The Pacific and a Big Yellow Curb
We pushed on towards the coast. Neither of us was certain, but the closer we got to the Pacific; we swore that we could actually smell the clean ocean air. As we passed the city of Chilliwack, we left the Towering Rockies and the arid Okanagan Valley behind. Ahead of us lay the legendary rainforests of the Pacific Coast.
As much as we were chomping at the bit to see the Pacific Ocean, we elected to stop for the night at a small campground on the outskirts of Abbotsford.
“Well bud, tomorrow, we’ll see the first Ocean of the trip,” I said to Josh as we worked together to put up our tent.
“I can’t wait. I’ve never seen the ocean before. Lake Superior was amazing, but I can only imagine what the Pacific will look like.”
As we worked, Brutus busied himself by chasing various flying insects around the camp site. The campground was fairly secluded and our site was nestled in the midst of a stand of towering redwood trees. Some of the trees were so massive that if Josh and I were to link arms, we couldn’t reach all the way around the trunks. The ground was soft and made up of a moist dark soil and covered with a thick layer of pine needles.
We had just finished setting up the tent when a squirrel ran out of a tree and entered the camp site. Brutus nearly went ballistic and chased the terrified little animal right up the nearest redwood. His high pitched barking echoing throughout the campground. Josh and I laughed our heads off watching him, with his ears perked up at full alert circling the giant tree and barking like mad.
“I wonder what he’d do if he caught a squirrel?” Josh asked.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think he knows what he’d do if he caught one,” I chuckled.
“He sure likes to chase things,” Josh observed.
“It’s all new to him. He’s a lot like a little child right now. He wants to explore and experience everything he can.”
Once we had out campsite setup, we got a large bonfire going. At first, Brutus wasn’t too sure that he liked the fire, but he got used to it. At one point, a knot popped and poor Brutus just about jumped out of his skin. He was on Josh’s lap in the blink of an eye.
For dinner, we grilled up some hamburger patties that we’d picked up and chopped up some fresh carrots. We chased the burgers and carrot sticks down with tall glasses of Orange Juice. Taking Donny’s advice, we had stopped at a supermarket and stocked up on fruit juices, fresh fruit, and veggies.
“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” Josh asked as he leaned against me in front of the camp fire.
“Tomorrow we’ll take a detour off the Trans Canada Highway and head for Delta. We’ll get our first look at the Pacific at a small town near the border called Tsawwassen. From there, we’ll head north into Richmond and Vancouver and we’ll double back to Burnaby to see Shelly and her family on the 28th.”
“Man, it’s amazing how far we’ve come. I never imagined that I’d be sitting in a forest made up of giant trees just a few miles from the US border and less than a day from the Pacific Ocean!”
“There’s some cool stuff to see in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing the Russian submarine,” I remarked.
“The Russian submarine?” Josh asked.
“Yeah, it’s an old decommissioned Russian Submarine that they have setup as a floating museum in West Vancouver. We’ll go for a tour and then check out the market right there on the Wharf. We can probably find a good birthday present for Shelly while we’re there.”
“Cool,” Josh said with a yawn and leaned his head against my shoulder.
I folded my arms around both him and Brutus and leaned my cheek against Josh’s head. Brutus curled up in Josh’s lap and placed his head on my knee. The three of us sat silently and watched the fire and gazed up at what little we could see of the night sky between the branches of the towering trees.
After a while, I could hear Josh snoring softly so I gently lifted Brutus to the ground and then picked up Josh and took him into the tent. I carefully got him undressed and placed him inside his sleeping bag. After tucking him in and kissing him softly on the temple, I went and collected Brutus.
After zipping up the tent, I crawled into my own sleeping bag and watched as Brutus curled up on the blanket that we had bought for him. He positioned himself near the entrance to the tent as if he was guarding his pack. I must have fallen asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The next morning, I awoke bright and early. The sun was filtering through the canopy provided by the trees above and creating interesting patterns of light on the tent. I wasn’t fully aware yet, but I could hear three distinct and unusual sounds coming from inside the tent. Something was rhythmically thumping the side of the tent and there was a buzzing sound and an occasional sharp clicking sound.
I rolled over in my sleeping back and looked over a Josh. He was still flat on his back and dead to the world, so I glanced down at Brutus. I had to stifle a laugh when I saw him.
The little dog was sitting up, all prim and proper with his tail wagging madly and thumping the side of the tent. His ears were perked up at full alert and his head was rapidly moving around tracking a large fly that was buzzing around. Every so often, the fly would zip into range and Brutus would snap at it; his teeth providing the clicking sound.
I watched him for several minutes and he never seemed to grow tired of his game with the fly. “Whatcha doing Brutus?” I finally said.
Brutus let out a little high pitched bark and then happily jumped up and ran over to me. Before I new it, I was being smothered with puppy kisses.
“Good boy Brutus,” I said and patted the happy puppy’s head. Brutus was proving to be an incredibly smart dog and he was learning commands very quickly. I decided to teach him a new trick.
“Brutus sit,” I commanded and the little dog immediately did as he was told. He sat and cocked his head from side to side awaiting the next command.
“Shake a paw Brutus,” I said. We hadn’t taught him that yet.
Brutus looked at me and wagged his tail.
“Shake a paw Brutus,” I repeated and reached out to shake his right forepaw.
At first, he tried to lick my hand, but then he settled down. I repeated the command “Shake a paw Brutus.” I repeated the command five times and each time I reached for his paw. On the sixth repetition, he held up his right paw as soon as I said, “Shake a paw Brutus”.
