Sunday, December 26, 2010


"Dear Santa",

If you read the fine print of our contract, it clearly says that snow must be available for me to help with the delivery of your gifts. If you've got the connections, "Make it happen". The sleds are parked and we're dying out here. ...

Your Baisley Elf


Dear Gino,

Nice to hear from you even though it’s only when you need something, HO! HO! HO! Just had to get that out of the way, HO! HO! HO! (Tongue in cheek). You know how it is up here at the “North Pole”. It’s busy, busy, busy, especially during these hard economic times. I’ve had to shuffle things around and restructure some of the operations and as you are well aware of, it’s not easy trying to make ends meet while working on a “shoestring” budget. But have no fear. We’ve been trying hard to make the “Christmas Miracles” happen. The elves, bless their souls, do understand that there is no money to go around and are doing all the work “pro bono” till this recession fades away. I really don’t know how we’re going to manage to get all those gifts to all those deserving children of the world but we’ll figure something out…

Anyway, I can see that you’ve still got some pull with Mrs. Claus. She found that very special letter you sent me and has told me that amongst those millions of letters I’ve received, this one I should pay real special attention to or I’d be eating “Christmas Dinner” in the barn with the reindeers.

So what’s the story on this very special little girl called “Lizzie”? How come I can’t find any letter from her, on record? Did she write to me? Did she have the right address? What’s the scoop here? Oddly enough, I find it kind of weird that I can’t seem to locate the child’s “Wish List”.

Please advise soonest as time is of the essence. Christmas is in 24 days.

Sincerely Yours,

Santa Claus


“Dear Santa”,

One part of your questions is quite easy to answer, really. It’s because there is no snow and we can’t drive the dog sled up to the “Outpost” and drop “Lizzie’s letter in that very magical “North Pole” secret mailbox, found at that location. As to why this little girl is so special, well that’s a completely different story. However, if you bear with me, I’ll try to further substantiate as to why she deserves your special attention.

It all began when…


The story begins when last year in July 2009, two “suits” representing a major hotel chain showed up at my front door to “relax”. Unknown to us, their primary mission was to do some study so to establish where and if our “Mama and Papa” operation could fit in their humongous corporate structure.

So after being bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of questions, after a week, they asked to talk to us about a possible business proposal. I agreed to this and being my usual self, I set up the meeting at the “Bunkhouse”.

You have to understand that these two gentlemen were really too formal and really didn’t fit well in the more than relaxed atmosphere of “Baisley Lodges”. The fact that it was the middle of summer and they had walked around the property all that time without even unloosening those ties, had not stricken an amiable chord with me. Rather, I had pegged them as just a couple of “pencil pushing starched collar stiff shirts”. Regardless, I would give them the benefit of the doubt and would take the time to listen to what they would have to say.

So here we were, me sitting there with my feet up, wearing my old favorite but greasy bib overalls, discussing the potential sale of our establishment with these two “Men in Black”. Although they were being more than careful to be respectful, I could feel that I didn’t exactly meet up to their “Ivory League Standards”. But that was OK by me because anybody who shakes my hand only to later rub his against his pant leg after, does not exactly make points with me and doe not inspire me with much confidence. Therefore there it was, their first slider and first “Strike Ball”. Now, anybody that would rather sit on straight wooden chair instead of a comfortable couch because he’s afraid of soiling his suit with dog hair, this I have no qualms with. However, having the gull to say that it’s nice outside and that “Mosqua” might be better out there, well, let’s just say that you’ve most definitely managed get a “Strike Two” on that pitch. So when they eventually decided to put the $450,000.00 offer on the table, this was the perfect opportunity to let them know what kind of fast ball I could deliver.

“Gentlemen”, I told them most firmly, “Tell whoever your bosses are that we will not even entertain the idea of selling the property at that ridiculous price. When you do decide to come back with a more serious offer then maybe we’ll think about it. But for now, I think that we’ve wasted enough time and energy on this matter and it’s not going to happen.” Swing and a miss! There it was, “Strike Three” and they were out.

On that note, I got up, walked to the door where I ended the conversation with what was to be more than a suggestion and said, “I know that you’ll be leaving real soon so I’ll let you “Gents” go back to your cabin and pack. I’ll send Fran over to settle your bill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got other things to do”.

I didn’t really have much going on that day but I wanted to get rid of these two “Fuller Brush” salesmen so accompanied by my trusted companion “Mosqua”, I jumped in my “Dog Buggy” and took off for the woods, destination unknown but who cared. I had managed to make such a dramatic exit that I was sure that I would never hear from those people again but guess what? This was not to be the end of that story…

According to a certain native legend of the Tutchone Nation in southern Yukon, when you plant a tree over the grave of a lost one, the spirit of that soul will be transformed only to rise and continue living through its limbs and branches…..


It was late May 2010 and that’s what I was thinking about while I was leaning over my spade shovel after digging a hole and putting “Sox” in his final resting place. Harness and all, everything that he needed to make that trip to the other side had been buried with him. Planting a “White Pine” over his grave was more than the right thing to do for this loyal sleddog friend of mine. Not only would it indicate where his remains would be but every day when I’d look into that field, I would be able to visualize him living through that tree. Now, don’t think that I’m smart enough to have thought this one out on my own. Rather, the credit belongs to my old mushing mentor, a Malecite Indian by the name of Leonard Lanteigne. Amongst the many other things he had taught me, this respectful practice was one of them and it made a lot of sense to me. Let’s be realistic. The decomposing carcass would produce minerals in the ground where the root system would eventually absorb them and provide nutrition that would help that seedling grow big and tall. It sort of fit right up there with one of Einstein’s theories where he says, “Matter doesn’t disappear. It simply transforms itself only to continue to be matter in another form”.

Anyway, the job was done and here he was with his other canine companions, resting peacefully with characters of the likes of “Flash”, “Spike”, “Vince” and “Mr Tibbs”. Over the years, this had become a traditional way of doing things when it came to the eventuality of having to “part company” with an old retired sleddog and I was getting quite the collection of maturing pine trees to prove it. But in this instance, it wasn’t the same thing. Young “Sox” had been put to sleep after being diagnosed with “Hip Dysplasia”. That was the official verdict but deep inside me I had my doubts and was wondering if his condition might have been attributed to my own stupidity. I had put the dogs through quite the regimented training schedule during the previous winter, trying to better my standings on the race circuit but had relatively had no success at it. Not only had we ended up at back of the “pack”, here I was doing what I hated the most, saying “Goodbye to a dearly departed friend”. Add in the mix the fact that this recession was killing us out here and we were having a hard time making ends meet, let alone feed a bunch of sleddogs, and you know what? I was regretting not taking that six figure job offered to me last year. On the bright side of things though, I really cared about these dogs as they were one of the reasons I’d get up in the morning. They had opened up a whole new perspective about life for me and that for this “old soldier” was a good thing. I had met some real good people through the sport but mostly I really enjoyed the simple pleasures of being out there in the woods. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, sharing a sandwich, it didn’t matter. These guys were part of my life and I had to come up with a viable solution that would afford me with a way to keep them.

“Are you alright?” was the question that came out of her mouth when she came from behind only to surprise me back to reality. By this time, I think I was done sobbing and besides, it was time to suck it up and carry on with the day, so I nodded in the affirmative.

“Guess what?” Fran said, “Those guys from Maverick Capital Management Group just phoned again. They’d like you to call them back. Are you going to?” she added.

So the “Men in Black” had taken some time to reconsider their offer during the winter and might be willing to re-open negotiations and maybe even sweeten the pot a bit. “Now wasn’t this an interesting development,” I thought to myself. “This might just be that “something always comes up” moment that I was waiting for. However, right now, this did not fit with the agenda that I had planned for the day so just told her, “Those guys can wait. I’ve got to go to the “Outpost” and pick up Samuel. His bus is scheduled to leave 01:15 pm and I wouldn’t want him to miss it.”

