The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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In the Swim

Slowly Jim lifted one foot and then the other off bottom and started to make excited and frantic motions with his arms and legs.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 3, 1933.

“I’ve decided,” said Jim Frise, “not to go with you on your Quebec trip.”

“Aw,” said I.

“Those birch bark canoes you tell about,” went on Jim; “I don’t like the idea of fishing from a bark canoe.”

“They’re as steady as any other canoe,” I protested.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Since no canoe is steady.”

“Well, you can swim, can’t you?” I exclaimed. This was to have been a good trip.

“No, I can’t swim,” stated Jim coolly.

“Can’t swim!” I cried. “Can’t swim! Good heavens, man, every Canadian ought to know how to swim almost as soon as he knows how to walk. Don’t you know that one-half the area of Ontario is water?”

“Is it?” asked Jim.

“Take a look at any map,” I went on. “Especially in the newer parts of the province. The map is half blue. I tell you your life is not safe in Ontario unless you can swim.”

“I’ve got along all right so far,” said Jim. “I’ve never even been dumped out of a canoe. Let’s put it this way, every Canadian ought to know how to swim or else he ought to keep out of boats. I keep out of boats, especially birch bark canoes.”

“Swimming is as easy and natural,” I said, “as walking. How is it you never learned to swim?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim. “I guess I just never had the opportunity to learn.”

“Well, it’s never too late,” said I. “Swimming comes as natural to man as it does to a duck. If I could teach you to swim in the next few weeks would you come to Quebec with me?”

“I’m pretty sure I can never learn to swim,” put in Jim. “I just have that feeling.”

“I bet you felt that way about driving a car,” said I. “It is just the same. You think you will never, by any stretch of the imagination, be able to drive a car in traffic. And the next thing you know you are driving down Yonge St. It’s the same with swimming.”

“How would you teach me?” asked Jim.

“Well, the best way is simply to throw a man in, and he’ll swim. But the most humane way is to get a long pole, like a clothes-prop, and tie a six-foot length of clothes-line on it. Then you tie a belt around the pupil, tie the rope to the belt, have him get into the water, and then with the teacher on the bank or wharf the swimmer strokes along, with the pole holding him up, and as he goes through the motions of swimming the first thing you know he IS swimming, and the teacher quietly relaxes the support of the pole and rope. Presto! The pupil is swimming. That pole is just a moral support. It gives confidence and gets the pupil over that feeling of doubt that, by the motion of his arms and legs, he can keep himself on the surface.”

“It sounds simple,” said Jim. “Have you ever taught anybody before?”

“Scores and scores of people,” I said. “All my family. In fact up on the Georgian bay I am recognized as one of the most skillful teachers.”

“Well, well,” said Jim, gazing about uncertainly. “Well, maybe, some day I might try it. It would be good to know how to swim.”

“Listen as soon as the Humber gets warm,” I said, “let’s go out and get a quiet swimming hole and I’ll teach you, and then will you come to Quebec with me?”

“If I learn to swim,” said Jim, “so that I feel confident I could look after myself in a bark canoe I’ll go with you.”

“Sold!” I shouted.

The last warm spell I got a clothes-prop from my house and tied a stout piece of clothes-line to it and stood it ready in the garage. Jimmie had got to the place in his cartoon where he has to write the words in the balloons, as they call them in art circles, and I knew he always liked to run away from that. He hates spelling. So I walked over to him, staring at those empty spaces in Birdseye Center, and suggested that we take our first swimming lesson. At such a time Jim would accept almost any suggestion.

“Great!” he said. So we drove out and got our swimming suits and the long pole with rope.

“Where will we change into our swimming suits?” asked Jim.

“In the bushes,” said I. “Let’s be old fashioned.”

We drove out to the Humber and upstream a few miles looking for a good deep hole where Jim’s long legs wouldn’t touch bottom.

“I’m a little nervous,” confessed Jim. “I’ve started to learn to swim a dozen times in my life, but I always lost my nerve at the last minute. It’s funny how a thing like that gets into your very bones, isn’t it? I just feel I’ll never learn to swim.”

“Listen,” I assured him, “I’ll have you swimming inside of an hour.”

“It sure will make me feel good,” admitted Jim. “Whenever I’m fishing I always have that fear lurking in my mind.”

“Boy,” I cried, “to be able to sit in a canoe, even a birch bark canoe, without any sense of fear is one of the most lovely sensations in the world. Fearless! It’s a great way to be.”

We came to a nice broad place in the river, and except for a few cows in the pasture beside the stream the place was deserted.

We parked the car and got into some bushes and changed into our swim suits. Jim’s was one of those limp kind that dangled off him, while mine was just the least little bit shrunk to my form. I got the long pole, an old belt, and we strolled down to the water.

“I feel pretty funny,” said Jim, his arms wrapped around himself.

“Stage fright,” I said.

“The water looks cold,” said Jim, “and muddy.”

“I thought you were a country fellow?” I sneered.

“Suppose I just practise the motions today,” said Jim, “and then next day I’ll have the rope tied to me?”

“Suppose my neck,” I said. “The way to learn to swim is just to jump in. The perfect way is to be pushed in and have to swim. I’m going to all this trouble with pole and rope just to make it easy for you. For Pete’s sake!”

“All right,” said Jimmie, submitting to the belt being strapped around him. We were down on the bank of the pool and I fastened the rope into the belt.

“Make it good and tight,” said Jim. “Water makes knots slippery.”

“Listen, I’ve taught scores.”

I could feel Jim shivering, although the day was perfect and the water was almost lukewarm.

“Now,” said I, “wade in.”

“You go in first and give me a few lessons by demonstration,” said Jim.

“And then stand out here and shiver while holding you on the pole?” I cried. “Go ahead, I’ve got you. Wade In.”

Jim put one toe in the water and snatched it out.

“Gee,” he said, “I hate this.”

“What’s the matter?” I cried. “Haven’t I got you on a rope big enough to hold a steamboat?”

Jim stood with his arms around himself, staring at the water, and then, slowly, like a man in a trance, he stepped in and with a kind of pallid determination he waded to his waist. He looked back at me with imploring eyes.

“Don’t let go that pole,” he chattered.

“Duck,” I commanded.

Jim ducked.

“Now,” I began, lie forward in the water and take slow easy strokes with your arms and kick out behind with your legs.”

Jim squatted a couple of times and stood up.

“Are you holding me?” he quavered.

I hoisted the pole and Jim could feel the rope and bet tighten on him.

“All, right, go ahead,” I commanded.

Jim eased himself down into the water. I held up on the pole and he gave two or three rapid kicks and splashes, and stood up again, gasping and coughing.

“How’s that?” he exclaimed proudly.

“Wait till we get you over here into deeper water,” I said.

I walked along the bank and towed Jim along.

“Now swim,” I ordered.

Slowly Jim lifted one foot and then the other off bottom and started to make excited and frantic motions with his arms and legs. Puffing and sputtering and splashing.

I pulled along the bank, to get him into the deepest part of the hole.

Now, nobody is sorrier than I am for what happened. In theory, the idea is to get your pupil in deep so that he has to trust the pole. Then, when he is actually swimming, ease off on the pole and he sees he is swimming unaided.

In pulling Jim along I put too much strain on the knot which tied the rope to the pole. It simply slipped off the end of the pole, and there, to my horror, was Jim vanishing in the muddy pool.

“Jim!” I screamed.

I did a very foolish thing. I threw the pole in to him. His head popped up and he thrashed about and got hold of the pole. But it was too light to support him. He sank again, the pole slowly sticking upright out of the water as Jim clamped himself around it.

“Jimmie!” I screamed again.

As if in reply, his head rose out of the water again and spouting a mouthful of water he croaked at me:

“Come in and save me!”

“I can’t SWIM!” I confessed wildly.

Jim sank sadly out of sight again, the pole waving drunkenly out of the pool.

I was dancing along the bank, shouting, when I saw the pole go rigid, and I knew Jim had stuck the lower end of it into the mud bottom of the swimming hole. To my joy, I saw Jim slowly emerge again, clinging to the pole like a monkey on a stick. He hung tenderly to it, as it swayed, barely holding.

“Did you say you can’t swim?” croaked Jim, spouting more water.

“Not a stroke,” I said brokenly. “Jim, I’m so sorry! Wait there until I get help.”

“No,” said Jim, coughing. “I’m going to learn to swim right now. You stay there and watch me.”

His eyes glared with a mountainous effort of the will. He took a look at the bank, six feet away. He took a deep breath. And then he let go the pole, and with strong, wide strokes, he fairly lifted himself through the water and grabbed the bank. Along the bank he pulled himself, and I was there at the beach to hold out rescuing arms to him. I dragged him on to the beach, where he sagged exhausted. He clung to me desperately.

“Jimmie!” I exulted. “You can swim!” He coughed. And he still clung tight to me.

“You can swim!” I shouted again.

Jim rose to his feet, holding desperately to my arm.

“The best way to learn,” he said, looking at me out of bloodshot eyes which glittered, “is to just be thrown in.”

“That’s what the best teachers say,” I admitted a little nervously.

“To think of you,” said Jim, “my dear friend, risking your life in birch bark canoes in Quebec, away off there, and not being able to swim!”

“I’ll learn some day,” I said brightly, “sooner or later.”

“Sooner,” said Jim.

He whirled me around. He took me by both elbows from behind, he hoisted me six feet in the air and threw me, in cold blood, right out into the middle of that deep, terrible pool.

I don’t recall much. I came up once and saw Jim in the act of sitting down on the bank.

I came up twice, and saw Jim resting his chin on his elbows, watching me. I let out a yell, but water got in it.

I saw my past life passing before me. Not all my life, but mostly the last few minutes. I wished I had told Jimmie I was only a theorist. But I felt sad for myself, because, after all, most of us are theorists, anyway. We know a lot of things, but we don’t have to be able to do them ourselves in order to tell others, do we? Politics for example. Or the gold standard.

I was just thinking about the gold standard, when I felt myself seized from behind in a terrific vise-like grip. I was hauled to the surface, and I took a vast breath of air, when suddenly I felt a terrific blow on the chin. I went away, away.

The next thing I knew I was lying on the hard beach, and Jim was jouncing me up and down around the stomach.

“Ah, back again?” he asked, turning me face up.

“Ooooooh,” I said.

“Sorry to have to sock you on the jaw,” said Jim. “But the great danger in saving a drowning man is that he is likely to struggle and drown you too. So the best thing to do is sock him on the jaw, knock him out and then you can save him in peace.”

“I see.” I said, weakly.

“As soon as you feel well enough,” said Jim, “I’ll teach you to swim.”

“Not to-day!” I cried.

“No time like the present.”

“Jimmie, in my weakened condition, you wouldn’t throw me in again!”

“It’s the best way,” said Jim. “Get it over with. After this experience, you are likely to be so afraid you will never learn. I don’t want you sitting all cringed up with fright in that birch bark canoe in Quebec.”

“I feel faint,” said I.

“Water will revive you,” said Jim.

“If I wade in myself.” I said, “and swim once across that pool, will that be enough?”

Jim considered carefully.

“All right,” he said.

“Get that pole in case I get into difficulty,” I begged.

Jim took the pole and tied the rope back on it.

“The knot may hold,” he said.

He stood by while I waded into the pool.

I felt the muddy, stoney bottom under my feet.

“Swim,” commanded Jim. “Lay forward and swim.”

I lay forward and with great splashes and coughing. I swam across the pool. But what Jimmie does not know is that I had my feet on bottom all the way across. At the far side, I turned and swam back, then turned and swam grandly – but cautiously – out toward the middle of the pool where Jim had so nearly drowned, and I touched bottom all the way.

There wasn’t a foot of that pond over my head. If Jim had not had his knees bent up in horror, as he plunged and splashed, he would not have been over his armpits.

“Good boy!” cried Jim admiringly, as I stroked grandly around the pool.

When I got tired, I crawled ashore and Jim assisted me.

“Good for you!” he shouted. “Isn’t it great to know how to swim!”

So we dried and dressed, like old friends again, and we drove back to town.

And it is nice to know not only that I am a good teacher but, what is more to the point, that from now on, one of us can swim.

June 8, 1940

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979). It was also repeated on June 8, 1940, as “The Hard Way”.


My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 6, 1943.

“How do they do it!” exclaimed Jimmie Frise.

“Who?” I inquired.

“The Russians1,” cried Jimmie. “With the whole resources of Europe – except Britain – against them. With the trained might of Germany, backed by the enslaved production of all the rest of Europe, concentrated on them. With most of the factory owners and moneyed and managerial classes of conquered Europe hating them and really aiding the Germans.”

“And Italy,” I reminded him.

“Phoooie,” said Jim.

“Phooie nothing,” I informed him. “I bet you, when the smoke clears away, that most of the skulduggery in North Africa and the confusion of the French cliques and parties will be traced to Italy. Don’t forget, it was Italy’s fear and hatred of communism that gave rise to the Fascist party. Don’t forget that Italy set up Mussolini long before Germany set up Hitler.”

“Italy,” said Jim. “Phooie.”

“Okay,” I warned. “But when history is written, I bet you it will be Italy’s demonstration of how to set up a boogey man and organize a Fascist party that gave all the rest of the world the idea of setting up another boogey man in Germany as a barrier against Russia. It was Russia the whole world was scared of 10 years ago. It was finagling against Russia that set up this whole devil’s kettle of a war. And now Russia appears to be the savior of the world.”

“Next to Britain,” said Jim.

“Next to us,” I agreed. “Us being whatever we are. Next to the good old U.S., if you are an American. Next to China, if you are Chinese. Next to Malta, if you are Maltese.”

“Don’t be cynical,” said Jim.

“I’m not cynical,” I assured him. “I am merely reminding you that you can’t help having a point of view. And your point of view depends entirely on where you happen to be standing. You wouldn’t deny a Chinese man the right to believe that but for China’s stand against Japan, years before our war broke loose, our war would now be lost.”

“Yes, but never forget we…” began Jim.

“Us?” I cried with passionate patriotism, “we’re wonderful!”

“Well, we are!” declared Jim angrily.

“That’s what I’m saying,” I retorted.

“But I don’t think you’re sincere,” said Jim.

Source of All Troubles

“I’m this sincere,” I submitted. “That so long as you allow Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians, Italians and all the rest to believe they are wonderful, we have a perfect right to believe we are wonderful too. The trouble is, however, with us, and Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians and so forth, is, we don’t include anybody else.”

“Aw, well,” protested Jimmie, “it’s human nature you’re complaining about.”

“Never cease complaining about it, Jim,” I pleaded. “It’s the source of all our troubles.”

“A fat lot of good complaining about human nature will do,” said Jim. “Human nature is as unchangeable as the very rocks of the earth. You might as well try to change the shape of the Rocky Mountains as change human nature.”

“Jim, not a day goes by,” I informed him, “but that the shape of the Rocky Mountains is being changed. The everlasting complaint of the winds, the rains, the snow and the ice, is forever changing the shape of the mountains and of the very earth itself. And never forget, one earthquake can change their shape so tremendously, they can be sunk right out of sight under the sea.”

“Are you looking for an earthquake to change human nature?” inquired Jim.

There have been plenty of earthquakes,” I submitted, “that have changed human nature. The birth of Jesus was an earthquake. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The invention of gunpowder was an earthquake. A peasant with a flintlock could destroy a king hedged round with battle axes. It would be a nice way to spend an evening, discussing which events in history were earthquakes that changed human nature.”

