Wish I'd Said It

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

- A. A. Milne

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Everything

Last week at Hilary's I went for a wee walk one evening, camera in tow. Had what I thought was a clever idea for a Christmas post on my photo blog: wander around the streets and take night shots of the Christmas lights and displays on folks' lawns.

So, I did. Most of the shots were okay but something was missing. Snow, for one. Southern Ontario is green and Christmas lights lose some zing without that white backdrop. Reviewing the pics, I reluctantly decided to shelve the idea.

One photo kept nagging at me, though. I liked it. Somehow, it hinted at perhaps my favourite aspect of Christmas: a child's wonder.

Yeah, a chubby elf-like balloon and a silver deer. But it works for me.


I'm a longtime Dave Letterman fan. Been watching him and Paul do their thing for about 30 years. I try never to miss his Christmas broadcast, mostly because it features Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby, Please Don't Go).

Every year she's wonderful. Every year, I wonder if she can possibly pull it off again. She answered this year's question last night.

I hope you all find a measure of peace and contentment this season and that it sustains you throughout a healthy and prosperous 2012.

Now, let's enjoy Ms. Love's 25th appearance on Dave's show, doing what she does best: creating a joyful noise and offering it up to the world.

Crank up those speakers, do up those seatbelts, and have yourselves a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

An Evening On The Deck & Another Thing (#242)

We’re deep into the first week of December and evening’s curtain descends early. The clocks went back a few weeks ago and it’s only a few sleeps ‘til the longest night. It’s cloudy, so full dark will arrive by 5:00.

It’s 3:30 and I’m standing on the back deck, surveying my yard, camera within arm’s reach. The feeders are full and seed has been spread on the ground, on the pillars of the deck, and upon various flat surfaces within the yard. It’s breezy and verging on pretty-darn-cold-ish, about 2C (35F). I have my warmest sweatshirt on – a thick, black, hooded beastie that zips up the middle. It’s layered over a regular sweatshirt which tops a t-shirt. Blue jeans (over jockeys if you must know) adorn my lower unit. My feet are in semi-warm socks and your garden variety house slippers. I have a baseball cap on, backwards, so I can angle the camera vertically without the bill of the cap interfering. I realize the slippers are a weak point. But for now, I am comfortable.

I sip a fortified beverage and await visitors.

As does Ben, the Jack Russell Terror.

Which, I’m sure you’ll understand, limits the visitors to those whom Ben tolerates. Generally speaking, if they sport wings, he tolerates them. (Unless he’s only had one walk that day and there’s no squirrels around. On those relatively rare occasions, he may chase anything -- while doing his best to convince himself and any appreciative human onlookers, how that mourning dove might possibly, kinda, if the sun was in your eyes just so, have looked a little like it could have been a squirrel.)

Most afternoons my favourite wee birds, the chickadees, are the first to arrive. If the blue jays are in the hood, they’ll swoop down right away as well. They want those peanuts before those dang squirrels get ‘em.

There are four of those dang squirrels, all of whom are black. Having watched the family throughout the spring and summer, we refer to them as Mom and One/Two/Three Of The Triplets. Normally, at any given time, one or all of them are scouting the yard for goodies, whilst keeping a wary eye/ear out for Ben.

It is these interlopers for whom Ben has sworn eternal enmity. Luckily for the squirrels - for all of us, really - Ben is quite un-terrier-like when actually in a position to do damage. I’ve seen him catch a squirrel. Twice. Each time, he took a half-hearted nip of squirrel tail and stopped – waiting for his prey to regain its equilibrium and the chase to re-begin.

Wise Momma Squirrel had Ben figured early, of course. She knew exactly how high he could jump and stayed just out of reach. (Why did the words, “how like a woman” just leap into my head?) In any event, her progeny, though not so self-assured as Momma, soon learned Ben’s moves and reacted (or not) accordingly.

Tonight there are no chickadees or jays. But I’m thrilled with a couple of visits by a female Downy woodpecker to a suet basket hanging within decent range of my zoom lens. During two visits to the suet, totaling perhaps three minutes, I shoot nearly 100 frames. (You’ll likely see the best of the results on my photo blog one of these months.)

By the time the Downy leaves the second time, darkness is enfolding the yard. I shoo Ben inside and he doesn't argue much. It's getting cold for real. I re-fortify my beverage and return to the deck.

