Wednesday, October 7, 2009


On the property, along the river bank, I’ve got a small foot path that I’ve long ago baptized the “Puppy Trail”. Nicknamed as such because of its purpose, this is where the young six week old sled dogs puppies get indoctrinated to early training. The other day, as per the normal daily ritual, some of the dogs and me went for a walk on it. A simple but most enjoyable time of day, this gives them the occasion to socialize and sniff everything in sight. I usually get a laugh at seeing them horseplay and interact but most importantly, I usually take this quiet moment to reflect. Although a short distance, maybe half a kilometer if you do the whole trek, for me, it never seems to get monotonous. Why should it? The beautiful scenery never stays the same with every changing season as there’s always something going on. One morning, the loons can be gliding along and fishing while on the next one, you might be lucky enough to see otters crack open and eat fresh water clams. It’s like you’re watching a “Nature Show” on the Discovery Channel but without the reruns.

Point in case, a few days ago, for entertainment, the local flock of Canada Geese flew by us, in a well defined “V” shape formation and landed maybe five hundred feet up river. One of the young ones obviously had not mastered the art of landing and when its webbed feet touched the surface, he tumbled head over heels on and in the water. Not a “crash and burn” event, a few seconds later, he right sided himself up, shook the marbles out and continued swimming with his family. Now some of you might think that this is not much of a big deal or might even suggest that I lead a boring life. Possibly, but then again, how many of you have had the occasion to listen to that particular sound of the wind when it goes through their flapping wings. Or how many of you have taken the time or even at that, have had the opportunity to see the progression that goes on during that transition period of “Flight School” from when the hatchlings come out of the egg to when they finally take off for that first trip down south.

Nature has an amazing way of teaching us certain lessons but you have to take the time to absorb what is being taught. For instance, in the case of these Canada Geese, a whole bunch of things transpire during their stay here in the summer and the lessons learned can be directly applied to our daily living and in my case to my “dog sledding” world.

First, when they do arrive in early spring, they know exactly where to go and who is a friend and who is a foe. Thus, they revisit those who make them feel welcomed and feed them. Where it is not in my nature to offer them food, I don’t really condone the practice in their case. After coming home after a long and hard trip, they need to rest and replenish their strength. Food can be scarcest at the best of times in this somewhat “urbanized area” and we’ve created a situation where we have but no choice to help them out. You have to understand that although we call them the “local flock”, they’re not from here originally. We used to have Canada Geese in this region maybe thirty years ago but they were hunted into extinction. These birds that now call the Madawaska River home were imported from Ontario ten (10) years ago from a town that was overpopulated by them to the point where they became a nuisance. As a result of somebody’s “brain fart”, they caught and brought twenty-five (25) young specimens to this area and let them loose. Today, this relocation program is a victim of its own success as we are faced with a situation that will in a near future become a possible problem. You see, first of all, we can’t hunt them due to laws prohibiting the use of firearms in the close proximities of buildings. Also, they don’t really have any natural predators so we have over one thousand of these game birds that are fighting to survive by feeding on anything that they can rummage. Too often enough you’ll see them foraging for grass on somebody’s manicured lawn. They don’t care that this “doctor” or “lawyer” is paying mega bucks to keep up with the “Jones”, they just want to eat. This makes them unpopular with this self proclaimed upper class “Aristocratic” crowd and some of these folks will even go to extremes to persuade these pesky now called pests off their land. Now what happened to this moving out to the country and co-habiting with nature? I guess if it doesn’t “ruffle my feathers”, it’s OK but if one craps on my deck, there will be hell to be paid. You know, I kind of feel for those geese as I’m faced with a similar dilemma when dealing with this “sophisticated crowd” of shore dwellers. I had the Ministry of Environment visit me a couple of years ago, acting on a complaint as apparently, my sawmill yard was a source of pollution and a threat to the environment. It turns out that I knew the officer and he gave me the real scoop. As you would have it, the wife of a prominent doctor felt embarrassed to have her guests drive by my place as according to her, it was an eye sore. Now what the hell does she expect from a working operation? Is she not smart enough to realize that lumber come from trees and trees have bark and when you’re finished with the transformation, you have waste material? Come on, give me a break! But then again I should have known better, this coming from a woman that has never worked a day in her life, to later manage to sleep her way into a rich man’s bed. I guess things haven’t changed much in Suzanne’s boring life. You have to remember that I know her from when she was a kid. When she was young, she was so poor that it was the only thing that she had for entertainment but now instead of playing with her “shit”, she’s chucking it. The irony of it all is that she was on the “committee” to have the Canada Geese brought to her front yard. As a sidebar by the way, the only reason I’m mentioning this here is because, from what I’ve heard through the “grape vines”, she has been reading my “dog stories” and apparently, it’s “approprié” to know the “Baisley writer”. Yeah right, like I said before, “Give me a break!”

Anyway back to my birds (just had to get that off my chest), because of this “local turf war”, they have learned to adapt to the situation. Right from “Day One”, the chicks have got to learn how to swim. In this situation, all the adults surround them in a circle like formation and all the newborns are gathered from the different nests and allowed to paddle safely across the waters. When a threat is recognized, the alarm is sounded and all the mature female geese will tighten the inner circle while the ganders will take a defensive position concentrating on the side of the perceived danger. Once the menace has passed, they will return to their previous circle like positions and will continue to glide along.