“I bet we’re not much different from the men who lived in caves,” said Jim.

“The winds of Shakespeare blew and are blowing on the granite of human nature,” I enunciated. “The rain of Charles Dickens’ tears, the snow of Alexander Hamilton’s logic, the ice of Charles Darwin’s speculations, all have eroded the Rocky Mountains of human nature…”

“See?” interrupted Jimmie triumphantly. “Every name you have mentioned is one of us!”

“When Marco Polo, in the year 1250 A.D., arrived in China,” I countered, “he found a civilization more advanced than Europe’s, and 1,500 years old.”

“Marco Polo!” scoffed Jimmie. “Who ever heard of him!”

“Each nation,” I said, “thinks it has its Shakespeares, its Dickenses, its Darwins.”

“Think is right,” said Jim.

“Well, you can’t help even us thinking,” I asserted.

“Anyway,” proclaimed Jimmie, “I think the Russians are wonderful. And I only wish I could feel we had done more to help them. I’d have more self-respect if I thought we had done something to help them. The performance they have put up, not only without much help from us but in spite of all the opposition we put in their way, across the years, makes it kind of embarrassing.”

“Geographically,” I pointed out, “they are the nearest people to Canadians in the world. We share with Russians the northern hemisphere.”

“I’ve often thought of that, this past winter, reading about the battles,” agreed Jim. “Leningrad is on a level with White Horse, in the Yukon. Lake Ladoga is on a level with Great Slave Lake.”

“Brrrrr,” I said.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Fort Churchill, away up half way on Hudson’s Bay, is south of Leningrad. The northern tip of Labrador, where it juts out towards Baffin Land, is level with Leningrad. Sure, we share the northern hemisphere with the Russians. But we haven’t occupied our share yet.”

“I had no idea,” I gasped. “I thought of Leningrad and Toronto or maybe North Bay or Timmins.”

“In the banana belt,” snorted Jim. “All of them. Even Stalingrad is away down south, about level with Winnipeg. But Leningrad is north of Juneau in Alaska. Remember all the fuss we made about the Alaska highway2?”

“Now who’s belittling us?” I demanded. “Well, I was just thinking about the railroad,” said Jim, “the Russians built over the ice of Lake Ladoga. We quit work on the Alaska highway just as winter arrived.”

“Well, some day we Canadians may have cities and towns up in northern Labrador and along the Hudson’s Bay coast,” I declared.

“There’s two million citizens in Leningrad normally,” retorted Jim.

“One thing we might have done for Russia,” I asserted, “and that is, ship her a few thousands pairs of good Canadian snowshoes.”

“Skis are better,” said Jim. “And skis come from Norway. The Russians will know all about skis.”

“Snowshoes,” I insisted. “Skis are all very well in open fields and for playing around in civilized country. But in the bush, you’ve got to have snowshoes.”

“Slow motion,” cracked Jim.

“You never hear of lumberjacks and trappers wearing skis,” I asserted, “except as a novelty. They use snowshoes. And since much of the fighting in Russia in winter is through vast forests and swamps, I bet you snowshoes would be of the most tremendous tactical importance.”

“Skis,” said Jimmie.

“Listen,” I stated warmly, “long before skis were ever heard of in this country, I was a champion snowshoer. I belonged to a snowshoe club here; and there was a Canadian Snow Shoe Association, with clubs all over Canada. And I may say we didn’t spend our time trying to wear out a couple of local hills. We didn’t wait until somebody cut a trail for us through a couple of local bush lots, either. We got out and travelled. We searched out the wildest regions of the country round about and explored it. The tougher the going, the denser the bush, the wilder the swamps, the better we liked it.”

“Waddling,” said Jim. “Bow-legged. Squish. Squish, squush, squish, squush!”

“Waddling my eye,” I cried indignantly. “An export snowshoer can drift over the ground faster than any skier, on a mile of ordinary rough bush country. Or on 20 miles. Put a skier in ordinary brush country and he’s sunk.”

“Squish, squush,” remarked Jim.

“I won my Winged Snow Shoe in 1914,” I announced. “And if you don’t believe it, I can dig my old Snow Shoe Club outfit out of the attic and show you. I’m entitled to wear a crest and a shield, with the Winged Snow Shoe. I’ve got a ceinture fleche3, too, that I won in a 10-mile cross country.”

“A what?” inquired Jim.

“Ceinture fleche,” I said. “It’s a beautiful sash.”

“Are You Game?”

“In the attic, did you say?” asked Jimmie. “Has snowshoeing gone out of fashion then?”

“Of course it has,” I said. “The young people are no longer interested in exploring and going places. They only want to go nowhere fast, down hill.”

“Now, now,” said Jim. “Don’t be hurt.”

“In a trunk in the attic,” I stated, “I have my whole old club outfit and two pairs of snowshoes. Are you game?”

“Game how?” asked Jim.

“Game to come for a hike,” I said, “right this afternoon, until I show you what snowshoes can do. I’ll take you into bush that no skier can penetrate. And maybe, if I can get you interested, you and I might start something real for Russia. We might launch a campaign to send half a million pairs of Canadian snowshoes to Russia. Great oaks from little acorns grow. You’re complaining about not having had any share in Russia’s triumph. Okay; here’s your chance to do something strategic.”

Along which lines, I persuaded Jim to come along for an old-fashioned afternoon in the open on snowshoes. I got my old club outfit from the mothballs and, though the webbing of the racquettes was dry and the frames slightly warped, 20 years in a trunk had done them little injury.

In the street car which we took to the end of the line, there were many skiers who took a lively interest in our appearance; but Jimmie insisted they were not laughing at us; it was just their youthful and joyous nature.

While the skiers headed straight away from the end of the car line to the nearest hill which they gathered on like ants on a cookie, Jim and I put on the racquettes and steered for the bush. It took me some little time to persuade Jim to let his legs hang loose, in the proper snowshoe stride, and simply drag the snowshoe over the snow, instead of tightening his legs up in a cramped curve.

“Walk,” I explained, setting the example, “with an easy loose shuffle, forgetting the snowshoes entirely. It’s not like skiing, where you have to think of the skis all the time. Just stride ahead, with loose legs, and trail each shoe naturally.”

Jim tumbled several times, because he walked too naturally, toed in, thus stepping on his own shoes, which naturally threw him on his head. But after crossing a couple of fields, he had the hang of it pretty well and we entered our first bush.

It was a dense bush. And we had not gone 50 yards in its pure and secret sanctuary before we picked up the fresh trail of a fox.

“See?” I cried. “He’s never been disturbed by any skiers. In fact, we’re the first to stir him from his security.”

We trailed the fox to the end of the wood lot and finally got a glimpse of him, his tail blowing sideways in the wind, as he raced across an icy open field for a neighboring woodlot.

“Here,” I said, “within the sound of a city’s factory whistle, we have seen a fox. That’s what snowshoers see.”

And we saw also, in the sanctuary of undisturbed bush lots, many birds such as partridges, jays, chickadees, nuthatches and a whole chime of redpolls and siskins, which are the confetti of the bird world. And in the quiet woods, we were sheltered from the cold and we climbed over windfalls and through dark deep cedar swamps where the highways of the rabbit kingdom were worn in the snow; and saw many and delightful manifestations of nature where she hides where man does not come.

Mal De Racquette

And then Jim sat on a log with a sudden exclamation.

“My leg,” he said, grasping the inside of his thigh.

“What?” I inquired.

“A red hot knife seemed to stick into me,” he said.

“Ah; mal de racquette4,” I informed him. “You’ve been walking with your legs tense. You didn’t walk loosely.”

“I walked the way I had to,” replied Jimmie, painfully. “Squish, squush!”

“We’ll have to head for the nearest road,” I said anxiously. “That mal de racquette is pretty serious.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“It ties some people up,” I said, “so they have to be dragged on a toboggan. They can’t even walk.”

Jim rubbed his thigh and then stood up. He sat down again promptly.

“Hey!” he agonized.

“Does it hurt?” I inquired.

“Ooh,” said Jim, starting to sweat.

So we sat for a little while on the log and then I got some birch bark and twigs and started a fire.

“Keep warm,” I advised, “while I go and scout out where the nearest road is.”

One thing about rural Ontario, there is always a road just over the hill. So I took what I believed to be the nearest cut out of the bush lot and found a good sideroad, well packed down with ruts, less than 400 yards away from Jimmie. And as I turned around to rejoin him, my snowshoe caught in a sharp stub sticking up through the snow. I was thrown on my face and what was worse, the dry babiche5 webbing of the shoe was ripped not only in the toe, but right in the mid-section where my foot fits.

The webbing was so old and dry it was like wire. So when I rejoined Jim, I was moving in a rather complicated fashion. My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip, depending on how deep the snow was.

Jimmie watched my approach with considerable relief from his pain.

“Now that,” he said, “is something! You look like one of those old-fashioned side-wheeler steamboats.”

“Jim,” I warned him, “it is going to be no fun getting out to the road.”

We extinguished the fire carefully. And then set out for the road. Part of the time Jim wore his snowshoes, and part of the time, he took them off and just waded. But it was more painful to have to lift his strained leg out of the drifts than to swing the snowshoe in a specially bow-legged stride.

But we reached the road and headed, on plain foot, towards the city and the street car terminus.

And when we stamped safely into the street car, in company with many ruddy and happy skiers, Jimmie remarked:

“What do you say if we start a movement to smuggle a few thousand pairs of snowshoes over to the Germans? That would finish them.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. When this was written, the battle of Stalingrad, considered to be a turning point in World War 2, was just finished. ↩︎
  2. The Alaska Highway was under construction at the time. ↩︎
  3. The ceinture fléchée (French, ‘arrowed sash’) is a type of colourful sash, a traditional piece of Québécois clothing linked to at least the 17th century. ↩︎
  4. Mal De Racquette (Snowshoe sickness) is a term used when a person went lame while using snowshoes. ↩︎
  5. Babiche is a type of cord or lacing of rawhide or sinew traditionally made by Native Americans. ↩︎


The young woman slid over our way. “Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 28, 1939.

“How’d you like to go,” asked Jimmie Frise, “on one of these ski excursions they’re running?1

“Heh, heh, heh,” I replied.

“They’re no end of fun,” declared Jim. “Whole trainloads of merry skiers, heading for the snow.”

“If the snow won’t come to the skiers,” I said, “the skiers go to the snow.”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “They are running ski trains out from Boston, New York, Chicago, all over the country. When there are thousands of city-penned people just dying to romp in the snow; and hills full of snow only 50 miles away, what’s the answer?”

“Read a book,” I replied. “Light the grate fire, pull up a deep chair and snuggle down to a good book.”

“Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been your answer,” sneered Jim.

“Oh, yes, it would,” I retorted. “Ten years ago, I preferred a deep chair to a snowbank even more than I do now. I have always maintained that winter was the season of hibernation. Nature does not intend us to go out romping in the snow. Why does she put the bear to sleep in his den, all winter; and the groundhog and all the rest of them? Why does she pack off all the birds to the south? Because the winter is fit for neither man nor beast. Because winter is no time for anybody or anything to be out. And we should take a tip from nature and stay in our dens as much as possible during the winter.”

“It’s just your age,” said Jim. “If a bear had heavy woollen underwear and a leather coat and fur-lined boots, he wouldn’t den up for the winter.”

“Physical comfort is the first law of happiness,” I decreed. “A man can have all other troubles, but if he is physically comfortable, dry, warm and at ease, he can withstand poverty, grief, fear, everything. What makes poverty unbearable is that it is so uncomfortable.”

“If you were younger,” prodded Jim, “you wouldn’t be so stuck on comfort. Young people get an actual thrill out of discomfort.”

“They can have it,” I assured him.

“One of the lovely things about youth,” went on Jim, “is that it has the stamina and resistance to deliberately submit itself to discomfort, in order to enjoy comfort all the more. They go out and ski in the cold and bitter weather, under a bleak sun, knowing that presently, after so many hours, they will be going back to a nice warm fireside. And oh, how much lovelier a fireside is, when it is contrasted with exposure and chilblains2.”

“I admit that,” I admitted.

“You take an aging and lazy person like yourself,” said Jim, “who never sticks his nose out of doors in winter unless he has to: think of how little real enjoyment he must get out of a fine log fire.”

“What do you mean,” I asked, “by aging and lazy? Whom are you referring to?”

“You,” said Jim.

Glands Must Be Applauded

“Jim,” I informed him, “I resent that. I am not aging. I am younger than you. I am in the very prime of my life.”

“You are in,” said Jim, “what are called the middle 40’s. That means you’re past 45,”

“At that age,” I declared, “a man is just ripe. Just seasoned. Just perfect.”

“Unless, of course,” submitted Jim, “he folds up and quits. Unless he abandons all forms of action in favor of comfort and rest.”

“No man is more active than I am in the spring, summer and fall,” I advised. “Fishing and shooting. But winter just doesn’t appeal to me.”

“It’s the thin end of the wedge,” said Jim. “It’s the beginning of the end. You surrender to comfort and inaction in winter a couple of years more, and then you’ll reach the stage where you put off the trout fishing until the end of May, rather than the wet and cold beginning of May. Then you’ll find it a little easier to sit on the cottage veranda during the hot weather than get out and row a boat…”

Jim could tell by my expression that he was hitting pretty close to the mark. As a matter of fact, I have been postponing the trout season a couple of weeks, and I did sit on the cottage veranda quite a bit last summer. In fact, I lay on a couch on the veranda. In short, I slept a good many afternoons…

“It’s insidious,” explained Jim. “There is no year of a man’s life at which you can say he is starting to grow old. There is no dividing line. You see lots of men who are old at 30. They’ve given in. They have surrendered to a routine of life that gives them the maximum of comfort. Poor, solemn, habited men, who go through life according to a dreadful routine. The streets are full of them, solemn young men, old at 30. But thank heavens you see other men who are not old at 70, who take life on the wing, who never submit to routine, who find zest and pleasure in every hour of every day, who never go to bed at the same hour, never do the same things twice, are full of zip and ginger and answer every beckoning call of life.”

“It’s their glands,” I suggested. “Healthy glands.”

“Glands have to be encouraged,” cried Jim. “But if you just ignore a gland, if you act as if it wasn’t there, what would you do if you were a gland? Why, you’d go to sleep too. You’d relax and pretty soon you would be dormant. Glands have to be encouraged and applauded. You have to take them for a ride every now and then. You have to go out in the cold and snow and test your glands, see how they can support you, for it isn’t your lungs and heart alone that keep you going under strain, but all the little glands strung through your system like the lights on a Christmas tree, the pituitary, the endocrines, they are the little batteries and generators distributed all through your system, and they are the power plant of all your energy.”

“I’ve tested mine,” I submitted. “They’re working. But they don’t crave to be chilled and exhausted.”

“No gland,” stated Jim, “gets any satisfaction out of lying dormant. The only thing at gland can do is work. One of these winters, my boy, you are going to hug a warm hearthstone once too often, and your glands are going to sleep and you won’t be able to wake them. up. When spring comes, they’ll be drowsy. That will be the end.”

Life Is Like Fire

“Drowsy, eh?” I muttered, remembering last summer on the cottage veranda.

“Life is like fire,” concluded Jim. “You’ve got to keep it stoked.”

“What is this excursion you were talking about?” I inquired.