The squirrels, two of them, are enjoying Ben’s absence. As usual, they take no notice of me. The clumsy Two-Legs-Who-Brings-Food is no cause for alarm.

Full dark in a few.

The sparrows arrive in a noisy conglomeration, 25 strong. And leave in a flurry, after a quick nosh.

The usual latecomers, the juncos and mourning doves, arrive next. It’s too dark to photograph critters and has been for several minutes. I put the camera in the house and fend off Ben’s half-hearted attempt to follow, before heading back outside for a few more moments.

Clouds mottled with magenta and purple drift over the western horizon. The temperature has plummeted with the light, and darn-near as dramatically. I realize I can’t feel my toes. Darn stupid old age and stupider post-stupid-heart-attack circulation! 10 years ago, it would’ve taken another hour or two and standing knee-deep in river water before I numbed out.

A soft tik-tik in the near-dark of the cedar hedge heralds the arrival of the latest visitors to Chez Baron. So, I postpone my departure for a bit, rocking side-to-side and trying to flex my toes. A male and female cardinal are always the last to arrive. I can just barely make out their silhouettes along the fence.

But it’s too-soon fully dark and I’m too-soon cold to the bone, despite the fortifying beverages. I’m grateful for the warmth my house offers. And grateful that I could watch Ben squabble with the squirrels and the birds gather to feed and a sunset that kissed the sky goodnight with passionate colour.

I remind myself that winter doesn’t last forever. And that a guy in longjohns and a snowmobile suit can stay pretty darn toasty for hours without moving a heck of a lot.

C’mon winter. I’m ready.


                                                          The Other Thing

I did something that kind of surprised me last week. I started a message board.

“What the heck is a message board, Frank?” some of you ask.

Well, it’s like Facebook. Ish. Only older-tech. Sorta’. It’s a place on the interweb where folks can have a leisurely conversation with each other, or post a joke or cartoon or link to something they find interesting.

Anyway, initially I thought I’d start one that was mostly of interest to writers. Because writing is a major interest of mine.

But so, I realized, is photography and the outdoors and fishing and music and art and philosophizing and opining about various subjects. So, whether or not you have an interest in writing, I hope you’ll take a peek and consider joining. All you need do is invent a user name and a password. Then post a howdy-do in the Introductions area (or anywhere) and before you know it, you’ll be message-boarding!

Drop me a line if you have any questions or difficulties.

The board is called Writer’s Nest and you can find it here: http://bwritersnest.runboard.com/

Hope to see a few old friends, make a few new ones, and get to know some of you a lot better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pulling A Thoreau (#241)

I’ve been preoccupied the past several months - to such an extent that I’ve hardly written a word.

“Frank,” I hear those of you who’ve been paying some attention say, “we know you’ve been darn busy playing with your spiffy new camera and lenses. We understand. Go forth and shoot.”

Godblessya’. But there’s been more occupying my mind than photography: I’m house-hunting. More specifically, I’m hunting for my Dream Retirement Forever Home, or in an abbreviated form, the Next Place. As you might imagine, not just any old house will do. I have specific requirements. Some of them are:

It has to be a 4-season, waterfront home with either a few acres of its own, or abutting Crown land on one or both sides. (Crown land is undeveloped wilderness tracts. Most Canadian cottages are built on lakes which contain large-ish chunks of Crown land. Our family cottage, with which most of you folks are somewhat familiar, abuts Crown land on one side. Its proximity makes it possible to truly live on the doorstep of the Great Outdoors.)

It has to have one or two small guest cabins, or “bunkies.” I’d prefer a couple. One could be used exclusively for visitors and I could use the other to hide from Hilary when something needs doing.

Haha! That was most likely a joke.

But I really wouldn’t mind my own little cabin/cubbyhole in which to write and think. Or at least think about writing. It would be the grown-up version of a tree house or fort. Heck, I might even store a box or two of my old comic books in there.

The Next Place has to be relatively maintenance-free because I’m no handyman. And to the surprise of none of you, the lake has to have some decent fish in it, preferably walleye.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that I’m no longer single, or 30 years old. If I was, I could have my pick of places that suited my requirements and get change back from $200,000. But I’d also be about two or three hours from anything resembling civilization.

