Monday, August 22, 2016
“YOU’RE A COOL KID, BRIAN” – Yup, that’s what I told my new best friend when he left that day. “And don’t let anybody else say anything different.” Those were basically the last words I told him before he left. It was a simple good-bye but this was all I could muster at the time. I was holding back tears and was trying to swallow that watermelon size lump in my throat… You see this young “Thirteen-Year-Old” teenager showed up at Baisley Lodges two weeks ago full of questions, questions that were right up my alley – What kind of animals live here in the woods? Do you have brook trout in the river? Do you know if there are fossils around here? They just kept on coming so considering he was more than enthusiastic about exploring this area and that they were in a rush to go visit family in Moncton, N-B, I took the opportunity to suggest that on their return trip they schedule a day so that this young man and myself could go out there and do the “Indiana Jones” thing… = -) For some reason, they did accept the invitation and when they did come back, me and the “Kid” set out for what was to be one hell of an enlightening journey. The first night, I could not dedicate too much time with him as I was busy dealing with some veteran issues with a representative of one of these organisations. So “Brian” entertained himself by fishing the Madawaska river in front of the lodges. He was adamant that he would catch a brook trout so to have for breakfast the next morning. This was not to happen and he was left a bit disappointed. The next morning when I opened my eyes, I was glad to see that I was still alive. For some reason and contrary to my usual habits, that night before, I had managed to crack open and polish a bottle of “1959” Napoleon Brandy and that was to be a huge mistake. Although it had gone down more than smoothly, when I lifted my head off my pillow, I knew exactly why I didn’t drink anymore. This major hangover accompanied by a pounding headache would set the day and it would be a long one. Regardless as to how I felt, I had promised this young Brian that we would go canoeing so best put my best foot forward and soldier on. The chores done, with the canoe strapped to its top, we jumped in the truck and headed out to tackle the mighty “Green River”. While heading out to our destination, Brian started talking and it seemed like it would never end. Initially, I thought that his rambling was because he was nervous and excited but how he was uttering the information, I suspected that there might be something else. He was most precise and very well informed on all the subjects he was talking about but these were all over the place. He would be suddenly explaining the characteristics of a “Light Titanium” frame of a Bugatti sports car to swiftly change to a completely different topic, the muzzle velocity of a “50 Cal” machine gun round. He continued with this jumping from one subject to another and although it made for a strange conversation, this was OK as many of the topics he was talking about were things that also interested me quite a bit. Eventually, I started quizzing him on his routines back home only to realize that my young friend was asthmatic and didn’t do much for physical activity. Add to that the fact that he was going to a “special school” for special kids and this made me start questioning myself as to who I was dealing with and if this was a good idea to bring him out of the security of his “Bubble”. Here and how he was explaining his daily routine and its restrictions, I was drawing an unfounded conclusion that he was some sort of “pussy” and a “Momma’s Boy”. It wasn’t fair that I would judge him like this but I wasn’t in the best frame of mind and my brain wasn’t firing on “8 cylinders”. Therefore, I wasn’t thinking straight. However, I was to soon realize that where he lacked in the sports department, he sure made up in the intellectual one. Remember the rambling? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t just words he was throwing out there. He had a mind like a steel trap and it seemed to me that he could retain most of the information that he was exposed to. By now, I was more than curious to see where this adventure would take me so I decided that I would work around these limitations and make the best of the day. We finally arrived at the “Winding Eddy”, the spot where we would put the canoe on the river. There we would not be alone as a woman and her cute daughter were standing admiring the scenery. It was obvious that there was some sort of chemistry there and the cute little blond girl tried to strike a conversation with Brian. To her disappointment, the young man would have nothing to do with her and just stood there staring at the rushing water. “Hey Brian!” I shouted over all this rumbling noise, “Grab your stuff and let’s get going.” This sort of short-circuited the anxiety he was being engulfed with and he came to me. I instructed him to sit in front of the canoe and this he did gladly. From how he was behaving, I knew that he was not comfortable with this “girlfriend” situation so I hurried up to get going. When we left those folks behind and we were once again alone, he relaxed and started talking again. “Can I fish now?” he asked. “Of course you can!” I replied. “As a matter of fact, you can fish as much as you want and I’ll take care of the paddling. “OK”, he simply said. “I want to catch a brook trout”. The trip down river would prove to