The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Outdoors

Semi-Nudism

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend here can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1934.

“Look at you,” declared Jimmie Frise. “Almost at the end of the summer and you haven’t a speck of color.”

“I got a good tan in July,” I said.

“It’s all gone now,” stated Jim. “You look as pallid as a garment worker. You have no more color than a sheep. The summer is the time we Canadians should soak up the sun and warmth to carry us over the long and blood-chilling winter.”

“I don’t tan,” I said. “I burn.”

“Everybody tans,” corrected Jim. “Some of us have to take it in easy stages, but we tan. Tan is the sign that you have done your duty, as a good Canadian, in so far as storing up energy against the winter. Like bees storing up honey.”

“I guess I have it inside of me,” I suggested.

“Look at those kids now,” said Jim.

Two girls and two boys were walking along King St. ahead of us. The boys were both shock-headed blonds and the girls were sleek brunettes. The boys were bare-armed, bare-necked and they were tanned a gorgeous orange shade. The girls, their backs and shoulders bared by print dresses, were a deep chocolate.

“There,” cried Jimmie, “are true Canadians. They will survive the winter. They will be full of pep next March when the last fatal blizzards blow.”

“Jimmie,” I accused, “I believe you are a nudist at heart.”

“No, just a semi-nudist,” said Jim. “I’m going down to Sunnyside this afternoon and lie in the sun. I think you should come along.”

“It’s a pretty hot day.”

“This late-season sun doesn’t burn,” assured Jim. “It has lost its sting. The sun is already sloping far down to the south, only we don’t realize it. The weather is still hot because all the heat the sun has been baking and pouring on to the earth this last two months keeps things warm. The earth has been doing what we should do. It has been soaking up the sun. But there is no kick in the sun now.”

“I’ll come,” I said, “but I think I’ll bring a parasol.”

Jimmie looked at me with contempt.

“You don’t deserve to be a Canadian,” he snorted. “You act like a soft Californian or a Jamaican. To be a Canadian you have got to be able to take it, hot or cold.”

“We will have bathing suits?” I inquired.

“Trunks only,” said Jim. “I’m going to wear my trunks and a sweat-shirt in the car until I get there.”

After lunch Jimmie picked me up at the house. He was handsome in bright blue trunks and a yellow sweat-shirt. I wore my striped dressing gown over my regular bathing suit. I beckoned him to come into the side drive to pick me up. With my family, away. I don’t want the neighbors seeing me traipsing around in a striped bath robe. Sunnyside is all right. You are lost in the picture there. But summer bachelors have to use discretion.

Spectacle of Happiness

There were thousands spread along the Sunnyside shore. Bathing, beach bathing, sun bathing, in clots and mobs and family parties, along the bright shore and the blue water, they made a spectacle of color and health and happiness.

“Now,” said Jimmie, coasting along the highway, “it is illegal for us semi-nudists to parade in half a bathing suit, so we just have to hunt along the beach until we see an unfrequented spot. There are hundreds of our fellow sun-worshippers there on the beach, lying flat and out of sight. The only time the police pick you up is when you walk around in full view.”

“It would look fine in the papers,” I said, “in the police court news-‘journalists pinched for nudism.’ I can’t take any chances, Jim. Not with my family. Let’s drive out to the country somewhere and lie down in the middle of a ten-acre field with a hollow in it.”

“The beach is the proper place,” said Jim. “What would the cows think of seeing us in their field? And, anyway, it would be a far worse crime to be semi-nude in the middle of a ten-acre field in the country than semi-nude on a city beach. You don’t understand the rural mind.”

“I’ll only tan my legs and arms,” I said. “And if the cops see you I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”

Jim parked the car. Down even with us on Sunnyside were scattered bushes and long grass and far away to the east and well off toward the west were bright crawling hordes of sun-worshippers, but in front of us were just a few scattered couples.

“This is ideal,” said Jimmie. “You can’t see a person lying down here.”

We walked down the terraces and out across the grassy and sandy approaches. The few scattered couples paid no attention to us. I observed that several of them were exposing gleaming backs to the bright rays of the sun. The water was glassy. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Jim chose a nice spot, well distant from any others, and we lay down on the sand. Jim skillfully peeled off his yellow sweatshirt and I removed my dressing gown and spread it for a quilt to lie on.

“Ah,” we said. And it was lovely We chatted lazily about this and that. About the ancient peoples who worshipped the sun as the giver of life. About nudism.

“The Germans started this nudism,” said Jimmie. “I think it was symbolical. They went nude to show the world how thoroughly they had been stripped by the war and the pence.”

“No,” I said, “there has always been nudism. It is a deep instinct in us. It harks back to the ages when we all went around nude. But of course in those days we wore a heavy hide of fur all over us. But whenever a race gets weak and worn out nature starts stirring in their blood old hankerings and ancient instincts. The Germans after the war were weak and defeated, and to bring them back to life old Mother Nature waked in them the idea of running about naked. That explains all this stuff about the old gods and Hitler trying to bring back the ancient German virtues. It is like a sick man trying to show how strong and active he is. He sticks out his chest and talks in big deep voice, but he doesn’t fool anybody.”

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie. His eyes were closed. The sun was like a flood. I looked discreetly about and as far as the eye could see was just blue water and yellow sand and couples and groups of delightful people minding their own business. And not a cop was in sight anywhere. So I slipped off the shoulder straps of my bathing suit and peeled it politely down to my waist. I lay back.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie.

So I just lay there and drowsed and I fell asleep.

Jimmie waked me.

“Turn over,” said Jim. “You are done on the front. Now for your back.”

I turned over. It felt cool and dry.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“About three-thirty,” thought Jimmie. “Isn’t this swell?”

“It ought to be part of the public health laws of Ontario,” I declared, “to spend so many hours a week taking the sun.”

So we talked on our stomachs for a while about ants and desert sand and grass and so forth. We thought of this good old earth with all the vasty face of it covered by these countless, uncountable grains of sand, of all the blades of grass standing pointing at the sun in a sort of Hitler salute…

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie, who has been tired of Hitler for four months.

I lay watching the ants and the small bugs and the fatheaded baby grasshoppers working out their silly destiny at the end of my nose, and the great sun fired its millions of life-giving electrons or whatever it is into my back and down my legs. I could feel them tingling rather tightly.

“Jimmie,” I said quietly, “did you say the August sun had no power?”

“Mmmm,” said Jim, his head on his arms.

So I fell asleep, too, and I dreamed I was Gordon Sinclair snapping my fingers under the noses of tigers in Samarkand and climbing mountains in Asia on the southern slopes, where a sun like a furnace fried my back.

Jimmie woke me.

“Wah-ho,” l yawned. “Ouch!”

“It must be six o’clock,” said Jim.

The sun was far over Hamilton, London and points west.

I started to roll over.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Now, now,” said he. “I’m still on my face myself. Take it easy.”

My back felt as if it was all bound up with court plaster. It had a cold feeling, As I lay there a kind of shiver ran across.it. I tried to straighten my arms to lift my upper part clear of the sand. But my elbows would not bend.

“Jimmie, my elbows won’t bend!”

“Not as bad as my knees not bending,” said Jim. “Fifft! Woe is me!”

I turned my head, but something was holding the back of my neck. I moved one leg, but the skin on the back of my knee had stiffened and I had a feeling it would not stretch, like skin, but would crack, like glass.

I could see Jim. He was a bright fiery red.

“You look boiled,” I gasped.

“I would sooner look boiled than fried,” said he, looking me over.

I found that my middle section, covered by my bathing suit, still had a joint in it. Somehow, despite terrible lacerating sand and cruel spikey grass, I got turned over and sat up, with arms, legs and neck held carefully rigid.

“Boy,” I yelled, and even my voice felt crackly, “boy, come over here!”

A little boy was passing and came over.

“Please go and get somebody,” I said, “a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. Get somebody and bring them here.”

“We’ll Pay For the Ambulance”

The little boy scampered away down the beach, and in a little while he returned with a great black-armed, black-chested, black-faced life-guard in a red bathing suit and a white hat.

“Well, gents,” said the great mahogany life-guard.

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend there can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

“Where’s your car?” asked the life-guard.

“Level with us up there,” groaned Jimmie.

“I’ll carry you up,” said he. “Once you get home you can go to bed and call the doctor.”

I didn’t like the thought of the great walnut hands gripping my skin. I felt as if large slithers of skin would slip off me wherever he touched me.

“Perhaps,” I said, “if you could send for an ambulance with a stretcher it would be better. We’ll pay for the ambulance.”

“Just take it easy,” said the life-guard. walking muscularly and bow-leggedly and very chocolately away.

In a few minutes he came back with two planks and a wheel-barrow.

“Easy,” I begged. Jim and I were not speaking. In fact we hadn’t spoken at all.

The life-guard laid the planks down beside me, rolled us on to the planks, skidded us on to the wheel-barrow and tenderly trundled us across the rolling sands and through the harsh grass and over all the ants and grasshoppers, up the terrace to our car.

“This happens all the time,” he said gently. He lifted Jim in his immense black arms and I noted the contrasts between his color and Jim’s. It was different.

He laid me on the back seat.

“Now,” he said, “you’ve got a good beginning. Let this lay a couple of days and then, if you don’t blister or peel, come on down for another dose. In about two weeks you’ll have a nice color.”

“You’ve very kind,” Jimmie and I whispered.

Jim, like a jointed doll, slowly turned on the switch, stepped on the starter.

“I’m glad,” said Jim, “there aren’t many turns on the road home.”

“Think of to-morrow,” I said hollowly.

“What’s the matter with the police force in Toronto!” demanded Jimmie, angrily, not moving his neck. “Why don’t they get on the job and stop this semi-nude stuff on our beaches!”

“You’re right,” I said.


Editor’s Notes: It was still illegal in 1934 for men to go topless in public. That is why when you see old pictures of people in bathing suits, the men have an undershirt part to it. Also at this point in history, Adolf Hitler had only recently became Chancellor of Germany and started consolidating his power. He would be a prominent news figure, and curiosity, but not likely considered a real threat yet.

Samarkand is a city in southeastern Uzbekistan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. The writer Gordon Sinclair was famous during this time for his stories of travels to exotic locations.

Court plaster, is just another name for an adhesive bandage.

Bear with Us

By Greg Clark, August 3, 1935

“What I like,” said Jimmie Frise, “is blueberries.”

“I’m with you,” I assured him. Strawberries are very nice, if they aren’t sandy. But they give me hives. Raspberries are good, if they haven’t got little white bugs creeping about them. And raspberry seeds get between my teeth.”

“Thimbleberries,” contributed Jim, aren’t bad, but it is hard to get a feed of them. I like a feed of wild berries.”

“The wild strawberry,” I took on, “is probably the finest wild berry in the world. The French-Canadians preserve them.”

“Yes, but give me blueberries,” said Jimmie. “I don’t mean blueberries you get in the city, with the blue down all rubbed off them, and looking kind of damp. I mean blueberries you pick yourself and eat right out on the rocks.”

“I follow you,” I assured him.

“They are so tight in their skins,” said Jim. “They burst, they pop in your mouth.”

“Like celery, sort of,” I helped.

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Nothing like it. They are alone, unique, unequalled. Tight in their skins, with that cool, downy powder on them, and a kind of faint wild spicy flavor.”

“That’s it,” I moaned. “Faintly spicy.”

“Not rough and harsh, like Oriental spices, but a delicate Canadian spiciness,” said Jim. “Dear me, excuse me, my mouth is watering.”

He got out his handkerchief and attended to himself.

“The thing I like about them, too,” went on Jimmie, “is the way they burst in your mouth, a whole big handful of them.”

“Do you like the bright blue ones or the darkish, blackish huckleberry kind?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s hard to choose,” agreed Jim. “The dark ones often have a rich spiciness, yet on the other hand, the bright blue ones have a kind of tang. I don’t know.”

“The bright blue ones,” I pointed out, “are lovely to come on when you are wandering around on the rocks, blueberry picking. You walk along, looking here and there, and then all of a sudden, in one of those big cracks or crevices in the rocks, you see a whole hedge of little bushes that are a vivid sky blue.”

“The Jesuit Relations say,” stated Jim, “that in the olden days, away back in 1600 and something, the Indians used to pick great bushels of blueberries and spread them out on the rocks to dry and then pack them in big birch bark sacks. In the winter, they would use these dried berries to eke out their dog meat and pounded corn porridge.”

“I prefer to think of going somewhere this afternoon,” I submitted, “and picking about two quarts of blueberries and eating them right there as I pick. I’m blueberry conscious.”

“There’s no place handy where we can go on short notice,” Jim thought. “Wonder if there are any blueberries this side of Muskoka or Parry Sound?”

“Would you be game,” I inquired, “to take a run up as far as Midland and hire a boat and go out to one of those rocky islands that are fairly covered with blueberries?”

Doing Something Silly

“Do you mean in the middle of the week?” Jim exclaimed. “That would be silly.”

“Everybody ought to do something silly once in a while,” I offered, “like loosening those little twisters on the end of a banjo handle, so as to relax the tight wires. We’re full of tight wires. Can you think of any silly thing to do that would be as pleasant as driving up to Midland and hiring a little boat and going somewhere to bulge ourselves with blueberries?”

“This heat is getting you,” suggested Jimmie.

“I’m full of tight wires,” I said. “I’m going to reach up and loosen those little tighteners. I’m going to do something silly. And it might as well be pleasant.”

“I could go,” said Jim, “and think. Us artists have to do some conceiving. We ought to be free to run off and hide now and then to invite our souls.”

“The same with writers,” I agreed. “You can’t make a flower grow by walking out very day and yelling, ‘Grow, damn you, grow!’ can you?”

“Artists and writers,” said Jimmie, “are just like flowers. The heat gets them.”

“How about it?” I demanded.

“How long would it take?” asked Jim.

“If we drove to-night,” I said, “we’d be there in three easy hours. Sleep in the car, right in the tourist camp. Rise with the lark, drive down and hire a little launch for a couple of bucks, and scoot half an hour out across the lovely morning water…”

“That’s done it,” said Jim.

“Spend from, say, seven or eight o’clock till noon picking and eating berries,” I said. “Then the boat picks us up by prearrangement and scoots us back across the lovely water to Midland, we hop in the car, and saturated with that noble and patriotic berry, we drive home to Toronto, arriving about 3 p.m., much to everybody’s astonishment.”

“What would we say?” asked Jim.

“We’d say we slept in, or something,” I offered. “Or maybe in this heat nobody would have observed our absence.”

“Well, I guess,” said Jim sleepily.

And before the five o’clock whistles had stopped blowing in the suburbs, we were pointed north for Midland. And the sun was still high when we arrived in that pleasant town. Under the long, lingering sunset, we watched the boats coming and going and observed all the white-clad summer resorters so busily coming and going, probably driving their launches fifty miles for a package of phonograph needles or a camera film. So busy. So intent.

And with the floating sounds of summer in our ears, we folded ourselves up in Jim’s big car and went to sleep. Dawn and a cramp woke us. We took no breakfast, though the light was still burning in the Chinese restaurant as we drove down the street to the docks. The man we had hired the night before was sleepily waiting for us in his little putt-putt. It was just a row boat with an engine in it, but it could not have been better.

