The Light

(I am assuming that most of you dear readers know that, nearly a year ago, I suffered a severe heart attack at home. There are so, so many angels (The 911 operator, ambulance crews, firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, medical technicians and more) involved in me surviving the incident, but suffice to say that without my incredibly courageous wife, Sue, performing CPR until the Paramedics arrived, I wouldn’t be here now tip tip typing on my keyboard. AND, trust me, I shall one day bore you silly by writing about the entire incident in larger detail, but this week I want to talk about… The Light.)

I died on the living room floor…then BOOOMMMPPPFFF…I was brought back.

I then died in the ambulance rushing me to hospital…then BOOOMMMPPPFFF…I was brought back.

I died one more time in an angiography suite at the hospital…then BOOOMMMPPPFFF…I was brought back.

Not a bad days work, all things considered. Duking it out with Death three times and royally kicking his ass. (Oh! Down goes Death! Down goes Death! Down goes Death!) And if I hadn’t been absolutely comatose at the time (and would basically remain so for almost a week due to a medically induced coma), I probably would have been very proud of myself. Forget the eight broken ribs, the flail chest (Google it) and the punctured lung (which led to pneumonia). My magnificent band of gallant warriors had somehow, against all the odds, miraculously pulled me away from that final door and slammed it firmly and defiantly shut.

And what follows next is your quiz for the day.

After being weaned off the heart pump and eased out of the coma (with still another fun-filled week  to be spent in the Cardiac ICU)…what do you think the most common non-medical question I was asked might be? (And not only over the first few weeks following the incident, but even to this day.) I have been asked it by friends, family, neighbours, people I did business with, strangers who heard of my experience, fishing buddies and even some twitter friends. All sorts of folks.

And the question is…Did you see The Light?

And when people ask me the question, they always have this kind of yearning and hopeful look on their face. They want me to have seen The Light. They want me to have seen the beam that would have guided me (and therefore probably them one day) to eternal life and salvation. It brings to mind the paraphrased line by Voltaire that “If there is no God…man would have to invent Him”. And I can understand that. This old world we all inhabit can be such a cruel and sad and cold and brutally lonely and unsure place…and at times it is almost unbearable to think that this is it. That there must be something more. That life isn’t simply the space between birth and death.

So…did I see The Light?

No…I did not see The Light.

And since almost everyone has a story about an Uncle Vito or an Aunt Matilda or a guy they know who knows another guy who had a cousin who died on the operating table, and then started floating away while watching everything going on below and ended up a hairsbreadth from The Pearly Gates before suddenly being yanked rudely and depressingly back into the land of the living, I usually get one of two reactions when people find out that I never saw The Light.

The first reaction is a kind of sympathetic shrug…as if to say, “Gee, I’m sorry to hear that. But I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I haven’t led the skankola, disgusting kind of lifestyle you have, because I just can’t wait to sit on a fluffy cloud and strum on my harp for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever”.

The second reaction, however, is actually one that amuses me. And it is always stated with an oddly curious mixture of hope and conviction. “Oh, you probably just weren’t dead long enough.”

(Yeah! That seems reasonable. My timing was lousy, that’s all. Phew! Thanks for taking a load off my mind.)

But the fact of the matter is, like everybody else on this Earth, I will find out one way or another someday. Hopefully not in the near future, of course, but sooner or later we must all face the realization that nothing here is infinite. Nothing. And I know for certain that Death is going to demand a rematch one of these days. And maybe I’ll manage to kick his butt one more time. But, ultimately, and unfortunately, for those being dealt Death’s crooked  hand, The Reaper has the deck stacked in his favour.

Because all he has to do is win once.

But it doesn’t worry me. Nor does it frighten me.

I am alive…and to worry and feel fearful would only diminish this wonderful gift that has been bestowed upon me.

So, no, I didn’t see The Light. But something else did shine down on me. And it shone ever so brightly from the eyes of my wife, my son, my two daughters, my parents, my brother, my sisters, my dear Granddaughter, from friends and other people far too numerous to mention. It was love. It was a love that surrounded me…warmed me…comforted me…protected me. And someday, when this old soul is set free…if all I have to gently guide me through eternity is the light of that special love that shone (and still shines) upon me…well, that will be OK with me.

I shall travel much blessed.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Naked Truth – Part Two

( My wife, my kids and myself are visiting Earl and Donna at their cottage. Earl has asked me if I would like to go waterskiing. I have said ‘yes’. Sue, my most dearly beloved, has warned me not to do it. I take umbrage. And when it comes to umbrage, well, I’m kind of an umbrage savant. The Rain Man of umbrage, if truth be told. But Sue doesn’t care. She has seen me take umbrage before and it doesn’t faze her in the least. So, my good friends, I dare you…NO!…I double-dog dare you to guess what happens next.)

Five minutes later I was in the water, ski tips up and my hands wrapped around the tow bar. Sarah had donned a life jacket and was sitting in the spotter’s position in the stern. I gave the signal to go, Earl gunned the engine and, a few seconds later, I was up and moving at a pace that just barely allowed me to keep standing. (Whenever I imagine the Queen waterskiing, and it happens far too often to be considered healthy, this is the speed I imagine her chugging along at. Philip in control of the wheel, Camilla and a few yappy corgis spotting as Elizabeth  heads up the Thames at a sedate, majestic pace, allowing her sovereign self to wave at the shore-bound peasants without risk of losing her crown.) I motioned for Earl to speed up, but he could only shrug his shoulders at the lack of power coming from the motor.

