Tag Archives: Stories

Operator

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Long ago—well not that long ago, really—the only way to reach someone on the phone was through the operator.
“What city, please?” she (they were mostly all women back in the days when my Mom was a telephone operator) would ask. They were the “smarts” of the phone.
You could even call someone, long distance, and get them to pay for it. Many a time I found myself telling the operator “I’d like to make a collect call, please…” A teenager far from home, I knew my parents would accept the charges. What a bargain!

And if you were paying for the call with a pocketful of change, you’d better talk fast. The operator would interrupt the conversation, when your credit ran out, and ask you to put more coins to continue the call: “$2.00 for three minutes.” Sad time when your last nickel clanked with this dreary metallic sound as it hit the bottom of the pay phone coin box.

Although it was strictly forbidden to eavesdrop on conversations, I’m sure a little “snooping” only added spice to an otherwise long day, maybe, as long as the supervisor didn’t find out. Some callers even had longer conversations with the operator than with the person they were calling. Jim Croce sure did and wrote a song about it. Something about a faded number on a matchbook, and a girl living with an “ex” friend. That’s just the way it goes…

You can keep the dime.

Stack ’em Up

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Balconies of the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki (Honolulu, HI)
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Balconies of the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki (Honolulu, HI)

An photo essay on vertical growth, stacking them up as high as we can…

Modern architecture. Shapes, geometry, symmetry, colours, lines of the city: a photographer’s candy store… From far and up close, we never lack for something to look at, to compose, to photograph. But soon enough it all starts to look the same, and losing sight of the forest for the trees becomes inevitable. The wide angle lens is never wide enough. Density and vertical expansion create vertigo. Noise, traffic, crowds moving at a dizzying pace; who has time to slow down? Who even knows to stop, take a breath, look around? We’re too busy.

Thankfully, a little distance provides a welcome relief from the constant din, from the incessant assault on the senses, numbing really. But to stack them up we must, to fit more and more of us in that same sought-after space. Growth is inevitable and must be embraced. Faster, faster, we go… Slower, slower, we get… but where?

Nature, beauty, solitude are my refuge. Where sounds and sights abound, senses are filled, yet where I can find a place just for me. Just to be… To discover… Thankful. Undisturbed. Quiet. Even just for a moment.

The stars are still visible in the lightening sky when I set off for a hike. Passed the floating bridge, I step off the trail into the wild prairie tall grass, shiny with giant drops of dew, and venture closer to the water. The white puffs my breath creates mirror the fog rising from the surface of the lake. The air is still. A bird chirps in the distance. A beaver slaps its tail in the water and swims off, only a few feet from me. A lonely merganser emerges from the fog, drifting. Deepening golden hues announce the imminent sunrise and the clouds shuffle over for a better view. A log—one half on land, the other submerged—provides the only seat I need for this show, just for me…

The sun has climbed high by the time I wake from my hypnotic trance, dazed, awed, enchanted, filled with joy, happy. The camper awakes to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and a smile. Morning. Unstacked. Life is good.

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Sunrise on Lake Metigoshe, North Dakota

Solstice (Fr)

Note: This is the French version of a story I posted a few months ago, in English, here.

Un récit…

Le manuscrit terminé, je m’affairais à la mise en pages avec tous ses détails techniques et visuels, et toutes ses photos. Et cette photo qui m’achalait ; je pouvais faire mieux. J’en étais persuadé chaque fois que je la regardais. Ce passage du manuscrit, de sa vie, méritait mieux.

En noir et blanc, les rails se perdent vers l’ouest, sous ce pont chétif, vers un horizon fade. Les fenêtres noircies de la gare lui donnent un air abandonné.

En couleur, son toit à lucarnes qui ne finit plus surplombe portes et fenêtres qui ressemblent à de grands yeux, chacun avec sa paupière blanche.

L’idée de me rendre à Portage la Prairie, à moto, pour prendre une meilleure photo, me sembla de mise en cette magnifique journée, la deuxième plus longue de l’année. J’invitai mon ami Grégoire à se joindre à moi.

À l’heure convenue, comme toujours, on décolle. Grégoire me suit. J’ai rarement réussi à le convaincre de mener. C’est le début d’une longue danse. On a suivi ce chemin cent fois ; familier mais toujours étranger. Tout semble nouveau… chaque fois.

