I used to have a neighborhood. In fact I was born in one. It was a little place called Oak Forest in Houston, Texas. My family lived there for about three years and then we began moving. We moved West, East and North. When I was about fourteen, I found myself back on the same street in the same neighborhood that I began in. This time we lived just across the street from the first house I ever knew.
All the same families still lived there and the only changes I could discern were that the parents were older and many of the boys were gone to Basic Training or were already in Vietnam. I was a mere four years away from my own draft notice. I was younger than any of the other boys in that neighborhood and although they all treated me as a little brother, I was too young to hang around with them.
I spent much time alone and walking the rails that ran nearby. I had a few friends from other parts of town that I had met in school and did most of my socializing there. The Sixties had come and gone while I watched all the people around me adopt strange new behaviors almost overnight. I was too young to join the hippie movement but I watched it all closely.
People were emulating characters they saw on popular TV shows and movies just like they do today. What had been taboo was made normal and then discarded for the next update, all without any conscious thought on the part of the general public, as far as I could see. Some of the changes were for the better and some were very deleterious.
It was a time of pharmaceuticals, relaxed sexual attitudes and drugs of all kinds. It also was a time of the best guitar solos in popular music composition I had ever heard. It didn't matter to anyone what you did because they were doing it too. Most of thirty-somethings were high on doctor prescribed relaxants and those over forty were drinking off their own war experiences.
Their children had been encouraged by the culture creators to try LSD and all types of psychoactive substances and derivatives. There was something for every type of individual. Cocaine for the players, hashish for the philosophical, speed for the poor, Robitussin for the shy, mescaline and peyote for the outdoorsy and psilocybin for the intellectuals. Everyone smoked weed.
As a backdrop to this was the zero-tolerance policy of the Texas law system and the educational component of this law. Young men were brought to the schools literally in shackles and orange coveralls with shaved heads to give serious sermons in auditoriums of how they had been arrested with three seeds or a roach in their pockets and had thus forfeited their futures.
I had been with a neighbor on a visit up to Huntsville Prison's Darrington Unit to see her son and though I had to wait outside the main gate and pass my time with an old guard, it left a lasting impression in my adolescent brain. The old fellow had showed me where Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had blasted some friends out jail and had killed a guard.
Though it had been around certain parts since the early days, heroin invaded the suburban streets at this time. It was a two-pronged attack. Not a few of the soldiers who returned after their tours of duties brought their overseas acquired habits with them. Added to this were the usual business channels of organized gangs. The proximity to a porous international border meant that supplies were high.
Children used to see a salesman from the Duncan Yo-Yo Company hanging about the playground demonstrating Around The World and Walk The Dog and promising to return next day to fill all the orders. Now they saw new faces from other streets who showed them how to skin-pop Horse. It was free and the bold said it made you feel real good. Soon, the recruiters were the school-children themselves. That first crop became zombie purveyors very quickly to support their own unquenchable yens.
For me it was a very troubled time on the home-front and everywhere I looked, I saw blindness, denial and accidents waiting to happen. I felt that no one had any expectation of me except to not get caught doing anything wrong until I got my own Draft Notice. I did a lot of thinking and did not trust many of those around me. I did not seek council where I could see no wisdom. One day, quite unexpectedly, wisdom came to me.
I had chanced to pass a young man who lived across the street. He was years older than me and insisted that I spend the night at his house. I was perplexed, proud and shocked. It made no sense for him to want to spend time with someone so much younger. I hesitated and he became adamant. I accepted the invitation.
It was that evening I received a thorough education on heroin. My friend and neighbor had been tricked into the habit while still in high school and had managed to hide his addiction from all. He was a swimming athlete and one of the nicest most clean-cut soft-spoken individuals on our block. He told me that he did not want me to have to experience the hell that his life had become and that in his reckoning I was in great danger due to my naivety.
While he played Willie Nelson and Michael Murphy records on one of those suitcase style record players, he told me everything he knew. He showed me how it burned different colors on tin-foil according to what it was cut with. Comet, rat-poison and baking soda were prevalent at that time. He warned me of who would approach me, what they would say and where it was likely to occur.
He made it clear that there are some things under the sun that may not be tried and simply abandoned. Once you choose to ride on certain horses, you cannot ever get off. With a righteous anger, I have never heard since, he described his lifestyle of deceit, petty theft, permanent sniffles, shakes and sudden visits by pistol packing dealers. He knew deep-inside that it wasn't going to be alright someday.
As Willie sang Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, my friend cooked his dose in a spoon with some water and a lighter. To my horror, he vacuumed up the liquid while it was still hot. He tied off his leg with a rubber hose, told me to call 911 if he didn't wake up and that if he did wake up to ignore him if he cussed me out for the first few hours.
He found a vein and plunged in the point with a deft hand. After injecting about half of the dose, he siphoned out his blood to mix with the remainder in the syringe and then hammered that all home. He collapsed instantly backwards onto his bunk and exhaled all the tension and worry that has existed since the beginning.
I pulled the needle out of his leg and undid the ligature. I watched his chest for breath and moved the phone over to the bedside. The record finished and I closed the lid. I smoked for a few hours listening to him breath deeply and evenly just like when a person does when they are having a good sleep. Eventually I curled up on the living room couch.
The phone jangled me awake and it was a call for my host. The caller was emotional and insisted I wake my friend. I woke him up to hail of curses just as he had forewarned me. He grunted a few questions in the phone and slammed down the receiver.
“Get dressed, Michael my boy. We gotta go to the funeral chapel. Friend of mine just OD'd last night. He ain't the first. Understand what I'm tellin' you?”
I rode along and saw the teenage body, then I was dropped off at home. My teacher left next day to move to another town. I visited him there a couple of times over the next few years and one of the times, I saw new goons come to collect. He had no cash and had to give them merchandise instead.
He drove an old black Ford F 150 pick-up and was always talking about getting around to changing the oil someday. I believe it had belonged to his father before and he loved it. I moved to Canada and passed through his town whenever I was in Texas. He was always dodging fists, knives, bats and bullets and trying to get clean.
Once I passed through his town on purpose on my way to Beaumont from Vancouver. I stopped at a gas-station and bought four quarts of 10 W-30. I had a crescent wrench in my backpack already. There in the parking lot of his apartment was the little black truck. I crawled underneath and began the job. I was just tightening up the drain-plug when he burst onto his balcony.
“Hey you, what in hell do you think you're doing to my truck?”
I slid out from under the vehicle and looked up at him, wrench in hand.
“I figured you probably hadn't gotten around to changing that oil yet, so I thought I'd do it.”
He grinned and just shook his head just like a big brother would have done. He found his peace above a couple of years later and every time I look around at the life I have made for myself, I can still hear his selfless tuition. God, I have been trying to honor the gift of your Angel in cowboy boots ever since.