So, at 60 and with a life partner who also has certain requirements, the search has become somewhat lengthy and complex. Compromises had to be made.

For instance, Hilary is concerned about the proximity of medical facilities. Apparently, she is not convinced that my Stupid Heart Attack was totally a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. She would like a hospital to be next door but will accept one within a half-hour drive. Whereas I’m content to be within a 2-hour helicopter ride of someone who’s taken St. John Ambulance training.

So, we’ve compromised. The Next Place has to be within a 30-minute drive of Highly Trained Medical Professionals, preferably in a hospital setting.

Yeah, I won that round.

We agree that it would be nice to be within a few minutes' drive of necessities, like a newspaper and gas. I’d like to be within a couple of hours of Bowmanville where I live now and that would put us three hours from Mississauga, where most of Hilary’s people are. It would also be nice to be within an hour or so of the family cottage. We would both like to be within a half-hour of most amenities, like grocery and department stores.

So, I’ve narrowed the search to roughly three geographic areas. Somewhere within them, lies the place where I want to set my bones down for as long as I have left. It will have water and trees and loons and herons and raccoons and deer and even a bear or two. There will be paths to walk and new ones to forge. There will be misty summer mornings and cold November rains, roasting marshmallows and chopping wood. There will be fresh air aplenty and long, lingering doses of what my soul drinks and town and city life simply can’t offer -- silence.

My Walden awaits. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Turning 60 (#240)

Earlier this summer, to my mild surprise, I turned 60. (When you have a Stupid Heart Attack at 53, every birthday afterwards is something of a surprise.) Every brand-new decade is significant of course, and a good place to pause and reflect. Fortunately, pausing is one of the things that’s easier to do when you’re 60. In fact, from a standing start, I can pause right into a semi-coma without hardly trying.

I reflected some and concluded there’s not gonna be too many more new decades to pause and reflect from, so maybe I’d best get started.

Yes, I know what people are saying: 60 is the new 50. (42 if you had surgery.) Tell that to my knees when I’m heading uphill. Which reminds me. Why the heck is nearly everything uphill nowadays? Bad enough when one’s body starts going bad on him. Don’t need the earth tilting on its axis to aggravate the situation.

Anyway, as can happen when dotage sneaks up on you, sometimes reflecting turns into remembering when...

...I rode my bike really fast. It only had one gear but that was all I needed. It was red and white and I’d turned the handlebars around to face forward, like a Texas Longhorn steer. Look out world - Frankie’s coming! I stood up on the pedals and pumped, rocking side to side, in order to climb the hills. When crested, I’d sit back down, take my hands off the handlebars and hold them high overhead, catching the breeze as bikeandi, conjoined, flew downhill.

...During summer holidays, I’d sneak out of the house at 3:00 a.m., hop on my bike, call on my buddy, and we’d ride upwards of 10 miles out of town to go fishing. Every time a car’s headlights appeared, we’d pull over and hide in the ditches or tall grass that lined the road, lest it be one of our parents discovering we’d left four hours earlier than we said we would.

...I could lope the mile and a half from school to home without breathing hard.

...I stood, trembly-legged, at Laurie Simmons’ back door and kissed her full on the lips after an evening of holding hands while ice skating.

...I sat on a porch on a summer night with friends, playing guitar, singing songs, sipping brew, passing joints and living forever.

And then...somehow I was a father of two boys and working six or seven days a week. Things got blurry and darned if I don’t wake up one day and find out I’m 60 and reflecting all over heck’s half-acre.

Anyway, it’s not too bad. There are pluses to being an old fart. You get discounts on stuff at some stores. It’s fun watching cashiers feign surprise when I confidentially inform them (in a loud stage whisper) that I’m a Senior.

Now, I no longer need an excuse to be cranky. Age suffices. I can glower and mutter with impunity. It’s darn liberating.

Mostly though, my reflections run toward feelings of gratitude. I’m extremely blessed that my boys have grown into such fine young men. I’ve been lucky enough to have loved and been loved by good women. (And love, and am loved by another!)

All things considered, my health is pretty good. I’m very grateful for that. I can still heave a 50 lb. bag of birdseed over my shoulder and carry it to the car. (If the car isn’t parked too darn far from the store’s door.)