Gaily Across the “Open”

“If it is blueberries you want,” said the boatman, steering out into the bay where we could look far across the shining “open” of the Georgian Bay, “you ought to go to a point I know where I take my folks on picnics. It’s up from Beausoleil Island a piece. It will cost you a dollar extra, each way. But it has more blueberries than any other I ever heard of hereabouts. The Indians never picked berries on it because it was supposed to be haunted, or something, and they never went near it.”

“Take us there,” we agreed.

There are cottages on nearly every point of the Georgian Bay, but far in through the channels we came to an inner point, a withdrawn and rather rough and homely point where there was nothing but rude, jagged rocks and burnt-over woods and dead trees sticking up in all directions.

“Here she is,” said the skipper. “Not very handsome, but lousy with blueberries.”

And with promises to return a little before twelve o’clock, he putt-putted noisily away.

We scrambled up the rowdy rocks. Literally, the point was burdened with blueberries. Maybe three hundred yards this point juts out from that vast and practically uninhabited mainland of the Party Sound country of rock and scrub and little hidden lakes and beaver meadows. A blueberry paradise.

“Jimmie,” I said, between munches of the first handful, “don’t let us start right here. As a couple of old blueberry pickers, let us survey the land and find one of those mossy crevices hedged about with two-foot blueberry bushes where we can actually recline at our ease and pick and eat without moving except by either crawling or rolling over.”

“I know the kind of place,” agreed Jim. stooping for another fistful. And so stooping and pausing and staring and walking, we surveyed the point. There were rock gullies and little rock cliffs, little clumps of woods and sheltered spaces all clad in deep bronzy green moss. And around those little clumps of bushes and along the shady margins of those damp mossy carpets the blueberry bushes were massed and dense. And they glowed with a million fat jewels of dusky blue.

“Let’s start here.” cried Jim, finding a little island of birch and pine about the size of a street car, which was entirely surrounded by a ten-foot margin of mass. And the hedge of bushes around the copse was like a belt of azure.

“This is the place,” I admitted, kneeling down on the moss.

“You take this side,” said Jim. “I’ll go around to the far side.”

And around he vanished.

“How is it over there?” I called.

“Just about the same as your side,” said Jim.

There were both kinds. The higher bushes were the bright blue kind. And hidden in amongst the taller blue bushes were the squatter bushes of the big, succulent, black huckleberry. You would take three handfuls of the blue and follow with one of the black. Some of the black ones were as big as grapes.

“Um-yum,” I said, loud enough for Jim to hear.

“Slurp, slurp,” said he. I use the word slurp. but it hardly conveys the astonishing and slightly disgusting sound Jimmie made as he picked, unseen by me, on the far side of the little copse.

“Mind your table manners, Jimmie,” I said.

“Swush, swush, swush,” retorted Jimmie, from beyond the bushes.

“Boy,” I said, “you ought to come around to this side.”

“Whoosh,” replied Jim.

I thought how curious it is: you know a man for years and years, and all of a sudden he comes out with some curious and hitherto undetected habit.

“Jim,” I said, through a full mouth, “it may have been funny the first time you smacked your lips like that, but it is getting a little on my nerves.”

“Squish, sqush, slurp, whooof!” retorted Jim.

“Aw, cut it out,” I retorted, and hinched myself another yard along the hedge. Ah, such berries. Now I was abreast of a three-foot-high dense hedge that positively sagged with the vivid blue ones, big as alleys, clustered like grapes, cool to the touch, cool and firm and thin-skinned.

“Ah, yum-yum,” I confessed, making a little racket myself.

The sun grew warmer. I began to fill up. I could hear silly old Jim working his way around to meet me. And he was slurping.

“Jim,” I begged. “For goodness sake. You’re awful.”

It was at the next hitch I took of a yard further along the bush that I saw Jimmie was wearing a fur hat. I was mildly surprised, because at the moment my eyes were gloatingly beholding surely the greatest blueberry bush ever seen in the history of Canada. It was four feet high, it was laden, as if with blue dew, and deep within its stems I beheld the darkly glowing shapes of scattered huckleberries of size I had never seen before. My mind was divided between these two spectacles – the greatest berry bush in the world, and Jim wearing silly fur cap in the middle of summer.

Finally, with a sudden tiny tingling of my scalp, I withdrew my fascinated mind away from the berry bush in deal exclusively with Jim’s fur cap.

And I saw, to my intense astonishment, that Jimmie’s fur hat had movable ears.

“Not To Endanger You”

I stood up.

So did the bear.

With its short front legs held quaintly before it, and its head cocked on one side, it surveyed me across the bushes.

It was a youngish bear. It was about my size. It was glossy black, with brown ruchings, and its mouth was slightly open in a friendly grin. Frothy blueberries fringed its deckle-edged lips.

“Er-hello?” I said.

“Squish, squish,” replied the bear, swallowing. I could see it was not as surprised as I. I was not wearing a fur cap.

“Where’s Jimmie? Mr. Frise?” I asked weakly.

“Mmmfft,” said the bear, cocking its head on the other side.

“Yoo-hoo, Jimmie?” I inquired, not very loudly.

“Sniff, sniff,” said the bear, looking away to one side, as if not knowing exactly what to do.

“Oh, Jimmie?” I repeated, just a little louder. “Are you there?”

The bear looked at me again, and I detected a more serious expression in its small, twinkling eyes.

“Nice berries,” I said, conversationally. I was backing slowly across the moss to where my boots, hat and coat lay piled.

The bear disappeared by dropping on to his four feet. I backed more quickly. The bear appeared at the corner of the copse and again stood up. His stomach hung very low.

Without removing my eyes from him stooped and fumbled for my boots and clothes. I continued backing.

The bear was now looking, with an expression of immense satisfaction, at the very large patch of berries I had discovered at the same instant I had discovered him.

I half turned and backed quartering away.

The bear dropped down and sat, as I had sat, before that shrine of blue. I turned and ran. In my stocking feet I ran, careless of the hot and ragged rock. Up a cliff or two and down a couple of gullies I scrambled. Looking back, I could see the bear sitting. like a schoolboy, before that feast of blue.

No sign of Jim. I felt badly to have left him. Where could he be? Had he tired of the plenty and gone wandering farther inland? I decided to avoid endangering him with shouting. I decided to go right out to the end of the point and wait for him.

When I came to the rough headland of the point, there, on the outermost pinnacle of the rock, ready to jump into the blue Georgian Bay, was Jimmie, looking fearfully up at me.

“Jim!” I accused. “You left me without a sign of warning.”

“He came out of the bushes just as I left you to take the other side of the patch,” said Jim. “So I just went right on walking.”

“You did, eh?”

“I decided not to endanger you by shouting,” said Jim.

“You did, eh?”

“I decided to come out here and wait for you,” said Jim.

So we both waited, right out on the very little and point of rock, until the boatman came for us at twelve sharp.


Editor’s Notes: The Jesuit Relations are chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France, written annually and printed beginning in 1632 and ending in 1673.

Beausoleil Island was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Ginseng Hounds

By Greg Clark, June 18, 1938

“It’s too hot,” gasped Jimmie Frise, “for trout fishing and the bass season isn’t open.”

“The song birds,” I agreed, “are too busy hunting worms for their young, to sing decently.”

“All the best of the wild flowers,” added Jim, “are through blooming.”

“So what is there to do,” I sighed, “but put on cream flannels and go, like all the rest of the saps, and sit around on wharves and verandas, looking sporty?”

“Never,” gritted Jim.

“Never, too,” I coincided. “I sometimes think that our prejudice against golf is ill-advised, Jim.”

“A man has to have some prejudices,” pointed out Jimmie. “All my life, I have found it a little difficult to form a prejudice. No sooner did I form a good one than I met the guy, or did the thing, or in some way contacted my prejudice. And lo, it vanished.”

“If we played golf,” I said, as we sat on the edge of the trout stream in the shade of a cedar tree, “we could fill up all this part of the year very happily.”

“No, the trouble with golf is,” explained Jim, “that it steals away all a man’s other recreations. Golf is a thief. Golf is the only thing there is to do in early April, so a man goes forth to this earliest amusement. And before he knows where he is, he is committed to a dozen pleasant golf engagements with friends. By the time he should be going fishing or taking his children into the wilds to hear the first songbirds or to see the first wild flowers blooming, the golf season is in full swing, and the poor devil can’t disentangle himself from its insidious meshes.”

“It’s the easiest way, too,” I agreed. “Here is a man faced with a week-end. He can either go out fishing or tramping in the woods or visit the summer resort in advance of the season. Or else he can slip out to the golf links and play golf. Of all the choices, golf appears the cheapest and handiest.”

“Never let golf get us,” said Jim, devoutly, and we sat in silence in the fragrant cedar shade, while a catbird, its bill full of pale green worms, came secretly and looked at us, on its way to some hidden nest. In a moment, we heard it mew, and knew its young were fed.

“The great thing in life,” said Jim, “is not to get entangled. Don’t commit yourself to any belief or sect or sport or business. The essence of freedom is detachment.”

“Most people,” I disagreed, “are looking for an anchor. Most people love to be moored fast to the shore, instead of being adrift on the sea, calm or stormy.”

In Tune With Nature

“Which is better?” inquired Jim, bravely, since we were safe in the sweet safety of a pleasant woods. “Which is better? To be wrecked at sea? Or to sink at the wharf, a decayed and rotted old hulk that has never even crossed the bay?”

“For,” I added sententiously, “we all sink, in the end.”

“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I would rather be sitting right here, in this idle glade, with the limpid stream barren of trout and no cow bells, even, to be heard, and no sense of activity or industry or improvement, no birds calling that we can pretend we are studying, no flowers to make us imagine ourselves amateur botanists – just sitting here, in utter idleness.”

“Not even thinking,” I pointed out.

“I often think,” mused Jim, “that the Chinese are going to inherit the earth. They are the only race that seems in complete tune with nature. They have no great ambitions. They have only the ambitions that nature itself has, like these trees and that catbird and that stream. To live and grow and flow along. If storms come, fine. If the weather’s fine, fine. But all the powers of man, in the past centuries of trying, have never succeeded in making the weather fine, if the weather wants to storm.”

“But we’ve improved housing,” I protested proudly, “and invented raincoats and cars and trains to keep us dry on our way to work. You can’t say we haven’t done something to make our lives more comfortable than a catbird’s.”

“I was speaking,” said Jim, loftily, “in the allegorical sense. Unlike the Chinese, we have been trying for centuries to improve our physical life. With what result? That our world to-day is in greater confusion and terror and anxiety than ever before. It seems to be hovering eternally, day after day, year after year, on the brink of an immense precipice.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and where are the Chinese, may I ask?”

“Oh, they’re suffering a little storm, at the moment,” said Jim lightly. “But you know and I know and even the Japanese know, by now, that when the storm is spent, the Chinese will be there, as yesterday, today and forever, multiplying, living strangely and happily and slowly Inheriting the earth.”

“That gives me an idea,” I said. “Let’s hunt ginseng. Come on, let’s walk through the woods here and hunt ginseng?”

“You mean jinsin,”corrected Jim, not getting up.

“Ginseng is its proper spelling,” I informed him.

“Say, listen,” scoffed Jim, “don’t you try to tell me anything about jinsin. I was born on the farm. Lots of my neighbors grew big covered acres of jinsin. Why, every farm newspaper carried big advertisements about the fortunes that were to be made out of growing jinsin.”

“Wild ginseng,” I informed Jim, “is the only kind with magical properties.”

The Root of Life

“Listen,” laughed Jim, “I’ve seen all around our neighborhood, when I was a boy, big yards all roofed over with boards. There were posts stuck up every few feet, and the whole jinsin field roofed over with planks, with big cracks between, to let only a little sunlight in, just like in the deep forest where the jinsin grows.”

“Call it ginseng, Jim,” I insisted. “That’s the way it is spelled in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, although the Chinese call it Jen Sheng, the root of life.”

“All right,” said Jim. “if the Chinese call it Jen Sheng and the encyclopaedia calls it ginseng, then I’ll call it jinsin, which is what everybody called it up around my old home, and they grew it. So there.”

“Jen Sheng,” I said. “The root of life. The Chinese paid fabulous prices for the root of this wild plant. They paid as much as $3,000 for a forked root.”

“They paid what?” said Jim, sitting up and almost standing up.

“They paid,” I said, clearly, “as high as $3,000 for a good big forked root. Forked roots, which the Chinese thought looked like a man, have greater magical properties than plain roots. They restore youth. They lengthen life. They were the monkey glands of the Chinese, a thousand years ago.”

“Where did you get all this?” demanded Jim, actually rising.

“In the encyclopaedia,” I informed him. “Whenever I haven’t anything else to do and it’s raining. I go down and read the encyclopaedia. You’d be surprised at some of the things I’ve read.”

“But $3,000,” said Jim, grimly, gazing off into the leafy shadows of the woods around us.

“Ordinary ginseng,” I said, “sells at around $5 a pound for the roots. They’re sort of translucent, half-transparent, brittle. It takes years to grow a good root.”

“All the years,” muttered Jim, “that I lived right amongst all those fields full of jinsin.”

“Ah, but the cultivated stuff,” I explained, “doesn’t command the price of the wild root. The Chinese find a far greater power in the wild root.”

“Do you know what it looks like?” demanded Jim. “Would you know it if you saw it?”

“Jim,” I said stiffly, “perhaps you forget that I am something of a botanist.”

“Okay,” said Jim, throwing off his creel and other useless gear. “Let’s go look. What kind of ground does it grow on?”

So as we started to explore the woods, I explained to Jim in starts and fits of how ginseng grew in the deep woods, in shade and on high humus soil. I told him some of the legends of ginseng, and how the Chinese emperor, a thousand years ago, had to forbid the Chinese to search for it, because they were exterminating it from the whole of China, and it is a vast country. Ginseng hunters pushed back the borders of the Chinese empire. Into Manchuria and northern Siberia the ginseng hunters went, seeking the green treasure. I told him how it was discovered growing wild in America and how clever Americans began to cultivate it for the Chinese market. But how the Chinese were clever enough to know the cultivated from the wild root.

I explained that European doctors and pharmacologists had studied the root and found that it had no real virtues, but that it had a psychic value, since anything you believe in is as likely to help you as anything else. Far better than epsom salts, anyway.

And then we discovered, the ginseng. At least, I should say, I found it, because Jim’s boyhood memories were pretty vague. All he could recollect were shadowy green jungles under plank roofs which the local farmers guarded with violent jealousy.

“Are you sure this is it?” asked Jim.

“Am I sure?” I scorned. “I tell you this is the genuine article. Look. I’ll pull one up and show you the root.”

I pulled tenderly, digging around the root with my fingers, and drew up out of the earth a queer, transparent, brittle root, about two inches long. And it was forked!

“Forked!” cried Jim. “My gosh, man, maybe you’ve just yanked up $3,000 by the roots.”

He knelt and began digging furiously.

“Don’t waste time,” I explained, “taking the roots only. Take the whole plant and when we get an armful we can sit down and remove the roots.”