“There is one every week-end,” said Jim, eagerly. “The train runs wherever the snow is. Sometimes the ski train goes up Owen Sound way or over the Caledon hills. Another time, it may go out Peterboro way. All you do is buy your ticket for the ski train, which leaves at 8 a.m. and you get aboard, and go where it goes. It has diners on it, for those who don’t carry their lunches. It waits on a siding all day, amidst the snow, and at dark. it leaves for home again, after suitable tootings of the whistle to warn all the passengers of the time.”

“My, that sounds good,” I agreed. “Have they a parlor car on too, in case a fellow gets tired of skiing and just wants to sit in a parlor car seat and read a book or look out the window?”

“I suppose that could be arranged,” said Jim.

But it was not arranged. For when, in the bitter week-end morning we arrived at the station and got aboard the ski train along with a hastening throng of other gaily clad ski-bearers, there was no parlor car, nor was there any diner. There were just half a dozen hissing and steaming day coaches of the plainest and most old-fashioned degree, best suited to carrying a crowd of noisy and joyous people, with their skis, poles, haversacks, massive boots, fogging cigarettes and an overwhelming air of hilarity.

Everybody handed up their skis and poles to the baggage car boys as they passed along the platform. Everybody swarmed into the steaming coaches, fighting past other skiers who were trying to keep places for belated friends, for whom they peered and watched. from the car doors.

There were very few young people and no elderly people. The entire passenger list seemed to consist of people at that age which is most oppressive both to the young and the elderly – 28 to 35. People of this age are curiously depressing. They have the energy of youth plus the wisdom and authority of years. They are doubly fortified. They are noisy, because they are young. But you can’t frown them down, because they are mature. Unlike 20-year-olds, they have no respect whatever for gentlemen in their middle 40’s. In fact, I think the great majority of skiers are 31 years old.

At the second to last coach in the train, Jim and I managed to slip on board past a crowd of place-guarders, by the simple pretext of joining on to the tail of a throng of five for whom the door was being held. Other place-keepers were all ready to jump into position and crowd the door, but we laughed and pretended to be part of the successful crowd and so got inside the coach and by a little finagling, got a seat together. The young fellow who had the double seat turned back, with his feet on it, succumbed to my stony stare and question. “Is this seat taken?”

He was only about 25. So very grudgingly, he gave up the spare seat, hoisted all his haversacks to another place, and Jim and I turned the back over and disposed ourselves very happily in the hot and smoke-filled coach.

Joyous Trainload

It was, after all, a joyous trainload. Their colored scarves and jackets, their sturdy air, their heavy boots giving them a sort of massive and hearty quality. They made a din. In groups and couples, men and women, they shouted greetings and laughed uproariously, as 30-year-olds laugh. In belated squads, they came and pushed and shoved through the coaches, looking for seats. And by the time the train, with a reluctant grunt, got under way, I was glad I had come.

The day was gray and wintry, with promise of a blizzard, and in no time the windows we so steamed and frosted you could not see out. So we just sat and observed the motley throng catching eyes and pleasant glances every now and then, with people strange and interesting and sometimes beautiful. The ski train giddley-bumped out into the country, northerly taking the Owen Sound line for luck, because they said there were big snow hills north of the Caledon mountains.

“Normally,” I said to Jim, “people of this age do not appeal to me. I avoid them. But they seem a very hearty crowd, after all.”

“What age do you mean?” inquired Jim.

“Thirty-one,” I explained. “They’re all 31.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim, staring round at them.

And after a long time, with several wheezing stops on sidings to let freight trains crawl by, we arrived at a siding in the hills where the train stopped with several merry hoots its whistle, and everybody piled out.

The train did not wait, however, on the siding, but after discharging a great stack of skis, went on its way, the brakeman telling us that it would be back for us at 6 p.m.

In no time at all, the pile of skis was demolished and skiers with their haversacks and poles were threading away in all directions over the fields, up and down a country road that crossed near by, while others proceeded to make little bonfires to prepare tea for lunch, because it was only an hour until noon. Jim and I elected to have a fire out of deference to my devotion to the beautiful element, not to mention our mutual devotion to a pail of good boiled tea. We had cheese and onion sandwiches and leberwurst3 sandwiches, some cold fried bacon and some cakes. And under a gray and muttering sky, we lunched and chose for our direction the way that fewest people had taken. Because Jim and I are what you might call chatty skiers. We just like to slither about.

A Hard Pail of Tea

We slithered across a field to a dark wood. Around the end of the dark wood, we saw a vista of rolling fields and lonely farm houses, and all the fences drifted deep. In no time at all, we had slithered a mile or two, until the dark wood was far behind us, and other dark woods beckoned us on. We rounded a couple of them, and swung northerly to where numerous dark moving dots on the horizon proclaimed some sort of rallying point. And after another pleasant hour of slithering and stopping to observe the view until our perspiration would begin to congeal into ice, we came to the rallying point, which was a long tricky hill, with humps on it, down which 30 or 40 skiers were trying their skill sliding between ski poles set up as markers.

Women and men both were furiously toiling up this hill and abandonedly hissing down it, swerving and swooping amidst the sticks. We joined the watchers at the top, but this was an aspect of skiing neither Jimmie nor I go in for. We haven’t got much swerve in us, to be exact. Up the hill, toiling and flushed and handsome, they came, and after a quick breather, down they would go, like children. Little fires burned. Tea pails bubbled. We decided to light a little fire of our own, for warmth, because just standing watching is cold skiing.

One particularly pretty young woman whom we had observed go down the hill twice with special grace and who now arrived at the top for another go, got her eye on us. She bared lovely advertisement-style teeth at us. She even waved a mitted hand.

“Do we know her, Jim?” I inquired eagerly.

“I don’t recall her,” said Jim.

She slid over our way.

“Aren’t you slaloming?” she asked, and her voice was the husky kind.

“No,” I answered, “we’re just going to light a little fire. We’ve taken a long tour around, so we’re going to rest for a while.”

“Would you mind,” asked the beautiful young woman, she would be about 28, maybe, “putting our tea pail or your fire?”

“Not in the least,” I cried.

“Hurray,” cried the young woman, gliding smartly over to a group of men and women on the crest; “get the sack, Ted, and get our tea pail out. Grandpappy is going to boil our tea pail for us.”

So we boiled their tea pail for them, which was one of the hardest pails of tea I ever boiled in my life, and we gave it to them and they sat at another fire and then we skied back across the rolling fields to the dark wood and around it and so back to the siding where we built another and a bigger fire and sat by it, thinking, until the welcome train came in the darkness and we were two of the first aboard.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Ski or Snow trains were common in the 1930s as a Depression era way of boosting train travel. ↩︎
  2. Chilblains is a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It’s caused by exposure to damp air that’s cold but not freezing. ↩︎
  3. Leberwurst is another name for liverwurst. ↩︎

Bird in Hand

The whole cavalcade halted violently, everybody bailed out and levelled their field glasses.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, April 3, 1948.

Greg gives Jim a few lessons in the sport of bird-watching

“I won’t go!” announced Jimmie Frise.

“It’s the greatest sport in the world,” I assured him.

“Under no circumstances,” cried Jim flatly, “would I go! It sounds to me like the silliest, stupidest, vapidest, most infantile…”

“Go once,” I declared, “and you’ll wonder why you’ve been wasting all your life on sissy sports. Bird-watching, in another 10 years, will have 10,000,000 followers in North America. It’s sweeping the continent.”

“Bird-watching!” breathed Jimmie contemptuously.

“Some call it birding,” I informed him.

“Birding!” simpered Jim, puckering up his mouth. “Tatting. Crocheting. Birding!”

“Look:” I submitted. “I’ll take you out for a day’s bird-watching, and I’ll guarantee at the end of it you’ll be more exhausted than you’ve ever been with all your hunting and fishing in all your life.”

“Who wants to be exhausted?” snorted Jim.

“One thing at a time,” I reminded him. “You were trying to make out it is a sissy, old maid’s sport. I tell you, bird-watching is a strenuous sport, if you want it strenuous. On the other hand, if you just want to wander along country side roads, avoiding the bush and the swamps, that’s okay, too. But you won’t run up much of a score.”

“Score?” cried Jim. “Is there a score in this pretty game?”

“Certainly,” I explained. “This IS the game. It is to see how big a score of different species of wild birds you can run up in the one day. You compete with your friends who are out in the country with you. Or you can join a club of field naturalists or just a club of your own friends and connections. And then you try to beat the experts in that club.”

“It still sounds piffling to me,” muttered Jim.

“Okay” I changed direction. “What does any sport give you? What does golf give you? A day in the open air, zestful exercise, the company of your friends; and a little competition.”

“But golf calls for skill,” protested Jim.

“What do you think bird-watching calls for?” I exclaimed. “A great deal more skill than swinging a club. You’ve got to have physical skill to work your way, with economy and energy through thick swamps, dense bush, hill, cliff and valley. And you’ve got to have skill of eye and mind to identify the bird when you see it. With your field glasses.”

“How many birds are there?” asked Jim.

“Fifteen billion, by the last census,” I replied, “in North America.”

“I mean, how many different kinds?” said Jim, trying not to look impressed.

“In North America, 700 different kinds,” I informed him. “Around 500 different kinds in this particular section. But if you were to become a real expert, you might see 250 in your lifetime. So far, although I’ve been looking at them for 30 years, I’ve only seen and identified 170 kinds, from eagles to hummingbirds.”

“Gosh,” murmured Jim. “I had no idea. Heck, I don’t know more than a dozen different kinds, a crow, a robin, several kinds of duck, a hawk…”

“What kind of hawk?” I queried.

“Well, a hawk!” cried Jim. “Isn’t a hawk a hawk?”

“Certainly not,” I asserted. “There are 22 kinds of hawks. See? You talk about skill in golf. All your life you’ve been seeing birds out of the corner of your eye. You’ve never even looked at them. They’re creatures of beauty, mystery, charm. Most of them are HARD to see. It takes skill and intelligence.”

“And a lot of time,” complained Jim.

“Well, you spend a lot of time on other recreation,” I reminded.” But golf is limited by the season. So is hunting. So is fishing. Any sport you like to mention has to be given up at some season of the year. Bird- watching, on the other hand, is an all-the-year-’round game. These clubs and gangs of bird-watchers – you’ll find them in every city and town, centered around the schools or the sportsmen’s clubs – are out hunting from January 1 to the next December 31. They get a far bigger kick out of running up a score of 20 different birds on a February day than 100 on a May day.”

“You mean,” demanded Jim, “that these nuts go out in the dead of winter?”

“Certainly,” I gloated. “That’s the point. If it’s fresh air and exercise you want, a day in the country, with your friends, and with hunting as the object…”

“Queer hunting,” protested Jim.

“You mean you don’t kill anything?” I asked. “That is its chief charm. Do you know, doctors and psychiatrists are recommending bird-watching to bored and worried people all over the world?”

“The trouble is, I’m a dub,” explained Jim. “I don’t, know more than a dozen or so birds to start with. What equipment do you need?”

“Well, everybody’s a dub, when they start golf or bridge or fishing,” I pointed out. “All the equipment you need is a pair of field glasses and a pocket field guide to the birds, so you can identify them when you see them.”

Jim stared moodily out of the window. April is a funny time of year. Too early for golf. Too late for skiing. Too soon for fishing. Too muddy to start on the garden.

“I’ll go,” he announced grimly.

So, at 7 am, which is early for a Sunday anywhere, I tooted outside Jimmie’s; and he emerged in his old hunting clothes and boots, with an old pair of army field glasses around his neck and a paper bag of sandwiches in his hand. We drove to a suburban cross-roads where our particular party was to rendez-vous. There were five carloads, and the hunting party consisted of two bank managers, a fur dealer, a university professor of history, a locomotive engineer, three brokers, a plumber, a doctor, two mechanics and one poet. They were all dressed in dowdy old clothes and hunting boots. The only things they had in common were field glasses hung around their necks, long peaked caps and paper bags full of lunch.

I introduced Jim to the gang. One or two of the party had already started to score. You can pick up plenty of wild birds right within the city limits. The history professor, for instance, had detoured through a city park on his way to the rendez-vous, and he had scored already – song sparrow, bluebird, chickadee, sparrow hawk, pheasant, flicker, downy woodpecker, junco, blue jay and winter wren.

After a short palaver as to where we would all meet for lunch, in case any of us got lost chasing will o’ the wisps, we piled into our cars and the procession started away from the suburbs at a nice slow pace. You don’t race, bird-watching. Everybody is watching.

“A funny bunch,” announced Jim, as we fell in the rear of the parade.” They look like a bunch of crap- shooters.”

“Or deer-hunters,” I agreed, “or hound men going out for a fox. You see: it doesn’t matter what the game is…”

Half a mile up the road, the lead car spotted a bird hunched on a low tree off in the field. The whole cavalcade halted violently, everybody bailed out and levelled their field glasses. It was a migrant shrike. Everybody took out their score cards and entered the shrike. Jim studied the bird long and carefully; and then I showed him its color print in the little field guide.

“Never saw it before!” he stated with surprise.

“Oh, yes you have,” I assured him. “You never recognized it before. Up till now, it was just a bird of some kind. Score one, Mr. Frise.”

We dropped a little behind as I pointed out song sparrow, blue bird, junco, a pair of mourning doves rising off the road, their lovely flight so shy and wild; a chipping sparrow and a phoebe. “Just little flutters along the roadside,” marvelled Jim, “unless you stop and take a look.”

He levelled his glasses through the car window at each of them; and then took pleasure in hunting them up in the little book.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” he muttered, as he took out his score card and marked them down.

We overtook the main party, where they had all bailed out to identify a large hawk beating and soaring over a field some distance away. It turned out to be a red-tailed hawk, and Jim was amazed to discover, in his field glasses, that it had a red tail!

So we proceeded, by main road and occasionally turning off side roads, to do the concession square, and so back to the main road. We added savannah sparrow, tree swallow and a beautiful little sparrow hawk to our score. Jim was profoundly impressed at the comparison between the tiny, robin-sized sparrow hawk and the huge red tail he had seen a few minutes before. Both hawks! He pondered, scoring his card.

The caravan wandered up the highway, off the side roads, with distance increasing between cars from time to time as something caught the eye; and then closing up again into a compact convoy. At a dense swamp, we all got out and entered the cedars to look for some long-eared owls the history professor had seen in there the week before. But we found none.

We were about two hours out from the city when we got detached from the convoy. I had stopped the car to let Jim see a kildeer plover. He had seen lots of them before; but never through field glasses. When we took up the chase again, we came to a backwoods crossroad; and the other cars were nowhere in sight.

As we sat cogitating, something compact, brown and swift flashed across the road a few yards away. “A woodcock!” shouted Jim.

“A jack snipe,” I corrected.

“A woodcock!” insisted Jim, with newborn authority. “I guess I know a woodcock when I see it. I’ve shot plenty of them.”

I turned the car along the side road, and we coasted slowly, watching out the windows into the brushy swamp. A hundred yards down, I stopped and we got out.

“What do you say?” I suggested. “Let’s go in and try to identify it.”

“That’s my idea,” declared Jim. “That’s real bird-watching.”

So we left the car and slipped as cautiously as we could into the underbrush. Underfoot, the first hepatica, the barely open anemone. We kept close together and thrust, yard by yard, into the brushy willow and alder, watching every foot of ground ahead. We came to wet spots that we had to circle. We encountered cedar patches, which we wove through. We worked east, we worked west: but nary a woodcock nor even a jack snipe did we see; nor any other bird. And we were sweating and our legs ached. And we decided to go back out to the car.

