.

Shoreline sentinels observe a serene, yet gloomy scene.


The end of a evening's walk at the park near Hilary's place. If you're very, very quiet, you might hear trees whisper to each other after dark.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Autumn's Golden Light

I got a new camera a couple of months ago. I wanted something small that would offer a better zoom feature than my old digital. I found one at The Source (which, in the States is still called Radio Shack, I think).

It's a Sony, like my old one, but offered many, many more features - even though it was last year's model. Because of that latter fact, it was on sale for less than $200. (If you're in the market, you might still find one. It's the Cybershot DSC-H10. It has 8.1 megapixels, a nice wide-angle lens, 10X optical zoom, a macro feature, makes HD videos and fits in a pocket.)

Anyhow, as most of you well know, I'm a techno dweeb and avoided uploading pictures from the new camera because then I'd be forced to deal with new software. Probably.

I finally bit the bullet and have spent the better part of the last three days sorting through almost 600 photos. Probably about 10% are worth sharing. (And I did indeed have to wrassle with new software.)

Don't panic! I'm not going to inflict 60-some pics on you in one swell foop. Nosirree Bob. I'll divide them up into bite-sized posts.

Here in southern Ontario we've enjoyed the first November in over 100 years without snow. But the days grow inevitably grayer and colder.

Here's a fond, pictorial farewell to autumn's golden light. (Click on each if you'd like to see them bigger.)

Some of you may recall my column/post about the Commemorative Forest. Well, that's it there on the right. The forest is now about 12 trees strong. Ish. Nice light across the creek though eh?

The wild rose's red hips are brighter than its blossoms were.

October morning light on the northern path.


The squirrels have been extremely active for the last two months, storing and stashing food for the winter. This grey has made good use of the peanuts I leave in his neck of the woods.

I posted a similar photo of the cottage outhouse a year or two ago. I'm pretending I've had requests to see another.

Fall's golden evening light lends beauty to a homely milkweed's seed pod.

It's not hard to imagine the plant enjoying the rays of the setting sun. Ben, ever vigilant, is much too absorbed to notice. The yard MUST remain free of squirrels.

It's this tree, and its immediate environs in our backyard, that Ben watches so keenly. For a time, even mourning doves, like the one roosting here in an upper branch, were sworn enemies. Now, he pretty much specializes in squirrels. By the way, those pie plates? They are yours truly's Anti-Squirrel Devices, designed to keep the bird feeder free of their thievery.

They worked for about an hour and a half.

I flat-out love cedar trees. There. I said it. I've outed myself.

More pics to come in a few days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Releasing My Inner Artist (#208)

Since I was born without a jot of it, I have a deep admiration for anyone with artistic ability. I’m not being falsely modest. My stick men were, and probably still are, unrecognizable blobs. If fridge magnets had been invented in the 50s, my parents would have been mortified at the prospect of having to display my drawings. Early on in life, I sadly accepted the fact that words would be the only medium open to me for self-expression.

I guess in a way, you folks can blame my artistic inability for the fact you’re reading this.


Anyway... I love art and admire artists. Over the last few years, I’ve begun collecting pieces of various descriptions. Most of them have been purchased at yard sales or flea markets. A handful have come from galleries or directly from the artist. They have very little in common with each other except that many depict animals and each of them spoke to me on some level. Surrounding myself with these carvings and sculptures and paintings and photographs reawakened my long-dampened dream to become an artist myself.

Many years ago, I was tremendously impressed when I read about a sculptor who was asked how he fashioned such lifelike, detailed figures from rock and wood. He said something along the lines of: “If I’m carving a horse, I just remove the pieces of wood or stone that aren’t a horse.”

Simple, eh?

Understand, that at 58 I hold few illusions about myself, my abilities, or lack of same. I didn’t buy paints or modeling clay. Been there - totally sucked - you wouldn’t have wanted the t-shirt.

Nope. I bought myself a fine, three-bladed pocket knife.

This is what it looks like:

Yes, me and that beauty are going to carve ourselves some wood. Now, I’m not fool enough to set my artistic bar overly high. I’m not going to carve a wood nymph being ravished by satyr, much as I might like to contemplate the project. Not right from the get-go, at least. I’ll need a bit of practice.

This is me sitting on the back porch steps with my first piece of raw material - a piece of wood:

Taking a leaf from the aforementioned artist’s book, I decide that what I will do is remove all the bits of wood which are NOT part of what I wish to carve.

After mulling creatively for a moment, I decided to turn this piece of wood into a stick. So, here’s me hard at work reshaping the wood into my artistic vision.

A minute later - told you it was a really good knife - voila! The finished product! A fine-looking stick.

Quite frankly, it wasn’t as difficult as it looks from the pictures.

I guess I’m epter than I thought as an artist. I just struggled for decades to find the right medium.

I’m mulling my next project now. It’s a three-inch long piece of wood about as big around as a pencil. Without hardly squinting at all, I’m pretty sure I see a toothpick in there, wanting to come out.

(All photos courtesy of Son #1)

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Renovator, The Ditherer & The Decider (#207)

There I was a couple of months ago, threatening you folks with more frequent postings and what happens?

Infrequent postings, that's what. Apparently, I fibbed.

Not on purpose, of course. My explanation/excuse is there's lots of work going on in the house. For the first time in 20-some years, much-needed repairs and decorating are transforming the place. But in the meantime, we’re living in chaos. I know, I know -- chaos describes most of the last 20-some years here. But this sort is different. This time there’s real hope for improvement on the other side of the mess. That light might not be an oncoming train at all. Could be a new fixture.

Let’s see...in the last two months I have replaced four sinks and a toilet. There’s new bathroom and kitchen floors and a new front door. The wreckroom ceiling is brand, spanking new. I replaced six light fixtures. As I write this, my living/dining room is about 1/3 hardwood floor, a beautiful, rich-looking, solid oak called “cognac.” (Which is what I want to drink a lot of after listening to a compressor and nail gun all day.)

By the way, I should mention I was using the royal “I” up there. My part in the renovations is swiping my credit card and writing cheques for the contractor. The actual work is being done by BillTheContractorGuy, assisted by Son #2.

(As longtime readers well know, I am not allowed to use power tools of any kind. I can hurt myself just fine with hand ones. Remarkably, #2 is adept with tools and eager to learn all aspects of repair and renovation, including using drills and saws and other lethal devices. DNA is weird, eh?)

Of course, my duties aren’t solely restricted to emptying my wallet. I also get to Frown Importantly while BillTheContractorGuy or a sales clerk from Home Depot are babbling about mortises or beveling or other equally incomprehensible contracting voodoo.

With apologies to George Bush, I am also The Decider. To me falls the burden of choosing flooring and fixtures and whatnot. I don’t know about you folks, but I’m the kind of Decider who prefers to have limited options. If there were only three colours, it would be darn sight easier to decorate.

Which brings me to giant warehouse stores.

I don’t much like giant warehouse stores. But apparently, nowadays, they are about the only places where contracting-type stuff is available.

Lots and lots and lots of it. Like, way more than three colours-worth.

When faced with too darn many choices, The Decider has a tendency to become The Ditherer. It’s difficult to select new light fixtures when there are many dozens to choose from. Especially when the person selecting has never, in his entire life, considered light fixtures beyond hoping they work when the switch is flipped.

Hilary offers a woman’s perspective when she’s here and something needs to be Decided. I always consider her counsel and have even been known to follow it. But she's only here for a couple of days every two weeks. So, more often than not, the burden of choice lies heavy on my shoulders alone.

Mine and the sales clerks from Home Depot.

Thank the gods many of those folks seem to know what they’re talking about! A nice lady helped me pick out the bathroom and kitchen floors and another helped with the front door. Yet another spent a half-hour giving me a crash course in hardwood flooring. She kindly paused whenever she noted my eyes glazing over, and would re-explain, using smaller words.