I’m fortunate to have close-knit brothers and sisters, and friends who go back 40-50 years. It’s good to have people in your life you can be quiet with.

Near the front of my book that I hardly ever mention anymore even though it’s still in print and a darn good read, there’s a picture of me when I was about six years old. It’s black and white (duh!) and shows me proudly showing off a foot-long smallmouth bass. I found myself staring at that picture recently and trying to remember what it felt like to be that boy - to see the world through his eyes. I tried to recall that day in some form - a sight, sound or smell - and could not. I knew I was looking at me but I couldn’t re-experience what it felt like to be me.

But there’s no denying I was a happy guy that day.

And I’m a happy guy today.

Friday, June 24, 2011

As Threatened: More Words & Pics (#239)

As most of you do not know, I recently bought a new camera and a couple of lenses. It is a VERY spiffy camera (and lenses) - the likes of which I have dreamed of owning since the 70s, when I first fell in love with photography. I'd invested in a couple of nice 35 mm SLRs (Single Lens Relex) over the years, but couldn't afford specialized lenses and still pay for the film and developing. By the mid-late 80s, with a growing family, I couldn't afford the hobby any more and reluctantly gave it up.

For the last three years, the photos I've posted have been taken with inexpensive, "grabshot" cameras costing under $200. My little Sony has served me well and today I'm going to feature the last batch of photos I shot with it. No doubt most of whatever I post in the future will be shot with my new Best Toy Ever. So, here's a few of those finned, furred and feathered critters I promised last time.

This little squirrel was a frequent visitor to my birdfeeder this Spring. I named her "Mom" for reasons you can probably ascertain. Proof of my perspicacity arrived within a few days of taking the above pic. For the last three weeks, we've been entertained by the antics of her three progeny, cleverly dubbed "The Triplets." Mom has been teaching them how to pilfer seeds - much - and I mean VERY much to Benny's consternation. As you can imagine.

Blue Jays are frequent visitors. They favour peanuts, either cracked or in the shell and this next fellow found his treat.

Although not at all sharp, the reason I'm happy with the next shot is that it features a very infrequent visitor to my feeder, a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. This is only the second one I've seen. (And the first with camera in hand, albeit some distance away.)

This time it's the clumsy photographer with his big fat thumb who ruins a perfectly nice pic of a perch. (No fish was harmed in the making of this photograph.)

This next pic will have a familiar beak to some of you. It's Lucy, who longtime readers will recall is the African Grey parrot who claimed me as her own some 10 years ago. I'm happy to report that she is alive and well and as strident and bossy as ever.

This next critter has taken up residence in my backyard. In case you had any doubt, a future post will prove chipmunks are the cutest animals on the planet. In the meantime, you'll have to settle for this pic as preliminary evidence.

In my albeit limited experience as a birdwatcher, I've seen no more striking a couple than Mr. & Mrs. Cardinal.

My magnolia tree sports no fins, feathers or fur but for a week or so every Spring, she struts her stuff in striking fashion. (Maybe one of these days I'll learn how to remove distractions like wires from a photo.)

Bringing up the rear is a photo I call the Mantis Flower. Can you see why?

I'm appreciative of my little Sony and the memories we've made together. Hope you like them too.

T'is the season to be gallivanting. Hilary and I are headed to the cottage tomorrow for a few days, so I trust you'll forgive me if my responses to comments and emails are delayed. I'm looking forward to testing out my new equipment up there for the first time. Some of the results will no doubt appear here eventually, Creator willing.

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some Words & Pics (#238)

Along about the tail end of winter, Sons #1 & 2 went out into the field to do a little hunting. It was a cold, dreary day and you'd think most self-respecting varmints would have the sense to stay curled up in their lairs. And I guess most probably did.

One didn't.

Despite their low expectations, the lads wandered around the field, taking turns waving their weapon - a stick.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white blur leaped and clamped his jaws onto the stick wielded by Son #2! The battle was on!

The furious fangfest lasted a full five minutes. Finally, #2's superior height advantage began to takes its toll and with a final quiver, it was over.

The boys had bagged a rare Spotted Southern Canadian JRT, locally known as a Benny. (Remember, click on each pic if you'd like to see a larger version.)

That'll likely do for the wordy part of the program. From here, I'll restrain myself to a line or two introducing each pic.