The real problem with going at such a low speed was that the boat wasn’t so much pulling as yanking me along and, after a few minutes, I could feel my back beginning to scream in protest. Now if my wife (Bless her soul) hadn’t mentioned the likelihood that I was going to do myself an injury, I would, of course, have let go of the bar at this point. But male pride (that pathetic old oxymoron) being what it is, I foolishly held on in the pitifully misguided belief that I was somehow striking a blow for “unfit guys who aren’t as young as they used to be” everywhere. And I almost pulled it off.

Really.

Until my swimsuit began falling down, that is.

Good grief, I thought to myself when it began dropping, this simply can’t be happening.

But it was. And things were about to get worse.

As I felt the trunks sliding southward over my buttocks, I yanked one hand from the tow bar, made a desperate grab for the garment and, Aaaeeeiii!!!, winced in agony as my lower back popped out of joint. (A pox on Sue and her psychic abilities!) Instinctively, I grabbed back on to the bar and held on tight. During this time, of course, gravity was weaving its magical spell, and suddenly…………….Mr. Winkie made his dramatic debut on Palmer Lake.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkkkkk!” Sarah shrieked, covering her eyes with both hands.

Earl turned and did a classic double take. I motioned for him to keep on going. There wasn’t any point in stopping now. With my back out of joint there was no way he and Sarah could haul me into the boat. And, considering my state of undress, why on Earth would they want to? I would simply have to grin and bare it.

Down the lake we plodded, running a veritable north country gauntlet of curious cottage owners, each and every one of them trying to outdo one another with ribald witticisms. It’s quite astonishing, really, the barbed insults perfect strangers will throw at you if you happen to waterski past their dock with your swimsuit down around your ankles.

Try it yourself someday.

When we finally reached Earl and Donna’s cottage, I let go of the tow bar and sank gratefully into the water. The sound of a single pair of hands clapping echoed across the lake. A satisfied customer! I managed to raise an arm and gave a small wave of thanks. Sue stood on the dock, shaking her head in disbelief. Donna sat in a lawn chair, a towel draped over her face, shoulders heaving with laughter.

“Are you going to say ‘I told you so’? ” I asked my wife, a bolt of pain shooting through my back.

“I don’t think I have to,” she replied, an odd mixture of amusement and pity on her face.

My son Stephen, who had missed my madcap escapades on the lake because he had been inside changing, came out of the cottage and joined his mother on the dock. “You know, dad,” he said, looking carefully at me for a moment, “when your hair is wet like that you can really see how bald you’re getting.”

Another dagger twisted in my lower back.

Middle age had arrived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Naked Truth – Part One

How does one define the arrival of middle-age? Is it the day the size of your middle becomes the same as your age? Or is it the first time the barber clips your nose and ear hairs without warning? Is it the first time you forget something really important and fear that you may be getting what’s-his-name disease? Or…could it possibly be the day you go waterskiing for the first time in over 25 years and halfway through the ride your lower back goes out of joint and you end up moving along in cross-eyed agony like a water-sport loving hunchback and then (OH! DEAR GOD!) your swim trunks somehow slide down to your ankles and your mortified daughter screams so loudly that people come running out of their cottages and observe you as you slowly pass by their docks and everyone points and laughs at you and you are so ashamed that you just wish that you were DEAD DEAD DEAD!?!?!?!?

Ahem. Excuse me.

Late last summer my wife, Susan, our children, Sarah and Stephen, and I headed up north for our annual weekend at Earl and Donna’s cottage. Earl and Donna are good people and dear friends, and it’s always a delight to spend a few relaxing days at their summer retreat. Especially since neither of them suffers from that strange malady that afflicts so many Canadian cottage owners with the very bizarre notion that offering somebody a weekend up north somehow (maybe it’s magic!) turns that person into your indentured slave. (“Sure we’ll go fishing. Just as soon as you finish building the dock, painting the shed and shingling the cottage roof.”)

Early Saturday afternoon the kids were playing in the shimmering water as Donna, Sue and I relaxed on the porch. Earl was down on the dock, throwing out a small crankbait in hopes of latching on to a smallmouth. After a dozen or so fruitless casts he turned around and looked up at me.

“Would you like to go waterskiing?” he asked.

I pondered the question for a moment. Though I hadn’t waterskiied in years and years, the sudden prospect of once again zipping over a glassy lake was an inviting one. “Sure,” I answered, getting up to find my swim trunks.

“Don’t do it,” Sue muttered.

I turned to her. “What do you mean ‘don’t do it’?” I asked.

“What do you think ‘don’t do it’ means?” she threw the question back in my face, all the while idly flipping through the pages of a magazine.

“I suppose it means, hmm, well, uh ‘don’t do it’,” I replied, glad to see that my razor sharp sense of reasoning was still intact.

“Very good, my love,” she said, smiling at me in that maddeningly patronizing way of hers.

