Wish I'd Said It

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

- A. A. Milne

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tracks In The Snow (#185)

The other day, I was washing dishes and looking out the window into the backyard. We own a dishwasher but it broke about 10 or 12 years ago. At first I couldn’t afford to fix it or buy a new one, and then I could, but other priorities kept/keep rearing their heads so...we keep doing them by hand.

Actually, I kind of enjoy it. Busywork occupies the body while freeing the mind. About the only time it’s necessary to focus is when pain or pink soap suds tell me to be more careful with the knives.

I was looking at the snow-covered yard and trying to identify the various tracks which criss-crossed it. The rabbit’s were easy, as were the squirrel’s and of course, Benny’s were everywhere. On the shed roof were what might have been a cat’s or a raccoon’s. Those tracks were older and a slight melt and re-freeze had distorted their shape. Plus, to tell you true, the kitchen window could be cleaner. And further to the truth-telling thing, my eyes aren’t what they used to be.

I got to thinking about tracks and leaving marks and how Spring would obliterate those outside my window. But for a few weeks at least, after every snowfall, my yard would be an historical testament to critters’ activities.

Which, I suppose, is why some of us write, some of us paint, some of us play music, some of us build bridges and most of us have children: we want to leave a legacy, our mark.

Now, this internet thing, and more specifically, blogs, have made it easy for people to leave their marks. As long as the net exists, so will the tracks of many millions of people.

I think everyone with access to a computer should have a blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re not gifted at rearranging the alphabet. It doesn’t matter if your mother is the only one who reads it now. What matters is telling your story, leaving your tracks. Someone, somewhere, sometime, will come across, and note them.

Right now, my sons have very little interest in what I write. It’s understandable. At their age, I wasn’t all that interested in what my father did either.

But I have a feeling that sometime after I’m gone, they’ll become curious about the marks I left behind and may even enjoy following my trail.

Your kids might too. And theirs. And so on.

And it’s cheaper and easier than building a bridge.


What could be better than enjoying good health and peace of mind?

I’ll tell you.


So, I wish health and peace of mind for you and yours in 2009. Happy New Year from me and Ben.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Gift For You (#184)

Yesterday, I started working on a seasonal column. It was a wish list chock-full of earnest pleasantries. I stopped at the mid-way point to continue writing it this morning.

Then, last night while watching Letterman, I changed my mind. Lemme s’plain why.

Along about 1972 I bought a Christmas album. It was a reissue of a 1963 release called A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. It featured songs by acts that Spector and his trademarked “wall of sound” had made famous: Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and others. I was a huge fan of those girl groups of the early 60s and the album was a big hit at parties with its rockin’ take on Christmas classics as well as some new tunes.

The very first CD I ever bought (before, in fact, I even owned a CD player) was a boxed set of Spector-produced tunes called Back To Mono. I was delighted to find that along with dozens of famous songs by the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and many others, was a CD version of the Christmas album.

My favourite tune on the album was one by Darlene Love called Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). For the last several years, Letterman has had Love on his Christmas show, usually closing it by singing that song.

Last night I was privileged to see and hear her do it again. The woman defies time. She just gets better and better. Now, through the magic of computers and YouTube, we can all enjoy it.

So here’s my revised Christmas wish:

I wish you’d all turn up your speakers’ volume to Very Loud and let your spirits be lifted by the joyful sound of human voices raised in song.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Walking In The Dark (#183)

We observe Daylight Saving Time where I live which means turning the clocks back an hour in fall and forward an hour in spring. Last month we turned the clocks back. For many years, this day vied with Christmas as my favourite. I could sleep an extra hour! Of course, it never worked out that way. I’d stay up an extra hour instead.

Turning the clocks back favours morning people. The extra light is noticeable only to early risers. For the rest of us, the sun is setting an hour earlier. At this time of year, that means around 5:00 pm.

For the last several months, I’ve been walking Benny in the early evening, before dinner. More often than not, those walks were during that special time of day when the western sun’s angle added golden tones to the greens of spring and summer and highlighted the multi-coloured facets of autumn. It was a terrific time of day to take photographs and simply enjoy the surroundings.

This year, I was not looking forward to turning the clocks back. I’m a napper. I need to conk out for 40-60 minutes most afternoons. I blame my Dad. He was one too. Somehow though, my five siblings were spared this minor family curse.

Anyhow, my usual nap time is from about 5 pm to 6. Even before the clocks were turned back, the latter half of our walks were happening in dusk. Now, with it, it would be pitch dark.

That first evening after the time change, my thoughts matched the surrounding gloom. It was a cloudy night so there was no help from moon or stars. I could see just well enough to avoid a misstep. It was difficult to keep Ben in view, so for the most part, we stayed on the paved portion of the path.

As I did some mental math, trying to figure out when it would be light again at this time of day, I listened to the burbling of the nearby creek. Actually, it wasn’t all that nearby - probably more like 50 or 60 feet. I didn’t recall hearing it from this particular part of our route before.

Then I became aware of the night breeze whispering through tall grass and tree branches. It sounded like distant surf or the sighing exhalations of a sleeping giant. As we approached the southernmost part of the walk, the hum of highway traffic underlaid the songs of the creek and the wind.

And I began to realize anew what I’d forgotten during the longer days of Spring, Summer and Autumn: the charms of walking in the dark.

My hearing was more acute in order to compensate for reduced vision. In a very real sense, as one’s field of view diminishes, the world shrinks. Because there’s nothing much to distract me or occupy my senses, it’s easy for my attention to drift inward. In some respects, it’s like walking in a bubble. I can examine thoughts without interruption. Encounters with other walkers, unlike the other months of the year, are rare. My daydreams, encouraged by the surrounding dark, become more fanciful.

But some nights aren’t dark at all. When the sky is clear, the moon is full and snow blankets the ground, it’s quite bright out. Yet the brightness is much different from that of daylight. What it lacks in warmth it makes up for in magic. Shadows abound. Homely, barren scrub trees are lent a ghostly beauty. Snow, ice and running water have a silvery sparkle quite different from the golden one of the sun.

But I’d be remiss if I left you folks with the impression that these evening forays were all soft-focus, romantic wonder.

It’s often really frickin’ cold out there and the footing can be treacherous. Walking, head down, into wind-whipped freezing sleet while trying to stay upright on ice isn’t particularly fun. Especially when you have to look around every 30 seconds to try to keep tabs on a small, four-legged perpetual motion machine. (Who happens to be the reason you’re out there in the first place.)

That’s when having a wee drop of belly-warmer in a small flask can come in handy. The small, inner glow of warmth, illusory or not, takes a bit of the sting out of winter’s bite.

And, like the guy who hits his head against a wall because it feels so good when he stops - arriving back at a warm house, cheeks burning and hands numb - is a pleasure worthy of the pain it took to get there.

From the winter solstice (Dec.21st) onward, the days will grow slightly longer. By March, Ben and I will be walking in the light again. And I’ll appreciate it, if only for its promise of warmer days to come.

Until then, I’ll bundle up and enjoy walking on a winter’s night.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

David Letterman, Nicole Kidman & Plastic Surgery - Oh My!

A few months ago, after a several-year absence, I started watching the Late Show with David Letterman again. I’ve watched Dave since his earliest days on NBC over three decades ago. I stopped for a while because I wasn’t really enjoying him or the show anymore. He seemed bitter, cynical and bored.