Les courbes s’enfilent longeant la rivière Assiniboine qu’on n’aperçoit que rarement. On la devine. On la sent tout près. Les champs nous accueillent. Des milliers de fleurs jaunes se joignent au vert à perte de vue. Le soleil descend vers l’horizon alors que le ciel prend des couleurs orangées, roses, jaunes, mauves, pourpres et grises. Les ombres s’allongent. Quel spectacle !

La route dégage une odeur de goudron frais qui nous colle aux narines longtemps après avoir croisé la fin du pavé neuf.

L’arôme de terre cultivée, celui du foin fraîchement coupé, et l’odeur de la rivière flottent dans l’air. Il y a quelques semaines à peine, on sentait les lilas. Il faudra endurer un autre hiver avant de les sentir à nouveau. Et ici, l’hiver dure une éternité. Je blague. Il ne dure que sept mois.

On gagne Portage la Prairie et la gare du CN en moins d’une heure. Je signale à Grégoire de s’arrêter sur l’accotement tout près du passage à niveau. Je tire mon appareil-photo de son sac et me dirige vers les rails. Je m’arrête, ému. Des larmes brouillent ma vue. Je visite cet endroit pour la première fois mais je le connais.

Gabriel, le personnage principal de mon livre, y était passé jadis, étant petit garçon, autiste, dépaysé, perdu. Âgé de sept ans, il avait suivi ce chemin de fer enneigé en direction de Winnipeg, le seul endroit qu’il avait nommé « foyer », mais où il n’habitait plus. Après une visite à la gare, son groupe était retourné à l’institut en autobus, sans remarquer l’absence de Gabriel. Un étranger l’a retrouvé six heures plus tard, par hasard, à six kilomètres d’ici. Il n’aurait pas survécu la nuit. De toutes les pages de sa vie, cette anecdote m’a le plus marqué…

Deux voies ferrées s’étendent vers l’est et se rejoignent à l’horizon. Où frottent les roues du train, l’acier des rails est bleu, reflétant cet immense ciel des prairies ; tout le reste n’est que rouille. On ne distingue plus les traverses à vingt mètres parmi les pierres enduites d’huile. L’herbe masque cette cicatrice tant bien que mal.

Vers l’ouest, les rails sont argentés, éblouissants de lumière, liquides ; on dirait du mercure.

Une fois mes photos captées, Grégoire et moi rembarquons pour nous rendre à la gare, tout près. C’est là que je lui explique ce qu’on vient y faire. Il comprend tout de suite.

Et voici que les cloches se mettent à sonner au passage à niveau. La barrière descend. On voit approcher les phares du train : deux yeux et un nez brillants. Le Via Rail Canada No 6451 entre en gare.

« Le Transcontinental à destination de Vancouver. All aboaaaaaaard ! »

Le train ne s’arrête pas ici. Ses quatre wagons-dômes me rappellent un voyage entrepris avec mes parents et ma sœur à l’âge de sept ans, moi aussi. Alors que le train accélère, le reflet des rayons du soleil sur ses côtés polis m’éblouit. Le train s’éloigne et disparaît, mais son bourdonnement persiste.

Notre mission terminée, on fait le plein, on prend un café et on reprend le chemin de la maison. Le soleil touche presque l’horizon. Plus tôt que je ne l’avais prévu. Il fera noir avant de joindre Winnipeg. Allons.

On suit la Transcanadienne cette fois-ci. On laisse la route de campagne se perdre plus au nord. À cent dix kilomètres à l’heure, les moustiques et autres bestioles se précipitent vers mon phare avant et viennent s’écraser sur ma visière et mon pare-brise. On file.

Comme le crépuscule laisse sa place à la noirceur, un certain effroi s’empare de moi. J’ai l’impression de m’être trop éloigné sur le lac et bientôt je n’apercevrai plus la berge. On dépasse des automobiles, des camions, des autobus. Le phare de Grégoire, toujours visible dans mon rétroviseur de droite, me rassure. On se croirait dans une course contre la montre, contre le soleil, contre la noirceur, contre la vie.