While driving up there, I could not stop worrying about that young soldier that I had brought out there three weeks before. He was saying that he was feeling better but I knew for a fact that he wasn’t even close to being OK. To send him off in the real world in his present unstable condition was a gamble, to say the least. But I had done all I could and now it was up to him to go back to Montreal and seek some professional medical help. This young “Afghanistan Veteran” was a total wreck both physically and mentally and it would take an extremely long time for some of the deep wounds to heal. I was most definitely glad to have met him as he was a most interesting individual to talk to and the stories of his contributions to the “War Efforts” were at the same time, amazing and alarming. He would eventually allow me to share some of his escapades with us less knowledgeable folks but that in itself was to be a totally different story…


I met up with a lawyer friend of mine last fall, a friend that I hadn’t seen for over 35 years. “So what have you been up to all those years?” she inquired. “Well,” I replied, “after spending 21 years in the military, I retired and moved to the Baisley. “As for what I do now, well I don’t think you’d understand. Let’s just say that, the pay sucks but the work is very gratifying…

Anyway, to continue the story… It was nice and sunny on one of the last days of April 2010, when I drove on the property after picking up supplies at “Canadian Tire”. My old mother, who had been raking leaves along the main driveway, dropped what she was doing and came to see me. “Listen Gino,” she pointed out, “there’s a stranger sitting on the bench at “Ciment Hill”. He’s been there all afternoon and I’m not too sure but I think he’s been crying all this time.”

On my way to see this person, I was at the same time, curious and intrigued. Normally when people would visit the monument, they would park near the “Bunkhouse”. But on this day, oddly enough no vehicle could be seen but as my mother had indicated, there was in deed a person sitting there under that old pine tree. Lost in his own little world, he was staring at the ground, this till “Mosqua” walked up to him with a stick in his mouth, wanting to play “fetch”. Startled to see this big black dog of a beast standing there, he straightened out and got into what you might call a “defensive position”.

“I hope you’re not afraid of dogs.” I jokingly yelled at him, just to break the ice. “You’re shit out of luck if you are. There’s seventeen of them in that barn behind you staring down your back.” “No, not usually. But this guy is impressive.” he went on, pointing at my German Shepard. “That my friend, would be Mosqua.” I replied. “He’s the Ambassador of the property. Throw that stick and he’ll be your buddy for life.” Meanwhile, the dog had put it in front of and was eying him till the young man took a chance and picked the piece of wood. He threw it. Mosqua went and retrieved it and it was case closed. They were instant friends.

“So this is that monument, Eh?” he asked. “It’s not what I expected.”
“What do you mean? I inquired.
“For some reason, I thought I’d be looking at a big mountain. You know that Canada has lost 142 soldiers in that stupid war.” he commented in a more than bitter tone. Thinking that maybe he had offended me, he then got up, walked over to touch it only to further add, “Oh well, at least somebody is doing something for us.”

And this is how me and “Samuel” began a long discussion about his war experiences. Here he was, a 23 year old ex-infantryman who had done two tours in Afghanistan in a short five year career. During those two stints, he had been blown up twice by IEDs and had lost four good friends. Where he had signed up under the pretence that he was going out there to build schools and help the people, this was not the reality of the mission. The Canadian soldiers were supporting the Americans and the way they were doing things on the ground, did not necessarily fit the description of what the United Nations Mandate prescribed. Of course, NATO was at war against these “Rag Heads” but there were limits as to where one might draw the line. The nature and details of what happened over there, I do not feel comfortable with sharing the gruesome details of the incidents as they are after all, his stories. Nonetheless, I will have to say that I do tend to believe that he’s being truthful as his accounts do match what has been told to me on several other occasions. However, I do have something to say about how the system is treating our young men and women returning from that “Hell Hole”. Speaking strictly from the point of view of Valcartier, it would appear that they’re putting these young soldiers through the “Sausage Machine” and that no real debriefing takes place. As far as the soldiers are concerned, they see the entire process as a joke where if you can breathe and chew gum at the same time, then your medical file is rubber stamped as “fit for duty”. Yeah right! Let’s take Samuel’s case as an example. He’s one of these guys that apparently has seven confirmed kills under his belt. Out of those, one incident keeps revisiting him almost every night. It’s the one where he drops a supposedly “bad guy” only to see his young son later run out of the house to his father where, while not understanding what’s going on, he shakes him, trying to wake the dead man up. This had a lasting effect on this soldier so to numb his brain and try to forget, while in theater, he starts smoking hashish to eventually graduate to opium. He returns to Canada, changes his drug habit to cocaine. He tries to get medical help but is discouraged by his superiors. He tries to commit suicide and only then is he paid attention to. He’s placed in a psychiatric ward downtown Quebec where he’s pumped with pills. When he gets out of there, he finds out that his contract will not be renewed and he’s turfed out on “Civie Street”, a pill popping “coke head” with nightmares. No one tells him how to deal with the fact that he has sanctioned a whole bunch of people. You just don’t talk about it and live with that. That’s just how it is. So with a whole bunch of money in his pockets, he deals with the problem the way he sees fit and continues “frying” his brain till he doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. Homeless and penniless, he wanders around not really knowing if he’s half dazed or half stoned. He has one more stop to make before doing his great final exit and visits “Ciment Hill” to say goodbye to his friends…

“So where do you go from here?” I asked after listening to him for hours and pitying the pour soul. There was no response...
“How about you sticking around for a while.” I continued. “My wife makes a mean lasagna and you’re in luck. She’s made some today. How about if you just go in that cottage, take a shower, put a change of clothes on and join us for supper.”
“This is it.” he said embarrassed while stroking his dirty shirt with the back of his hands. “What you see is what you get.” If this was to be his lame excuse for him not to wash, I wasn’t buying. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll lend you some of mine. Now get in there and wash.. You fucken stink.”

He almost looked human after bathing and eating a good meal but this was not to be the end of his “adventure”. While having dinner conversation, he had made reference a few times to the fact that he wanted to “give his sinuses a break” but just couldn’t seem to be able to stay away from the stuff. I told him that I had a log cabin in the backwoods and a whole bunch of firewood to split. If he wanted a place to sober up and think things out, I’d take him there and he could stay as long as he wanted. “When you’re done stacking the wood,” I said trying to convince him, “we’ll both know that it’s time for you to go.” He knew that he wasn’t scheduled to punch a clock anywhere in a near future so accepted my proposal. We jumped in that “Dog Buggy” of mine but instead of taking him up the regular “10 minute” summer drive, I took the long way there, driving through a bunch of zigzaggy dog trails. I was going to make sure that he was disoriented and thought that the place was in the middle of nowhere. This was to be further insurance, just in case he decided at one point to stray and go downtown to get a “fix”.

I checked on him on a regular basis and as it turns out he had gone “cold turkey” for all this time and was over the worst part of his “bent over shakes”. He had come a long way in the last three weeks but his “living hell” was still ahead. So when I got to the “Outpost” that day, here was “Samuel” sitting on a log that he had omitted to split so to use as a seat. He looked well rested and the smile he was wearing, suggested that he might be ready to go back and face some of the challenges of dealing with amongst other things, the realities of “Civie Street”. Through connections, I made arrangements for him to be evaluated by professional medical personnel and aimed him towards Montreal.

When we parted company at the Bus station, his parting words were, “Thanks for everything. I’ll pay you back for the ticket.”

“Listen Sam,” I told him, “Don’t worry about that. It’s on the house. I just want you to remember one thing. Someday, it’ll be your turn to do your part and when that time comes, I just hope that you’ll be man enough to press the button and send the elevator back upstairs.”

We hugged “Army” style and parted company. He was on his way to “La Belle Province” and I was headed back to Baisley. I had decided to go ahead and make that particular phone call but that in itself is a different story all together…


In one man’s existence, one will always be faced with the prospect of making hard decisions. Taking the easy way out or swimming against the current, whatever choice one makes, one must live with the consequences and this for the rest of his life.