“Good boy, I said enthusiastically and patted the puppy’s head. I also reached into one of the bags that we had brought into the tent and produced a couple of Milk Bone puppy treats. I gave him one and then had him catch the second in his mouth. Josh and Mark had taught both puppies how to catch.
Josh was still sleeping, so I quietly threw on some clothes and then went out of the tent so both Brutus and I could empty our bladders. I was truly amazed at how few accidents Brutus had. He’d never made a mess in the Jeep and so far, he had yet to make on in hotel room or the tent.
While Brutus pranced around the campsite and did his best to clear out all the small rodents and flying insects from his territory, I started breakfast. I’d just barely placed the slices of back bacon in the pan when a sleepy looking Josh climbed out of the tent, drawn by the smell of cooking bacon.
“Morning son,” I said and pulled him into a warm hug.
“Morning Dad,” Josh replied. After returning my hug, he bent down to return Brutus’ affections.
“Ask him to shake a paw,” I said to Josh.
“Ok. Brutus sit,” Josh instructed. “Shake a paw.”
Without any hesitation, Brutus lifted his right forepaw and offered it to Josh.
“Good boy,” Josh said enthusiastically. “You’re such a smart dog.”
“It took me all of about five minutes to teach him that,” I told Josh.
“He and Daisy are the smartest dogs I’ve ever seen,” Josh said.
“I think it’s the German Shepherd in them. Shepherds are extremely smart dogs. Very loyal too. Once a Shepherd decided he or she likes you, you have a friend for life. Labs are quite smart and loyal too and they are about the most even-tempered dogs around. We got really lucky with Brutus and Daisy. We seemed to get the best of both worlds.”
“I think so. I’ll bet the twins will love Brutus,” Josh observed.
“I’ll bet he’ll love them too. Dogs and boys are a natural fit if ever there was one. I was thinking, a month or two after we get back, we’ll have to take Brutus to the vet and get him fixed.”
“Fixed? What’s wrong with him?” Josh asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with him, we just need to get him neutered. We don’t need him running around leaving a trail of Brutus puppies in his wake,” I joked.
Josh looked confused for a second and then he realized what I meant. “You mean get his balls cut off?” He asked in a shocked tone.
“Yep, that’s about it. It’s a completely routine operation and he’ll only be away for a day.”
“Cutting his balls of doesn’t sound very nice. I wouldn’t want anyone to cut mine off,” Josh said.
“I know, but there are too many unwanted puppies in the world as it is. Remember that’s how we got Brutus and Daisy. Also, when he’s fixed, it’ll calm him down a bit and he’ll be a lot less likely to run away or anything like that.”
“Ok, I understand now,” Josh replied.
After breakfast, Josh, Brutus, and I headed over to the showers before breaking camp. It was funny watching Brutus play with Josh in the shower. Brutus didn’t think much of it when we bathed him after we first found him, but he had no problem jumping in the shower stall with Josh.
“Dad look at this,” Josh said
I looked over and watched as Josh angled the showerhead up so that it sprayed directly at Brutus. Brutus sat down and tried to bite at the jet of water. When Josh pointed the stream in another direction, Brutus stood up and shook from head to toe to dry his fur. Josh and I both had a good laugh at his antics.
After we finished showering, we shaved and dressed for the day and then returned to the campsite. Brutus bounced around excitedly as we packed up all the camping gear. I think he knew we were going to get back into the Jeep and drive some more.
“Well bud, next stop Tsawwassen, Boundary Bay, and the Pacific Ocean,” I said as wrapped my arm around Josh’s shoulders and faced the Jeep.
“This is going to be great,” Josh replied.
“How’s your leg kiddo? Any more cramps?” I asked with concern in my voice.
“Nah, I’ve been fine. I’ll tell you if anything happens,” Josh replied.
With that, the three of us piled into the Jeep and once again hit the road.
We entered the Trans Canada Highway and drove about 22 kilometers before exiting onto Highway 10 which took us west through Langley, Surrey, and Delta before we turned south onto Highway 17 and headed 15 kilometers south to the small town of Tsawwassen.
“Saw-ah-sin? Is that how you pronounce it?” Josh asked as we passed the sign welcoming us to Tsawwassen.
“Tah-wah-sen, actually,” I replied. “It’s an aboriginal word meaning ‘Land Facing the Sea’. Right now, the Tsawwassen First Nations are negotiating with the Federal Government to re-establish their rights on this land. In time, they’ll get those rights, both fishing and economic, returned to them.”
“This looks like a pretty small place,” Josh said. “Why are we stopping here?”
“A couple of reasons,” I replied mysteriously. “I’ll show you the first in just a second.”
I navigated the Jeep down the town’s main street and then turned left onto Twelfth Avenue. Ahead of us lay Boundary Bay Regional Park. We pulled into the parking area and parked the Jeep.
Josh snapped Brutus’s collar and leash on and then we all climbed out of the Jeep with the video camera and digital camera in tow. We followed a short path through some trees and then came face to face with a breathtakingly beautiful sight. Before us, just beyond a stretch of sandy beach, lay the Pacific Ocean.
“Wow,” was all Josh could say.
“Amazing,” I replied.