So did we ever dig? And did we ever get some forked roots, Jim getting one nearly four inches long? And did we ever have an armful each when a little dog suddenly appeared out of the underbrush and begin barking furiously at us?

And in a minute, did two little boys with fishing poles and freckles ever come out of the underbrush like groundhogs and stand staring speechless at us?

“Hey, mister,” said the forwardest little boy, “ain’t you scared?”

“Scared?” I inquired, from the kneeling position.

“Ain’t you scared of poison ivy?” asked the child.

Jim dropped his armload violently.

“This,” I said, leaping up, is not poison ivy, my son, this is ginseng.”

That ain’t ginseng,” said the little boy swallowing. “It’s plain poison ivy, mister. You’ll have spots all over you.”

“Poison ivy,” I stated firmly, has shiny leaves and the leaves have a reddish color at the base of the leaf.”

“Yeah, in the fall it has,” agreed the little boy, tenderly, “but when it’s young it hasn’t. You’ll have blisters everywhere, on your hands and arms and all over.”

“I thought it was poison ivy,” rasped Jim, his hands dangling far out for fear he would inadvertently touch his face. “I know ivy when I see it. That’s poison ivy.”

“Jim,” I said.

“Come on,” said Jim. “Let’s get to the nearest drug store, quick. We can bathe in soda or something.”

So without even thanking the little boys, we went plunging through the woods and got our tackle and hurried out the path to the car and, throwing everything in, started for town, the nearest town where there was a drug store being 11 miles.

The druggist was half asleep when we burst in but he came immediately to life when we explained that we had just submitted ourselves to serious infection from poison ivy.

“Look,” I said, pointing to my chest, where there was already a slight rash.

Too Far to Go Back

Jim examined his chest and neck, and there was not only a rash but some little red spots already showing.

“Gents,” said the druggist smartly, “step in to the back here; I’ve got a tub. I’ll fix up a bath of ferric chloride and stuff and we’ll see what can be done. But I’m afraid it’s too late to allay the infection if you actually touched the stuff.”

“Touched it?” groaned Jimmie.

And out in the back, while we peeled off to the waist, the druggist ran a tub of water in a wooden washtub and dumped ferric chloride and glycerine, and Jim and without ado plunged into the tub and slathered the stuff all over us. The druggist helped us, pouring additional little bottles of this and that into the tub as he recalled the various cures and antidotes to poison ivy. We sloshed and splashed and labored mightily, wasting no time for talk, until, as we had thoroughly saturated ourselves and had the water running down into our pants, the druggist inquired how we had got messed up with the poison ivy.

“It was ginseng we were looking for,” I explained humbly. “I thought I knew ginseng when I saw it. We picked armfuls of it.”

“There’s lots of ginseng through here,” admitted the druggist.

”Two kids came through the woods, with a little dog,” I elucidated, “or else we would have carried armfuls of the stuff up against our faces and everything.”

“Two little boys, with what color of a dog?” asked the druggist. “Whereabouts were you hunting?”

“Two concessions north and the sixth side road west,” I explained, also going into details as to the little dog and the little boys, gratefully.

“Were these kids,” asked the druggist, “freckled and did one of them do all the talking?”

“That’s them,” said Jim.

The druggist stepped forward and examined the rash on our chests and the red spots on Jimmie’s neck.

“That’s prickly heat,” he said, “and that’s mosquito bites. That’s from over-exertion in the heat.”

“Not poison ivy?” said Jim.

“No more poison ivy than I am,” said the druggist. “And that was ginseng you had. And those two kids are the biggest ginseng hounds in the whole county. And they interrupted you pulling up one of their favorite beds of it I suppose.”

“Nnnn, nnn, nnn,” said Jimmie and I.

But when we got dried up and everything, and paid the druggist for the bath, we decided it was too far to go back, and anyway the kids would be vanished by then, and besides, what could we do if we did find them?


Editor’s Notes: The “little storm” Jim mentions in the story is the Second Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937. It was the prelude to, and some say the real start of World War Two.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

Bring May Flowers

By Greg Clark, April 16, 1938

Who says it takes no courage to go walking in this machine age?

“Let’s,” cried Jimmie Frise, “go for a drive in the country.”

“Let’s,” I corrected, “go for a walk in the country. You can’t see any country driving.”

“And how far,” retorted Jim, “would we have to walk before we reached the country? Don’t be silly. We’ll get in the car and go out the Centre Road and turn off some of the side roads and just dawdle along, stopping the car at the top of every rise, looking at groundhogs and the greening fields and the woods turning a tawny yellow…”

“To enjoy the earth,” I stated, “you have at least to have your feet on the earth. This sitting your way through the country is ridiculous.”

“Walking,” replied Jim. “is a thing of the past.”

“Unfortunately you’re right,” I agreed. “The more’s the pity. Walking is the contemplative recreation. The age of contemplation is dead.”

“Aw, who wants to contemplate?” snorted Jim.

“Walking,” I continued, uninterrupted, “is associated with all the finest activities of the human mind. Since walking gave way to riding, what can you show me of any greatness in the human mind?”

“Now, don’t get going on that again,” warned Jimmie.

“All right, show me,” I reiterated. “Since the human race took to riding everywhere on trains, on street cars and finally in motor cars and aeroplanes, I can show you a steady decline in human ideas. Draw a graph of the increase in riding, and I’ll draw you a graph showing the exact reverse in human brain and power.”

“Heh, heh,” laughed Jim.

“Look,” I said. “The railway came into general and widespread use about 1860, didn’t it? And about 1860 began all the mad and furious human concentration on wealth. With railways to carry its burdens, the human race started to spread out savagely in all directions, populating vast areas that to-day are destroyed by floods and sand storms; erecting giant cities, filled with tall chimney, under which to-day pallid millions lead lives of desperation and fear. From 1860 to 1900 this vast expansion went on, and then the motor car was invented. And the world simply went nuts. In 1914, the aeroplane was just dawning as a still newer and more effective way of moving fast and effortless and in 1914, the great war, the greatest disaster in human history, began.”

“Ah,” said Jim, “so trains, cars and aeroplanes caused the war?”

The Art of Walking

“The less we have walked,” I declared, “the deeper the trouble we have got into. The faster we could go without walking, the crazier the trouble. If men don’t walk, they don’t think.”

“You’re nuts,” agreed Jim.

“If we had had to walk across the continent,” I demanded, “would we have had vast annual floods? No, there wouldn’t have been enough of us in the Great West to denude it and cause floods and sand storms. If we had had to walk to the great war, would there have been a great war? Would there be 58,000 young Canadians dead, if we had had to swim the Atlantic to get to France?”

“Nuts,” decided Jim.

“No, sir,” I said, “walking demands reflection. You can’t walk down street to the corner drug store without your mind engaging in happy thought. But I defy you to think, sitting in your car and driving to the corner drug store.”

“That’s an idea,” grudged Jim.

“Picture all the great thinkers of the past,” I propounded. “Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, and where do you see them? Walking, deep in thought, in their gardens and along the sea shore. You don’t picture them sitting in an ox-cart, jolting along. Picture the great heroes, Napoleon, Nelson. Napoleon, walking, hands behind his back in the night, planning, scheming. Nelson, pacing his quarter deck, envisioning his great battles. Not sitting in a sea flea, going 40 miles an hour. No, siree. I venture to say all the greatest thoughts that ever came into the human head, came to men as they walked. As they walked along the shores of Galilee, as they paced the ancient streets and courts of London, as they plodded with purpose and courage all the highways, the backroads, the fields and the forests of the world.”

“Still,” said Jim, “it’s a swell day, and I don’t fancy myself going walking. It is a good mile from here to the suburbs. Then we’d have to walk about two more miles through steadily declining suburbs, each more dismal than the one before, the houses getting smaller, and merging into shacks, and then the shacks giving way to the first dowdy run-down farms and market gardens of the city’s edge, and all the roads jammed with cars boiling along nose to tail, honking and snorting in Sunday mood.”

“Yeah,” I cried “Can you imagine anything more absurd than all those thousands of cars, in fury and anger, sputtering and grinding along the Sunday roads. Why do people go driving on Sunday? Don’t they know what it will be like before they start out?”

“Habit,” said Jim.

“Yes, sir,” I agreed. “Habit. The thing that has taken the place of thinking, since men gave up walking.”

“It’s funny, now you think of it,” confessed Jim.

“The Englishman,” I informed him, “is the only man left who has maintained the art of walking. Result: more thinking amongst Englishmen to-day than amongst any other race.”

“Their roads,” pointed out Jim, “are too narrow and twisty for driving. Remember all those tiny little windy lanes around Shorncliffe and Seaford?”

“The Englishman, whatever his reason,” I stated, “has kept alive the art of walking. He wears stout brogue shoes, strong, weatherproof tweed clothes. He carries a cane. He smokes a pipe. And he goes walking. And thinking.”

“He’s rather a decent figure, these days,” admitted Jim. “There is something sort of sound and earthy about him.”

“Naturally,” I agreed. “Because he touches the earth. But riding in cars, what do you get? Earthy? No, oily.”

“Cugh,” protested Jim.

Sporty and Outdoorsy

“Maybe the narrow, twisty lanes of England,” I admitted, “are responsible for the character of the Englishman. Maybe it is the earth that makes the man. But even so, I think an Englishman, in stout shoes, in a rough tweed suit, with a pipe in his jaws, a wool muffler tied, Ascot around his neck, and striding across the wold, deep in such thought as the wind and the sky and the earth inspires, is a more noble spectacle than you and me sitting in a wildcat of a car quarrelling our way up and down paved country roads at 50 miles an hour.”

“Ascot style, what’s that?” inquired Jim, standing up to display to better advantage his new tweed suit.

“You take the muffler,” I explained, and turn it once around your neck, see?” I explained. Then you half knot it once, see? And twist the scarf so that the upper or full end is on top Instead of a criss-cross muffler, the way Canadians usually wear it, you have a sort of square, all-set-with-the-world sort of muffler. It fills the neck of your coat as with a cravat.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen Englishmen like that,” admitted Jim. “It looks sporty, outdoorsy.”

“That’s it,” I said. “Now in that suit you’ve got on there, with a Scotch wool scarf, a tweed cap, stout brogue walking shoes, and a walking stick and wash leather gloves…”

“Wash leather?” said Jim

“Wash leathaw,” I said. “It’s English for shammy.”

“Ah,” said Jim elegantly.

“I tell you what we’ll do,” I cried. “I’ve got that red tweed of mine. Let’s dress up and go for a tramp in the country. What do you say, old chap?”

“Right-ho,” said Jim. “Right-ho.”

“We’ll get one of the kids to drive us out a few miles out of town,” I elaborated.

“One of the young ‘uns,” corrected Jim.

“Quaite,” I agreed. “Quaite. One of the youngstahs will run us a few miles out of town and drop us in some jolly little spot.”

“Quaite,” said Jim. “Some jolly little bit of terrain where we can stretch our legs and inhale a little breath of ay-yaw.”

“Aaaaiiiiaw,” I corrected, “Yaw. A breath of yaw.”

“You haven’t got it right,” protested Jim. “Not yaw. A breath of aw. That’s it. Aw.”

“No, no,” I insisted. “I know my English. I’ve got two brothers-in-law and they’re both English. It is yaw. A breath of yaw.”

“You can’t say a breath of fresh yaw,” argued Jim a little heatedly. “I served three years under an English sergeant-major, see? I tell you it’s a breath of fresh eeeaaaaaawwwwww. You sort of open your mouth just a little bit, draw your chin in, and say eeeaaaaawwwwww.”

“Aw, what the heck,” I protested. “You sound like a dying duck. Never mind the English language. Let us stick to English clothes and English habits. Let’s just go for a walk in the country, that’s all we had in mind.”

“Right-ho,” agreed Jim. “Right-HO!”

So Jim went home and put on his heavy shoes and a tweed cap and borrowed one of his small son’s wool mufflers and I got rigged out in my rusty tweed, with plus fours, and a tweed hat, and I loaned Jimmie a cane. One of Jim’s girls was glad to drop us somewhere in the country, and we drove out the Centre Road until we came to the groundhog country, where, on every knoll, a new-waked groundhog sat in stupid joy, sunning himself.

We went down a couple of side roads, twisting and turning until we came to one side road not unlike an English lane, narrow and wooded, and there we were dropped from the car.

“We’ll walk,” I explained to the young lady, “out to the highway and telephone from some wayside inn about six o’clock. You can run out and pick us up, what?”

“Right-ho,” agreed Jimmie and his family.

“Right, quaite,” we all agreed, waving our sticks jauntily, and lifting our tweed hats and gripping our new-lit pipes in our teeth. Rusty, the water spaniel, scrambled out to accompany us.

And the car vanished and the wide and lovely country stood before a couple of country gentlemen, welcoming.

The sky was soft with April. A gentle haze hung over the world. It was soft, damp, luscious. Fields of winter wheat made vivid quilts of green, flung wide. Darkly the woods stood, tinged with a rusty, russet, faded yellow.

“Yellow is the color of spring,” said Jim.

“In England,” I sighed, “there would be daffodils peeping along our path.”

Getting Down to Earth

We strode forth. The roads were muddy and bog holed, but along their sides were firm dry paths for the foot that sought them. Birds sang in the barren woods, visible and flighting with an ecstasy that would be unseen in another three weeks, when the buds break into leaf. On all the moist mounds, sleazy groundhogs, dark from their winter hiding, perched and slunk. From the farms, aloof, came the hankering of geese, the crow of fowls and the call of cows. We strode along.

“Ah,” breathed Jim, deep and slow.

“What peace,” I said, picking my steps with care amidst the bog. Rusty floundered along the fences, sniffing and exploring and full of vigor.

Not talking much, and not thinking much either, on account of the mud and the having to pick out footing, and all the nice soft lovely feeling of the air, we peregrinated up hill and down dale. We pointed out beauties, exclaiming; we halted and looked with earnest delight at things not really very beautiful, after all, because it is May showers that bring June flowers in Ontario. And it is a little early yet.

We halted, our ears tip-toe, to hear the first birds of spring, the meadowlark, that pied piper, calling forth all the singers, the bluebird calling okalee and the broad-winged hawks wheeling their love dance low over the trees, screeching their fierce love whistle, ignoring the tasty vesper sparrows tilted beak up on every post and stub; the robins with contralto voices, nervous so far from houses and juncos with the voice of tiny sleigh bells fluttering from thicket to thicket on their long way north, too gray and parsimonious, even on so long journey, to miss a single bet along the hedges.

We saw a gander, a farmyard gander, uplift his wings enormously and take a short, swift run and launch himself into the air for a wild and ludicrous flight across a little gulley, and the whole farmyard applauded, pigs, geese, horses, hens, and us. We saw young calves, with stiff tails going for sudden careens around their little pastures. Lambs bounced upon boulders. Sheep with nothing on their minds bleated with all the expression of a nervous breakdown from hill to hill. Horses with fiery airs whinnied from resounding bellies across fences. It was spring.

We had a lovely walk, and we could feel our tissues stretching pleasantly, and our lungs filling clean and full and the pipes smelled fragrantly, even though the earth did not; and it grew duller and mistier until, just at the highest hill we had encountered, and when we were thinking of turning our steps towards the highway, three miles distant, the first small drops of rain fell.