be a bit strenuous. The water was low because of the time of the season and many boulders were exposed. Consequently, I would need to pay attention and zig-zag my way down in many places. Of course and as in all swift current water courses, we would casually collide and bounce off against many of these large rocks. To me, this was normal routine as I am most comfortable in “Class 2” rapids. However, this was not the same for Brian. When earlier I had asked him if he was familiar with canoeing, he had said yes. But after tackling what he perceived as dangerous waters, he was now confessing to the fact that contrary to what he had experienced in cyberspace, this was a bit scary. In as such, he put his fishing rod away and white knuckled the gunnels of the canoe, most likely scared shitless. The situation was getting tense and even though there was no danger at all, it was time for me to defuse this situation. I could recognize the fact that he was panicking and it was necessary to intervene. “Hey Brian,” I suggested, “Are you OK?” To this he didn’t respond. Rather, he was glaring forward and telling me where all the rocks were and which direction to go. I needed to reassure him that everything was all right so I started sharing stories with him about this particular Bald Eagle that made this place his home and hunting grounds. The words had not been out of my mouth for more than ten seconds when behold the said bird of prey took off from the top of a spruce tree and surprised us, flying right above our heads. “Look Brian! There he is.” I said. Trust him! He will guide us to safety.” So for a while, we observed him gliding up and down in the “Thermals” and this seemed to bring back my young friend from where he was. “He’s really escorting us, isn’t he?” the boy said. “Yes he is.” I simply said smiling. “You don’t have to worry about a thing.” I guess he felt safe by now so he pulled out his fishing rod again and started casting for that “Brook Trout”. Casting he did and whipping that hook around my head he also did. I wasn’t comfortable with this and as I suspected and had done to my great grandfather when I was his age, he caught the brim of my hat and yanked it off the top of my head. I wasn’t impressed but he thought it was funny to see my $300.00 hat floating next to the canoe. I retrieved it and put it back on, fully soaked and cold. Never would I have entertained the idea of wearing my prized “Akubra” Australian hat like that but its now soaked texture sort of cooled off my sweltering head and cured my headache… Who would have thought? So anyway, we carried on now with a reassured passenger who was confident that things would be OK. In this particular river, the water is crystal clear and its riverbed offers millions of different shaped stones. From what could be witnessed, you could tell that this assortment of “gems” struck his fancy. Here he was describing the different rock formations telling me about all sorts of different facts about the many types we came across. This really impressed me and I just couldn’t believe that all this information was coming out of this kid. To me, it seemed that he should have been a much more mature person who could have been a professional geologist. “Wow!” I said to myself, “Where the hell did he get all that knowledge? How is it that he can retain so much data about so many subjects?” The answer to this question, I did not know. At that stage, all I could do was listen and be educated. The water conditions would not improve and eventually we would get hung up on a rock, not moving at all. This did not sit well with my shipmate and all of a sudden, panic set in. He was fidgety and wanted to stand up in the small craft. This unfortunately was to translate into a precarious situation where one might fall overboard and be carried away by the current. Again and this must be emphasized, the situation was not as drastic as one would think. However, my young inexperienced friend did not know any better thus the super agitated scene. “Brian!” I shouted sternly, “You sit down and wait!”. The tone of the voice was commanding if not too severe. This had for effect that he completely shut down to the outside world and would not again speak anymore. We were now stuck and here we were not communicating at all. The silence seemed to extend way beyond its short timespan and this “eternity” was eating at my insides. What had I done? In a matter of a split second, all this trust that we had established, was gone. Did I feel like a heel? You bet I did. Was I going to give up? No I wouldn’t. “Brian! Brian!” I shouted out trying to get his attention, “Brian, I need your help! You grab that other paddle and plant it hard between those rocks. I need you to hold the front (bow) of the canoe pointing downstream. Come on! You can do this!!!” I emphasized. His reaction was spontaneous. Like myself, he could recognize the fact that this hazardous situation might be dangerous. What he probably didn’t realize was the fact that if and when I would have to get out of it to push, it was most important that I do not let the “pea pod” slip out of my grasp. Otherwise, the young boy and the canoe would carry on out of control in those somewhat turbulent waters. He didn’t need to know this part of the equation and after giving him further instruction, I decided to jump in the water to get it unstuck. “Hold on Buds and make sure that you keep the nose of the boat pointing that way (downstream).” Holding