First Rain in a While.

Pardon me while I weather-blog.

November is harder when it rains. Don’t get me wrong. I do not take the sunny days for granted. I get out in them. I praise them. I relish them. Because I know a day like today is coming.

Today is November encapsulated. It’s not cold, just dank. The rain isn’t hard rain, but it is persistent. It says, “Yes, I can keep this up for two weeks if I feel like it.” It has the power in our relationship.

On the other hand, it is a finite relationship, and today we are 2/3rds through. That’s 66%!

I’m going to beat it.

First Contact Lenses.

I was so excited! My mom finally was going to let me have contact lenses. This was huge for me, because I was a small, pimply, greasy nerd and I somehow felt that the glasses were what was causing my chronic loserdom. Of course, now I know that it was, well, high school and the fact that I was a small, pimply, greasy nerd.

I sometimes wonder if my mom gave in because she thought I would be less bullied if I weren’t wearing glasses.

Whatever the case, we went down to Ted the Cran, who was our eye guy. (My brother and I gave the people in our lives nicknames a lot) Ted measured my eyes and then two weeks later, we went back, because he had my contacts.

I could see! It was wonderful! I had peripheral vision for the first time in a decade! Non-nerdiness, here I come! Social acceptability, hello!

Reality check: No one even noticed I had contact lenses.  I was still a skinny, pimply, greasy nerd. But now I could see my tormentors coming at me from the sides.

Coke Nerd.

This is about the time I accidentally smoked cocaine. There’s only been one time, but still.  That counts as a first, and I am feeling confessional.

I was 20. I was with this guy who looked great on paper when you’re 20: Self-employed as a fisherman, owned a boat (troller, not gillnetter), farmhand in the off-season, lived in a converted barn on Quadra Island, owned a truck, leftist tendencies. I’d go and see him for a weekend a month, perfect when the rest of my time was taken up with papers and research.

Trouble was, he was a Wake-N-Bake pothead. Oh, and batshit-crazy.  This guy had theories that made no sense whatsoever. Theories like I shouldn’t read so much fiction because I might start to believe it! Anybody wondering exactly what kind of turnip-head I was to date this guy? Me too.

He was dumb, but he thought he was smarter than me because he was eight years older than me. Yeah, he could catch Spring Salmon like nobody’s business, but that doesn’t mean he had any right telling my essay on Crusader warfare was wrong. (Because he’d done past-life regression, so he knew about the past, obviously.)

Oh God. The cringe factor is high here. I might not post this.

Anyhow, my boyfriend had come to Vancouver for the Joe Satriani concert. It was a big event for him. We were at the house of some friends of his, and they were passing around a joint. I had a toke off it because I generally did when there was one going. Dating him was the only time in my life I smoked pot. It made me dumb enough for him. Pot makes me dumb. I get S-L-O-W.

So imagine my surprise when my neurons started speeding up. And up. And up.

Recognizing that I was going through something different, I found a corner and a piece of paper and a pencil, because I didn’t know what was happening in my brain but I was at a stage in life where I wrote stuff down.

I sat in a corner and scribbled words down, looking at similarities in languages I knew parts of: Spanish, Welsh, French, Italian, German, Greek. Maybe some Russian. I don’t remember. I looked at the commonalities between them as well as the words that are similar to English, and I reconstructed the Indo-European language group.

I was pretty accurate as well, it turns out.

That experience 1) turned me off cocaine forever, because no one needed that kind of brainpower. It was heady and scary and alienating. It also 2) turned me off my boyfriend. Because what kind of stupid asshole doesn’t tell his girlfriend there’s cocaine in the joint?

First Lunch At School.

It took me a while to get up the nerve to have lunch at school. I was a child bothered by excessive noise, and the high bare walls and ceilings of the lunchroom did nothing to baffle sound. It was loud  in there even when we just went in to play games. Lunchtime was a pulsating din.

Before, I came home for lunch, and there was my dog, Sam, waiting at the end of my block for me. He would have gone farther, but he wasn’t allowed to cross streets.  We’d go together into the house, and there would be a sandwich and milk and mom asking me how things were going. It was nice. A little ritual.

But I was always pushing the boundaries of my independence, and so I finally told my parents I wanted to try to have lunch at school.