Which we did. And when we reached the road, there was no car! We walked back to the corner. No car. We walked the full concession, with heavy feet. No car. We hailed a passing farmer in a truck and asked him had he noticed a yellow car.

“Not on the sixth line,” he confessed.

Had he seen a convoy of five cars full of bird-watchers?

“Bird what?” he asked suspiciously.

“Our car must be stolen,” I pleaded. “Could you give us a lift, while we look around?”

He drove us slowly along the side road, up and around the concession. He took us to his farm house, where we put in a call to the county constable.

“If it’s stolen,” said the constable, “they can’t get out of this area without having been seen by one of the gas stations, I’ll call you back in 20 minutes.”

We sat drinking tea with the farmer and his wife.

“What were you doing in there?” the farmer asked, cautiously.

“We’re b…”, I stuttered, “we’re naturalists.”

“Ah, bugs and things,” said the farmer, much relieved. The phone rang. It was the county constable.

“We’ve located your car,” he said. “It’s been abandoned. It’s down on the fifth line.”

So the farmer drove us down to the fifth line.

And there was our car, exactly where we had left it! It seems, when you go bird watching you can get badly turned around. What is more, you can cross a road without being aware of it. For the farmer had driven us, in his truck, entirely around the concession in which we believed we had been hunting.

“You get sort of,” said Jimmie, “sort of hypnotized by…uh…”

“Bugs and things,” agreed the farmer, gently.

We got into the car and drove back to the highway: and thus to the lunch hour rendez-vous by a stream, where we found our five carloads of fellow bird watchers deep in their paper bags.

The professor of history had a score of 48, the locomotive engineer 47, and all the rest in the forties. They all wore the relaxed and cheery air of men who had been thoroughly washed out by wild fresh air. Their legs spread out, heavy and tired. They munched their sandwiches. The winners looked cocky and proud. The losers looked subdued and defiant.

No money had changed hands. Nothing was killed. The hunt was ended. The friends were sprawled about, aware of one another.

“You’ve got something,” admitted Jim, in a low voice, from behind his ham sandwich.

Editor’s Notes: Tatting is a technique for handcrafting lace.

Hepatica and Anemone are in the buttercup family.

Any of the bird types can be searched for if you are interested.


“Let’s leave the rest of the mushrooms,” said Jim. “I feel a pain!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 5, 1936.

“Mushrooms,” said Jimmie Frise, “are now in season.”

“For me,” I replied, “mushrooms have no season. I like mushrooms on a nice rare steak. I like mushrooms on toast, soaked in their own butter gravy. But, most of all, I like mushrooms in June or January, February or December.”

“But you admit,” asked Jim, “that the best mushrooms are the ones you pick yourself in the woods and cook yourself, about nine p.m. at night at the conclusion of a lovely September day out in the open, mushroom hunting.”

“No, Jim,” I said, “I can’t say I do. As a matter of fact, I have never done that. But my feeling is, I prefer a good professionally grown mushroom that you can buy at any store to the wild article precisely as I prefer a nice piece of high grade beef to a hunk of wild venison.”

“I thought you were a sportsman,” sighed Jim.

“A man can be a sportsman,” I explained, “and still like good food. If your idea of a sportsman is one who sits out in a frozen bog all day nibbling dry sandwiches and then comes in to a good meal of lukewarm canned beans and tea that would make your toes open and shut or float an egg, then I am not a sportsman. I like good edible tasty food, that’s all.”

“Good edible tasty food,” said Jim, “makes me think of a dull, sickening thud or something. It makes me think of fat men who live in furnished rooms all alone and go through life gently and silently staring at everything and nobody knows their name. Good tasty food. It makes me think of the kind of woman you describe as a great little housekeeper. Ugh.”

“You like good food,” I protested.

“Yes, but now and then I like a little adventure,” said Jim. “I like to surprise my insides. Imagine being insides. Imagine spending your whole life at the mercy of somebody outside who does all the picking and choosing. And all you have to do every day for all your life is receive a lot of guck, always the same, never anything new, never any excitement.”

“Radishes,” I pointed out, “onions.”

“Pah,” said Jim. “I believe in giving my insides a surprise every now and then. I like to go to one of these Italian restaurants and eat one of those great big soup plates full of rubbery spaghetti, four feet long doused with meat sauce, red hot peppers, paprika and spices.”

“So do I,” I admitted. “Within reason.”

“Reason nothing,” said Jim. “You just ought to feel my insides when I start sliding that spaghetti down, all cool and smooth and hot and scratchy. Boy, my insides fairly shout with joy.”

“A tall thin cold glass of water,” I agreed, “often gives me that feeling of cheering.”

“A tin dipper full,” corrected Jim, “from a pump.”

“I never really can enjoy a drink from a pump,” I explained, “because of looking down the end of my nose for wrigglers or thinking of pollution.”

Jim studied me for a long moment.

Men Who Lived Gloriously

“There is no thrill,” said he, “like the wild thrill. No flavor like the gamey flavor. We are the flabby descendants of ages of men before us who lived gloriously on what they killed or picked up in the forest. It took us countless ages to arrive at roast beef and ham and eggs.”

“During which time,” I pointed out, “millions died in agony from eating the wrong thing.”

“If you like,” agreed Jim. “But certain things wake in us an ancient thrill, a sense of freedom, a feeling of reality, and among them are mushrooms and venison and partridges and speckled trout.”

“Hear, hear,” I confessed immediately.

“My suggestion is,” said Jim, “that this week-end, we go mushrooming. This is the time of year. Mushrooms are to be gathered at all times of the year, from spring to autumn. But the autumn is the best time.”

“How about toadstools?” I asked

“There are only a few poisonous species,” explained Jim. “And hundreds of edible species.”

“Jim, if there were only the one poisonous species,” I stated, “it would be too much.”

“Wait a minute,” said Jim. “I’ve got a government bluebook on mushrooms here somewhere. I’ll show you how simple it is.”

He hunted around through his files of old newspapers, straw hats, discarded suspenders, old snapshots he had lost for years, and so forth, the usual artist’s files, and then he produced the pamphlet.

“See,” he said, “it’s got pictures. Here’s one I’ve often eaten. Look. Deadly Agaric. No, no, but that one. That is deadly. Wait a minute. Here it is. See this lovely one. The Destroying Angel. No, no, wait a minute. That’s the worst one of all. I’ve got its picture right here. Somewhere.”

He thumbed through the pamphlet, showing me dozens of photographs of the worst-looking creations the Lord ever made. What day these flat, flabby, pallid things were made is not mentioned in the Good Book.

“Ah, here it is,” cried Jim, exhibiting a dreadful bulbous-looking monster that seemed to have a skin disease. This is the Shaggy Mane.”

“Has it got hair on it?” I protested.

“Certainly not,” said Jim. “That’s a poetic name for it. Nothing in nature has such poetic names as mushrooms. My boy, I assure you once you have tried mushroom hunting you will become a mushroom hunter for life. In the cool September weather, in the early morning when everything is fresh and dewy, you go forth into the woods and along the margins of meadows, searching on the ground for these quaint little elfin creations of nature. They are white and cream and tawny brown. Pearly and bluish. They grow secretly in the shadow of trees, along the edges of old logs, in clusters where the long grass suddenly thins. In olden days, the people thought the fairies made mushrooms for chairs and parasols. They thought where the rings of mushrooms grew the fairies had been dancing.”

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I said darkly.

“Mushroom hunting in September,” declared Jim, “is as delightful a pastime as bird watching in May. Besides, you can’t eat songbirds, but you can eat mushrooms.”

“I might go with you,” I said, “but only for the fresh air.”

“Here,” said Jim, turning to the government pamphlet again, “are the rules about how to avoid the poisonous species. Listen. It says, ‘Avoid fungi when in the button or unexpanded stage; also those in which the flesh has begun to decay, even if only slightly, and those that contain larvae or worm holes.”

“How delicious,” I said.

“Avoid all fungi which have stalks with a swollen base,” continued Jim, “surrounded by a cup-like or scaly envelope, especially if the gills are white.”

“It sounds like a snake and a fish combined,” I declared.

“Avoid all fungi,” continued Jim, eloquently, “having a milky juice, unless the milk is reddish.”

“Ah,” said I, “reddish milk is O.K. huh?”

“Avoid all fungi,” read Jim, “which have a bitter, unpleasant taste or an unpleasant odor.”

“I’d be sure to like those,” I agreed, “straight off.”

“You see,” said Jim. “Here it is in cold type, perfectly plain and simple. We can’t go wrong.”

“I tell you, Jim,” I said. “You collect mushrooms, and I’ll collect poison ivy.”

Baskets on Our Arms

But Jim is a man of imagination, and Saturday dawn he had me up and away to that country of beechwoods and pine and ash which lies amidst the limestone of Guelph and Georgetown, and across meadows soaked with dew we strode upward toward the skyline carrying baskets on our arms.

And sure enough, along the edge of a lovely beech wood we found in the meadow little encampments of the common mushroom. And I must confess that it was a pleasure to find them, and to kneel down and pick them, all firm and cool, and see how easily and crisply they broke apart, cap from stem. Jim and I soon had the bottoms of the baskets covered with them.

Into the woods we walked slowly, studying each tree trunk carefully, and finding amidst the pine woods the fluted stalk or Fall Morel, a curiously twisted and wrinkled thing like an old, old lady, but really only a day old; and incredibly yellow coral fungi which Jim said were beautiful to eat, but which looked to me like asparagus gone to the dogs.

On dead trees we found flat fungi as red as Chinese lacquer, and in a quiet and lovely grove of birch trees, already fading to yellow, we came upon a lonely little thing of beauty, white as alabaster, curved and beautiful as a child’s hand, rising like a dream out of the rotting earth mould.

“And here,” said Jim, proudly, “is my dear friend. Amanita Verna, the Destroying Angel. This frail and ghostly little plant has enough deadly poison in him to kill a tableful of guardsmen.”

So we looked at it for quite a few minutes and thought of our poor ancestors who didn’t have government pamphlets or any other knowledge, and then we kicked it to pieces and stamped on it, and wiped our boots on good wet meadow grass and went down afar to another beech-edged meadow to fill our baskets with the common mushroom.

Lunch we had with us in a box, and his we ate on one of those hills looking north across a thousand farms in autumn chintz. The afternoon we wasted splendidly turning up roads never seen before, and stopping at the gates of a hundred farms to see the apples on the trees, or observe the fat cattle or simply to try and guess what some distant farmer was doing. And usually we couldn’t guess.

And through the afternoon haze we turned homeward for the feast.

“Now comes,” said Jim, “the best part of mushroom hunting. Mushrooms are best the day they are picked.”

And his family being on a picnic, we went to Jim’s for the party. We sorted our baskets and set out only the choicest of our joint catch. Washed them and dried them. Put on aprons. Dedicated one whole pound of butter to the feast, and heated the big iron frying-pan.

“I’ll fry,” said Jim, “and you dance attendance on me. Heat the plates. Set the table.”

“Bread?” said I.

“Would you eat a woollen blanket with pate de fois gras?” demanded Jim. “Just mushrooms. Nothing else. This is a feast.”

And into the browning butter Jim sliced the plump mushrooms, where they swelled and curved and darkened and shrank. And on to an oven platter he ladled them out.

“Not done too much,” he explained, “yet not underdone.”

And, in due time, we had fried in butter enough of the succulent nubbins to make a fine black heap on two large plates and an odor so wild and strange and teasing as to make us almost perspire with expectancy.

“Fall to,” cried Jim.

And we fell to, as only men who have been abroad in September can fall. And with our forks we ladled up mouthfuls of the hot and buttery darkness and found them as they should be, chewy, yet tender,

To tell the truth, right at the very start, I imagined I detected a faint bitterness. I did not like to say anything about it, because after all it was a feast and Jim was full of pride. But after I had got down about half of my pile, I slowed up a bit and looked at Jim. And, to my horror, I caught Jim looking at me with a slight look of horror in his eyes.

“Do you – ah,” I said, “detect a slight bitterness?”

“I do,” said Jim, hollowly. We pushed our plates away.

“How soon,” I asked, huskily, “do the pains begin?”

“Sometimes,” said Jim, in a thin voice, “not for two days.”

We stared at each other. What a strange way for our long friendship to end. Boy and man, come Michaelmas, blame near a quarter century. And now toadstool gets us.

“Jim,” I said, “look through this basket here and see which of us is likely guilty. I would feel easier if I thought you had poisoned me rather than vice versa.”

“Let’s leave it,” said Jim, rising sharply to his feet and clutching his stomach. “Here come the pains.”

Sure enough pains.

“Call a doctor,” I commanded.

“No use, no use,” said Jim. “I don’t think there is a cure known for fungus poisoning.”

“Will it hurt much?” I enquired.

“After all,” said Jim, turning green, “does that matter?”

“You’re quite right,” I agreed, slipping back and getting a good grip of my central neighborhood.

And then Jim’s family walked in, loudly, gaily, full of picnic.

“What on earth,” they cried, “are you cooking in that iron frying-pan?”

“Mushrooms,” said we, concealing our agony bravely.

“Did you rinse it out, for goodness sake?” they asked.

“No,” said we.

“Well, it was full of laundry soap the last time I saw it,” said the family, loudly laughing. “And that was this morning. That hasn’t been a cooking pan for about ten years.”

“We didn’t eat any yet,” said Jim. “We were just going to, when you came in.”

“Ha, ha,” said I. “Wouldn’t that have been comic, if we had eaten any.”

But Jim, looking at me, took me by the arm and led me out the back kitchen into the garden, under the stars, and we two walked up and down, pausing now and again, and walking up and down, along the back or bushy end of the garden, until nearly ten o’clock.

Editor’s Notes: Greg and Jim describe spaghetti as a rare and unusual treat, as in the 1930s, Italian food would still be “ethnic food”.

“Dance attendance on me” is an archaic term meaning “obey every command I give”.

Michaelmas is a Christian feast day on September 29. So Greg is describing his friendship with Jim dating back 25 years by that date. This would date back to the early 1910s, which would make sense since Jim’s first comic in the Toronto Star was late in 1910, and Greg started working for the Star in 1912.

Saga of Lost Lake

We pushed on, over ridge and gully, around swamp and over ten thousand dead trees.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 21, 1937.

“This,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the worst year for fishing we’ve ever had.”

“Is it any wonder,” I demanded, “with fresh thousands taking up fishing every year and fresh miles of highway being built farther and farther into the wilds every season?”

“All our old haunts are ruined,” said Jim.

“Yet we,” I accused, “thought it was swell when they completed the cement highways to all our favorite spots.”

“Even Algonquin Park has a highway into it now,” sighed Jim.

“Canada’s richest asset,” I declared, “is the tourist traffic. It’s the strangest export business in the world. It brings in three hundred million dollars per annum net cash. And all it takes out is snapshots.”

“We’re selling our birthright,” pronounced Jim solemnly, “for a mess of pottage. When we have ripped our country wide open for the tourist trade, when we’ve criss-crossed it with highways and looted all our lakes and made hot dog groves of all our forests and nothing remains but an empty fraud, and all the annual three hundred millions have vanished, as millions do, into thin air, what will we have left?”

“We’ll have had a good time while it lasted,” I pointed out. “Three hundred million a year is mighty sweet money.”

“We’ll have rotting highways running through barren and useless waste,” said Jim. “Our tourist trade goes into a country unfit for anything but playing in. It has no soil for farming. It is no good for reforesting. When the fish are gone and the wild aspect vanished, the tourists will leave us holding the empty bag.”