In any event, by the time all’s dithered and decided, I hope to have new windows, furnace and garage door too - perhaps even before winter sets in.

Unless, of course, there’s more than three kinds of windows, furnaces and garage doors.

I’ll keep you posted. Just not sure when, exactly.

Monday, October 19, 2009

October Is The Best Month Because (#206)

1- Summer’s heat is gone - replaced by pleasant days and cool, almost cold nights. The air smells cleaner and feels lighter.

2- All the major North American sports seasons overlap. On any given day one can watch baseball, hockey, basketball or football. Sometimes, in an eyeball-bending orgy of remote control button mashing, one can watch eight or more games a day. (Not recommended for the casual sports fan. Sprains are common and hernias not unheard of.)

3- Mosquitoes are history ‘til June.

4- The fall colours are spectacular. October is the month in which Mother Nature reverts to childhood and finger paints her world. The lush green of the past several months still exists but now it’s in patches, surrounded by gleeful splashes of yellow, orange, red and brown.

5- Rainbow trout (Steelhead) start staging at the mouths of creeks that empty into the Great Lakes. There are few prettier sights than a crimson-slashed, sliver slab of finned muscle leaping at the end of one’s line.

6- The crowds thin out along my favourite walking paths. The salmon run is over (finally!). Ben and I start having stretches of creek and field to ourselves again.

7- The falling leaves make bird-spotting an easier task.

8- Children are settled back into school. Adults (who don’t teach for a living) seem to be in better humour. Probably not a coincidence.

9- The cool, nearly-cold nights make sitting around a fire more than just a pleasant indulgence. It awakens ancient, dna-deep memories of huddling around flames when doing so was necessary to stay alive.

10- It’s a time of plenty. The last harvests are coming in. Mason jars and other canning equipment appear on store shelves. I don’t “put up” jams or tomatoes or that sort of thing myself but I like to think others are. It reminds me of my youth when my mother and grandmothers prepared goodies that would last through the winter months.

11- Halloween.

12- There’s still two full months before having to panic about Christmas shopping.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Hab A Bad Code (#205)

But they’re the only kind I bother getting these days. Lemme s’plain.

Years ago, throughout my teens, 20s and 30s, I caught a lot of colds and every other one turned into a tonsil and/or sinus infection. Each bout of infection dragged on for weeks. Seemed I was always on antibiotics. Sometime in my late 30s I started taking garlic tablets daily along with vitamin C.

Back in the day, the famous Dr. Linus Pauling touted the benefits of mega doses of vitamin C. And somewhere I must have read something that convinced me to try garlic tablets as well.

I wasn’t about to emulate Pauling’s dosages of umpteen thousand milligrams a day, though. I started taking a daily dose of 500 mg of C and one garlic tablet (or capsule) which contained the equivalent of one garlic bulb’s goodness.

I haven’t had a sinus or tonsil infection since. Honest to Godfrey Daniel.

I also noticed I was getting fewer colds and found that doubling my dosage at the first sign of a tickly nose or slightly sore throat would often banish the symptoms entirely by the next day.

Although other factors could certainly have come into play, I believe that combination of agents helped eliminate (to date - touch wood!) my infections and prevent many colds.

In other words folks, for the last 20 years I’ve been packing a pretty darned impressive immune system. (Heart attacks don’t count.) When I swagger into a room, bacteria whimper and viruses flee. I radiate robustness.


The problem is, since my aforementioned Stupid Heart Attack (has it really been almost five years already?) I’ve had to take a bunch of pills every day. And I don’t like taking a bunch of pills every day.

Admittedly, it’s a relatively small price to pay for staying alive and I don’t begrudge it much but what happened is I started backing off on my daily garlic and C regimen. I just didn’t feel like adding more pills to the pile. Instead, I’d take a double dose at the first sign of something happening and still usually warded it off.

But alas, I am no longer invulnerable. The toughest, gnarliest, battle-hardened viruses now occasionally find a chink in my armour. The last few years, I’ve been getting a cold every year or eighteen months, almost like normal, non-robust people do.

This latest insidious virus slipped through a crack without triggering an alarm. Before I knew it, come last Sunday evening, I was righteously smote by viral vengeance. Yea, brothers and sisters, I was laid low.

With the suddenness of a summer storm, I was beset by chills, a sore throat, runny nose and streaming eyes. Knowing it was too late, I nevertheless gobbled down a garlic and C, almost - lapsed Catholic that I am - like a desperate Act of Contrition.

I was not saved.

Over the next 48 hours my initial symptoms were joined by headaches, congestion, an overproduction of phlegm and a painfully strained rib cage muscle (an unwelcome and unpleasant byproduct of coughing).

I bought a chicken and fixin’s and made soup. My only other medication was an occasional acetaminophen washed down with a hot toddy. Or maybe three hot toddies. My memory is a tad hazy because I was delirious.

Anyway, today, following a pretty good night’s sleep, I’m happy to report feeling quite a bit better.

And I’ve decided to renew my garlic and C habit. There aren’t that many heart meds, really. I’m down to five a day, from seven, so I really have no excuse.

It may well be that I’ll never get a cold again.

Although, those toddies were good. Kinda like a tonic. Hmm...might be helpful to add them to the garlic and C preventative strategy....

Yes folks, yet again, your kindly servant is prepared to sacrifice himself on the bleeding edge of medical research in order to learn Important Things which he will then, of course, pass on to you.

You’re very welcome.


Hot Toddy Recipe: Fill 2/3rds of a large mug (mine holds about 16 ounces or half a litre) with hot/boiling water. Add a capful of lemon juice concentrate, a teaspoon of honey and a generous splash of whisky, spiced rum, or my new favourite, Alpenbitter No. 7. Mix well and sip slowly. Reheat and repeat as necessary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Yep, Another Excerpt From: Walking With Benny (#204)

First, a bit of background about Jack Russell Terriers, of which Benny is one: Reverend John Russell, of Devonshire, England, originated the breed in the mid-late 1800s. He wanted the perfect dog for hunting foxes. And he pretty much got it. They are compact, strong, agile and intelligent. (Debate, in some circles, still rages over the latter characteristic.) However, most of today's JRTs aren't getting much fox action at all. It's been my experience, via Benny, that they have happily adapted to chasing squirrels as their primary raison d'etre.


There’s a sleek, young-looking black squirrel at the top end of the grove who has begun waiting for me every morning. Or more properly, waiting for my peanuts. I leave two in his territory, one on each of two adjoining cedars. At first I’d rarely see him, but on the return portion of our walk some 20 minutes later, the two peanuts were nearly always gone.

Sometimes I’d spot him on our way back, usually higher up in one of the cedars. But recently, on a couple of occasions, he appeared to shadow me as I walked through the grove, hopping from tree to tree alongside me, some 10-15 feet away. It dawned on me that the little beggar recognized me now and, having stashed or eaten the first two peanuts, was hoping for another for the road.

I’ve always believed diligence should be rewarded. I told him so and left one.

So for about the last week, as Ben and I were on the home leg of our morning walk, there he’d be - all but checking his watch and tapping his foot - awaiting his third peanut.

Unfortunately, a couple of days ago, Ben cottoned on to this. Usually, he’s 30-50 feet ahead of me and intent upon his nose’s business. But on this day, he happened to turn and saw the little guy scurry down the tree trunk to get his bonus treat. So, both yesterday and today, Ben has dashed ahead to those trees, looking for the squirrel who is looking for me. (Okay, my peanut.) As the squirrel clambers down a tree at my approach, Ben tries to clamber up it to meet him. The squirrel is not at all fond of this game and retreats a foot or two.

Ben, of course, interprets this as him winning! So, he redoubles his tree-climbing efforts.

Party pooper that I am, I call a halt to the proceedings by leaving a peanut and calling Ben away.