If you felt the same way, try giving him another shot. He’s mellowed since becoming a father five years ago. He’s having fun again and it shows. The cynicism has been tempered and he’s almost - dare I say it? - warm.

Anyhow, the other night he had Nicole Kidman on. I’d always considered her a very pretty woman and a good actress who wasn’t bright enough to avoid marrying Tom Cruise. Well, she might still be a good actress but I don’t think she’s all that pretty anymore. And apparently her IQ hasn’t climbed any because it seems she’s joined the ranks of those Hollywood types who’ve done Something Wrong to their face. Her skin is too darn tight. She appears to be in the early stages of Joan Rivers-itis.

Dave of course, gentleman that he is, extolled her beauty several times and if you didn’t know him, you’d take him at his word. But as a longtime Dave watcher I can tell you with some degree of confidence that he was as taken aback as I was.

Although not as drastic yet (after all, she’s younger) Ms Kidman seems to have followed in the footsteps of Dolly (The Joker) Parton, Mary Tyler Moore and a host of others who have done appalling things to their facial features.

I Googled “nicole kidman plastic surgery” and got a bunch of hits. One of which led me to a site called awfulplasticsurgery.com.

Holy crap.

That’s one scary site. Don’t go there. I mean, we all know about Michael Jackson but believe it or not - there’s worse.

And mostly these abominations are done in an attempt to preserve some vestige of youthful beauty. It’s bad enough when half the women in Hollywood have plastic cantaloupes attached to their chests but now a bunch of them also have swollen lips and drum-tight facial skin.

I blame Angelina Jolie. Seemingly, every other woman in the entertainment racket wants to be like her: huge pouty lips and a skinny frame except for chest melons.

But in a few years she’s going to start looking more “mature.” Will she go the botox/surgery/liposuction route, you think? I hope not but won’t be surprised if she does.

Add unethical plastic surgeons to the blame list. They exploit people with poor self-esteem and feed their insecurities. They betray their Hippocratic oath. They are doing harm.

Some of you know I’ve had a bit of thing for Susan Sarandon since 1970. It’s no big deal really. A few pictures on the walls. Pillow cases with her likeness. A couple of death threats to that Tim Robbins guy. A restraining order or two.

Anyhow, she’s a woman in the public eye who is aging gracefully and naturally. Susie (close, personal friends can call her that) has lines and wrinkles but still looks fabulous.

Remember Jessica Tandy? She was a lovely woman throughout her long life, no less so at 84 than she was at 24, 44, or 64. A hundred wrinkles couldn’t detract from her beauty.

I’ve got one more group of people to blame - fathers. A father’s job is to convince his daughter that she’s beautiful and will always remain so. Fathers need to take the Nicole Kidmans of the world aside and give them a shake. Make them face reality:

You were born beautiful. That’s a gift. So is a long, healthy life. But that life leaves marks. The ones that matter are those tracked upon your soul, not your face. Leave them be.

But I gotta confess I’m glad this father had sons. I bet Dave is too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some Summer/Fall Photos

I didn't take nearly as many photographs this year as in years past. Mostly because Hilary is at least as good a photographer and has a better camera. So I ceded a lot of that business to her. (You can see many of the delightful results at her blog.)

I did take a few though. Here's some of the ones I liked. (You can click on each photo to see them enlarged. Then hit your back button to return to the post.)

Benny waits on the dock for me to come play with those long fishing sticks again.

Nearly the same perspective on a different day. Son #1, sitting in the back of one of the boats, tries to keep sight of his float against the gathering gloom.

Back at home, the field and trees look freshly washed after a passing summer storm.

Autumn has settled in. The proud gold of still-robust leaves is dwindling into a resigned brown. But the sumacs' splashes of red defy winter's onset.

Ben checks on my whereabouts as we walk along a leaf-strewn path.

Bushes, weeds and trees gather golden light from the setting sun.

A peek inside the south cedar grove during that magical twilight time.

The field's tallest tree is lit from below by the sun's fading fire.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obamania (#180)

I used to be a political junkie - an American political junkie - which, as a toque-wearing Canuck should’ve fostered at least a hint of shame but didn’t. I was young and idealistic in the late 60s and early 70s. Like most young folks, I leaned left politically. I was hoping for a McGovern miracle. Got Watergate. As one of my favourite writers* of the day would say: “And so it goes.”

In retrospect, that’s probably when the hazy veil of peace/love/dope began to part, revealing that scourge of young people everywhere and everywhen – reality. Ouch. Time to grow up. There isn’t always a happy ending. A smart person isn’t necessarily an ethical one. (That one stung.) Anyway, I grew up and as I did, I grew away from American politics. When the world didn’t end with Reagan’s election, I figured I could safely step back.

Flash forward a generation-plus. Barack Obama is facing off against John McCain. Black vs white. Ok. Make that tan vs florid. I don’t much care but Son #1 is captivated. Early on, he becomes a rabid Obama acolyte. He loudly, and often, berates me for my jaded indifference. He forgets, or doesn’t care, that I was around for Beatlemania and Trudeaumania. Barack Obamania is moderately interesting, but in a been-there, done-that kind of a way.

When Sarah Palin is announced as McCain’s running mate, I thought it a masterstroke. With Hillary’s reluctant, resentful release of her electoral reins, I thought Palin would appeal to disaffected Clintonites. Then I heard her speak and knew Obama’s coronation was assured.

Tonight was the election. I tuned in to the Comedy Channel’s broadcast at 10, being a Stephen Colbert fan. (I can tolerate Jon Stewart if I read the paper while he’s talking.)

By then, on account of Son #1 running downstairs every 1.3 minutes to announce CNN’s latest incantation, I knew which way the wind was blowing. Obama was going to be President elect of the United States of America. It was confirmed around 11 o’clock. Which is when I really begin to focus on what I am seeing on my television.

I see a humble, tired, and very gracious John McCain offering congratulations and cooperation to Barack Obama.

Then I see Obama and listen to him for the first time.

Oh yeah. This guy’s got It. He can move mountains with his voice alone. I envision a second, milk-chocolatey, American Camelot. Michelle projects intelligence, grace and power. Both of them, husband and wife, put me in mind of cats. They are lithe and sleek. They kiss and entwine fingers after his soaring acceptance speech and I read her lips saying “I love you” and I can almost hear them both purr. I realize I’ve been spellbound. Like a majority of Americans and idealistic people from around the world - I recognize the magic that is his. That is theirs.

And I wonder. I wonder if maybe this skinny guy from Illinois can make the same kind of impression on his people as that other skinny guy from Illinois did. Obama himself drew that Lincolnesque comparison.

He can certainly move a crowd. He projects and instills an evangelical fervor. The camera is forever zooming in on tear-stained, chanting faces. Just like the ones I remember from those Beatles’ concerts and those Trudeau appearances.

Obama stops speaking and the next several minutes are filled with a slow procession of running mates and extended family onto the stage. Hugs and kisses abound. Black embraces white and vice versa and the symbolism fairly shouts. I become aware of the music and focus, for the first time, on the production aspects of what I’m experiencing.

I’m particularly struck by the music. It is a seemingly endless series of crescendos - rising and swelling in majestic waves - buoying the emotions of the crowd.

It is powerful. I realize this is a man who has mastered media. Or his handlers have. Doesn’t matter really. He is a force.

I’m a lucky guy. I live in interesting times.

And I think American politics have become intriguing again.

