Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Twilight at Nellie Lake

Something I recently learned: that time of night, when it's almost dark but there's still a little light in the sky and the world sky is alive with colour? It's called twilight. 

I could have sworn it was called "the part of the night that makes you wanna grab a glass of wine and a partner and get to business." 

Whatever you want to call it, it's my favorite time of day at the lake.  

One of the things I'll miss the most. 

The original moose man

Even as young kids, my sister and I never hesitated to make fun of my dad. Many cheesy jokes and one-liners were met with eye-rolls and groans.  

My dad's always been an outdoors man, a conservationist. While he hunted, I think it pained him sometimes to kill an animal. 

Growing up, moose were always presented as majestic, sacred, almost magical creatures. This has been ingrained into Gilly and I since an early age. Dad loved moose. He loved watching them on TV, he loved reading about them. When the urge hit him, what he loved most though, was tracking them.  

I remember one particular family trip when dad spotted a cow moose and two calves on the side of the road. 
"LOOKITTHEMOOSE!" he said, hitting the brakes.  
After pulling to the side of the road, he got out of the car and proceeded down the ditch.  
"Mom, what's he doing?" I asked, fear in my voice.  
My mom rolled down the window.  
"Bill!" she hissed, not wanting to scare the moose further into the bush. "Get back here!"  
Ever the limit-pusher, Dad walked toward the moose. The cow stood her ground. The hair on the back of her neck went up. Dad turned around and quickly crossed the ditch, walked back to the car, as three wide-eyed faces stared at him from the window.  
"That was somethin', eh guys?!" he said, his excitement filling the stuffy car.  
Gill and I (and my mom, I'm assuming, though I could only see the back of her head from the back seat,) rolled our eyes. 

One summer day, driving out to the cottage, my sister, Dad and I came across a calf moose trotting down the side of the lake road. Barely bigger than a Great Dane. When the calf saw our truck rounding the corner, it crossed the road into one of the cottage yards on the lake. 
Dad pulled a U-turn, and followed the calf down a driveway. The neighbors were sitting on their deck, having a drink.  
Dad got out of the truck. Gilly and I lowered ourselves onto the seat, trying to be as invisible as possible.  
"Have you seen a calf moose run through here?" he asked. 
"Like it's his moose," Gill said under her breath. I stifled a giggle. 
"Actually, yeah. We just did," said the neighbor, pointing. "It went into the bush there."
Dad got back into the truck. Gill and I looked at each other. Rolled our eyes.  
"Ok girls, let's go get into the canoe. If my estimations are right, that calf is just the other side of Freeman's Bay now." 
So off we paddled, the three of us, in the canoe, in search of Dad's calf.  
We never did spot it, but this adventure gave Gill and I some good teasing ammunition for a few years. 

This morning, I went for a walk on the Farm with my Dad. He had seen a cow and calf moose on the highway recently, and "if his estimations were right," they'd be roaming around his farm today.  
Without fail, there they were. Super-fresh moose tracks cutting right across the walking trail and into the bush.  
"They were just here," my Dad said, bending down to examine the tracks. "Chances are, we scared them off when we got out of the truck."  
Without hesitating, I stepped off the trail and into the bush, expecting to sink to my knees in snow. The thick crust stayed strong, holding my weight. I looked at Dad.  
"Let's follow it," I said. No eye-rolling. No groans. Just the excitement of being that close to a moose. I could feel her near me. (Ok, I know what you're thinking. Get a grip. It's a moose. But you don't understand. These are the creatures we'd chased in a canoe, received dozens of lessons about, watched countless TV specials on. And I was SO close.) 
The tracks led us over a farmer's fence, through dense bush. Not a word was spoken. Well, except when I peed on my pants in an attempt to squat over a fallen log. And when I expressed my amazement that "LOOK! Moose poop DOES really look like chocolate-covered almonds! WHADDYA KNOW!" Also, that one time crossing over a beaver pond when Dad told me exactly where not to walk and I walked there anyways? That "sploosh" you heard may or may not have been my leg breaking through the ice into the swamp water. MY BAD.
I didn't even notice how long we'd been walking. Following. Tracking. Didn't notice whether or not I was cold. We were on a mission, dang-it, and I was going to see moose.  

The payoff was excellent.  

OK. So this last part didn't happen. But wouldn't that have been a totally AMAZEBALLS way to end this post? If you're thinking that's just a random picture of a cow and calf stolen borrowed from the Internet, you're absolutely right. GUILTY!  

