Friday, September 30, 2011

Wanna hear a secret?

I stood staring in wonderment. The mist drifted across what could only be described as a twenty acre mirror. Not a ripple. The sun, just up and rising slowly from behind the verdant maples to the east, shot arrows of brightness out over the placid surface of my lake.

Yes, my lake. My lake because the only reflection I could see upon it was my own. My lake because I had been granted what amounted to exclusive access to fish upon it. My lake because standing on that shore at six in the morning there was not a human sound to be heard: it could have been my entire world for those precious moments.   

And my lake because I had been sworn to secrecy!

Oh yes, I’ve got a secret fishing hole, aren’t you all jealous now! No? Hmm, I suppose not. There are after all about a billion lakes, ponds and rivers to fish in Haliburton County and I’m sure you local fisher-folk almost all have a favourite water, a go-to bay, a secret spot that is never boasted about, never mentioned, not even when you’re recounting tales of epic piscatorial conquests whilst, how shall we put it? You are buoyed up by a nip or two of the hard stuff. 

To me though, a boy from the city, a fly fisherman used to jostling for a spot around a muddy puddle with a rabble of rubber clad urbanites, the picturesque idyll that I stood before on that morning was nothing short of a miracle.

Picture this: (I’m gonna go all statistics-mad on you now but stick with me) my previous home, London has the highest population density in Great Britain. Around 4700 people live in every square kilometre. Compare that to Minden Hills, which has a population of about 5500 squeezed tightly into 847 square kilometres. You can see where I’m going can’t you. Every time I swung my fly rod I’d catch someone in the eye with a size 14 barbless hackled nymph!

I’m not saying that I couldn’t fish in London, or that I didn’t enjoy it but one thing’s for sure, there were no secret fishing holes. I fished local reservoirs and lakes with the fly and I dipped a bobber and worm into local canals and dykes. I even waded up the remoter urban stretches of the River Wandle, a supposed favourite angling haunt of Admiral Lord Nelson, no less. But even his ghost had got tired of the constant interruptions and upped and left.

I did find one or two quiet spots: little havens of tranquility where vehicle noise and pedestrian traffic were mercifully forgotten for a few moments. I treasured them. I noted their exact whereabouts. Then I returned, only to find someone else fishing in them.

And so you see, my lake, which is not my lake at all but a small piece of heaven loaned to me by a very gracious owner, is something akin to paradise on earth.

As I stood there in the first light of morning a loon beckoned me into my boat. I took a moment longer to linger then slipped out onto the water, almost ashamed that my ripples ruined the plate glass perfection of the lake surface.

I paddled quietly for a while, just looking. An osprey dipped towards the surface and then changed its mind; a beaver bobbed sedately past; a motorboat sputtered into life and four guys clutching beer bottles careered into view! Only kidding.

I made my first cast into paradise and a small bass flashed at my dry fly. I made a second and got another fish, bigger this time. And so the next two hours passed in similar fashion. Two hours of perfect peace and fabulous fishing.

Yes, this lake is my secret lake. I won’t be telling all my fishing buddies of its charms. I won’t be boasting about it when drunk. I’ll even take a different route each time I go, just in case I’m followed. And, if that sounds kind of selfish to you, I say: Go find your own uninhabited utopia, there’s sure to be one out there in our wonderful wilderness.     

Friday, September 9, 2011

Murder never tasted so good

Warning! This column contains scenes of graphic violence and death. Those of a nervous disposition should read no further.

“It was when we dropped the bodies in boiling water. The smell of them scolding made me feel faint.”

“I couldn’t get the stench of death off of my hands for two days. It made me retch whenever I tried to eat.”

“Their eyes just looking at you, even when their heads had been cut clean off. Whoa!”

Testimony from serial killers? Sort of. Chicken murderers to be precise.

The twelve weeks were up and for my small flock of white rock chickens it was time to meet their maker. Together with friends who had birds of their own, we had a chicken plucking party. Sounds harmless doesn’t it but plucking means killing and killing means neck breaking and head chopping but that’s not the worst. Then comes the dressing and I don’t mean choosing the right outfit for the event. They call it dressing to make it sound nice; when what it really means is cutting a hole in the chicken’s ass and ripping its innards out with your bare hands.

Thankfully, yes I say thankfully, yours truly was on killing duty. I’d wander around to the coop, talk gently to the assembled chickens waiting for my moment. The moment when one of the unsuspecting birds ventured close enough for me to scoop it up and carry it to its doom.

The flock soon became wary; their numbers slowly diminishing, their brethren being taken but never returning. Me? I became desensitised to the whole coax it, catch it, carry it, kill it routine. I actually started to enjoy it and that’s a little worrying. But I put my enjoyment down to the chickens and the dignity with which they went to their deaths.

I’d pick up an unsuspecting bird and pop it under my arm for the short walk to the chopping block. A few strokes of its back and the chicken would be clucking pleasantly. At the block, said chicken was swung upside down to be held by its feet. This was usually taken in the bird’s stride – a few chucks and a quizzical look upwards at me.

