I woke up early to the telephone. Never a good thing. No good news arrives at 6:00 am. I ran downstairs fumbling my glasses onto my face and thinking of possible scenarios. The call was from Sam, who, you will recall, was walking home from Kingston with two friends, a tent, a packet of hot dogs, and a knife that will cut bullets in half. I did not waste any time asking if he was all right because he began at once.
Dad, do you have any idea how cold it gets at night?
He sounded grumpy and a bit defensive. I relaxed.
Tell me, I said, how cold it gets.
Pretty effing cold. Say, um, how close are you to a set of car keys?
The day before the boys had risen early and walked and walked and walked and walked, reaching Napanee, a town I know because it is the birthplace of -- oh, shoot, what's her name -- the spunky little teeny bopper pop star a few years ago -- sk8ter grrl, da da da -- don't like her music at all -- oh dear, where is my memory, I am sounding like my father -- you know the singer I mean. I'll look her up when I finish this. Anyway, the distance travelled was about 45 kms, which is not bad for a day's toil but a long way from the end of their journey. The boys were cold, sunburnt, blistered, and done. I picked them up at the Empire Diner in downtown Napanee (I'm sure whatever her name is would know the place), looking glum but relieved to see me and my car.
So, I said, driving home with the heater on full blast, are we never to speak of this again?
No, no, they assured me. It had been a fun trip. A real wake-up call, said Scott. We'll have to plan better next time. Wait until it's warmer, for one thing.
And bring better shoes, said Spenser.
And sun block, said Sam.
Uh huh, I said. Don't forget insect repellent either. And make sure you know what poison ivy looks like.
There was a collective, Hmmm, as they worked out the implications of hiking in the summer. We drove for a few minutes in fetid silence.
And did the famous bullet-splitting knife work out, Scott?
Oh yeah, he said. We used it to chop down a tree for firewood.
He was leaning forward in the front passenger seat, warming his hands at the air vent. I stared at him. He was not kidding. A tree? I said.
Well, a small tree.
I may have to get me one of these knives. Bullets, trees ... maybe it can cut through red tape from the receiver general's office which is festooning my desk these days.
Hey, for all the wonderful poetry and mathematical formulae and children's appointments I have forgotten over the years, it's good to know that I can also lose stuff I don't care about. Avril Lavigne. That's her up there, of course. With any luck I'll forget her again soon.