My first seven years at the Post Office were spent as a Sick Relief Carrier. This meant was that I would report to my Station and be dispatched from there to where ever someone had phoned in sick for the day. The covered area was from Horseshoe bay to Deep Cove and all points in between. Because of the traveling time to the job site, my day began later than the other regular carriers. Because of human nature, the work load was enormous. That is, many people planned their sicknesses and left behind lots of undelivered flyers to clear up.
It was a lonely business and I racked up a lot of overtime. At the beginning of my third marriage, my day came. At long last, I had successfully bid on my own route! I was ecstatic. The route was a Vancouver East Side multi-ethnic lower middle class neighborhood that in response to rising costs and declining employment had rented every available square foot of basement to those in receipt of welfare.
I covered from 31st Ave. to 28th Ave., between Fraser St. and Main St. and two streets down to 25th Ave. The irony of life hit me between the eyes when I got to my first call on the first day. It was right across the street from a massive graveyard that stretches from 41st. Ave. to 31st Ave. Every morning I walked the line between the living and the dead for the first half-hour or so. That sets a man to thinking about many things.
Over the years, after many adventures I came to rent a place nearby on 41st Ave. It was such a large acreage, that it was the unofficial practice range for new car drivers. Children learned how to roller-blade there and many people used it for walks and jogging. Homeless people holed up there and a group of Wiccans started having candle-light sing-a-longs at night during October.
Once, my son and I tracked a coyote into the grounds and following its shed fur, discovered a massive burrow. It was wide enough for a man and went so far back, one couldn't see the end. I crawled inside as my son stood guard outside. When I got about twenty feet in, in pitch blackness, I felt a strong conviction to clear out. My son was small, I had only a pocket knife and we didn't know if they were home or if they had young pups in there.
On my backwards crawl out, I dropped a brand new pouch of Drum tobacco. I could have easily retrieved it but the idea of leaving it as a gift entered my mind. After all, I had come unannounced to their house. I have been seeing coyotes ever since that day, from San Diego to Lillooet. One week-end I was walking through and I was reading gravestones. A marker that was set right on a corner caught my eye.
It said “Walter Euper – Texas” and had his birth and death dates, the name of a Canadian Volunteer Regiment and his parent's names. It was a flat stone and badly covered with weeds and mud. As a fellow Texan, I cleaned it off and sort of adopted it. Just before I left Vancouver, I saw that the old stone had been replaced with a nice standing marble.
I found the graves of a couple who were relatively young and had died on the same day. I looked them up and they turned out to be famous writers and mountaineers. They had traveled the world climbing peaks and writing of their adventures. On one return voyage to Vancouver, the ship that carried them foundered in sight of land off Stanley Park and they along with many others aboard had drowned.
The place had other lessons to teach. Towards the middle of the property was a small section with a high fence within the main fence. It turned out to be the Jewish only section. If one came out of this partitioned area and looked due West over the grounds, a large Oriental structure could be seen. It was a covered table with a red-tile roof and large metal fire-bins standing by. This was the Chinese section. The table was always covered in offerings of rice, flowers and all kinds of fruit. The bins were for burning fake money for the deceased to spend in eternity. There was always incense burning and you felt as if someone had just been there moments ago, no matter when you happened by.
The soldiers were along the West fence and there were rows and rows of names who had the same death dates, particularly those killed in WWI. Amidships stood an obelisk with the usual message warning the living not to forget. After the graves of those who fell in the trenches of the Great War and those who fell in the War To End All Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Conflict In South East Asia, new ground had to be dug for the bodies arriving from Bosnia and Afghanistan. All the graves had to be reshuffled to accommodate these newcomers.
One morning at work after I delivered the last house on the street bordering the graveyard, I cut across the strip of grass on the public property side of the sidewalk near the street. I stopped to roll a smoke and after a puff or two, I scanned the cemetery for coyotes. I didn't see any and began to march down to the next street. My eyes were focused a half-block down the street because of a recent run-in with an untethered hound who had it in for me.
I came to an abrupt halt several yards from the corner. I had sensed an obstruction and when I looked directly in front of my feet I saw a most curious thing for the first time. Thrust upright in the soft soil with green and red stones glittering in the morning light was a beautiful sword. I was stunned that I hadn't noticed it before. I looked up and down the street. There were no people in sight. It stood on public property and right in my path.
I looked up at the sky. I felt that if I took up the sword, that great responsibilities would come with it. Nothing worth having is free. Like the boy in the Sword In The Stone legend, I pulled the blade out of the soil. It was very long and had a beautiful hand guard set with ornamental rubies and emeralds. The shape of the hand guard was instantly familiar but I couldn't place it. I only knew I had seen it somewhere.
There was an inscription on the blade and some fancy work. It was steel sure enough and possibly Damascus, I reckoned. I stood across from the graveyard wielding the weapon and began to feel conspicuous. I slid it into my Post Office belt and it just cleared the ground by an inch or so. I continued on my way delivering the mail.
When I reached the end of my route, I reconsidered. Something didn't feel right and I decided to walk back to my station on 10th Ave. and Quebec St. via Main St. There were a dozen or so antique stores, junk shops and pawn shops along the way. I got an inspiration to let it go for cash. I felt better somehow, knowing I would be unburdened from it.
In the first shop I walked into, the man told me no before I had opened my mouth. In the second shop, I was asked where I got it. I told the truth and that fellow examined it carefully and almost reluctantly said he couldn't buy it. In the third store, I asked the man what he thought it was worth. He said he wasn't sure but that it would certainly be in the hundreds of dollars to start.
By now I had a growing feeling pressing on my mind to be rid of it. This intensified so much as I went North down the sidewalk, I offered it to five or six shop-keepers for the price of a dinner for two. I was going to treat my wife. Everyone vehemently said no and as a last resort I tried to give it away. To a man, they all strongly declined. I was stuck with it. I took it home after work and my wife polished it up carefully and I hung it above the fireplace in our rental. I never tried to research it or sell it.
It happened that we moved to another apartment just around the corner five years later. It was an unplanned emergency move and the unpacking was done in great haste. Within a week, everything was in its place except the sword. I had no fireplace and had not decided where to mount it yet. It stood in a corner, leaned against the wall next to a bookcase.
I kept my keys, tobacco and pocket change on a shelf of this bookcase and the last thing I did each work morning was to grab those items. I was up at 5 AM and usually out the door by 6. I put my coffee mug in the sink one morning and walked over to the shelf and began to load my pockets for the day. It was semi-dark. I heard a loud, solid thump in the living room behind me.
