Friday, December 21, 2012

The Call of the Wild

It was a wild place to begin with.  The small group of cottages seemed like an idyllic spot, but in reality, the grounds and lake were teeming with wild animals.  The snapping turtle population alone probably outnumbered the nearby population of Parry Sound.  For one week in August, a group of cottagers confronted the wild in an epic man versus nature battle.  This brave (and wild) group of cottagers were the Bruinekools.

It quickly became apparent to us cottagers who called the shots around the camp.  It certainly was not the camp-owner (though as we shall see, he valiantly tried).  As we settled down on the first night after arriving at the cottage, we were serenaded by the haunting howling of the coyotes.  Not to be outdone, the racoons engaged in some turf war over our garbage can.  It was at that point that we were glad that the thin ply wood walls were keeping the coyotes and racoons outside.  Sleep continued to evade the habitants of our cottage (and I suspect all the cottages in the camp) when the mice decided to come out.  We are not talking about one little mouse either – the cottage was teaming with mice, and they had the run of the place.  The Bruinekools do not like mice.  I recall one event many years ago when a mouse ran across our living room floor at home.  Mom was suddenly transformed into an Olympic gymnast as she pirouetted out of the path of the mouse.  I have inherited this distaste for these little rodents as well, but that's another story for another day.

The camp-owner was greeted by a line of Bruinekools at his door the next morning.  They all had the same request: mousetraps.  He told them that the cottages all had traps underneath their sinks and bade them good luck.  The Bruinekools scurried back to their respective cottages to wage war on the dreaded foe.  Mom opened our cupboard and found a whole mouse trap contraption.  It was a three foot two by four with about five mouse traps tacked on.  It dawned on us that this camp probably had a bit of a mouse problem.

Later that day, we gathered at the beach.  It was a beautiful beach and big enough for all of us to put our chairs in a big circle.  Bruinekools love to chat and the mice excitement from the night before was a hot topic.

“Those flippin’ mice were so loud last night!”

“We had one run across our bed!”

“I was almost attacked by one when I was in the bathroom!”

“I was on top of the furniture more than I was on the floor!”

While we were chatting about our mice travails, a big fat snake slithered into the middle of our circle and stopped.  The Bruinekools do not like snakes.  The Bruinekools are not typically an agile group, but the athletic moves that were exhibited at that moment were truly impressive.  Lawn chairs were vaulted, kids were scooped up, and trees were climbed.  After a few minutes, we slowly made our way back to the lawn chair circle.  The snake was still there and was apparently having some difficulties with its last meal.  What appeared to be the snake’s tongue turned out to be some kind of tail.  The snake unhinged it’s jaws and started making weird noises.  Slowly the mystery meal started to come out of the snake.  Our fear of snakes was momentarily forgotten as we tried to guess what was coming out of the snake.  Finally, the snake finished regurgitating it’s lunch.  It was a mudpuppy.   
 Before this holiday, I didn’t know what a mudpuppy was, nor did I care to know.  Derek, who was the resident animal expert (and also in his glory amidst all the wildlife), informed everyone that a mudpuppy was like a big salamander.  It seemed that the snake did not like the taste of mudpuppy.  After recovering from throwing up an animal that weighed just as much as he did, the snake started to slither away.  Much to our shock, the mudpuppy’s eyes popped open and he headed in the opposite direction.  Now there were two wild animals on the loose (Due to this event, the Bruinekools also do not like mudpuppies).  Screaming, leaping, back-flips, and panic ensued as the two animals disappeared.  After the coast was clear, the Bruinekools collected their dignity, and returned to their mostly upturned lawn chairs.

The next morning at the beach, everyone was curious as to what cottager caught the most mice in their traps.  If the other traps were anything like the multi-trap in our cottage, the haul was pretty big.  Our traps had to be emptied and reset after about half an hour.  The mice population was still unhampered and undeterred.  It was like a relentless attack of Orcs at Helms Deep.

The lake was beautiful and pristine.  The camp had a great dock for jumping off and swimming from.  We quite enjoyed the water until Scott jumped onto something un-water-like.  He popped to the surface, reported that he landed on something, and then proceeded to tread water above the surface.  A dark shadowy circular object floated up to the surface right where Scott had jumped in.  Calm instructions followed from one of the Bruinekool cousins.  “Swim for your lives!  Snapping turtle!”  Michael Phelps wouldn’t have been able to swim any faster than this group of cousins.  Bruinekools do not like snapping turtles. 