“But why shouldn’t I do it?” I asked, noting an unflattering whiny tone creeping into my voice.

“You’ve been having trouble with your back lately,” Sue reminded me, shutting the magazine and flipping it on to the table beside her. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

“I won’t hurt myself,” I countered brilliantly.

“Yes, you will.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will, Paul,” she said, looking evenly at me. “You are not as young or fit as you used to be.”

Ouch!!! Two zingers in one sentence. Almost a record.

(So, good reader, what is a guy to do? Does a guy do the sensible thing and listen to his beloved wife…his very own walking and talking and breathing voice of reason? Or does a guy do the doofus guy thing and go in search of his swim trunks and set off a chain of events so horrifying that even today he has trouble setting the story down without bursting into tears? Tune in next week for Part Two…wherein the hideous serpent runs amok!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Day – Part Four

(Stuffed full from a late breakfast and a massively huge load of BS courtesy of our pal The Finn, Keith and I are off to fish one of our favourite locations…The Reach.)

Picture this…The Reach is an undulating shoreline about seven hundred yards long. It runs from north to south, with two long points at each end…one running out towards the north-west and the other the south-west. You start with rock shoals and weed beds at the north end. Then, as you move south along the shoreline, you encounter more rock, weed beds and dozens of live trees hanging out from the shore over and into the water. Eventually this gives way to a good sized flat containing rocks, weeds and sunken logs. Plenty of ambush positions for pike, walleye and bass and the points provide forage areas where smaller fish come to feed and larger fish come to gorge.

Especially in the autumn.

And the fishing at The Reach was spectacular. Sitting tight at the north corner, we hammered eight largemouth in the space of twenty minutes, with the smallest being 4 lbs and the largest 5.6 lbs. (All we could figure was that they were patiently waiting there in anticipation of the clouds of shad that come into the bay every spring and fall.) As we moved down the shoreline, we pulled bass out from under trees and big pike from weed beds that were still remarkably healthy for the end of October. The sun came out from behind the clouds and, believe it or not, the fishing got even better. Both Keith and I were throwing sexy shad spinnerbaits and, along with the pike and bass, we began slamming all sorts of different species. Bluegill, crappie, catfish, pumpkinseed, rock bass, perch, white bass. It was nuts! A good kind of nuts, of course, but nuts all the same. Then, at the edge of the flat, we BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! caught five decent walleye on five consecutive casts.

And That Day continued on that way for another hour or so…until a chilling wind began to blow in from the north-west.

It was mid-afternoon by this time and, to tell you the truth, these old bones are not what these old bones once were. The cold seems to bite a bit faster and deeper with time. The toques get pulled down tighter on the head to protect delicate ears. The hands numb and stiffen quicker than in the past, even when wearing fishing gloves.

And that’s just the way it goes, dear reader. Father Time has his clock…but, unfortunately for each of us, it simply cannot be wound backwards.

Keith looked over at me. “Shall we call it a day?” he asked. (Even tough guys feel the cold.)

“Sure,” I said.

“Last cast?”

“Last cast,” I agreed.

So we tossed out our lines one final time. And came up with nothing.

But That Day wasn’t made any less remarkable by two empty casts. In silence, we stowed the rods and made sure that all the tackle bags were closed. Then Keith pulled up and secured the trolling motor. We both sat down in our seats and, in quiet appreciation, stared at the beauty that surrounded us. The blue sky, the red and orange foliage on the shoreline, the sunlight dancing on the water like sparkling diamonds. Each of us trying to take a personal snapshot for the mind to conjure up in the coming winter months.

Then Keith did something that surprised me and touched my heart. And it surprised me because he is generally not the kind of guy who drops his guard. Grumpy curmudgeon…yes. Wistful sentimentalist…no.

“You know,” he said softly, looking out across the bay we would have to cross to get back to the dock, “if somebody came down right now and said, ‘This is your last day fishing’…well, I think I’d be OK with that. I really do. So many quality fish. So many laughs. Yeah, I think it would be OK. I think it would be enough to carry me through.”

He turned his head and looked at me with a smile. I smiled back and nodded my head. I understood.

He turned the key in the ignition and the motor came to life with a roar.

We both took one final and yearning glance around the splendor that nature had provided us.

Then Keith gunned the engine and we hunkered down for an extremely nippy ride across the bay.

That Day was over.

 

 

 

 

That Day – Part Three

(After an early day’s hammering of bass and various other species, Keith and I are breakfasting at The Finn’s. I like The Finn. Especially when he serves me up a hearty breakfast of eggs, homemade venison sausages, toast, potatoes and coffee. And, at no charge whatsoever, I find the price to be very reasonable.)

Keith and I spent a few minutes warming ourselves in front of a crackling blaze burning in the living room fireplace. It was all very rustically soul comforting and, I could just about feel the circulation returning to my fingers, when The Finn exited the kitchen with a tray holding three heaping plates.

“Soup’s on,” he announced, putting the tray down on the table and placing the plates at their settings.

“Well, thanks so much, Ollie,” I said, sitting down on my chair and snapping out a napkin. “This is very kind of you.”

The Finn smiled. “My pleasure,” he said. “Must have been pretty cold out there first thing this morning.”