I whirled around still holding my keys to see who had fallen. There on the beige carpet was the blade. It lay seven feet away from where it had stood upright against the wall beside me. The ornate hand guard was shattered into several pieces. I couldn't imagine how it could shatter on carpet. I had experienced telekinesis before when living in a haunted house on Vancouver Island and as a result of that I had no trouble understanding that the object had indeed flown across the room.
I knew that something was showing off. I never start fights but I will finish them. Whether the opponent is on This Side or the Other Side. I became very angry. I remembered those haunted six months in Nanaimo. I slowly bent the steel over my knee. It was incredibly strong. Using all my body weight and my feet I managed to put it into the shape of a Toledo steel pretzel. My intent as I deformed the shank was to show my invisible audience that weapons are nothing. Deeds are everything.
I grabbed my backpack hurried out to the street. I placed the sword into a garbage barrel at the Chevron Station next door and ran for my bus. That was about fifteen years ago. I first researched that strange sword online today. After a few moments, I knew where I had seen it before, its name and its original owner. Its name was Tizona. It became the object of much veneration by the deeds of a flesh and blood man, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who died 915 years and 18 days ago. We know him as El Cid. I first saw him and his wife Ximena portrayed by Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.
Wiki tells us “During his campaigns, El Cid often ordered that books by classic Roman and Greek authors on military themes be read aloud to him and his troops, for both entertainment and inspiration before battle. El Cid's army had a novel approach to planning strategy as well. They frequently used unexpected strategies, engaging in what modern generals would call psychological warfare — waiting for the enemy to be paralyzed with terror and then attacking them suddenly.”
I made a friend right about the time I quit high school. He was a few years older than me and was the host of many parties I attended in those days. He had lived most his life in the States and so had I. We liked the same music. He wrote poetry and so did I. He read several books a week and so did I. He drank, smoked and cussed and so did I. He wore long hair and so did I.
The more we compared notes, the more we found in common. I was in need of a place to hang out due to the chaos that was my shaking my own family tree. His parents had turned over their basement to my new friend and there was ample room for me to stay for days on end. We listened to music, read and had lengthy discussions on almost every conceivable topic.
This fellow had two brothers. The younger brother lived at home upstairs and the elder brother came over almost every night to sit for dinner with the family. I called my friend L.A., after his hometown. His folks were warm generous prairie folk and suffered me to also sit to dinner with the family until my epic appetite decimated their grocery bill.
L.A.'s father had been a reporter in Hollywood. He had interviewed every movie star I had ever heard of. The dinners were fascinating for this man's remembered stories. I was in heaven because I love stories and L.A.'s father was in heaven because his family had tired of the stories long before I showed up.
After many adventures, I found myself renting my first basement suite. I soon kicked out my first room-mate on account of his being too messy and my next room-mate was L.A. I had never experienced the perfect harmony of that household before nor did I after until I married my third wife. It was a peaceful happy place.
L.A. and I never ran out of things to talk about and we saw eye to eye on all of the things we discussed. We existed like this until I hit the road. I couldn't keep still. I began boomeranging from Texas to North Vancouver and sometimes L.A. accompanied me. Down in Texas we were called the Gold Dust Twins, such was our obvious bond.
I was too busy for steady girlfriends and I had no skill at flirting. L.A. had friends galore and more than half of them were girls. I was not one to talk about sex or sexual things from a conviction that it is a personal and private aspect of life. In a million hours of conversation, L.A. and I spoke not of those topics. I had the impression that he knew far more about it than I ever would.
One day after cashing in my chips from a cook job at a truck stop, I found L.A. hard at work at a bookstore in North Van. He let me borrow his bosses typewriter to type up some prose I had written, while the woman was away for a few hours. She returned early and I was routed from the premises.
Out on the sidewalk as L.A. was apologizing, I suggested he quit the lousy job then and there and that the two of us start for Mexico at first light. He looked at me, the way a dog looks at you when you are throwing sticks and the creature is expecting a feint. I wasn't kidding and I waited outside while he did an Al Pacino scene in the bookstore. Ten minutes later we were at his parents basement packing his rucksack.
His dear mother insisted that I bring him back alive and that we stay for supper. While he was upstairs trying to explain the sudden turn of events, I had a smoke and began reading my friend's latest writings. I got more than I expected.
I didn't have time to read all of it but enough time to learn that my friend was gay and that he was and had been deeply enamored with me. I figured I knew him better than any living person, due to the time we had spent together and the complete sharing of our minds and hearts. It rocked my hetero boat.
We set off for Mexico the next morning and had a long eventful trip. I couldn't speak to him about what I had learned because I had to process an awful lot of thoughts, feelings and emotion first. I did this silently and on the surface everything was as it had always been.
On the return north, we pulled into Beaumont, Texas to my grandma's for fattening up. I got up to about 180 in a week and L.A. wasn't far behind. My normal weight is closer to 160. Southern cooking can do that to a man. We rested up and got ready for the final jaunt back north.
One afternoon as we sat under a big oak tree at a schoolyard, I found I was able to speak my mind. Now it was L.A.'s turn to be rocked onto his heels. We had it sorted out before heading back for gumbo and we both learned a lot.
I learned of his terrible burden of living a secret life of unexpressed emotions. L.A. learned of my feeling of betrayal in consequence of my sharing everything with him and him choosing only bits of himself to share with me. I was righteously pissed off and he understood why. He had been too frightened to be open with me and I understood why.
It was made clear to him that it made no difference to me, I just like to know who I'm dealing with when I start sharing with someone to the degree in which we conducted our friendship. The trip to Vancouver was wonderful and I could see a huge burden had been left under the old oak in the bayous.
We discussed the pros and cons of him coming out of the closet. It had to be his decision and I told him I would support him either way. I also told him that my vote was for him to come out, let the chips fall where they would and that any person or family member that dropped out of his life as a result was of no real consequence. This I reasoned because if they only liked him for what they thought he was, he really didn't know who his friends and allies were. That is not a good way to conduct the battle of life.
He thought long and hard after we got to town and one day made up his mind. He found out that he was many times braver than he knew. He told all his friends, co-workers and his ex-employer. I was invited to the evening on which he was to tell his family. It was a momentous occasion and none of them saw it coming.
We gathered at the dinner table for a tremendous meal and everyone expected to be entertained with tales of the Mexican road. They were indulged a bit before L.A.'s father took up the slack with anecdotes from his Hollywood days. Sooner than we knew it, supper was over and we were gathered in the living room for coffee and smokes. It was now that my friend dropped his bomb.
“Mom, Dad, everyone... I have an important announcement to make.”
His tone was different from usual and this garnered just the right amount of attention from all hands. His father was lighting his pipe, his mother was stirring her coffee, his elder brother was sipping his coffee and I was breathing slowly and deeply. There was a pause and all hands looked at L.A.