À quelques kilomètres à l’ouest de Winnipeg, j’ajuste mes lunettes et je remonte ma visière que les moustiques ont barbouillée. Je signale à Grégoire, indiquant mon intention de laisser l’autoroute et d’emprunter le chemin de campagne qui nous mènera au bercail. Un autre spectacle, très bref celui-là, allait commencer. Je ne le verrais pas mais j’en serais l’acteur principal. Grégoire, lui, serait aux premières loges.

Nous avions à peine parcouru un kilomètre sur ce nouveau chemin lorsque, dans une courbe, tout devînt une question d’instinct.

Une force invisible s’empare de mon guidon, le secoue violemment, et me projette au sol. Agrippé aux poignées, je glisse sur la chaussée, étendu sur le dos, et ma moto m’écrase la jambe. Je lâche les poignées et poursuis ma glissade. Pendant ce qui m’a semblé une éternité, j’étais ailleurs. Le temps, figé. Je glisse dans le noir, vers l’infini, sans jamais m’arrêter.

Et soudain, j’ouvre les yeux ; la lueur du crépuscule avait cédé sa place à une noirceur d’encre et des milliers d’étoiles brillaient dans ce ciel de campagne. L’effroi m’avait quitté.

Immobile. Couché sur le dos, tout se calma ; les bottes dans l’eau, le cul dans la boue et la tête dans l’herbe. Je fis l’inventaire : ma tête intacte grâce à mon casque, un coude égratigné et une douleur au genou gauche là où le réservoir à essence m’était tombé dessus. Je regarde vers la chaussée et j’aperçois la moto de Grégoire couchée sur le côté, phare et clignotants allumés, tandis qu’il prend ses jambes à son cou en ma direction. Il avait tout vu !

S’attendant au pire, quelle joie eut Grégoire de me voir assis, en vie.

« Bouge pas ! Bouge pas ! »

Je le rassure. Je me lève. Lui, il redresse sa moto et revient. Quelques passants s’approchent pour s’enquérir de ma condition. « Chanceux ! » qu’ils disent. Deux agents accourent. Je suis déjà sur pieds.

« Tout va bien monsieur l’agent. »

Une biche avait bondi du fossé et je la frappai de plein fouet dans le pare-brise. Elle culbuta au-dessus de moi et s’affaissa au milieu de la chaussée. Morte. Comme je tombais quelques mètres plus loin, ma moto, une fois libérée, se redressa sur ses deux roues, descendit vers le fossé et le traversa pour aller se poser doucement sur la pente opposée. Quant à moi, j’avais continué ma glissade quelque vingt mètres plus loin, vers le fond du fossé.

On a démarré la moto et on l’a sortie du fossé. Une fois stationnée tout près, je constate les dommages tout en retirant la boue et les quenouilles du châssis. Pare-brise craqué, réservoir cabossé, pédale de frein tordue. À mon grand étonnement, ma caméra, qui était rangée dans son sac sur le siège arrière, a résisté à l’impact.

On s’entend pour reprendre notre chemin, prudemment, moi sur ma moto et Grégoire sur la sienne. J’enfonce le démarreur comme je l’avais fait une heure auparavant ; le ronronnement du moteur me soulage. Malgré les éraflures, mon casque semble intact, tout comme mes gants et mes bottes. Je ne peux en dire autant de mon veston en charpie. Avant de monter, je m’approche du chevreuil, que je vois dans toute sa beauté pour la première fois. Ses yeux brillent et son gros nez noir reluit.

« Désolé. C’était toi ou moi. »

Je remarque les poils de chevreuil coincés sur mon pare-brise : une sorte de trophée. Je rentre à la maison.

Il faut croire que la deuxième plus longue journée de l’année ne le fut pas assez…

deer

Makena (Big) Beach; A Ka nāpo’o ‘ana o ka lā (sunset) story, Part 3

Maui (805 of 2119)

The few white puffy clouds provided little respite from the mid-afternoon sun. When I started to sizzle, literally, I ventured out into the salty Pacific water to brave the strong shore-break waves of Big Beach at Makena State Park, on Maui’s southwest tip. I was surprised at how warm the water felt. I swam, I floated, I let the powerful waves carry me back to the shore, again and again. The turquoise water so clear, I could see my feet.