It was a special lunch for me. I don’t remember what I ate, but my dad put in a little marzipan frog he’d picked up at some conference. Why they would give a bunch of computer guys marzipan frogs has always seemed illogical, but I loved the fact that my dad put it in my lunch, for a special First Lunch treat.

However, it was way too cute to eat. Besides, it had eyes. It was practically alive! So I took it home and told my parents that it was going to be a companion, that I didn’t want to eat it, because it was too cute.

They explained that it would eventually get all manky and gross and that I probably shouldn’t keep it around too long.

I nodded solemnly and kept the frog in my desk for the remainder of first grade. They didn’t have to know.

First Time E Impulse-Purcharsed A Volvo.

That makes it sound like he has a history. He doesn’t.

But keeping with the November Firsts, here’s something completely random. E bought a $400 Volvo.

It’s 32 years old and works much better than one would expect. It passed aircare.

I was convinced it was a for-sure tragedy, but it works like a (32 year old Volvo) dream. It is square and clunky as hell. But, unlike cars today, it is made of metal. It’s slow, but it’s strong. Safe.

It’s not zippy, but it is here for the long run. I like that.

First Dance.

Halloween. Grade eight. I went as a guerrilla soldier. Camo. Gun. The whole thing.

I think my mom was kind of taken aback. I think she thought I wanted to be a slutty fairy or slutty devil or slutty cat or whatever. You know, the default slut costume that young teenaged girls seem to want to put on at Halloween.

But Mom didn’t seem to grasp that I wasn’t popular, so there was no point in being a slutty anything. No one would ask me to dance, so I didn’t have to look slutty.

Looking back, that is terrible logic. And a little embarrassing.

The First Time I Saved Someone’s Life.

I believe I left five young teenagers swimming parallel to a cliff face away from hundreds of angry wasps.


I felt confident as we started. That was probably a combination of adrenaline, assumption, and being a teenager. My brother and I are both good swimmers. We were going to be fine, and I knew that if we took rests clinging to the cliff face, there was no reason we would not get back to the beach, and the short overland run to adults and safety. But the other kids? I wasn’t sure.

My worries were borne out about two hundred meters from where we’d cannoned into the water. Not surprising, really. We were already panicked by the wasps and the fall. Alseah, at the back, started thrashing.

“I can’t do it! I can’t!” She was flailing, but not making the (to me) obvious connection to go towards the cliff, which had handholds.

I don’t think I looked at or said anything to the other kids. I swam towards her. I think I remembered that if you were saving a panicked swimmer, you didn’t go TO them, because they’d try to climb out of the water using you (Damn monkey hind brains, climbing to get safe) and drown you. I swam between her and the cliff. “Come on,” I yelled, “Come on to me.” She splashed and shrieked towards me. She was screaming and crying. She wasn’t actually going under, she was just freaking out. But she was slowly moving, moving towards me.

“Come on, almost there, almost. Good, good. You’re getting it,” I crooned, treading water backwards, always slightly out of her reach. I made her thrash her panicked dog paddle as close as I dared to the cliff, and then pushed her at it with a big, full-body shove from behind until she held on. “See? You’re safe. You’re okay.”

The other kids looked at us. “Keep going,” I said. “We’ll be okay.”

We found a little ledge with an overhang, There was room for both of our butts, but only if we huddled, with both our feet in the water. I pushed Alseah while she clambered up to that lip in the rock. I dragged myself up after and set about trying to offset her shock and terror.

I sang for a while. The Beatles. Alseah calmed down. It almost seemed funny. We were pretty sure it would be, some day.

But I saw the sky was darkening. Our lovely overcast day was going to storm, and we were two wet maidens in our underwear, huddled in a crevice by the side of a lake. When the first raindrops fell, Alseah started to cry again.

We weathered the storm and it passed. I sang her ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and tried to hug her with my arms and legs, to keep her warm and less shocky. I don’t know how effective that was. My goosebumps could have carved the rock we were huddled into. Time passed.

And then I heard the most beautiful sound I have ever heard: An outboard motor.

My dad drove into our field of vision in our 18 foot aluminum runaround. He got us in the boat, he got our clothes from where we’d stashed them. We got back to camp and into dry clothes with warm drinks.

My dad looked at me. “You done good, Kid,” he said.

The highest praise in the world.