No explosions went off. His mother didn't faint. His brother didn't spew coffee. His father began an immediate lengthy discourse on all the gay movie stars he had interviewed and his brother began to list all the famous scientists, writers and generals in whose company L.A. was now a declared member.
L.A.'s younger brother piped up from his bedroom down the hall, “Hey you guys, so am I!”
It was a magical evening to be sure. Reality is what it is. There was a certain percentage of “friends” who dropped out of L.A.'s life like full ticks off a cow's ear and the entourage at his famous parties got noticeably smaller. There were new friends whom he made by being himself. He encouraged many who had been in his former predicament to follow his example. I was damn proud of him.
Some people shunned me afterward because of my association with L.A. This I happily bore. L.A. and I drifted apart over the ensuing years and it took me a long time to understand why. A gay man I worked with framed it up in a way I could understand decades later. He told me that for L.A. to hang around me, would be like me hanging around a girl I was madly in love with while she conducted her marriage and family-building with someone else. Now, that ain't rocket science.
My paternal grandmother was a mix of two different tribes of Celts. Her father, Mr. Poole was a Welshman or Brythonic Celt, who married a woman from the Emerald Isle, a Gael. They had a daughter, Elsie who was born and raised in Cardiff. I only met her twice. Once she came to Louisiana and we sat up in the kitchen late one night, drinking hot tea and listening to the crickets. She sounded like Mary Poppins to me and I sounded like Tom Sawyer to her.
The other occasion was when my family visited her for an hour in California on our way North. She gave me a bag of pennies and called them “coppers.” Her husband was a German man and just sat in a chair and said nothing. They had two daughters and a son, my father. His name was Alfons Heinrich Haus and he used to be the yardmaster for the railroad in Toronto. Later, he was the groundskeeper for a large golf course in the States. His people had come from Alsace-Lorraine.
My Celtic grandma used to send me books in the mail. All my childhood, I looked forward to getting the brown cardboard boxes of new reading material. Mostly, she sent Jack London's books. At Christmas she always sent a little box of French cakes called Petites Fours. Over my life, I came to realize that it was the Welsh in me that needed to read and the Irish in me that needed to write. It was said by a Scotsmen, that although the English gave books and writing to the Irish, the Irish gave literature to the world.
I have always loved shamrocks and clovers and I scan the ground for four leaf clovers when ever I'm standing about. Until, I was married to my third wife, I never found one. As a child, I bought several at roadside tourists traps and fair grounds. The ones encased in Lucite and made into key-chains.
When I was delivering mail in Vancouver and my second son was old enough to walk with me, I took him to work during the days when his school was closed. The little fellow did the whole route many times and was satisfied with a root beer at days end. I was proud to show him off to all my customers. There was a big Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the halfway point of the route I had during these days.
This became our resting place. There was an extensive green and a small house also owned by the church set off in the back of the property. In a rock wall, was a clear glass tube built into the mortar containing a piece of stone from a famous wall somewhere in the Holy Land. We generally walked onto the green and stretched out on the grass to take our sandwiches.
There was a good undergrowth of clover and the second time we looked among them my son found a four-leafer! I began to look in earnest and soon I had several. Miguelito found over a half dozen more and by the end of lunch we had fourteen. We pressed them between some junk mail and brought them home to show my wife. She arranged them in a frame and we hung it on the wall.
Within a week, my wife found over a dozen more on her own and my son and I found more at our churchyard site. It got so that none of us could take a simple walk without stubbing our toes on the beautiful things. We put them in plastic business card cases and old CD Rom cases. We still have some of those to this day. After a while, the phenomenon tapered off and it became harder to find them. We bought a trailer in Lillooet, B.C., five years before I retired from Canada Post.
The idea came to me one day while painting and fixing up the place prior to moving in, that it would be lovely to have a nice carpet of white clover for the yard. It would serve to replenish the nitrogen, keep the grass greener and give the honey bees something to eat. If we have any grandchildren, we could look for four-leaf clovers with them, I reckoned.
I went to the feed and seed store to buy some seed. A tall high-school age gal led me back into a shed where metal garbage bins were warehoused. She started lifting lids and hauling out the heavy bags with one arm to read the labels stitched to the bottoms. Some of those bags I had a hard time lifting with two arms. The colleen tossed them around like they were full of dry moss. God bless country gals. I'm glad I married one.
The lass wasn't sure of the commercial name of the type of clover I sought and neither was I. We finally settled on several pounds of some variety of white clover. I wasn't aware that there was more than one variety of the white. I knew there was a red variety, however. I didn't want red. It was too big. On the wall above the cash register while I was paying, I spied a little sign that read, “All little girls are born angels. If you break our wings, we can still fly. We just use our broom-sticks.”
I took the bag home and hand scattered the yellowish-brown grains over my entire trailer pad. I couldn't wait to see the emerald carpet appear. That night I dreamed of clover. The following morning my wife and I went for a nice walk along a hydro canal. It was early Spring and the plants were all coming green and getting tall. I happened to ask a fellow we passed the name of a particularly prolific plant that had a blossom similar to a clover but much, much bigger. It grew in dry gravel and was past knee-high.
“That's clover, eh.” he said in a friendly tone. I thanked him and took a piece for my pocket. I told my wife that I was sure he was mistaken, that it had to be alfalfa. I asked a few more people at random and they all said it was clover. A seed of doubt sprouted in my imagination. I began to wonder what I had just planted. When I got home, I went to the gas station where they had a book rack with a book about local plants. There I found an article on the sample in my hand. It was alfalfa and was commonly referred to in many parts of the West as clover.
I returned to the feed store. The ladies were unable to determine exactly what my seed would look like when it sprouted. We all gathered around the dusty computer and pored over page after page until they became as confused as I. One lady present, who seemed to know, assured me that most farmers referred to alfalfa as clover. Slightly worse for the experience, I returned to the trailer. I cursed Linnaeus, colloquial speech, genetics, bar-codes, ambiguity, packaging without pictures, my own ignorance and especially my lack of research..
We returned to the city next day and when I got home, I googled alfalfa. A most amazing plant. Capable of withstanding fire, drought and probably nuclear attack. Some varieties send tap-roots down as far as fifty feet. It is ancient, indestructible and full of nourishment for man and beast. I read articles listing all the genetic mutations that scientist have made to this plant to make it even more formidable. Clover had been tampered with as well and now came in dwarf and giant commercial varieties.
Then I looked at dozens of mug-shots of seeds that all looked alike. I placed several calls to farms where they grow alfalfa commercially for ranches. I was told not to worry, I could have the entire property tilled up and removed, if I did it soon enough. I could move to Brazil. That night, I had nightmares of fast-growing green tendrils entangling the entire trailer park. The Green Man had been awakened.