We stood on the edge of the beach and looked out at Boundary Bay and Semiahmoo Bay that lapped at the shores of White Rock British Columbia, which was visible across the bay and then just to the left, the city of Blaine, Washington State. The Pacific was quite calm. A light ocean breeze swept over us as we stood and gazed out over the first ocean that either of us had ever seen. The water looked quite clear and it was full of laughing, splashing children and their parents.
To the south, there was a tower in the water about 30 feet off shore. “What’s that for?” Josh asked.
“That’s part of what we came here to see,” I replied.
“A tower in the water?”
“Not exactly,” I replied. “Let’s walk down there.”
Before we headed down the beach, we stopped and removed our shoes and socks so that we could walk barefoot and feel the warm sand under our feet.
“This is pretty warm,” Josh remarked. “Let’s try the water.”
Brutus led the way as we walked to the edge of the ocean. While Josh and I gingerly tested the water with our big toes, Brutus dove right in and started paddling around as far as he could go on his leash.
“I wonder if he’s part fish too.” Josh joked.
“He certainly loves the water!”
“How did he learn to swim?” Josh asked.
“I think it’s a genetic thing. It’s a natural ability that dogs are born with. This water is really nice.”
Since we were both wearing shorts, we waded out until the water was roughly knee deep and then we proceeded down the beach.
“I didn’t think the water would be this warm or this calm,” Josh said thoughtfully.
“I guess it’s because it’s not quite the open ocean. It’s still a bay. It might not be this calm or this warm on the other side.”
After strolling down the beach for a few minutes, we arrived at the tower in the water. It was a little farther out than we could wade to without changing into bathing suits, but we could see it quite clearly from where we stood.
“Ok, what’s so special about it?” Josh asked skeptically.
“Nothing really. It’s part of something else that is special.”
“Are you going to make me guess or are you going to tell me?”
“Even better, I’ll show you. Follow me.”
We turned towards the beach and walked up towards the trees. Looking around, it looked just like any other part of the beach. When we emerged from the trees and walked into the parking lot, we could see a yellow concrete curb running up from the beach and stretching the length of the parking lot and continuing beyond.
“Look at that,” I told Josh and pointed to the roughly one foot tall yellow curb. “That’s what we came to see.”
“A big yellow curb? Why do we want to see that?” Josh asked sounding confused.
“Go take a closer look at it,” I instructed.
Josh walked to the curb and stood up on it. I smiled as he picked up the video camera and used the zoom feature to see as far along it as he could.
“It goes on for a long ways,” Josh said.
“The curb doesn’t go all the way, but what it represents follows this exact same line all the way back to the Ontario border before it shifts. This curb is the 49th parallel. It’s the border between Canada and the United States.”
“Really? But there’s no wall, no fence, no guards,” Josh said incredulously.
“That’s why it’s special Joshy. You are standing on something remarkable. Something that isn’t seen anywhere else in the entire world. You’re standing on the world’s longest undefended border.”
“Undefended? You mean no guards?”
“Well, there are border guards at border crossing points. There’s a crossing point not far away from here. We’re on a peninsula right now and the tip of it is part of the United States known as Point Roberts. The only way to get in and out of the US part of the peninsula is by boat or by land through Canada. Undefended means that there are no military forces faced off over it. There are no mines. There is no barbed wire. In most places, there isn’t even really a curb like this. It’s just a line on a map.”
“How come it’s so special?”
“Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, countries cannot or will not get along. Sometimes countries still fight over nonsense that happened hundreds or even thousands of years ago. In other places, even if countries aren’t fighting, they don’t trust each other and they feel the need to protect their boarders against each other. There are other places such as most of Europe where the borders are undefended, but for the most part, that’s a new development. This border has been this way for almost 200 years.”
“Wow. That’s incredible. Wasn’t there once a war between Canada and the US though?”
“Yes, there was. It was from 1812 to 1814. It was really a war against Britain, before Canada was a country, just a British colony. Canadian Militia and British troops invaded what is now Michigan and occupied it for most of the war. American troops invaded York, which is now Toronto, and burned down the parliament buildings. British Troops and Canadian Militia attacked Washington DC and burned down the White House.”
“It was essentially a tie although some say that we won because we weren’t taken over. When it was all over, the borders went right back to where they had been before the war started and since then, not a single shot has ever been fired in anger through the border. The leaders of Canada and the United States decided that it was better for us to live as friends rather than enemies, and while there was certainly a lot of mutual suspicion in the years after the war, we’ve kept the peace.”
“We really are lucky to live here aren’t we?” Josh mused.
“Yeah, we sure are. Few countries on Earth have seen such peace for so long. You like history right?”
“Yeah, I love it,” Josh replied.
“Here’s something for you to remember. Years ago when President Kennedy visited Ottawa, he was invited to address parliament. His speech contained one of his most memorable quotes. When speaking about the relationship between Canada and the United States, he said: ‘Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.’”
“He was a smart guy,” Josh observed.
“Yes he was,” I replied. I watched Josh as he studied the border and I could see the wheels turning in his head.
“Why don’t other people live like this?” He asked finally.
“You mean in peace without fighting? I don’t know kiddo. We can’t really say that we don’t fight. We’ve always fought when it was necessary to do so, but we’ve never fought to gain territory or to take over another country. We’ve always fought to help other countries that have been unjustly invaded by their neighbours.”
“Do you think there will be another war?” Josh asked softly.
“I’m sure there will be, but I doubt we’ll ever see another war on the scale of World War I or World War II. Now that the cold war is over, the chances of a really big war are very small.”
“What about a nuclear war?” Josh asked.