A little later, the young lady sitting on the beach a few feet from us went for a swim wearing her wide-brim straw hat, never losing it, not even once. Her long, powerful, even strokes propelled her down the beach; she swam gracefully, gliding across the water, all the while keeping that large hat on her head. She smiled at us on her way back to her spot in the hot sand. A connection. Kindred spirits for a short while, enjoying the hot sand, the refreshing water, the beat of the surf, and later the sunset.

I set up my tripod on the dune at the edge of the brush, getting ready for daylight to give way to dusk. I returned to my beach chair.

— Getting some good shots? the young lady asked, shielding her eyes from the bright sun.

Caught by surprise, a little, I snapped a couple more of the beach, and of my wife sitting on her beach chair.

— I did, thanks! How about you? She waved her smartphone with a thumbs up.

It seemed people left the beach too soon, like fans flocking from the arena when the outcome of the game is already decided; the home team won’t come back. Maybe that’s how beachgoers felt as the clouds moved swiftly across the sun, convinced the game was out of reach. I could count on the fingers of both hands the remaining faithful bystanders who weren’t keeping score. The bright red ball appeared to slide down the Kaho’olawe Island slopes, into the jagged edges of the darkening ocean.

— Good luck with those beach chairs! she said, as we walked away with the chairs still open (I had fussed with them a few minutes—the bad news bears—and capitulated, afraid to break them), the connection about to be broken.

A few hundred feet up the beach, I managed to “unlock” the chairs and fold them, letting out a scream of victory, pointing my fist to the sky. A wave. Goodbye.

Maui (816 of 2119)

A Ka nāpo’o ‘ana o ka lā (sunset) story, Part 2

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Three whale spouts (on the left) highlighted against Kaho’olawe Island while another whale breaches on the far right edge of the shot.

Maui (153 of 2119)An earlier post, and a cropped picture (provided above un-cropped), alluded to spotting whale spouts on the horizon while watching the sunset. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come prepared for shooting whale spouts two kilometres out from the beach. Nevertheless, I pushed my 18-75mm lens to its limit and focused on the spouts. I planned on coming equipped just for whale watching the next evening, with my 300mm zoom and tripod. I was in for quite a surprise…

So captivated by the spouts (and whales) on the left of the viewfinder, while composing with the background sloping island and clouds, I never saw what was happening just inside the right edge of my shot. Yes, pure coincidence! I only noticed this breaching humpback a few  hours later, while processing that evening’s photos on my laptop.

Could this be a case of missing the forest for the trees? Or not seeing the big picture? Maybe a little bit of tunnel vision? I’d rather call it pure luck, a series of photographs and an experience to be treasured for a lifetime.

 

A Ka nāpo’o ‘ana o ka lā (sunset) story, Part 1

Maui (917 of 2119)

The warm sand  cradles our feet and fills the space between out toes…

The sun’s dip toward the Pacific Ocean attracts many spectators on Kamaole Beaches, and on the low brick wall separating the beach from the road. Chairs, beach mats, tripods, cameras: ready for the show.

We spot a column of white spray on the horizon—a spout—and soon a second, indicating the presence of whales; turns out they like sunsets too. Mores spouts, fin slaps, a big splash and a fluke bring a certain sense of elation at spotting these giants of the sea, right there in front of us.

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They disappeared from sight, maybe watching the sunset while floating and swaying to the rhythm of the waves.

The sun dove straight for the Pacific without a splash or a fizzle and left everyone who’d been watching in a good mood. Sunsets have that magical effect on people…

I told you I loved sunsets…

Solstice (Eng)

A true story…

After finishing the manuscript, I was busy dealing with the book’s layout and its technical and visual details, and all the pictures. Especially this one photograph, which bugged me; I could do better. I knew it every time I set eyes on it. That passage in the manuscript, in his life, deserved better.

On the black and white version, the tracks disappear in the west, under this rickety bridge, toward a pale horizon. The darkened windows of the train station make it look abandoned. In colour, the endless roofline with its dormers overlooking windows and doors that look like wide eyes, each with its white eyelid.

A motorbike ride to Portage la Prairie, to snap a better picture, seemed most appropriate on this beautiful summer day, the second longest of the year. I called my buddy Greg and asked him to join me.

At the agreed-upon time, as always, we ride. Greg follows me. I have only rarely convinced him to lead. A long dance begins. We have followed this road a hundred times; familiar but always a stranger. Everything seems new… every time.