I had to do something. I found the old case with the four-leafers and said a wee prayer. When I came next to the scene of the sowing, I couldn't find a single seed on the ground. No purple flowers. No foot-tall fibrous spears. Only small white blossoms and growing circlets of emerald between the grasses. Perhaps the birds, I thought. Perhaps a Pooka. Or maybe it was just the luck of the Irish.
Once I was sitting on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. I was deep in concentration. The occasion was the building of my first sand castle. My sister had introduced the practice to me and this was my first solo attempt. In my opinion it beat the hell out of Lincoln Logs because one was not limited to work with pre-fabricated pieces.
The limitations were only governed by physics and as I constructed my ideas, gravity taught me what worked and what did not. I was around six or seven years old. Being prudent, I had chosen a building site far from the surf and well above the tide line. I was on a strip of Texas coast that runs from Galveston to Gilchrist.
Over the ambient sounds of the surf, the gulls and pelicans and the laughter of children that drifted on the steady sea-breeze, I felt a new sound in my body at the same time as I heard it with my ears. It was in the deep low register and I had never heard anything like it. I was facing South toward Yucatan and my castle sat between me and the sea.
The noise came from the West toward Galveston and I turned my head in that direction. Through the heat haze and salt spume, I first saw it as a mirage, several feet off the ground. Soon, I could properly make out the source of the ever-growing din. I had never seen anything like it before.
Like a herd of stampeding chrome horses vomited out of a thundercloud, came the better part of a hundred motorcycles. They were in a tight formation. It was a wedge-shape and there was one leader riding point. They were “tearing-ass”, as we used to say in Texas and the arrow was pointed straight at my castle. I stared at the chopped hawg in front. The sound was such now that it took over my body and the vibrations started to re-arrange the atoms of my young body. Electrons were jumping orbits, changing valences, creating new compounds and emitting sparks.
There was nothing to be done. The main body of the group toward the rear was too wide to ever outrun. I had not even time to stand from where I squatted. I looked at the man. He had aviator shades, tangled black hair and ear-rings. That is when I knew he wasn't going to change his course.
I pushed my feet in the sand to move my behind just enough to the North to not be hit by his foot-pegs. I watched his face and he smiled. The force of his wind bowled me over one whole revolution. I could taste the exhaust fumes and smoke. I anchored myself and spat. I watched the huge machine and rider get smaller and looked back at my castle.
One large track was all I saw and then the others were rushing past on both sides. They all held formation with the precision of an aerial stunt team and as long as I didn't move I was safe. I read the words “Bandidos – Galveston, Texas” on the backs of their jackets. Some had girls on their bikes and some of them whooped as they went past in a miasma of smoke, sand and thunder.
I disliked all loud noises and was frightened of motorcycle riders for the remainder of my childhood. Every time I hear the song, Ghost Riders In The Sky sung by Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, that morning comes back to me, clear as a Pyrex dish. I never held anything against motorcycles however, and I got my own motorcycle license when I was sixteen in Texas.
We are all being tested through our lives. There is also much seemingly random, inexplicable pure-d meanness. Or, is it? I was walking beside Wirt Road one sunny day in Houston, moving in the direction of the traffic. I turned around to look after hearing a car accelerating rapidly. A white car flew past and a black arm shot out its passenger window. With surgical precision, a hand connected with my chest, exactly over my heart. I spun like a top. The perfect red imprint of that hand lasted for about three days. I can still recall the man's laugh.
When I found myself in the throws of the 1982-3 recession in Vancouver, I moved myself into a hundred dollar a month rooming house in Burnaby. All that was left was my pick-up, my books, my stereo and my guitar. I was engaged to be married to my second wife but I refused to tie the knot till I had a career. I shared the hotplate with fifteen other people.
One guy was a stand-up comedian and very advanced in wielding the katana or Japanese short sword. He used to practice sword-fighting in full Ninja gear in the the back yard and one could hear him practicing his comedy act in his room in the afternoon. He had a maniacal laugh, a sarcastic pompous demeanor and was disliked by all.
The old Austrian woman who owned the place said she found him in his clothes closet after he first moved in. He was in a fetal position and unable to function. She pulled him out and fed him on latkes. He dressed well, was physically fit and handsome. I used to take his laundry to the laundromat in my truck because he couldn't carry it on his motorcycle.
There was a make-work program put on by the Vancouver City Police to help people re-qualify for unemployment insurance, as it was rightly called in those days. We were called Automark, and we marked peoples cars with etching tools and registered them to aid in returning stolen cars to their rightful owners and to prevent theft in the first place. We were given different locations and one day the crew was pleased to find out we were going to set up on the Park Drive in Stanley Park.
It was a beautiful day and the breeze off the sea was intoxicating. We all felt like bees full of honey and everyone talked of pleasant days they remembered from childhood as we worked. We were between Second and Third Beach and other than the Police cruiser parked with the sign advertising our services, all we had with us was what we carried.
Business was good for the first few hours and then it died down. Presently we heard two motorcycles. Everyone turned in anticipation of performing an etching on something other than a Honda Civic. I was soon surprised to see the comedian from my rooming house on his purple Yamaha and a beautiful proud looking Chinese girl on a turquoise Kawasaki. I told my crew I knew this fellow.
They rolled to a stop and let us mark their bikes. The gal began to head into Vancouver and the guy followed a short distance behind. After a hundred yards or so, he did something peculiar. He turned turtle abruptly and raced back toward the Lions Gate Bridge. Then he turned again, slowly jumped the little curb and opened his throttle, spraying fir cones and dirt.
He was on the shoulder and coming right at us. The people around me scattered behind the patrol car. I stood transfixed and utterly perplexed. I didn't budge and I'm not sure why I didn't. He made no sign of backing off. When he got about fifty feet away, he laid his bike down and it scratched to a halt a few feet away to my right. He slid in his leathers and nearly went over the embankment. As he gathered up his motorcycle, the gal returned and told him their date was over. Without a word, he roared off. It all happened fast. I couldn't explain anything to my workmates. I wondered, Why me? Why him? Why here? Why now?
A few weeks later, back at my rooming house, I was entertaining my fiancee. We were listening to my stereo and chatting at the little table and two chairs that were the only furniture other than the small bed. There was a tapping at the door. I rose and opened it. It was the motorcycle comedian and he was dressed in his Ninja suit. He carried his katana in its black lacquered case.
He entered the room a few steps and bowed. He went into seiza position (sitting on his heels) and ceremoniously presented me with his sword. He said it had it had drawn blood in battle and not to dishonor it in any way. As my fiancee stared in disbelief, he rose, bowed again and went to his room. He never spoke to me again and a few months later, my fortune changed and I was hired by Canada Post and moved out.