Leonard Lanteigne

Anyway, to continue with the story… By June 2010, Fran and I were faced with alarming realities attributed with this so-called “It doesn’t affect Canada Recession”. The sawmill was nowhere close to generating any significant revenues and the first page of the “2010 Reservation Book” for Baisley Lodges was almost a blank sheet of paper. This was not good and the future looked not only bleak but also extremely discouraging. Because of the “Domino Effect”, businesses all around us had been and were continuing to fail. The more “Out of Business” signs we saw, the more people retreated to their own little corner, just to “sit on the fence” and wait for this storm to blow through. While all this was going on, our infamous leaders of this illustrious New-Brunswick Provincial Government kept jacking up the property taxes and letting NB Power increase their utility rates continuously. Where five years ago, us “commoners” used to have maybe 6 % of our total revenues to maybe buy a new pair of “underwear”, now here we were with no income to talk about and dipping deeply in the “Credit Line” just to keep the boat afloat. So when I made that phone call that day, I was glad to hear the more than positive news – They had received my message “Loud and Clear” and had reconsidered their position. At my convenience, they wanted to set up an “above board” meeting where they wished for us to listen to their proposal. Now this was to me, the way to do things - None of this “cloak and dagger” sneaky stuff, just a good old fashioned “all cards on the table straight talk”.

Arrangements were made and I somewhat regretted setting the appointment so far in the future. It was obvious that they were still very interested in purchasing the property and now it was just a matter of agreeing on a figure. I had in my mind a most definite number of $900,000.00 and was adamant that I would not let it go for one penny less. So while waiting, Fran and I started discussing as to what we’d do if we got our price. Moving to BC sounded like an excellent plan, I suggested. She agreed but with reservations. “How are we supposed to move out there with “20 some dogs???” No problem, I had that covered. We would buy one of those top of the line “Dodge One Ton” truck with the big turbo charged “Cummings” diesel. I would order a matching colored “16” foot closed in trailer, specially made to haul the dogs and all the gear. I had all the answers but every time I came up with a reason as to why we should sell, she would come up with a counter argument as to why we shouldn’t. “Listen Fran,” I eventually said, “I’ve always wanted to move out West and run the “Yukon Quest”. Here’s that perfect opportunity to not only make that dream come true but we’ll be done with this nightmare of a province. “Whatever!” she rebutted, tired of arguing. “I just hope that if this deal goes through, you don’t realize later on that you made the wrong decision.”

How could I regret my move? Since the beginning when we started this project twenty years ago, every time I’d pound some nails to put up another building, I’d always say to myself, “It’s just another investment for the future.” Here they were, after all these years, these “suits” interested in taking over the “headaches”. If they were serious, I was more than willing to sit down and discuss their proposal. I had made two bad decisions in the span of one year and this time it would be different.

To better my chances, I had set up the meeting for the 05 Jul 2010, simply because we had a full house for the “Canada Day” long weekend and Fran’s geraniums were in full bloom and decorated the entire property. To make even more of a good impression, I upgraded my wardrobe to a new plaid shirt and jeans. So when we sat down on the porch that afternoon, the stage had been set and I was ready to listen.

After a bunch of jibber-jabber and small talk, a newcomer to the negotiating table took over the meeting. This older gentleman and a sweet talker of a man, got down to the “brass tacks”.
“So Mr Roussel, we understand that this property means a lot to you and your wife. We can see that both of you have poured your hearts and souls so to make it what it is today. So we’ve come up with a proposal that might benefit both parties. First of all, if you agree, we would like for you folks to stay around for five years as managers. This would give us the opportunity to learn the nitty-gritty of the operations. However, at anytime, should you wish to leave, we’d accept that decision and would not hold you to the five year deal. He went on and on as to what they do with the property - expand here, put more cottages there and so on and so on. He was boring me with too many details and as far as I was concerned as long as they gave us our price, they could do whatever they wanted with it. And then he said something that didn’t sit right. He pointed to the “experimental forest” where by the way all those “white pines” are planted and said. Over here, I see clearing all this bush so that we can see the “Bunkhouse” properly. You know that once we’ve done some renovations on the building, it’s going to need to be exposed to the public.

“Listen, Mr Harisson,” I eventually interrupted, “All that is nice but what kind of money are we talking about?” There was a pause and when he did blurb the figure out, it simply floored me. “Can you say that again? I asked not too sure that I had heard correctly. “Yes Mr. Roussel, the corporation is will to offer you, $1,200,000.00 for Baisley Lodges.”

The better part of me just wanted to say, “Where do I sign?” But that little thing that he had said about clearing the “white pines” just didn’t strike my fancy. But then again, that “native custom” was only something that meant something to me. Let’s face it, the dogs buried there would never know the difference but still...

So we concluded the meeting with the understanding that we’d get back to them after reflecting about all of this. Fran and I needed to discuss this amongst ourselves before making any sort of decision. There were to be many factors to consider and we needed time to weigh in all our options. But that in itself was to be a totally different story…


When the Stock Market crashed in 2001, it sort of took care of our nest eggs. I was forced to do odd jobs and one of them was as a “river guide”. One day I had this billionaire sitting in the bow. After two days of discussing anything from politics to private family matters, he eventually turned around and said “Look around you and just remember one thing. The richest man in this canoe is not sitting in the front…

So to continue with this story… As far as I was concerned, “we had won the lottery” and were “set for life.” But I had noticed that this might not have been the case for Fran. Every time I tried to discuss the subject with her, she was always evasive with her answers and quick to change topics. I was getting impatient with her as I needed her input if we were going to go through with this deal. However, she was in her summer routine, doing things that she enjoyed. From working in her greenhouse to filling her bird feeders, she was constantly on the move. One day, I was renovating the bathroom in one of the cottages and was walking back and forth to the “Workshop”. While setting my table saw to the right measurement, I was hearing some clanging in the attic of the shop. Paying attention to what it could be, here was my wife talking to “Tieger”, the latest of a long string of stray cats that had wandered on the property. From what I could gather, they were having quite the conversation. While she was complimenting as to how he looked good since he was eating properly, the feline was meowing and purring. I didn’t disturb them during their “happy place” moment but that interaction between the two of them made me realize one thing. My needs were not the only ones that I would need to consider. Fran had called this place “Home” for the last fifteen years and if she hadn’t been in my corner, who knows where we’d be today. I started splitting that board while thinking to myself, “You’ve got quite the job ahead of you. You better come up with better arguments.”

When you’re in the cottage rental business, you meet a whole bunch of different sort of people. Some are nice while some well, let’s just say that there’s room for improvement. The nice people outweigh the “nasties” and usually we weed out these “glass half empty” types of individuals. If you can’t appreciate looking at a squirrel running from tree to tree then maybe this is not the place for you. The one classic example of that was when these “Big Wigs” from Edmundston rolled in last summer, looking at spending some time at the “Baisley Resort”. They pulled in at the “Bunkhouse” looking for information. I was busy hammering nails in there and I guess from the sawdust, I looked like the hired help. “Dressed to kill, complete with the high heels, this over perfumed “Madame” took over the conversation. “Are the owners here?” she inquired, looking at me from head to toe as if I was diseased. Wondering where this might be going and willing to play her silly game, I commented, “I think that Mrs Roussel is gone to town. Is there anything I can do to help.” She didn’t say anything but it was obvious from her stare that I did not belong in her league. “No that’s OK.” she replied with some misplaced sophistication, “We’ll just have a look around.” While they were walking, Mosqua and I were tagging along and listening in on their chit-chat. “Well Harold, it’s nice but look at all those dogs over there. I don’t think we could relax with all that barking.” On and on, she just kept harping about what was wrong with the place. “Too many mosquitoes”, “Watch it, there’s dog crap over here.” “Why don’t they stain their buildings? I don’t like all those gray boards.” While I was keeping that commercial smile on, “Mosqua” was shoving his “stick carrying cold nose” up her skirt. She kept pushing him away but he was persistent. He wanted to play “fetch”. “Well Harold,” she eventually added, now satisfied that it was good enough to spend a week, “We can stay here but you’re going to have to talk to the people about this annoying dog. If we’re going to rent a place, he’s going to have to be chained up somehow. “OK”, I thought to myself, “enough time wasted on this Bimbo!” “Excuse me Lady!” I said loudly while adjusting my tool belt to get their attention. “It turns out that I also happen to be one of the owners. I’ve been listening to your whining all this time and really don’t think that this place is for you. May I suggest that you take your “made in china” plastic stilettos and go downtown and rent a cheap motel room. That would probably be more your speed.” Her jaw dropped and I walked away.

