Wish I'd Said It

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

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Larry The Lucky Ducky (Issue #142)

Once upon a few days ago, I went for a walk along my creek. As most of you know, I'm on a rigorous fitness program these days. Well, perhaps rigorous isn't quite the right word -- let's call it listless-plus.

Sometimes, like on this particular day, I take my camera with me. I do this in case I come across some flowers or wildlife that would make a nice pic. It's hardly ever because I've been walking for 10 freaking minutes already and want an excuse to pause for a bit.

See? Those were sort of interesting-looking flowers and get ready to "Awww" because here comes some cute baby duckies.

Told ya.

Occasionally, when in the outdoors, one comes across real-life scenes of drama. (You know, like the stuff you see on Discovery, only in 3D and Smell-O-Vision but you don't have to wear cardboard glasses and scratch any cards and then sniff your finger.) Anyway, this was one of those days.

In the distance, I caught a glimpse of something yellow. Readers of my book know that decades of outdoor experience have honed my Heightened Awareness to such a degree that I can catch a 6-inch trout and by the time I release it, I actually perceive it as it will appear in 5 years. Which explains all the record-breaking fish I've lost. Anyway, my HA told me this was no ordinary bit of flotsam. I hurried forward for a closer look.

I couldn't be positive from this angle but it appeared to be a young duckling in distress. I stealthily approached from the other side, being careful not to disturb the undoubtedly distraught creature.

I was right. It was a fine specimen of Duckus Rubbernica, Hollywood genus.

Speaking quietly and mindful of that beak, which even at this young age was powerful enough to crush algae, I reached out and plucked the lucky ducky from its predicament. Suddenly picturing him in suspenders and leaning on a desk quacking at Paris Hilton (HA is not always controllable) I decided to call him Larry.

With an affectionate scratch behind where his ears would be if he was a dog, I bade Larry farewell and released him into the main current.

He looked happy enough but I had to question his choice in sunglasses. They were stylish, sure, but appeared to be a titch too heavy for him, resulting in balance issues.

Aside from his decision to go with style over stability, Larry appeared to be in fine fettle and continued on his journey to Lake Ontario, only a couple of miles away.

Bye Larry! Good luck and Godspeed!

PS: That night, I had a dream that my foot hurt and Larry came to me and nibbled a thorn out of my toe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Rewards Of Being Still (Issue #141)

Over the years I’ve been fishing (50 now) I’ve learned quite a few things. Many of those things, it will not surprise you to hear, were about the art/science itself. But many were not. Quite a few nuggets of knowledge were welcome byproducts of being nestled against Mother Nature’s bosom.

I learned things about weather - how important wind and its direction can be and how to recognize and cope with changes. I learned about the behaviour of birds and animals - the head-bobbing courtship of waterfowl - the stealthy slink of a marten with trout-stealing on his mind. I learned about human nature by my own, and others’ reactions to adversity and joy. I learned about death and hence, very much about life.

A lot of what I learned would not have occurred had I not first learned the importance of being still.

Now, generally speaking, it’s no easy feat teaching a young boy to be still. Boys were made to climb trees, throw rocks and fall into creeks - often all three within the same minute. Enforced stillness, such as that endured by students and church-goers, was why God invented fidgeting.

Only two things could keep me still as a lad - reading and fishing. Often, Dad would let me fish the best holes in a creek. (At the time, I wondered why. Later, of course, I learned how unselfishness and love go together.) During my earliest forays with him, he would cast my line out for me at these special pools. When the bait had drifted to where he wanted it to be, he would either hand me back the rod, or lay it down against a rock or log, admonishing me to watch the line for a bite and until then, to “be still.”

These special pools mostly likely held special fish; fish the likes of which most boys have never even seen, let alone caught.

So I was still.

When still, one very quickly becomes conscious of things that are tuned out when one is busy. A quiet forest is suddenly alive with sounds - rustling leaves, rubbing branches, calling birds, humming insects and burbling rapids.

When still, one becomes a part of the local scene to many of its inhabitants. Birds and squirrels will venture to near-touching distance. Wandering beetles treat your boot as just one more rock to clamber over. Muskrats slip out of their streamside dens for a cooling swim.

Occasionally, one can become so engrossed in the show around him, that a bouncing fishing rod goes unnoticed for a moment. (I’m beginning to think that special fish, in special pools, come to rely on this inattention in their quest to remain un-caught.)