Another sword came into my life not long after and I will tell that story another time. A Spanish Officer's ceremonial dress sword. In between the two swords, I wrote this poem.
My blood sometimes whispers
The secrets of ancestral lands
My unconscious mass memory
Of the works of many hands
Of a place green and grey
Where there runs a restless sea
Three old women sit near a fire
While they weave my destiny
Steadfast, united, eternal,
All people who are my kin
Our arms are drawn for battle
And our cries still paint the wind
A man whose eyes spark hate
When you see him in the street
Has surely striven against you
And remembers his defeat
I have a gift from long ago
I can see what I don't yet know
I can hear what happened before
My foot traveled across your door
I can distinguish rich and poor
I invoke this ancient lore
When I need to reach beyond my yore
Over the years, I had many routes and as time progressed the Board of Canada Post put into practice all the ideas that were hatched at their meetings. Small neighborhood stations began to amalgamate and coalesce into ever larger operations housed in new buildings. It was a real-estate sell off and a preparation for down-sizing that required no PhD to interpret.
I found myself working for a newly created station which was a combination of two which had been my learning ground in my early days. There was a contest to name the new station and after the rejection of Stalag 31 and other such names, it was decided that the winning name was to be Mountainview. The new letter-carrier station was situated on Yukon St. in Vancouver at Seventh Ave.
It was divided into two floors, with the upstairs being the old Depot 31 and the downstairs being the old Station C. The latter station's territory was the East-side and the upstairs covered the West out to Oak St. The upstairs routes encompassed all the larger apartment towers and the higher income residential areas, thus the dogs were smaller and friendlier.
It occurred to a friend and early mentor of mine within the post office that it was time for the two of us to “move on up – to the West-side.” His plan was for us to grab two monster apartment walks and cash in on the lack of gates and stairs as well as the extra money for the delivery of metric tons of junk mail.
I considered his plan and concurred. My family was without wheels and the car commercials kept telling me I belonged outdoors, bungee-jumping with my brood. We were regularly hiking and and pursuing all kinds of activities but we had to come and go by bus. It was getting to be a drag.
We placed our bids and were both successful. My route was just under 900 calls and my friend's was in the same ball-park. Before a quarter was up, my friend bid off to something more humane and I stubbornly stayed on mine, making one after-tax cent per flyer until I had saved enough to buy a vehicle with cash saved over the course of four years or so.
During this time, I was successful in tearing both menisci. My knees swelled to the size of grapefruits and stayed that way for two years while I awaited my turn to get an MRI to diagnose the problem. Meanwhile, I altered my sortation case on the weekend, fixing it so my histamine holders wouldn't bang into the unforgiving maple.
I was on that route for four years before a successful bid took me to a residential route, which although many times longer to walk, proved to be better for my knees. During the four years, I was busy climbing all the peaks in North Vancouver's Lynn Watershed on my time off.
At the same time, I was studying up on tracking and generally trying to become more tuned in to my surroundings in the bush. As I progressed in this endeavor, I began to see more wildlife each time. In addition, I had to learn to monitor the weather, the route and my own condition.
I began to notice many more things even at home in my neighborhood as well as at work on my route. The city is just another jungle and has its own food chain. I noticed for the first time, the man across the street who had visits from prostitutes about twice a month. I noticed the ever changing bag men who carried off the days drug-selling proceeds to their boss from an apartment several blocks to the South.
Before, they had just blended in as random passers by. Now, it was if they and their two bodyguards across the street were spray-painted Dayglo orange. They passed by around 8 PM each evening and made the drop at the Chevron station on the corner. The body guards changed each time as did the bag man. The method and the timing was rock solid and you could set your watch to it.
Looking back, it may have also been the constant severe pain in my knees that contributed to my extra-heightened awareness at this time. I noticed a man one day standing by the upraised hood of his car while I was delivering my route. When I glanced at him, I knew he was out of place and when I left that street nearly an hour later, he hadn't budged. He stood in exactly the same spot, hands on the hood and seeming to peer into the depths of his engine.
I knew a customer, a Welshman who was a private detective. We discussed the man I had seen and I was told that in a city the size of Vancouver, in a neighborhood as high-end and as dense as was my route, there would easily be dozens of his ilk, busy doing jobs for suspicious wives, husbands, bosses and insurance personnel. Added to this were the throngs of camera carriers. Some were students and some worked for real estate companies and others were tourists.
This new information made me even more aware of my surroundings. It became a new adventure each day as I spotted all the snoopers. They had always been there, I had just been oblivious before. Now it was easy to see who was out of context. Part of the secret of seeing them had to do with movement.
In a cityscape, people are in constant flow. Both the observer and the observed. If a person drives slowly past a man peering iunder the hood of his car at the roadside, they make a mental note that they are glad it isn't their car in trouble and then shift their attention to the lady in red sashaying over to a car parked in front of the flower shop.
The vision of the man will be forgotten in an instant and the observer's mind will have already written a back story and a conclusion to the whole phenomena. If, however, the observer happened along the way again four hours later and the same man hadn't moved an inch, he would begin for the first time to analyze that man. If the observer had himself stopped within sight of the car man for even forty-five minutes, he would have become intrigued.
This propensity of the human mind to fill in blanks to the satisfaction of the observer in order to avoid processing any “extra” data is greatly heightened by city life. People that would fool you are well versed in their understanding of this trait and use it to their advantage. I began to relate my days sightings to my Welsh P. I. friend and he laughed each time I mentioned a ruse that he himself had used in his work.
I found every CCT camera on my route and noticed for the first time that the bus I rode to work was wired for both sight and sound. I noticed that the photography supply store on my route was a front for selling hydroponic grow operation chemicals out the back door. I found three in-home meth labs and two in-home grow operations.
I noticed that the travel agency on my route had never been in that business for the entire four years I delivered its mail. As it was in a lump of 900 calls, it was awhile before I noticed that the jacket slung over the chair at the desk and the empty coffee mug adjacent hadn't moved a centimeter. Only the pile of mail under the front door slot had been picked up.
I noticed one day while sorting mail that I was receiving about 500 miss-sorted letters that were for another colleague's route. They were addressed to a private post office box service about two blocks away from the bogus travel agency. It became annoying to cull this mail out and walk across the station to give it to the other carrier. On one of these trips to dump that mornings gleanings, I noticed that the other carrier was delivering about fifty pounds of this mail per day to that box. I saw Dayglo orange.
I scrutinized the envelopes and noticed that all the letters were from Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. Most were scrawled in pencil and the towns of origin were all tiny rural communities. Eventually, in the flood came one letter that hadn't been sealed and the contents fell out of its nearly destroyed envelope.