Here was a fine example and further substantiation as to why I wanted to get out of the business. But as you would have it, this woman turned out to be the exception to the rule and for some reason, that “no money to spare” season turned out to be our busiest summer on record. Like a miracle, the phone started ringing off the wall during those months. Old friends that we had met over the years, were coming back and new clients who would eventually become friends were showing up.

You know that times are tough for everybody when you book a cottage for four people and fourteen show up. Oh yeah! When four vehicles pull in at one cottage and tents start popping all over the yard, then you know that the circus is in town. It wasn’t really the circus. Rather, it was just a Montreal family that came to a wedding. The mother who had made the reservations apologized and told Fran that all these “extras” were not scheduled to come but at last minute, they had decided to. She was willing to pay more for the inconveniences and asked how much? Fran didn’t really know how much it was worth so just answered that she’d talk to her husband and would get back to her. When she did ask me, I didn’t really know what the price of a “36 sq/ft patch of lawn” was worth so just said, “Let’s wait and see how the weekend goes then we’ll decide then.” That Saturday, really early in the morning, I met the grandfather of the clan. He was at the barn talking to the dogs and they were responding as if they had known him forever. I take notice of these little details because when dogs trust a human immediately like that, then it’s usually a sign that this person is good people. We were talking about this and that and I was to find out that most of the young adults in the “circus” had never left the city of Montreal never mind the province of Quebec. For them to ride in a canoe, swim in the river and just sit by a campfire was a real big deal. That afternoon, looking at them do “back flips” and playing in the river made me realize that what we take for granted out here in the “boonies” can be something beautiful for someone else to discover. So with the wedding done and over with, their weekend had been a success. When it came to tally up the bill, we just told them “Don’t worry about the extras, they’re on the house.” Now why would you do something like that to perfect strangers? Well it’s simple, I guess. They looked like they could use a break so why not give it to them. If they left here with a warm fuzzy feeling, wasn’t that a good thing?

We like doing those “warm fuzzy feeling” things and I guess once in a while one of them will come and reach real deep inside of you and touch your soul. This was to happen when this Congolese family showed up for their first real Canadian vacation. Refugees from a war torn country, they could really appreciate the freedom that our great country can offer. You see, they had been persecuted back in Congo and had left, afraid of losing their lives. Although it calls itself a “Democratic Republic”, the country was and is still controlled by “war lords” who have no respect whatsoever for human lives. These so called “private armies” are extremely dangerous and completely out of control. For entertainment, they’ll go and terrorize the villages where they “gang rape” the women. When they catch some of the boys, if they’re old enough, they are kidnapped and held for ransom. If it is paid, he is sometime returned to his family. If this is not to happen then he is drugged and beaten into submission till he becomes a “boy soldier” for them. If this is not bad enough and probably the most gruesome thing that happens in this infernal region, is that they will actually steal babies, skin them and sell them as a monkey substitute to be served as a delicacy called “bush meat”. Ouff, that’s hard to digest…

Anyway, this father and mother and their three boys had chosen Baisley Lodges as their destination for their first true vacation. I had asked them about their plans, wondering where they might go exploring. They didn’t have any big agenda, as a matter of fact, this was it for them. Baisley Lodges was to be the highlight of their trip. I thought it was unusual a bit but thought that if they were looking to relax, this might be what the doctor had ordered. But then I was wondering about the teenage boys. Surely, they wanted to do something more than vegetate. So I decided to create for them a “mini adventure”. Armed with a plan, I walked to the “Gazebo” where they were sitting. While relaxing, they were eating peanuts in the shell but contrary to us where they’re roasted, these were boiled in the shell, then left to cool to be eaten as a snack. Curious as to what they tasted like, I asked for couple. They were more than delicious and the next thing you know, I was sitting at the table stuffing these peanuts in like it was going out of style. One thing led to another and there I was sharing one of my favorite meal, beans. In the true sense of African hospitality, I had been invited to share a meal with them. They weren’t your traditional Canadian baked beans but served with white rice, they were exquisite to the taste buds.

As it was probably one of the warmest days on record and everybody was sweating bullets, I offered the boys a trip up river in my motorized canoe. “The River Wolf aka The African Queen” would be used and we’d go and see if we couldn’t locate some of those bald eagles that live up there. I had told them to put on their bathing suits as we would stop at the “imaginary island” for a swim.

We did all this and much more and I must say that there was to be a touching moment during that trip. This was when me and the father were watching the three boys dare each other to plunge in that cold icy water. They were playing, giggling and pushing each other around. You could say that they were just boys being boys. At one point though, the father reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Gino” he went on to say, “Thank You for this wonderful day. This is the first time in four years that I’ve seen my oldest son smile.” There was a long pause and he didn’t really have to elaborate as to what he was talking about. I could visualize some of the things that this family might have been through as I had lived in my previous life similar experiences in another unstable and violent African country.

At this point, you can now start seeing that I might have doubts about selling “My slice of Heaven” and you are more than correct with that assumption. However, the deal breaker was to happen later on and that’s when this sweet little “Angel” appeared to me out of nowhere. But if you’ve been following these writings since the beginning, you most likely have figured out by now that this is to be a totally different story all together…

You shouldn’t judge the biker you meet on the highway because he’s wearing “colors” on his back. Maybe if you would have read the “rockers” properly, you might have realized that they were not “outlaws”. Most of those guys wearing that “patch” have probably seen more action in a month than you’ll ever see in your whole career… With his head down, the young RCMP constable just went back to his patrol car and left.


So to continue with this story… When it started more than a few years ago, it was just four old “Army” buddies getting together at Baisley Lodges for a few laughs and a good meal. During that first reunion, one of my friends, by the name of “Yves Beausoleil” thought that “Ciment Hill” was an honorable way of remembering our fallen comrades of the Afghanistan conflict. So after supper that evening, in a drunken stupor, he raised his glass and vouched to return every year and pay respect to the “Boyz”.

True to his word, he did come back and one thing led to another and this to the point where it was to become a kind of annual tradition. Where just a few had been the norm back then, the number of “bikers” had kept growing every year. The word had spread like wildfire and now old soldiers from all over the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario were showing up for this special gathering.

So this summer, when the “VETERANS UN/NATO CANADA” group decided to come to town, you could hear that there were more than a dozen bikes traveling in a pack. The thunderous roar echoing through the valley while they moved down the highway in that precise military disciplined convoy was not only impressive but a sure tattle tale sign that there would be some serious partying going on over the weekend. Contrary to what one might see on TV, these were not your average “Party Animals” and there was to be no furniture breaking, tire burning, barroom brawling going on. Instead, it was just a large get-together where old and new friends enjoyed each others company, using the occasion to talk about the “good old days”. From the Korean War all the way down to the Afghanistan mission, all the operational theaters where Canada had deployed troops over the last 60 years, all seemed to be well represented. Although their experiences differed, amazingly these veterans all had one thing in common. They had done their time protecting the vested interest of this country and had earned the right to be respected for their efforts. This was sometimes something difficult to obtain from a “civilian” as they just didn’t understand the chemistry and bonds that are created between two persons when tested under most extreme conditions. Simply put, you had to have been there to appreciate the comradeship that could develop amongst these so-called retired and not retarded “outcasts”.

The weekend was moving right along when Fran told me that it was important that I phone a friend in Quebec City. I did contact “J-C”, only to find out that he hadn’t been able to make it to the reunion as he was helping a current serving member of the Armed Forces get through a most serious family crisis. He needed my help and was wondering if I might be willing to take care of two beloved “Siberian Husky” puppies that this individual owned. Presently, there was no room in his life for the two dogs and the only other viable option at the time was euthanasia. I didn’t really have any space for the pair of them but then again I didn’t really see it as being fair to have them put down for something that they had nothing to do with. “Besides”, I smiled to myself, “aren’t you supposedly the guy that rescues sleddogs?” So I told my more than tenacious Quebec counterpart to bring them down whenever they could. Thinking that this might be transpiring in the next week or so, wasn’t I surprised to see that black SUV pull in the yard three hours later with the two “Princesses” in the back. I met up with their owner and after reassuring him that they would be well looked after, we took “Kameo” and “Orka” to the barn where they were introduced to the “Mob”. While the males had these big “Colgate” smiles on and were putting on quite the show to impress the newcomers, most of the females were showing their teeth and growling at them so to let them know that they were invading their “turf”.