I’ve been old enough to cast my own line for a very long time now. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to keep on the move when fishing and sometimes it’s best to stay in one place and wait. That’s if your main purpose is to catch some fish.

As I get older, I stay in one place and wait much more often than I used to - even when I know moving around offers a better chance of catching something. It’s more important to me to feel my inner noise ebb, as I become attuned to the music offered by nature, than it is to catch a fish.

And guess what? Although preferable (to some of us) you don’t need to go fishing in the bush or hiking through the woods to enjoy what stillness can bring.

You can sit in a quiet section of a park, or an uncrowded piece of beach, or your own backyard and practice being still. See how long it takes before the local critters accept you as an unthreatening lump.

Try it. You’ll learn stuff. Important stuff like how much more a flower bends when a bumblebee lands on it compared to a honey bee. Or the sound an outraged blue jay makes when some thieving squirrel takes the last peanut from a feeder.

You might even find yourself understanding that you aren’t an interloper in their world at all. When you show benign regard they gift you with the same and accept you as a part of it.

Few things are more rewarding than that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What Fresh Hell Is This?* (Issue #140)

As many of you know, I’ve been done with pets for quite a while. A few years ago, the house was home to Hobbes the cat, Gryphon the hunka-hunka-burnin’-love Rottweiler, Lucy the parrot and Stumpy the toad. Hobbes, Gryph and Stumpy are gone now. Longtime readers are familiar with their stories. (I still get people razzing me about keeping a dead cat in my freezer for a year or so. Can you imagine?)

Anyway, Lucy, the African Grey parrot, has been the sole non-human in the house for a couple of years now and that suited me just fine. We get along. If she hollers a lot it’s because she either wants a peanut or a rub. All women should be so easy to please.

I was resigned to life with Lucy, since she’s expected to live for another 60 years or so even though I might not. But I really didn’t want another animal in the house. The lads would occasionally pester me about getting a four-legged one but my standard answer was, "Okay, you can have a cat/dog -- the day you move out."

About six months ago, I began the procedure of occasionally entertaining the idea of possibly getting another cat. Which meant mulling the concept for a few seconds every month or so, then shaking my head.

It’s a process! I was working up to it. Cats aren’t as needy as dogs. They eat less and most of them don’t take up as much freezer space when they’re expired.

I definitely didn’t want a dog. Big dogs, the kind I prefer, tend to live just long enough to own your heart, then they die. I’ve never been a fan of small dogs, referring to them often as "muskie bait." (If you’re unfamiliar with a muskie, you can see what they look like by clicking here.) Truth to tell, I’m still mourning Gryph after all these years. When you’ve had The Perfect Dog, it’s tough to make room in your life and heart for another one.

So imagine my horror when I came home a few weeks ago to find a tiny, four-legged, rodent-sized animal that was not a cat running around the house. This runt wasn’t worthy of being muskie bait. A couple of guppies could take it down.

Don’t ask me how it got here. I won’t tell you. Suffice it to say, the beast is here and I have to make the best of the situation.

The way I’ve been making the best of the situation is to avoid having anything to do with it unless cornered.

The problem with that philosophy is the little beggar is quick. And being so low to the ground, he’s hard to spot when zipping around between stacks of newspapers, magazines, books, fishing equipment and things I keep meaning to put somewhere else someday.

One minute I’m quietly reading the sports section and the next, I’m trying to shake off a furry, growling gnat whose jaws are clamped on my pants cuff.

I’m not exaggerating the "quick" thing. I swear this animal has learned to teleport.

I barbecue a lot. Once the weather gets nice in April or May, it’s not uncommon for me to barbecue five or six days a week for several months. We all know how good barbecued anything smells. Apparently furry gnats can also appreciate those aromas. Because whenever I go out the back door to the deck where the barbecue is, no matter how alone I am at the time, no matter how quickly I slam the door behind me, when I step on the deck, the gnat has beat me to it. He’s cocking his microscopic head to the side and giving me that let’s-be-best-friends-forever grin.

Well, I’m not falling for it. Nuh-uh. Sure, every once in a while a small piece of burger, or maybe cheese, will tumble from a plate while I’m transferring food. I may accidentally misplace a rib or pork chop bone when I’m done with it but no way am I going to encourage that beast to keep me company while I’m going about the serious business of cooking.

Apparently, like all puppies and kittens, he paid attention while at Cute School. You know that thing that puppies do, when they crouch down with their front ends low and their rear ends high, tail wagging? And they kinda prance while growling, like they’re double-dog-daring you to approach them? And then you feint a charge and he spins around, grinning and barking happily?