“That’s a tough one. We won’t see a massive nuclear exchange between super powers. The real danger is in terrorists or some unstable country getting nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union broke up, a lot of smaller warheads reportedly went unaccounted for. If they fell into the wrong hands, it could be very bad news.”
“Do you know much about nuclear weapons?” Josh asked.
“A fair bit. I read a lot about it and we were trained in nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare in the army.” I spent a few minutes and told Josh what I knew about nuclear weapons and their effects. By the time I was done, Josh looked almost sick to his stomach.
“When you say vaporized, do you really mean evaporated instantly?” Josh asked in a wobbly voice.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. The centre of a nuclear explosion is hotter than the surface temperature of the sun. Hot enough to vaporize anything. When they went to the site of the Hiroshima bombing weeks after the bomb they found that sand within a couple of miles of the explosion had been melted and turned into massive sheets of black glass.”
“How come people have such terrible things?” Josh asked.
“Once the genie was let out of the bottle, the only thing that would keep a country from using nuclear weapons was the certain knowledge that the same type of weapons would be used against them. It’s called MAD – mutually assured destruction. That’s why nuclear-armed terrorists or rogue states would be so dangerous. They wouldn’t care about a retaliatory strike.”
Josh shuddered and looked down at his feet, so I wrapped my arm around his shoulders. “Don’t worry about it kiddo. There is very little chance that there will be a nuclear attack. We’re pretty safe from most threats here in North America.” At that time, I had no idea what was going to happen on a bright and sunny September morning just a little over a year later.
Josh leaned against me as we sat on the border. He was obviously deep in thought and seemed troubled. On one hand, I regretted telling him as much as I had about nuclear weapons, but on the other hand, I didn’t think that I had any choice except to be honest to him about it.
“Come on son. Let’s forget about the end of the world for now, check out the Russian submarine and get some food.”
The mention of food instantly got Josh’s attention and before long we were back at the Jeep, heading north to New Westminster.
“We need to get you a good knife before we head into the north country,” I said to Josh as we headed onto the highway.
“I already have a good knife, the Swiss Army knife that you gave me for Christmas,” Josh replied.
“I know, but you need a good solid fixed blade knife as well. I always carry a Swiss Army type of knife and a solid fixed blade with me when I’m in the bush.”
“Why do you need two?” Josh asked.
“They do different things. A fixed blade knife is larger and stronger and can be used for heavy duty tasks. A Swiss Army knife is nice and compact and has multiple functions. They’re great for light duty, but they aren’t strong enough for the tough tasks.”
The drive to the Westminster Quay took a little over twenty minutes and was quite scenic. The trip over the massive suspension bridge that spans the mighty Fraser River provided an excellent aerial view of the Submarine and the market. In addition to touring the submarine, we planned to visit the market to find a birthday gift for Shelly. I also wanted to buy a good fixed blade knife for Josh; one he’d learn was essential in the wilderness of the northland we’d be camping in.
“Cool! There’s the sub,” Josh exclaimed.
“It’s pretty big,” I replied.
The submarine was a large black cigar shaped form tied up along side at the quay. Several large scaffolds had been affixed to it, presumably to enable easy entry and exit. The submarine and the market beyond were literally swarming with people.
“Well bud, what do we do first, eat and check out the market or check out the sub?”
“Let’s do the sub,” Josh said excitedly.
I’d never been on board a submarine and neither had Josh. I’d seen plenty of movies and documentaries, but I had no idea as to what to expect on board that old Russian boat.
Josh purchased our tickets; then the two of us crossed the gangplank and climbed down the steps into what turned out to be the forward torpedo room. It was the largest compartment in the entire boat and it was crammed full of dummy torpedoes. The bow was dominated by the cylindrical torpedo tubes and the rest of the walls were covered in exposed pipes, wires and cables.
As we checked out a cutaway dummy torpedo, the tour guide entered the boat and handed out bright yellow hard hats to the ten or twelve of us who had assembled for the tour. After showing us the correct procedure for ducking through the small circular hatches that separated the various compartments, she started the tour.
We learned that the sub was a Foxtrot class diesel submarine that had been built in the 1960s. It had served in the Soviet navy until the early 90s and was retired from the Russian navy in 1992. The company that owned it had purchased it for one million dollars and had it towed all the way from Russia. It had been along side the Westminster Quay as a floating museum for several years.
The most striking thing about it was just how cramped it was. Even the captain’s cabin was just slightly larger than a closet. Officers shared similar small cramped rooms while enlisted men were crammed into whatever small space could be found to place a bunk. Some bunks were even located right next to the engine room and in the aft torpedo compartment.
The tour took about 45 minutes and we enjoyed every moment of it. Josh ran the video camera almost constantly as we made our way down the length of the sub. There were only a couple of times when he handed the camera off to me so that he could explore something. One of those was in the bridge or control center of the sub.
“Look at this,” Josh remarked as he handed me the camera. He was pointing to a bank of flashing lights, switches, and dials. “Pretty low tech, eh?”
“Really. It’s amazing how far technology has come in forty years,” I replied.
Josh reached up and was playing around with some of the switches when he pushed a button creating a shrill buzzing sound. Looking like he’d had his hand stung by a bee, he quickly snapped his hand back and smiled sheepishly at the tour guide when she glanced back at him. An old lady who was touring the boat with what appeared to be her husband and grandkids, nearly jumped out of her skin. Josh, the woman’s grandkids and myself had to struggle to stifle a laugh.