Many of the folks I meet on our walks, especially those who profess familiarity with terriers in general and JRTs in particular, comment on how well Ben listens when off the leash. I adopt an appropriately modest expression and mutter something about it taking a lot of work. And that’s no lie. But I think one practice in particular has helped.

Ben eats two smallish meals a day, morning and evening, and I always walk him before he’s eaten. I theorized that a hungry dog is more apt to want to stay in touch with his meal ticket.

I mean, if a full-bellied, content dog happens upon a really interesting scent that went WAY over thataway, why should he heed that vaguely familiar voice receding in the distance? What the heck does he need you for now?! We’re talking a really interesting scent, possibly a skunk!

So, there’s one of the secrets to becoming a Jack Russell whisperer and I suspect it’s applicable to every breed: Walk a hungry dog.

Sure, he’s going to swallow every rotten salmon egg he comes across but the occasional bit of barfing is better than chasing him all over heck’s half-acre.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Autumn & Arboreal Appreciation (#203)

Well, I wasn’t fibbing. Hilary and I went to the cottage last week and had a fine time. There’s something to love about every time of year up there but autumn is my favourite. Days are still warm, nights cool and refreshing. The surrounding woods are busy with squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and birds looking to fatten up before weathering winter’s chill, or heading south ahead of it.

The fishing is generally poor but being bathed in warm, golden September sun while keeping an eye out for eagles and other wildlife makes up for it.

And best of all...the mosquitoes are history. Hallelujah and pass the wieners! I love sitting around a fire in the evening but hordes of skitters make doing so unpleasant in the summer months (unless we get a rare, strongish, on-shore evening breeze).

I can’t think of a finer way to celebrate the passing of a beautiful day than sitting around a fire, sipping a soothing beverage, admiring the stars and listening to loons calling goodnight to each other.

So, I spent a portion of every day gathering firewood for that evening’s fire. This involved trundling up the driveway with a wheelbarrow and sorting through the deadfall which blankets the surrounding forest floor.

Much of the wood is punky, having lain too long against the ground and absorbing too much water but a lot of it is fine. Most of my focus is on birch, maple or oak limbs about as big around as my fist but I also gather a lot of finger-width kindling and a handful of wire-thin twigs for starter fuel.

Some of the pieces of wood are up to 12 feet long. The thinner ones I snap with my hands or across my knee. The thicker ones I prop against the wheelbarrow or tree trunk and break with a kick.

Benny, who rarely lets me out of his sight, no longer accompanies me on these missions. I finally scolded him VERY severely one day a couple of years ago. I got fed up with having to wrestle with him for every single piece of wood I touched. Now, he stays with Hilary when I fetch the wheelbarrow.

It takes about a half-hour to 40 minutes to gather a load of wood that will keep burning for a few hours. A half-hour to 40 minutes of bending, stretching, dragging and stomping. It didn’t used to take so long. But apparently gravity’s gotten stronger over the years, resulting in each piece of wood getting slightly heavier and increased effort being required to straighten up again after bending and lifting. I can only surmise that all the scientists are too darn busy focusing on global warming to notice this new threat.

On my third gathering foray, my lower back started yelling at me. It had muttered a tad the day before but I found it easy enough to tune out -- like when your Significant Other is talking about something non sports-related.

There was no ignoring it this time, though. It went from a dull ache to an ouchy cramp in no time. I needed to rest it somewhere for a minute or three.

A nearby poplar, about as big around as me, was listing at about a 25 degree angle. Chances are, it will join its brethren on the forest floor in 10-15 years. For now though, it still had a goodly grip on the soil. I found I could brace my feet on its protruding roots, skootch down a smidge and lean back against its trunk, easing my discomfort considerably.

Greatly appreciative, I thanked the tree and rested against it. Then I began to consider all that trees do for us.

They provide shelter, food, medicine and protection for animals and man. As if that isn’t enough, while they’re at it, they produce oxygen for the whole planet. We use them to build houses and furniture, to make newspapers and toilet tissue. We gather their broken limbs to warm us and cook food and keep us safe against the things that go bump in the night.

We climb them for adventure, enjoy their shade on hot summer days and string hammocks between their trunks.

And sometimes we lean against them to soothe a sore back.

While doing so, and several times since, I tried to think of another form of life nearly so beneficent to mankind. Couldn’t.

Still can’t.

Have you thanked a tree today?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Clue To My Whereabouts

and what I'll be doing for the next several days.

You're an astute lot. I know you'll figure it out.

Here it is:

Keep well. See you soon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

10 Things I Believe Are True (#202)

1 - All living things have an inherent nobility and deserve respect.

2 - If you don’t look, you’ll never see. If you don’t listen, you’ll never hear. If you don’t slow down regularly and stop occasionally, you’ll go nuts.

3 - Women and men are different.

4 - No treasure is more dear than a true friend.

5 - Despite radical differences among breeds, all dogs excel at companionship.

6 - Baseball is a beautiful game.

7 - Fishing helps me stay in tune with Nature and hence, myself.

8 - Service to others is our most noble calling.

9 - Children know important things that most of us have forgotten.

10 - Newsprint gets smaller and blurrier once you turn 50.

I was going to elaborate on each, briefly, but of course I started running off at the brain and quickly realized I’d tax your patience (and risk numbing your lips) if I did. So, maybe I will on a few of them in a day or three. Or not. Maybe they don’t need no steenkin’ elaboration.

We’ll see.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Un Autre Faux Pas (#201)

What binds us as humans? What, more than anything else, promotes a sense of fellowship?

Oo! Oo! I know! Pick me, teacher! Pick me!

Go ahead, Frankie.

Why, it’s shared experience, of course. We all know what’s it like to be angry, sad, joyful, scared, excited and embarrassed. Especially embarrassed. We can relate to each other in a more meaningful fashion because we’ve all experienced similar feelings. Especially embarrassment. I mean, everybody says or does something dumb once in a while, don’t they?

Longtime readers may recall the story of my Grade 10 French teacher’s buttocks finding their way into my hand. Tres embarrassment la, I must say.

And perhaps you remember the day I was Christmas shopping and my elbow was assaulted by a woman’s bosom. Not my fault of course, but still a tad embarrassing.

Well, I did it again. And it involved a woman again. Well, a girl/woman, of 18. And it sort of related to body parts (but not naughty bits this time, thank goodness).

Son #2 was having a few friends over one evening a couple of weeks ago. They were gathered in the basement wreck room. Sounds of high hilarity and video game crashes and explosions prevented anyone but me from hearing the knock on the front door.

I got up to answer, expecting one of #2's urchin friends. Instead, I saw nothing, nobody. For a second. Then, in the deepening evening gloom, I saw a pretty young woman kneeling - actually, on her knees but leaning backwards, sitting on the backs of her calves - and smiling up at me. I didn’t recognize her but figured she must be one of #2's friends or a friend of a friend.

I smiled down at her. Obviously, she was expecting someone she knew to answer the door and was preparing to play a little joke on them.

“Hi. Is Son #2 home?” Only she called him “Jake,” which is his name.

About then Devon, one of Jake’s buds, arrived from the wreck room. I guess someone else heard the knock, after all.

“Hi April,” he said.

“Hi Dev.”

“Well,” I grinned and held the door open. “Come on in. And no need to crawl.”

“Actually, I have to.” Without a lapse in her smile, she tossed her head to indicate behind her. “I had to leave my chair at the end of the driveway.”

I peered and could just make out her wheelchair behind my car. Since I rented the large dumpster, there was no room between my car and the lawn to negotiate her chair closer to the house.

I stood aside, laughing ruefully and shaking my head at my dunce-osity, as April set her hands on the ground, then lifted and swung her knees into the front hall. Laughing off my apology and rocking forward on her hands and knees, she made her way along the hall. I asked if she needed help with the stairs and she cheerfully refused. It seemed she had no use of her legs below the knees. But there was nothing wrong with the rest of her and her confident good nature was a balm to my embarrassment.