“This is a beautiful set-up you’ve got here.” Lizzie’s father later said. “Would you mind terribly if I’d bring my daughter up here next week to see where her dogs will be living? I’m sure she’d feel well reassured knowing that they now have found a new home.” That request sounded more than reasonable to me, so told him, “Sure, come on down!”

A week passed and on that next rainy Friday, this little skinny fury of a person, maybe 3 feet 2 inches tall, planted her feet solid into the ground, invaded Baisley and was ready for action. I didn’t know what her father had told her but it was obvious that she was a tiny girl looking for big adventure. Sporting a yellow rubber raincoat and matching “purple pok-a-dot” rubber boots, she was carrying an oversized backpack filled with all sorts of scientific “goodies” that would help her during her “Bug Catching” expeditions. When she was walking around, this and I mean this humongous square backpack was hitting her in the back of her legs and making this butterfly catcher net that was sticking out of it, bounce back and forth as if it was working on its own. Her dad had warned me about this little firecracker and when she was passed her shyness, it didn’t take her long to pepper me with observations and questions.

It totally amazed me that through the eyes of a four year old, this place that I call home, could be so magical. In her fantasy world, everything had special powers and there was a purpose behind everything. For example, she was living in “Snow White’s” Cottage and “CIMENT HILL” with its huge pillars, was the Prince’s Castle. It had to be that, she tried convincing her daddy as she had spotted the two lawn ornaments in the field by the greenhouse and recognized them as being “Happy” and “Bashful”, two of the seven dwarfs of that particular Fairy Tale.

I don’t collect them but people tend to think that I do, so throughout the years, I’ve amassed a whole bunch of “Wal-Mart” garden gnomes that I’ve placed in strategic locations all over the seven acre property. They don’t say much but I always thought of them as being cute little happy go lucky men thus do enjoy having them hiding in the bush where they stand in silence and “spy” on people. I made the big mistake of telling her that they existed. Well, let me tell you! Her eyes popped right open and in seconds she had made a command decision. “Let’s go Daddy! Let’s go! We’ve got to go and find where they live.” “But Elizabeth,” her father replied, “We’re not even unpacked yet.” “That can wait,” she ordered, “Right now, we need to find those elves.” There was no turning back. The mission was on its way. Her pulling her father by the hand and me covering the rear, we were being led down this pathway to the “great unknown” by this cute but bossy little pint size “General”. I didn’t know where we were headed with all this but I was more than intrigued to find out. I hadn’t realized it yet but I had just met up with my “Angel”. She had landed in my life and would help me find my way. But that Folks was to be a completely different story all together…

So if Santa Claus lives in the “North Pole”, who are all those guys we see in the Shopping Malls?” “Well Lizzie,” I answered, “They’re what you might call apprentices. You know that even Santa will retire at one point and on that day, the one of those guys that has done the best job will be asked to replace “Old Saint Nick”….


So to continue with this story… To best describe this tiny action packed explorer would be to say that she was a combination of “Harry Potter” and “Nancy Drew”, all rolled into a pocket size version of “Bill Nye, the Science Guy. One side of her totally believed in magic while her other side saw things with more of a somewhat “need to know how this works” analytic scientific approach. From turning rocks over to collect earthworms and put them under the magnifying glass to observing how the mother duck takes care of her hatchlings, everything seemed to fascinate her. Even at that tender age, you could tell that this young girl had the potential of being a world class biologist just by the ways she approached every single project.

This was more than evident one day when she tangled with that ever elusive “blue frog” in the pond. She knew it was a rare specimen and wanted to observe it more closely. However, every time she got into close range, the amphibian would just spring ahead and dive underwater. She studied her subject and came to the conclusion that although it swam away, it always came back to the same spot after. So armed with her trusty high tech “Butterfly Catching Net”, she took a position, standing in the water. It was deeper than she anticipated so it filled those more than fashionable “purple pok-a-dot” yellow rubber boots. Standing in knee deep water, she didn’t care. She had assessed that if this was what it would take to catch it then so be it. She was going to do what she had to do. So there she was, like a half bent over statue with her net maybe one foot over the surface, motionless and waiting for the frog to reappear. I really thought that after standing there in that position for more than half an hour she’d give up the hunt, but “Noooo”, not my little angel of a detective. She had the patience and would wait him out. It took a long while for it to come back and trust his “environment” but when he did, he had fallen into Lizzie’s trap. With the speed of a striking cobra, she flicked that net and scooped “Mr. Frog” right up. “I did it!!!” she exclaimed while sloshing about in the pond and making her way to the shore. “Now let’s see why he’s blue.” After putting him in a jar half filled with water, she spent more than a couple of hours examining the animal. On her own, she eventually came to the conclusion that it had to do with how the “angle” of the sun reflected on its skin. Satisfied with her findings, she came back, kneeled down and released the frog to where he had come from. “Good-Bye “Kermit”, she apologized, “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” He didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about but saw this as a perfect opportunity to escape and he did. It was “Plop” and he was gone.

During all this time, I was getting right into this entrancing adventure across the property and had decided to get really involved. To fill in some of the blanks of this alert and inquisitive mind, where no scientific explanations could be found, I replaced them with things from the wonderful world of magic. Where one day she had picked up a yellow and black caterpillar and put it in a bird house, waiting for it to transform itself into the flying insect, I had placed these “Dollarama” plastic “sticky butterflies” on the windshield of her father’s car for her to discover when she woke up the next morning. This went on and on and while this intricate “Chess Game” was being played and this against a most fearsome and worthy opponent, after almost a week, we were still searching for that very last and very elusive elf. Not only had she managed to find eleven of them, as an added bonus, she had located “Mr. Red Pine”, “Grandfather White Pine” and “Senior Citizen Silver Maple Tree”. It astonished me that of all the people that had walked the grounds that this little girl was the only one to take notice of all the “make believe” characters living here – all of them except for that one single individual. I have to admit, I was a bit bewildered by this also as I just could not figure out where he might have disappeared to. Of course he was just a plastic lawn ornament but still… As it turns out, nobody would have been able to find him as good old “JR” had stolen him and was hiding him in his dog house amongst his thirty or so other prized treasures.

So that afternoon, while there was a lull in the action in that everlasting “search for the missing elf”, she was lying there in the middle of the field and letting the puppies crawl all over her. Of course, she was more than fond of her two huskies, “Kameo” and “Orka” but when you have four all white “six week old puppies” in the barn, guess who might just happen to be the star attractions of the show. You’re correct, it was the most recent additions to the “Canadian Snowhound” family, “Summer”, “Thunder”, “Lightning” and “Vince” (and all this time you thought I was going to say “Storm”). While they were jumping and growling at her, she was giggling her head off. All this made it that it gave this entire scene a total sense of serenity. It wasn’t surreal. It was actually happening. Here was this innocent child playing an innocent game with, shall we say, innocent puppies. Not bothered by outside distractions, this moment was just one of those peaceful “make you feel good” instances. I was enjoying every minute of it when suddenly she popped up with another question.

“Why do you have so many dogs?” she asked. Not wanting to have to go through the whole rigmarole of “it’s because I race them in the winter and so on”, I thought I’d just avoid that by saying, “It’s because sometimes Santa Claus needs help delivering his gifts at Christmas and sometimes he’ll call on me and the dogs to help out.”

Her face changed and with this angry look, she barked out at me, “You’re lying. That’s not true because Santa doesn’t exist!!!” Taken a bit by surprise by her reaction, I decided to ease into the touchy area. “What do you mean? I asked. “Well last year,” she added while taking a deep breath, “I wrote him a letter and all I asked for, was to have my Daddy and Mommy move in back together. It didn’t happen and now I still live in two houses. If he was real, we would be living together, now!”

She had quite the strong argument, that little one and her strategic move sort of stuck me in the corner, almost “Checkmate”. There was not really any strategy that I could do to counter the attack and besides it was not up to me to explain the details of the divorce of her parents. However, when it came to the “Jolly Old Guy” in the red suit, now this was one topic that I could and would tackle. The reputation of the “Big Guy” was in jeopardy and it needed to be defended. “Time to call in the Artillery” I thought to myself. “And I mean, the Big Guns.” But as you would have it, this was to be a totally different story altogether…

“Did you put the letter in one of his Magical Mail Box?” I asked. “Did you have the right address?