“You didn’t film that did you?” Josh asked.
“Yep, I got the whole thing,” I chuckled.
“Oh man!” Josh protested mildly.
“What were you trying to do, launch a torpedo?” I kidded him.
“Can you imagine what would happen if the twins were down here? They’d have the poor tour guide running ragged!” Josh snickered.
After we left the submarine, we went back to the Jeep to check on Brutus and give him some exercise. It was a pretty mild day so we weren’t worried about leaving him in the Jeep with the windows rolled slightly down, but we made sure to check on him often and made sure that he had plenty of water. With Brutus tended to; we headed into the market to get some lunch and then do a little shopping. The first priority was lunch.
“What do you feel like kiddo?” I asked Josh.
“Food sounds good,” he deadpanned.
“Wise guy eh?” I replied in my Curly voice.
“That looks good,” Josh said and grabbed my arm to drag me over to a Greek food stand at the food court.
“It certainly smells great,” I said and licked my lips. The smell of chicken and pork souvlaki made my mouth water. “Have you ever had Greek food before?”
“No, but it looks really good. It comes with salad, rice and potatoes too, so we’ll get our veggies.”
“Ok then, let’s try it.”
We both ordered a large Chicken souvlaki dinner with all the trimmings. I watched Josh as we found ourselves a table, and I’m pretty sure that it took all of his self control to avoid devouring his meal before we even found a table.
As it turned out, the food was even better than it looked and smelled. The chicken just about fell of the skewers and it virtually melted in our mouths.
“Oh man this is good,” Josh groaned. “I could probably eat another plate of this stuff.”
“I have no doubt of that bud. You can have more if you want it.”
“Do you want to split an order of the pork souvlaki when we’re done?”
“I doubt I could eat it, but I’ll try.”
After cleaning our plates, Josh went back to the food stand and returned a couple of minutes later with a small plate with two skewers of pork souvlaki. “They guy let me buy just the meat this time,” He announced and then handed me one of the skewers.
The pork turned out to be just as good as the chicken, but I couldn’t finish it. I wasn’t at all surprised when Josh happily accepted my offer of half of my skewer and then made it disappear in little more than the blink of an eye.
After lunch, we began strolling through the market. The place reminded me a lot of the Forks Market in Winnipeg only larger. We started at one end of the market and then began walking up and down the aisles. Occasionally something would catch our eyes and we’d stop and take a closer look.
We saw something remarkable in a booth at the end of one of the aisles. There was a woman selling pet supplies and she had a rather large parrot sitting on a perch. As people walked by, the parrot would speak to them.
“Check out the talking bird!” Josh said excitedly.
“Hello.” The bird said as Josh approached.
“Hello,” Josh replied.
The bird began to spread its wings and began doing a near perfect imitation of a seagull.
“That’s amazing,” Josh said to the woman.
“Charlie’s a character alright,” the woman replied. “Watch this.” She began making dog-barking sounds at Charlie the parrot and pretty soon, he began barking back at her.
“I wonder what Brutus would think of that,” I chuckled.
“He’d probably be pretty confused,” Josh replied. “How did you teach him all that?”
“Lots of effort,” The woman replied. “Lot’s of patience too. They’re pretty smart birds.”
Josh and I amused ourselves with the talking parrot for a few more minutes before moving on. “That was so cool,” Josh said was we walked away. “Did you get that on video?”
“You bet I did!”
About half way up the next aisle, we encountered a double booth that contained a very large variety of knives and camping gear. “Here we go Josh, let’s see if we can find you a good knife.”
“Cool,” Josh replied.
“Take a look around and see if you find one you like,” I suggested.
I stood back and watched as Josh examined the various knives arrayed on the table before us. I hadn’t ever told him what to look for in a knife, so I wasn’t too surprised with his first choice.
“This one’s cool,” Josh said as he held up what looked to be a Rambo type of knife with an almost foot long blade on it.
“I don’t think that’s what you need bud,” I replied.
“Really? You can unscrew the end of the handle and it has a survival kit inside and it has a compass inside the end cap.”
“It’s like Rambo’s knife,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
“Let’s see it,” I said and held out my hand. Josh carefully sheathed the knife and handed it over to me.
The sheath was cheap imitation leather as I suspected and it held a small sharpening stone in a small pocket on the outside. I unsnapped the button and took out the knife to examine it closely. The blade appeared to be made out of a fairly cheap metal and the hilt was actually plastic. I unscrewed the end cap and examined the survival kit inside. In reality, it was little more than some fish hooks and a few matches.
“I think we can do a lot better than this,” I told Josh. “Take a look at this. The hilt is made out of plastic and the blade isn’t very good quality.” I unscrewed the end cap, removed the small container that held the survival kit, and showed Josh inside the handle of the knife. “See that? All that’s holding the blade in place is that one nut. If the handle broke or the blade snapped off, the knife would be useless. With a plastic handle, the blade is probably quite likely to do just that.”
“What about the survival kit?”
“You already have a good survival kit. Do you think that a few more fish hooks and a couple of matches are really going to help you all that much?”
“I guess not. I guess it isn’t so cool after all,” Josh said dejectedly.
“Let’s find you a really good one,” I replied.
“What should I look for?”
“Well for starters, you want a knife with a fairly thick stainless steel blade of about six inches in length and an overall length of about 10 inches. You don’t need anything longer than that.” I picked up and examined a couple of knives. “Take a look at these Josh and tell me what you think.