But sheesh. I mean, holy mackerel. What a maroon.

Muttering to myself, I walked to the end of the drive and carried her chair closer to the front door. I didn't want to leave it so close to the street. Darn thing was heavy. Jake or one of his buds could carry it back for her when she needed it. I recalled him mentioning a friend named April from time to time, but he’d never talked of her disability.

Later, when the kids had gone home, I asked him why he’d never mentioned it before. He shrugged, saying it never occurred to him. It was no big deal. April was just April.

Which, of course, is exactly right.

April is April and Frank is Frank and faux pas (pases?) happen to everybody.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again (#200)


The blog spiffication of which I wrote last time, waaaaaaaaay back in July, is just one of several renovation projects I have on the go. After a couple of decades of neglect, I’m having work done on my house. Soon, the leaking windows and skylight will be replaced. The stinky old, stained carpeting should be history by mid-winter, replaced by hardwood flooring.

As we speak, there is a large dumpster occupying most of my driveway and it’s nearly full of junk from the basement, garage and yard. I have a new back deck upon which my barbeque no longer lists at an alarming angle and a new front door that actually closes!

Pretty heady stuff, indeed.

However, one must be careful when caught up in the euphoria of change. A new this and a spiffified that could lead to regarding everything elderly with a critical eye. It’s a good job I rarely look in mirrors.

Where Was I?

Just came back from a longish visit at the family cottage with Hilary and Ben. At various times we were joined by sisters Lisa and Theresa, Lisa’s husband, Ches, their dog, their oldest boy Nathaniel and his girlfriend and Theresa’s two 10-week-old kittens. Two and sometimes a third raccoon were nightly visitors.

Theresa volunteers as a wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in orphaned raccoons, squirrels and occasionally, birds. Two of the nightly visitors are recently released young raccoons which were originally found living under Hilary’s deck some months ago. The third one, who appears somewhat older though not yet full grown, seems to be hanging around with them. We’re augmenting their feeding in hopes of fattening them up enough to have a chance of surviving winter. Without a mother’s teaching, the odds may be long. We’re hoping though, that the newcomer has learned a few survival tricks it can pass on to the youngsters.

Hilary took scads of pics and will no doubt be showing and writing about them soon at her blog. I’ll give you folks who aren’t regular visitors there (you should be!) a heads-up when they appear.

Good News & Bad News

I started this column a few years ago and distributed it solely via email which is how most of you still read it. Then I decided to post it on my blog as well and some folks read it there instead. I’ve hinted periodically that it’s quite time consuming having to format it separately. It’s possible that the hinting had a whiny note to it.

So...continuing in the spirit of change, I’ve decided to no longer send out the emailed version. However, I’ll continue to email notification of a new blog post and include the link, making it easy for most of you to visit. I know that some of you receive and read the column at your work computer and can’t visit the blog from there because of surfing restrictions. Apparently, the New Improved Blogger, to which I upgraded during the spiffication process, will allow me to automatically email the column to a select number of recipients. As of this writing, I have no idea how many or how to make it work. But I promise to find out soon. If you are among those who’d prefer to receive it that way, please drop me a line. (Donna, I know you’re one of ‘em.)

I think it very likely that I’ll write more frequently because of this decision. (That’s both the good and bad news.) It will be so much easier to compose and format only once.

Off Again

As I write this, I’m preparing to leave again for the cottage tomorrow. (Writing while the washing machine is running counts as multi-tasking.) This time, Ben and I will be accompanied by Son #2 and one of his buddies. Here in southern Ontario, we’re enduring our first prolonged heat wave of the summer, with daily temperatures in the 90s F and humidex readings well over 100F. It will be good to jump off the dock into the cool, refreshing waters of the lake.

So please forgive me if I don’t reply to your emails or comments for a few days. Hope all of you are enjoying a fine summer. (Or winter for you Oddsies and that Brazil nut.)

PS to fellow Bloggers: You might notice that I changed the name of my blog to match that of my emailed column. Those of you kind enough to add me to your blog rolls may want to reflect that change. If you're a techno-dweeb like me and avoid that sort of thing as much as possible, nevermind. The web address will remain the same.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Blog Spiffication (#199)

“Your blog looks really old and tired.” Hilary’s voice was flat, matter-of-fact. “Then again, I suppose-”

“I know what you’re going to say.”

“-it suits you.”

“Very funny. So funny, I forgot to laugh.”

She’s not the only one who can deliver a zinger.

“How the heck can something as newfangled as blogging be ‘old and tired?’ I mean, computers have only been around for a few years and blogging for what - maybe five or six? Wringer washing machines now - they’re old and tired-looking. If I had a wringer washing machine, I’d probably invest in a new one. Almost for sure. People have had their entire arms crushed by those things. Right up to the shoulder. They should be banned.”

But she would not be sidetracked.

“If you switch to the new format, which, by the way, is no longer really new because EVERYONE else switched two years ago, you can choose from a huge variety of looks and it’s easy to do things like incorporate your own banner and personalize the appearance. Plus there’s new tools to make the whole blogging process less of a pain.”

“How much they pay you to shill for them?”

That earned me The Look.

(An aside for guys only. You womenfolk skip this bit. No, seriously, skip this paragraph. Brad Pitt is in the next one. Honest. Go look...Okay, they’re gone. All guys know, and many fear, The Look. It is disdainful and meant to wither. The trick is to not make eye contact. Just look at her nose and you’ll be fine. To be on the safe side, I always only ever look at Hilary’s nose, no matter what’s being discussed.)

Anyway, that’s pretty much how the conversation went a few months ago. As those of you who’ve been reading me for a while know - I don’t deal well with change. There’s a certain wrongness about change and I think I’ve figured out what it is: It’s different. And things that are different usually means there’s some learning to do. And learning is hard. Like Math.

So, I’ve been mulling this whole blog spiffication thing for several weeks now. The thing is, as I understand it, it’s like parachuting. Once you push the Blog Change Button, you’re committed. You’ve jumped off the plane and whoa buddy - that pull cord better work as advertised! It’s conceivable that every blog post I’ve ever made, every picture I’ve ever posted, will be lost in one of the Interweb’s notorious Black Holes, never to be seen again.

But what the heck, I’m gonna do it.

Not immediately, of course. Musn’t be hasty. No good ever came from rushing. No, I’ll do it in time for my next blolum, which, for those of you keeping score at home, will be #200. Surely a bicentennial needs to be marked in some special manner.

So, in a week, or two, or three, you folks will be able to see a new, improved, ultra-spiffified blog.

Or a big black hole. Which, of course, would be Hilary's fault.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Catching Up & Some Pics (#198)

We’re rolling out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer here in the Great White North. I don’t do real well with heat. Which means I’ve been even less ambitious than usual. So, I’ll tidy a few loose ends and post some pics in lieu of actually having to think about something.


Some of you may recall my epic battle with Bell Canada. If not, and you would like to read the blow-by-blow accounts of my heroic struggle, you can find them here and here.

Well, I’m happy to report that since those words hit the Interweb, I have not received a single dunning letter. They’ve stopped. And no cop-voiced guys have called, telling scary stories about what happens to deadbeats when the Bad Credit Monster is unleashed.

I suppose it could be a coincidence. But I suspect Someone In Authority read the stories and decided to remove me from the list.

See? There is a God.


I saw the young crow once more, two mornings after I wrote about him. Since then, nada. There has been no gathering of crows in that area. Nor have I seen a youngster hanging around. Pretty sure it’s safe to assume he’s flitting about with his friends and family, cawing his fool head off. I feel pretty good when I think about that.


Some of the photos which follow should have accompanied the previous column/post. I took them the same day. However, due to that lack of ambition thing referred to in my opener, I didn’t get around to uploading them to my computer until now. My bad.