*Kurt Vonnegut. But you knew that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Singing Trees (#179)

In the north cedar grove there’s a tree which is leaning against its neighbour, a fellow cedar. They’re both tall, about 50-plus feet, healthy, and slender -- though fortunately for the tilting one, its supportive neighbour is somewhat thicker.

I became aware of them on a windy day because sound is created when their trunks and branches rub together. Sometimes it sounds like a grunt, sometimes a moan, sometimes a squeak. I suppose lots of factors affect the tones: wind speed, the dryness/dampness of the bark, the temperature.

This morning was the first autumn day that offered a hint of the season to come – a fierce north wind and plummeting temperatures arrived hard on the heels of an overnight rain. The predicted high was 5C (41F) and the current temperature was 3C (37F).

I rooted around in my closet and donned my camo jacket for the first time in a few months. Was pleased to find a small bottle with a sip’s worth of belly warmer in one pocket. Slightly less pleased to find dozens of bits of crumbled peanut shells in the other. There was also a glove in each, though I likely wouldn’t need them.

By the time Ben and I got to the corner, 90 seconds into our walk, I was fishing around for those gloves. The wind whipped leaves into a frenzied blur of gold, red and orange. Ben was mesmerized. There were too many, moving too quickly. He couldn’t isolate a target.

My eyes teared constantly until we got to the shelter of the grove. I paused there to wipe them and my glasses. That’s when I heard it.

The two cedars were singing. It was high-pitched, nearly flute-like, and oddly familiar. Oddly, because although I’d heard many such leaning trees and rubbing limbs over the years, they tended to have a repetitious, one or two-note sound.

Today’s tones were not like that at all. There were some sharp, staccato notes and some that held longer. I was nearly positive that I had never heard trees making sounds that were so musical. Yet, it was familiar.

As you’re well aware of by now, Benny’s strong suit is not patience. He’d spent two whole minutes exploring the immediate area while I was paused and now it was time to move along.

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the technique he uses to get my attention when he decides I’ve lingered in one place for a nanosecond longer than he thinks is prudent.

He runs full tilt towards me - could be from any direction - leaps, turns his body to the side and slams into me with all four paws before bouncing off, landing upright and prancing away.

If I don’t get the hint immediately, it’s obviously because he caromed off the wrong part of my body. So he tries it again from another direction. The worst ones are from the front when I’m gazing upward at birds. Luckily, I’ve had all the children I want and a higher voice is sort of natural when a guy gets old.

Wiping futilely at the muddy paw prints on my jeans, I acquiesced to his suggestion and moved along.

I soon became absorbed in looking for birds and watching squirrels and catching glimpses of salmon and forgot about the song until we re-arrived at the grove on the homeward leg of our walk.

Daring to test Ben’s patience yet again, I stopped for a moment to listen while imbibing a wee drop of belly warmer.

Suddenly, it clicked. I knew where I’d heard similar music.

Of all things, the intermittent, flutey sighing, up and down the scale, sounded like the calls of whales. There was a distinct similarity to the haunting, plaintive sounds I’d heard countless times on television.

I had about 20 seconds to listen and savour the realization before Ben literally kick-started me back towards food and warmth. As we walked, the song fading behind with every step, I mused about long-lived, majestic giants of land and sea and Nature’s little miracles.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

(Some Of) Benny's Eccentricities

Near the beginning of my book (which I hardly mention anymore even though Christmas is coming and it still makes for a spiffy gift) I discuss the importance of learning to think like a fish.

Learning to think like something different from yourself is the key to understanding any living creature and if you want to catch, raise, or co-exist with one, it helps greatly to understand it. Luckily, fish aren’t all that clever and it only took me a few decades to figure them out. Well, to mostly figure them out. In a way.

Regular readers know I am a devout disciple of Yogi Berra and my doorway to understanding was via his wise counsel: You can observe a lot just by watching. (By the way, none of this accrued wisdom applies to women. They remain unfathomable despite a lifetime of observation.)

For the last year or so, I’ve been watching Benny pretty closely and I’ve arrived at a deeper understanding of dogs in general and insane Jack Russell Terriers in particular. Perhaps “insane” is too strong a word. Let’s go with “eccentric.”

Are you familiar with the TV show Monk? For those who aren’t, Monk (brilliantly portrayed by Tony Shalhoub) is a detective who is plagued by an extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If something is unclean, untidy, uneven, or even a micron out of place, he becomes very upset until it is made right.

Otherwise he’s pretty normal.

Ben is like that. He’s a happy-go-lucky, friendly pup as long as things are normal - by his definition. He only barks at things that are Wrong and I am learning, via him, about more and more Wrong things.

People who don’t do what they’re supposed to do are Wrong. For instance, this may include people who are standing still when Ben thinks they should be walking. Let’s say someone is ahead of us while we’re walking. No problem. But suppose that person stops to tie a shoelace. Ben may well decide that a previously-walking-now-bent-over person is Wrong and deserves a good barking.

People riding bicycles used to be Wrong until he saw enough of them to accept their existence with a token chase. However, people standing beside, or walking a bicycle, are obviously Very Wrong. They are not doing what people with bicycles are supposed to do and it’s his job to alert those nearby to that fact.

Statues are all pretty much Wrong because they’re very stiff people who aren’t even displaying the minimum movement required by tying shoelaces. Plus, I suspect they don’t smell right either.

He decided early on that shovels are Wrong. Son #1 often exercises Ben in the backyard by standing in the centre of the yard while holding a shovel and pointing it at him. Ben goes into a frenzy of running in circles around the offending shovel. #1 need only pivot slowly, shovel extended, while Benny tears up the turf around him until exhausted. It’s kind of like operating one of those remote-controlled planes - just point and watch it go until it crashes.

On our walks, we often meet other folks walking their pooches. In most instances, this is a happy occurrence for Ben as he loves his fellow canines. But every once in a while he would growl and/or bark at an inoffensive mutt who just wanted a sniff or two. I was puzzled as such behaviour was quite unlike him.

Then, after the fourth or fifth time it happened, I realized that each of the dogs that set him off was wearing one of those Halti collars that wrap around the nose instead of the neck. Obviously Haltis are Wrong. At least now I can explain to some folks why he’s being an idiot: “Yeah, sorry. But it’s your own fault. You got the wrong collar for your dog.”

Eventually, I’m pretty sure he’ll figure out that most of these things are actually okay. For quite some time he considered a child on all fours, or sitting on the ground, to be another dog. He would prance around, forepaws down and bum high, barking and nipping at loose clothes, encouraging this new “puppy” to play. That was a nerve-wracking few months I’ll tell ya. (Especially for new Mom, Erin.) We still need to keep a close watch on him when very wee ones are about, lest he regress.

But most of his eccentricities are benign and once understood, quite easily accepted. At his core, he’s a regular pooch, wanting only to be with his people (his pack), play, eat, sleep, and roll in rotting flesh, preferably fish. If, from time to time, he also indulges in somewhat eccentric behaviour, well really, what’s the harm?

Some might even say, if they saw his keeper standing on one leg while talking to a Great Blue Heron or picking up wayward snails off the sidewalk, he comes by it honestly.

If they said it to my face though, I’d probably have to bark at them.