on to his paddle as hard as he could, he firmly planted it between two boulders and this did the job of acting as a needed point of pivot. I carefully walked on the slippery slimy rock bed and pushed the canoe sideways. I had underestimated the force of the current but with some effort, the yellow boat rotated on itself 360 degrees. Eventually and with my shipmate’s much needed help, its bow was once again pointing in the right direction and we were floating again. “You can now let go Buds!” I instructed my young friend, “We should be all right now!” I then quickly got back into the canoe and away we went once again for some “smooth sailing”. “Boy, that was exciting!” Brian laughed. “Yup,” I replied also laughing, “You did real good, Brian!” “Can I continue fishing?” he asked. “Yeah Brian, of course you can.” Still under the watchful eye of our companion, the “Bald Eagle”, the remainder of the trip would prove to be uneventful and “safe”, according to Brian. While he was still trying to catch his “trout”, I was paddling quietly, enjoying the moment. Him sitting in front reminded me of when my Great Grandfather Bob Leboeuf used to take me fishing. Just like my “sidekick”, at his age, I was also that skinny little runt with a nerdy attitude. Oh how I remember those times when the bullies used to pick on me on a most regular basis. Those guys were mean and the episodes were hurtful. Because of my size, there wasn’t much I could do to defend myself so just like Brian, I would escape to the safety of the nearby woods where I would entertain myself by exploring and discovering all sorts of splendid treasures that the land could offer. Where his passion was to collect rocks, mine was to try to locate and identify all the living creatures of the forest. I remember my Grandfather telling me that I was a special kid and if I didn’t give up, things would go my way eventually. It had worked for me so I decided I would share some of this backwoods wisdom with young Brian. “Listen Buds! Back home, these bullies that you encounter, pick on you because they are jealous. You have a certain gift and it doesn’t sit well with them. They don’t like people that are smarter than they are and that’s why they act that way. The best thing to do is to avoid confrontation. Even better, recognize their habits and stay out of their line of sight. Remember this, the best way to win a fight is to walk away from that fight. At that moment, it might be embarrassing to do so but still, it’s the best thing to do. Also, that “wolf tooth” necklace that I gave you has a special significance. You now belong to the “Wolf Clan” and if you need some assistance, know that those who belong to this clan will be there to help you. That is the promise that we make to each other and we do honour it by protecting one another.” Agreeably shocked by what I was saying, the smiling young man turned around and said, “Thanks! That means a lot to me.” The canoe trip ended and although we had seen all sorts of wildlife and landscapes, Brian was a bit disappointed as he had not caught that “Brook Trout” that he craved for. We returned to Baisley Lodges where I met with his mother who came to ask how the trip had gone. “Well,” I replied hesitantly, “He can be a handful but we made it work.” “Oh,” she replied “I should have told you that he has a form of autism called “Asperger Syndrome”. He can function very well with this but tends to lack in the department of social interaction. As you might have noticed his mind anchors itself to restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. As a milder autism spectrum disorder, it differs from other ASDs as he can communicate in relatively normal language and can be functional on his own.” This revelation floored me. Here I was all day, passing judgement on another person who just like me was suffering from some form of mental illness. Yes, our issues were different but at the end of the day, we were in the same boat. Here we were, being judged and pegged as mentally retarded individuals by people who didn’t have a clue as to what we were going through. The fact that I had wrongly assessed this entire situation did not sit well with me and in as such, I needed to go and retreat to the seclusion of my dog barn. Hugging one of my dog’s head, “Trevor”, I started balling my eyes out, trying to figure out how I would make thing right with my young friend Brian. There was one hell of a load of guilt surrounding this incident and the tears just kept on pouring. She was a good cry, one that would extinguish that “Warrior Flame” that had sparked up and engulfed my person during that past summer. The crying done, it felt really good to once again find peace in my heart. And the irony of it all, it wasn’t my psychologist or the “medicine” that had put out the flame. Rather, a young handicapped thirteen-year-old lad had innocently intervened and had succeeded. “Yes, you are never too old to learn a valuable lesson, Gino Roussel” I said severely reprimanding myself. “This one is for the records and should be emphasized. Never judge a person till you have walked a mile in his shoes.” The dogs fed once again, I was to return home and just like Brian, I looked for and found comfort in the solitude of my own mind. The next day, I found Brian at the dock, still trying his luck at catching that illusive “Brook Trout”. “Hey Brian,” I asked, “How’s the fishing?” “Still haven’t caught one!” he replied a bit miffed, “But that’s