Josh took the first knife and unsheathed it. “It’s about the right size and the blade says stainless steel. The handle is made of wood and there’s no hollow part. The sheath looks like its real leather.”
“It’s a step up over the Rambo knife,” I replied. “Now look at this one.” I handed Josh the second knife.
“This one looks even better,” Josh remarked.
“It is better. In fact, this is a very nice knife. It’s similar to mine. Here, I’ll show you what to look for in a good outdoors knife. Take a look at the handle. Can you see the difference between this knife and the other one?”
“Yeah, the blade goes all the way back to the end of the handle,” Josh observed.
“That’s right. That’s what’s known as a ‘full tang’”
“How come that’s important?”
“Good question. Imagine if the wood grips broke off this knife,” I said and held up the first knife that I’d shown Josh. “Could you still use the knife with no handle?”
“No, you’d cut yourself,” Josh replied.
“That’s right. Now what about this knife with the full tang?”
“You could still grab it without touching the sharp part.”
“That’s right. You could also wrap something around it as a makeshift handle. Here’s something else. I wouldn’t worry about the grips breaking or coming off, they’re made out of pakkawood, which is very solid and keeps its nice finish for a very long time. Hold out your hand,” I instructed.
Josh held out his hand and I placed the hilt of the knife on the palm of his hand with the blade hanging off. “Notice anything?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s balanced. It doesn’t fall over.”
“That’s right. A good knife is balanced so that the hilt weighs pretty much the same as the blade. Hold it in your hand like you’re going to cut something with it,” I instructed.
“It’s comfortable. It seems to fit my hand pretty well,” Josh said.
“That’s good. Notice that it doesn’t feel heavy or awkward because it’s so well balanced?”
“Yeah, I like it.”
“It’s your then bud.”
“But it’s $70!”
“I know. You get what you pay for Joshy. If you go cheap on a knife, you’ll get a cheap knife. A good knife can save your life in the wilderness, so you want to be sure that you’re getting something that will last and do the job.”
“Thanks Dad,” Josh said and gave me a brief, but nonetheless, heartfelt hug.
In addition to the knife, I purchased a sharpening stone. I planned on spending some time that night teaching Josh how to properly sharpen a knife. One of my goals for the trip was to give Josh a true appreciation for nature and the outdoors as well as the ability to survive in emergency situations where it isn’t all that easy to do.
Josh and I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for souvenirs for people back home and for a suitable birthday gift for Shelly. We were both looking forward to seeing the Masons again and we both knew that our visit would really perk Shelly up again.
Neither Josh nor I had much experience in shopping for girls so we were having a bit of a tough time of it. What made matters worse was that I was developing a doozey of a headache and I did my best to hide it from Josh. Predictably, I failed miserably.
“Are you ok Dad?” Josh asked me with a great deal of concern in his voice. He rested his hand on my shoulders and looked right into my eyes.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache coming on, but I’m ok bud.”
“Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a bit of a headache,” Josh replied firmly.
“Really, I’m ok son. Let’s find a gift for Shelly and then we can head to the motel and settle in for the night.”
“I’ll give you a shoulder and neck rub when we get there,” Josh promised and squeezed my shoulder gently with his hand.
Fortunately, we didn’t end up having to spend much more time at the market. We rounded the corner on the aisle and found ourselves face to face with a jewelry booth. The booth was manned by an older man and according to the sign; all of the pieces were hand made. Josh scanned the items and almost immediately locked his gaze onto a lovely gold locket.
The locket was heart shaped and about half an inch in diameter and its chain was made up of fine gold links.
“Could I see that one please?” Josh asked the man behind the counter.
“Certainly,” the man replied and reached into the glass case to hand the locket to Josh.
“It’s beautiful,” Josh said softly.
“I think Shelly would really like it,” I said.
As Josh studied the locket, I noticed the man looking intently Josh as if studying his face. “Aren’t you the boy who gave the prime minister heck in Ottawa the other week?”
“That’s him,” I replied with a smile.
“Well I’ll be damned. Imagine having someone famous in my store. Who is the locket for?”
“It’s for Shelly. She’s very sick with cancer,” Josh replied.
“Damn. I’m sorry to hear about that son. Cancer got my wife a couple of years back. A terrible disease. Is Shelly your girl friend?”
Josh blushed slightly. “Kinda,” he replied. “She got a big crush on me when we met and said she wanted to marry me. I told her that I would when we got older and if she got better.”
“You must be really proud of this boy,” the old man said looking at me.
“I am,” I replied and gently rubbed Josh’s back.
“How much is the locket?” Josh asked.
“Normally I sell lockets like that for $400. For such a nice young man as yourself, I’ll give it to you for my cost. $200 and I’ll even put your picture in it for you,”
“Thanks!” Josh exclaimed.
The man produced a Polaroid camera from behind the counter and took Josh’s picture. Josh and I then watched as he went to work carefully cutting the image and fitting it perfectly inside the locket. With the picture in place, he reached under the counter and set a lovely velvet covered box on the counter and carefully fit the locket inside.
“This is a wonderful thing you’re doing for that girl Josh,” the man said. “I hope it helps.”
“I think it will. Thanks Mr.????”
“Rosen. My name is Mr. Rosen. It’s been a pleasure to meet you Josh. I get a feeling about you. Somehow I feel like I met someone important today,” Mister Rosen said and shook Josh’s hand.
