No Country For Young Men

(This post was written by the hottest, cutest, funniest dad-blogger out there. And then Backpacking Dad stole it from him.) 

Tanis had a visitor last week. A bear.

I know you are waiting for a punch line. But that's not a joke. A bear showed up in her garden (not in any way a euphemism) to eat her berries (again, not a euphemism).

Tanis has two pre-pubescent, nascent adolescents, preparing for their descent into that pit of sight and scent: junior high.

If you are at all a worrying kind of person, the juxtaposition of curious bear and insane balls-of-energy (pre-teens) might be terrifying. It might be a reason to, I don't know, move into the city and give up the Redneck Life altogether.

And I am here today to confirm that you would be right. Living in the country is crazy.

Despite my present suburban existence I actually did spend my formative years out in the middle of nowhere. And I often marvel that I survived as long as I did.

For instance, when I was six years old we moved to Carp, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa. We moved into a farmhouse along the RR, across from the OPP station. I'm not sure Carp is famous for anything, but it ought to be famous for the sponsor of my father's softball team, Karson Kartage and Konstruction. The team jerseys had three big K's printed on them. The significance of this, what it said, inadvertently or, uh, advertently, about the town was lost on me at the time. Carp should also be famous for the Pet Sematary-like attraction the highway holds for young kids like me. Within a week of moving into our farmhouse I was out on that highway on my brand new chrome BMX Constrictor, riding against traffic and weaving through the hash marks in the middle of the road. And I was hit by a van. From behind. While I was on the shoulder facing oncoming traffic. Amazingly enough I was launched off my bike to land in the ditch rather than being run over and killed. But I spent the second week of our time in Carp living at CHEO in Ottawa. I'm fine now. Mostly. A couple of scars. No broken bones. I still don't wear a bike helmet. Because, seriously, I've had mine. It's everyone else's turn.

When I was 11 we lived on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. There wasn't much to do on the Island, so one winter I walked through the woods behind my house down to a small bay that had frozen over. My younger sister followed me, as younger sisters tend to do, and despite her protests I went a-wanderin' out on the ice. It was thick ice. And I was 11. I knew what I was doing. She followed me out onto the ice, and her nervous contributions to the conversation ("Let's go back. I don't like this. I'm scared.") were really getting my goat. So, after one particularly egregious exclamation on the heels of a very loud creak from the ice beneath my feet, I wanted her out of my hair, back on the bank where she couldn't bother me. So, mockingly, I took a step and leaned into a bit. "What are you afraid of?" I asked, like the jackass older brother I was, "This?" And I pressed hard, eliciting the desired screeches from the ice and from my sister.

And then I fell through.

I'd seen enough after-school specials by then to know that the first rule about falling through the ice is to not do it. And that the second rule of falling through the ice is to stick your arms out to your sides (both arms in front of you puts too much pressure on too small a patch of ice, and you'll just keep breaking it off as you panic). So that's what I did. I shot my arms out to my sides while my sister screamed (so annoying). Thankfully there was little current in the water of the bay, so I was never pulled along. And I didn't let my head go under so I didn't lose orientation. I pulled my sodden body out of the hole and made a slow, careful trek back to the bank and then walked home to get changed. Because it was pretty cold.

Years later some friends and I on a different island in the St. Lawrence River would jump into the ice flow on purpose. We called ourselves the Contra-Cranialists, because we were geeks in addition to being insane. But we weren't stupid. We had a harness.

So you see, the country is a dangerous place. Everyone should move to the city, where it's safe, where the world isn't your enemy and constantly trying to run you over or drown you.

When I was 15 I painted a garage in Rockwood Ontario to make some money for the summer. On my way home by bus later that week I had a long layover in Toronto. I was a teenager and I had about 5 hours to kill in downtown Toronto. I thought I was in heaven. Right outside the bus terminal I came across a panhandler, a young guy, early twenties, clean-cut, asking for change. I gave him some change that I had with me and then I stood and talked with him for a while. Turns out he wasn't homeless; he was a student and he had an apartment in Scarborough and this was how he made money during the summer. He took a break from his job and I got him to buy me a pack of cigarettes, then I went walking around downtown with him. I met some of the other jobbers, learned how to bait your cardboard box so it didn't look like you were baiting it (always include some silver in the box, folks; don't put a bunch of pennies in there). And we went to the Eaton Centre and held the doors open for people while asking for spare change.

After about 20 minutes a woman who had walked by once came back and pressed a five-dollar bill into my hand and looked like she was about to cry. I was done. We went to the arcade nearby on Yonge street and I played some strip poker game and then gave the rest of the money to my so-cool panhandler friend.

If his apartment had been downtown, rather than in Scarborough, and had he suggested we stop by there to get something, I would have gone; because I was cocky and confident and sure I could read character, and because he seemed like just a "cool" guy. As I've said, I had seen all the after-school specials; I knew all of the lessons about strangers. But as a teenager, bursting with know-it-all-ness, those lessons were easily forgotten.

Where was I?

Oh. Right. Tanis is crazy to raise her kids in the country. It's dangerous out there.