“One thing about English clothes,” I pointed out, as I turned my collar up, “is they are made for weather.”

“I guess we had better head for the highway,” agreed Jim.

And we started east. Rusty had ceased his gamboling and exploring some half hour earlier and had been following to heel. Now he got right under our feet.

The rain thickened. It enriched and enlarged and increased. From little Scotch misty drops it grew to large Canadian drops each about the size of a marble.

“Cugh,” said Jim.

“Get out of my way,” I said to Rusty, who was trying to shelter under me as we walked.

And the rain pounded, and the sky darkened to a dead slate gray, and we could not see the farm houses as we passed, so in sheets did the rain fall, and the road became just a series of great yellow puddles. The tweeds soaked it up, the brogues sponged it up, our hats sagged over our ears and eyes and began to steam mildly.

“What-ho,” said Jim, bitterly and suddenly.

“Quaite,” I responded, with equal bitterness.

“When an Englishman goes walking, explained Jim, wetly, “he knows the climate is lousy.”

“Quaite,” I sogged.

“But in this country,” said Jim, “we expect the weather always to be fine.”

“Quaite,” I squelched.

So we thumbed a truck and got a lift into the suburbs, and from a drug store, called home for them to pick us up.


Editor’s Notes: A sea flea is a type of small racing boat, also known as a Muskoka Seaflea.

I’m not entirely sure where “Centre Road” was located, but it might be referring to the current Hurontaio Street in Mississauga/Brampton. They would not have to travel this far for the countryside in 1938, but it is hard to tell.

Sap’s Runnin’!

By Greg Clark, March 22, 1941

“Men from the country,” asserted Jimmie Frise, “make better soldiers than city men.”

“As a city man.” I replied, “it is my duty to deny that. And I think it ought to be self-evident. This is a war of machines. Machine-guns, tanks, airplanes. It is a city man’s war.”

“The average farmer,” declared Jimmie, “knows at least 10 times as much about machines as the average city man. A city man lives amongst machines. But he doesn’t know anything about them. The most he knows about them is to push a button. He pushes a button and an elevator comes and carries him upstairs. He stands at a white post, and a car stops and picks him up. He puts a nickel in a slot and something comes out. A city man is served, hand and foot, by machines. But it is all buttons to push and switches to turn and white posts to stand at.”

“Why, Jim, that’s ridiculous …” I protested.

“If a city man’s car starts to act up,” went on Jim, “he runs it into the first garage. He wouldn’t dream of trying to fix it himself. If his radio goes bad, he yells for a repair man. There is nothing so comic in the world as a city man whose telephone is out of order. He is rendered absolutely helpless.”

“So,” I said bitterly, “after living all these years in the city, you turn and bite the hand that feeds you!”

“A farmer,” continued Jim imperturbably, “knows 10 times as much about machines as a city man. He lives by machines. He can take his tractor or his car apart and put it together again. His daily job has to do with engines, churns, chopping mills. He understands and can fix pumps, harness, tools and implements, all of which come under the heading of machines. His electric light, telephone and all the things which to us city men are mysteries beyond our ken, he can mend because he understands them. This is the machine age. But the city man is its only victim.”

“How do you mean victim?” I demanded hotly.

“Because,” said Jim, “the city man has sold out to the machines. He has left himself no retreat. If our power were shut off for a week, we would be thrown into complete confusion. All our work would stop. We would live in darkness. We couldn’t cook; our oil furnaces would go out; we would huddle like cavemen freezing to death. But the farmer would carry on his life much as usual. Without lights, he’d just go to bed earlier. Without coal, he’d use wood or straw.”

Magic Hour in the Country

“Our gas engines and cars and trucks would save us,” I countered.

“Purely temporary,” said Jim. “Without power, without machines, we would be helpless. Our telephones wouldn’t work, our radio would be shut off, there would be no movies. Why, we poor city folk would find life hardly worth living. But the farmer has not sold out to the machine. His machines are still his servants, not his lords. We may have saved a little money. But the farmer has saved hay. He plants his grain and feeds his stock. His hens go right on laying, his hogs go right on growing.”

“Yah,” I cried, “but he has to have the cities for his market.”

“If he wants a market,” agreed Jim. “But suppose he merely wants to live? He has got all the means wherewith to live right in his own hand. He has his food. His fires he feeds with wood from his own woodlot. He has lamps, and if the oil gives out, he can still remember how to make tallow candles. If all the highways are bombed so that no traffic can move, the farmer lives in perfect comfort and security, while the cities slowly starve and go mad.”

“That’s an awful picture, Jim.” I accused.

“No,” said Jimmie, “I was just pointing out that we should not put too much reliance on machines and we should not permit ourselves to be carried away with our pride in them. A farmer’s land will stand by him long after the machines have let the cities go to hell.”

“You said men from the country make better soldiers than city men,” I accused.

“I’m inclined to think they do,” repeated Jim, “and we mustn’t forget that among city men are tens of thousands of men from the country who have come into the cities. Whereas, among the men from the country are mighty few who have come from the cities.”

“You’ certainly have a one-way mind,” I snorted.

“I was just thinking,” said Jim, “of all the boys from the farm who are in the army now, in Britain and Iceland and Gibraltar and all over the world. And how they are feeling just about now. With March nearly over and April on the rim.”

“I guess city boys are feeling the same,” I asserted.

“No,” corrected Jim, “to city men March and April are just the dead end of the year; a memory of rain and mud and slush and dreariness, with all the clothes shabby before the spring clothes come out, and all the cars dirty and the streets gray and slimy. But to a country boy, this is the magic hour. The calves and the lambs are coming. The stock are being let out into the fields. The hens are starting to lay and the sap’s runnin’.”

“Of course,” I cried. “The sugar bush.”

When Spring Exults

“The last log is being hauled out of the woodlot,” sang Jimmie, “and the last cordwood being drawn. The meadowlarks and the song sparrows are in every field and the crows are making marriage in the bush.”

“And spouts are being hammered into all the maples in the sugar bush,” I reminded.

“All over the world today,” said Jimmie, “the soldiers from the farms are exiles indeed. This is the time of year when the farmer feels his own sap rising; when he looks out to see where he left the hay rake last fall; in what corner of what field did he drop the plow. You will see him plodding over the fields, planning his crops. At this very hour spring exults on the farms.”

“Jim,” I interjected, “maple syrup and maple sugar. Let’s stop and think about them. To me, there is no flavor in the world so inspiring as the flavor of genuine maple syrup boiled in the bush.”

“And you got mighty little of it,” stated Jim. “Mostly you get ordinary cane syrup flavored with an artificial maple essence made from maple bark and sap wood. There are thriving factories in this world devoted entirely to the making of artificial maple flavor. And I’ve even heard of imitating the flavor with potato peelings and brown sugar. There was a farmer’s wife who could make it that way and even her husband couldn’t tell it from the real thing.”

“No,” I said aghast. “There ought to be a law against it. That’s a crime against the state. The maple leaf is Canada’s emblem.”

“All I say is,” said Jim. “if you want maple syrup, go out in the country and buy it from the farmer.”

“Why,” I cried scandalized, “the government ought to forbid the manufacture or import of maple flavoring. It’s unpatriotic. It’s subversive.”

“I agree with you,” said Jim. “But there are plenty of politicians who wouldn’t. If there are dollars in anything artificial, then that thing is here to stay. That’s a sort of general rule we can bear in mind.”

“We ought to start a battle,” I declared

“Listen,” said Jim. “I bet that half the maple syrup you have gloated over was fake. And I also bet that there are tens of thousands of people who have never yet tasted genuine maple syrup, made and sealed in the bush.”

“And it is one of the unforgettable flavors of this world,” I sighed. “Which we owe to the Indian.”

“The Indians,” enunciated Jim, “had no kettles big enough to boil the sap. They used to get their sugar by freezing.”

“How?” I inquired.

“They collected the sap,” explained Jim, “in bark pails. They had to collect it real early in March, at the very start of the run, so as to take advantage of what frost remained. They set the pails of sap out to freeze. Then they skimmed off the ice and threw it away, By alternately freezing, and thawing, they reduced the sap to a kind of sugar. When the white man came, he introduced big kettles.”

Enormous Possibilities

“Does it take much sap to render down to syrup?” I inquired.

“It all depends,” said Jim. “Some sap is richer than others. But as a rule, it takes about 30 to 35 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.”

“Holy Moses,” I said. “And how much sap does one tree give?”

“Well,” said Jim. “that, too, is a problem. If you get a good tree with a big top, and it is situated near a cold spring, and it is a real hard sugar maple, you would get an average of two gallons of sap in 24 hours.”

“So 15 trees would give you a gallon of syrup a day,” I suggested.

“Plus a lot of hard work,” smiled Jim. “driving a sleigh around the sugar bush collecting the sap from the buckets and taking care of it so it doesn’t sour.”

“Isn’t the sap sweet?” I demanded.

“Yes, but if it is neglected, or gets warm, it sours,” said Jim. “You can get sap from any kind of maple, and they all make syrup and sugar. But the best trees are the sugar maple. And they run good for only about three weeks. Sometimes the run starts early in March, sometimes later. Sometimes the run will go great for four weeks and sometimes only for two. It’s tricky, like everything else around a farm. But if you want to go for a drive in the country one of these days, we can pick up a few gallons of the real McKay.”

But I was looking speculatively out the window. For there in Jim’s back yard were three thriving maple trees. And out in front were two more. And in the neighbors’ yards I could see half a dozen other fine maples. And I was calculating just how many there were in and around my own front and back yard.

“Jim,” I said, “did it ever occur to you how many maple trees there are in Canada? How many billions? Did it ever occur to you that if we Canadians went at the problem in a business-like way, we could take possession of the sugar market of the world?”

“Don’t suggest anything business-like in connection with maple syrup,” said Jimmie, “or you lose the wild, smoky tang that distinguishes the real thing.”

“Do you realize,” I demanded that there are 15 maple trees within sight of where we sit? Do you realize that those 15 trees would give us enough sap, at two gallons per tree per day, to make a gallon of maple syrup right in our own kitchen?”

“Hm,” said Jim reflectively.

An Exciting Experiment

So we went out and made a survey of the situation and found five trees on our own premises, seven more on the premises of what might be called friendly neighbors, and another 12 in the immediate vicinity which might be brought into the scheme if we approached the owners in the proper fashion.

It was a matter of less than an hour to round up, in our own cellars, enough empty pails, lard tins and other receptacles suitable to collecting the sap. From the stationery shop we got half a dozen pea shooters of tin which would make, Jim thought, ideal sap spouts to drive into the trees. A chisel for making the notch in the bark and a brace and bit for making the little holes into which to stick the spouts was, with a handful of nails, all that a couple of maple enthusiasts required.

We agreed to tap only Jim’s trees to start with. From them we figured on collecting about 10 gallons of sap which would give us a boiling down of better than a quart of syrup, which, as Jimmie explained, would indicate whether the experiment was worthy of larger development.

“We may,” pointed out Jim, “get the whole city making maple syrup.”

So, with daylight saving to help us, we tapped our five trees, on the front lawn and in the yard, and found no trouble inserting the spouts and suspending the pails on nails. The colorless, water-like sap began to run almost instantly. First a dribble and then a trickle rewarded our gaze as each tree was notched and spouted. And when darkness fell, there was already a nice wetness covering the bottom of each pail.

The next morning being Saturday, we telephoned the office that we had important work to do; which was fortunate, because with all the children of the district home from school, we had to keep a sharp eye on our pails of sweet sap. Overnight, some of the smaller pails had actually filled and overflowed. It is astonishing how maple sap flows. With the day, the sap flow increased. In a big preserving kettle down in Jim’s cellar, on the laundry gas stove, we collected the sap from the pails.

“We should be boiling by 6 o’clock tonight, at this rate,” said Jim, looking at the good six inches of sap already in the kettle.

The children of the neighborhood took a most lively interest in the enterprise, and Jim and I both took time, seeing there was nothing else to do, to instruct these ignorant little city children in the mysteries of maple sugar making.

“To celebrate our first boiling,” suggested Jim. “we might invite all these kids in to watch and let them sit around the kettle and dip sticks in the syrup, the way they do in the country at a sugaring-off. They dip switches in and then cool the syrup in the snow and it turns to candy.”

“It might be nice,” I agreed, “because after all, this is a patriotic enterprise and the kids ought to be in it.”

The First – and Last – Boiling

So we got quite friendly with the children clustered around and I allowed some of them to taste the sap, even though it was precious. I had tasted it. It had a sweetish, queer flavor. Rather nice. I tasted quite a lot of it. I got a spoon and dipped some out for each youngster. They all had two or three helpings of the sap. I had about 10 or 15. And then an old lady passing by spoiled the fun.

“Mercy sakes,” she said, “you are not giving those children that maple sap!”

“It won’t hurt them,” I reassured her.

“Won’t hurt them?” she cried. “It’ll give them the worst gripes they ever had. My goodness, don’t let them have any more.”

“My dear lady,” I said, “I bet I’ve had a pint of it.”

“Well,” she laughed, “if you have, you’ll soon know it. Why, when I was a girl back on the farm the best joke in the world was to invite your town cousins out and give them sap to drink and then…”

But at that instant I felt the first gripes. It was just as the lady said.

I had to leave the experiment to Jimmie. He had drunk only a little of the sap and was more or less able to carry on. I came and went, as the gripes came and went. I was feeling some better along about 6 o’clock, when Jimmie announced the first boiling to be ready.

Unquestionably, as we boiled, there was a delicious maple aroma in that cellar laundry. Unquestionably, the sap slowly boiled to a darker and darker shade. Unquestionably the slowly forming syrup, as the hours went by, did taste like maple syrup. But also unquestionably it seemed to taste of other things, such as a faint suspicion of gasoline, and a faint tinge of lubricating oil and other things which undoubtedly seep down into the soil from which city trees draw their sustenance.

It may have been the sap I had drunk earlier in the day that threw me off my taste, but by the time the syrup had begun to take on the consistency of syrup, I had no taste for it at all; and I was ready to go out into the fresh air and breathe the cold. What we had left at the end of the boiling both Jimmie and I agreed to pour out in a quiet corner of Jimmie’s garden. Altogether, it was a failure as an experiment. And a lot of work and trouble.

But the worst feature of the experiment was that all day all the mothers in the neighborhood telephoned in high, sharp voices to ask what on earth we had been giving their children to drink?


Editor’s Notes: This story gives a good description of making maple syrup. I suspect that at the time of writing, it was more common to encounter artificial syrup in Canada, but this in no longer the case. To anyone in the right climate, making maple syrup by hobbyists is not uncommon, so long as you have enough trees to work with, and preferably do the boiling outside. One shouldn’t let Greg and Jim’s failed experiment discourage you.

Jim uses the phrase “the real McKay“. This is from an advertising slogan of the MacKay whisky distillery: “A drappie o’ the real MacKay”. This would eventually transform to “the real McCoy“, to indicate something was “the real thing” or “the genuine article”.

Sleighing Party

By Greg Clark, February 8, 1936

“It’s the axle,” said Jimmie Frise.

“Then,” stated I, not indignantly, “we’re here for the night.”