“Why, Jim,” I laughed, “within ten years, the American tourists are going to be working their way into our Arctic. Already, hundreds of Americans are going every summer into the Albany watershed, running into Hudson Bay. Already, thousands of Americans are taking hunting trips into the Yukon and the northern Rockies. Our tourist trade is good for another hundred years, with that wild, unexplored Arctic up there.”

“And what about us poor guys,” demanded Jim, “that can’t afford to go two thousand miles north? Is fishing in Canada only to be for wealthy Americans?”

“Oh, they’ll stock up the local waters,” I assured him. “It’s all a question of demand. As soon as the fishing gets bad enough, there will be a violent uproar, and the government will go nutty planting fish. They’ll plant fish the way they have been building highways lately, or the way they do anything else to please the public. A government’s real job, after all, isn’t governing. It’s pleasing the public. They govern for a couple of years. Then they wake up with a violent start and realize that pleasing the public is the whole thing. That’s the way we’ll get fish down around these parts. The day is coming when it won’t be safe to go for a paddle on any water in the older part of the country. The fish will be a menace.”

“Tame fish,” sneered Jim. “Liver-fed fish.”

“You’ll be glad enough to hook them,” I assured him.

“I’ll be an old man,” said Jim. “Too feeble to go fishing.”

Reaction in Pioneering

“If we had any gumption,” I stated, “we’d not be sitting here letting the Americans have all the fun going up to the Albany and the Winisk. We’d be going ourselves. What’s the matter with us Canadians? Why do we insist on puddling around near home, when there is simply incredible wild fishing a day or two north? Are we getting soft? Where is the pioneer spirit that, only fifty years ago was part and parcel of every Canadian’s character?”

“I guess,” said Jim, “that there is a sort of reaction in this pioneer spirit business. Pioneering gets kind of exhausted after three or four generations. We belong to one of the two or three generations that are resting up after the ordeal. Then maybe our grandchildren will feel the pioneer spirit creeping back into them again.”

“By which time,” I pointed out, “the good fishing will be exhausted in the Arctic.”

Then our grandchildren,” said Jim, “will run across to fish in Siberia and northern Russia as carelessly as we go up to Lake Nipissing.”

“Ah, boy,” I sighed, “I wish I could go to a lake my Uncle Ed took me into when I was a kid. I was about sixteen, I guess. Talk about bass fishing.”

“Where was the lake?” asked Jim.

“It is the most lost lake,” I declared, “imaginable. In fact, we called it Lost Lake. It’s still there. It is miles from any human habitation. It is a twenty-mile walk over the wildest, rockiest country anywhere in Canada.”

“Twenty miles,” said Jim. “Whew! Your Uncle Ed must have been a tough guy.”

“Tough is right,” I agreed. “He was a pioneer. I can see him yet, with his great big packsack on his back, full of tent and grub and tackle, climbing over those wild rocks like a goat. I’ve never been so weary in all my life, yet I was a strong husky kid of sixteen.”

“What about the fishing?” asked Jim.

“Lost Lake,” I began happily, “is about half a mile wide and four miles long. It is a great bed of glacial gravel set down amidst the most God-forsaken rock in the world. It never was lumbered because there isn’t anything but scrub will grow on it. There isn’t half an acre of soil within 30 miles. Yet that long, narrow lake, full of bright gravel and boulders and reefs, is simply alive with bass up to six pounds.”

“Oh, oh,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said,” my Uncle Ed was a fly fisherman. No bait, no worms, crawfish or frogs for him. Just common trout flies, on little four-ounce rods. He taught me to fly fish. We made a raft of cedar logs. We drifted about that heavenly lake for five days. Every cast, with those tiny little trout flies, a great whacking big bass, from four to six pounds. We put on two flies. We got two bass to a cast. We filed off the barbs of the fly hooks. We caught hundreds of bass and threw them all back except the ones we needed to eat. We never even brought any out.”

“Have you never gone back?” demanded Jim.

“I intended to go back the next year,” I said, “but I started to Varsity. Then I kept putting it off year by year, as I got into that silly age around 20, when you never seem to be able to keep your mind on anything really important. Then the war came. And then Uncle Ed got rheumatism.”

“Engraved on My Memory”

“Is it far away?” asked Jim.

“Far enough,” I said, “You go to Sudbury, and then in by train about 30 miles. You get off at a section man’s house and then walk in 20 miles. No road, no trail. Just across the wild barren rock, working by landmarks.”

“You’d have forgotten them,” thought Jim, “by now.”

“Never,” I cried, “to my dying day. It’s engraved on my memory like the path I took to school as a child. Every once in a while, over the long years, I have renewed my memory by going, in my imagination, over every foot of that trip. First you head for a distant sort of ridge or pinnacle of rocks, far in the distance. You can’t go wrong. Then, from this pinnacle, you can see, miles ahead, a series of great muskeg swamps with broken ridges of rock rising between them. You follow that series of ridges between the muskeg swamps as straight as Yonge St., and they bring you smack out on to Lost Lake.”

“Boy,” said Jim grimly. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”

“Jim?” I cried, “will you?”

“Let’s go,” repeated Jim with a sort of anguish.

“It’s a terrible walk,” I said, “twenty miles. With all our duffle. Tent and grub and tackle and pots and pans.”

“Man,” shouted Jim, “a lake like that, lost amidst all this exploitation and ruin of lakes. A lake like that, within an overnight journey in a sleeping car with hordes of people going hundreds of miles beyond to fish waters already overrun with other fishermen. How do you know it hasn’t been found out by now?”

“How would it be found out? I demanded. Nobody but Uncle Ed and two other men knew of it. And who would walk 20 miles nowadays in this age of satin-smooth highways and motor cars and outboard motors? This is a soft, padded age. The modern sportsman won’t go any place he can’t sit on a cushion all the way.”

“One good fill of fishing,” crooned Jim, “one regular orgy of fishing, and I’ll be content to hang up my rods and let my grandchildren go to the Arctic.”

“It’s a go,” I announced.

And we sat straight down and proceeded to examine the calendar and then drew up lists of duffle and supplies.

We decided to spend four days on the lake. One full day to walk in and one full day to walk out. We debated whether to take Jim’s little wedge tent or my big silk one, and we concluded that as we were no longer chickens, it might be as well to be comfortable.

“This business of going light,” said Jim, “is all very well in your twenties. But at our age, we’ve got to get our rest.”

So we wrote and rewrote our camping lists, which, as anybody knows, is the better part of camping. The tent and our two sleeping bags would go into a joint dunnage bag which we would carry between us. Each of us would have our packsacks, containing clothes, tackle, and all the things needful to a happy outing. Pots and pans we would distribute between us pro rata. The grub we would divide equally and stow in our packsacks.

And Saturday night, we left for Sudbury by sleeper, arriving early in the morning and continuing by day coach some miles out to the section men’s shack where the unmarked trail to Lost Lake began.

The section man’s shack, which had been young and red and fresh when I was sixteen was now no more than a worn old shed in which some railway ties were stored and even the rusty old tin cans in its neighborhood looked as if this had been no human habitation for many a long year. It was no longer even a section house, just a relic of a shanty, faded and old.

“Jim” I declared, as the train sped off leaving us alone with our duffle bags, “this is wonderful. I feared we might even find a village where this section house had stood. But look – it’s only a ruin. Lost Lake has stayed lost, for sure.

From a little rocky eminence handy, we could see the remote whitish rock ridges or pinnacles far to the northwest, just as I had described them.

“It’s a good ten miles to them, Jim,” I said. “By keeping to ridges and high ground, we never lose sight of them. We’ll take all morning, just to reach them.”

But it took more than the morning. I don’t know how far a lumberjack carries his packsack. Probably from the railway station to the boarding house, maybe. A distance of 75 yards in most lumberjack communities. Even the pioneers didn’t carry packsacks. They used oxen. Certainly, no pioneer ever carried a packsack ten miles. Or else why did it take a hundred years for the pioneers to work north a hundred miles?

As I said before it was a wild and rugged country, and a number of swamps had moved or side-slipped, during the past 30 years, for I found any number of swamps where there had been none the last time. A swamp is a thing you have to go around. And often you have to feel your way around it, making many false tries, this way and that.

At noon, the delectable white pinnacles were still white and remote. We halted for lunch and got out our sleeping bags to lie on for a little rest. We rested until four o’clock and then pushed on. By six p.m., the pinnacles were less distant and less white, but none the less too far away for a couple of pioneers without oxen to reach by dark. So finding a pleasant little swampy pond in the middle of a muskeg, we made camp and boiled muddy tea and went to bed on ill-made brush beds, and muttered each other awake all night. In the morning, we went through our packsacks and made a cache in a tree of all the articles, many of them costly if not valuable, to lighten our loads and to be picked up on the way out They are there forever, I fear.

Thus lightered, we struck camp and pushed on, over ridge and fully and around swamp and over ten thousand dead trees until at noon we reached the high ridge from which, stretching far to the west, we beheld, as I had foretold, the series of dark swamps between which wended bare bleak wastes of rock. But these wastes of rock were open and grim and barren and easy, and in slow stages between heavy rests, during which our eyeballs protruded and our kidneys ached and our legs grew numb and our arches fell and our toe-balls scalded, we went out across them, hog-backs of rock amidst endless wasteland swamp, straight as a ship sails towards Lost Lake.

“It’s a Mirage – a Delusion”

At five p.m. from the highest of these heaves of rock, we glimpsed a bit of blue.

“Water,” I cried, “It’s Lost Lake.”

And with a sort of spiritual, if not physical, second wind, we pushed on. Jim holding one end of the tent bag and I the other, and clanking with our pots and pans like Mrs. Finnigan’s Cows, and over seven last great hills of rock we came at last to the very last, and there at our feet, half a mile wide and four miles long, lay Lost Lake.

“What’s that?” gasped Jim, softly lowering his packsack from his long and limber back.

It was music.

We eased our weary baggage down and listened.

“It’s ‘Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em,'” I said, “This week’s number one the Hit Parade.”

“Look,” said Jim pointing.

In the gloaming, lights twinkled at almost regular intervals along the distant shores of Lost Lake.

“Cottages,” I said huskily. “It’s a mirage. It’s a delusion. We’re suffering from explorer’s exhaustion.”

Around the point we stood on, a canoe came, and from it the music we had heard rose with increasing volume.

It was a boy and a girl with a portable victrola between them in their cushioned ease. When they beheld us in the semi-dark, frozen beside our packsacks and dunnage bags, festooned with our pails and pans, they too froze, staring.

“Hello,” I called hollowly.

The boy paddled cautiously nearer.

“Is this Lost Lake?” I demanded hoarsely.

“No, sir,” said the boy. “This is Golden Sand Lake.”

“It used to be called Lost Lake,” the girl piped up, “before the highway came by. I’ve heard my dad speak of it by that name.”

“Highway?” croaked Jimmie.

“The highway,” said the boy, “just along the other side, see?”

Three cars, lights just turned on, sailed smoothly along the far side of the lake, headed inexorably northward, northward.

“Any bass in this lake?” I asked lightly.

“Not now,” said the girl, “but my daddy has one stuffed in our cottage, he got the first year we were in here before I was born, and it weighed six pounds.”

“Do you suppose,” I inquired, “we could get a lift across the lake to the highway side?”

“I’ll go and get our launch,” said the boy, immediately. “I’ll take you across and you can get a bus. There’s a bus every two hours. both ways.”

“That’s swell,” said Jim.

So we sat down on our duffle and waited for the launch, watching the car lights streaming past on the far side, and not speaking at all, but just thinking and thinking.

“Is this Lost Lake?” I demanded hoarsely. “No, sir,” said the boy. “This is Golden Sand Lake.” “It used to be Lost Lake,” the girl piped up.

Editor’s Notes: The Winisk River and Albany River are in the Kenora area of Northern Ontario.

Varsity was the old name of the University of Toronto.

Railroad section men lived in section houses, and were responsible for the maintenance of a particular section of the railroad. These jobs were phased out over time.

I’m not sure who Mrs. Finnegan’s cows were.

“Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” may be referring to the song “Love Me or Leave Me“.

The story was repeated on August 19, 1944 as “Found – Lost Lake”. The image at the bottom is from that reprint. It is also reprinted in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).


Rusty thrust his head in the tent, a black and white object in his jaws…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 20, 1935.

“The editor,” said Jimmie Frise, “is off for a few days buying paintings for the picture section.”

“Then,” I said, “let’s go fishing.”

“Not fishing,” said Jimmie. “I am tired of fishing. Let’s go camping. There is a sort of anxiety and hurry about going fishing. Camping, you can just dope along.”

“Morally,” I hesitated, “we are justified in sneaking off like this when the editor goes away. Because it is far, far better that we should take care of our health than that we should just stick to the mere letter of the law. We aren’t Pharisees, I hope.”

“Both for the sake of our employers,” said Jim, “as well as for the sake of our families and dependents we should use our initiative in the matter of keeping well and efficient. How long do you suppose the editor will be away?”

“Let’s take a chance on four days,” I estimated.

“I feel poorly,” admitted Jim. “I really do. I feel the need of a few days drowsing in the shade beside some cool lake. The editor doesn’t go away now as much as he used to, does he?”

“We don’t get quite as much opportunity for using our initiative in the matter of our health and well-being,” I confessed. “Let’s take a chance on three days. Nobody will notice it.”

“You remember the time he came back in two days?” warned Jimmie.

“We must remember,” I said, “not to get sunburned. When a boss comes back and finds his whole staff all sunburned it gives rise to suspicions. We working-class people are pretty dumb. You notice the assistant bosses always go golfing on dull afternoons?”

“By jove,” admitted Jim.

“With our families all away,” I proposed, “we can just go on a nice little camping trip, the kind all men want to take but never can. Most men are prisoners. They can’t do what they like at the office. And they can’t do what they like at home. And when the so-called holidays come the poor fellow has to go where the family tell him. Now’s our chance for a three-day escape from prison. Where will we go? Peterborough? Parry Sound?”

“Suppose,” said Jim, “suppose we just get in the car, with a tent and some pots and pans and some grub, and turn either left or right at every fourth gallon of gas?”

“A perfect idea,” I cried. “You drive and I’ll watch the gas. And at every fourth gallon we’ll take the next turn.”

“Real gipsies,” exulted Jimmie. “Wotting not whither we goeth.”

“We won’t fish. We won’t even hunt birds’ nests. We’ll just dangle along all day and when five o’clock comes we’ll look for a place to pitch our tent and there we’ll pitch it.”

“And,” sang Jimmie, “if we don’t feel like getting up in the morning we won’t. And if we find a nice shady spot, by a cool lake, we’ll just stay there. We don’t have to keep on going, do we?”

“Not at all,” I agreed. “The only rule will be, however, that at every fourth gallon we take the first turn, either to the right or the left, it doesn’t matter.”

“Swell,” said Jim.

To The Wide Open Spaces

So, after making a few discreet inquiries around the editor’s secretary and trying to find out from the art department how many paintings it needed for the next while, Jimmie and I quietly slipped away and went to our homes and packed.

“Don’t take much,” ruled Jim. “Your little tent, and my outboard motor…”

“We’re not going fishing,” I cut in.

“It will be handy to have along, in case we want to go for a spin somewhere.”

“And my gasoline stove,” I added.

“And Rusty,” submitted Jim.