The above pic is a peek into what I call the North Cedar Grove after a couple days of rain. Ben and I walk through it most mornings.

This cedar gives you an idea of their individuality. I refer to this one as Elephant Nose.

This shot illustrates the texture that I mentioned when the bark is wet. You can see it more clearly if you click on the photo to get a larger view. (Then hit your back button to get back to this page.) You may also note the peanut I left for a squirrel or bluejay.

Since I'm such a fun guy....

This enterprising slug and snail climbed nearly six feet up a tree. If gooey critters ain't your cuppa, you'd best skip over the next shot.

This log was alive with tiny slugs and snails after a couple of rainy days.

This is the north half of my backyard. In the background, you can see the spiffy birdbath Hilary got me for my birthday. A couple of days after this shot, all the poppies you can see in the foreground burst open in a blaze of short-lived, orange glory.

I'll wrap up by showing the results of a fishing foray to a small stream about a half-hour's drive away: two nice brown trout. The bigger one was 16 inches. Both did my frying pan proud.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Crows Among The Standing People (#197)

Soggy out there this morning and overcast. Lots of rain yesterday and more on the way today. Couldn’t find my rubber boots (memo to self: clobber one of the boys) so I put on the hiking shoes I bought yesterday. The puddly, mucky path would soon show me if they were more weatherproof than their disappointing predecessors.

I am always struck by how impressive the cedars look when their bark is soaked. The saturated moisture enhances their already-considerable character. Each of the old trees is distinct from its neighbour in the tilt of its trunk and the arrangement of arched limbs, whorls and scars. And the differences seem more stark when the trees are wet. They truly are a marvel and being among them is humbling. They speak of endurance, patience and the wisdom of ages. I better understand why many First Nations people refer to trees as Standing People.

And of course, there’s the green. Post-rain green - the green of the ferns, grasses, flower stems and leaves - is the greenest of greens. All in all, a treat for the eyes this morning. Much different from the “usual” treat of a sunny, early summer day.

As we normally do, Benny and I followed the dirt path along the creek north of the dam. I paused at the three rocks to place a peanut on a nearby willow limb. Ben was a few yards ahead, as he often is. Nearby, crows cawed their approach. I answered in kind, declaring my own presence. Suddenly, their calling was very close and raucous with alarm. I looked ahead along the path just as Ben turned back to look at me. Between us, but much closer to Ben, was a fledgling crow hopping along the path.

It beats the heck out of me why Ben didn’t make a move to chase the bird. He chases every moving object smaller than a jumbo jet. Maybe he was distracted by the adult crows’ clamour. Maybe he sensed my panicky “No! Don’t” thoughts. In any event, he responded immediately to my beckon and call, ran past the young crow, within 12 inches in fact, and back to me.

I stood rooted in the path for a moment, torn with indecision. Should I try to intervene? The fledgling was hopping along uncertainly, with an occasional wobble. I could put the leash back on Ben, tether him to something and try to assist the crow. But how? By lifting it into a tree? Did it even need assistance? It appeared more bewildered than injured. Would the adults allow me to approach it?

There were three adult crows that I could see. The nearest was in a maple sapling only slightly above my eye level and 15 feet away. I looked at him and asked aloud, “What would you have me do?”

Can’t say he answered me but I felt the right thing to do was turn around and leave the way we came. During my half-minute of pondering - as Ben circled my legs, awaiting our next move - the cawing had lost its frantic edge but remained near-constant, a worried muttering.

“Okay, friend crow. We’re leaving. Good luck with the little one.”

I turned my back and called Ben to follow. Within three steps, the cawing behind us ceased.

I think we made the right call. (Or, as Hilary might write, caw-l.)

And the boots were fine.


Addendum: I wrote the above last Thursday but decided not to mail/post it right away. Friday morning, the fledgling and several adults were still there. This time, the youngster was in a small bush, only about three feet off the ground. Again, I paused to ponder whether I should intervene. The adults weren’t as frantic as they were the day before but their soft caws still evidenced concern. I usually travel out of town every weekend to stay at Hilary’s and was to leave in a couple of hours.

The adults were obviously minding the bird. Although I hadn’t witnessed it, I’m sure they were providing the youngster with food. The weather was mild. My main concern was its vulnerability to predators.

Once again, I decided to leave him be.

However, I spent a goodly portion of the weekend fretting and set out this morning, Monday, very anxious to not-see a certain bird.

I heard no cautionary caws as I neared the area and saw no adults. But it didn’t take me long to spot the fledgling - preening unconcernedly - about 30 feet above me in a maple tree. Obviously, over the weekend, the youngster had either brushed up on his tree-climbing skills or he had figured out how to work those wings a little.

Colour me relieved. He seems fine. I’m reasonably sure that the absence of mindful adults is proof that the crisis has passed.

But I’ll keep an eye out and let you know if there’s any news.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Deception (#196)

Deception is almost always an unpleasant bit of business, isn’t it? Sure, a situation might develop wherein one might ethically use deceit, like in the classic, do-I-look-chubby-in-this-muumuu? example.

One might also hide intentions, along with a gift or two, when it comes to a surprise birthday party. Nothing wrong with deceit there.

Deception becomes a problem when it starts occurring regularly in a relationship. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Betrayed by a lover. Stung. Angry. Confused. We become temporary (usually) students of the school of Men/Women-Are-No-Darn-Good. But eventually our wounded psyche heals and we decide to give love another shot.

From a lover, from ambitious co-workers, from those kindly folks phoning and ringing doorbells to offer us wonderful goodies, deception can be expected at some point along life’s path. But how does one deal with it when it comes from man’s best friend, from that most loyal and noble of companions?

Yes. Sadly, I’ve discovered Benny is a four-legged fibber.

Look at this face:

Hard to believe isn’t it? Yet daily, I am confronted by the evidence.

Here’s the sad story:

Ben is crate-trained which basically means he sleeps in a wire cage. It’s not bad. He has a cot, a teensy window, a toilet in the corner and a slot for his food tray.

Hehehe. Almost had you going there, didn’t I? Admit it. Hehehe.

Kidding about the prison thing. Ben’s crate has a bed and a pillow (I spoil that animal) and has always represented a safe place for sleep and for transport. It sits beside Lucy The Parrot’s cage near the front living room window and when at home, we lay a pad across its top. Ben likes to sit atop the crate. From there, he can keep an eye on the front yard in between catching a few winks in the sun. It’s also where he can be seen every time I back out of the driveway to go somewhere. Without fail, every time he realizes I’m leaving the house without him, he leaps onto his crate to watch me go.

Now, I need you folks to picture this. My house is laid out in such a way that upon entering the front door, one can see through the hall, directly into my office/library/den. Behind my desk are sliding glass doors leading to the backyard. Anyone entering the front door has a clear view of those rear doors. Ben long ago determined that our backyard was to be a squirrel-free zone. And rabbit-free. And occasionally mourning dove-free. But squirrels are the main bane of his existence.

So, particularly when I’m in the room, he spends much of his day staring through, lounging beside, or hurling himself at, those glass doors.

Several weeks ago, upon returning from a short errand, I walked through the front door and saw a rear-view of Ben gazing out those patio doors. It was impressive. He was the very Poster Pup of vigilance. His back was ramrod straight, tail erect and unquivering. His ears were perked forward. He did not so much as twitch at the sound of my arrival, let alone do his usual Daddy’s Home! leaping and bouncing off various parts of my anatomy.

This dog was On The Job.

Over the next week or two, the same tableau was presented to my eyes every time I came home from an errand.

I was touched. How comforting to know I could go to the grocery store for 15 minutes, secure in the knowledge that my house would not be teeming with squirrels upon my return. Surely such devotion to duty warranted a treat and an extra dollop of gravy in his evening kibble.

And then it happened.