Did you write:
Santa Claus @ North Pole, HOH OHO on the envelope?


There were to be no answers. I tried three times to discuss Santa Claus with Lizzie but she wasn’t responding. Instead, she turned towards the puppies and asked, “Why are they all white with blue eyes?” I knew then that I had stumbled onto something she didn’t like talking about so thought that it would be best to change subject. “Lizzie,” I told her it’s because they have very special powers. In the Yukon, the Southern Tutchone native people call them the “spirit dogs”. This aboriginal First Nation is very spiritual when it comes to the respect of the land and the animals they share it with. They believe that a person and everything created all possess special powers and that it is up to that individual to search for and find the true path to eternal life. As for the “Spirit Dogs”, the legend has it that during the Klondike Gold Rush, a man called F.J. Fitzgerald worked for the North West Mounted Police as the Inspector who ran the Champagne police post. Although he had the reputation of being hard and tough, he was also known to be more than a fair and honest person. During his stay in southern Yukon, he had helped the “Wolf Clan” and was very well respected by them. Dressed in his “Red Serge” and from his actions, they truly believed that he was the “Chosen One”. He was the one that would show them the way out of those hard times of famine after the caribou herds had dwindled and were almost non existent. In fact and this is a matter of public records, what had happened was that in the late 1800s, the “white man” had invaded the area and over hunted its food supply. Also, they would trade furs for goods with the “Indians” and like everywhere else across Canada - they suckered them into exchanging their valuable commodities for cheap booze. The unsuspected natives brought the “spirit water” back to their villages and drank it. The rot gut liquor was more than they could handle and brought all sort of havoc in the community. For the very first time in their existence, these natives were faced with the sickness of alcoholism. It got so extreme that the warriors would rather sit around and drink all day. They refused to go hunting and would argue and fight amongst each other. Chaos ran through the village and one day the Clan Mothers showed up on the front steps of the North West Mounted Police post and filed an official first complaint of murder. RCMP archives revealed that Fitzgerald had indeed investigated and resolved the crime. However, what had struck him the hardest was how the negative impact of the “westernized culture” had affected the “locals”. Seeing what the problem was, he took it upon himself to establish barriers that would protect and offer them better chances at survival. Wildlife conservation laws and a formal ban on the sale of alcohol to aboriginal people were two measures introduced for the first time in the territory. Soon after these were enforced, the “evil spirits” were chased out of the village and once again a sense of peace and harmony returned to settle over the “Wolf Clan”. To Fitzgerald it was a matter of logical common sense. However for the people of the village, they viewed him as a “Demi-God” and to thank him, offered him a gift of two beautiful white dogs. Chosen by the medicine man, “Storm” and “Crystal” were supposed to have magical powers and would guide the Mountie’s dog team and offer him protection and guidance. In 1903, because of a border dispute between Canada and the United States over the boundary of the Alaskan territory, the Canadian government felt the need to better define its northern frontiers, thus ordered the North West Mounted Police to proceed further up north and report on American whalers that were establishing themselves on Canada’s Arctic coast. One day, in the winter of 1910-11, the Inspector and four other constables went on a dog patrol to investigate a report of illegal sale of liquor to natives by the whalers. Although the official version related that the patrol perished on the trail, the rumor had it that they were ambushed by these Americans who disposed of their bodies at sea during their return trip south. The legend has it that Fitzgerald’s sleddogs eventually found their way home and returned to the valley as ghosts where they roamed the lands, in search of a new keeper. To encounter a “Spirit Dog” means that they see the spiritual powers of that person and want to guide him towards the reception of a special gift. If one is to be chosen by the creator to receive such an enormous gift and he does accept these lifelong responsibilities, he must use them to bring good fortune amongst his people.”

“My old friend, “Leonard Lanteigne” had found and rescued one of these last “Spirit Dogs” when he lived in the Yukon in the 1990s.” I continued. “This dog’s name was “Vince”. He was a strong and loyal dog and when Leonard gave him to me, he brought me good luck and happiness. That little puppy you’re holding right now is the direct descendant and fourth generation of these magical animals. To honor his great-grandfather, I named that little guy just like his granddad and he’s also called “Vince”. If someday you really need to have a wish granted and really truly believe in their secret powers then you can ask them.

“So if that’s the case,” she said after analyzing and coming up with a conclusion, “that would make you the new Keeper of the “Spirit Dogs.” “Oh Vince,” she carried on while hugging the puppy, “You’re such a lucky boy to be living here.” I didn’t answer and just smiled but inside me, I was thinking, “You know Lizzie, I never saw it that way before.”

Like everything else, all good things must eventually come to an end and the next day, it was time for Lizzie to go back home. She didn’t want to leave and was making a fuss about it. She was coming up with all sorts of reasons as to why they should extend their vacation but her daddy needed to get back and go to work. Seeing that she was getting nowhere using these tactics, she changed and started talking about Santa Claus again. “You know,” she started, “Maybe I didn’t have the correct address when I sent him that letter last year.” “Well maybe you didn’t.” I added. “But Lizzie, you’ve got to remember that Santa can only do so much when it comes to little children’s “Wish List”. That’s why, sometimes he calls on people like me to help him out.” What do you mean?” she asked, using her “Super Sleuth” investigative techniques. I looked at her father who had that “Here we go again” look on his face and winked at him. If I was to win this spectacular “Chess Match”, now was the time to make that final strategic move. “If you promise to listen to your dad, I’ll tell you three more Christmas Secrets.” “I promise.” she answered while raising her left hand and putting the right one over her heart. “I swear to listen to him”.

On that note, we headed to the “Workshop”. I had been commissioned to fabricate a “Santa’s Chair” many years ago by Wal-Mart and halfway through the build they had changed their mind and wanted it done for half the negotiated price. This had not gone well with me so had told them to pound salt. This thing had been sitting there in the corner all this time unfinished but would be useful for this occasion. “You see Lizzie, I’m making a new chair for Santa.” “Oh!!” she fascinated, “It’s going to be beautiful.” “Now if you follow me, I’ll show you something else.” I told her while escorting her up the stairs into the attic. “Now what do you think this might be?” I questioned and pointing at the red antique. “Look Daddy,” she exclaimed all excited, “It’s really real!! It’s Santa’s sleigh.” “Now do you believe? Do you believe that Santa does exist?” I continued. “Oh Yes!” she nodded all excited, “Oh for sure! I’m positive that he does exist!”

I was on a roll so I thought to myself, “Why stop now?” “Remember all those elves you found hiding all over the place?” I kept on going, “Well at the beginning of December of every year, they magically come back to life, jump in the sleigh and go back to work, making toys at the North Pole.” For the first time in six days, she was silent and she didn’t have anything to add. She was just in total amazement about her wonderful discovery.

We were headed back to the car when she started running towards the barn. “I’ve got to go and say good-bye to the dogs!” she said, rushing over there. We followed her there and when we got there, here she was in the pen with the puppies. Kneeling down as if to say a prayer and with her eyes closed, she was holding “Vince” in her arms. “Vince,” she requested, “I wish that I could come here and live with all my friends.” The moment was poignant and I had this huge lump in my throat. Barely managing to get the words out, I said, “Listen Lizzie, that’s quite the tall order you’re asking for. Maybe you should ask to come and visit again instead of living here. Your mother lives in Quebec and she’d miss you, you know.” “Oh yeah,” she replied, “I forgot about her.”