Josh paid Mister Rosen for the locket and then the two of us headed back to the Jeep and a very excited Brutus.
I climbed into the driver’s seat while Josh took Brutus for a short walk on his leash to give him some exercise and to do his business. While they were gone, I leaned back in my seat and turned on the air conditioner. It wasn’t really hot in the Jeep, but the cold air helped my headache quite a bit.
A few moments later, the passenger door opened and Brutus came bounding in. The puppy jumped into my lap and began to furiously lick my face. After a moment, he seemed to notice my somewhat subdued state. He sniffed around my face for a moment and then simply curled up in my lap and rested his head on my knee.
“It’s like he can tell you’re not feeling well,” Josh said.
“I know. Dogs are very perceptive animals Josh.”
“Is he ok there or should I move him?”
“No, he’s fine. We don’t have far to go.”
It took only ten minutes to drive to the motel. It was just outside of Burnaby and made for an easy drive to get to the Mason’s house the next day. Sitting in the comfortable seats of the Jeep helped to settle my headache somewhat and by the time we reached the motel, I was feeling somewhat better.
After checking in, Josh insisted that I stay in the room while he unloaded the things that we needed from the Jeep. I stretched out on the bed with Brutus. I suppose, knowingly, the little dog climbed right on my chest, placed his head by my cheek, and went to sleep.
When Josh came back to the room, I felt Brutus’ tail thumping against my stomach, but surprisingly he didn’t get up.
“That is so cute,” Josh grinned and went for the digital camera to snap a quick picture.
When Brutus saw the flash, he thought it was play time. He gave my cheek a quick lick and then jumped down to play with Josh. Josh spent a few minutes rough housing with his puppy and then set out his food and water bowls.
“Take off your shirt and roll over Dad,” Josh said as he sat next to me on the bed.
I did as I was told and he straddled my back and went right to work. I felt like I was in seventh heaven as all the tension began to flow out of my neck and shoulders as Josh worked his magic. I almost didn’t hear him when he told me to roll over so that he could get at my temples. Over the years, I’d taken all sorts of painkillers for headaches, but none of them could compare to Josh’s ministrations. When he massaged my temples, it could clear up the worst headache in no time at all. I think it was a combination of pressure points and the love that was in his touch. When I opened my eyes and watched his face as he worked, I could see a look of concentration, but also one of complete commitment and that feeling seemed to emanate from his finger tips as he worked.
When he was done, he climbed off me and then stretched out on the bed next to me. He placed his arm across my chest and leaned his face against mine. “Just relax for a while Dad. We have a while before dinner time.”
“Thanks son. I love you,” I said sleepily.
“I know. I love you too.”
That was the last thing I remembered until I awoke a couple of hours later. Josh was still next to me propped up on the bed watching TV with the volume turned down. Brutus as stretched out on my other side snuggled up under my arm.
“Hey bud,” I said with a yawn.
“Hey Dad. Feeling better?” Josh asked.
“Much better. Thanks to you,” I said and reached out to give him a hug. “Ready to get something to eat?”
“I’m one step ahead of you. You looked like you were waking up, so I ordered some food.”
“Oh yeah? What did you order?”
“They have room service here, so I ordered us both the Pacific Salmon platter with baked potatoes and mixed vegetables. I also ordered lemon meringue pie for dessert and Chocolate milk to drink.”
“Way to go bud sounds great.”
“It’ll be nice to see Shelly again tomorrow,” Josh mused.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you too.”
“I hope the locket cheers her up. I hope she gets better too. I’ll bet she’s pretty when she isn’t sick.”
“I’m sure she is kiddo.”
“I really can’t wait for the next part of the trip either. The north will be amazing. I’ve always wanted to go to the Yukon.”
“Me too Josh. This is my dream vacation and I can’t imagine a better person to share it with. You know, we should phone the Mason’s and make sure they’re going to be home and its OK to drop in. You never know what may have happened in the past week.”
“Good idea,” Josh agreed.
I picked up my cell phone and punched their number from the directory as a knock came to the door. I listened to the ring as Josh answered the door. Our dinner had arrived.
“Hello.” I recognized Debbie Mason’s voice.
“Hi Debbie, it’s Tom. I’m just checking in to let you know we intend to be knocking on your door tomorrow morning.”
“Tom! Oh, it’s so good to hear your voice. Come on ahead, we’re wishing you were here right now!” Debbie said excitedly. Although her voice was happy, I wondered about her words.
“Is everything OK? How’s Shelly doing?”
“Everything’s fine, and Shelly is getting pretty antsy about seeing Josh again. Is he there? Shelly would like to talk to him.”
“Right here,” I said as I handed the phone to Josh with a big smile. I’d thought of teasing him with a deadpan stare, but that would have been cruel. “It’s Shelly.”
As the two of them chatted, I could see the excited happiness spread across Josh’s face. As he spoke with her, he was giddy and laughing with his responses to Shelly.
While he was talking with her, I continued unwrapping and sorting our dinner ensemble onto the small table. After he said goodbye and ended the call he came over to the table with a big grin across his face.
“Dad! She’s feeling really great and can’t wait to see us!” he exclaimed as he sat down. While he was eating, he said nothing more, but I could tell by the neverending smile even while chewing his food, and glint in his eye, he was happy we’d made the phone call.
The Salmon was like none that I’d ever had before. It was incredibly fresh and loaded with flavor. It was a beautiful pink colour and it was seasoned to perfection. Both of us ate every single morsel on our plates. Both of us loved fish, but that Salmon was about the best either of us had ever eaten.