I guess he wasn’t expecting me home so soon and I caught him red-pawed. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw him through the front window, lifting his head as if from a sound sleep. But, by the time I entered the house some 12 seconds later, he was standing at those rear patio doors, ears, back and tail erect - guarding his fool head off. He didn’t even turn around when I called his name, though his tail wagged once.

I told the boys and Hilary about it and each has now witnessed his deception several times themselves. We’ve all watched him jump off his crate upon our return to the driveway, only to find that seconds later, he has traversed the width of the house and negotiated a set of stairs to pose in front of those patio doors.

So there you have it. Canine deceit. Who’da thunk it? After mulling a while, I decided there’s not much point in talking to him about it. We’d both just be embarrassed. So, everybody pretends we don’t know that he’s only pretending to guard the backyard while we’re gone.

He still gets some gravy or soup mixed into his kibble. He might not guard real well but he’s a heck of an actor.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Life Less Ordinary (#195)

I knew living an ordinary life was not for me when I was seven or eight (or nine, heck I can’t recall exactly) years old and broke Billy McIntyre’s arrow.

Billy was a couple of years older and lived next door. We didn’t go to the same school and weren’t exactly friends but obviously we knew each other. I was a little afraid of him. He was big and had a temper and wasn’t averse to beating someone up.

Back then in the 1950s, at our ages, “beating someone up” meant cuffing them a few times and shoving them down on the ground. You might end up with a few scrapes and a bloody nose. Nobody died and most guys wouldn’t even tell their Mom - as long as they could cover up the evidence - but it still wasn’t much fun being on the receiving end.

At the time, we lived in very modest part of a small working class city. Billy was an only child and probably the kid on our street who came closest to being rich. He never wore hand-me-downs from his cousins and always got really neat stuff for his birthday and Christmas and sometimes just because.

One summer day I went outside to see Billy in his backyard shooting a for-real bow and arrow. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was just like the ones on tv and in Dad’s hunting and fishing magazines. There were no rubber cups on the end of those missiles. The business ends of the arrows were metal, rounded but conical, and with something of a tapered tip.

It would likely bounce off a bear but you could certainly put someone’s eye out with it. My mother would have a fit if she saw me shooting one.

So I had to work fast.

I hopped the fence over to Billy’s yard and starting chatting. I remember acting cool, like it was an everyday thing for me to be talking with someone who was shooting a for-real bow and arrow into a target pinned onto stacked bales of hay.

I watched him for a few minutes and casually asked if I could take a couple of shots. He said maybe later. He had to go in for lunch soon.

I was in agony. Every minute I waited brought my mother a minute closer to seeing what I was up to and forbidding it.

About two eternities later, Billy’s mother finally called him in for lunch. He looked at the bow in his hand and then at me.

“If you wreck it, I’ll kill you.”

I barely heard him. I took the bow and fetched the arrows from the hay. There were only two. That was fine. One would have been perfect.

I walked to the back of Billy’s house, as far from the target as I could get. As I notched the arrow to the bowstring, I was struck by a thought: I wonder how high I can shoot this thing?

I squinted up into cloudless summer blue and decided to find out. I bet it would go three or four times higher than a house.

I drew back the bow and aimed nearly straight up, then fired. I watched, delighted, as the arrow soared skyward, impossibly high, tilted, and began its earthward plummet. It landed, quivering slightly, nearly at the foot of the hay bales at the end of the yard.


I notched the second arrow, pointed skyward, pulled and watched - watched as the arrow followed a similar trajectory to the first. Watched, with mixed horror and delight as it followed the exact trajectory of the first and landed atop it - splitting the first arrow down the middle.

Holy Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints!

I walked over, not quite believing my eyes. Bending down, I marveled at the perfectly bisected arrow.

My amazement was tinged with dread, of course. I had a hunch Billy’s focus might be on the ruined arrow instead of where it belonged -- on the phenomenal circumstance that resulted in the ruination.

Now here we are at the end of the story and I can’t help but feel I’m going to cheat you folks a little. I honestly don’t recall if Billy beat me up or not. It was immaterial, really. What I took from the day is a perfect recollection of that brilliant blue sky and a deep-seated sense that the extraordinary could be just around the next corner.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Life Of A River Rat (#194)

It may surprise some of you to learn there was a brief interval in my life during which I may have been accurately characterized as a ne’er-do-well.

No, seriously, it’s true.

Others among you (most of whom share a percentage of my DNA) might suggest there’s only been a brief interval in my life during which I might not be called such. Or worse.

Let’s not argue. Who’s telling this story anyway?

Where was I? Oh yeah – somewhere in the mid-70s when I was in my mid-20s.

The freelance writing thing wasn’t working out too well yet. I had a string of what we, back then, called “Joe” jobs, loosely defined as those which couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a career - or even the first tentative steps towards one.

Half the time I was out of work, and for two to four months a year collected “pogey” - unemployment insurance. It wasn’t enough to live at all well on.

Unless you were a river rat.

A river rat’s needs are simple: fishing tackle, tobacco, gas and booze. The rest we left up to Mother Nature and working spouses.

I blame my wife-at-the-time’s brother. I helped introduce him to fishing and darned if he didn’t take to it. He too, was out of work a fair bit. As were some of his buddies.

Darned if many of them didn’t take to fishing as well and begin to accompany us. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. I’m surprised when I come across folks who are immune to the charms of worms and fish slime.

So, a group of four to six of us tended to find ourselves among a larger group of 15-25 men (never met a ratette, though I’m sure at least a couple exist) who greeted most dawns and sunsets on the banks of one stream or another during various fishing seasons.

Our boots would crunch through frost-stiffened stalks of field grass and frozen puddles until we reached the stream bank. There, we’d wander up or down, heading to the next-best pool not already covered by a couple of anglers.

Somebody would build a fire after casting out his line and resting it on a forked stick - careful to leave the bail open so an interested fish could pull line out freely.

Somebody else would pass around a bottle of belly warmer. We’d either take a sip or add a splash to a thermos cup of coffee. We ate strips of beef jerky, chunks of cheese, hard-boiled eggs and slices of kielbasa.

We kept the car windows open a lot on the way home.

Each new arrival was greeted, by nod or by name. Eventually, everybody knew everybody else. Before long, I knew way too much about other men’s wives, girlfriends and bosses.

We became a community - a community of river rats.

There were weeks on end when we’d spend up to 20 hours a day along the banks of local streams and rivers. If we heard the walleye were staging at a particular dam 70 miles away, we’d be there from dusk to dawn. If the steelhead were running in Wilmot creek or the Ganaraska river, we’d be there three or four hours after the pub closed and stay until some necessity or another called us home.

We’d smoke, drink, tell lies and catch fish. It wasn’t a bad life – if you were single and independently wealthy.

A couple of us were single but none were wealthy. A couple more of us became single along the way. It may or may not surprise you how few spouses are content to support the lifestyle of a river rat.

Eventually, maturity reared its ugly head and I left the river rat life behind.

Memories of those days came back to me recently while out fishing for steelhead. I set up across the creek from a small group of young men in their late teens or early 20s. They had the look of young ratlings-in-progress. If I’d been downwind of them I might have been able to confirm my suspicion -- bathing not being a high priority among river rats.

As I stood there, enjoying the day and gnawing on a hunk of kielbasa, it occurred to me that I could probably afford to revisit that lifestyle again, should I wish. My responsibilities have diminished as the boys have gotten older. And on some level, the prospect appeals to me very much.

But I’m more of a loner these days. Plus I no longer smoke. And I won’t drink and drive. And, worst of all, I have too darn many aching body parts to withstand the rigors of full-time river ratting.

But I’m definitely going to be wetting my line much more frequently than I have the last 30 years or so.

Those nearest and dearest to me needn’t worry. I’ll need a hot shower or bath afterwards to soothe those creaky body parts.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Determination (#193)

Last evening’s walk was one for the book. It was Sunday, Ben and I had just come back from Hilary’s and it was about 48 hours after the Big Flood.