“It was colder out there than the tip of an Eskimo’s tool,” Keith stated, talking around a big piece of sausage he had jammed in his yap.

The Finn stared at Keith for a moment before loading his fork up with some egg and potato. “My goodness,” he said. “That’s a very interesting analogy. Would you care to explain to us exactly how you happened to one day discover just how cold the tip of an Eskimo’s tool can be?”

Keith raised his head for a moment and peered off into the distance. “It was the sixties, man,” he declared. “Let’s just blame it all on the sixties.”

The Finn and I chuckled, then we all went back to shoveling food in our faces. When we were nearly done, Ollie got up from the table, went to the kitchen and reappeared with a fresh pot of coffee. “Get it while it’s hot,” he told us. We all poured fresh cups and sat in companionable silence for a minute or two. “Oh!” The Finn said, his tone sounding as if he had just remembered an important piece of news. “Had an interesting call from my Dad the other day.”

“You have a Dad!?” Keith queried.

Ollie looked at him as if he were insane. “Of course I have a Dad,” he said. “Just because I don’t know exactly how cold the tip of an Eskimo’s tool can be, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a Dad.”

“You really have a Dad!?” Keith asked.

“I talk about him all the time,” The Finn said, his voice rising slightly.

“Man,” Keith muttered. “I guess I had better start actually listening when you talk from now on.”

“It would be very much appreciated,” agreed Ollie. “Anyway, start listening now, because I thought this story my Dad told me was quite fascinating.”

Keith nodded his head in our friend’s direction. “Fascinate away,” he said, before taking a sip from his coffee cup.

“I shall,” The Finn said, glaring at our mutual buddy for a moment. “Anyway…my Dad called from Toronto yesterday…”

“Your Dad lives in Toronto!?” Keith interrupted, setting his empty coffee cup on the table.

“No,” Ollie said slowly. “He lives in China. But every time he gets the urge to call me, he flies to Toronto and gives me a ding.”

“How odd,” Keith said.

“Do you ever want to eat breakfast here again?” The Finn asked.

Keith placed his fingers on his lips and made the motion of locking his lips shut with a key.

“Okay,” Ollie sighed. “As I was saying…my Dad called the other day. He was all shaken up and out of breath.”

Keith and I leaned slightly forward upon hearing this.

“I think I may have told you guys that he got a new puppy a few weeks ago.”

“A golden Labrador puppy, right?” Keith asked, a note of concern in his voice.

“Yeah,” The Finn quietly confirmed. ” A golden Labrador pup. Gorgeous little thing. Anyway, to make a long story short, my Dad went down to the basement where they have one of those stand up freezers. You know, the kind that opens up like a refrigerator?”

Both Keith and I nodded our heads mutely.

“Now, my Dad swears he didn’t hear a thing. He just went to the freezer, got out a bag of frozen peas, shut the freezer door and went back upstairs. A while later, he’s in the living room, reading the paper, and he suddenly he thinks to himself, “I wonder where Boomer is?”.

“The puppy,” Keith almost whispered.

“Yeah,” Ollie said, his voice subdued. “The puppy. All at once my Mom and Dad are going around the house, calling for Boomer. Can’t find him anywhere. A light bulb goes on in my Dad’s head. He goes down to the basement as fast as he can and opens up the freezer.”

“Oh, jeez,” Keith said, looking with dread at Ollie.

The Finn nodded his head. “Yeah. He opens up the freezer and out Boomer falls…stiff as a board. My Dad scoops up the little fella, goes upstairs and shouts for my Mom to call the vet. She gets on the line with the vet and he tells her that the only thing likely to save Boomer is for Dad to get an eye dropper, fill it with gasoline and shoot it down the dogs throat. So my Dad gets an eye dropper, fills it with gasoline and shoots it down Boomer’s throat.”

“What happened???” Keith asked, sounding afraid to hear the answer.

The Finn shook his head in wonder. “Well, my Dad said that it was like a miracle. Boomer jumped right up, ran around in circles in the kitchen for a minute, then took off, did a complete circuit of the living room, ran back into the kitchen, then keeled right over on to his side.”

“Dead!?” Keith and I cried out in unison.

The Finn smiled a devilish smile. “Nah,” he scoffed. “He was just out of gas.”

Keith and I just stared dumbly at Ollie for a moment. Then the truth dawned on us. We had been had. “You are such a prick!!” we both shouted at our host. (It was deja vu all over again!)

“Thank you so much,” The Finn said, bowing his head in appreciation of the fact that he had just duped two idiots.

Fifteen minutes later, the three of us were back down on the dock. We all realized it might be the last time we would see each other again until the spring. Keith and I shook his hand. A wee bit of melancholy in the air. We thanked him for his hospitality. He thanked us for being a couple of suckers. Keith told him that his T-shirt always felt tighter after a Finn feast. The Finn told him that the T-shirt might not feel that way if Keith would only remember to put his head through the big hole. On it went. Keith and I got into the boat. The Finn untied the rope and we drifted away from the dock. Keith started the engine and got us moving. The Finn stood on his dock and waved goodbye. We waved back. Then Keith gunned the motor and we zipped across the bay. Time to go fish The Reach.