OK, I’ll keep trying!” There was to be a turn of events as unexpectedly, his mother had decided to stay an extra day. Seeing this as a chance to mend fences between us, I decided that I would capitalize on this good fortune and go out there, exploring with my young friend. One of the things that he had brought with him on this trip was this fancy state of the art metal detector. This sort of struck my fancy as I knew of a possible archeological site, a site where in the late 1800s, the local Malecite Natives would take care of a bivouac area for the British soldiers who traveled back and forth from Halifax, N-S to Quebec City, Qc. Then called the “Halifax Route”, the Madawaska river was part of this strategic watery thoroughfare where they would stop for food and overnight rest. It was up river from the lodges, maybe five kilometers and after proposing this outing to Brian, he just dropped his fishing pole and rushed to the family van to retrieve his metal detecting equipment, complete with excavating tools. After telling his mom as to where we were going, we loaded the truck and headed for another adventure. When we got there, a plan was formulated and we were off “digging”. Contrary to him, I didn’t expect to find anything but when the metal detector started alerting to a possible hit, Brian was not the only one to get exited. I have to confess, so did I. Here we were, breaking up earth so to identify what was making the instrument go “bizurk”. Initially what we were finding, were old oil cans dating from the sixties. Then old whiskey bottles started popping up. For me, this was discarded garbage but for the “archeologist” these were treasures. Of course, these would be to a “Thirteen-Year-Old”. These things had been there way long before he was born so in his mind they were antiques. The novelty of rummaging through this old dump site would soon wear off so I suggested a different location. “Hey Brian,” I explained pointing to it, “See that area where there seems to be some elevated grounds in the form of a rectangle, maybe we should try there. That could be where once stood a building.” So we moved a few meters and as sure as God made little green apples, the detector was going crazy again as we started to find square nails and old carriage bolts. We had found something of the said period (1800s) and both of us were all in our glory. The funny thing about all this was that both of us had entered our comfort zone and enjoying each others company. The trust had risen back up to the surface and once we had peeled that stigmatic layer away, we were just two “normal” friends having a good time doing something out of the ordinary and special. Watching a concentrated Brian retrieve those metal objects, sometimes with his garden shovel and sometimes with his hands, made me realize that “yes” he was special. He was an intelligent young man who if given the opportunity, would have a great future filled with wonderful accomplishments. There were no doubts in my mind. He was a hell of lot smarter than a lot of these people out there that walked around and considered themselves normal. The dig done, it was time to leave. However, the day wasn’t done as I had decided that we would find him that trout. So scouting the countryside, we headed out to five different locations but again we would not catch anything. On our way back home, I could see that this did not sit well with Brian. He was taking this as some sort of personal defeat and the disappointment showed in his face. “Hey Brian,” I suggested, “You do realize that during this time of the year, trouts don’t bite because they’re fraying.” “What do you mean?” he said inquisitively. “Well, at this time of the year, it’s time for them to make babies and when this happens, they won’t bite.” “Oh, then that’s OK!” he replied. “I guess I’ll just have to come back next year.” The trout conversation kept on going for miles after miles when suddenly I realized that all that this kid wanted to do was to eat a trout so he would know what it would taste like. “Wait a minute here!” I said to myself, “If that’s all he wants to do then I think I might just have the solution.” Turning to my passenger, I said, “Brian, I think I might have just solved this dilemma.” And on that note, instead of driving down the usual road to Baisley Lodges, I pulled in at the family garage by the road and escorted him inside. I opened one of the meat freezers and pulled out a “four pound” trout, a fish that a friend of mine had given me. I had not yet eaten it as I was waiting for a special occasion and this particular scenario did fit the bill. “Here Buds! You can take this trout home with you.” “Really?” he said all excited. You’re giving this to me?” “Yup Buds! This one is all yours!” He had made a huge impact on my life, this young man and when it came time to part company the next day, it was to be an emotional departure. He walked in the Bunkhouse where I courageously tried to hold back the tears. I wasn’t doing a good job but managed to tell him that he was a cool guy and that he shouldn’t let anybody else convince him of anything less than this. This he received loud and clear and to show his appreciation, he initiated and gave me a huge hug. “I love you Gino”, he whispered quietly. “So do I, Buds! So do I!” I replied, my eyes full of tears. “Now get out of here. I’m tired of crying”… = -) PEACE ON EARTH TO ONE AND ALL! AND REMEMBER, TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!