On the previous Friday, when Hilary and I headed back to her place, it rained like Noah was still in business. The not-yet-completely-thawed ground was already saturated from snow melt and previous rains. It couldn’t hold any more water.

The result was predictable.

Son #1 emailed pictures taken across the road from our house, where Ben and I take our daily walks. The paved pathway, which in some instances is twenty or more metres from the creek banks, was completely underwater. Benches looked like they were floating.

Now, two days later, the waters had subsided to only inches above normal instead of several feet. Just before leaving on our walk, I’d had a brief argument with myself about footwear. If I stuck to the paved path and didn’t go all the way to the south cedar grove, I wouldn’t have to wear my rubber boots – which weren’t as comfortable to walk in as their laced-up kin.

As Ben patiently tugged at the cuff of my pants, I finally decided to go with the rubber boots. Now, as I trod the muddy path that followed the creek, rather than walking the paved pathways, I was pleased with my decision.

Along the way, perhaps half-way to our turnaround point, I came upon the bleached body of a flood-tossed fish. This isn’t too unusual in the aftermath of a flood. But despite my familiarity with the creek and its denizens, I couldn’t immediately identify this one.

It was about four inches long and white-ish gold, with the body shape of a chubby perch or shad. A faint tinge of washed-out orange surrounded the edges of the fish, leading me to suspect that its other side - the one lying against the mud of the path - would show a darker shade. It was probably a goldfish, perhaps someone’s unwanted pet released into the creek or washed out of a backyard pond. An unusual and sad place for a pet to die.

Did I just see its mouth gape? Impossible.

Bending low, I stared hard. There - it was faint but unmistakable - a tiny tremor of the gills and mouth. The fish was trying to breathe.

I picked it up and stumbled the 15 feet to the creek. Stumbled, because the mud near the eddy I walked toward was very soft. I didn’t risk releasing it anywhere but into a quiet eddy. The swift main current would quickly remove this last, faint whisper of a chance for survival. In three steps I nearly reached the eddy. In five I was stuck.

I stretched towards the water and eased the fish into it. Ben, of course, was there to help. Since he weighs approximately 190 pounds less than I, he had no trouble staying atop the mud. I shooed him away and tried to keep the small fish upright in the cold water, without losing my balance completely and tumbling bass-ackwards into several inches of goop.

It was tricky.

After about 30 seconds, I had to let go of the fish. It was either that or face the ignominy of waiting for the fire department to fetch me out. Which could take a while since #1 was watching Wrestlemania at a friend’s house for the next several hours; #2 was in Cuba for a week, and a quick pat of my pockets reminded me that I’d left my cell phone in another jacket. Pretty sure Ben had never seen an episode of Lassie so he wouldn’t have a clue what to do either.

I saw the fish's gills flare once, weakly, before it slipped onto its side and drifted into the depths of the eddy.

The next minute or two provided about as much drama as I care to deal with these days. My boots were about a foot deep in muck and resisted every attempt to lift. I corkscrewed my body and rested some of my weight on my hands in the somewhat firmer mud behind me. I formed a tripod of sorts as I struggled to free my right foot. Finally, with a disgruntled sucking sound, the mud released its grip. In another moment, I managed to free the left boot.

A few slogging steps later, I stood, panting, back atop the bank and marveled - both at my escape and that fish.

I'd found it about four or five feet above the current water level and fifteen feet away from it. The poor, no doubt, still-doomed creature, had to have been lying on muddy land for several hours, very likely for at least 24.

And it flat-out refused to die.

When I picked it up, I was struck by how dry the skin on its exposed side was, especially compared with the relatively slick side which had been lying against the mud. The fish should have been long-dead.

There’s only the slightest doubt in my mind that all I did was extend its dying for a time.

Only the slightest.

But that’s okay. I’m confident it would prefer to take its last breath in the water and am glad it waited for me to help make that happen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recently Thunk Thoughts (#192)

As many of you know, I embrace new developments in technology like I would a porcupine. But Google, which I use as the home page on my computer’s browser, has some spiffy stuff you can add to your page, like weather reports, sports scores etc. I’ve added quite a few of them and it hardly hurt at all.

My favourite of these (and please forgive if I’ve mentioned this before) is a virtual sticky note. I’m an inveterate note-jotter. My house is chock-full of notebooks, pieces of paper and old envelopes with memos scribbled on them.

The problem with paper notes is they’re so darn easy to lose track of. Not only that, but the mere writing of a task-to-be-done on a piece of paper gives me a sense of accomplishment. So much so, that I often no longer feel compelled to actually do the task itself. Obviously, it doesn’t need to be done immediately, or there’d be no need for a note. Which goes a long way towards understanding why my house looks like it does. Somewhere under all the notes lurks a mess.

But I digress.

I’ve been using the virtual notepad to jot down ideas that might be worth writing about sometime. The beauty of it is, it never goes away. I see the notes all the time. Eventually, I get around to expanding on one and presto - I have a column/blog post!

Recently, I jotted down three thoughts. I’m too lazy to expand each into a column right now so I’ll just toss ‘em out there.

Thought #1:

I forget what prompted it exactly, probably some whining from one of the lads when I asked him to do something. But I got to thinking of what the definition of a “real” man was and came up with this: One who does a job that needs doing* without complaint or expectation of reward or praise.

I’m aware that this could apply to a woman too, of course. So let’s make it a definition of “maturity.”

Thought #2:

If your needs are simple, they’re more easily met - leaving you more time (and probably money) to pursue desires.

I think a lot of folks confuse the two, equating desires with needs. That can lead to all manner of problems, not the least of which are children who don’t spend enough time with their parents. You might need a new car but that doesn’t mean it has to be an Audi. Dial your expectations back to the basics - food, shelter, clothing (which ain’t the same as haute cuisine, a mansion and designer duds). You’ll be happier. And have more time for fishing.

Thought #3:

All dogs are not created equal.

If you believe slavish obedience is an important quality in a dog, and apparently many people do, don’t ever get a Jack Russell Terrier. Different breeds suit different people. Some of the unhappiest marriages I’ve witnessed have been between mismatched pets and owners. In these instances, both parties suffer but the animal more so. Please do your due diligence before purchasing or adopting any animal. Talk to friends and neighbours about their pets. Consult a vet for recommendations.

You’ll be glad you did and so will the new addition to your family.

* The key words here are “needs doing.” If the task wasn't urgent, one might get by with simply jotting down a note.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Winter Pics - Starring Benny

Ben appears to be none-too-sure about all this white stuff in the backyard. (You can click on each photo to see them a little larger.)

Before too long though, he's carved himself a path.

The stream tunnels under a small ice bridge. Wouldn't trust it with my weight. Not that I'm large. Heck no. It's the heavy winter clothing. Boots alone are like, 11 pounds. Each.

That tall, oh-so-slim shadow gives you a clue as to the angle of the sun.

Winter's serene, icy beauty is undeniable. In the background, a cedar tree supports its fallen cousin, a victim of a strong nor'easter.

Ben, ever vigilant, suspects the presence of his arch-enemy, Mr. Squirrel.

About two weeks ago, we experienced a sudden thaw and heavy rain. As always, the combination resulted in flooding. The creek usually meanders placidly to the far right of Sons #1 & #2. Here, you can see it running down the center of the pathway, as well as from the left, having curled its way through a stand of cedars.

Back indoors, I took this shot through my none-too-clean kitchen window. Four fluffy mourning doves shelter in a window planter.

The bird feeder out front has been busy this winter, as evidenced by a couple of sparrows and a cardinal, patiently waiting his turn.