(Coming up in Part Four we… oh!, I already said…fish The Reach.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Day – Part Two

(Keith and I are on our way to The Finn’s for breakfast. But one little stop is required before our arrival.)

The Finn’s cottage was about three hundred yards away on our right when Keith cut the engine, lowered the the trolling motor and moved us closer to shore. There were a few weed beds and intermittent rocks that ran almost all the way down to our pal’s place. A spot way too good to simply pass by. And…that’s when I pulled it out (Oh, minds out of the gutter, folks. Minds out of the gutter!). For your information, what I pulled out of the rod holder was my wonderful and famous (at least on The Finn’s shoreline), now over thirty years old, heat seeking, wacky-worming, Shimano ultralite FX-2550A teamed up with the FX 200 graphite reel that was spooled up with 6lb mono. (Most people would consider it nothing more than an old piece of crap, but I have caught tons of fish with it, still have a soft spot in my heart for it and intend to keep using it every so often until it or I falls totally to pieces. And I’m not betting against the rod.)

“Oh, I see you brought the sissy stick,” Keith noted, a haughty tone of distaste in his mouth. (Keith thinks of ultralite rods the same way serious drinkers think about lite beer. They are only fit for men of dubious masculinity.)

“Well, up yours, my dear friend,” I replied. “How about ten bucks to the guy catching the first fish down this shore and twenty bucks to the biggest?”

“You’re on.”

Keith tossed a Texas-rigged pink worm towards shore. I underhanded a salt and pepper wacky worm. I watched as my rubber lure floated down and settled on a rock about three feet under. BANG! A largemouth zipped out of a weedbed and grabbed the worm. I set the hook. A couple of minutes later I lipped the 3 lb’er at the side of the boat. Hee hee! Ten bucks for the Ultralite King Paulie! Then Keith nailed one. Then me. Then Keith. Then me. And so it continued for about one hundred and fifty yards.  One after another. Fourteen or fifteen very decent sized bass. (And you already know who was first but, gee, can you guess whose was biggest?)

We tied up at The Finn’s dock and The Finn himself strolled down to greet us.

“Hey, Ollie,” I called to him. “I just made thirty bucks!”

“Good for you,” he said, grinning at me. Then he smiled at Keith and chuckled. “Screwed you again with his little one, eh?”

“Only metaphorically,” Keith muttered under his breath. Keith doesn’t like to lose money. In fact, he hates to lose money. And that is why, as his dearest and best friend, I stuck it to him good.

“Thirty dollars!” I exclaimed to The Finn. “Just imagine what I could do with thirty dollars. Holy cow! Just thinking about it fairly boggles the mind. Why, if that ad on TV is true, I’d probably be able to have a whole village in some wacky African country inoculated against some terrible disease like whooping diphtheria or bubonic scurvy or something equally crazy. Man, I could be a hero, Finn. A real hero. I might even be made king of the tsetse flies. Or, alternatively, I could always buy lottery tickets and licorice. Or I could even…”

“Why don’t you just shut the hell up?” Keith interjected in that grumpy tone of his, handing over three colourful Canadian bills with the number ten on them. (Man, talk about a grouch. What’s the point of winning thirty dollars from your bestest mate if you can’t playfully rub his nose in it?)

I promptly handed one over to The Finn. “Thanks for the tip about the salt and pepper worms,” I stage-whispered to him.

“My pleasure,” replied The Finn, folding the bill before pocketing it.

Keith stared at The Finn for a moment. Then he stared at me for a moment. Then he simply grinned and shook his head. “You are such a prick,” he said.

(Oh, how I love days with recurring themes!)

“Breakfast?” The Finn asked.

“Breakfast,” Keith replied.

“Sounds good, Ollie,” I agreed, stuffing the two remaining tens into Keith’s nearest jacket pocket.

He smiled.

The Finn smiled.

I smiled.

And three nice guys moseyed off the dock and up to the cottage for strong, hot coffee and a bite to eat…

(Enjoy breakfast with us in Part Three…wherein The Finn tells a strange tale or two.)

 

 

 

 

That Day – Part One

My good buddy, Keith, and myself had That Day a couple of years back. That Day is something to always be remembered and cherished and thought of fondly. A time to be held close to the heart. Especially on dark winter evenings, when the 16 year old scotch is warming the tummy, and the goose feather snowflakes are softly and silently drifting down from the Heavens, as if in a dream, through the pale light of the street lamps and the sun of Spring feels to be a million years away. That Day is separate from all other fishing days. There are great days on the water. There are bad days on the water. There are good and sometimes so-so days on the water. And there are days, of course, when you simply have to pay your dues. But That Day is the day that rises above all others and is, therefore, rather hard to describe.

But I shall do my best.

The sun was just rising in the east when we launched the boat at the shallow end of the bay. We were late into October and, though the air was going to warm as the day went on, our breath was clearly visible in the early morning chill. We were bundled up nice and tight. Warm jackets, lined boots and waterproof overalls. Snug thermal toques on our heads and fingerless mitts on our hands. Really quite cozy, in a cool latish October morn kind of way.

And the shoreline was still dotted with breathtaking autumn painted hardwoods, vivid in their various shades of orange, red and yellow.