“I guess so,” said Jim, staring around the strange little village, with its steamy windows throwing a faint light on the deep snow banks piled high against little stores, sheds, cottages.

“What does the garage man say?” I asked.

“He says it’s the axle,” replied Jim. “And it will take at least three hours to fix, and he’s got an engagement tonight.”

“An engagement?” I cried. “Do you mean to say he won’t fix our car because he’s got an engagement? An engagement? Whoever heard of garageman having an engagement?”

“He’s a very nice young fellow,” said Jim. “I told him we weren’t going any place except fox hunting, and we’d put up here for the night.”

“Is there a hotel?” I demanded.

“No, but he said he would run around and find a place for us.”

“Some old widda,” I snorted. “Damp spare beds, unslept in for fifteen years. An ice cold spare room, with golden oak dresser and an afghan…”

“Well, it’s a broken axle,” reminded Jim.

I entered the garage with Jimmie and we stood looking at the car, from under which scrambled a handsome young man wiping his hands hastily on waste.

“Well, young man,” said I, “I hear you’ve got an engagement. Do you suppose there is anything two visitors like us might do in this town?”

The young chap studied us excitedly for a moment.

“You might like to come with us,” he said.

“Where?”

“A sleighing party,” said he.

Jim and I looked at each other.

“I haven’t been on a sleighing party,” cried Jim, “for thirty years!”

“Perhaps the young ladies,” I said, “wouldn’t care to have a couple of elderly strangers horn in on what really is a very merry and intimate occasion.”

“It’s a stag sleighing party,” said the young garage man. “That is, kind of.”

“Stag?” said I, “What is it, a lodge? Or a Liberal rally?”

“It’s a kind of church affair,” explained the young fellow, unbuttoning his brown overalls and starting to peel out of them. He did not look to me like a Bible class young man.

“We’ll come,” said Jim, eagerly. “I don’t fancy going to bed at a quarter past eight.”

“Come on, then,” said the lad. “We can arrange where you stay after we come back. Leave it to me.”

So we left our bags and hunting gear in the car and followed the young chap out into the wintry world where he led us at a fast swinging stride up the village street under a moon so glorious, so round and radiant. it was like day. There was an air of excitement about our young friend. Past the church we hastened, where lights glowed in the basement windows. Past the end cottages. Out a couple of hundred yards past the end of the village, to a side road.

A Little Bit Puzzling

“Gents,” said the young man, “we are gathering at a farmhouse a little way up. Will you wait here? Just till I explain to the boys who you are.”

“Fine, fine,” said Jim and I. “It’s a lovely night to be waiting at a crossroads.”

And he left us and sped away up the road, while we stood under the splendor of the winter moon, amid the deep drifts, inhaling the crystal air and looking back at the shadowy village with its quiet lights.

“Jim,” I cried, “what a great way to live. Just drop down into a village like this, and right away enter into the heart of it.”

“Ah, the country,” said Jim, waving his arms and beating his chest with them. “The longer I live, the more foolish I feel for ever coming into a city.”

“Think,” I said, “of the simplicity and beauty of this life. This gentle village. This wide, quiet world of snow and moonlight. Of peace and kindliness.”

“Compare it,” said Jim, addressing the wide empty night, “with the strife and warfare of cities. That splendid young man we are with. So excited over a simple thing like a sleighing party. In a city, that young man would have to be up to all sorts of hellery to work up an excitement like this. Just a sleighing party. A church affair.”

Far off, we heard sleigh bells. We stared up the road and presently saw a big object moving down the snowy road towards us.

“Jim,” I stated, “there is an innocence about country life that we have lost in cities forever.”

“I thank heaven,” confessed he, “that I am still able to be thrilled by a sleighing party.”

And thrilled we were, as the mellow jangle of the sleigh bells grew louder, and the huge sleigh, hauled by sturdy horses, squealed across the snowy road towards us, and we heard the ringing laughter and shouts of young men.

The sleigh pulled up and our friend, accompanied by three or four other young chaps, leaped out and welcomed us gaily. And in a moment we were being hoisted aboard the sleigh and buried deep in buffalo robes and heavy blankets smelling richly of horse.

Beside me sat a very short, heavily built young man who seemed, under his rowdy cap, to be the least likely member of a young men’s Bible class I had ever met with.

“What an interesting group,” I said to him, as the sleigh lurched forward and the whip cracked and the bells and voices raised a din. “I understand this is some sort of church affair?”

“Sort of,” admitted the heavy youth, huskily.

“I associate church sleighing parties,” I conversed, “with a more, a more … shall I say?… a more …”

“Sissy?” helped the young man.

“Well, not sissy, exactly, but a less muscular and hearty type of young man,” I explained. “More reserved. Your companions are such a gay and hearty lot. It must be wonderful to attend a meeting of your Bible class.”

Gathering Excitement

“It sure must be,” admitted the young fellow beside me, and he started a song. It wasn’t exactly a sleighing party song. The last time I heard it was east of Arras twenty years ago.

So there I sat, across from Jim, while we lurched and tugged through the night, under the ambient moon, turning north off the highway into a road aisled with tall cedars and balsams, and the young men sang and shouted gaily, and at the front, a group of the party stood up and cheered the horses on.

The horses, as a matter of fact, plodded much more rapidly than any I remembered of old sleighing parties. I remarked this to Jimmie.

“Sleighing parties,” he confessed across to me, over the fragrant buffalo robes, “seem to have pepped up.”

And after we had lurched and jangled two or three miles up lonely country roads, we sensed a gathering excitement in our twenty friends. Many of them leaped out and ran beside the sleigh at the hills and grades. And the crowd up at the driver’s seat, standing, were like rooters at a game.

“This is a curious sleighing party,” I shouted to Jim.

And then we heard our friends shouting:

“There they are, there they are! Giddap, giddap, sktch, sktch, give ’em the gad, Tom.”

Jim and I stood up. Far ahead on the road we beheld a dark object.

“Another sleigh,” cried Jim.

“It’s a race,” I exclaimed. “Let’s hop out and help.”

So Jim and I got out and ran beside the sleigh, holding on. The big sleigh sped, the bells clashed and sang and twenty figures bobbed and leaped alongside, while the driver of our sleigh wielded his whip and the horses broke into a blundering canter.

“They see us!” shouted someone.

And the sleigh ahead, which we had been rapidly overtaking, began to move more quickly.

With shouts and urgings, with bells and squealing of runners, we chased. I got winded and managed to haul myself aboard the sleigh. Presently Jim joined me.

“What thrill,” I shouted. “But what a shame our side is handicapped by us.”

“We were invited,” gasped Jim, recovering his wind.

“A racing sleigh party,” I cried, “Who ever heard of such a delightful way to spend a night. It takes the country to think things up.”

Now we could see dark figures piling out of the sleigh ahead and running alongside to lighten it. But slowly, slowly, we gained on them. Through another dark aisle of cedar and spruce we plunged and again out into a wide and shining open stretch. But ahead loomed a slow rise and when our plunging friends outside the sleigh saw that, they yelled in triumph. And steadily, steadily, we overlook the other party.

As we neared, it seemed to me like a boarding party in the old pirate days. I could hear the shrill screaming of feminine voices. Snowballs, hunks of hard snow off the road whizzed past us. When a piece of wood about the size of a stove stick thudded into the sleigh, I began to get anxious.

“Jim,” I said, “I don’t like this.”

But already we were overtaking the first sleigh, and crowding past it, forcing it over towards the ditch. Already some of our party had bounded ahead and were clasped in mortal combat with men who leaped out of the leading sleigh. Inside of half a minute, amid the screams of girls, the jangling of bells and the snorts of excited horses, twenty wild fighting figures were tumbling in the show, with yells, grunts and shouts and thuds. And suddenly over the side of our sleigh came very large young man who dealt me terrific punch on the side of the head, one of those country swings, and then trampling all over me, charged bull-like at Jimmie.

The Annual Thrill

Thus we were engaged in speechless heaving and grabbing and heavy breathing amidst the tumult for a few moments, until I heard a girl’s voice above me saying: “Oh, you brutes.”

But by the time we got to our feet, while the fighting was still going on in spots and spasms, out along the ditches and fences I saw my short heavy friend, grasping a girl by the elbow with each hand and dragging them from the other sleigh into ours.

And inside of one minute, the whole entire load of ladies was shifted. They yelled and laughed and protested. One young lady was weeping bitterly. Several strange young men charged forlornly at our sleigh but were violently thumped and tripped and flung backwards. Meanwhile, two or three of our party were unhitching the horses of the other sleigh, and presently brought them around and tied them to the back of ours. By this time our sleigh was jammed to suffocation and a valiant rearguard stood around us to beat off the failing attacks of the enemy. And with a final uproar of shouts of okay and ready we lurched into action and moved away.

Behind us, some of them following part way with fists shaking and gestures of despair, were left on the road the men of the first party.

And down under the vastly grinning men, we rode while girls’ voices screeched and laughed and still the young lady wept.

“Aw, cut it out, Grace,” called one girl from the tangled heap of robes and laughed.

“I won’t,” stamped the weeping girl. “I saw Eddie’s nose bleeding. You brutes.”

But presently there was singing, and working his way heavily back to Jim and me came the squat young man of my acquaintance leading large bundled figures behind him.

“That was the Bible class,” explained him to us. “Gents, I’d like to introduce our chaperones to you. They’ll be your partners, Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey.”

And Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey were squealing loudly the way chaperones do and waggled themselves space in the sleigh and sat with us, telling about the annual thrill when the church sleighing party is always ruined by the bad boys of the village.

With horses afore and aft, and merry bells thundering and songs rising one after another, we smothered across the white country and down the dark aisles and came at last to the village.

And in the village we drew up, with shouts and cheers, before the church where people came rushing out to welcome us and we all raced excitedly into the church basement where there was rich dark smell of coffee and long tables were spread under glaring lights with pies and cake and fruit and jam and sandwiches of ham, cheese, chopped egg, pork, cold beef, salmon, pickle salad and some private mixture that one never met before and never will meet again.

And there we ate and sang and ate again and looked at fifty bright and ruddy faces and eyes so clear and strange and filled with shy and lovely expressions that you never see in cities anymore; and a little old minister got up and spoke to this unexpected flock of young men, making hay while the sun shone, he explained; and after everything was eaten and the songs were being gone over for the third and even the seventh me seventh time – that seventh timer was the one about the music goes round and around ho,ooo,ooo,ooo – a few shy, angry young men came creeping down the basement entrance and into the door where they were met with loud and wild cheers of derision and crusts were flung at them; all but one brave, slim fellow with a bruised nose, who strode whitely and furiously in and sat down beside the little girl who had been weeping.

And under the silver radiance of the moonlight we went forth and Mrs. McGiffin took us into her house and she was a widda and the furious young man with the bruised nose was her son and we sat and had another tea and our room was the spare room, and the dresser was golden oak and there was an afghan and the floor was icy cold. But the bed was high and deep and dry and warm.

And the next morning we went fox hunting.


It's As Easy as Easy

By Greg Clark, January 16, 1937

“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to take up skiing. It’s the rage.”

“It came,” I regretted, “just ten years too late for us.”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “There’s thousands of men our age skiing.”

“They started when they were younger,” I countered.

“It’s as easy as easy,” Jim informed me. There is no trick in it. You keep thinking of skiing as jumping off high ski jumps. That isn’t skiing, any more than high fancy diving is swimming. Skiing is like sailing. Or swimming. Nine-tenths of all skiing is just floating along over lovely levels and slopes, and one-tenth of it is sliding down pleasant hills with a sense of grace and speed that no other sport can give.”

“It looks the clumsiest sport I ever saw,” I protested. “Any I’ve ever seen skiing were either waddling or sprawling. In fact, outside the movies, I may say I have never to my knowledge seen a skier standing up.”

“It goes to show you,” groaned Jim, “just what prejudice can do to a man. We’ve had a couple of unfortunate experiences on skis. That settles it, as far as you are concerned.”

“It sure does,” I confirmed. “I’m not one of those who have to eat a whole egg to know it’s bad. Any game that makes me look and feel like a fool, that bumps me and bruises me and robs me of all my self-control isn’t going to get a second chance at me.”

“I know you are not a bigoted man,” said Jim, “so that is why I now ask you to keep an open mind in this matter and consider a few more points.”

“My mind,” I agreed, “is slightly ajar, but only slightly.”

“Skiing,” said Jim, “has come to stay. It is not a fad. It is as natural born a Canadian sport as it is possible to conceive.”

“It was born in Norway,” I corrected, “as a quick way for coming down a mountain. The Norwegians have never yet invented as quick a way for going back up the mountain.”

“Canadians, you admit,” said Jim, “are an outdoor people. They have more outdoors than most countries. Millions of square miles of Canada are nothing but outdoors. Good for nothing else forever.”

“Hence,” I agreed, “three hundred million dollars’ worth of tourists per annum.”

“Why leave it to the tourists?” asked Jim. “Now, in summer, we all go to summer cottages or camping. We fish and boat and swim. We are an outdoor people. But come winter, we hole up, like bears. Why? Because, except for skating, snowshoeing and tobogganing, there is nothing outdoors in winter to attract us.”

“I like holing up,” I stated. “Beside a bright fire.”

“Skating and tobogganing,” went on Jim, are restricted by the amount of clear ice and the hills available. Snowshoeing is a dreary business of picking them up and setting them down. But now comes skiing.”

“Hooray, slither, thud,” said I.

“Once You Get the Hang of It”

“Skiing, once you get the hang of it,” said Jimmie, “is the most fascinating, alluring, glorious sport there is. Unlike golf and tennis, it can be enjoyed by young and old. You can go as far as you like with it. Like fishing. You can restrict yourself to just floating around near home, enjoying the simple pleasure of sailing over the bright snow, amid the woods and fields. Or you can go as far as you like into the countless intricacies of the sport, learning to go with speed, with ever increasing style, over hills, over jumps, rushing at wind speed through forest aisles, as fully in control of your graceful movements as though you were walking, and all the time in the glorious pure winter air.”

“It costs money,” I pointed out.

“It is one of the few sports,” replied Jim, “that costs no more than the initial outlay. If you play golf, after you’ve bought your golf clubs you have to pay fees forever. If you ski, you just run outside the city and start skiing. It costs no more than walking.”

“There’ll be some catch in it,” I argued. “Or if there isn’t, somebody will soon put one in it.”

“They can’t,” said Jim. “Right now, all around the city for miles and miles there are the loveliest ski trails winding over the countryside, and what do they cost? Nothing. Because they are simply the trails left by others who have gone ahead. You just climb out of your car, find good trail clearly defined where plenty of other skiers have gone, and follow. Where the many have gone is the finest country, the best slopes, the prettiest scenes.”

“It sounds,” I said, “a little too good to be true.”

“All the best things in life do,” said Jim.

Thus, reluctantly, Jim persuaded me to go and shop around the ski stores with him. There were outfits from $8 up. But there were also boots alone that cost $28, and skis alone that went to fifty dollars. And of all the garments, gadgets and accessories to be seen in these ski stores, only a modern motor car emporium could show any greater diversity.