Rusty, his Irish water spaniel, had been left home by the family because it takes him so long to get acquainted with the other dogs up at the cottage. In fact, it takes the whole two months, July and August, for Rusty to get on speaking terms with the dogs of the beach.

“Very well, bring Rusty,” I conceded. “You can’t very well leave him for three days.”

And soon Jimmie and I were, with a carefully filled and measured gas tank, on our way up Yonge St. for the wide open spaces.

It was a beautiful day. We who rarely see the highways except when they are frantic with week-end traffic can have no real appreciation of this beautiful land of ours as it appears when leisure fills the main roads and the lush fields wave and blow in the summer wind.

“Ah, Jimmie,” I said, “to think of all those poor chaps and poor girls back in town, sweltering over desks, dancing attendance on machines, tools, boxes, bales. Couldn’t life be wonderful if only we knew how to arrange it?”

“Canada,” said Jim, waving one arm off the steering wheel, “Canada, my own!”

The lazy miles whipped by.

“Curious,” said Jim, “that we put on speed every time we hit a good pavement and so the sooner get off it on to a bad one. Why don’t we go slow over a good highway and fast over a bad one?”

“It would be more sensible,” I confessed.

So we cut down to twenty-five miles an hour and felt Yonge St., beyond Aurora, peel off under us yard by yard at a lovely sight-seeing pace.

It was between Barrie and Orillia that the four-gallon mark arrived, at which we had to turn either right or left. So we turned right, across country road that led us down to Lake Simcoe.

“This means.” said Jim, “that we should follow around the lake and cross into the Kawartha district.”

“So be it,” I agreed.

And through Atherley we drove, following the highway southward and looking, since evening was drawing on, for a handsome place to pitch our gipsy tent.

“Clouding up,” commented Jim.

And out of the west, large majestic white clouds were rearing themselves vastly, with bright, gleaming edges and dark shadows in their midst.

“Did you get the tent repaired that place?” Jim asked.

“I can put a towel over it,” I said, “It isn’t much of a hole.”

“Let’s turn left over towards Bobcaygeon,” said Jim.

“Not till four gallons are gone,” I pointed out.

“But we’ll be back in Whitby before another four gallons,” protested Jim.

“We’ll find a good spot along here soon,” I said, looking out at the clouds.

“What I like about Ontario is the infinite variety. All kinds of earth, rock and soil. All different trees, hardwood here, spruce there. And all kinds of weather. There is no sameness about this country. If it had stayed bright and blue all day, like it was this afternoon, we’d soon weary of it.”

“I like a storm,” agreed Jim, also looking over his shoulder. “There is something bracing about it.”

And Rusty, sleeping on the dunnage bags in back, got up and yawned and looked out, too. He whined.

“There’s a spot,” exclaimed Jim.

We were north of Brechin somewhere, and off to the left, sweet rolling meadows, sloped with spruce and cedar and topped with clusters of birch and pine, beckoned us.

Without conversation. Jim took a rutty little side road. In five minutes we were stopped at the foot of as perfect a camping spot as ever gipsies found. A small, bright brook went by the sloping meadow. Birches on a flat-topped hillock stood ready to shelter our little tent. Grass and herbage made a ready couch for our blankets.

“My own Canadian home,” lilted Jim.

And a faint mutter of thunder applauded him.

“Here,” I said, “let’s get the tent up right away.”

So while Rusty went exploring. Jim and I cheerfully unloaded the car and carried the little silk tent up the slope. Picked a level spot for it to pitch. Strung the rope between two graceful birches. And in five minutes, our home was ready.

“Let ‘er rain,” laughed Jimmie.

And we looked at the mighty towering clouds, which now were much higher and higher, and from them hung down ragged smoke-colored remnants, sweeping towards us.

“Let’s get the stuff in the tent,” I cried.

Blankets and corrugated box of grub, gasoline stove and pots and pans.

“I’ll just bring this outboard motor in,” said Jimmie.

“Leave it,” I hurried, two big drops starting to swing down at us. “There isn’t room in the tent.”

“Car doesn’t lock,” shouted Jimmie, for a gale suddenly bent everything over. “Sure to be stolen if I leave it in the car.”

So he staggered the engine up and we just shoved into the tent as the first deluge plunged down out of the clouds.

“Here, Rusty. Rusty, whit, whit,” whistled Jimmie, Rusty having disappeared.

“Shut the flaps,” I shouted.

The little tent was all cluttered and abulge with bundles, boxes, stove, engine, pots and what not. I sat on the stove and Jim on the tank of his engine.

And the little tent bellied and clapped loudly with the gale, while a regular thunder of rain beat, like bursting ocean waves, against the frail silk.

“These summer showers,” I cried, “are soon over.”

Troubles Multiply

“Thank goodness,” called back Jimmie, “we have your little gasoline stove. Dry wood won’t be found after this.”

“We forgot to get gas for it,” I remembered. “We can siphon some out of your tank.”

“If we have a siphon,” shouted Jim.

And then thunder roared and lightning hissed and cracked, and Jim found a small stream starting to run under the tent and across the ground.

“Get off the stove,” said Jim, “and I’ll set the grub box on it to keep it dry.”

“So I stand up?” I inquired.

I half stood up and half sat down, while the walls of the tent sagged looser and looser, and the thunder growled and the ground grew all wet, and we kept shifting things around in the cramped tent.

“I wish I knew where Rusty is,” said Jim.

“Fighting some local dog,” I suggested.

“Rusty hates rain,” said Jim.

“Sure, he’s a water spaniel,” I explained. Jim peeped out the tent flaps.

“Very black over by the east,” he said.

“Sometimes, these summer storms that come up in the late afternoon,” I said, “mean an all-night rain. And a westerly blow.”

“Rusty, Rusty, whit, whit,” went Jim out the tent flaps.

“Aw, let him alone,” I exclaimed, “He’s probably found somebody his own size.”

The rain seemed to slacken.

“Jim,” I said, “while I’m seeing if there is any gas in this stove tank, take a run down to the brook and get a pail of water so we can make tea. It looks like an indoor supper to-night.”

When Jim was gone with the pail, I looked, and as I fully expected, there was no gas in the stove tank.

Jim scratched hastily in through the flaps.

“The creek,” he said, wiping rain off his face, “is running yellow mud. Pure mud.”

So we sat and listened to the thunder and blinked to the lightning and shoved articles of furniture up against the corners of the tent to keep the steadily sagging walls from coming entirely in upon us.

Ants, spiders, striped worms and small beetles began climbing up everything that was dry, such as us.

“Pshaw,” said Jim, “think of our poor ancestors who came to this country in the early days. They didn’t even have tents. They had to rush up some kind of a roof over their heads, made of split logs. Think of bring huddled in here with all your family, including little babies, in a storm like this. And they had storms like this in 1800.”

“Our ancestors,” I taught Jim, “were simpler folk than we. They came from mud huts in Ireland and shacks made of granite rocks in the Highlands. My ancestors used to have the chickens roost on the foot of the bed when they first came to Ontario.”

“What I mean,” said Jim, pulling his feet up under him, “is that we ought to have, just underneath our skins, the makings of good men. Tough men. Men who can suffer hardship like this. It can’t have gone out of us completely in only two or three generations.”

“I wish I had my plus-fours on,” I said. “Did you ever have an ant up your pant leg? I don’t think our ancestors wore pants.”

“Think,” said Jimmie, brushing off couple of spiders and a small green hump worm, “of our Scottish ancestors, coming to this country in kilts.”

But a loud flash and bang of lightning made us stop thinking of our ancestors.

The ground was now squishy under our feet. The rent in the tent that we had got last fall was dripping water into the left rear corner, and I was in the right.

“Skunk,” said Jim suddenly.

“Phew,” said I.

And Rusty thrust his dripping wet face in the flaps.

“Get out,” I yelled.

Rusty backed out. But in a moment, he thrust his head in again, this time gripping in his wide jaws, and his eyes glancing proudly above, a black and white object limp in his jaws. And of overpowering fragrance.

“Get out. Scat.”

Even Jimmie threw a pail at him.

Hating To Admit Defeat

And so we had whines from Rusty outside, to add to the things we had to listen to, as the darkness continued to deepen, and the thunder went away and then came suddenly and surprisingly back again. And the wind changed direction and began shoving at the front flaps.

“Jim,” I said, “we can’t stay here.”

“Let’s wait and see,” said Jim.

“Put that engine out and give us some room,” I insisted.

“Nothing doing,” replied Jim.

“We have no water, no wood, no gas for the stove,” I complained.

“Maybe it will clear,” said Jim.

“That dog,” I said, “has put the kibosh on everything. I can hardly breathe.”

“We have to take him home in the car,” pointed out Jim.

“I say we beat it,” I concluded.

“Where to?” asked Jim.

One hates to admit defeat. I gazed hopelessly about the little tent, its dripping walls sagging close to our heads.

“Jimmie,” I cried, looking about at the grass and herbage on which our beds were to be laid. “What’s that plant right beside you there!”

“Gee,” said Jim, drawing up his hand.

It was three-leaved, glossy green, reddish tinges at the base of the leaves. It was cool, cold, cruel looking.

“Poison ivy, Jim.” I gasped.

“I guess we had better go,” agreed Jim half rising, which was all he could do.

And as we stepped out the door, a long glorious blade of evening sunlight burst across the glade. The dripping world shone and sparkled. Rusty barked hoarsely and started to show us his latest victim.

“How about it?” asked Jim. “We’ll go. But where?”

“Home,” I said, for both of us.

And into the back of the car we stuffed the soaking tent, just bundled in anyhow, and the engine and the stove and the grub box. Jim scrubbed Rusty with bunches of grass, to no purpose.

“Zing,” said something.

“Now the mosquitoes,” said I.

And before we had the car loaded, the soft, muggy summer evening was alive with great big after-the-storm mosquitoes, focusing on our ankles and wrists.

“Make it snappy,” said Jim.

“I’m ready,” I snorted. “What about Rusty?”

“Whit, whit,” said Jim to Rusty, and Rusty, all damp clambered in.

And under a radiant, starry sky, we drove down to Whitby.

“Four gallons, exactly,” said I, as we rounded the turn to Toronto.

And so to bed.

Editor’s Notes: The Pharisees were a Jewish social movement that were legal experts in traditions, so when Greg said “we aren’t Pharisees”, he meant that they were not strict rule-followers.

Jim was quoting the Bible, John 12:35, specifically the Tyndale Bible of the 16th century, “He that walketh in the darke wotteth not whither he goeth.” This would be more recently translated as “Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. “

Brechin Ontario is on the northeast edge of Lake Simcoe.

A Dunnage bag was the type of large bag that sailors would use to carry their belongings. It would more commonly be referred to as a duffle bag today.

My Own Canadian Home” was a patriotic song written in 1887. It was considered “Canada’s National Song”, but it’s popularity faded by the mid-20th century.

Plus fours are trousers that extend four inches below the knee, and were popular for sporting activities.

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


All the din and snorting and beeping that accompanied us as we pedalled up toward Bampton was enough to shatter your nerves.

By Gregory Clark, illustrated by James Frise, June 9, 1934.

“We’re all hopelessly,” said Jimmie Frise, “overcapitalized.”

“I have no capital,” I demurred.

“No, but you’ve got a car and a house and a lot of furniture and everything,” said Jim. “You’re overcapitalized.”

“It sounds interesting,” I admitted. “I’m overcapitalized.”

“We are all putting on too much dog,” continued James. “The whole world has got to pipe down.”

“But how can we be persuaded to start?” I asked.

“Tens of thousands of us are being persuaded already,” said Jim. “I’ve a good notion to get a couple of bicycles. One bicycle for me, one for the family, and a few pair of roller skates. That’s about my real speed.”

“I remember,” I said, “the bicycle days. Good old days, they were. I can dimly remember meetings of bicycle clubs in High Park, hundreds of bicyclists, men and women, gathered for a hike through the pleasant country roads west and north of Toronto.”

“Those were the good old days,” said Jim; “when a twenty-mile journey was all the far a man or a woman wanted to go away from home. The Gay Nineties! The age when all our ancestors had group photographs taken in their funny derbies, the ladies sitting with a graceful droop and the men standing, legs akimbo, with one hand resting on the back of the chair, as if to say, here we are; will there ever be a generation like us again?”

“And carpets were tacked,” I said.

“And paper under the carpets,” said Jim. “You could hear it crackling.”

“And curtain stretchers,” I said.

“And elderly ladies with tall lace collars held up with little pieces of whalebone,” said Jimmie, “seemed to be the boss of everything. They wore watches pinned to the front of their black pleated dresses. Pearl sunbursts at their throats.”

“Old ladies,” I said, “and every Thursday they baked cookies and put them in big blue starch tins.”

“Let’s get a couple of bicycles some day,” said Jim, “and go for a ride out through the country, and go sailing leisurely along.”

“What kind of costume do you suggest we wear?” I asked. “The bicycle costume I remember in my boyhood were rather cramping for these days.”

“Let’s wear sport shirts and khaki shorts,” said Jim, “and golf socks, and those tennis visors. Just nice airy costumes.”

“And we could carry small haversacks,” I said, “with lunch and cooling beverages.”

“When do we go?” cried Jim, happily.

“Let’s not get excited,” I said. “The first real fine afternoon. And you arrange where we can rent a couple of bikes.”

The two that Jimmie delivered at my house at noon were the same size. We lowered the seat of mine several times, until it rested on the cross bar. But it still felt a little stretchy to me. Jimmie and I set forth for the pleasant highways that lead northwest from the outer edges of Toronto.

The breeze was lovely in our faces. Our speed was easy and natural. Except for a slight stretch at the end of each shove of my legs, there was really no effort to riding, and all the balance and skill of my boyhood returned. Jimmie was a little inclined to get ahead of me, and he wanted to “scorch” on all the small hills, but quite merrily we bowled along until we came to the Centre Rd., leading to Brampton.

And as soon as we touched the asphalt, the tooting began.

I trust I shall never again toot my car horn at a bicycle. Of all the din and snorting and beeping that accompanied us as we pedalled up towards Brampton, it was enough to shatter your nerves. Not a motor car felt free to pass us, although we hugged the edge of the pavement, without a long, deafening blast on the horn.

Road’s Too Much Used

You would think we were a public menace the way drivers shouted brief nothings at us out the windows as they went by.

Jim was leading and he kept up a continual chatter which I could not hear. If I pedalled up alongside him, two cars had to pass, immediately beside us, and while I wobbled back into position in rear, the two cars jammed brakes, tooted and shouted at us.

“Let’s get off the highway,” I called to Jim. “Let’s find some pleasant country lane to travel in.”

So Jimmie turned west off the highway and we went merrily along, side by side.

I heard a car coming and I had just time to run my bike into the grassy ditch when a couple of young girls in a roadster flashed between us with a snort of a double horn and a couple of derisive yells.

“Even the country lanes,” I sighed, remounting.

“How are you coming?” asked Jim.

“A little achy,” I admitted.

The road grew sandy, and at the hills we both dismounted to push the bikes up. But there were farmers to talk to whenever we came to them and places you could slow down and look at cows and chickens. I picked some wild flowers at a dell and stuck them in my visor.

“Ah, Jim,” I said. “This is the life.”

One of those modern cars had crept up to within ten feet of me, let go its snort and swished by. Both of us fell in the ditch.

“There ought to be a law,” cried Jimmie, “requiring these modern cars to carry sleigh bells.”

“Let’s get off this road,” I said. “It is too much used.”