We started by working a rock point that visibly jutted out about twenty yards from the east shore and then submerged to a depth of six feet for another eighty yards or so westward. First casts…a 3 lb largemeouth for me…a 4 lb bruiser for Keith. Two minutes later I catch an 8 lb pike. Soon after…Keith nails another big bass. I hammer another decent pike. And so it goes, dear reader. We dissect that point from bottom to top and come off it having landed a dozen fish.

And we’re not even an hour in.

We then proceed to work two small points coming out from the south shore. Bang! Bass. Bang! Pike. Bang! Bass. Bass. Bass. Bass. Bang! Catfish! Then, BANG!, that most useless, yet oh so much fun to fight, of fish, a sheepshead. A massive sheepshead. Keith battles with it for a good ten minutes before I manage to get her in the net. And she is a beauty. 16 lbs. (Though these days when he tells the story, Keith manages to mentally inject the fish with cement, bumping the weight up to 20, sometimes even, 22 lbs. A fishin’ magician’s prerogative, I suppose.)

“Want to try the sunken island?” Keith asks me, the fishing on the two points having slackened.

I just smile.

We slowly circle the sunken island, casting past it, to the side of it, to the middle of it, over it, short of it, every which way but up. And it’s as if we have somehow manged to hypnotize the largemouth that use the spot as a grazing area, because we simply can’t miss. From thirty yards out to three feet from the boat it’s bass after bass. In just over a hour, we catch twenty bucketmouths ranging in size from 2 to 5 lbs. We even nail a few jumbo perch, rock bass, pumpkinseeds and bluegills.

Jeez, this here fishing lark can sure seem like a lot of work at times.

The first boat we’ve spotted that morning slows about forty yards away from us. Three guys we’ve never seen before look hopefully at us. “Any luck, fellas?” one of them calls out.

“We wish,” Keith calls back, face as straight as a poker pro with a straight flush. (Hey, when you happen to discover where a sunken island is, you don’t reveal it’s location until you are on your death bed. And maybe even not then.)

“Oh,” says the spokesman for the trio, a glum look passing over his face. “Well, thanks anyway.”

“You’re most welcome,” Keith replies. Then he points off in the distance.”If you guys aren’t very familiar with these waters, you might want to try the back bay just to the northwest. We’ve pulled plenty out over there.”

I’m assuming he means weeds, because we have never caught a blessed thing in that little back bay.

But it cheers the strangers right up. “Thanks!” they all call, each giving us a small wave of gratitude before their engine roars to life and they start zooming towards the northwest.

“You are such a prick,” I chuckle.

“I know,” Keith admits, pulling up and securing the trolling motor. Then he turns and grins at me. “But that’s no reason to be saying hurtful things to sensitive people. Breakfast at The Finn’s?”

Suddenly I am ravenous. Breakfast at The Finn’s! Visions of eggs, potatoes and those special sausages dance in my teeny tiny little mind. Yes! Breakfast at The Finn’s.

“We really should drop in and see Ollie,” I say to my buddy.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “We really should.”

And so we do. But not before a quick stop along the way.

(Since this is Part One…next will be Part Two.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Runt – Part Two

(Moving on from Part One, I am at La Reserve Beauchene fishing lodge for a four day stay, thanks to a surprise inheritance from my beloved late Grandfather. I am trying to catch a fish in his honour on a lure that once belonged to him…an old Heddon River Runt Spook Floater. The fishing so far had been incredible. Everything I had hoped it would be, in fact. But the Runt and I are having a few problems…)

Three times over the next two days I had a fish on the lure, but each time the smallie managed to spit it out. I was catching plenty of fish on other lures, but was quickly losing faith in the Runt (And faith…or shall we simply call it ‘confidence’, is something that every fisherman needs). And to make matters worse, word of my sentimental journey had gotten around camp and sort of gripped the collective imagination. Every time I came in off the water somebody would invariably ask if I had finally caught something on “the lure” and then commiserate when I said “No”.

“Next time,” they’d say in encouragement. “You’ll get ‘er next time.” And it was very kind of them to be pulling for me, but “next time” only had a finite amount of opportunity. And, silly as it sounds, the pressure was getting to me.

By my third evening at Beauchene I was despairing of ever catching anything with the Runt. I was skittish about possibly losing the lure and the failure I was having with it was casting a pall on what should have been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was catching tons of fish but, at this point, probably would have given them all up for just one keeper on the Runt.

That evening, just before heading to my room in The White House, one of the guides approached me and asked if he could see the lure he’d “heard so much about”. (I’m pretty certain now that he was sent by somebody, possibly Jean Guy, to buck up my spirits, but it was all played very close to the vest.) I walked down to my boat and pulled the Runt from my tackle box. We sat on the famous Liars Bench and he carefully inspected the lure.

“Very nice,” he said, turning it over in his hands. “It must be fifty, maybe sixty, years old. And it’s still in great condition.” He mentioned the lake I had reserved for the next day and gave me directions to a spot he knew held large smallmouth.

“And this is what your are going to do,” he intoned, speaking to me like one does when imparting an important lesson to a wayward 5-year old child or to a dispirited 46-year old angler. “You are going to cast the lure as close to shore as possible. Then you are going to let it sit there while you count to 30. Once you have counted to 30, you will take a deep breath and count to 30 again. Then begin a slow retrieve. I guarantee you will catch a fish.”