We ended up by buying $10 skis, and $4 poles; boots at $7, and three dollars’ worth of wax, klister, blister and blung or some such names, meaning wax for wet snow, medium snow and dry snow.

One thing about skiing, once you let it take hold of you, even by the tips of your fingers, it gets a grip that is worse than strong drink. Before Jim and I got home, we had bought ski pants and ski spats, ski coats and ski neck scarves, ski belts and ski lunch bags, ski garters and ski socks; ski berets and ski goggles; in fact, both of us had to leave our purchases out in the car in the garage until our families went to the movies after dinner.

To Live Up to Costumes

Part of any sport is the costume. The big thing, with thousands of horse addicts, for example, is the smart riding togs, in which they can drape themselves gracefully around fences and fashionable barnyards. Shooting and fishing call for a certain style, even if it is no style. Skiing certainly has costume. Jim and I dressed up in our new outfits and we visited together. These clothes give you a rugged feeling a sort of wide-legged, heavy-footed, glint-eyed Scandinavian feeling.

Saturday noon, in a keen and platinum-skied weather, we sortied out and joined the northward parade, on all highways, of cars bristling with skis. Less than an hour’s run north, we joined one of the numerous side road processions of cars seeking the white open spaces. And on a hill top, of pine and cedar, dark against the glorious white, we parked in the ditch along with dozens of other cars. And out over the wholesome world, traced with snake fences and etched woods, we could see hundreds of skiers, like dancers on damask….

“To-day,” said Jim. “we’ll try no hills. No fancy steps at all. Nothing but elementary straight sliding on the level.”

“We’ll have to live up to these clothes a bit,” I reminded him.

On the running-board, we sat to adjust the heavy clever harness of the skis.

“Will we be warm enough?” I asked, the keen stinging wind rattling spumey snow against us.

“As soon as we get going, we’ll warm,” said Jim.

And then we stood up, and started with slow, easy skids of the skis, to proceed to the sloping field edge, and enter on that far-flung dance of winter. It was, as Jim said, as easy as easy. No steep slopes, but slow rolling fields, down which it was a curious thrill to propel ourselves with ski poles and up which it was no trick at all to climb.

“It is like sailing,” I shouted to Jim, as we drifted from one fair field to another.

“Wind in the face,” cried Jim, “crisp snow under foot, blood tingling …”

“It’s warm,” I confessed.

“I was just thinking,” admitted Jim, veering nearer me, “we put on a little too much clothing. I often marveled at those ski costumes in the store, so flimsy.”

But we rested frequently and took it easy and cooled off wherever we felt like it. And presently, even the far-off hilltop where we had left our car dropped from sight behind the rolling hills of York county.

On fences, we saw coats and jackets hung. Haversacks and scarves and even caps were suspended from fence posts, such is the comradeship of the ski world, nobody fears to leave their possessions about.

“If I could take off this jacket,” I told Jim. “I could enjoy it a lot better.”

“Me, too,” agreed Jim, sliding for a little piney copse where against the dark green shone the colors of sundry garments where fellow skiers had hung them.

With jackets off, we took a new lease of life. A valley sloped away from the little copse, and into the valley ran a regular highway of ski tracks. Into the valley slid Jim and I, and amongst beautiful trees, we guided our points, slow slopes being followed by short steep climbs, and valleys branching off valleys, and all along the way we found garments and lunch bags suspended from the branches. And the gayer we went, the more we shed, Jim hanging up on one small cedar tree his cap, scarf, mitts and belt, so flushed and tingled were we with this rejoicing little valley.

All Hills Are Up

A little later, at the top of one of the steep short climbs, I shed my outer integuments, and Jim even removed his shirt.

“My underwear is perfectly respectable,” he retorted to my shocked glare. So I took off my shirt, too, and we turned into a more enticing valley than any we had yet seen, while from before and behind came little volleying parties and doubles and singles of skiers, all with such look of pleasure on their bright faces, it was like being a boy again.

But presently, even bereft of all extra garments, we began to tire.

“Jim,” I said, resting against a tree that fortunately presented itself, “we shouldn’t take it too hard or too far the first time. I bet we’ll ache to-morrow.”

“We can turn back any time,” agreed Jim, puffing.

So after a little rest, we turned and headed back through the valleys.

But, imperceptibly to the human eye, especially the human eye on skis, this valley sloped just the least little bit. And by the time we came out into the next valley, we were pretty weary.

“Tchah,” said Jimmie, as we rested.

“Pffffff,” I agreed.

We started up the next valley. It too had a gentle, an almost imperceptible, slope. Valley led into valley, like the joints of a clothes dryer. Sometimes we came to a fork in the valley, but I left the choice of the fork to Jimmie, who is taller and therefore can see farther.

In all the valleys were these glittering trails of ski tracks, and along all the trees were the garments shed.

“Jim,” I said, “we ought to be coming to that little cedar with our shirts on it.”

“Next bend, I think,” said Jim.

“Funny how chilly it is,” I remarked, “when you stop.”

“Funny how much oftener you stop going than coming,” said Jim.

But we did not come to the little cedar tree, and the next bend was a valley full of large gray boulders through which the trail led windingly.

“We certainly,” I declared, “did not come down this valley.”

But rather than go back and correct our bearings, Jim decided it would be easier if we climbed out of the little valley on to the level and struck overland for the right one.

We found one valley, and two valleys, cutting overland, but neither of them did we recognize. We then found a deep valley and then another shallow one. They were full of skiers both coming and going, who could not, even when we halted them, tell us if they had noticed on a small cedar tree a blue shirt and a green shirt and sundry caps, scarves and fancy woollen belts.

But nobody had. So I borrowed a pair of gloves off a tree, but Jimmie wouldn’t. And we went up valleys and across fields and down valleys, asking everybody if they had seen a cedar tree with blue shirts and green shirts on it.

So we abandoned the search and headed over hill and dale for what Jimmie said was the direction of our car. And we came at last to a side road where a skiing party took us into their car and drove us at dark to the highway, where, we were able to hire a taxi cab with blankets and go finding our own car.

“We still have our skis,” said Jim, as deeply wound up in rugs and cloth things Jim found under the back seat, we headed for home.

“And our pants,” I added gratefully.

The first lesson in skiing,” said Jim, don’t wear too much clothing.”

“And the second lesson,” said I, “is, all hills are up.”


Maple Syrup Forever

By Greg Clark, April 4, 1936

“I wonder what it is,” said Jimmie Frise, “we are after?”

“Who?” I asked.

“All of us, the whole world,” said Jim. “Just stop a minute. Think. Think of the whole world, at this minute. Moving, rushing, hurrying. New York, Hong Kong, Moscow, Toronto. Rushing, racing, hasting. Millions, millions, millions, all bent forward, chasing something. In cities, towns, roads, ships, streets, trains, factories, stores, highways, hundreds of millions of us desperately hurrying.”

“The half on the other side of the world,” I pointed out, “are asleep.”

“Yes, fitfully sleeping,” admitted Jim, “snoring, snorting, muttering, turning, twitching, millions of them, in India, China, Russia, Siam, hastily sleeping till the dawn to wake them to another day of dreadful pursuit. What is it they are after?”

“Should I answer?” I asked

“No, don’t interrupt,” said Jim. “Sometimes I am terrified by just thinking of all the madly hastening life that is going on at this instant, at every instant we breathe. Think of all the humans, the millions, at this moment working, toiling, loving, playing, dancing, dying. The Niagara of tears right now flowing in Rio de Janeiro and Sweden, Japan and Paris. But on top of that, think of the sea. The sea filled with vast shoals of herring, of millions, billions of sharks and porpoises — stop! — at this instant, hissing, cutting, curving through the vast deep ocean, eating, grinning, chasing; think of all the slow legs of beetles, at this very split second, moving in Brazil and the Congo, the myriad flies of Mexico and the billions of butterflies hurrying in the south of France. The animals, which at this instant, as we think of them, are prowling in Canada, mink, fox, deer; in Tibet, the strange goats, sheep, fleeing up the mountains; in Chicago, the rats and mice, armies of them, deep down in the basements of all the rotting cities, seeking, sniffing; the flowers, rising, reaching, dying, in the Swiss plateaux, in the jungles of Borneo; the trees that lift, the grass — life!”

“Life,” I echoed weakly. “It is an awful spectacle.”

“Spectacle?” said Jim. “We can’t see even the fringe of it. It is a sensation. By sitting absolutely still for a second, and feeling it, we can get a quick, vanishing, frightening sense of it. Life, at this awful instant, racing all over the earth, in the sea and in the air, animal, vegetable, in a screaming, hungry, dreadful chase.”

“I don’t see why you harp on it,” I declared. “It’s nice and comfortable here.”

“But If we get up and so much as look out the window,” said Jim, “we see it. We see the city, all of a roar.”

“Then the great thing,” I said, “is not to look out any windows.”

“What was in my mind,” said Jim, putting his feet up on the desk, “was this: if we humans are so intelligent, why it is we have never paused long enough to figure out what we are after? Why do we go right on doing what the sharks are doing, right now, forever and ever, in the sea; and the bugs in Brazil? And so forth?”

“Some of us,” I pointed out, “take life pretty easy. You and me, for instance. And some farmers we know. And hotelkeepers in the country.”

For a National Festival

“Yes,” said Jim, “but the whole tendency, nowadays, is away violently from that. A hundred years ago, even, man could spend his life away in perfect peace and ease, with no sense whatever of that awful urgency of life. But now, wherever a man may hide, motor cars will cover him with dust, aeroplanes will yell across his skies, and if he comes in for a plug of tobacco to a poor country crossroads store, some radio will burst his quiet forever by telling him a play by play account of a wreck or a battle or seductive voice will sing unforgettable sweetness into his rest. He cannot hide to-day from the exciting, gesturing, beckoning figure of action.”

“It is pretty nice in the country,” I said, “on a June afternoon. I have spent whole afternoons lying on a river bank, not even thinking, not even sleeping, but just lying there, motionless even in my mind.”

“What could we do,” demanded Jim, “to cause people to stop and think what they are doing? What they are after? What it’s all about?”

“It ought to be easy with Canadians,” I said. “Canadians have such interesting things to do, like driving in cutters in winter and going on canoe trips in summer. That would be a straight case of doing now what we used to do when things were gentler. That’s what the pioneers did.

“We might try to popularize canoe trips,” said Jim, “and walking in the country. We might agitate against good roads.”

“That’s a real idea,” I enthused.

“I bet we could get a big following,” said Jim, “of people who don’t want this modernizing of the world to go any farther.”

“Nudists, kind of?” I suggested. “Intellectual nudists, like?”

“For example,” said Jim, sitting up excitedly, “take maple syrup making. That’s going on all over the country right now. The greatest fun in the world. A true Canadian institution, of which everybody in cities and towns know nothing. A festival. A true, national, essential festival, and it is ignored. Why shouldn’t it be a feature of our life that at maple sugar time, everybody heads for the country to partake of the festival of the maple.”

“The maple is our national emblem,” I cried.

“In bright overalls of all colors,” went on Jim, excitedly, “men and women, children, everybody, greeting the rising of the sap, the return of life to the earth, by toiling in the beautiful sun-bathed maple forests, carrying sap, burning the fragrant fires, making the huge sap kettles to boil and bubble. And at night, dancing about the leaping fires while they sugar off.”

“It would be in the news reels,” I cried, “like those Swiss yodelers and the African witch doctors and the Apache sacred snake dance!”

“We have no national festival,” declared Jim, “except July first, which is the day everybody moves to the summer cottage.”

“The first of July, my friend,” I reminded Jim, “is, to a very large section of the country, the opening of the bass season, don’t forget.”

“That’s it,” agreed Jim. “It’s just a day off. It’s no festival. But the Festival of the Maple, lasting a whole week, from coast to coast, would be something. Did you ever attend a sugaring off?”

“I regret to admit I haven’t,” I said.

“Then,” said Jim, coldly, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You aren’t a Canadian at all. After five generations, you are just some sort of an immigrant. I suppose you wear a rose on St. George’s Day?”

“No, but I wear a sprig of heather on St. Andrew’s Day,” I confessed.

“Paugh,” said Jim.

And at two p.m. we were headed out of town to find a sugar camp.

“The sap,” explained Jim, sitting at the steering wheel, “dribbles down the little metal spout into a bucket suspended to the spout. In olden days, the spout was wood. The sap carriers bring the sap to the big cauldron or sap kettle hung over the fire. Most farmers have what they call a sugar house in the midst of their maple bush, where all this is done and where the equipment is kept from spring to spring.”

“Is the sap sweet?” I inquired.

“Yes, but it is also a laxative,” warned Jim. “If anybody offers you a drink of sap. just smile and say something farmery. Don’t let them suspect you are a city slicker. There are a lot of tricks can happen at a sugaring off.”

“So the sap boils?” I reminded him.

“It boils for several hours,” said Jim, “getting thicker and sweeter. The fragrant wood smoke helps give the syrup a flavor. The demand for syrup is nowadays greater than the demand for sugar, but every farmer makes some sugar. Years ago, the only sugar the farmers had was maple sugar.”

“Is there any better?” I asked.

“Not this side of heaven,” said Jim.

We drove to a certain town and turned then into the west, seeking at each little village the directions to where we might find a sugar bush in action. But at the gas stations, the young men seemed surprised at the mention of maple sugar and smiled sweetly at the very remembrance our question brought up. Some of them thought John P. Parker had just finished his maple syrup, and others thought Andrew J. McPhedran was not quite ready to do his yet. And it was away the other side of the next town that we came upon a wayside general store and gas pump where a grizzled and active little old man directed us down a side road with advice as to where we might find a sugar bush in full flood.

Three Men and a Gun

“P’s place,” said our informant. “Just ask your way to P’s place, it’s two concessions in and one to your right, and you’ll see a deserted house there. Painted white it was. Follow the cow path straight back of that house, and there you are.”

And down cedar-sheltered narrow country roads we crawled in second gear, because the spring was coming out of these side roads, and any day they would go to pieces. We slithered and slid and ground and growled down two concessions and one to the right and in due time came to an abandoned farm house where lilac bushes big with bud showed somebody had here once lived and loved.

Leaving the car, we followed a soft and muddy path over hill and dale, past old and fallen snake fences and across log bridges over rushing brooks, until on the slope ahead we beheld the bright figure of a hardwood bush. And into this bush, the path, pocked with footsteps, led.

“Smoke,” said Jim. “Smell the hardwood smoke?”

And in amidst the trees at last, we descried a little gray shanty, from the chimney of which a wisp of smoke rose.

“Not many maples here,” said Jim, scrutinizing the trees as we passed.

“Hello,” I sang out, in loud Canadian greeting.

But when we drew near the shanty, no bright figures in blue overalls strode forth to greet us heartily.

“I see no buckets,” said Jim. “But there’s a kettle in there.”

And we politely intruded. Around the inside of the sugar house, which was largely open to the elements, there were stacked grain bags and cardboard cartons. Under a large black kettle, a slow bright fire of hardwood coals glowed hotly, and the kettle made a soft purring sound.

But above the kettle there rose a large dull copper spiral of pipe almost as thick as a garden hose. And it coiled and rose and passed along the ceiling and then descended into another large pot which stood against an open side of the shanty.