It was a cheaply printed note, telling the sender that they had won very much money and as soon as their five dollars cash processing fee was received that they would be sent the information as to how to collect their windfall. Folded inside the note was a wrinkled, crinkled, wadded five dollar bill. It was covered in the dust and dirt of honest toil and I could imagine the sharecropper sitting at his or her kitchen table making it ready to send and dreaming of perhaps a new roof for his shack.
I replaced the contents and sent it on its evil way. I was angry and I Googled up the codes on the exterior of the envelope and found that the source for sending out the winner's notices was a self-serve Postal Outlet in a small mall in South Carolina. One weekend I sat sipping coffee and munching pizza next to the P. O. Box business in Vancouver and watched two nice looking young men haul away a massive sack of these envelopes into their expensive car.
I did a rough calculation and found that these bandits were making some serious money. I told my boss and with a raised eyebrow she informed me that the Canada Post Security and Investigation Team was hot on the trail already. She seemed surprised I had noticed anything at all. She gave me a card with a number to phone if I saw anything else pertinent.
Not long after this it was my turn. They say if you peer too long into the abyss, it will begin to look back at you. I became aware one fine day that I was being followed and monitored. It was obvious to me but nothing would have looked out of place to anyone else. It was being done by a team and a fairly large one. No one stalker stayed on me for long before being replaced by another.
The playground was my route and the duration was several months. These people were mostly in their thirties and had some sophisticated equipment for the time I am speaking of. Some of their methods were classic and could be found in any police training manual or any good spy novel. I was even photographed by a young man with a peep-hole camera he had installed in the left elbow of his Army Surplus jacket.
The jacket was spotlessly clean and his shoes were too expensive for my postie salary. There was a neatly cut circular hole the size of a match head in thew elbow of his jacket and he awkwardly pressed a squeeze-type shutter mechanism with his right hand while cutting in front of me on the sidewalk and pointing that elbow at me like a gun. I asked him if he wanted to take two in case it didn't come out well as he sped off around the first corner.
My first instinct was that it wasn't really happening. This was disproved very quickly. My second instinct was that it was the Post Office training a new crop of S & I people. It was logical. My route was close to the station, close to transportation from downtown and had many good places to eat and buy coffee. I approached my superintendent and asked him if this was the case or if I was actually being shadowed due to the large amount of overtime which I had legitimately booked on my monster route.
He answered that he was not aware of any investigation of myself and had not ordered such. He said he would phone the appropriate high-ups and make sure. The next day he told me that Canada Post was definitely not involved. That tore it for me. It wasn't fun anymore. I was being hunted and I didn't know by whom or why.
The surveillance would start within a block of my exit from my station. I always walked from 7th and Cambie up the steep hill to 16th. Usually a man or woman would emerge from either a parked car or a doorway across the busy boulevard. They would be in lock-step with me and if I altered my pace, they did likewise. If I crossed the street, they would abruptly break off and either enter a store or turn a corner. Within seconds I could always pick up the next tracker who would emerge from a store or car or doorway on either side of the street. They would give themselves away by matching my purposely changing stride and by the sudden dash into a store if I looked too long at them.
The sheer number of players along the length and breadth of my territory told me that they were sophisticated and were not after me. Rather they were after my schedule. As these guys took notes outside each of my big apartment towers as to my arrival time and length of stay, I took license numbers of every vehicle I saw them scurry into throughout my day. I phoned these into S & I each day.
I began to vary my delivery sequence at random. This caused much confusion at first and several times I surprised a spook. Some times I would have a smoke in the cover of a big evergreen while watching a perplexed hood checking his watch and anxiously looking in the direction I was supposed to come from. These moments made the pressure bearable.
One afternoon I was followed to my rented duplex. I had a wife and two sons in there and now things were taking a serious turn. That week-end I saw one of the crew standing right across my street at a bus stop. He let bus after bus go by. I told my wife. She said, “Pop, you're working too hard.” I told her I would make a prediction. I told her to watch the man let two buses go by from our window first. Then I told her that if I stepped out into the yard, he would magically decide to take the very next bus.
My wife smiled and took up my challenge. I was right! I had my payback for getting cheeky with these guys by the fact that they now knew where I lived and some of my family routine. Over the next few weeks the mail started to be stolen from my route and many adjacent routes in this part of town. At first, the panels of boxes were broken open physically but within weeks, they were simply opened with some sort of key and re-closed.
Piles of mail were discovered dumped in city parks, beaches and other places sometimes miles from their source. Each instance was duly reported to the station and to the S & I. I had to phone them daily and sometimes a few times in one day. The operation was very big. I continued randomizing my delivery patterns and observing everything around me.
One day, I did a very convoluted pattern of delivery and was treated to the following sight. A young woman, probably in her teens and dressed in dirty torn jeans and a tee-shirt was busy in the lobby of a building that I would normally not get to until many hours later in the afternoon. She had her own key and a black plastic garbage bag.
She was nearly finished shoving all the last few letters into the bag and locking up the panels with a practiced hand. As I watched from a behind a juniper bush she headed off down the sidewalk in the direction of a mall on 12th Ave. Right across the street from her were two young muscle boys who escorted her all the way to the mall. I grinned, as I had arranged the night before to meet my wife and son at the food court of this same mall. I checked my watch. I decided to arrive to my lunch a bit early and follow the mail thieves.
I checked my rear and sides and followed two blocks behind. When the young lady got to the entrance the young men kept on their way past the mall. I hurried into the food court. I just saw the girl disappear into a corridor which contained the door to the big mail-room of the mall and some washrooms.
I sat at a good vantage point and awaited my wife. My son and wife called from across the floor and soon we were chowing away on noodles. I didn't mention the drama to my wife so she wouldn't stare and it gave me an excuse for being in that place at that time in case I was being studied. I never took my eye off the corridor.
After about ten minutes, the young woman appeared, this time all dressed in swanky shoes, a nice dress and adorned with jewelry and make-up. She streamed into the throng and instantly became another shopper who had been there all day. I watched the corridor over my wife's head. In about four minutes, out came a big man in this early forties. He was dressed in an expensive well-fitting suit like a lawyer and had a hands-free phone in his ear. He was gripping a small expensive Gucci gentleman's bag.
As he exited the food court area he mumbled into his mic and I caught some movement on the Mezzanine level above where we were. There, stationed at the four corners were four goons in their thirties, similarly dressed to the man with the briefcase, all with phones in their ears and all moving down four staircases simultaneously to flank their boss out of the building. I hadn't previously noticed them.