Once we got the critter home he roused himself and we didn't have the heart to re-stick him. So we decided to keep him. For a day or two he pined for the fields. Or maybe it was for a squirrel. But he got over it.

We've had far more than our share of dreary days this Spring. It's like living in Britain or Vancouver. Truth to tell, I don't mind it all that much when it comes to photography. Colour saturation is great on wet days and of course, mood is much more present than on a typical sunny day.

I like the melancholy, meditative mood of this photo of my kitchen window.

There's a pond near Hilary's house that dishes out wonderful photo opportunities, as the many visitors to her blog will attest. This bench overlooks one end of the pond.

This Spotted Sandpiper didn't mind the rain a bit. He was busy fishing below the dam at the other end of the pond.

You might be wondering about that saturated colour I mentioned. Here's a wee sample of what I meant.

Some of the Creator's handiwork relies heavily on damp days to ease their transportation issues.

There are two large, beautiful willow trees bracketing the pond. Even on a gloomy day, they're majestic. This one is the older of the two and still early on in the leafing process.

The next photo post will feature some of my feathered, furred and finned buddies. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bye-Bye Winter (#237)

Red wing blackbird singing. Check. Worms on sidewalk after rain. Check. Tiny white Snow Drops in the garden nodding their thanks to the earth. Check.

Whew. It really is Spring.

Oh, every Canucklehead east of the Left Coast knows Ma Earth can still roll up her sleeves and deliver a blizzard if she has a mind. But chances are, she's tired of howling and blowing and wants to put her feet up for a spell. Hope so, anyway. This has been a long winter. They get longer as you get older, I think. (T'il one day you sluggishly realize the chill deep in your bones is permanent - and winter's come to stay.)

Don't misunderstand. I'm very grateful to live in a part of the world that exhibits dramatic seasonal changes. All four are lovely and dressed in beautiful and distinctive garb. All bring delight of one kind or another. But only one seems to overstay its welcome for many of us - the one draped in white.

Yet, if it wasn't for winter how much dimmer would our appreciation be of the seasons to follow? As some dude once wrote in a book that he never pimps* anymore - if you don't know lack, how can you appreciate plenty? (Yeah, I know. Hardly a new or earth-shattering concept. Luckily, philosophy is just a tiny part of the book. There's lots of pictures, cartoons and other stuff that more than makes up for it.)

Just about everything you can think of is more difficult to do in winter than in any other season. Except ski down a hill or skate on a pond. Both of those are way easier.

But other stuff?

It starts first thing in the morning. It takes forever to get dressed in order to walk a Patiently Berserk** Ben because one has to put on 11 layers of clothing. And if one has happened to put on an understandable pound or twenty combatting winter's chill by fortifying oneself with fried perogies and sour cream, well, those last couple of layers can be a bit of a struggle. Remember Randy, the little brother in A Christmas Story whose Mom bundled him up on a cold winter day? He was so overstuffed that he wobbled when he walked. Couldn't see his own boots, just knew they were down there somewhere. The inevitable happened. An errant breeze caught him and he toppled over onto his back, limbs flailing uselessly, helpless as a drunken turtle.

Well, let's just say I'm darn glad I kept my balance this winter. Oh, I teetered. And I tottered a time or two. I tap-danced on icy patches three or four times in an admirably athletic, if somewhat thunder-footed homage to Fred Astaire.

But I did not go down. (Touch wood, praise the lord and remind me to light a candle for next year.)

Now, the trick is to avoid stepping on those silly worms. Which isn't too tough because with temperatures on the modest side, I'm down to four or five layers. If I lean forward just a tad while walking, I can peek past the perogie damage and see where my shoes are going.

Here's Randy The Human Sausage.

* Yet for some reason, the book sold more copies in the last six months of 2010 than in any previous six month period. Now, my folks didn't raise any fools. So, whatever I haven't been doing to not-promote my book, I'm determined to continue not doing.

** Patiently Berserk Ben vibrates constantly but that's not enough to relieve his tension. So, every few seconds he also springs three feet straight up. Impatiently Berserk Ben still vibrates and still jumps, but does so in five or six different locations at once.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Baba & Gido Baron (#236)

I didn't know my father's parents as well as my mother's. They died sooner and weren't nearly as fluent in English. In fact, I barely recall either of them saying anything in English. And unfortunately, much of my Ukrainian was lost past the age of four or five.