One curve follows another along the Assiniboine River that we seldom see through the trees. We imagine it. We feel it, nearby. Farmers’ fields greet us. Thousands of yellow flowers mix to the deep greens as far as the eye can see. The sun almost touches the horizon as the sky takes on pastel hues of orange, pink, yellow, mauve, purple and gray. Shadows stretch out. What a show!

An odour of fresh tar rises from the road and sticks to our nostrils long after we reach the end of the new pavement.

The distinct aroma of cultivated soil, of freshly cut hay, and the smell of the river float in the prairie air. We could smell lilacs only a few weeks before. We will have to endure another winter before smelling them again. And winter lasts an eternity here. Just kidding. It only lasts seven months.

We make it to Portage la Prairie and the CN train station in less than an hour. I signal Greg and stop on the shoulder close to the railway crossing. I pull out my camera from its bag and walk toward the tracks. I stop, emotional. Tears fill my eyes. I visit this exact spot for the first time yet I know it well.

Gabriel, the main character of my book, walked on this very spot many years ago, as a little boy, autistic, frightened, lost. At seven years old, he followed the snow-covered railway on the way to Winnipeg, the only place he ever called “home” but where he no longer lived. His group had returned to the institution without noticing Gabriel was not on the bus, after a visit to the train station. A stranger found him six hours later, a pure coincidence, six kilometers from here. He would not have made it through the night. Of all the pages of his life, these left the deepest mark on me…

Two tracks stretch to the east and meet on the horizon. Where the train’s wheels rub, the steel rail is blue, reflecting the endless prairie sky; the rest is nothing but rust. I cannot make out the railroad ties among the oil-soaked stones twenty meters away. Prairie grass masks this scar with difficulty.

To the west, the rails are silvery, dazzling with light, liquid; somewhat like mercury.

Once my photoshoot completed, Greg and I straddle our rides and cover the short distance to the train station. I tell him why we are here. He understands, instantly.

The bells start ringing at the nearby crossing. The barrier descends. We can see the train’s bright headlights: two eyes and a nose. Via Rail Canada No. 6451 rolls in the station.

“The Transcontinental, destination: Vancouver. All aboaaaaaard!”

The train does not stop here. Its four dome cars remind me of a trip I took with my parents and my sister when I, too, was seven years old. As the train speeds up, the sun’s rays reflect on the shiny sides, blinding me. The train moves away and eventually disappears, but its rumbling continues.

Once our mission accomplished, we fill up, stop for a quick coffee, and head for home. The sun almost touches the horizon. Sooner than I had expected. It will be dark before we reach Winnipeg. Let’s go.

We follow the Trans-Canada Highway this time. The windy country road we took earlier loses itself to the north. At one hundred and ten kilometers an hour, mosquitoes and other bugs rush toward my headlight and splatter on my visor and my windshield. We’re flying.

A strange feeling takes hold of me as sunset slowly gives way to darkness. Fear. Foreboding. I feel as if I strayed too far on the lake and soon I will lose sight of the shore. We pass cars, trucks, and buses. Greg’s headlights, still visible in my rear-view mirror, reassure me. This seems like a race against the clock, against the sun, against darkness, against life.

A few kilometers before Winnipeg, I adjust my goggles and raise my mosquito-blotched visor. I activate my turn signal, letting Greg know that I will leave the highway and take the quieter country road that will take us home. The curtain was about to rise on another show, very brief this time. I would not see it, yet I would be its principal protagonist. As for Greg, he would occupy a front-row seat.

We had barely covered a kilometer on this new road when, in a curve, everything became purely a matter of instinct.

An invisible force grips my handlebars, shakes them violently, and throws me to the ground. Still holding the handles, I slide on the pavement, flat on my back, as my motorbike bounces on my leg. I let go the handles and continue my slide. During what seemed like an eternity, I was somewhere else, above all this. Time, still. I slide in the dark, to infinity, without ever stopping.

But I did stop. Suddenly, I open my eyes; the faint light of dusk gave way to an inky darkness and a thousand stars twinkle in this country sky. The strange feeling has vanished.