We turned north on the next road. Within fifty yards we had to take to the ditch for a truck that slammed past in a cloud of dust. Five times before we came to the cart tracks leading back east, we had to leap for our lives. Then we came to two cart tracks, not a road but just a happy track leading to the east, with grass growing between the ruts and in the distance, woods and wide fields.

So Jim took the right hand rut and I took the left, and at last we had perfect cycling. There were birds to see and farms to stop at for drinks out of pumps. Farmers to talk to across snake fences and homecoming country school children with little red lard pails emptied of lunch. A flock of sheep watched us go by with startled interest and lambs raced away at our approach. We came even to a large pig lying in my rut, and I had to get out and go around her, because she just turned up a very nasty little eye, with long Hollywood eyelashes of a dusty color, and dared me.

We came to a woods and sat down for our sandwiches. My legs ached on the insides and they had turned a rich red color.

“You burn,” said Jim. “I just brown.”

We lay in the grass and finished our sandwiches, even the crusts, and the sun blazed down and my ache grew and my burn was stinging and the hide just above my knees began to feel stiff.

Aches and Splinters

“Jim,” I said, “I think we had better get headed back for home.”

“We can take back roads home towards dusk,” said Jim, half asleep in the deep grass. A herd of cows was coming lazily up the road.

“My ache is growing,” I said, “and I feel as if this sunburn is going to stiffen. I forgot when I put on these shorts that so much of my leg would show, sitting on a bicycle.”

“I brown,” said Jim, drowsily.

So while Jim snored gently, I patted my sunburn and massaged the thick muscles on my legs. But I sensed a growing discomfort.

“Come on, Jimmie,” I shook him.

“This is the life,” drowsed Jim.

We mounted the bike and my skin felt as if it would crack above my knees. They were scarlet.

We pedalled easily eastward and came to a steep hill with an old wooden bridge at the bottom.

“Wheeee,” cried Jim, letting her go down, scorching.

I heard him rattle over the bridge. I dipped the front of my bike down and in a moment I had lost the pedals. My legs felt so stiff I couldn’t get a grab at them. I was so busy steering I had no time to waste feeling for pedals.

I felt the front wheel hit the plank bridge, the bike went north and I went south and I had splinters in me. Jim pedalled back down the far hill.

“Where’s the bike?” he asked with interest.

“It went your way,” I said, moving over to a shady spot on the bridge without having to get up.

Jim rested his against the bridge and hunted high and low.

“Maybe it went into the crook,” said he.

It no doubt did. We got long poles and scratched around in the muddy water, but without any luck.

“What on earth will we do?” asked Jimmie, amused yet not amused.

“I go home on your handle bars,” I said.

And since it was easier to ride on the pavement than on the county back roads, we stuck to the pavement. And if it was any of you who saw us as Jim pedalled me carefully along the edge of the pavement, amidst all the rushing evening traffic, and if I made faces instead of smiling when you tooted your horns warningly at us, it was on account of sunburn and discomfort, rather than any indignation with you.

“How about putting on a happy expression?” asked Jim, as he shoved southward towards Cooksville.

“Relax. Lean back. Look like the Gay Nineties!”

But it is difficult to look happy on handle bars, with your legs stiff from sunburn and your shorts kind of pinching and your tennis visor continually slipping down over your nose.

Editor’s Notes: This story is shorter than most, for unknown reasons, but was not that uncommon in the earlier ones.

The 1890s were a period of huge interest in cycling, since early cars were still very expensive, and the “safety bicycle” was invented in the late 1880s.

Paper was placed under carpets as an early carpet liner to help prevent the ingress of dust from gaps between boards. A curtain stretcher was a large wooden frame designed to hold a lace curtain tightly in position in order for it to dry without creases and retain its shape during the drying process. Curtain stretchers were useful when it came to caring from delicate fabrics that could not be ironed.

Jimmie said “crook” to refer to a “creek”, which was not uncommon.

Goose Hangs High

Jim hung head down, vainly attempting to unbuckle his skis…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 1, 1936.

“Skis,” said Jimmie Frise, “are not enough.”

“They’re plenty,” I assured him.

“Once you find the stores filled with all kinds of gadgets,” said Jim, “you know skiing has arrived. For years, all that the stores sold were skis themselves, ski boots and ski poles. And skiing was nothing more than a sort of half-hearted hobby of the few. But all of a sudden, skiing takes on major proportions. It is becoming a cult. It has its uniform, its badges, its accessories. Why, I was in a little shop the other day that sells nothing but ski stuff.”

“Ye Ski Shoppe?” I asked.

“No,” said Jim. “It was just called Ski Art. And beside skis costing fifty bucks, made of some sacred wood found only in Lapland, they had two walls lined ten skis deep with skis of every sort and size. Big heavy jumping skis, slim, tooth-pick skis for racing. They had vast piles of ski jackets made of silk, satin, leather, pigskin, canvas and fur. All the colors of the rainbow. Then you could take your pick of ski harness ranging all the way from fifty cents to twenty dollars. There were ski harnesses so perfect that all you have to do is stand still and you go shooting over the snow at sixty miles an hour.”

“Pff, pff,” I protested.

“Then, ski wax,” said Jim. “All the way from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. They call it smearing. It comes in little tubes like shaving sticks, and in tin cans like floor wax, and in sardine tins, now that the world has gone ski nuts.”

“You can’t ski in the Congo,” I pointed out.

“They’ll be taking it up,” decreed Jim. “They’ll ski on the great, green, greasy Limpopo river. But there is one kind of wax for dry snow, another for wet snow, another for crusty snow and another for crinkly snow. Then there are ski poles you use for just ordinary ski-touring. And another kind for hills. Another kind for jumping and doing Hendrik Ibsens or whatever it is.”

“He was a dramatist,” I scorned.

“Don’t tell me,” cried Jim. “Let me guess. Then there are boots that lace and boots that buckle. There are boots with a great thick cowhide tongue that comes right across the front of the boot. Then there are canvas gaiters, red, white and blue. And ski mitts, ski toques, ski ensembles, scarf and belly bands. Comforters and stomachers, all knit in wild jig-saw designs.”

“I like knitted things,” I admitted. “Have they socks?”

“Long socks and short socks,” recounted Jim, “high mitts and short mitts, fairy-light canvas mitts with leather palms, and little woollen bands to go around your head with ear flaps to keep your ears snug against your head so your ears won’t slow you down when you are sliding.”

“It sounds nutty to me,” I agreed.

“Ski nuts,” said Jim. “It’s worse than golf ever was, even the year of the big wind.”

“What year was that?” I inquired.

“1929,” said Jim. “Golf is a mere piker’s game to skiing. Skiing has more gadgets than golf, tennis, lawn bowling and twinkle-twit put together.”

Gadgets and Twidgetts

“What’s twinkle-twit?” I begged.

“You hit dingus with feathers,” said Jim. “What you call it, badminton!”

“I kind of like the sound of skiing,” I confessed.

“No sport is any good,” said Jim, “unless there is a lot of gear, costume, gadgets and twidgetts to it. Like fishing.”

“You said it,” I agreed warmly. “But in the winter there isn’t any fishing.”

“Our last effort at skiing,” said Jim, “was somewhat frustrated by our attempt to keep pace with the young. I suggest if we do any, we get right away from the young people. The very sight of them, so muscular, so smooth and graceful, seems to dampen our spirits right at the start.”

“We could sneak off somewhere,” I suggested.

“I have in mind,” said Jim, “up around Belfountain. It will be grand to see a trout stream in winter, even if we come to grief on skis.”

“Jim, I appreciate this,” I informed him. “I think we have a memorable week-end in view.”

“I’ll borrow one of the daughter’s skis for you again?” asked Jim.

“If you please,” I said. “And I’ll attend to the gadgets myself.”

“We’ll shop together,” suggested Jim.

Thus we bought ski boots made so heavy, as the young gentleman explained, that no matter what you did you couldn’t land upside down. And we bought ski pants of a material so light, so windproof, so warm, that really you would think you had no pants on at all. And ski jackets, mine yellow, Jim’s red, that were a joy to wear, and so like the Olympic games advertisements did we look. And elbow high mitts, and a tiny woollen headstrap to keep our ears streamlined, and a canvas black cap like a brakeman’s. And ski wax, of several kinds, I favoring light fluffy snow and Jim, being more pessimistic by nature, favoring slushy, wet snow.

The only way to go skiing is to start at daybreak Saturday morning, after a large breakfast of ham and eggs, plum jam and thick toast. I am told the proper thing for a ski breakfast is a box of sardines. But with our breakfast stowed, Jim and I, scorning all questions from our various children of ski age, drove off for Belfountain. Soon the gray sludge and slush of Toronto was blooming into the glittering white snow of Halton county.

“We Canadians,” said Jim, “should sooner or later realize our affinity with northern nations and races, and drop from our hearts all memory of sultry southern climes. Do you realize that our clothes here in Canada are designed by Americans? And that the clothing trade centres in St. Louis?”

“Preposterous,” I assented.

“Our clothes,” declared Jim, “should be designed no farther south than Inverness or Stornoway. If we want to stay British, the least we should accept in the way of clothing, is what the Scotsmen of the north wear. Imagine us Canadians slowly congealing in garments and textiles decreed by gentlemen in St. Louis, Mo.?”

“Utterly absurd,” I agreed.

“These Norwegians,” said Jim, “are, latitudinally speaking our brothers.”

“I’m not much on sardines,” I protested. “And I should admit right away that I prefer the violins of Italy to the bagpipes of Ross and Cromarty.”

The Real Color of Canada

The white landscape wheeled past, the beautiful bare barns, the bleak and desolate homes of our country cousins staring haggardly from the pinched fields. Fences wove away, and dark patches of evergreens made color against the dazzling pale morning sky.

“The real color of Canada,” said Jim, gazing at it appreciatively. “Our artists wait patiently all year for a week of autumn leaves, and then go mad for few days, painting what they pretend is Canada. For eight brief weeks in summer, they paint like fury, getting the lush greens, the gay blues of water and sky. But they ignore the true Canada. The Canada of grays and grims, and pallid leadens and faded yellows and browns.

“You mean our artists should paint like those dull Flemish and English painters, in dampish, wet grays, grayish greens?”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “There is nothing dampish about our grayness. Our country is under a harsh, livid light. But there is no excuse for artists hiding in fear from Canada, the way it is for nearly ten months of the year, in order to paint it only in the brief summer and in the briefer autumn.”

“They paint snow,” I protested.

“Pink snow, mauve snow,” said Jim. “But snow is mostly gray, platinum, grim.”

“And splendid,” I said.

“And terrifying,” said Jim.

We were now climbing the Caledon mountain, and the highway sloped skyward, a chill came with every leap of the car over the snowy pavement, the morning blue was changing to a platinum sky, and there was a sense of shadow across the great valley behind us.

“Terrifying?” I laughed.

“Why,” asked Jim, “do we Canadians huddle along the southerly border of our great land? Why do our artists avoid, with furtiveness, the truth of our magnificent country? Why has no musician written us a noble symphony, a tone poem, even?”

“We’re young,” I explained.

“Because,” said Jim, menacingly, “all these great north lands are the last refuges of the mysterious, the magical, the dread. Because in Canada, as in Norway and Finland, there are trolls, like in Peer Gynt; and little people, such as the Irish dream about: and goblins and banshees; because Thor and Wotan are the gods of this vast country; because it is a land of legends where there are no legends yet; because, in the face of this country, artists are struck helpless.”

“Pooh,” said I.

“Why do we cuddle to our hearts the folk tales of those safe and sane little countries from which we came?” asked Jim. “Because we are afraid to sing our own songs. Why do we all try to love Canada with the love an Englishman has for England, or a Scotsman for Scotland or an Irishman for Ireland? Why don’t we love Canada the way a Canadian must love Canada?”

“Why?” I inquired, looking about at the fields which spread away at the top of Caledon Hill.

“Because,” hissed Jimmie, “because we are afraid to!”

There lay the gullies with their dark and forbidding cedars. There lay the rolling hills, with their small, unpainted farm houses and barns. There lay the bleak skylines. And the snow was not really white. It was only pallid.

“I love Canada,” I stated.

“You love it best,” sneered Jim, “when it looks most like Ireland or Scotland.”

“I love it the way it is,” I said. But as I spoke, the wind picked up a large ghostly wisp of snow and whirled it around into a shape, a phantom, which swept down upon us and engulfed the car, making hissing sound on the windows, and causing Jim to wobble the steering gear.

“See?” said Jim in a low voice. “What do you suppose that was?

“Pooh,” I laughed.

“The Indians,” said Jim, “used to call that a Wendigo. They knew what it was.”

“Where do we turn in here for Belfountain?” I inquired. “Let’s see what a dear familiar trout stream looks like in winter?”

But Jim’s words had caused the day to take on a gloomy and desolate aspect, and I leaned back and watched the passing landscape with troubled eye. It really was rather depressing.

Across every field we passed were the shining tracks of skis. And though it was only Saturday morning, we saw groups of cars parked, and across the ski-line, parties of skiers filed, each bearing a little knapsack, heading away for some sequestered glen of cedar where they could make a fire and boil a pail of tea, and eat their onion and cheese sandwiches.

Whirling Snow Ghosts

At last we drew aside at a lonely spot, where, in the distance, limestone cliffs rose darkly up, and half-hidden patches of sombre cedar told of hills and rolling country. And we slid out our skis, and buckled on our harness, and climbed barb wire fences and commenced a ski-tour.

Jim led. We toiled up slopes and slid down slopes. We came upon a chime of two or three hundred snow buntings, silent, faintly chippering little birds that rose like blown leaves off the snowy fields, to suddenly chop down again to earth, as if they were all connected by invisible threads. We followed them a mile, watching them rise and pitch down, and some of the sinister aspect of our native land was softened by these small buffy white creatures.

We startled out a couple of big jack rabbits immigrants like us from the Old Country – and with comically narrow backsides, they leaped with terror away from us, keeping straight on until they had crossed the farthest sky line.

“If we humans,” said Jim, resting, “find it hard to love Canada as it really is and spend so much time trying to imagine it otherwise, what about those poor jack rabbits, designed for the soft and humid climate of England, being dumped down here to make a fresh start.”

“Yet they grow bigger here than they do in England,” I stated.

“Maybe they have to,” said Jim grimly. And as he spoke, from over the scrubby tree tops floated, on wide wings, a gray-colored hawk, large, sinister, its beak tucked under its chin, and its baleful eyes staring downward, spying every square yard of snow. So intent was it, it did not notice us until it passed so near we heard the bitter hiss of its wings.

Jim waved his ski poles arrogantly at it and it banked wildly, as if contemplating the idea of stooping to one of us, probably the meatier of us.

“Track!” cried Jim giving himself a scoot with his poles across the snow.

But the higher we worked, the more grim loomed the limestone cliffs, the more darkly bronzed the cedars in the gullies. The wind was rising, and the ghostly whirls of snow seemed to seek out Jim and eddy around him spectrally. He laughed.

“They’re after you,” I laughed back. But immediately wished I had not laughed. Because even as I laughed, the sky seemed to darken slightly, a leaden sky, with no warmth, no kindliness in it.

“Let’s work to the top,” shouted Jim back to me, “and then we can slide down the far side, wherever it leads, and have lunch somewhere in shelter.”

“I think we have gone far enough,” I called back. “I’m winded.”

“Come on,” shouted Jim, shoving with his ski poles.