But I knew this about them:

They seemed stern, although I can't remember a harsh word from either of them. Their faces, even in repose, showed hard lines, especially Gido's (pronounced: jee-doh). They lived in the bottom part of a two-story house. They rented the top half to another family, which, somewhat to my amazement, I realize I cannot recall at all. I may have never met them.

Gido was a cobbler. He repaired shoes and had several bee hives on his acre or so of property. At one time, he also had a cow but it wandered into the hives and got stung to death. So he and Baba made do with fixing shoes and selling honey. I remember being treated to hunks of sweet, sticky honeycombs fresh from the hive. And our family always had a 5 lb. tin of Gido's honey at home in the cupboard.

Gido was a smart man and knew owning property was important. He saved and bought a parcel of land in south Oshawa, Ontario, a corner lot on the main street. He set up his shoe repair business there but before long, parceled out part of the land to his oldest son, my uncle Peter. Uncle Pete started a business known as Barons' Radio & Electric in the late '40s. He sold radios and appliances and had the first television in Oshawa. He traveled to Buffalo, NY to buy the parts, assembled them, and set up the tv in the front window of his store. I recall seeing a framed newspaper photo of a crowd gathered outside the store to peer through the glass at this new marvel.

My father worked with his brother for a while and then, gifted by Gido with the other half of the parcel of land, extended my Uncle Pete's store, more than doubling its size and selling home furnishings from his part.

We always spent Christmas Eve at Baba and Gido's. It was solemnly festive. A choir from the Ukrainian Catholic Church would come and sing carols after the meal. The priest of the church came for supper and distributed communion. (I didn't know it at the time, but my grandparents were a driving force and major contributors to the building of the church in the first place, and were thus honoured by the priest's and choir's presence every Christmas Eve.)

Largely because of the priest's presence, I remember having to behave during dinner. But not necessarily before or after. Cousin John and I, and sister Theresa would gobble Baba's homemade dill pickles (still the best I've ever tasted) and honey cookies. We were usually stuffed well before dinner was served.  We reasoned it was easier to behave with a full belly.

Gido took ill late in 1968. I went with Dad to their house when the call came. Somehow, everybody knew he was going to die. We got there just behind the ambulance. They were strapping Gido into the gurney when I came through the front door. I remember my Aunt Monia leaning over and asking if he was afraid. I'll never forget the contemptuous shake of his white head and his whispered, defiant, "No!"

He died, ironically, on Christmas Eve and was buried, if memory serves, on Boxing Day. I was asked to be a pallbearer at his funeral. I was 17. It was the first of some 20 times I was to perform that honourable duty.

A few months later, Baba died. They'd been married for 55 years (give or take a couple - some relative will set me straight). We all knew Baba wouldn't last long after Gido.

I have a couple of wonderful memories:

1 - They said the rosary together, on their knees, every night. Naturally, they prayed in Ukrainian. They had a pet budgie named Billie. Before too long, Billie began to recite the Our Father and Hail Mary in Ukrainian, along with my grandparents. And he'd occasionally prompt them to get started if he felt they were behind schedule.

2 - Before they got their indoor toilet, they had to use an outhouse about 50 yards from the main house. One of my earliest memories, I couldn't have been much more than four, was watching Baba and Gido walking together to the outhouse, hand in hand, heads tilted toward each other in conversation.

If I close my eyes, I can see them still.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Old Friends, Wise Words & Mourning A Dove

Not necessarily in that order.

A few days ago, Son #1 and I returned from erranding to find a mourning dove behaving oddly. It was sitting upon the snow at the top of my driveway and didn't move although I'd stopped the car within five feet of it. I got out of the car and approached it slowly, murmuring, wondering aloud why he wasn't moving away. When I was within a couple of feet and extended my hand, still not really knowing what I'd do if it allowed me to make contact, it flew away.

My relief was somewhat short-lived as it flew a few feet away, to the cedar hedge. But instead of alighting on a branch, it landed on the ground. I wondered if there might be something wrong with one of its feet and perhaps it couldn't manage clinging to a branch.

I didn't want to alarm it by chasing it all over the yard when it might just be feeling a little under the weather. There was nothing further to be done but wish it well.