Within the first six weeks of their existence, a transformation takes place in the lives of the young chicks’ lives. They lose their grayish duvet to have it replaced with the well recognized plumage of the Canada Goose. As soon as their feathers are fully grown, the parents immediately teach them how to fly. Initially, they simply learn to flap their wings till they realize that they can create lift. Then the parents will show them what has to be done and “hoopla”, they’ve got this moving forward and lifting off the water down path. Not too sure of what’s happening, they’ll go back to the safety of the surface of the water to again try this again in an immediate future. This goes on for a couple of weeks and next thing you know, they know how to fly.

Throughout the summer, you will see them practicing this new acquired talent and every day they will be out there doing their thing. It’s nice to know how to fly but if they’re going to tackle this big upcoming fall trip, they need to build up their strength and endurance. So, day in and day out, they’re out there doing some low flying passes over the river. When the parents feel that the time is right, then they’ll bring the young ones to higher elevations, away from the water and on longer trips. They eventually learn that landing on solid ground requires a different technique but that’s OK because it’s all part of the learning process.

By the time the days get shorter, all the different families flock together to create one huge gaggle of geese. They practice and quickly learn that if you fly in a “V” formation, the goose in front of you cuts the wind resistance and you can go further than if you were traveling alone. So not by choice but rather because of their survival instinct, they stay together. After training all summer, they wait till their counterparts from further north pass over. At their invitation, they respond to their honking and then join them for the “three thousand plus” kilometer trip down south.

To see these thousands of birds fly way up there a couple of thousand of feet is most impressive especially when you see these huge moving “V” formations carve huge black lines out of the skyline. No religion or politics involved, they just do this “team work” because they know that if they’re going to survive, they need this “working together” for the same cause down to a science, otherwise their chance of success are at best either very slim or nil. ”

When this whole migration process takes place, it’s a sign that winter is well on it’s way and a good indicator that’s it’s time for the dog team and I to go out there and start losing that accumulated summer fat. Just like those geese, if we’re going to do our thing, we need to train and put on some serious miles. Just like those geese, we need to work as a unit if we are to attain our goal. For this winter, we’ve upped the “antes” a bit and the laborious challenge will be to run five (5) races in the Quebec Mid-Distance Circuit and finish the season with the sixty (60) mile race in Fort-Kent, Maine but that’s a totally different story...

As to where all this fits with the military veterans, well it’s quite simple. This is where we differ. I’ve been sitting here in the bush, observing what has been going on and like Louis Leclerc would have famously articulated, “I’ve got to give my head a real good shake”. Everybody seems to be full of good intentions but everybody seems to be promoting their own agenda. As of now, I’ve identified at least eighteen (18) different para-military organizations that seem to think that their cause should be the “one” that all of us should shoulder and promote. You really have to raise an eyebrow when you see people arguing about who has the right to display the “poppy”. Another good one is when you’re told that you better be careful as to how you use the “Support the Troop” logo as someone has a “copyright” on it and you might just end up at the receiving end of a lawsuit. What about those ones of a more rebellious nature that seem to want to hint that if the veterans were to unite, we could actually overthrow the government. Sounds good in theory but then again our infamous bureaucrats in Ottawa are not afraid of such a possibility. Rather, they tend to laugh at the prospect, knowing quite well that we’ll never be able to organize such a united front simply because we tend to promote our own regional selfishness and will never get along.

I could go on “bad-mouthing” about what’s wrong with the big picture and to tell you the truth, I completely deleted the first draft of this “blog entry”. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it did not serve any constructive purposes and that the “Boyz” in Afghanistan have got enough on their plate and don’t need anymore of these negative “vibes”.

For me it is and will remain quite basic. I’ve accepted the fact that in the past I was dealt with more than my fair share of bad hands and just don’t have the “moxey” to take on big projects. Some might argue that my limitations are attributed to old age or it could be because of this diagnosed condition called PTSD. As of today, the verdict is still out on that and I don’t know for sure. All I can say is that I’ve found a winning combination that affords me a comfort zone and for now, I’m quite content living a simple life. Out of the visitors (180 plus) that dropped in at “Ciment Hill” this summer, I had the opportunity to hear some amazing “war stories”. From World War II right down to Afghanistan, it astounded me to see that so many veterans of past conflicts would simply drop in and confide in me. Some stories were enlightening while some were atrocious. Whatever they were, it seemed that every one of them had this particular common theme. All these soldiers had been there and done their thing and for some reason they felt the need to be heard. And that folks is a quality that I do possess. I’m a very good listener. I mean, I can actually sit down and listen to what is being said by the person in front of me. And you know what? A lot of times, getting it off one’s chest might just be the first step on the road to recovery and inner peace. Now that in my books, makes it worth while to breathe fresh country air.

For us veterans and anybody else for that matter that still want to make a “war contribution”, this is in no way beyond our reach. Like “Dell” pointed out during his visit this summer, over 1.4 million people rotate around this veteran nucleus. If only half of these people would go out of their way to thank the Canadian soldiers for their efforts then they would not feel so alone and abandoned. Trust me, the real picture is not as rosy as our leaders want us to believe and morale is beyond low, actually it’s in the dumpster.

So, instead of trying to organize these big “shin dings” in honor of the troops, maybe we should do something on our own and add our personal touch. It can be simple gestures such as if you see one waiting in line at your local “Tim Horton”, offer to pay for his coffee. If you spot one walking down the street, “toot” your horn and give him a “thumb’s up”. Hell, just go out of your way and tell him that you appreciate what he’s doing for your country. I’m sure that it will make his day. As for me, well, I don’t plan on leading any big parades. I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing all my life. I’ll keep helping my fellow man and hope that someday he’ll return the favor by helping someone else.

Peace on earth to one and all and remember collectively, we can make a difference. = -)


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