The Bruinekools all crowed onto the dock to watch the snapping turtle float around.  We were later told that the snapping turtle had made his home under the dock.  All attention was focussed on the turtle until we heard a loud gunshot.  Our fearless camp-owner had come from nowhere and shot the turtle.  Our nerves were already in tatters at this point, and the unexpected gunshot put some of us over the edge.  The camp-owner put his rifle aside, grabbed a large hook and scooped the dead turtle out of the water.  Apparently this was routine stuff for him.  Dinner was effectively cancelled that evening. 

Not everyone was struggling with the nature around them.  The matron of the family, Oma Bruinekool, took it upon herself to feed the Canadian Geese that were bobbing in the water just outside of her cottage.   As nice as this was, she didn’t realize that the geese were not real; they were decoys meant to lure real geese into the range of our gun toting camp-owner.  It was suggested that she re-visit the eye doctor for a new prescription.  
 It sure was an exciting and fun week, and one that stands out from all other vacations.  You may be wondering if we ever went back there again.  The answer is no.  The coyotes, racoons, mice, snakes, and mud puppies could have been tolerated, but the snapping turtles tipped the balance.  When it came to the call of the Wild, the Bruinekools did not care to answer.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Sisters

We are currently studying Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol at school.  It is one of my favourite pieces of literature and is from one of my favourite periods in history.  Dickens was a masterful writer and wrote many other classics besides A Christmas Carol.  After recently reading about Dickens and some snippets of his popular works, I was reminded of a little Dickensian episode that occurred many years ago.  I was in university where I was trying to become an intellectual (fun fact: still trying).  I had just discovered the Industrial Revolution and this amazing period of British history, when one day at home, the world of Dickens became real to me.

 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  It was a tumultuous time in the Slingerland household.  For some reason that is not known (well I’m sure there is a reason but I didn’t try to find out) it came to be that my two younger sisters, Ally and Becky, were to have their wisdom teeth pulled on the same day.  Perhaps mother found a two-for-one coupon for wisdom teeth pulling.  There was no doubt however, that this was going to be a traumatic event for the girls and for everyone in the home.  Extensive preparations were made.  A gigantic bed was made in the basement in front of the TV.  Anne of Green Gables and Maria Von Trapp were on standby.  Kleenex and pain killers were ready at the bedside.  Jello and pudding were setting in the fridge.  

The day of the appointment arrived and the girls headed out to the mini-van.  Mom gave me some instructions before she shuttled the girls over to the doctor’s office.  “When I get back, you’ll have to help me bring the girls into the house and down to the basement.”  I told her that I would clear my schedule and do my brotherly duty.  In truth, I was looking forward to some excitement and drama.

Later that day...

The mini-van pulled into the driveway and came to a halt by the front sidewalk.  The garage door was opened remotely and Mom got out and went to the passenger side and opened the front door of the van.  She put her hand around Ally’s shoulders and guided her to the house.  Ally’s face was as white as snow, or as Dickens would say, ‘as white as the ghost of Christmas past’.  Mom expertly steered Alison through the garage and into the house.  I helped Mom from there and together we laid Ally down on the couch.  Things looked pretty grim.  I briefly thought about getting a pen and paper for a last will and testament.  Her eyelids fluttered and her mouth was completely swollen.  A solitary tear rolled down her face and then veered off to the side when it hit her chipmunk cheek.  

Our thoughts turned to Becky.  While I checked Ally’s pulse, Mom went back out to the van to get Becky.  Mom slid the side door open and guided Becky out.  I expected to see an ashen and morose Becky emerge from the van, but to my surprise, she just about rolled out of the van.  Even more astonishing was that Becky was laughing hysterically.  Mom propelled goofy Becky into the house and onto the other couch.  

The girls eventually made their way down to their basement bed where they began to watch inordinate amounts of Anne of Green Gables.  When that series was finished, The Sound of Music was slid into the overworked DVD player.  The entire house was then treated to the yodelling of a lonely goat-herd.  

The girls were not quite themselves throughout this healing process.  Becky giggled, laughed, sniggered, cackled, chortled, chuckled, guffawed, and hooted her way to getting better over the next couple of days.  Even when she was in pain, she was laughing.  Ally sniveled, whimpered, bawled, sobbed, and wept her way to getting better.  They made quite the pair – like yin and yang, black and white, or Bert and Ernie.