Most of you who visit my blog (as opposed to reading the emailed version) are also regular visitors to Hilary's. However, if you're not, and would like to see videos and pictures of Ben (as well as other terrific photos and commentary) please pay her a visit. You'll find two recent videos of Ben on her October 5th and 15th posts at: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 22, 2008

Late Summer Warfare

Everywhere there are signs summer is winding down. Trees are shedding leaves. Some flowers are fading. The apples are ripening. The salmon are spawning. And fruit flies have invaded my house.

The pesky critters are everywhere. As soon as I find and remove the offending peaches or onions that harbour the mini buzzards, they discover a new place to breed. Before I know it, a trip to the kitchen requires a mosquito net.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few battle tactics. First among them was laying traps. I would slice a juicy peach and place pieces in plastic bags. Every few hours, I’d sneak up on the bags, slam them shut and tie them closed. Sometimes, if feeling particularly vengeful, I’d blast the inside of the bag with an insecticide first. (Be careful if you decide to use this variation as there could be collateral damage to nearby foodstuffs, plates, children, etc.)

This was effective as long as I remembered where I put each trap and checked them periodically. Unfortunately, every once in a while I’d forget about one and it would become the scene of a fruit fly orgy, giving birth to a fresh host of the ravenous beasts.

A few years ago, I learned of the vinegar method: Pour some wine, raspberry or cider vinegar (malt and white will work too, just not as well) into a narrow-necked bottle to a depth of an inch or two. Make a funnel of paper or light cardboard and insert it into the top of the bottle so that it fits snugly.

The fruit flies, attracted by the vinegar, enter the bottle via the funnel but can’t find their way back out again. (They're way dumber than the average middle-aged Canadian male. We ask for directions.) Eventually, the tiny winged demons become vinegarized sediment. And it looks good on them.

However, despite two such traps in my kitchen, I came back from a few days away to find they’re still reproducing like airborne bunnies.

Desperate, I turned to a technoguy’s best friend, Google.

And there, way down the list of suggestions, was one that made real sense and, as a bonus, sounded like fun: vacuum the heck out of ‘em!

So for the last couple of days, my vacuum cleaner has resided in the middle of my kitchen floor. Every time I make tea, or dinner, or grab something from the fridge, I vacuum around my vinegar traps where the wee terrors hang out. (Must confess I feel like I’m starring in an Arnie movie, waving around a flamethrower or submachine gun. Or a “suckmachine” gun. Haha. That’s funny.)

It works like magic. Hasta la vista babies! The tiny flying farts are no match for 12 amps of revved-up, reverse-turbined suction.

Unfortunately, neither are the paper funnels on the traps. I sucked up a couple of them, releasing a few POWs in the process but covered the tops quickly and made new funnels.

Oh, the war’s not over yet. Not by a long shot. I must remain vigilant. Thus far, all I’ve won is a few skirmishes. The enemy is resilient and resourceful and has earned my respect. It only takes two survivors and a few days and you’re back to battling brigades of the buggers. But I’ve definitely stemmed the tide. So far.

Looking forward to winter though, when I can safely buy some fruit again. And quit tripping over the stupid vacuum cleaner.

Monday, September 01, 2008

But Is It Fishin'? (#176)

As most of you know, and are likely darn sick of hearing, I live in a small town, in a house bordering a field and some woodland. A creek runs through the area and empties into Lake Ontario, a mile or two away. The creek hosts annual migrations of rainbow trout (steelhead) in the spring and brown trout and salmon in the fall.

What follows is another excerpt from the journal I’m writing about my walks in that area with Benny. Forgive me if there’s a reference or two that presupposes a knowledge of material you haven’t read. Maybe one day you will - if I ever finish the darn thing and get it published.

The salmon run is on. The weather is mid-summer hot n’ hazy, belying the calendar. This is Labour Day, a holiday, a day in which people who are usually at work on a Monday, don’t have to work on this particular Monday. They can do other things - recreational things.

Did I mention the salmon run was on?

You’re clever. You can do the math.

Uh-huh. My creek is overrun with guys in armpit-high boots and wearing vests with 97 overflowing pockets. Most of them wield long fly, or steelhead rods from 9 to 13 feet.

Not only that, but on weekends (when I’m usually safe at Hilary’s) and holidays (when I’m often not) it’s also overrun with preteens flinging Pocket Fishermen and families of five toting picnic baskets and lawn chairs among their gear; most of whom have never fished in their lives but want a crack at 25 pounds of near-fresh, not to mention near-free, salmon.

Now add the probability of there being a dead fish or three in the vicinity, rotting nicely in the hot sun.

Finally, factor in a dash of Benny, The Jack Russell Terror, to the above fruitcake smorgasbord and you’ll surely understand that this morning’s walk posed something of a challenge.

The first of which was trying to keep him away from the creek without having to leash him.

For the most part, this was pretty easily done. A good portion of the paved path parallels the creek but doesn’t come all that close to it. And this summer’s still-lush foliage blocked his, and my view of the creek in most places. So, today I made a point of staying on the paved path, away from the creek when we were below the dam. (Most of the salmon were still downstream of the dam.)

The only area of major concern was half-way through the northern cedar grove. The creek bends close to the path there and there’s a nice fish-holding slick, just above and alongside a storm-toppled tree trunk. I knew there’d be at least a couple of guys working that short stretch.

There were six - three on each side of the bank. Six guys fishing a run about 20 feet long and eight wide. From two directions. I called Ben and he came nearly immediately, after a cursory sniff of the closest angler’s boots and a quick pee on a nearby fern. Glad he didn’t reverse that. Good doggie.

Suddenly, I heard one of the six whoop, followed shortly by a thunderous, wet WHAP as a hooked 20-pounder slapped its tail on the surface. I could see at least two lines attached to the “lucky” angler’s line and the other fishermen reeled in frantically, lest they join them.

One more did. This was unlikely to end well.

In my book, this ain’t fishin’. (Hehe. I said “in my book.” Get it? It’s funny because even though I was using the term as a folksy colloquialism, I did write a book. About fishing. Mostly. Oh, nevermind.)

Ben and I continued our walk.

The scene made me grumbly. Fishing + crowds has always = ruining my zen. Fishing is supposed to be a quiet, relaxing pastime, during which one eases into Nature’s own rhythms. It’s not supposed to be one which involves jostling and frayed tempers. That’s the rhythm of a metropolitan subway system.

On the way back, near a long stretch of rapids devoid of both fish and fishermen, Ben and I paused for a bit at the side of the stream. While he nosed around for something interesting, I looked upstream at the tail end of a nice holding pool.

Three young guys, in their late teens or early twenties, were working the lower part of the pool. I couldn’t see the upper part but was certain there were other anglers there as well.

The young lads were tanned and shirtless. One said something and they all laughed. They tossed out their floats in near-unison and I imagined they were wagering on who would catch the first, the biggest, the most – the way I did, and do, when fishing and kibbitzing with friends.

I realized I was being a bit of a twit - a bit of a snobbish twit. Not everyone has the luxury of picking and choosing the ideal times and places to fish. Some only have a day or two here and there, as was the case for me for the better part of 20 years. And if a couple dozen folks have the same chance at the same time - well, it’s no surprise they take advantage of it.

Those young men were having fun. Perhaps they were on the cusp of one of those magically memorable summer days they’d recall and drink to when they were my age. Who was I to say what fishing “should” be?

One size don’t fit all, so what the heck - maybe it is fishin.’

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Big Doin's In A Small Town

I like living in a small town. As proof, I offer the fact that I've lived in one for 22+ years. By choice.