Motionless. Lying on my back, all seemed surprisingly peaceful: my boots in the water, my ass in the mud and my head in the grass. Time to perform a quick inventory check: my head unhurt—thanks to my helmet—a scratched elbow, and pain in my left knee where the Magna’s gas tank had bounced twice. I look back toward the road and see Greg’s Harley lying on its side, headlight shining and hazards flashing. He is running. He has seen the whole thing!

Fearing the worst, what elation Greg felt when he saw me sitting, alive.

“Don’t move! Don’t move!” he begs.

I reassure him. I stand. He returns to his bike, picks it up off the road, rests it on its kickstand, and returns. A few passers-by stop to inquire about my condition. “Lucky!” they say. Two policemen approach quickly. I am already up.

“Everything is fine, officer.”

A deer had jumped out of the ditch, its head and shoulder contacting my windshield. The deer cart-wheeled above me and landed in the middle of the road. Dead. As I was sliding a few meters away, my bike, once I let it go, got back on its two wheels and continued down through the ditch and up the other side. My slide ended another twenty meters further, in the ditch.

Greg got on my bike, started it, and with a little help made it out of the ditch onto a nearby driveway. I gave it a quick once-over, taking stock of the damage as I pulled the bulrushes and the mud from the frame. Cracked windshield, dented gas tank, twisted brake pedal. Much to my astonishment, my camera, which was stored in its bag on the sissy bar, had made it through the whole thing, unscathed.

After some deliberation, we agree to continue our ride home, carefully, me on my bike and Greg on his. I push the starter’s red button as I had done an hour before; the rumbling of the engine soothes me. Despite the scratches, my helmet seems functional, as do my gloves and boots. No so for my shredded jacket. Before climbing on, I let the motor warm up and make my way to the deer, which I see in all its beauty for the first time. Its eyes sparkle and its big black nose shines.

“Sorry buddy. It was you or me.”

I notice the deer hair sticking from a crack at the bottom of the windshield: a kind of trophy. Let’s go home.

I guess the second longest day of the year was not long enough…

deer

There’s Only ONE Dancing Gabe

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Dancing Gabe signing autographs during recess.

We were wrapping up our I Love To Read event with the Grade 3 – 6 students. One of the young students raised his hand, eager to ask one more question. His eyes lit up when I noticed him, approached with a few steps to ensure I would hear his query, and invited him to ask his question.

How many Dancing Gabe books are there in the whole wide world?” he said.

I returned to the microphone and repeated the young man’s question to ensure everyone else assembled in the school’s gym would hear it. A gentle hush had fallen on the students who were even more attentive than they had been during the previous forty-five minutes.

Well,” I said, “that is a very good question. There are more than four thousand Dancing Gabe books in the whole world today.” My answer, much to my surprise, was greeted with a collection of cheers, screams, and applause from all those assembled. They liked my answer.

I looked over to Gabe. He too was clapping and beaming, pleased with the answer, pleased with the joy he could see in the eyes of the students. He was the reason for this happiness.

Buy Dancing Gabe: One Step At A Time on Kindle.

 

Training Wheels

Dan_BCPR

To be the proud owner of a new bicycle—one’s first brand new bike—sparks feelings that had been unknown up to now. Few events  will evoke such an overwhelming sense of freedom for a child. I still recall my first bike was a plain red CCM, equipped with a wire basket, that my mom had purchased with Gold Star stamps (an early incarnation of today’s more sophisticated customer loyalty traps, uh, I mean programs).

My first two-wheeler! Actually, it had four wheels when we were first acquainted. You’ll surely remember the two small wheels added to the rear axle to provide stability to the vehicle, and confidence to its rider… Their sound seemed sharper and louder than any fire truck or ambulance siren and thanks to them, your friends could hear you coming for miles. The bugle announcing the charge of the cavalry: “Look! Here he comes with his baby wheels,” usually followed by much pointing and jeering. The noise created by those two metallic discs rolling on the pavement, each with its own rubber outer belt designed to dampen the sounds, was deafening. They seemed to have been a design engineer’s mean way of inflicting deep shame to new young riders. At the time, I was convinced that the geometry was totally wrong: why would the two training wheels never touch the ground simultaneously? I figured it out soon enough.