First Time Falling Down A Cliff While Being Chased By Wasps.

Actually, the only time. So far, anyhow. But with a title like that, how can I not blog it?

I think it was the summer I was fifteen. Dad and Scott and I were at Wilderness Camp on Kootenay Lake, the same place I got my first period, and had to use moss wrapped in toilet paper as a pad. But I already blogged that. So.

We kids were always encouraged to explore. We had freedom to go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted, as long as we were back for dinner when the sun was two fingers above the mountain. So we visited the Quakers in Johnson’s Landing, went looking for old prospectors’ cabins, built tripod swings and docks on the lake, built bridges over the creeks, played Risk, and generally filled our days with the kinds of things kids do when they have time and freedom.

One day, Sarah and Alseah and Colin and my brother and I decided we would go to Riondel, a town a little ways away. It was right there on the map. Why didn’t we? We totally should. It turned out it was farther than we thought. But we were doomed not to get there, however close it was.

We crossed the bridge onto the mainland and started walking north on the beach. Pretty soon, the beach gave way to mossy hills, and we climbed them so that we were walking along the top of these very steep hills down to the lake. It was an overcast day and we were cool enough, under the shade of skinny pines. We were about fifty feet up, and the moss was deep and thick. No one had been that way for a very long time.

It was slow going, because we were being careful. You’d put your foot down on the moss, but sometimes it was on top of a rotting log or something, so you didn’t want to trip or slip. Also, moss grows slowly, and we didn’t want to disturb it more than we needed to.

Colin was in the lead, a little ways before the pack of us. He stepped into the moss, sank a little more than he expected, and let out an unholy yell. “AUUUUGH! Bees!” He started running back towards us.

It took a second before the rest of us registered that he wasn’t joking. He could have been. Colin’s like that. But as he ran, wild-eyed and flapping, towards us, we became aware of the angry whine. And we registered the cloud around him. And we knew that Colin had stepped directly into an enormous wasp’s nest.

Further to that, he was leading several hundred (it looked like) angry insects directly to us.

Oh. Shit.

Fun Fact: Wasps are able to fly faster than young teenagers can lumber through deep moss. We learned that one. But here’s where the human brain triumphs. We knew we could escape the angry swarm if we went faster. How to go faster? Use gravity.

I don’t know if anyone yelled, “Get in the water!” or if our collective mammalian herd-brains got the idea at the same time, but we wheeled around and took off for the edge of the precipice.

It would have been easier if we had been able to simply plummet into the water, but the hill was at such an angle that we pretty much had to run/slide/tumble down, slowing our way by grabbing onto bushes and rocks.

About a third of the way down, I was aware of several points of intense pain on my body. Wasps had made their way under my big, baggy T-shirt. I did the only thing I could think of, still sliding down the mossy rocks and grass, and took off my T-shirt, swinging it around my head like a lariat.

We plunged into the lake, splashing and swatting at the dive-bombing wasps, screaming at the top of our lungs. We were now stationary targets, but we had the weapon of water. A lot of wasps died that day.

Eventually we calmed down enough to assess our situation. A faint, angry while told us not to climb back up. It was going to be a case of swimming for a long, long while.

Remembering swimming lessons, and noticing it is hard to swim in shoes and pants and (in everyone else’s cases) shirts, we shucked our clothes and stored them in little ledges along the cliff. It was probably about a half-a-mile or so to the beach. We started to swim.

Coming Tomorrow: The First Time I Saved Someone’s Life

First Visit To A Foreign Country.

(Not including the USA and an afternoon in Tijuana)

Wales. I was sixteen. My big loves all got me young: Han Solo, Wales, Classic Rock.

Most of you know that I love this little country of kind and funny people. Here’s how I fell in love.

The scouts and us Venturers all worked so hard to go on that Jamboree trip. We had garage sales, bottle drives, shoveled manure, and held casinos (Well, our parents did. We didn’t break any laws until we got into international airspace. Where the laws are different, so maybe we didn’t break any). Whatever the case, we worked hard for about two years to be able to go to the UK for two weeks, for the jamboree, and some time in London.