But really, it didn't matter that the morning didn't end with us spotting the (quite elusive, as I'm finding out) animals. Betcha think I'm about to get all sappy and say it was the bonding experience with my Dad that really mattered, right? WRONG. Through the log-peeing, wet feet, branch smacks across the face and dodging moose poop, we didn't do much talking.  

But this morning, I finally felt it. I felt what my Dad's been feeling for years. The excitement of tracking a moose. Being so close you can feel it. Not knowing if the next turn is going to lead to the sighting of the strong, majestic, almost magical animal.  
I finally caught my family's moose mania.

Cleaning the moose-poop off my boots, I can't imagine a better way to spend my day off.  

Thanks, Pop.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My girl

Annie and I play in a basement playroom, undressing barbies, putting their clothes back on. 
"Are you sad today?" I ask, sensing a shift in my friend's mood from the day before, when we played together after school. 
"Some of the kids were mean today," says Annie. The usually cheerful blonde with sparkly blue eyes seems forlorn and quiet. 
"What did they say?" I put my doll down, focusing on my friend.
"They were singing mean things. About my mom." 
This is the first time Annie has mentioned her mother, but I have heard the adults talking. I know Annie's mom died in a car accident a couple of years ago. I know she lives with her uncle, grandfather, and brother.
Hearing about the kids who are hurting my friend makes me mad. 
"Don't be sad," I say, rising from the floor. "We've got Rainbow Chips Ahoy. Let's go ask my mom for some." 
"Ok," says Annie, the flicker of a smile crossing her lips.
Although we play together often, like the same music, giggle at the same jokes, I always had the feeling our lives were worlds apart. Annie seemed older, forced to grow up faster than her friends. Motherly. 

As the years go by, we drift apart and float back together. Always across-the-street neighbors, we talk on occasion and say hello in passing. Growing up, developing different groups of friends, different interests, has left us simple acquaintances. Neither of us know a chilly day in February 1998 will change our friendship forever, fusing our hearts together.

I sit downstairs on the couch, surrounded by girlfriends, kleenex wadded in my hand, eyes red rimmed. No one knows what to say to me. I can tell my girlfriends are uncomfortable. They talk to each other in low voices. I stare into space. 
Suddenly, someone comes down the stairs. First, a pair of jean-clad legs, then a boy's hockey coat. It is Annie. Ignoring the other girls on the couch, she beelines straight for me, hugs me tight. She doesn't cry. She is steady as a rock. She pulls away from the hug and speaks, authoritative but gentle. 
"Ok, you know I know exactly what you're going through. I know how you feel. Things are going to be ok. It's going to be bad for awhile. You're going to have bad dreams. You're going to be sad.
"But in the end, things are going to be ok." 

I now see that hug, those words, as a defining moment in my life. A moment that cemented one of the greatest friendships I have ever known. Now, I can't recall a school dance, house party, heartbreak or triumph when Annie wasn't by my side. 

We spent an entire summer sleeping in my family's boat house on the lake. Listening to music until the early hours of the morning. Through many high school break-ups, fights, and victories, we were each other's champions. 

One of the things I admire most about my friend was she never wanted to be cool. Not like the other girls in high school. She never cared what people thought. She was always up for a good time. Kind, and generous. Even after all she'd been through. 

A recent tragedy in Annie's family brought back feelings from years gone by. Annie standing in my corner. Telling me everything was going to be ok. Mothering me, when I needed it the most.

Driving an hour late at night to be with Annie was a no-brainer. I knew my friend would do the same for me in a heartbeat. Lying beside my friend that night, she rolled over, nestled her head onto my chest. Her face was wet with sorrow.

Feeling a warm tear drip onto my own skin, I realized why this scenario felt strange, yet familiar. For the first time in my life, I was comforting my strong, optimistic, caring, nurturing friend. Instead of being the mother, like always, Annie was being mothered. 

In any friendship, just like a good love story, there are ups and downs. Moments of victory and defeat. Days filled with happiness and laughter, and others with despair and tears.

These are the defining moments, the ones that make things clear. That reinforce the reason this friendship has come to rest in your heart. 

I feel so honoured to be able to share moments like these with my good friend Annie. One of the most amazing people I know, whose bright soul shines out through every pore. 

A fighter. A champion. Against all odds.

A true, everyday beauty.