Not surprisingly, young riders quickly learned to do without training wheels. A matter of pride and survival. A rider old or capable enough to do away with a tricycle soon learned that one more wheel simply would not do—not for long anyway. I soon learned to use my dad’s crescent wrench to loosen the bolts and remove these rackety accessories, although I had not mastered the tool sufficiently to avoid scraping my knuckles on the spokes as I tightened them back. Never mind, I was free! I could now join the two-wheeled “biker” patrol. Time to make a different kind of noise.

Soon, a much sought-after roar replaced the clatter of the training wheels. We fastened hockey and baseball cards, and even attached inflated balloons, to the bicycle’s forks using clothes pins in such a manner as to contact the spokes when the wheel turned. Children proved their imagination and capacity to innovate, replacing wet, mushy, worn-out cards with colorful waterproof pieces of plastic. What elation to feel like a rebel; what joy to ride in formation up and down our normally quiet street and around the neighborhood, rumbling, from street to street. Neighbors heard us coming. Our rolling thunder sowed panic and fear in the hearts of the kind folks who asked only for a little peace and quiet as they enjoyed their afternoon tea on the balcony. We were ready to conquer the world. Well, seriously, not really. We were just being kids.

Today, I chuckle at the thought of using my hockey and baseball cards to such an end. Surely I never used my Montreal Canadiens or Expos cards for my bicycle’s noise mechanism, but more likely doubles and triples of players from teams I did not care for.

Take those training wheels off and ride!

Days Grow Longer

There were days I loved the snow, and the cold–no I don’t think I ever loved the cold–of winter. Of course, memory has this way of playing tricks with one’s mind; embellishing the not-so-glamorous parts, or darkening the somewhat ordinary moments.

As children, we waited at the door, like thoroughbreds at the gate, mere inches and moments from the freedom to bolt, while mom wrapped and tied itchy woollen scarves around our heads and over the hoods of our snowsuits. Temperature mattered not when fresh snowbanks awaited. Anticipation! Action!

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I still recall the blinding reflection of the sun on the snow as I stepped outside, which made me sneeze, and the first breath of cold air that tasted like the wool of my musty old scarf, which made me cough. My feet barely touched the front landing. In an instant, I found myself waist-deep in the fluffy stuff, thrashing about, struggling to hoist my small body to the surface, every move sending me a little deeper in the snow and further from the house. I always imagined this was what quicksands would feel like… just worse.

Eventually, the scarf loosens, exposing cheeks and nose to the biting wind. On we played… I don’t think we talked much when playing in the snow, only screamed, and laughed, and cried, but mostly screamed. The snow on our faces melted and mixed with what flowed from our runny noses, creating this ever-present salty taste on our lips; the once warm and comforting scarf on our mouth now icy, heavy and inconvenient.

The fun and games would continue until our toes or fingers got too cold, or mom called us in. Usually the latter. Mom always seemed to know when it was time. The frosty adventure lasted maybe an hour, just as the pain and tingling of our thawing appendages would. Scarves, mittens, toques, and boots were put dry during that time. Lunch and hot chocolate were followed by a nap before everything began again until such a time when the children grew up.

Thr167039_128709693860310_4445209_nashing about in the snow–although at times still entertaining–eventually took a back seat to hockey: street hockey, pond hockey, and skating. Bright winter days when dad was home were the best. On those days, I considered my dad a kid, just like us. “Do you kids want to…” Yes! We never let him finish; we knew he meant to take us skating on the ponds by the track behind his Esso service station. He would load the snowblower in the back of his “petit bus” (what we called my dad’s steel blue Ford van). He also loaded a few shovels, our hockey sticks and a good supply of hockey pucks. If you’ve played pond or street hockey, you know that pucks seemed to vanish once they left the playing surface and entered the snow.

Those days are gone. I still enjoy bright sunshine on white fluffy snow, yet I think of winter as mostly a succession of long nights and short cold days, only interrupted by brief moments of activity (sometimes excitement) when the courage to step outside outweighs the inertia of hibernation. Winter is the assailant that knocks me down, and instead of fighting back, I turtle, I roll into a ball, waiting for the beating to end or to finish me for good. Every once in a while I lash back at the frigid season, only managing to touch innocent bystanders. Snap out of it! Go outside! Get some fresh air!

Days grow longer; the sun’s rays warmer. Just in time. Always. Thankfully.