Life here is much more relaxed than in the city but occasionally things can get pretty darn exciting. I'll never forget the opening of the new Canadian Tire store just a couple of years after we moved here.

(For the edification of non-Canuckleheads, Canadian Tire sells everything except food and if you're a guy, you're there a couple of times a week browsing its aisles for wrenches, fishing tackle, plumbing supplies, snow shovels and anything and everything remotely related to motor vehicles. Women, unless unusually mechanically inclined, can get by with a weekly visit. It's a bit like church, only most everyone wears plaid shirts.)

Folks came from miles around to the grand opening. The parking lot was jammed. You've never heard so many "excuse me"s. It was giddyfying.

More recently, in the mid-90s, there was talk of a project dubbed "Valleys 2000." It was a daunting effort: building a nearly 3-kilometer paved, biking/walking path that more-or-less followed the meandering of the local creek. It would be a grand way to usher in the millennium.

Well, what with one thing and another, the town didn't actually get it done until 2004. But it was well worth the wait. It's a pretty spiffy path now and popular with joggers, bikers and dog walkers. They erected a nice information kiosk at the top end of the path, informing us of the local flora and fauna and including a bit of the area's history. They got the brown trout picture wrong and mislabeled a birch tree as a basswood, but all-in-all, it's a pretty nifty kiosk.

Now, this summer, only a few weeks ago, the triangular, corral-type structure pictured below appeared. (You can click the photos to see them enlarged.)

You can imagine the buzz among the locals.

That wasn't all. A few days later, a large section of the field was mowed and eight trees were planted, as evidenced by the picture below. (By the way, the dog pictured is Benny. I have no idea who the chubby guy is.)

I heard that on a Saturday in July, local dignitaries were to gather at the areas mentioned and dedicate them. Unfortunately, I was out of town and missed the pomp and ceremony. But when I returned, I was pleased to see that informative signs had been posted.

In case you have trouble reading it, the sign says "Butterfly Garden." Yep, the corral was built for butterflies. Pretty sure they didn't mean to keep them herded in there though. And the mystery of those eight trees was solved as well.

Yep. A Commemorative Forest. Not sure what was being commemorated but no matter. It's a darn nice sign.

And, as a bonus, now I know exactly how many trees make up a forest.

Later, I walked to the north end of the path. There was yet another sign! This one was right in front of the information kiosk.

Nossir, you just can't beat living in a small town.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I don’t have the time, inclination or heart to tell the whole story now. Nor, most likely, would you want to read it. It’s the sort of mundane story that doesn’t make the news, despite what seems to be the requisite ingredients of drama, tragedy and pathos. It’s a story being enacted near you right now.

25 years ago I married a woman named Helen. She was kind and intelligent, tall, slim and lovely. Shortly after, while she was pregnant with our first son, I learned she had a serious drinking problem. The problem persisted over the years, despite several stays in treatment centres, sessions with counselors and a flirtation with AA. Her longest sober period during those 25 years was 18 months, during which stretch she became pregnant with our second child. That 18-month hiatus was broken during the pregnancy.

When we married, Helen was a registered nurse. Five years later, she was driving a cab, the first of several menial jobs. At first, she was a classic binge drinker - staying sober for days, sometimes a couple of weeks - then drinking herself into oblivion for a period of days or weeks. Later, she “managed” her drinking by holding herself to a half-litre of vodka a day. Unless she was celebrating something. Or sad about something. Or the weather changed. Then she’d double her quota.

Gradually, I gave up hope of ever having a more-or-less normal relationship. Ours became functionally dysfunctional. Several years ago we separated in all ways except for living in the same house. She lived in her space. I lived in mine. The boys learned that an unresponsive mother slumped in a chair or on the couch was their norm.

Until a couple of years ago, she managed to work at least several months a year. At that time, she took a leave of absence to help care for her ailing mother. Without the enforced eight-hours per day of sobriety her job provided, she started drinking more often, more heavily.

Last summer she began having seizures when too many hours elapsed between drinks. The boys and I simply could no longer deal with the falls, the blood, the ambulance calls. Her mother had since moved into a nursing home. We insisted that Helen move into her mother’s place a half-hour drive away, near her brothers, and she did.

She entered one more treatment centre in January of this year. Our sons were cautiously optimistic that this time she would emerge healthy and stay that way. But she was drinking again the day after her 3-week stay was over.

Last Saturday she called her brother and asked him to bring her some soft drinks. When he arrived, she was in the bathroom and didn’t respond to his call. He opened the door and found her unresponsive on the floor. Paramedics were called. They worked on her for an hour but she was gone. She was 55.

During much of our marriage, aside from our sons, I couldn’t think of many positives that came from our relationship. All too often, my focus was on the broken promises, the lies, the sense of loss, the worry, the hurt.

But it was Helen who bought Lucy, our parrot, who bonded with me and is a daily delight. And it was Helen, much to my chagrin at the time, who decided to buy a certain Jack Russell Terror and dubbed him Benny.

When healthy (sober) Helen loved to garden. Although she hadn’t worked on our garden in many years, the roses and clematis and lilies she planted 20-some years ago are flourishing during this hot, wet summer. I’ve enjoyed sitting back there this year and wanted to tell her how nice they looked. I meant to tell her when we talked briefly on the phone two days before she died. But I forgot.

So, instead, I clipped three of her beautiful roses and they were cremated with her.

I’ve come to understand that however much pain her drinking inflicted on her loved ones, her own pain ran deeper and darker. She was a good person unable to cope with a terrible problem.

Rest in peace, Helen.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cribbage & Uncle Walter's Lesson (#174)

The other day, while looking under the couch for the air pump, Son #1 came across a cribbage board I’d forgotten about. It’s carved in the shape of a trout. A rainbow trout to be precise.

Here’s a picture of it:

As you can plainly see, it’s a very spiffy board. (As you can also plainly see, just as I was about to snap the pic, Benny noticed I was doing Something Interesting and had to investigate.) I have some recollection of receiving the board as a gift but am embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten from whom. (Maybe I’ll find out when/if they read this.)

I learned to play cribbage as a child by watching my father play with relatives, friends, and the salesmen who visited our furniture store. I played Dad in practice games and he exhibited the same patience he did while fishing. In my opinion, it’s the best two-handed card game in the world.

An early, and fond memory is of whupping my Uncle Walter in a game or two when I was about seven years old. We were playing at my grandparent’s home during one of the regular family get-togethers.

I was pretty excited. We were playing for money -- a nickel a game, a dime a skunk. (To be skunked in cribbage is to lose by more than 30 points.) I’d never played for money before and was pretty nervous. Most likely because I didn’t have a nickel, let alone a whole dime.

It didn’t seem to matter however, as I could do no wrong. If, in one hand, I only had seven points, poor Uncle Walter would only have four. Occasionally, other relatives would pass by to watch and kibbitz.

More than once, Uncle Val would look at Uncle Walter’s cards and say something like, “Why the heck are you keeping those?”

Uncle Walter would shush him and say he knew what he was doing.

I was too focused on my own cards to pay much attention to his. All I knew was that a couple of games later, I was deliriously happy and 10 cents richer.

I had beaten an adult at cribbage!

It took a decade or two for me to come to the realization that Uncle Walter let me win. As the years passed, I would think about that day now and again. I realized that he taught me an extremely important life lesson - that you don’t have to win to be a winner.