I had occasion to meet the local head of postal security some months after and learned that Russian mobsters had worked this scam right across Canada. They were well-funded, well-equipped, well-trained, well-disciplined and not to be trifled with. They had managed to equip themselves with the keys then in use via armed assaults and always used underage dupes to do the actual theft. The postal keys across Canada were all changed to a vastly superior type in response. The irony that this all happened in the nicer parts of town was a new lesson for me.
I learned that poor areas have much visible petty crime and thus an overblown reputation that tars many decent people with a dirty brush. There simply aren't the funds to cover the dirt with. Conversely, nice parts of a town harbor every type of evil, almost perfectly concealed under a layer of store-bought window dressing.
There is a beautiful walk a person can take in Lillooet. It is a circle route that utilizes the new and old Fraser River bridges at the North and South sides of town. Many people use it for cycling, running or just strolling. One bridge is concrete and one is made of timbers and iron. The river is in almost constant view and the mountains on either side provide a spectacle that a man would have to hike up where the trees are small to experience if he were on the coast.
My wife and I first walked the circle several years ago and paused at the old bridge to look at the river below. The canyon is narrow here and just upstream are the Bridge River rapids where St'at'imc people have been fishing since before the stones were cut to build the Mayan temples. Jagged rocks under the khaki-colored water create a thousand eddies, swirls and ever-changing patterns with the foam supplied by the falls upstream. Its vibrancy is felt before it is seen.
On the first two or three circuits, I walked right underneath a massive osprey nest built upon one of the bridge supports. I had to walk around a massive deposit of guano to get to the other side of the bridge without whitening my shoes. All the while I was unconscious of the raptors and their offspring just meters above my head. My attention was on people, rocks, water currents and mountains. One day a pleasant Englishman pointed out the nest to his grand-daughter and I looked up.
I became aware of the birds from that time on and saw them fishing several miles downstream on many occasions while walking the sandbars with my wife or fishing. Every trip to the old bridge after that included the awareness of those majestic hunters and their babies. Sometimes I would sit at a little table on the West side of the river for a little rest before continuing home. Many times I heard small chirping sounds that were not coming from the young ospreys.
On one occasion I happened to be in a mind to find the source of the this noise. I scanned the sun-blasted rocks all around my position for a long while. On my second smoke, I saw it! A big yellow-bellied marmot standing at attention and warning his colony of my presence. His coloration was absolutely perfect for his environment. It was only the slight movement he had made to stand erect that had made a picture that my brain could interpret.
I turned my gaze away and then tried to pick him out again. It was with some difficulty that I was able to pull an image out of the dusty yellow, rusty oxide and basalt gray pallet before me. I practiced awhile. On every subsequent trip, I spent time watching for the birds and the marmots. I was almost never unable to see them both. The method of searching is quite different from the way a persons eyes are used in typical city working life.
An area is scanned with sweeping motions without focusing on anything. It is almost always movement, however slight or silent, that breaks the magic of invisibility. A flickering ear, a blinking eye or a little hop. It is at this point, using the strongest attributes of the limited human vision that the focus of our binocular-type vision comes into play and provides the brain with enough data to create a picture of the camouflaged creature and place the image in space with very accurate depth perception.
After awhile and with practice, the previously unnoticed sounds begin to be processed by the brain in co-ordination with the sights. Without any effort or book learning, one begins to make connections between larger patterns that were previously unnoticed. Everything moves, everything leaves traces of that movement and always, everything is watching and being watched.
Creatures warn their own kind in a variety of ways of any potential danger, utilizing sounds, scents or semaphore. Also, I have learned that creatures are just as curious as are us humans. Some creatures are very wise and some are not. A person sitting or standing stock-still will always be investigated before a decision is made by a creature as to its threat level.
On walks of this same circuit, my wife and I now usually see around a dozen marmots and the alfalfa nibbled by deer during the previous night. We have been able to watch the osprey catch fish and feed it to their chicks. My wife once discovered that some dark, s-shaped, barely discernible squiggles in the muddy river water below the bridge were the backs of salmon several centimeters below the surface that had been invisible to us before. We both realized that the birds could have easily told us.
Earlier this week while munching apples at the old bridge, the following drama played out in the space of ten minutes. An elder marmot stood on his rock-pile and began a strong danger call. Two others in the vicinity came out to stand on their roofs as well. These others stayed low and on all fours. All the younger marmots hit the nearest hole to their positions when the call came out.
A lady with a dog walked down the road, both oblivious to the marmots twenty yards away. A car pulled up and parked and another woman got out and released a dog from her back seat. All these began to walk across the bridge. Not even the dogs took notice of their wild cousins. The marmot sentinels kept their positions and the chief kept up his cry.
The osprey flew off the crown of the bridge and circled down to the water. In a flash, she was up with a six inch fish in her talons and feeding it to her babies. I saw a large fish flop half out of the water on the other side of the bridge like a rainbow snake to grab a grasshopper that had strayed within range. Both osprey parents flew off, this time over the steep side of the bench land in front of where we sat.
I wondered if they ever dined on marmots. My wife was watching the southernmost marmot and I was watching the birds fly low over the sage and chokecherry trees behind the chief marmot. There is a private road running along the bottom bench and its edge is lined with big ancient sage bushes. Between the gray-green spring foliage of this sage, I saw it.
Like a wisp of smoke, a large healthy coyote trotting our way. He was alone and working his way to a position behind the marmot entertaining my wife. He was up the crumbly slope in seconds with seemingly, no effort and without making a single sound. I had to work hard to enable my wife to see him. In fact, he couldn't be seen against the gray gravel, sun-bleached sage bark and spring leaves.
Only his movement could be discerned. When he stopped, he was sand, until his movement again broke the magic. We both watched in awe. The marmot stayed put and it seemed to our minds as they raced ahead to our own conclusions that we would bear silent witness to a coyote's meal.
In a position several meters behind the marmot's rock pile the coyote paused inside a brace of goose-berries. He lifted his head slowly, intently and pointed his ears and nose to the South, down river, where the road comes from town. After a few seconds, he turned, abandoned the chase and flowed like silk back to the private road, this time keeping deep cover and maintaining his altitude by side-hilling.
As my wife and I lost sight of his ears and began to discuss this turn of events, we were surprised by the appearance of a blue wildlife control truck. It started up the private road and stopped about thirty yards in. After only two minutes or so, it backed down the gravel road and turned around. The men waved as they chugged off up the hill and I didn't see any coyote in the back. He was tuned in.
We are built like coyote but have had to dampen our sensory inputs in order to survive our artificial environments. These “filters” slough off like callouses over time and with exposure to natural surroundings and sounds. Tuned-in is a state where all senses are wide open including the non-physical. The focal points are reserved for survival. Survival encompasses every endeavor from education to procreation to hunting to healing. In reality, when you traipse through a landscape, you are being studied by every other creature. You are also an integral part of what you seek to see.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.