Yesterday, when we moved the car, we found a dead mourning dove beneath it, head down, frozen to the ground. My gut feeling was it was the same bird we saw a few days before. I felt bad as I carried him across the road and placed his body on the snowy field.


My father was a pretty smart guy. He was well educated and thoughtful. Along with helping to instill a love of fishing, I owe him for teaching me the magic of these three words: You never know.

I recall first hearing them in response to my peppered questions as we prepared to go fishing:

"How big do you think the biggest trout in the whole stream is?"

A thoughtful pursing of the lips and a moment's pondering and then the words: "You never know." Which, in this instance, meant "as big as you can possibly imagine."

"I can't get a single bite on these worms. Do you think they'll hit a grasshopper?"

"You never know." Which, in this instance had an addendum: "unless you try."

That was the most common interpretation of the phrase. You'll never know an awful lot of things unless you try them.

Not long ago, I heard Son #2 reply to a question posed by Son #1 with a shrug and a "you never know."

I wonder if it gave Dad as much pleasure when he heard me say it.


Last week I invited three old friends to come over and watch the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, the logistics worked out and all three arrived. It occurred to me at some point that I'd known these guys for a long time and decided to figure out just how long.

Disdaining the use of the calculator built into my keyboard because I don't know how to use it, I grabbed a pen and piece of paper.

A couple of minutes of brow-furrowing and finger-counting later, I determined that I'd been friends with the three for a total of 138 years. Which, when you think about it, means a lot of things but mostly that those guys are getting pretty darn old.

Announcing the result of my computations led to the clink of four beer bottles and a general murmur of appreciation. And then Pete farted - rather solemnly I thought. He belatedly tried to blame it on Ben who, when accused, showed his good breeding by looking guilty.

I don't have a lot of friends. But once I make one, they tend to stay made.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Optimism, Regarding Being Regarded & Training

Generally speaking, I don't like to be looked at. I've learned that if someone looks at you it means you've been noticed. If you've been noticed, anything could happen. I can't count the number of times I got noticed in school and the next thing you know, a nun was whacking me with a ruler or strap.

If parents notice you, a chore is likely to be assigned. Same deal with a boss at work. Ditto during your domestic years, if your Significant Other happens to find your latest hiding spot.

All-in-all, I've found it best to keep a low profile.

Anyhow, several times a day, Ben looks at me. Unlike cats, dogs don't look at people for no reason. Cats will stare at you because they know it bugs some people and they hope you're one of them. They especially like to stare at people who are afraid of them. Just before they jump into their lap.

It's not so with pooches. Dogs look at you for one reason and one reason only. Which I will get to momentarily. Quit tugging at my leash.

Generally speaking, dogs don't like to be looked at either, but it's not because they have a deeply ingrained fear of nuns - it's that they find direct eye contact challenging. Plus, dogs are genetically incapable of any sort of fakery. They can't lie to save their lives and they know it. If you look at them, and then look at the garbage strewn around the kitchen floor, there's no way they can look you in the eye and say the cat did it. It's flat-out beyond their capabilities. Their eyes scrunch up, their belly hits the floor at the same time the ears flatten against the skull, and the agony of their guilt is so transparent that you've forgiven them while you're still yelling. It's actually a pretty clever defence mechanism.

(A cat, naturally, could be picking his teeth in the middle of the chaos, have remnants of the garbage bag wrapped around his ears and still manage to convince you the dog did it.)


Dogs will only look at you for one reason and that reason is: they want something. Veteran dog owners know that dogs only ever want three things: out, food and walks.

(Some of you smartypantses out there will be saying "that's not one reason" but I'm pretending I can't hear you.)

Dogs are the poster pets of optimism. Which was going to be the main thrust of this entire post until that darn cat got me sidetracked. Because when Ben looks at me and I eventually begin to heave myself out of my chair, he is instantly ecstatic. He prances in front of me, secure in his wee doggie mind that there can only be one reason why I am in motion and that reason is, of course, to satisfy whichever of the three desires that was in the forefront of his aforementioned wee mind.

He's dumbfounded when I go past the "out" door, past the empty food dish and head in the opposite direction of the front hall, where the leash is kept. But he is endlessly patient and only bounces against my leg every other step.

So, I let him out/feed him/go for a walk - depending on the time of day.

I've got him pretty well trained, I think.