Uncle Walter must be in his 80s now. He and Aunt Jan moved to Nova Scotia about 20 years ago and I haven’t seen them since. We email now and again though, and a while ago I reminded him of the story I just told. Finding that spiffy board prompted me to pass the story along.

Thanks Uncle Walter. You’re a good man. I hope to get out to see you some day soon. I’ll be a good sport and give you a chance to win your dime back.


Those of you who can’t get enough of Benny stories and pictures really should check out Hilary’s blog regularly. She posts more often than I do and often about things we’ve done together. Recently, she’s told of our trip to the cottage and other adventures, replete with pictures, videos and darn good commentary. Check it out at: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/


Here’s a shot of Benny I took a couple of weeks ago at the cottage. After a full day of eating waves and gnawing sticks, he contemplates tomorrow’s mischief.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Little Buzztards (#173)

For the most part, I’m a nice guy. Ask anybody.

I remove suicidal worms from rainy-day sidewalks and place them on the safety of lawns or dirt. I invite Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a shot of Scotch and am coming around to the idea that Yankee fans might have a right to exist.

See? I’m tolerant as heck. But for the last couple of weeks, on a daily basis, I’ve wantonly ended the life of several critters.

I don’t like mosquitos. At all.

June has been a very rainy month here in southern Ontario. Rain means humidity. Mosquitos love humidity. It energizes them as it enervates us. It seems to give these piranhas of the sky super powers. They can fly faster, farther, with even more malevolent intent.

And they’ve been eating me on my morning and evening walks with Benny. The woodland paths and cedar groves - my favourite areas for walking and loitering - are now no-go zones unless I want to douse myself in repellant.

Now, back in the day, when I used to fish a LOT in mosquito-infested areas, I practically bathed in repellant. This was when you were allowed to buy it in nearly pure, concentrated form - 95% DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide). Then, a few years ago, some lab-coat-wearing non-fisherman decided anything over 25% was hazardous to your health so the government outlawed the strong stuff. (Some of us hoarded a few bottles but don’t tell anyone.)

But back then, I was spending the better part of weeks in bug country. I don’t want to douse myself just for a couple of 30-40-minute walks.

(Oh, and puh-leeze don’t tell me about the repellant properties of a certain skin-care product. Doesn’t work. At least on Canadian skitters. They take one sniff, chortle, tie their bibs around their scrawny little necks and dive in.)

So, I’ve been avoiding the most heavily-infested areas and walking briskly through the so-so ones. But every day I get bitten. Every day I manage to swat a few against some part of my anatomy. Usually after they’ve done the deed of course, so my satisfaction is dimmed somewhat by the fact that the blood I’m splattering is my own.

I’m lucky in a way though. The thousands of bites over five decades have resulted in something of an immunity. I itch for 5-10 minutes after being bitten but that’s usually it. Some folks I know have nasty reactions, a couple even require antihistamines to reduce the swelling.

But just because they now only cause momentary discomfort doesn’t mean I don’t hate the wee beasties.

I remember dozens and dozens of nights when I used to hitchhike all over hell’s half-acre; trying to sleep at the side of some road, scrunched deeply down into my sleeping bag and breathing through a pin-sized hole while voracious skitters circled patiently. They knew I’d fall asleep eventually and loosen my death grip on my breathing hole.

And there were all those nights in cottages, sleep being kept at bay because of the intermittent whine of the tiny vampires as they zoomed past my ears.

I’m pretty sure all Canadians in cottage or camping country have, at one time or another (and in my case, several times) given themselves a concussion by whacking the side of their own head while skitter-swatting in the dark. None of us mind the pain and the stars in our eyes if we obliterate the beast as well. (And sometimes, as a bonus, around the 20th concussion, one can knock oneself right to sleep.)

Oh well. Canadian summers are relatively short. By September Ben and I will be able to reclaim our turf.

By the way, he appears to be supremely untroubled by the little buzztards. Maybe I need to roll in a dead fish now and again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This & That & Pictures Too (#172)

A couple of short updates and then some photos:

I’m still getting mail from the Pillow Talk column of several weeks ago and thought I’d update all you folks who took the time to send me your suggestions.

My aged, decrepit pillow still lies, unused, on my bedroom floor next to my dresser. If it had eyes, it would be staring reproachfully. I’ve been trying to adjust to one of those living-foam jobbies. I find it pretty comfy when I sleep on my left side but not so great when on my right. Beats me why that is. Pillows are weird. Can't be me.

Most likely, I’ll eventually get around to getting my old one cleaned and stuffed into some new ticking. I’m stalling though, because I fear it will be Too Different and the magic will be gone forever.


Hilary and I revisited the Fishy Feline (#169) and she was still pregnant and still hungry. This time, she didn’t make an appearance until after we’d put away the fishing gear and were about to leave. She was still very, very shy but came out of hiding to gobble down bits of cheese.

Unbeknownst to me, brother Karl went fishing there a couple of weeks ago and made sure she had a feed of fish.

I hope to take a drive down that way again sometime this summer and will check on her.

I will NOT come back with a kitten.

I will NOT come back with a kitten.

I will NOT come back with a kitten.

I hope.


This is Benny.

Many of you enjoy reading about his antics. Hilary recently posted an amusing story about his most recent stinky adventure. If you missed it, it includes some pictures and a short, entertaining video. Her site can take a little while to load because she posts a lot of pictures. Be patient. It’s worth it. You can check it out by clicking here or visiting: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/ and scrolling down to the post called “The Scent of a Puppy.”


Now for some recent photos:

I have a fairly large magnolia tree in my front yard and this spring was blessed with a bountiful crop of blossoms. I've taken dozens of photos of them over the years and decided to try a different perspective one rainy day. I like how this one turned out. (You can click all these photos to see a somewhat larger version - then click your browser's back button to return to the post.)

The path goes ever on....

As does the creek....

This small pond is home to ducks, frogs and minnows and is a hunting ground for herons, kingfishers and raccoons.

"What the heck is this next one?" you may well ask. I may well tell below it.

It's one in a series of "proof positive of life after death" pics. The dead tree stump is hosting a riot a new life - all of which, at some molecular level, harbour traces of tree DNA. Or something. Dammit Jim! I'm a writer not a scientist! I just think it's nifty.

I'm a fan of trees, of wood in general. And I love how moisture can add richness and texture to wood as evidenced in the next shot, taken shortly after a rainfall.

Back home again to wrap up with a couple of photos from the garden. First, one of an explosion of poppies. Somewhat like the magnolia, these blossoms are spectacular but fragile and short-lived. One day earlier this week there were over 50 blossoms like this one. It rained hard the next day and there were none.

And finally, three tulips. I just like the colours.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brothers (#171)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love Among The Flotsam (#170)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good for them.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fishy Feline (#169)

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

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

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

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

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

And partly it’s the cats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Benny, The Fish & The Princess (#168)


Well, that silly twit dog of mine needed his second bath in a week this morning. His second one ever, for that matter. And for the same reason as the first. He lucked into a couple of rotting trout corpses, an unpleasant but common byproduct of the spring fishing season. Not content with merely finding such treasures, he naturally had to acquire some proof in order to convince me he wasn’t fibbing.

So he rolled in them, covering himself in dirt, blood and gore and enveloping his entire little body in a miasma of eau de rot.

You’ve never seen a happier dog.