“They didn’t make syrup this way,” said Jim, staring at the machinery, “when I lived in the country.”

“Some new-fangled way of making it,” I suggested. “More sanitary. Maybe this is the way they can get bigger production.”

“Why,” said Jim, backing slowly out of the shanty, “this looks like a still.”

“It is a still,” I said. “A maple syrup still.”

“Stand steady, you two!” said a loud nasal voice.

And Jim and I turned to see three gentlemen in rubber boots, one of them pointing a double-barrelled shotgun at us.

“Put up your hands, boys,” said the nasal gentleman, advancing. “City operators, eh?”

“We were just looking,” I explained.

“So were we,” said the nasal one. “We’ve been watching this outfit for nearly a week now. And it never occurred to us to expect city fellers. I’m the constable. You’re under arrest.”

In Pursuit of Something

But Jim and I were able to produce letters, pictures of our children, assignments, unpaid bills and the things newspapermen always carry about with them, and proved to the constable that we were innocent journalists out looking for a sugar maple camp.

“How’d you find this whisky still?” asked the constable.

“Why,” said Jim, “we were just driving along in here looking for a sugar bush, when I smelt wood smoke and we walked back the path.”

“Well, on your way,” said the constable. “And don’t mention to anybody about meeting us here.”

And we walked back out the path, while the three gentlemen with the gun went back into the underbrush and hid again.

When we got back to the main road, we pulled in to the gas pump and the grizzled little cricket of a man came hopping out eagerly.

“Did you find it?” he asked.

“Yep,” said Jim.

“Anybody there?” asked the little man.

“Yep. Three men with a gun,” said Jim.

“H’m,” said the little man. “Still hanging around, are they?”

“You might have got us shot,” I declared.

“Them fellers never shoot,” said the little man. “I was kinder anxious to know if they was still there.”

“Well, they are.”

“Makes it kind of difficult,” said the little man, “to keep the fire fed. But the half-owner of the business lives out on the other road where they park their car. He telephones me an order for groceries every time they arrive. And then telephones and cancels the order as soon as they leave.”

“Any sugar bushes in this neighborhood?” I asked.

“I can’t say,” said the little man. “I haven’t been interested in maple sugar for some years. Doesn’t pay.”

“Well,” we said, “so long.”

So we drove out to the big highway and got in line with the rest of the traffic whizzing madly along in pursuit of something.

“Orphans of the Storm”

By Greg Clark, February 10, 1945

“What on earth,” demanded Jimmie Frise, is an afghan?”

“It’s a kind of hand-knitted rug,” I explained.

“I thought it was some kind of a dog,” said Jim. “What the dickens do you want with an afghan?”

“Every man, on reaching his fiftieth birthday,” I set forth, “should be presented with an afghan by his fond and doting womenfolk. His very own private, personal afghan, in his favorite colors. Mine are autumn colors. I want my afghan in dark red, dark green, gold and orangey brown.”

“Neat,” suggested Jim, “and gaudy.”

“An afghan,” I explained, “is made up of a whole lot of six-inch knitted squares sewn together into a rug. All your womenfolk arrange to knit these squares. For example, one does the brown squares, another does the red, another the gold, and so on. Then when they have the necessary number knitted, they get together and sew it up into a rug. And put a fringe on it.”

“Okay,” said Jimmie, “so you get a rug. Then what? Do you take to your bed for the rest of your life? At 50?”

“It isn’t for bed,” I protested. “Maybe you can keep it folded on the foot of your bed, as a constant reminder of the affection in which you are held by your womenfolk. But it is really used as a car rug, a rug to take to hockey games or rugby. You take it with you when you travel, to wear around your legs in trains or on boats.

“I thought you had decided to settle down,” said Jim.

“But the final, supreme value of an afghan,” I enunciated, “is for fishing and hunting and camping. You can wear it as a shawl around your shoulders sitting in the boat in the cool of the evening when the guide is rowing you back to camp. Folded up, it makes a wonderful cushion to sit on in the canoe, during those first chilly weeks of the trout season.”

“Knitted?” inquired Jim. “Isn’t that a fragile kind of a rug for sporting purposes?”

“That’s why I said 50 years old,” I explained. “By that age, a man is old enough to be finicky and take care of his things. Lots of men are too rowdy and careless, even at 70, to be trusted with an afghan. But as for me, I am getting tidier every year. And anyway, I want an afghan. And I want this afghan. Wait till I read it again.”

I took from my pocket the clipping from the Pine Corners Argus, the little country weekly newspaper I had picked up in The Star’s exchange room.

“Listen to this,” I said, reading: “Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. The Ladies’ Frantic Endeavor is holding a bingo at the Community Hall, Thursday night at 8 p.m. in aid of the Pine Corners Veterans’ band. This worthy enterprise on the part of the ladies to equip the local veterans with the necessary instruments with which to welcome home the boys from overseas deserves the support of one and all. Prizes are exceptional. First prize is an afghan, worked by the ladies, in beautiful autumn tints of red, gold, brown …”.

“Just a minute,” cut in Jimmie. “You don’t keep those afghans if you do win them. You send them to the war victims in England or Holland.”

“Er …” I said.

“I Want an Afghan”

“The idea of those bingo games,” explained Jimmie, “is to raise funds for worthy causes. They also bring the community together for innocent amusement during the long winter nights. They give you the satisfaction of winning. But you aren’t supposed to win for keeps.”

“That isn’t the way I’ve heard it,” I said, very disappointed.

“Why,” cried Jim, “if you won that afghan and took it away, I bet you’d ruin the whole community of Pine Corners. I bet that afghan has been put up for first prize for two or three winters past. It goes from winner to winner, and each one re-donates it to the next bingo …”

I read the little notice over again for the twentieth time. Beautiful autumn tints of red, gold, brown.

“Besides,” said Jim, “how would you get out to Pine Corners at this season of the year? It’s 22 miles from the city limits. And you know what the highways are like right now.”

“I’d drive my car,” I suggested.

“Why, you haven’t had it out all winter!” scoffed Jim. “Now, don’t let this afghan business turn your head.”

“I want that afghan,” I asserted firmly.

“But bingo!” sorted Jim. “You can go to 50 bingo games and never win anything.”

“I’d buy it from the winner,” I stated.

“How about the affection in which you are held by your womenfolk?” inquired Jim craftily.

“Well,” I said rather crestfallen.” I’m 52 now, and I haven’t got an afghan yet.”

“Wait till the war’s over,” persuaded Jim. “Don’t deprive some poor bombed-out British family of an afghan. Or some homeless refugee Dutch family. Every afghan this country can produce, out of the spare time of Canadian women, belongs to benighted Europe. This is no time for you to be suddenly consumed by an unholy passion for an afghan. Think of when the war ends, and Canada is filled with hundreds of thousands of women with nothing to knit for. Think of the stores with huge bins of knitting wool for sale again. You can’t get wool for love or money now. But the minute the war ends, there will be a regular avalanche of wool on the market. And thousands of women, trained for five years at knitting, suddenly finding themselves idle. Boy, you can get afghans by the dozen then.”

I read the little clipping from the Pine Corners Argus again. Tints of red, gold, brown.

I reached for the telephone on Jim’s desk. I asked The Star switchboard girl to get me Pine Corners, Ont., the postmistress preferred, or else the general storekeeper.

“What’s the idea?” asked Jim.

“I’m going to find out,” I said, “if what you say is right about not keeping the afghan. If the winner doesn’t keep the afghan, okay. I don’t go. If the winner keeps it, I go.”

“You’re a determined little guy.” said Jim.

“I want an afghan,” I stated.

“How about the bombed out victims …?” began Jim.

But the telephone rang. And it was the general storekeeper, who was also the postmaster of Pine Corners, Ont. And I explained my situation to him.

“Why,” cried the postmaster, loud enough for even Jim to overhear, “of course you keep the afghan. The ladies have knit hundreds of them in the past three or four years. They’ve sent most of them overseas, but these they use in the bingo games are for keeps. They’ve got four of them up for prizes tonight …”

“Four?” I exclaimed. “What colors?”

“All rich autumn tints of red, gold and brown …”

“Thank you, thank you,” I hung up excitedly.

“Jim” I cried, “there are four afghans, for keeps ..”

“I heard,” said Jimmie, getting up and looking out the window.

“Very well,” I cried eagerly. “Will we take your car? Or mine?”

“I wouldn’t take my car outside the city limits,” declared Jim. “And as for trying to get in those side roads off the highway, into Pine Corners …”

“Very well,” I said, “I’ll take mine, even if it hasn’t been out of the garage since the big blizzard in December.”

“I don’t think I’ll go,” demurred Jim. “It will only mean a lot of pushing and shoving in drifts and digging with shovels.”

“I’ll let you drive,” I offered.

“Look at the weather,” persisted Jim. “Another blizzard brewing.”

Comes the Snow

We left in good time. In fact, I offered to buy Jimmie’s supper at Pine Corners or anywhere along the highway, so as to be sure of getting through in plenty of time for the bingo. And to keep the peace, I let Jim drive my car.

“Three miles beyond the city limits, the first snowflakes whirled off the windshield.

“There you are!” cried Jimmie grimly.

“Just blowing off the fields,” I reassured him heartily, and jingling the pocketful of quarters and half-dollars I had changed my four dollars into.

“Faint heart ne’er won an afghan. I feel lucky today.”

“Aw, you low blood pressure types always feel good when the barometer is falling,” retorted Jim.

In another two miles, we couldn’t see 50 feet ahead. In two miles more, we pulled into a service station to make sure we were still on the highway. Ontario’s winter climate, especially in what are called the settled regions, may be as responsible as anything else for the complex character of Ontario people.

“We turn back?” demanded Jim firmly.

“Why, we’re nearly there!” I cried.

“We’re just nicely outside the city limits,” Jim warned me, “and 15 miles still to go, five of them on a side road.”

“Aw, we can take our time,” I said. “It’s still two hours of daylight.”

“Yeah,” growled Jim, “and we’ll be marooned in Pine Corners for a week!”

So we drove on up the highway, both of us watching alertly through the blizzard for the road to the right that goes to Pine Corners.

“This is crazy,” protested Jimmie. “An afghan!

“Jim, you’re getting old,” I cheered. “The love of adventure is cooling in you.”

“Is this it?” suddenly shouted Jim, stamping on the brakes and half turning the wheel.

“Just a minute,” I exclaimed, peering out the window for signs.

But Jim had made the turn and we slowly entered a very forbidding side road.

“Wait till I look for a sign.” I commanded.

“This’ll be it,” said Jim firmly. “The guy at the service station said about eight miles up.”

“Well…” I said, uneasily.

And we drove slow and steady into the teeth of the blizzard.

A few hundred yards in, we entered a swamp and then a heavy bush lot. It grew lonelier and lonelier. I told Jim it didn’t look like a road leading into a fine village like Pine Corners. It was more like a …

Over a rise we came out of the bush into vast deserted meadows and off these open spaces, the snow had drifted. Jim gave the car the gun. We charged. Wumfff. We stuck.

“Aaah,” said Jim, as if pleased.

“Why did you charge like that?” I cried.

“I tried to lift her over,” smiled Jim cheerfully, “but she wouldn’t take off.”
I got out and inspected. The drift was apparently miles ahead solid. I got in and took the wheel. I backed. But she was stuck fast.

“Where’s your shovel?” inquired Jim, very jolly.

“I don’t carry a shovel,” I stated.

“Then,” said Jim, “since we have come about four miles on this road, we must be about a mile from Pine Corners. Shall we walk?”

It was a pretty dismal prospect. The blizzard was really corkscrewing by now. I sat thinking.

“Well?” inquired Jimmie outside. “You can’t back up. You can’t go ahead. So come on.”

“We could get the next farmer to pull us through with a team,” I suggested.

“How much do you figure that might cost?” asked Jim.

I felt in my pocket and slid the quarters and half-dollars around.
So we tucked our collars up and pulled our hats down and headed into it. We plowed through the first drift which was about 40 feet. Then there was a hundred yards of hard road; then another drift. About the fourth drift, I began scanning the dim countryside for a farmhouse. But there was none.

“We’ve gone a mile,” I breathed heavily.

“Afghan,” said Jim.

So we did another quarter mile of alternate drift and frigid windy packed snow road. And still no farmhouse did we see.

“Look, Jim,” I said a little anxiously. “This isn’t funny.”

In a House on Wheels

As if in response, a train whistle hooted mournfully out of the blizzard only a few hundred yards ahead.

“Aha,” I cried, taking heart. “Pine Corners!”

But it wasn’t. For when we plowed and plunged and ankled our way 200 yards farther, we came to a little cluster of houses and a freight train halted at the crossing. The caboose was right even with the road.

“Orphans of the storm?” called out the brakeman on the back of the caboose.

“Is this Pine Corners?” Jim hailed.

“No, Pine Corners is the next village north,” said the brakeman.

“Well, we’re stranded down the road a mile or so,” I said. “Do you think anybody here could haul us out?”

“Better come up to Pine Corners,” said the brakeman, “and get a tow car. There isn’t even a garage in this place.”

“Can we ride with you?” Jim called.

“Sure,” said the brakeman. “In a blizzard, we’re all brothers.”

So we waded through the drifts and climbed aboard the caboose and the brakeman invited us in and made us welcome to the cutest little house on wheels you ever saw.

A little stove was humming cheerily. There were bunks and a table and chairs. Books on the table, tea cups and teapot in the racks. It was cosy.

“Conductor’s up ahead,” said the brakeman, “but he won’t mind you getting a lift to Pine Corners. It’s only three miles. Sit down and take the weight off your feet.”

So we sat down in the tidy warmth and unbuttoned our coats and took off our gloves while we explained how we had turned in the wrong side road.

Then the engine ahead started whistling and the brakeman jumped up to go out to the back, saying:

“He’s signalling to back up a little ways.”

There was a shunt. And we started slowly backing.

And we backed. And we backed. And we gained speed, backing. And we continued backing, the tracks going giddley-did, giddley-da underneath us and Jimmie and I looked at each other in the gloaming.

“H’m,” said Jim.

In a whirl of wind and blizzard, the brakeman came in the door, stamping the snow off.

“I don’t get this,” he said cheerfully, “We’re backing quite a ways.”

“Pine Corners is the other way?” I inquired.

“Yeah, there must be new orders,” said he. “It’s too stormy to go forward and find out. When she slows, I’ll inquire for you.”

He went out on the back again to watch into the blizzard, while the engine continued its mournful warning.

The freight began to slow. We heard voices outside. We went to the door and the brakeman had gone. In the swirling blizzard we could see another handful of houses and a siding,

After several violent shunts, which made the cups rattle and the chairs jolt, we came to a stop. And the brakeman hove in, with the conductor.

“Gentlemen,” said the brakie, “we’re on a siding for a little while to make way for a snow-plow. If you are in a hurry to get to Pine Corners the highway is only about mile west of here, and maybe you could get somebody …”

But we preferred to wait. They made a pot of tea. An hour passed. Night fell. I got out and telephoned from one of the isolated houses to Pine Corners and had the postmaster arrange to send the local garage man with a tow car to pull my car out of the drift and keep it at Pine Corners until I called for it.