Well, I’m not falling for it.

I’m going to continue to keep a wary distance, both physically and emotionally. Except perhaps, for the occasional photo.

His name is Benny and he’s a Jack Russell terrier.

And he eats faces.

And he eats pants. Son #1 is justifiably horrified.

Here, he imitates an apostrophe on a string.

* God bless Dorothy Parker, from whom I stole my subject line.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Buzzwords (Issue #139)

I like buzzwords. You know, those words that define some newish concept that makes a splash when it enters our culture. But I’m the kind of guy who is often unclear on the meaning of newish concepts. They’re usually related to technology or business, areas in which my knowledge is somewhat behind the curve (<—buzzphrase!).

When hi-tech or business pioneers blaze a new buzzword-worthy path, I’m the guy waiting at the juncture where it diverged from the old path. I’m content to hang around until the paving crew comes by to turn it into a serviceable road.

In the meantime, most of society is whizzing along those paths, using wonderful-sounding words like “synergy” and “paradigm shift” and “scalability.”

Now, I could stop one of those people and ask them what the heck those words mean but that would mean entering into a conversation with a geek. Big words would start filling up the thought balloons in my head and before you know it, I’d begin tipping over and have to go lie down. No sirree Bob.

My solution is to make up the meanings. I find it comforting to use words that mean what you want them to mean. (But for the life of me, I don’t get why shifting a couple of dimes from one pocket to another became such a radical concept. We used to call it “pocket pool” and we didn’t need money to play.)

When I got the idea that this column is (eventually) going to be about, I just knew there was a buzzword out there to describe it. But for the longest time, the word balanced on the tip of my brain, jiggling and wiggling just out of reach, like a cherry on a bowl of jello in old Aunt Edna’s hands.

I knew it meant “come together” and jotted down the word “confluence”- but with a question mark beside it because it didn’t feel right.

I wanted the word that meant what’s happening all around me, in various aspects of my world. Like this:

Many of the stores I’m used to shopping in are changing. They’re selling all kinds of stuff they never used to sell before. Zellers and Wal-Mart, department stores, now sell groceries and pharmaceuticals. Shoppers Drug Mart, a pharmacy, now sells CDs, as well as some groceries and snacks and books.

Every store is starting to sell every thing. Pretty soon you won’t be able to tell them apart. It’s kind of scary but it seems to be the way of things.

Another example that illustrates the word I was seeking:

Cell phones have become cameras and music players. Or vice versa. One remote control turns on your tv and your microwave and your computer and makes your bed. Pretty soon one giant...thing - humming with electricity - will cook, clean, raise our children, entertain us and do our taxes.

And suddenly, the word occurred to me.


Things that were once separate, becoming one. Like marriage but without the anguish.

For several months now, I’d jot down ideas and then decide if I should do a column or a blog. You’d think such decisions would be easy. And for a person whose thought balloons aren’t easily filled and tippy, they probably are easy. But I’d wrestle with them and fret until I got the idea that you’ve probably figured out by now.

Yep, I’m going to merge my column and blog and that’s going to mean some (hopefully not-too-scary) changes.

Those of you who prefer to read me via email will still be able to do so. I know there are quite a few of you who read the column at work where email is okay but surfing the net (to read a blog) is not. Those of you who read my column but not my blog, may be somewhat dismayed to find that my percentage of non-humourous jottings will increase. I tend to cover more bases in my blog, though most of the time I keep it on the light side too.

Instead of arriving in your mailbox on Thursdays, the new, converged me may arrive any day, at any time. Some columns may be longer than the usual 800-ish words, many will be shorter. I’ll be getting back to approximately a weekly schedule again and may sometimes send off a couple in a week.

Because the blog lends itself to showing photographs much more easily than an email, I will still be including the link with every issue. (Occasionally, I do a blog entry that’s almost entirely photographs.) I’ll give a heads-up in email when there’s something visible at the blog site that isn’t in the mailed version. And, of course, those of you on the email list will be able to marvel at the spiffy banners designed by Hilary at Dejablues Designs while blog readers, alas, will just have to look at the same darn pic every single time.

As always, I welcome comments, via email or on the blog itself. I’m going to be away from a computer for the next three or four days though, so please forgive my delayed replies.

I’m going to be empowering myself while converging with nature and offshoring with my fishing rod.