There were three camps we were aiming for, three big concentrations of scouts from all over the globe. You got to choose your first, second and third choices. My friends all chose Ireland first, but my mom wouldn’t let me, because of the IRA. I was all, “Yes, Mom. The IRA CARES that I am coming to Ireland. They want to kill a sixteen-year-old Canadian.” In retrospect, I think she was just worried: Big concentration of people, lots of publicity. Maybe she had a point.

Whatever. I got Wales, along with my friend Jason. Wales was like getting the short friend on the double date, I thought. Wales was geeky. Not as cool as Leeds or Ireland, at all! But I had shoveled shit and sold ceramic cats, and, damn it, I was going to Wales.

Our jamboree site was a place called Margam Park, which has an actual castle on it, and deer roaming the grounds. There are beautiful copses of huge trees, and miles and miles of rolling hills, which were covered with tents arranged in little ‘villages’. We were about two thousand people, a tent city all over those hills and under those trees, and if you stood at the crest of the hill at the main entry, you could see down past all the tents and the bustle, to the sea, shining in the distance.

Jason and I were in the work camp, because we would be doing jobs and helping out with administration and whatnot. We were meant to take our meals at the staff cafe, but when our first breakfast was lukewarm baked beans, a grilled tomato, and a few pieces of cucumber, we changed our breakfast routine to include chocolate bars from the tuck shop and a shared bottle of Newcastle Brown. Yeah. Beer for breakfast. Hm.

We worked mornings educating kids about ragweed (poisonous to sheep). We collected the kids in this big central tent, and took them out into the fields to pull ragweed up and save the sheep. While we were waiting for kids in the tent, we talked to the other volunteers. I learned from a retired colonel how to distill my own urine into potable water, and the correct way to season monkey meat. I got into a conversation with a guide leader from Cardiff who was astonished that I’d never seen a hedgehog. She whipped into town and presented me with a poster of a hedgehog. I was enchanted.

Afternoons were mostly ours to do whatever we wanted. We met kids from all over the UK, swapped badges, and taught each other slang. One afternoon, Jason and I, and our friends Tai and Andrew, from Wolverhampton, hitched a ride on a supplies truck into Cardiff and wandered around shopping.

Evenings were wonderful. We sat around fires and swapped stories with the other volunteers, or Tai and Andrew and Jason and I would walk into the little town of Pyle, and hang out with the scouters. We drank beer and ate cheddar and onion flavoured crisps. Walking back got slow, because Jason always wanted to stop and talk to the sheep. I would make the boys roll over the cattle grids if I thought they were too drunk to walk.

The closing horseshoe, I cried a little bit. It was like I found this new town, this new place, and I had found a way to fit in. I had friends, I had responsibilities. Somehow, Margam Park had become home. While I wasn’t looking, Wales turned into home.

And that’s how I fell in love with Wales.

First Day On The Barge.

I am currently at the auto body shop, waiting for Doug and his merry team of workers to finish up so I can take the Mole Hill truck back. That’s what I have been doing this Remembrance Day. Car jockeying. There is something comforting about the shop, though. It smells of machines and is grimy. Even the office smells mechanical and is grubby. It makes me homesick for Port Hardy.

My first day at work on the barge, I was seventeen, small for my age, and scared. I didn’t know my diesel from my gas from my stove oil, let alone a troller from a gillnetter, or a seiner from a packer. Boats were just big floaty things.

I learned the knot (clove hitch, I think it’s called) to tie the boats up. I learned to double check that our big old industrial-looking pumps were zeroed out. I learned to be fast getting the slips in to the cash register. And I learned that I would have to bring a bigger lunch. I had wolfed my sandwich and apple by eleven and by two, was thinking of dinner.

That was because I had never moved so fast for so long in my life: Run to the boat. Tie up the boat. Run to the hose, drag the hose. Run back to drag more hose. Run to see how the next customer was doing. Run to check fuel totals. Run inside with totals slips. Run back out to cast off a boat and run to the other side of the dock to tie up a new one. I hate running, but I never hated running the barge. Too much was going on.

My feet hurt so much by the end of that first day, I almost whimpered with relief getting my shoes off. I took a nap before dinner and then went back to sleep after making a twice-the-size lunch for the next day.

It was a steep learning curve, but I managed. More than that, I thrived. I got more efficient at my rounds, at estimating who would need what, and when. But that first day taught me a lot. It taught me that I was more than I dreamed I could be, and that I could do anything that I dreamed of.

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