“Anyway,” said the postmaster, “the bingo is cancelled on account of the storm.”

At 9:30 p.m., the freight got orders to be up to the West Toronto freight yards.

And we stayed in the caboose and returned with it.

We got home by street car about midnight and I telephoned the general storekeeper at Pine Corners to have some of the local people drive my car back to the city if they were coming in anyway, whenever the roads got plowed.

“The whole thing,” declared Jimmie, “was an omen for you not to try and get any afghans while the war is on.”

“I think I’ll wait for my womenfolk,” I confessed.


Editor’s Note: Though Greg calls it a kind of rug, an “afghan” is a crocheted blanket. You can also get an idea of some of the money raising charity events done during World War Two in Canada.

Well, So Long!

By Greg Clark, January 19, 1946

“We never should have come,” declared Jimmie Frise, surveying the bleak January fields.

“Mid-January,” I asserted, “is the best jack rabbit month of all. The snow forces them down into the creek bottoms. You can jump them more easily, and see them better.”

“But where are they?” protested Jim. “We’ve walked three creek beds; I bet 10 miles! And never seen a jack.”

“This neighborhood has probably been shot over,” I suggested.

“Shot out,” corrected Jim. “As a matter of fact, I don’t recollect having seen a living thing in the past four hours. Not a chickadee, even.”

“Around all big cities,” I submitted, as we walked down the slushy country sideroad towards our car, “there is a sort of belt of desolation. It is neither rural nor suburban. It is too far out from the city to be developed as a suburb. But too expensive, because of real estate speculators, to be farmed as an ordinary farm. We’re probably in the middle of this belt of desolation right now.”

“Market gardeners,” said Jim, “could reap a fortune, this close to a city.”

“The soil out here.” I pointed out, “isn’t market garden soil. These used to be good general purpose farms. But as the city drew nearer, year by year, the owners of the farms began to get itchy. Instead of thinking about farming. they began thinking about how much their farm was worth. A farmer should never waste time speculating over such things. He should devote himself to proving how much his farm is worth by how much it produces.”

“You’re quite an economist,” admired Jimmie. “Did you ever live on a farm?”

“All my ancestors did,” I explained. “Nobody knows more about farming than those who quit it.”

“Those who are still farming.” inquired Jim, “haven’t yet found out about it, or they wouldn’t be doing it, eh?”

“Precisely.” I agreed. “If farming was any good, how would we ever populate cities with hundreds of thousands of dopes working like fools for a risky wage and in eternal anxiety of losing their jobs?”

“That’s hardly a fair description of city people,” protested Jim.

“Oh, some city people are prosperous,” I admitted. “But their prosperity comes from living off all the dopes in cities, the ones who shouldn’t be in cities at all.”

“Why shouldn’t they be?” demanded Jim.

“Because they aren’t making the grade,” I explained. “Because they are living from hand to mouth. Because they are living in perpetual anxiety and frequent distress.”

“Where should they be?” inquired Jim.

“In towns, or better, in villages. I asserted. “Where living is cheaper, in all things; where people without much competition in their make-up can get along very happily on very small incomes.”

“You make me laugh,” declared Jim bitterly. “It’s the people without much competition in their make-up who can’t make the grade on farms and in villages, who come to the city in order to survive. In big cities, there are thousands of jobs. A man who is no good can take a job and lose it; take another job and lose it, and so on, year after year; always in and out of jobs. But the times he is in, he can make enough to just get by. Whereas, a guy that is no good, in a village would starve to death.”

Village Cast-Offs

“That’s an interesting angle on cities,” I confessed.

“Sure,” cried Jim. “Cities are the great gathering places of the cast-offs of the farms and villages. But, as you find gulls flying over schools of herring, so you find large numbers of smart people also in cities-smart people who live off the multitude, just the way gulls live off the herring schools.”

“A smart fellow,” I suggested, “isn’t smart enough to live off farmers and villagers?”

“Certainly not,” said Jim. “To get rich, you’ve got to go where large numbers of people are gathered. It is their money you get rich on. Money isn’t something you dig out of the ground. Money is something that changes hands. A rich man rarely gets rich by taking the riches off another rich man. He gets rich by taking the dimes, quarters, hall-dollars and dollars off very large numbers of very small people.”

“Foolish small people?” I inquired.

“Well, foolish enough to have left the farm and the village,” explained Jim.

We had parked our car in the yard of an abandoned farmhouse just off the country sideroad. As we walked up the farm lane in the slushy, bleak afternoon, we were both impressed by the forbidding aspect of the broken and desolate farm house. Its windows were all gaping, its doors gone. Broken rain barrels, relics of old and decrepit farm implements, lay about in the snow. Already, the ever-invading shrubbery, the advance guard of the bush, had taken root in the very dooryard of the farmhouse. In another 10 years, the bush would have reconquered this farm.

“It’s a melancholy spectacle,” I sighed.

“Probably four generations lived in that house,” surmised Jim, pausing. “This close to the city, I bet three of those generations really flourished. Probably the first generation used to cart their produce down to the village of York before it was Toronto. The next two generations no doubt were rich farmers, of the Victorian age, when all our farmer relations were our rich relations. Remember?”

“When I was a small kid,” I agreed, “the big excitement was to be invited out to visit our rich relatives on the farms. We had to put on our best face whenever our rich country relations honored us with a visit in the city.”

“That was the golden age of farming,” said Jim. “Then, about 1890 something silly happened. Maybe it was indoor plumbing. Maybe it was the invention of electricity. Maybe it was merely paved streets. But suddenly, something happened that made cities so fundamentally different from the country, that the inhabitants of the two spheres — the farm and the city — drew miles apart. Then cities began to double and treble and quadruple in size. All you have to do is drive through the country and look at the big farm houses. There isn’t a big NEW farmhouse in the whole country. All the big ones, the big red brick farmhouses with curly-cue wood work on the gables, were built before 1890. Our rich country relatives began to dwindle. …”

“I bet the last occupant of this house here,” I stated, “sold it out, not as a farm, but as potential city land. The city had come close enough that on winter nights you could see its dull glare in the sky. When that happened, the farmer could no longer keep his mind on cattle and barns, plowing and seeding. That glare in the sky troubled his sleep every night. He imagined he could hear the tramp of the million feet of cities. So instead of $4,000, some speculator offered him $6,000. And that was the end of another farm.”

Surrender to the City

“I think the glare of the city lights at night,” put in Jim, as we walked slowly towards the house, “upset more than the farmer. How about his kids? How can you keep young people happy on a farm with those lights illumining the sky almost overhead?”

“Look, Jim!” I exclaimed. “Birds!”

Several small birds flew from around the dilapidated barn to greet us.

“Pawff,” scoffed Jim. “They’re just house sparrows; squidgers.”

“The first city slickers to move in,” I remarked.

“They seem glad to see us,” mused Jim.

We walked around the house, looking in the broken windows, the gaping doorways.

“Jim,” I cried. “Those sparrows have given me an idea. They’ve got the right answer. As the farmers give up their farms, surrendering to the city, why shouldn’t city people, weary of the city, move into the abandoned farm?”

“Only rich city guys can afford suburban farms,” said Jim.

“I don’t mean showplaces,” I pursued. “I mean just plain farms. A farm the size of this one could be cut up into maybe 10 small 10 acre lots. It would be no trick to interest 10 city people, fed up with the eternal and unprofitable grind, to invest their small capital in buying this farm for $6,000, divided among them; and then each family a little bungalow, like these national housing bungalows…”

“This would be just a suburb?” said Jim.

“No, they could raise chickens,” I explained, “vegetables, market garden crops, berry crops, little specialized orchards. The Veterans Land Act is organizing things like this for ex-servicemen and women. Small holdings, they call them.”

“But the men would work in the city?” demanded Jim.

“It’s only an hour’s drive from the city.” I insisted. “Out of the 10 neighbors, two or three would own motor cars, for commuting. What’s the difference between riding three-quarters of an hour every night and morning in a stuffy street car between a suburb and your job, and riding one hour, most of it on country highways…?”

“Small holdings!” muttered Jim. “Say!”

“What the cities did to the country. 50 years ago,” I exulted, “employing indoor toilets, hot and cold running water, electricity, theatres and paved streets, the country can now do to the cities, using motor cars, highways, radio, and modern specialized production of garden crops.”

“A guy,” meditated Jimmie, “could make money, buying up abandoned farms in these desolation belts, dividing them into small holdings and building little bungalows…”

“Once the veterans show it can be done.” I answered, “some trust company will grab on to the idea.”

Jimmie walked around the wrecked house, and gazed craftily over the bleak fields, already high with the invading brush wood.

“In our gang,” he supposed, “who have we got that we could form a little community of ten? Skipper? He’d make a wonderful general factotum. He can repair anything. He can make harness, he’s an expert carpenter. Then there’s Bumpy. I bet he could run a greenhouse, for flowers. And Art: he could have vines. And Bill-goats. What would you specialize in?”

“I’d keep prize chickens,” I decided. “Game chickens. I’ve always wanted to keep game roosters, for the hackles, for tying my own trout flies…”

“There’s no profit,” cut in Jim coldly, “in game chickens.”

“What would you do with a small holding?” I asked.

“I’d have the back of the 10 acres all berry bushes.” declared Jim. “raspberry canes, red and black currants. Then, next towards the front of the lot, tomatoes, cabbages. celery beds. Next, some hen houses, enough for about 100 White Leghorns. And in a small, tidy stable, three Jerseys, that I could let out to pasture nearby…”

“A miniature mixed farm,” I applauded.

“I’d have my job in town,” announced Jim warmly, “my hours 10 to 4. I’d drive in and out with you or some other member of the small holding community. I’d have the pleasant evenings and early mornings tending my hens, my vegetables and berry bushes in season. I’d have my cows to milk. From them, I would have much of the fresh food we’d need, and a profit over the year, from milk, eggs and surplus crops, of a few hundred dollars…”

I listened to Jim’s rhapsody and gazed with him over the horrible spectacle of this desolate and ruined farm. It was one of those sloppy thawing days of January, slush, dribble and mud. I shivered.

“Cities,” boomed Jim, as though he were preaching a sermon, “have come to the end of their tether. The first thing the atomic age ushers in is the end of cities. No one is going to waste an atomic bomb on a small holding. It won’t be the suburbs of the world the atom busters of next year will aim at.”

The Atomic Bomb Says So

“A hundred things, in the past 50 years,” I admitted, “are in league to destroy cities. The motor car, the telephone, the highway, radio, all have combined to steal away some advantage of the city. Now comes the atomic bomb to make it foolish to live in cities.”

“The most powerful nation in the world today,” asserted Jim, “is the country with the most villages and the fewest cities. The atomic bomb says so.”

“Jim,” I asked, “as a farmer born, what do you think this old farm is worth?”

“Well, let’s see,” figured Jim. “The buildings aren’t worth anything. In fact, they’re a debit. They detract from the value of the land. If it’s 100 acres, I should think we could get it for about $3,000.”

Jim walked around the back, inspecting.

“There’s a lot of good stone,” he said. “She’s nice and rolling. There’s a good woodlot, fair in the middle. And here’s a well…”

We walked over and examined the well. The ancient pump had fallen askew and there were only a few old planks laid over the head of the well. Jim stepped up cautiously and looked into it.

“A dandy,” he cried. “Full up. That means there is a fine water level under the farm, plenty of irrigation where it is most needed — in the ground.”

I stopped closer and peeped down, too. Eight feet below, the water mirrored my face in the dark and forbidding depths.

“How deep would it be?” I asked, drawing back nervously.

“Hard to say,” said Jim. “Maybe 40 feet. It looks like a good deep well.”

“Would it be spring water?” I inquired. “Pure spring water?”

“Bound to be,” said Jimmie. “See the beautiful stone work on the lining of the well.”

I took another peep.

“See the…” said Jim. At which instant the plank on which I had set one foot suddenly collapsed as if it were made of peanut brittle; one end flew back from under my feet, and as I flung forward and down, Jim made a wild clutch and caught my muffler in his left hand.

“Hold on!” roared Jim.

“Youp…” I said; but then my wind was cut off.

I grabbed Jim’s wrist in a desperate and vain attempt to get some slack into the muffler. But this made Jim topple slightly towards the bottomless pit below me. He braced himself with his other arm. I waved my hands frantically, and envisioned my face slowly turning purple, then indigo.

“Wells Don’t Freeze”

“Greg,” I could hear Jim’s voice as though through a giant machine shop.

“Greg, I’ll have to let go! If I try to pull you up, I’ll slip in myself. If I hold on, I’ll strangle you. So, quick, I’ll let go and then find a pole or a plank …”

With my last fading consciousness, I waved my arms wildly in a gesture of agreement, of consent.

“Grab hold of the pump pipe,” were Jim’s last words.

With tears bursting his eyes, he let go.

Reluctantly, I am sure.

My feet had been suspended about a foot above the water. Between Jim’s arm, my scarf and my five feet three, we made nearly seven feet. When Jim let go. I felt my feet skid violently from under me. And then I found myself sitting in two inches of water. Under the water was ice. I pried my muffler loose, grabbed the rusty pipe, and let out a wild yell:

“Jimmie!”

“Coming!” roared Jim, and the end of an old plank came shooting down the well. Then Jim’s agitated face appeared.

“It’s ice!” I said softly, for fear of breaking it.

“Ice?” gasped Jim.

“Ice, I don’t know how thick.” I whispered, cautiously clasping the plank with both arms, wrapping my arms around it in a slow, eternal sort of embrace.

“But it can’t be ice!” cried Jimmie.

I felt it softly. “It is ice.” I replied, getting to my knees but holding grimly to the plank.

“But wells don’t freeze!” protested Jim indignantly. “It can’t be ice.”

I attempted to crawl up the plank.

“Wait a minute,” advised Jim. “Hold on.”

And after a minute, he returned with another and heavier plank. By manoeuvring the two planks in relation to the rusty old pump pipe, we got a sort of eternal triangle figured out, and up this I hinched and hunched until Jim could get a grip on the slack of my shoulder. From there on it was easy.
I walked quickly back 10 paces and shook myself. Except for the seat of my pants and my knees, I was dry. Jim was industriously jabbing down into the well with the lighter of the two planks.

“Come on,” I commanded, “let’s get the heck out of here. I’m dying.”

“But it can’t be ice!” cried Jim fanatically.

“Jim!” I uttered loud and firm. “I ought to know!”

At that moment, a car came along the road and slackened speed as the driver sighted us.

“Anything amiss?” called the man in the car. He was evidently a farmer.

“Is it possible,” called back Jim. “that there’s ice in this well?”

“Probably is,” replied the farmer. “A little seepage water on top of the fill.”

“Fill?” called Jim.

“I started to fill that well up, for safety’s sake,” said the farmer, “but I never did get around to finishing it.”

“It should be full of seepage.” protested Jim.

“Not this land,” laughed the farmer. “Driest section in the county. The wells all went dry half a century ago.”

I started for the car. Jim followed. The farmer drove on.

“I guess,” I submitted, clammily, “when you see an old abandoned farm, it’s best to pass right by.”

“Don’t even wonder,” agreed Jim.

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