He was a little less pleased with the bathtub but submitted with reasonably good grace. Worth it I suppose.

After the first time, I’d kept him on the leash until we were well past the area of the corpse he found. Today, he found another “treasure” further upstream. He’ll remain on the leash for the morning walks for the foreseeable future.


I’m definitely missing the solitary aspect of walking in winter. The paths are just too darn busy these days. Everybody and their brother-in-law and their dogs are out there enjoying Spring. Can’t say I blame them but comparatively, it feels like playing on the highway. Ben enjoys the face time with other dogs but is a little frustrated because on the morning walks he’s being kept on his leash (those rotting fish I mentioned earlier).

For the most part, our evening walks occur further from the creek, so I still let him off then, and will continue, despite what happened last evening. As usual, he was some 50 yards (meters) ahead of me, scouting. He disappeared from my sight briefly as I was rounding a turn. When I spotted him next, I groaned.

He was on his back and rocking joyfully from side to side. This is hardly ever a good sign. I hurried over and called him off. Luckily, this time the object of his affections was the carcass of a desiccated salmon. The fish died months ago and had sort of freeze-dried over the winter. I was hopeful that the taint wasn’t too bad, as he wasn’t covered in gore and slime as he had been on the earlier, bath-worthy occasions.

I rubbed his flank and then smelled my hand. Not too bad. I’ve smelled worse after a day of fishing. Pretty sure.

Anyway, shortly afterwards, we met up with a woman walking her white poodle which was leashed and approximately Ben’s size. Ben, of course, dashed toward them and began playfully circling the poodle, hoping for a romp and some mutual sniffing of naughty bits.

The woman, who was rather stylishly dressed and sported dark sunglasses, wasn’t overly thrilled with Ben’s attentions. I was told that “Princess” was nipped by another dog and was nervous of them. Princess appeared fine to me, curious and unafraid, but I called Ben off. It reminded me of how some moms will feel a chill and immediately put a sweater on their child who was blissfully unaware of being cold.

We let Princess and the Queen Mum get well ahead of us while I diverted Ben’s attention by tossing a stick.

About 10 minutes later though, our paths crossed again. By now we were nearing the road and I had Ben back on his leash. The Queen Mum was inclined to stop and chat this time, probably because Ben’s attentions were somewhat curtailed. As we spoke, she bent to pat him.

I almost said something about his earlier roll in the salmon carcass. My internal debate lasted for the two seconds it took for her hand to make contact with Ben’s fur. I decided to smile and nod instead as she stroked him and chatted about the weather.

A minute or so later we bid each other a pleasant good evening. She’d probably find out when she got back to her car, or home. Or maybe not. When Ben and I returned, I held him close and sniffed deeply.

He was fine. He just smelled like an old fishing buddy to me.

If we meet again, I expect the Queen Mum’s reaction at that time will tell me if she agrees.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Of Geese & Men: Spring Fishing Adventures II (#167)

If you haven’t read the first part of this story, you may do so by scrolling down the page a bit.


Approximately 150 yards south of where I was fishing, and on the opposite side of the creek, is a boat launch ramp and parking lot. The ramp is busy during the summer and fall months with pleasure boaters and salmon/trout fishermen. They launch their craft in the creek and putter south for half a mile until they reach the harbour and Lake Ontario.

A car with a canoe strapped to the roof appeared in the lot and gave me something new to look at. Two people got out of the vehicle, unstrapped the canoe and carried it to the water’s edge.

It was early afternoon now and the temperature had probably reached 10C (50F) under sunny skies but the water temperature was still only about 4C (39F). I couldn’t see the people very clearly but it seemed obvious they were not wearing floatation gear. After placing the canoe in the water, one of them returned from the car carrying two very old-fashioned, keyhole-type life preservers which were plopped into the bottom of the canoe.

I shook my head. If they were to overturn, hypothermia would set in quickly and there was zero chance they’d be able to don those antique life jackets while in the water. I hoped they had no intention of heading to the lake proper.

It seemed they didn’t. They pointed their canoe upstream and stroked their way toward me, politely staying close to the opposite shore where they were least likely to interfere with my fishing.

A russet-haired woman, in her early-mid 30s and wearing a heavy knit sweater, sat in the bow. I didn’t get much of an impression of the man in the stern except to note he also wore a sweater and some kind of off-white toque on his head.

They both waved as they passed and I waved back. As I watched them stroke their way upstream, my dismay at their old lifesaving gear was replaced by admiration for their paddling prowess.

They stroked and paused in unspoken unison, displaying a synchronicity that could only be born from hundreds of hours of togetherness. On every second stroke, the woman in the bow would rest her paddle on the gunnel for a two-count. The man would simply pause in mid-stroke, paddle blade hovering. Their strokes were precise and clean. The blades barely dripped. It was poetry. Too soon, they were out of sight.


Shortly after the canoeists passed, Mr. Couple, the lonely goose whose mate had been driven off by a rival, caught my attention again. He had been desultorily preening on the opposite bank when he suddenly waddled back into the water and began swimming southward, to my right. He was making soft noises, almost as if talking to himself, and was swimming with intent.

In a moment, I could see why. Swimming upstream to meet him was his lost lady love. I was amazed he could recognize her from such a distance. I’m fairly certain he didn’t hear her. There was something about her, perhaps her swimming style, that he recognized from over a hundred yards away. I was very pleased they’d found each other again.

So he wasn’t being blase (or a pig!) after all. He was just patiently awaiting his mate’s return. He had faith.

Men are such saints.


A half-hour after they’d disappeared upstream, the canoeists returned, this time a little closer to the middle of the creek. We chatted briefly about the lovely day as they passed me again. This time I noted that the man’s “off-white toque” was actually a thick head of grey-white hair. He seemed to be in his late 50s or early 60s and I wondered if they were a father/daughter or May/December pair. I hoped the former.

How wonderful to foster, then share, a much-loved activity throughout childhood and into adulthood, like my father and I did with fishing. It’s a priceless gift for both parent and child.


May have jumped the gun a tad when I declared the gander a non-pig. A few minutes after his mate’s return, he swam behind her and, in a flurry of splashing and honking, clambered atop her back, immersing her completely.

If the act I’m pretty sure he intended, actually occurred, I sure hope she was one of those rare, easy-to-please females because in two seconds they were back above water and swimming apart.

Men are so...efficient.


The shadows were lengthening. My thermos was empty. The fish, if any were indeed around, were too polite to disturb my half-day reverie. That other reality beckoned and I reluctantly packed my gear for the half-mile walk back to the car.

Several hours earlier, when I walked to the fishing spot, I passed a couple of mated pairs of geese swimming in the creek. Now, on the way back, they were on the shore and quite close to the path I was walking.

The two pair were about 100 yards apart. As I clomped past them in my hip waders, the males (I presume) hissed and muttered soft warnings. I could tell they didn’t want to have to mess with me but would, if I came too close. I reassured them, both verbally and via my body language, that I posed no threat. I avoided eye contact, spoke softly and didn’t break stride.

Men are so brave, respectful, and all-round admirable.


Maybe my next fishing adventure will feature a finned critter or two. Or not. Doesn’t matter. Fishing is always good.

Here's where I set up shop for the day. The rod on the left is ready for action. The rod leaning on the stick is already in action - sorta.

Mr. and Mrs. Couple, in a non-intimate moment.

Can you spot the froggie above?