She was finally going to get in the car but wanted to say a proper good-bye before leaving. Opening up her arms and reaching forward for me to pick her up, she moved towards me. I lifted her up and while she wrapped the tiny arms around my head, I gave her a bear hug. I guess she didn’t exactly know what to say so just whispered in my ear, “I love you, Uncle Gino.” For some reason those simple words meant the world to me right there, right now. That block of ice that I’ve had deep in my stomach for all those years just seemed to melt away and evaporate. It was like a miracle and that thing I called a stone of a heart, started beating again and that good person woke up and started living again. Words could not be spoken…

You would think that by now, this story would have come to a conclusion but that’s where you’re wrong. It turns out that the military had different plans for her father and this would be a real sad note in their lives. But this folks was to be a totally different story all together…
In my time, they used say, “If the Army would have wanted you to have a wife and family, they would have issued them to you at the Quarter Master’s Store.” I’d always roll my eyes in disbelief when a crusty old “Sergeant Major” would come up with that argument to resolve someone’s personal family matter…

So to continue with the story… There had been a lesson in there somewhere for me and when I did have to fill those boots at one point in my career, I had always considered that the welfare of the men would come first. This was a “no brainer” to me. A soldier serving somewhere in a far way land had enough on his mind without having to worry about a family crisis back home. So when the somewhat discouraged father (who we’ll simply call “Andy”), “E-Mailed” me at the beginning of December with the news, I was appalled. I just couldn’t believe that in this day and age, in what they profess to be the modern day military of the “21st Century”, this stupid stigmatic statement was still being used. “Andy” had tried reasoning with them, telling them that he had a “four year old” and had the joint custody of the child but apparently that was to be none of their concern. They needed him to train American and Allied soldiers at a military base at an undisclosed location and he would have to go. His time in Afghanistan and his special skills made it that he would be a precious asset to the program therefore he best accept the decision and start packing for the unaccompanied “two year” posting.

If you recall, back in July, “Andy” had dropped his two “Siberian Huskies” off at my place as a result of a most serious personal crisis. He had showed some interest in the sport of dog sledding so had been coming here at the lodges on a very regular basis to learn some of the dog driving skills. However, the real reasons this “Musher-In-Training” was coming here was because things were not right in his head and he needed to get away from it all. I could recognize that “Dead Man Walking/Ranger Rick” stare. I had seen it too many times, that same look worn by so many combat harden veterans. The guy was in trouble and needed a shoulder to lean on so I took the time to provide it and really listen to him. He was involved in a most complex situation and retiring with 23 years in was an option but financially it wasn’t a feasible one. Many hours would be spent discussing what was happening in his “fried brain” and as far as I was concerned, his best course of action was to seek medical assistance and be counseled by a psychologist. I could relate to this proud individual as I had been in the same “head space” for close to ten years after my retirement. The “living in this awful half dazed, half dreaming” state was certainly an indication that he might have it. The complete state of depression and the sleepless nights because you’re afraid of the “nightmares” surely further substantiated that he was dealing with a problem. But the fact that he had attempted to take his own life and was still having suicidal thoughts, well let’s just say that normal people just don’t think that way… I was no professional but one thing was for sure. What he was describing not only resembled my symptoms but were definitely amplified “warning signs” that were associated with the syndromes of either “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” or its close cousin, “Operational Stress Injury”.

I could only suggest that this might be the problem. But being that proud career minded infantryman, that elite soldier with a chest full of medals and a mind set that says that “Failure is not an option”, well I guess he wasn’t ready to accept that he had reached his ‘breaking point”. He would be taking the transfer even if this meant being away from his cherished “Elizabeth” for all this time. For sure, he would get a chance to come and visit once in a while but it wouldn’t be the same as having her every second week. Too shy to ask, he was hinting at me through loads of correspondence that he might want to come and spend a very special Christmas at “Baisley Lodges”. Playing with my emotions, he was saying things like other than his daughter, he didn’t have anybody else to call family and that I was the closest thing that he had as a “Big Brother”. Viewed from my side, I sort of felt the same way. The guy had grown on me and I had kind of adopted him. I could see that he wanted to spend some quality time with “Lizzie”, time that she would remember but most importantly time that would make her not forget her beloved “Daddy”. The decision wasn’t hard to take and I guess it took me less than half a second to come up with a plan. So I wrote him back and said, “Dear Little Brother, Tell Lizzie to write to Santa Claus and to pack her bags because you’re taking her to the Baisley so to deliver that special letter in that magical “Mail Box”. The short response was soon to come and it said “Both Father and Daughter gladly accept the invitation and are excited to come. We’ll be there on the 18 December, 2010.”

So you see “Santa”, this little girl is not only special to me but also means the world to her father. I know for a fact that if she wasn’t part of his life, he wouldn’t be here today. Right now and this is according to him, things seem to be looking up for “Andy” and I guess that’s a good thing. I’ve got lots of magic prepared for when “Lizzie” shows up and some of the highlights would include the delivery of that special letter, the chopping down of her Christmas Tree, the “Tree Decorating” party on the evening of the 23 Dec 10 and of course, my sister’s traditional family Christmas Dinner. It’s a busy agenda but thanks to special people in my life like Fran and my loving family who volunteered to help out, “Uncle Gino” will be able to make things happen for this little Angel of mine, called “Elizabeth”.

Now if you could only get your act together and send us some “Real Snow”, we’d really appreciate it. Like I said at the beginning, “We’re dying out here.”

Sincerely Yours,

Gino Roussel
Keeper of the “Spirit Dogs”

P.S. To you and all the friends of Baisley Lodges, may all of you have a very “Merry Christmas!” Peace on Earth to One and All and remember, Together we can make a difference.

THE END… or is it, now? = -)


Dear Gino,

From what I can gather, “Lizzie” is having a great time and is now a true believer in Santa Claus. As for you, let me just say that you almost made it to the “Top Ten” List.
Your hard work and devotion towards your fellow man is dully noted. As for your Christmas wish, “Trust the dogs” and believe in the “Power of the Sled”.

Best Regards,

Mrs. Sandra Claus

So to continue with this story… When “Lizzie” drove in on the evening of the 18 December 2010, she was met by a full array of Christmas Lights that adorned the “Bunkhouse”. They were saying to her, “Welcome Elizabeth, welcome back to your “Magical Place”. Yeah, I know. In a time of recessive times where every penny pinching option must be used to save money, this was a luxury but like I said before, she was going to have an unforgettable Christmas. After spending her first evening writing her “Wish List”, the next day, the letter was delivered to that very “Special” mailbox at the “Outpost”. At that location, she found a “North Pole” beacon, a light that she would bring back to her cottage so to guide Santa as to where she lived. To confirm that he had received her letter, Santa had a “Treasure Chest” full of goodies delivered to her front steps. To this beautiful ornate metal box was attached a hand-written letter that gave “Lizzie” instructions as to how she would find her special Christmas Tree. A snowmobile expedition was launched the very next day so to go to the “Enchanted Forest” and find that particular tree. When she did eventually come across it, she knew that it was hers as the “Snow Goddess” had left a huge red bow and an angel with her name written on it, hanging in its branches. The “9 foot” tree was brought back, allowed to thaw and was set up in the “Pub”. On Thursday evening, a bunch of fairies disguised as humans landed in the Baisley. With them they brought a whole bunch of decorations and lights to fill the tree and the room with a most wonderful Christmas atmosphere. On Christmas Eve, we gathered at the “Christmas Room” where we exchanged gifts and watched an overly excited child unwrap her numerous presents. At one point, I checked the clock on the wall and noticed that it was time. Yes, it was time for me to go once again on that special Christmas Eve mission. Discreetly and this without anybody noticing, I disappeared…

“Sorry Rhum, but tonight you’re staying behind. I know you’ve come a long way and put in a lot of work just to show us that you belong but tonight is special and reserved for the “old timers” of the outfit.” That’s what I had told my red dog just before leaving the barn. Still, it didn’t sit well with him and he kept mouthing off when we were driving away. “Oh well” I smiled to myself, “he’ll get over it.