After supper, Josh took Brutus for a brief walk and then we both took turns in the shower and settled in for a quiet evening. I decided it was time to get out Josh’s knife and sharpening stone. “Hey bud, want to learn how to sharpen your knife?”
“Sure but isn’t it sharp already?”
“Yeah it looks pretty sharp but it won’t stay that way if you don’t sharpen it from time to time.”
“That makes sense. Show me how to do it.”
I went into the bathroom and came back with a cup of water and a damp face cloth. After setting both on the small table between the beds, I went and got Josh’s knife and the sharpening stone. I unsheathed the knife and then turned it around so that I was grasping the dull edge of the blade with the hilt pointing towards Josh. “This’ll be a bit of a safety less as well bud. This is the correct way to hand someone an unsheathed knife. Never hand someone a knife with the blade pointing towards them and always make sure that the sharp edge is pointing away from your hand.”
Josh carefully took the knife from me and examined it before turning it around as I had and handing it back.
“Also, always remember to cut away from yourself just in case the knife slips,” I said and I made a carving motion with the knife. “Finally, respect your knife. Never use it for something other that what it was intended. Don’t use it as a hammer, don’t hack things with it and don’t use it as a weapon. It’s a tool. Most importantly, always keep your knife sharp. You are much more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one.”
“Okay,” Josh replied.
“Now, this is called a whetstone,” I said as I unwrapped the rough gray stone from its package. “Used properly, a whetstone makes it pretty easy to keep a good sharp edge on your knife. You can use it with this knife and with your Swiss Army knife.”
Josh picked up and examined the stone. “How does this sharpen a steel knife blade? It doesn’t feel all that rough.”
“There are different grades of whetstone. This is a pretty fine one. If you had a really dull knife, you’d need a much more coarse stone. With a knife like yours that already has a sharp edge, this is perfect for maintaining it.”
“So how do you do it? Do you rub the stone against the blade?”
“No, a lot of people make that mistake. The best way to do it is this. First put a damp towel on your work table and then set the stone down in the middle of it. Next dampen the stone with a bit of water or even spit if you’re in the outdoors.” I setup the stone as I had described as Josh watched closely.
“Now you’re ready to sharpen. The trick to it is getting the blade on the correct angle and using just the right amount of pressure. You start with the tip,” I said as I demonstrated by placing the tip of the blade on the stone. “The sharp edge should be facing away from you and you need to angle the blade slightly so that the dull edge is about three millimeters off the stone.” I handed the knife to Josh and helped him to get his hands in the correct position.
“So far so good,” Josh remarked.
“Now, take your other hand and place your fingers on the blade and push down lightly. Don’t push too hard or you’ll wind up making the blade dull. Now you’re ready to start sharpening. All you need to do is run the blade against the stone in an arching motion by pushing it away from yourself. You want to try to keep the blade in contact with the same spot on the stone all the way from the tip to the heel. When you get to the end, lift the blade off and start again from the tip. Never drag it backwards. Give it a try bud,” I instructed.
I watched as Josh furrowed his brown in concentration and began to do as I had instructed.
“Ease up just a little bit bud and go nice and slow. You don’t have to be fast. A slow, steady movement works best.”
“Like this?” Josh asked as he tried a second stroke across the stone.
“Perfect. Do that about ten times and then look at the blade.”
“There’s tiny jagged bits on the edge,” Josh observed.
“That’s good. That means you’re doing it right. When you see those burrs, you know your using just the right pressure. Make sure that you NEVER run your finger along the blade looking for those burrs; if you do, you’ll get a nasty cut.”
“Yikes. I’ll bet that would hurt.”
“Yeah, it would. All you need to do now is repeat the same process on the other side of the blade. You want to be sure to use the same number of strokes on each side of the blade to get a good even edge. You also have to be extra careful because when you turn the blade over, you end up with the sharp edge facing towards yourself. As long as you’re not pushing really hard on the blade, there is no danger.”
“How often should I sharpen it?” Josh asked as he finished sharpening the blade.
“I sharpen mine every day or so when I’m in the woods. Even if it’s only a handful of strokes, it keeps the edge on the blade.”
After we finished with the knife sharpening, wed tidied everything up and then the three of us snuggled up together on one of the beds and watched movies until around midnight. Having slept for a couple of hours that afternoon, I wasn’t all that tired, but Josh was out light a light. He was sound asleep in his customary television viewing position leaning against my side. I gently placed him under the coverers and then climbed in after him. Brutus positioned himself up on the pillows near our heads.
As I lay there and drifted off to sleep, listening to Josh and Brutus snoring away, I contemplated the trip so far, the month of travel that still lay ahead of us and I looked forward to the future. The future had never looked brighter to me. Whatever lay ahead, I’d face it with my son, both of my sons in fact, my partner that I loved and was anxious to be with, and my extended family who cared and loved all of us.
I had a strange dream that night. I dreamt that I was with a grown up Josh and a whole lot of other people, most of them in military fatigues. Josh was wearing a pair of dark slacks, a light coloured shirt and a navy blue tie under what appeared to be a camouflage flack jacket and a Kevlar helmet. He was standing on top of an armoured personnel carrier and speaking into a bull horn. I could hear what sounded like gunfire in the distance and air was filled with the constant thunder of jet planes and the thumping of helicopter blades. I can’t recall what he was saying, but I remembered being very proud of him.