He placed the lure on the bench between us, gave me a friendly clap on the shoulder, nodded his head at me and walked off into the summer night.

The next day dawned sunny and bright and found me alone on my reserved lake. I positioned the boat about 50 feet from the suggested hotspot and cast the Runt no more than a foot from shore. I counted silently to 30, took the prescribed deep breath, then counted to 30 once more. Here we go, I thought to myself.

I had just started the retrieve when the water boiled and a big smallmouth slammed into the Runt. I set the hook and the fight was on. Three times the fish flew from the water, skittering and tail-dancing across the surface…but this one wasn’t going to get away. A few adrenaline-pumping minutes later I lipped the bass at the side of the boat and let out a great whoop. The Runt and I had done it! A mixture of relief and joy surged through me as I inspected the 20-inch bronzeback. Oh, what a wondrously gorgeous creature it was. I grabbed my pliers, popped out the treble hooks, gave it a kiss on the top of its head and returned it to the water.

I sat down in the boat and, I’m not ashamed to admit, had a little cry. Actually, I bawled my eyes out. Oh, what I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my Grandfather actually there in the boat…together again one last time. Memories of that dear man washed over me and I couldn’t help but smile through the tears. The trip now felt complete and I gave silent thanks for his wonderful gift to me. After composing myself and wiping my eyes, I picked up the Runt and cut the line.

“Good job,” I said softly, placing it back gently in my tackle box. “You’re retired now, old pal.” Then, with a contented sigh, I stood up in the boat, grabbed another of my rods and cast out a tube jig.

My Grandfather would have understood.

Hey, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, a slight breeze was in the air and there were still fish to be caught.

 

(For more info on the incredible La Reserve Beauchene, simply Google it or give the manager, Tony, a call at their toll-free number…1 888 627-3865. Everything about the place is simply first class. A bucket-lister, to be sure. And again, NO, I am not being paid in any way, shape or form for extolling the virtues of the establishment.)

 

 

 

 

The Runt – Part One

You would have liked my Grandfather, Ray Donaldson. Everyone did. Kind, patient and polite, with a wonderful sense of humour, he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was wounded at Passchendaele in World War I and awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. As the long-time president of the Nova Scotia Fish and Game Association he spearheaded the first wildlife preserve in Canada’s Maritime provinces. Crack shot hunter, champion trap shooter, fly tier, expert fly fisherman, man of faith, lover of everything outdoors, he really was a grand fellow…and I loved him dearly.

Before passing away in the mid 1970’s, my Grandfather placed a clause in his will bequeathing $1,200 to each of his six grandchildren, payable upon the death of my Grandmother. And no one would have predicted at that time that my dear Grandmother, his darling Sadie, would wait nearly three decades (1 month short of her 103rd birthday) before voyaging on to stroll eternally beside her sweetheart once more.

“I only have one piece of advice,” my mother said to me after handing over my cheque. “Use the money to do something you would have enjoyed doing with your Grandfather.”

No problem there. The next morning I called up La Reserve Beauchene in the province of Quebec and booked myself in for a four day stay.

(And I now interrupt to answer your question…”Why La Reserve Beauchene?” I’ll get into the reasons more at the end of Part 2. But after reading various articles, seeing a few television fishing shows and being told by the late, great Canadian writer Paul Quarrington that he considered Beauchene to be one of the top ten fishing lodges in the world, well, let’s just say that the place sounded to me like Fishing Heaven On Earth. And that description turned out to be more than apt.)

The evening before my departure, my mother dropped in at the house and carefully handed me a lure. “It was one of your Grandfather’s,” she said, a wistful smile on her face. “See if you can catch something with it for old time’s sake.”

I was astounded. I had always thought that my Grandfather fished exclusively with flies, but as it turned out, he would sometimes sneak off for a little solitary spin-casting. Well, we all have our little secrets, I suppose, and this was one of his preferred lures.

It was a Heddon River Runt Spook Floater – a jointed lure, red and white on top, with black-on-gold eyes and a silver scale finish on the belly. Two rust-free and still sharp treble hooks hung menacingly from the joints. I was excited and touched to think that after nearly thirty-five years of having last fished with my Grandfather, I now had the unique opportunity to catch a fish in his memory with one of his old lures on a trip made possible by his thoughtful generosity.

After checking in at the lodge, I chatted with the manager, Jean Guy, over a cup of coffee and the tale of the bequest and the lure popped up. Smiling at the story, he went to a map on the office wall and pointed out likely places on the main lake for me and the Runt to start our quest. “Good luck,” he called after me, as I left the office and headed down to the dock.

The first cast I made with the Runt was to the mouth of a small feeder creek, and no sooner had the lure hit the water than a huge smallmouth bass exploded from the depths like a rocket and knocked the lure about six feet into the air. “Holy cow,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be too easy.”

Famous last words, as they say.

With my heart thumping from the near miss, I cast out again, began my retrieve and…found myself snagged. Really snagged. Gads!, what a horrible feeling. Fearing I had come this far only to lose the old lure, I maneuvered the boat to the creek mouth and saw that the Runt was hooked on to a log about six feet down. I gave the rod a tug in the opposite direction of my retrieve and the lure popped free and floated to the surface. Almost sick with relief, I cut the line and put the Runt back in my tackle box.