It was only when my fingers fastened around the chicken’s throat that it began to think something amiss and by that time it was way too late. A sharp jerk, some flapping and then a swift swing of the axe and the chicken was dispatched. Job done, for my part at any rate.

Then came the dirty part. Plucking: my companions went industrial on our chickens’ asses, quite literally. A dip in a vat of boiling water was followed by being tossed into what looks something like a spin dryer with dozens of rubber clad fingers fixed around the drum. The headless bird would whizz around, tumbling this way and that, as the fingers knocked off the feathers. Not a pretty sight but wholly idyllic compared to the job that fell to the third member of our murderous crew.

Yep, you guessed it, the hand up ass moment. Cutting a neat hole in the chicken’s backside – just big enough to insert a hand – was followed by a swift and brutal shove, grope, grip and yank. Out came all the bits you don’t see when you buy a pre-packed bird from the grocery store.

“Save the livers,” chimed the wife. “We gotta find ‘em first, what they hell do they look like?” barked back my companion, staring horrified at the insides of the first bird, which were now lying very definitely outside.

And so the day went on: coax, catch, carry, kill. Dunk, pluck, cut, grope, grip, yank. And repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat… By the end of the massacre I had slaughtered around 30 chickens (I lost count at some point after 20 and at around the same time that bouts of hysterical laughter began to grip me!) and my compatriots had plucked, gutted, portioned and bagged them with an efficiency that would have you thinking we’d been murdering helpless hens for years.

The upshot of this is that I now have a stack of chickens in the freezer and my friends back in England think I’ve turned into some kind of rural raving lunatic with a penchant for decapitating farmyard animals.

To them, I say: “The chicken tastes mighty fine and it’ll soon be time to do the same to the pigs, too!”


Sorry. I slipped back into killin’ mode there for a moment.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Outside forces at work

The impossibly dashing image of The Outsider that you see at the head of this column is a false likeness, a sly fake or slight of the eye, today at least. I’m not implying that the good looking fellow you see before you is not me, author of this missive, but I am saying that I definitely don’t look like that at the moment.
The reason: my darling son, Little Z and some strange nocturnal goings-on.

Some unexplained motive caused him to wake from deep sleep last night at around a quarter after midnight. First he snivelled, then he moaned and finally he yelled: “DADDYYYY! DADDYYYY!”

“I think he wants you,” said the wife. I couldn’t really argue, could I.

And so it began, the longest night of my life, or that’s how it feels on the morning after. Initially, Little Z was upset; a bad dream may be. Then he became belligerent; a reaction to my forcibly trying to put him back in his bed, possibly (I guess the veiled threats muttered under my breath didn’t help either). Finally, he woke up properly – the type of waking up that normally comes at breakfast time – looked me in the eye and politely said, “downstairs please, Daddy.” I did not concur.

And so, we spent the next three hours ‘playing’ (for playing read me bumbling around in a foggy haze of half slumber trying to get him to lie down while he joyfully threw all manner of toy, cuddly and otherwise, at me).

At around 3.30am Little Z figured that I didn’t really want to join in with his night time games and so called his Mom. Then, promptly fell asleep.

Now, those of you who don’t have kids yet have probably stopped reading already. However, if you haven’t I suggest you read on, there could be some good advice or at least weary warnings of what to expect in the future should you embark on the rollercoaster ride that is having a family.

For the folks who have already had kids and managed somehow to raise them and then get them to leave home, it’ll all be quite a laugh I’m sure. But, stifle your mirth for a moment please and think back to those golden poop-encrusted-diaper years, and, if there’s an answer to my next question please let me know it!
What strange force, what bizarre influence, was at work upon the toddlers of the county last night?

On talking to friends (the ones with little angels just like mine) I found that almost all of them had woken at just gone midnight and proceeded to happily deprive their hard working parents of sleep for up to three hours. Then, just a quickly as it started, they all went back to sleep.

What the hell!

It wasn’t a full moon and I could detect nothing in the water. There were no storms raging over Haliburton County and if there was an earth tremor it failed to rattle the crystal chandelier that hangs above my bed (only kidding).

I can only shudder at the possibility of the paranormal! Have you seen the movie ‘Children of the Corn’? I have; hence my insistence on locking all the sharp implements away first thing this morning and then mowing flat our acres of maize. I’ve also confiscated Little Z’s tricycle, even though he’s not riding around shouting REDRUM REDRUM just yet. And, after shaving the back of his head, I can safely say Z does not have a birthmark in the shape of three sixes in the nape of his neck!

But horror movies aside; this isn’t the first time that it has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Explanations, theories, anecdotes that might shed some light upon ‘the notorious night of no sleep’ would be greatly received.

And, while explanations are in the air, so to speak: I apologise if this missive does not have not the usual ‘it’s not like that in London’ Outsider vibe. I see it as more of a bemused, ‘what outsider forces are ruining my beauty sleep’ plea from a decidedly dishevelled and definitely sleep deprived Wanting-to-lie-downer.

I’ll be back looking my gentlemanly best next week. Hopefully.