At the Baisley “Trailhead”, the “eight” dogs hitched and the sled filled with hay and meat, we took off to the comfort of the peace and quiet of that dark moonlit night. Like many Christmas Eves before, me and the “Baisley Mob” would be traveling to the “Outpost” but instead of doing it at breakneck speed and in training mode, this special nightly incursive mission would be dedicated at visiting some of the creatures of the “Animal Kingdom”. Our first stop would be to drop the two bales of hay to the deer herd located along the “Madawaska” river. I had been wondering last summer as to why I had found my “Eagle” family moved to a completely different area only to later find out that it was because the forest industry had invaded their hunting grounds and had clear cut a huge portion of the “Old Growth” pines, trees that had been standing there for over 250 years. The decision had been a very “Hot Potato” of a subject and at the end of the day, a contractor with well connected political ties, was allowed to proceed in this buffer zone and ravage the landscape. Here was a situation where the greed of four powerful individuals would supercede the will of the masses. Here was a situation where we continued subsidizing and supporting the million dollar debts of one well connected individual and would ignore the plea of the “little guy”. Unfortunately, for these foresters, the people that they wanted to squash like meaningless little bugs were not your average “tree huggers”. Rather they had taken on environmentalists who had radical views of how the protection of “those that could not speak in their own defense” should be done. This herd of white tail deers had been managed by them for the last twenty years and they had had much success at it. The population had increased over that period and could actually survive a yearly harvest and this without worrying about the over hunting of the animal. The “lumberjacks” had been warned, the Quebec Government had been approached but I guess nobody would take these “country bumpkins” seriously. The people that held the power would not entertain any compromise and would continue to forge ahead with their plans. After putting in a road with a bulldozer, the contractors brought in two pieces of equipment, valued at more than $1,500,000.00. The plan was to run this expensive machinery 24 hours a day, six days a week. These were most serious tree processing monsters and they estimated that they could be done with the job in clearing 1000 acres in approximately ten weeks. This is what they had figured. However, when a stray bullet went through the windshield of the “Multi-functional” processor in the middle of the night, the operator got frightened. When his partner in the “Transporter” radioed him to report the same thing, both individuals parked the equipment, got in their pick-up and took off, scared shitless. The next morning when the foreman came to the sight, he found out that the two machines had been vandalized. While the “Transporter” had all its hydraulic hoses cut, the charred skeleton of the “Multi-functional” was standing there still smoldering. The message was loud and clear. It would not harm another tree ever again. The war over that controversial area immediately came to a sudden stop after this incident and the deer herd would be allowed to continue living in this “protected area”.

So when we got there, here were all these shiny red eyes staring at us. They were used to seeing humans so were not alarmed by our presence. I called the dogs to stay and they did. There wasn’t much snow for a “snow hook” to grab thus the reason for selecting my trusty crew and companions. They would listen and would probably not move till asked to do otherwise. They all cooperated except for my big bruiser. He was intrigued by the sight of over 200 animals and was growling. “Kid,” I growled back at him, “Park it!” Those were to be the determining words that would make it that this part of the mission would go without a hitch. The hay was unloaded and the animals started grazing within seconds. With only my headlamp shining on them, I just stood there amongst them, astonished at the sight. The steam coming out of their nostrils made it for a scene that was somewhat spooky and peaceful at the same time. For me, I was of the second camp and was at peace with myself. I knew that no harm would come to me while I shared this instance with these beautiful creatures. But like all good things, this moment would have to come to a conclusion. We had other stops to make so I went back to the sled, got on the runners and “uptrailed”.

There is a section of trail out there that we share with a pack of coyotes. We encounter them on a regular basis and as far as I can determine, they mean us no harm. Instead, I think that their behavior is one where they want to see who is encroaching on their “turf”.
Like wolves, they are very shy canines and are very territorial. They would never attack a stronger dog team and will never put themselves in a confrontational situation. Rather, they’ll just run alongside with us at a safe distance in the tree line, observing our activities as we move along. As for the Alpha dominant female, this one particular huge gray bitch, now this is a different story. Over the years, she has befriended and trusts us enough to come out in the open and show us her new litter of puppies. I don’t know why but every late fall season, she does this ritual. While I enjoy seeing her run in the adjacent open field parallel to the dog team, I get a real kick at her young pups chasing her.

I’m a strong believer that one should not interfere with the feeding habits of the wildlife, however, for some reason I get this “feel good” feeling in doing this annual Christmas custom of dropping these bags of meat in a couple of spots. As unpredictable as they think they might be, they are very predictable in where they will appear. Add to that the fact that the dogs can smell them out immediately and it doesn’t take much time for them to be spotted. “What’s up Vixen?” I asked my big wheeldog. “Are they out there?” There wasn’t a noise coming from any of the dogs. They were fully alert, all gazing in one direction. I called for them to “stay” and quietly, they all came to a stop. I shined my headlamp in that same direction and there they were, seven coyotes gazing at us from what they thought was a discreet hiding place in the bushes. What the poor things were not aware of, was that the light shining at them, made it that you could distinguish them perfectly by the blue glow that was emitting from their eyes. You could actually see when one of them was blinking. We didn’t make any fuss about them and I just dropped that second bag of meat right on the side of the trail. We immediately took off and within seconds, they were fighting amongst each other, establishing the picking order by which they would get to the meal.

The four hour trip ended at the “Outpost” and I guess I wasn’t sad to see it end. Entertaining Lizzie for a day can be quite the challenge. Entertaining Lizzie for a whole week, is simply more than a guy like myself can handle. It’s absolutely exhausting. I fed the dogs and while they were feasting, I made a roaring fire in the woodstove. I returned to the “Mob” and unhooked them so that they could roam around for a while before we’d call it a night. I went back inside and pulled the Brandy bottle out. Toasting those who never made it back, I took one single long draw. Feeling the poison makes its way through my system, I put the flask away and flopped down in my “Grandfather’s chair”. I wanted to gather the dogs together so pulled out my harmonica out and started playing. Within minutes all the “Canadian Snowhounds” were assembled in the log cabin and were howling away, accompanying me through a series of Christmas Carols. The concert came to an eventual end and everybody, the dogs curled up on the floor and me quite comfortable in the old chair, fell asleep.

“Hey, do you plan on sleeping the entire Christmas Eve evening away or are you going to come and help.” I opened my eyes and here was my old friend and mentor, Leonard Lanteigne, standing in front of me, dressed in his famous red “Canada Goose” parka. “Come on,” he belted out the order while walking out the door, “You take the northern route and I’ll take the southern one.” I didn’t really understand what was going on but followed him outside. Was I ever surprised to see not one but two sleds parked out there, ready to move. While my faithful team was waiting for me, my old sleddog friends, the ones that I had had the honor to share the trail with throughout those many years, were all there. Vince Senior, Mr. Tibbs, Sox, Flash, Spike, Duchess, Taffy and Blitz, all were on stand-by, happy to see me and waiting to escort Leonard during his heavenly voyage. I was going to ask Leonard what was going on, when he turned around, pointed at me and said “You’ve done a good job at learning the ways of the elders. Now, trust the Dogs”, Gino and believe in the Power of the Sled.”

It is said that for those who believe, that last minute of that last hour on Christmas Eve, will last for an eternity if one needs it to last that long. This is for sure one of the best kept Christmas Secret and is how Santa and his apprentices manage to deliver all those gifts to all those wonderful children of the world.

“3-1, this is 3-1 Alpha, nothing heard, out.”
This was the last sentence, the radio operator said in frustration before throwing the “mike” at the wall. He had just about enough and had given up on trying to reach his Platoon Commander, who had retreated to the safety of the confines of the Forward Operation Base for an unscheduled “O” Group. “Did you get a hold of him?” the other young soldier inquired. “No!” was the immediate answer. The young RadOp, couldn’t come up with more words than that. His best friend, Cpl Steve Martin had just been killed not even seven days before and right now he would have given anything to be back home safe with his loved ones. Feeling all alone in this world and gazing at the stars, he saw this meteor streak through and light up the sky. “Did you see that?” he asked his partner. “Did you see that weird light? It was as if a whole bunch of dogs were pulling a sled through the sky.”
“Yeah, I saw that.” The other one said, now convinced that he wasn’t hallucinating. “Did you see the guy driving that dog team? Did you hear what he said?”
“No,” the young radioman replied.
“I’m not sure but I think that he was telling us that as dim as it might shine, there is still light at the end of this tunnel and for what’s it’s worth, there’s a crazy old fool somewhere in northern New-Brunswick that is extremely proud of the effort that we’re putting out here.”
A tear rolled down his cheek. He took a deep breath and somewhere in that sentence that his friend had just spoken, he would find the courage to “Soldier On.”


To the Men and Women serving in uniform all across the world - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May someone, someday, realize that killing one another is and will never be the solution…

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