Besides the DVD’s, we did play a lot of Monopoly.  Because I wasn’t on heavy pain killers, I had a bit of a mental edge on the girls.  

“Hey Becky, look how pretty the purple stripe on Baltic Ave is!  Why don’t you give me Marvin Gardens and I’ll give you Baltic.” 

“Thanks Greg!”  Becky giggled.

 Alison mustered enough strength to give the dice a good toss.  She was rewarded with the ‘free parking’ spot and the jackpot.  As she collected her money, the ‘waterworks’ were turned on.  “I don’t know why I’m crying!” she said.  

Becky rolled the dice and moved the dog along the board.  The dog stopped on my ‘Parkplace’, which also had a nice little hotel on it.  I was pretty impressed with how Becky laughed it off.  I was laughing too. 

Both girls successfully recovered from the trauma of wisdom teeth extraction and were soon back to their normal selves.  To the relief of everyone, Anne of Green Gables and Maria Von Trapp were put back into their cases and left to collect dust.  It truly was the best and worst of times.  The worst in that the girls experienced a lot of pain, Matthew from Anne of Green Gables died (by my count at least 7 times), the Nazi’s annexed Austria, and then there were the crushing Monopoly defeats.  And the best of times, in that the girls did get to spend a lot of time with each other, watched as Anne was accepted by Marilla (by my count at least 7 times), the Von Trapp Singer’s victory at the Salzburg Music Festival, and the privilege of playing Monopoly with their older brother. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Vaccine Scene

Shortness of breath, cold sweat, clammy palms, and dizziness were the symptoms my students were experiencing one morning a couple of weeks ago.  Eyes were wild and darted around the room looking for a quick escape option.  Comforting hands were plied to backs and consoling words were spoken.  

It was vaccination day.

I felt bad for them and searched for words to comfort them.  No words came.  What good things can be said about getting a needle? (I guess in hindsight, I could have mentioned that it would most likely prevent them from getting a disease).

One student raised his hand.

“Does getting the needle hurt?”

“Well, it won’t be too bad.  Your arm will feel like you have been punched or had a bad Charlie horse.” I replied matter-of-factually.

A student in the front row let out an unearthly groan and put his head down in despair.

“My mom told me it would tickle!” said one student.

“My mom told me I wouldn’t even feel it!” countered someone else.

Our discussion of pain was interrupted by a knock on the door.  I opened the classroom door to find a nurse in floral scrubs waiting outside.  She handed me a list of students who were getting the injection and in what order they should come.

It was at that point that I knew that my lesson had no chance of competing with needles.

“It’s time.”  I said gravely.  All of the students knew what I was referring too.

I pointed to the first two students on the list and told them to make their way to the make-shift nurses’ station in the kitchen.  Some of the remaining students solemnly waved goodbye.  Others silently mouthed ‘goodbye’ or ‘you were a good friend’ or ‘can I have your sparkly pencil if you don’t come back?’

The first two students bravely stood up, took a deep breath, braced themselves, and strode out of the room.  

After about five minutes one of the students returned – alone.  The students anxiously asked him where the other student was.

“He fainted in the hallway.  I tried to catch him, but I dropped him.”

I jumped up and ran to the hallway, but was relieved to see the nurses helping the student back to the kitchen.

“Who’s next?” I asked the class.  The students sank lower in their desks, avoided all eye contact and suddenly seemed very interested in the weave of the carpet.

I selected two more students. They solemnly left the room and headed for the kitchen.  I and the rest of the students were relieved to see them return after a few minutes.  Their arms were tender, but they seemed okay. The next two were sent.

To my dismay, only one returned.  

“What happened?” I asked exasperatedly.

“She fainted in the kitchen and threw up.” replied her partner.  More anguished groans from the class.

This was getting intense.  That kitchen was quickly turning into a triage unit.

I turned to the class and addressed them in a Churchillian manner.  “I am sure she will be okay.  Just relax and take a deep breath.  You’ll be just fine.”  

“My mom said that this morning too!” said one student accusingly.  

The needles continued, and were done by the morning.  Our casualty rate climbed to three.   Two students went home early to recover from the effects.

My mantra “never a dull moment as a teacher” was never truer then that fall morning.  I haven’t had the heart yet to tell the class that the nurses will be back in April for round two.  Stay tuned...