Okay, how about now?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Fishing Adventures - Part One (#166)

Despite my outdoor enjoyment with Ben this winter, my spirit meter was still down a quart because it had been quite some time since I’d been fishing.

I remedied that over the last couple of days. Here’s Part One of what happened:


Finally! We have lovely, true-Spring weather with temperatures around 7C (45F). It was warmer in town, just a couple of miles north of where I fish, but my proximity to Lake Ontario subtracted a few degrees.

High water precluded fishing from my usual spot, so I set up shop at my second-favourite, the confluence of two creeks. Geese appeared to be pairing up. I spotted several couples on my walk in and a pair were nibbling at grass on the opposite bank from where I decided to fish, about 100 feet (30 metres) away.

Conditions weren’t conducive to actually catching a fish. The water was still too high and dingy and most of the trout had undoubtedly moved beyond this part of the creek, further north into spawning water. Those spawning grounds, parts of which include the area where Ben and I walk daily, were off-limits to anglers for 10 more days.

Which was fine. Because I didn’t come for the fish. I came for the fishing.


As expected, the underwater action was slow. After an hour, I quit drifting roe under a float, rigged up a worm on a slip-sinker rig, cast it out and set my rod down on a forked stick. I then commenced some serious idling.

Soon, I was ambling along the shoreline, peering amongst the flotsam for anything of interest. Spooking a frog was accompanied by a sudden realization:

For 50 years, ever since I was a kid, I’d do this when the fish weren’t biting. I’d wander the shoreline looking for frogs, crayfish, minnows and/or treasure. Treasure usually took the form of lost or forgotten fishing gear - a lure or a float, sometimes a knife or some coins.

I wasn’t to be disappointed this day either. As if spotting the frog wasn't enough, I found two floats tucked in amongst some reeds. One was of the balsa variety I use often, the other was a plastic model, more suited to a young angler. I kept the former and “hid” the latter on a branch of a nearby tree, at approximately the eye level of an eight-year-old.


Lunch was a fisherman’s feast and I nibbled at it over the course of the afternoon - a bag of pumpkin seeds, a couple of thick slices of kielbasa, a chunk of old cheddar and two mini-carrots so, if questioned, I could respond with a righteous “Of course I ate some vegetables!”

I choked down the carrots first so I could savour the good stuff. Dessert was a chocolate-covered granola bar and all of the above was washed down with hot, honeyed cups of tea from my thermos.

As I sipped and chewed, I watched and listened.

Geese nibbled grass and each other. The cries of soaring gulls swelled and faded as they dipped close, then away. The buzzy trill of redwing blackbirds was as near-constant as the distant hum of the highway. To the north, perhaps a mile away, four turkey vultures circled slowly. I pitied da’ food.

Every hour or so, the peace was shattered by a mournful whistle heralding the rumbling approach of a train at the nearby crossing. For a thunderous few seconds, as it blasted its whistle yet again, all other sounds disappeared. Then, after the train’s departure, like cautious children peeking around a corner after a parental quarrel, the birds re-took up their songs.


The pair of geese I considered a couple were in the shallows on the opposite side of the creek when two other geese paddled their way upstream. The newcomers passed on my side of the creek, about 20 feet in front of me.

Well, I guess they got too darn close for Mr. Couple’s liking and he tore after both, skittering across the top of the water, half flying and half running, all the while honking and hissing his outrage. He veered towards the goose in the lead and chased it upstream, to the north. I heard the commotion but my view was blocked by some trees.

The trailing newcomer suddenly flew towards Mrs. Couple, who had been left defenseless on the opposite shore. Trumpeting her alarm, she dashed off to the south, the newcomer in hot pursuit, only inches behind. As they flew past me, I could almost feel the concussion of their wing beats. Within seconds, they too were out of my sight.

A moment later, Mr. Couple’s triumphant return from chasing off one challenger was ruined by the realization there’d be no hero-welcoming nuzzle from Mrs. Couple.

She was gone.

I felt badly for Mr. Couple as he swam back and forth in front of me, bugling softly. He stopped calling within a few minutes though, and seemed to resume his normal behaviour - preening and feeding.

Men are such pigs.


To be continued....

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sticks & Pups & Play (#165)

Yep, another excerpt from Walking With Benny.


Last evening’s walk was a misery. A wind-whipped rain (one degree colder and there’s another word for it) made me glad for my hood. My gloves were soon soaked and do not retain heat at all well when wet. By the time we returned, Ben was shivering and needed to be toweled off. (Don’t feel sorry for him. Within seconds, he was playing tug-of-war with the towel.)

So I was pleased to awaken to a sunny day that was a couple of degrees on the happy side of freezing.

Last night’s rain was still frozen in the shaded areas, so I had to tippy-toe for part of the walk but the sunshine and warmth made up for that temporary discomfort. The birds were still singing their fool heads off except, of course, for the gulls and crows. They can’t sing a lick. They screeched and cawed their fool heads off though; sounding just as happy, if a trifle less melodic, than their kin.

I joined them occasionally, in a dignified manner. My caw has promise but I think I’ll retire my screech.

Ben is learning the Joy of Sticks. He seeks them out now, especially when I’ve stopped to do something boring like listen to a set of rapids or try to spot a calling bird. His favourites are moist and heavily barked. These shred easily and really, what good is a chew if it doesn’t make some kind of a mess? Like most pups, he was gifted in this area. At eight weeks of age, he could turn a single tissue into 273 pieces and distribute them throughout three rooms. In less than a minute. The lad was a prodigy. And a bit spooky.

Anyway, for a goodly portion of our walks these days, he’s either happily carrying or happily destroying a stick. It’s quite comical to watch at times. He’s especially proud when he manages to snag a long one, a three-footer or so. Of course, it’s whip-thin but to look at this wee dog prancing down the path, head and tail proudly erect, you’d think he just broke a stick-carrying world record and he’s basking in the huzzahs of the cheering throng.

And then I lunge - as if to steal it - and the game is on.

My thunderfeet are no match for his limber legs and he knows it. He taunts me, scampering some distance ahead, then laying down for a quick gnaw while never taking his eyes off my lumbering progress.

I give up. I stand erect, lower my arms from their vaguely menacing, gonna-grab-that-stick position, and walk more quickly, not looking at him. I am obviously tiring of the game. He dances ever closer with the stick, alert for any untoward movement of mine. He suspects I’m likely feigning. I mean, who wouldn't want such a yummy stick?

Another lunge, a quick dodge, and he’s off again, grinning.

Maybe I’m too old and too clumsy to win at this game (although I prefer to blame my heavy winter boots and clothing) but you’re never too old to play, right?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Pictorial Farewell (I Hope) To Winter (#164)

Some winter mornings are Creator-kissed and glisten with near-blinding brilliance. (Click on the pictures for a larger view.)

My eyes can rest a bit in the relative gloom of the cedar grove.

On another day, a warmer one, mist adds to the beauty and mood, almost softening the jagged chunks of ice in the foreground.

Views like this are our reward for enduring weeks of below-freezing temperatures and shoveling tons of snow.

A small tree in my backyard bows under its snowy burden. After taking the shot, I stepped outside, shook off the snow and the tree sprang back up, I trust, gratefully.

In a few short weeks, the cushions will be back on the chairs and I'll be sitting there, enjoying a beverage.

I hope. I really, really hope. This has been a lovely, Currier-&-Ives-like, but overly-long winter.