(Next Week…Part Two. Oh, and just for fun…Google La Reserve Beauchene and take a peek. And, NO!, I am NOT being paid to shill for the lodge.)

 

 

 

 

 

A Very Nasty Kid, A Very Angry Dad, A Very Dead Cat – Part Three

(Well, Part One and Part Two are officially 23 skidoo…so we now find our ourselves rounding the clubhouse turn and heading for the home stretch. The very nasty kid seems to be in hiding, the very angry Dad isn’t quite as angry as he was…but we still have a very dead cat to deal with.)

On the afternoon of my, ahem, encounter with Angel and his mother, I took off for a fishing trip up north. Upon my return three days later, Sue and I were sitting in the living room enjoying beverages both potent and cold. I was staring at my beer bottle, kind of startled at how fast the tasty brew had pulled an amazing disappearing act from the once-full receptacle. (It’s true! You can’t have your beer and drink it. too.)

“The kids and I went for a bike ride today,” Sue told me.

“Where’d you go?” I asked, standing up and heading to the fridge in search of a mate for my empty friend.

“Wilket Creek,” she said. “On the way home, we saw a cat get killed by a car. Fellow didn’t even stop.”

I poked my head back around the doorway to the kitchen. “Did the kids see it?”

“Yes. And they were rather upset…until they found out it belongs to the Macedonian family.”

“Belonged,” I corrected her. “It now belongs to the Gods of Kitty Cat Heaven. Macedonian Division.”

“I stand corrected,” Sue said. “I’m just a bit surprised that it’s still just lying by the curb at the end of the street. I can only assume the family doesn’t know.”

A very dim light popped on in my teensy tiny brain. “Do we have a box?” I asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“Well, they should at least know their cat is dead. I’ll put the body in the box and leave it on their doorstep.”

Sue made a face. “That’s kind of creepy,” she stated. “How would you like to open your front door and find your dead pusspuss lying stiff and stinky in a box?”

“Not very much,” I agreed. “Tell you what…I’ll put the cat in the box and just give it to them.”

In my weird little universe this seemed like a kind and charitable thing to do. Maybe all the drama of the past while could be smoothed over with the offering of a deceased feline.

Sue just stared at me for a moment. “You really haven’t thought this through, have you?”

“Nah,” I admitted. “Why start now? You know it just makes my head hurt.”

Sue sighed and ran a hand over her eyes. I went to the basement and found an appropriate sized box.

Ten minutes later, box in hand, I was standing outside of the Macedonian family’s front door. In the box was a very dead cat. A VERY dead cat. A VERY dead cat that had the appearance of a VERY dead cat that had gone twenty or thirty bad rounds with the Heavyweight Cat Champ Of The World. Wow! Talk about a horror show. Ick!

I knocked on the door. The mother opened it and her eyes shot wide open in fear. She called out something in Macedonian over her shoulder and a man came from kitchen. He stared suspiciously at me for a moment. Then he stared suspiciously at the box. Then he stared back at me for another few seconds before cautiously opening the screen door. I was going to explain to them that my wife and children had (unfortunately for all parties involved) seen their cat get run over by a car and that we were all really sorry and felt really bad that their cat was now a VERY dead cat and that it would always remain a VERY dead cat and just because the cat was dead and the fact that their kid was a total psychopath didn’t mean we couldn’t all get along and…

My mind went totally blank.

“Here’s your cat,” I said in a dull monotone, handing the box over to the mother.

And I walked home.

“You know they are going to think you killed the cat,” Sue said, after I walked in the door and explained what had happened.

“Why would they think that!?!?” I asked, that teensy tiny bulb in my brain dimming somewhat.

“Here’s your cat!?” Sue almost shouted. “Here’s your cat!? That’s it??? No explanation?? Just…here’s your cat!? Paul, look in the mirror. Take a good look.”

So I did. And it wasn’t a pretty picture. Grungy jeans. Torn T-shirt. Three days growth of stubble. My face beet red except for the white skin around my eyes that had been shaded by my sunglasses. My hair sticking straight up from sweaty ball caps. I looked a mess.

“And all you can say is, “Here’s your cat!?” Then you just hand over the box??? Try to see it from their perspective, Paul. This crazed-looking guy knocks on their door three days after smacking the crap out of their lunatic kid, throwing him into their house and then threatening in a screaming tirade to kill him. Then you show up tonight and hand them their dead family pet. Their dead family pet that looks as if someone has bludgeoned it with a baseball bat. “Here’s your cat!?” Paul, this must seem to them like the Macedonian equivalent of that scene in The Godfather when the movie producer wakes up in the morning and finds the severed head of his favourite race horse underneath the sheets. Those poor people have probably turned out all the lights in the house and are now peeking desperately out the drapes in fear that you might come back. “Here’s your cat.” Good Lord.”

And she was right. (She always is.) So I briefly bowed my head in ‘dopey husband shame’ before heading upstairs for a shower.

But…it all turned out okay.

The Macedonians moved out five days later. And we’ve never seen them again.

I wonder why…