I saw another snow ghost, larger and bigger than ever, begin to gather itself, whirling and swirling madly, like a Dervish, and I paused to watch it. Straight at Jim it spun, growing bigger; and spectral arms seemed to reach out from it. I could almost hear a faint moaning sound from it….

“Jim,” I called sharply.

But with another shove, he plunged forward. The snow ghost caught him, wound itself around him. And then….

Jim vanished.

Vanished right off the pallid face of the earth. He faded, as the snow wraith embraced him. It passed. And Jim was gone.

I stood rock-still for a moment, blinking my eyes and swallowing. I tried to call. No sound came. I shoved myself with a heavy effort, a few feet forward. Then my voice returned and I shouted: “Jim.”

No answer. The white unbroken expanse of snow lay featureless except for the tracks of Jim’s two skis. And there they ended. The tracks just stopped.

Immensity, chill and dreadful and silent, surrounded me. Should I go forward and examine the snow for signs of giant wings? Or giant cloven hooves? Should I look for eagle marks as of some great god’s helmet?

I decided not. I decided the best thing to do was turn down hill and slide as fast as skis would carry me. And then, with plenty of loud, noisy, hearty help, make search for Jim, if search were of any avail.

But turning on skis is not easy. I was in process of turning, when I heard a faint call.

“Jim?” I replied.

“Hoy,” came the faint cry.

I slithered up the slope. Unseen from where I had stood, was a sudden sharp declivity and a limestone cleft, of which there are any number in the Belfountain neighborhood.

And in that cleft, hung by his skis in the limbs of leafless and stunted oak tree, was Jimmie head-down, vainly attempting to unbuckle his ski harness.

“Just a moment, my lad,” I shouted heartily, removing my skis and clambering down into the crevice. And in a couple of moments, Jim fell heavily to the snow beneath, uninjured but a little red in the face.

So we finished the climb, rode Valkyrie like down into the farther valley, built a fire and boiled a pail of tea and had onion sandwiches and Norsk cheese.

“Jim,” I said, as we sat on the bench made of skis and poles, “I see color in snow. I see mauve and pink.”

“I don’t,” said Jim.

“The country is full of color,” I cried. “Why, it’s just a splendor of green and blue and gray and mauve and …”

“White,” said Jim.

Editor’s Notes: Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright famous for his story Peer Gynt.

Belfountain is north-west of Toronto, situated in t he Caledon hills, where skiing still takes place.

People may be aware that the 1936 Summer Olympics took place in Nazi Germany, but the 1936 Winter Olympics took place in Germany as well, in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria. It was the last year in which the Summer and Winter Games both took place in the same country. Sonja Henie, the famous figure skater, won her third consecutive gold medal in that Olympics.

A Snow bunting is a small white bird seen in the north.

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

Oh Canadaw!

Jim was the first to tumble out of the house as it lay on its side over the hole in the ice…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 25, 1936.

“Oh, Canadaw,” sang Jimmie Frise, “de dum, de dum, de dum. Dum, dum, de dum…”

“Brrrrrr!” said I.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, “there are a lot of people living in Canada and calling themselves Canadians who ought to get the heck out of here.”

“Indeed,” said I.

Yes,” went on Jim, “they ought to go on back home to England, Scotland or Ireland or wherever their misguided parents came from. Or else they ought to migrate to California or some other sissy clime.”

“Is that so?” I argued.

“If a person finds,” said Jim, “that he can’t stand the climate, if he comes to the conclusion that a mistake has been made, even after two or three generations, he ought to quit beefing about the country and go on back home.”

“Home,” I snorted.

“Yes, home, wherever that is,” declared Jim. “Because to tell you the truth, there is not, in the whole vast round world, a more beautiful, entrancing, satisfying country than Canada. Where else can you show me a land where, without moving a muscle, you can enjoy the luscious beauty of the tropics in summer and the glorious splendor of the Arctic in winter? Less fortunate people than Canadians, and by Canadians I mean those who can take it, have to go to Switzerland in the winter for a little skiing, and then move a thousand miles to the south of France or Surrey or County Antrim for a little beauty in the summer?”

“A Canadian,” I admitted, “has to have a versatile hide.”

“Instead of agitating for more population,” stated Jim, “I recommend that we comb out of the country all the belly-achers who bawl all summer about the heat and who squeal all winter about the cold.”

“I wasn’t squealing,” I informed him. “I was merely saying that I would be glad to see the first of May. Which, by the way, Jim, comes on a Friday this year. That means, we leave Toronto Thursday night to be on the trout stream at sunrise Friday. And we’ve got the whole three days for the opening of the trout season!”

“It often puzzles me,” mused Jimmie, “that a man as fond of fishing as you are doesn’t go ice-fishing.”

“Ice-fishing,” I replied, “is for them as likes it. First of all, there is the long drive over wintry roads up to some place around Lake Simcoe. Then there is the locating of some queer old duck who owns a few fishing houses. Usually, you spend about three hours trailing him around a village of seventeen houses, and when you do find him, he has rented all his houses for the day.”

“Then,” said Jim, “there is the long walk, with icy wind digging in under your chin and forcing you to shut your eyes, while you cross glare ice two miles to the right spot where the fishing huts have been placed.”

“The huts,” I said, “are about four feet square. Inside is a bench, a stove made out of a gasoline can, and a hole in the ice about the size of a suit-case.”

“Correct,” said Jim. “And you inhale wood smoke from the gimcrack little stove; and if you check it down, you freeze; and if you let it burn up, you smother.”

The Herring Hole

“Yes,” I agreed, “and you sit, bent over in that tiny little shack, with nobody to talk to. And you dangle a line from your hand, baited with a minnow, down into the green depth. That shadowy, mysterious green depth; and hour by hour, as you sit there bent over, sniffling, coughing and peering, suddenly, suddenly your heart stands still…”

“A shadow,” said Jim. “A ghostly shadow stirs in that jade-green depth. Suddenly, like a streak of silver, a herring, soundless, swift, dreamlike, darts like a flicker of light, across the dimness!”

“Then,” I cried, “two, three, twenty, fifty, a thousand! The herring streaming, silent, soundless, glorious, beautiful, across your vision. Jimmie, let’s go! When can we leave for Simcoe?”

“We could leave now,” said Jim, distastefully eyeing his drawing board.

So we went, and through a dry blizzard that tinked small countless flakes of snow against our windshield, we drove up Yonge St. and far east around the bottom of Lake Simcoe and drew rein at one of those little villages which in summer are so busy, and in winter, so silent, sleeping.

At the gas station, we asked who owned fishing huts for rent and were given the name of a gentleman who spent part of his time snaring rabbits, part of it cutting wood, and the rest of it renting fishing huts. And as was expected, we spent all of an hour tracking him down in that hamlet of eleven silent white houses. We located him at last at the gas station, where he had been all the time sitting in the back, but nobody had noticed him.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “I’ve rented four of my five shacks this morning. But I have one left for this afternoon, and I was figuring on doing a little fishing myself. But I’ll let you have it, rather than see youse disappointed after your long drive.”

“Have they been catching any fish this last while?”

“It was real good about two weeks ago,” said he. “But they are getting plenty right now. I wouldn’t be surprised when we get out there to find they’ve had a record catch. This here hole I will take you to, there was 400 herring taken out of it three days ago.”

Jim and I exchanged a look. It was a matter of moments for Jim and me to change out of our city clothes into our mackinaw coats and leather topped rubbers. And all arcticked up, we joined the old man for the tramp across the icy waste to the fishing huts visible far out on the lake. There were about fifteen houses clustered together. Like dots they were in the afternoon blizzard. The wind raked across the ice and gathered a sort of concentrated chill. In us, the wind found something to cuddle to, for warmth. It fairly embraced us.

“Chah,” we breathed through bare teeth, bowing our heads and following the rapid footsteps of our guide.

The wind was stronger than ever, and by the time we got half way out to the fishing huts. I was for turning around and heading for any of the various parts of Scotland from which my misguided forebears came. I would even eat haggis. I would even sit, in a kilt, on the top of Ben Lomond.

But though I felt my brain congealing and trying to push, like the cream on a milk bottle, out the top of my head; and though my ears went numb and my cheeks ached with cold, we finally reached the fishing huts, and at our approach, a hairy-chested man in his undershirt stepped out of one of the tin shacks to welcome us.

“How’s she doing?” asked the old man guiding us.

“I got six herring and a whitefish,” said the stranger.

“Anybody else doing anything?”

“Everybody’s got a few,” said he. “There’s going to be a blow. You can tell. The fish are heading out deep.”

“Well, anyway,” said our guide, leading us down past a double row, a sort of street, of fish huts to one at the far end.

He lighted the gasoline can stove with kindling, I struggled inside the tiny cubicle to warm my frigid members, and the old chap, with a big chisel fastened to a rake handle, jabbed away the fresh ice out of the fishing hole in the floor of the hut. He scooped out the cracked ice and checked off the stove.

“If she don’t show you any fish in half an hour,” said he, “I’ll stick around and move you to a fresh hole. I know a hole over here a ways where two weeks ago, a party of us got 400 herring.”

Removing our heavy coats, Jim and I sat in the little hut, side by side, and prepared our lines. The lines were wound on a stick bobbin, and on the hook we impaled an inch-long minnow of which our guide left a lard-pail full.

So far back in our language that the schools think nobody but scholars are interested, there are tales of dragons and monsters inhabiting the depths of the sea; of Beowulf is one, and of the chill and slimy clasp of Grendl is another; and since we all come from little islands hemmed about by the sea, and since rooted in our very souls are the tales of the sea, and the dark humor of the sea, and the darker fear of it, there is a curious homesickness that touches us as we sit in the fishing hut watching down into the depths. For the first few moments of mesmeric staring in the window through the ice of a fishing hut, we are of this time and of this place; but presently, the faint forgotten legends of our blood begin to stir. That dim green window in the ice beckons. Down in its eerie kingdom, dreams abide. Within an hour of watching in that jadey half-light, a man goes fey. He is half tempted to lean a little too far forward, to pitch down and dive forever into the adventures of the past and of the future.

“Jiggle your bait,” said Jim, thickly, after the first hour.

“I haven’t seen so much as a mudcat,” I husked.

And for another half hour, we sat, jiggling and staring.

“Some, wind,” said Jim.

“It’s a gale,” I admitted. “I hope it will be behind us and not against us.”

A rap on our door roused us from our dozing.

“They’re biting over a bit,” shouted the old man. “I’ll go cut a hole for you. Get the shack on the runners.”

We donned our mackinaws and went out into the hurricane. Dusty snow was whirling and dirling. The houses next door were half obscured by the rushing mist of snow. The sleigh-like runners on which the fishing huts are moved about from place to place were leaning against our shack. With a shovel, we broke away the snow packed around the bottom of the hut. With a skillful tilt, Jim hoisted one end of the shack on to the runners.

“Where to now?” I cried, looking about for our guide. But in the blizzard he was nowhere to be seen. Out of all the other little shacks, merry smoke curled and eddied.

We shoved the little shack down the aisle of houses, the wind helping us. We turned it, and shoved it back. No sign of our old friend.

“Where’s he gone?” asked Jim, peering into the blast.

“Well, I’m not going to freeze,” I said, “let him come and get us when he’s ready.”

And I got inside the shack and fed a few more sticks into the fire. And in a jiffy, Jim joined me.

“Some climate,” said I.

“We’ll get fish in the next hole,” said Jim, unbuttoning his mackinaw. “You never get fish in the first hole, ice fishing.”

“Jim,” said I. “we’re moving.”

“So we are,” said Jim. “Maybe the old gent is pushing us to the new hole.”

We felt the house gliding smoothly across the ice, with tiny ribby sounds.

“Let him push,” said I.

We waited.

“Seems like quite a long push,” said Jim, reaching up to unlatch the door.

A Terrific Splash

And then I knew, by the smooth, racing, pebbly, humming sound of our runners on the ice that no human hand was pushing us.

“Kick her open,” I shouted.

“The button outside must have dropped,” cried Jim, thumping against the door. In the eerie flicker of the small fire, I could see he was putting his weight into it.

“Jim,” I bellowed.

For now I knew the wind had us, and the sound of the runners on the ice rose to a high and throbbing hum. The tiny shack seemed to lift like an ice boat on the arms of the gale, and loved it.

“Jim,” I cried, “get a pick. Get anything. Kick a board out.”

“That’s what I’m doing,” grunted Jim.

But the men who build fishing huts are lazy, patient men. When they nail on a board, they nail it on. We kicked. We joined forces and shoved. We rocked it. But we could not rock it over.

“Take it easy,” shouted Jim above the throbbing sound of the ice racing underneath our runners. “The whole lake is frozen over. Sooner or later we land up with a bump on shore.”

“Very well,” I agreed, “let us sit back and enjoy it. Do you suppose such a thing as this ever happened to anybody before?”

And Jim gallantly leaned forward and fed some more kindling into the stove.

We bumped over ridges, we careened over drifts. We slowed up and then gained speed. The wind had us, and the wind did what it liked.

“How far can we go?” I asked.

“If we hit the narrows,” said Jim, “we can go up Lake Couchiching. And if we go through a few locks, we can get down the Severn to the Georgian Bay. And once we are out there…”

“Jim,” I said, “I think I heard voices.”

We listened. Undoubtedly, there was shout.

“Hey,” yelled a voice, and something struck our walls.

Zip, said the runners. Zip, zip, and then a terrific splash.

“Good-bye, Jim,” I roared.

For green water was gushing up the hole in the floor through which we were lately fishing, and the big home-made sled on which the house had stood, started slipping away from under us.

Then outside, voices shouted unintelligibly. In chorus, Jim and I replied. We felt the fish house heave and fall, and we were flung on our backs as it rolled over. We heard a hand scrabbling with the button that locked us in.

And then glorious daylight burst upon us.

Jim was first out. The scene that met my gaze was enough to freeze an Eskimo’s marrow. Seven men with a team of horses were grouped about in attitudes of astonishment. They were cutting ice, and wide lanes of green water gaped before us. In one of them, our sled bobbled peacefully. And our shack lay on its back on the edge of the perilous gulf.

“Gentlemen,” I said to the group of rescuers. “On behalf of both of us, I wish to express our thanks.”

They grinned at us eagerly, and the two nearest us shook their heads.

“No spik,” said the first man, and the others added, “no spik.”

“Don’t speak English?” I asked.

“No spik,” they all agreed heartily. Such big, ruddy men they were. With wide faces and glowing cheeks and an air of might about them. The blizzard seemed to be agreeable to them, the way they stood up to it, eyes open.

“No spik?” I asked. “What are you? Italiano?”

“Suomen,” said the first one, and all the others nodded their heads and added “Suomen.”

“Finns, Jim,” I translated. “And I guess that dim shadow over there is land. What do you say if we head for land?”

“Land, ho,” agreed Jim.

So we shook hands, mitts and all, with our seven friends, and walked for the shore while they stood and gazed with amazement.

“Jim,” I said, as we neared what was undoubtedly terra firma, “what do you say if we hand this country over to the Finns?”

“Let’s stick around until May,” said Jim “before we decide.”

Editor’s Notes: Gimcrack refers to something that is poorly made but looks nice.

Mackinaw coats would be the traditional outdoorsmen outfit of the time for the winter.

Ben Lomond is a mountain in Scotland.

A lard-pail was a large metal pail lard was sold in at the time, like a paint can.

Ice cutters would be out cutting blocks of ice in the lake for storage in ice houses for the use in ice-boxes or other uses throughout the year.

This story appeared in Which We Did (1936).

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