Ben is fascinated with Lucy, our African Grey parrot. He doesn't know quite what to make of her and follows her around whenever she's out of her cage. Lucy knows exactly what she'd like to make of Ben -- mincemeat.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cockfighting (#190)

I was listening to a talk show on the car radio the other day which is something I used to do a lot of, but don’t anymore. As the show went along, I remembered why and will tell you.

It’s because I used to get a lot of ideas from those shows and they’d nag at me until I wrote about them. Some of them turned into columns.

But as many of you know, and most can well imagine, writing is darn hard work. It’s not enough to get ideas by plucking them from the ether or pilfering them from talk shows.

Oh no.

You have to think of words to describe those ideas.

And that ain’t all.

Oh no.

Unless you want a readership snorting in derision, instead of guffawing at well-chosen bon mots, you have to spell those words correctly and use them grammatically. Which, u know, requires, like, thought.

And if you’re doing an emailed column AND duplicating it as a blog post - well - pity da fool. That means formatting each of them differently...and...as fellow techno-dweebs (aren’t you all?) I’m sure you can feel my pain.

So talk radio was out. Too darn much work. Now my car radio’s presets are mostly rock n’ roll on the FM band. And I like it. But sometimes all six stations are either playing a song I hate or in commercials. So I’ll check out my AM dial.

Which is where the talk shows lurk.

So (he typed, after what must be a near record-length preamble) the other day I hated four of the six FM presets and the other two were in commercials, so I punched in AM and got a talk show.

The topic was about 70 people who were arrested in Ontario because they were involved in a cockfighting ring. That’s Ontario, Canada. The Great White North. It’s a long way to Santo Domingo from here. Who knew we had cockfights? Between dueling, beer-addled, Saturday-at-closing-time Lotharios, sure -- but birds?

(For those very few of you who may not know what’s involved in this “sport,” two roosters equipped with razor-edged attachments to their feet, slash each other to ribbons and onlookers bet on which will kill the other. It’s extremely popular in many Central American, South American and Asian countries and, apparently, at least one pocket of Ontario.)

Anyway, the hosts opined, as hosts do. In this case, the hosts were Paul and Carol Mott of CFRB in Toronto. Paul usually wears the black hat of the bad-guy Conservative (kinda like Stephen Colbert is a Fox-worshiping Republican) and Carol is the white-hatted, left-leaning (but nearly-sensible) counterweight. They have a nice, easy rapport and their show must be quite popular because they’ve been doing it in the same time slot for several years.

Most folks called in to express their abhorrence and dismay at the thought of those who took pleasure in watching cocks kill each other, which echoed the thoughts of the hosts who, on this topic at least, were of one mind.

But a couple of callers said, “Who really cares about chickens? If we did, we wouldn’t stack them in crates for long drives in overheated trucks to be killed and eaten.”

Another tried to compare cockfighting with boxing and ultimate fighting but the hosts quickly, and correctly, shot that down by saying people who fought in those contests exercised their free will in deciding to do so - roosters had no such privilege.

And I got to thinking about bullfights and cockfights and dog fights and what’s common in some countries and illegal in others. I thought other things too. Like if I had my druthers I’d only eat free-range chickens, fresh fish and other game caught and killed humanely.

I have no problem with folks who put their distaste for killing animals into a life of vegetarianism. I respect and admire them. I just don’t follow that same path. I believe we were meant to be omnivorous but I also believe we must respect life. Any animal destined to serve us, whether as livestock, food, or companion, is worthy of respect in life and in the manner of its death.

One caller wanted to know if the hosts would be appalled if two cockroaches were put in a tiny arena and fought to the death. If I recall correctly, they said they wouldn’t like that either but it wasn’t as yuckifying as the birds.

And I realized that everybody has a line, a sort of “do not care” line where stuff can happen and not occasion a shrug. Offenses deemed to have crossed that line might warrant anything from a “tsk” to apoplexy.

I’m glad that cockfighting is illegal in Canada and that those people got arrested.

I’m pretty much okay with the cockroaches going at it, though.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Walking With Benny (#189)

What follows are three excerpts from my Walking With Benny journal written last winter.

At the time I wrote the following passages, I was feeding bread to ice-bound ducks. I subsequently learned this can do more harm than good - even though I only bought the good stuff - multi-grain. The last excerpt was written the day I stopped.


The temperatures are yoyo-ing again. It’s 5C this morning and the several inches of snow of four days ago is now four inches of slush. Walking is a messy, tiring, wet affair and I just might take a pass on this evening’s venture.

Hilary is coming tomorrow and we were hoping to explore a new (to us) conservation area a few miles from here. The trail there is rated “difficult.” I was hoping to try it when the footing didn’t change the rating to “here comes another heart attack.”

The weather people are calling for a slightly cooler temperatures the next couple of days. We’ll see what Thursday brings.

Today brought hungry ducks, about three dozen of them - the number I’d considered normal for most of this winter. Squirrels abounded and there was lots of small bird activity as well. But to tell the truth, I was focused more on getting one more step closer to home.

Speaking of those steps - no - I’d best back up a little bit first.

As anyone familiar with Jack Russell terriers can attest, they have issues. They’re wound a wee bit tighter than most dogs and will “go off” now and then. Usually the going-off simply involves tearing around the house at supersonic speed, bouncing off the furniture all the while furiously mouthing some fuzzy toy or luckless article of clothing.

But sometimes it involves unusual behaviour.

Ben must bite shoveled snow. Every shovelful. When not actively biting the snow as it leaves the shovel, he is actively biting the shovel itself.

He is no longer allowed outside if anyone in the neighbourhood is shoveling snow.

Ben is also distressed by waves. Waves such as one might find at a lake. Ben has to bite each wave as it rolls into his territory. Each and every one.

For hours.

Anyway, so today, a few minutes into our walk, I noticed that Ben was not on point and had not been for the last couple of minutes. The leash was slack and pointed slightly behind me. I peeked and understood immediately.

Each of the steps I was taking with my big, clodhopper winter boots was causing a slight splash in the slush.

Kind of like a wave. Or maybe like a wee shovelful of slush.

Benny was busy biting my wake. And we still had a long way to go. He’d be peeing for a week. (Excessive peeing is the price one pays for eating snow and waves.)

So, periodically, I’d stop. This served two purposes. I could rest briefly (and I needed a few of those this morning) and Ben would get bored with the lack of wave action, start sniffing, and inevitably find something to distract him for a bit.

Nice how things work out sometimes isn’t it?


While at Hilary’s yesterday morning, as we chatted over morning tea, (okay, she chatted - I smiled, nodded and made occasional noises) I noted that the birds seemed especially nervous. Normally, the sparrows didn’t react to every movement we made behind glass doors but this morning they were.

A few minutes later we understood why. Something drew our attention to the rearmost part of her yard. A hawk was standing on the snow, with something grasped in its talons. Hilary grabbed the binoculars and said it was a sparrow. She could see the poor, doomed creature’s beak moving. I said the little bird would be in shock and likely felt no pain. As she went to get her camera and I reached for the binoculars, the hawk left with its prey. I wished the sparrow a swift end as both disappeared.

After consulting the bird book, we tentatively identified the hawk as a Northern Harrier.

We were both, I think, appreciative of being witness to this drama and somewhat guilty in that it was our feeder that kept the sparrows nearby. A further reminder that there’s a consequence to every action and results aren’t always as intended.


On the way back, as Ben and I passed the pond, the ducks began to clamber upon the ice and waddle their way towards us - hopeful intent obvious in every stoic step.

I muttered and thought “No-no. Go back.” and waved them away with my free hand. Even more of them began to climb out of the water to join the waddle brigade.

“Dumb birds!” I thought and picked up my pace towards the cedars and out of their sight.

Then, with sudden clarity, I saw myself as the ducks saw me.

“Thunderfoot wave wing make food fly.”

Okay, I may have the syntax wrong but the meaning is clear. The arm motion of shooing them back looked the same to them as the one I make when throwing food.

Dumb human.