Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gilbert the Lion

Gilbert the Lion

Gilbert was not a happy lion. He was not an angry lion. Nor was he fierce or mean. He was just a lion living comfortably in the city zoo. He spent most of his day, lying under the Acacia tree. Lions are not happy or sad, they are just lions. 
He wasn’t interested in the crowds of people that walked by and stopped to beg him to charge or roar. Some taunted him and others snapped pictures. Boys who wanted to appear sensitive to their dates would whisper. Men who wanted to appear smart would quip. Most left disappointed that the ‘King of the jungle’ did nothing but yawn and stretch.
Every now and then a child would lose a balloon, and Gilbert would watch it float effortlessly away. He would stare at it long after it faded from view. For a moment, it would appear that the shaggy lion was musing about his life, but lions don’t muse.
If it was cool enough, or quiet enough, Gilbert would get up and walk the well worn path around his carefully designed enclosure. His Serengeti satisfied the on lookers and their limited attention spans. If Gilbert thought of such things it must have seemed that he was stuck on a boat. Gilbert didn’t think of those things, because he was a lion after all. 
A tired stroll around the yard never uncovered anything remarkable. There once was a French fry, and another time a set of car keys. People loose things all the time and wonder where they go. Gilbert never asked where they came from or what they were. People ask those questions, not lions. 
Regardless, there was never anything for a lion. The journey always ended where it began, under the comfortable shade of the imported Acacia tree. It was there, where he spent most of his time, seemingly waiting for balloons to float by. But lions don’t wait for balloons that would be silly. 
Gilbert lived close to other African animals. He didn’t know what they were, because he never lived in Africa. Still, he somehow recognized the connection. Occasionally, a yelp or a snort from a neighboring enclosure would cause Gilbert to open an eye, or twitch an ear.  If it was interesting enough, he would stand and stare. It would make for a nice picture if you were there with a camera. 
The noise would fade, and Gilbert would lose interest. Comfortable lions lose interest in most things. It isn’t the kill that sustains the lion, but the hunger. He would never say that of course, because he is just a lion. 
The night that Gilbert was freed was an unremarkable Thursday. It was like every other Thursday, or Tuesday or any day before. Lions don’t keep track of those things. They know when it is hot, or wet, dawn or dusk. Calendars are as useful as car keys for a comfortable lion. 
It was an accident of course. It wasn’t the zookeeper’s fault the gate was unlocked. Some said she was distracted by honey bees and butterflies. Maybe, she wasn’t distracted at all. Maybe it wasn’t her fault in fact. Maybe no one was at fault. Maybe this one time the lock didn’t work. Things like that do happen you know. It didn’t matter to Gilbert anyway. There is no such thing as fault or blame when you are a lion. 
On an evening stroll around the compound, Gilbert discovered something a lion could use- an escape. Into the darkness, the lion stepped. Since he was a cub, it would be the first time he did not know where he was going. He was not afraid. He was of course a lion in the darkness. 
There is something unsettling about the thought of a lion free in the night. To those of us who whisper, quip and sip wine the thought can be terrifying. Not to the lion of course, he doesn’t concern himself with those things. 
It was surprising where they found Gilbert the next morning. He was not found next to a carcass of hair and bones. No he was not found anywhere one would expect, unless of course you knew Gilbert. 
In the morning dawn, Gilbert was found sleeping under a cloud of tied red balloons.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Critical Memory Items for a Polar Bear Invasion

Do not look him in the eyes.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador recently released a series of guidelines of “what to do if you come across a Polar Bear in your kitchen”. These guidelines come after a rash of break-ins and loitering perpetrated by unemployed polar bears.
I have since printed off the guidelines and placed them on my fridge. I have also instructed my family to commit these steps to memory. I suggest you do the same, for if you wake up finding a polar bear in your kitchen, you may not be able to get access to the check list.
If anyone encounters a polar bear, they should:
Remain calm
Give the bear(s) space
Back away, get out of the situation, never run
If you must speak, do so calmly and firmly
Avoid direct eye contact with the bear(s)
I did have some questions about the checklist however.
How many polar bears should I expect to be in my kitchen?
How much space do they need?
Is a brisk walk acceptable?
What exactly am I supposed to say to the bear(s) and in what language?
If I look the bear in the eyes, will he steal my soul?
Have these tips been tested, and what is their success rate?

Every man's fear, coming home and seeing your wife with a bear.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Walking on Water and other Savage feats.

We got Sandy when my wife and I were just married. Like everything at the time, we went about things the wrong way. She was an impromptu purchase from a sketchy pet store. She was scared, and shy and I’m sure she was dropped over and over again by the school kids who visited the pet store on their lunch breaks.

I recall telling my wife that “I wasn’t leaving the pet store without this dog.” When we brought her home, we were worried. She was listless and weak. We nursed her back to health with love and bacon. We bought countless books on Labrador Retrievers and puppy training and each one of them told us we had done everything wrong. We bought the the sickest, most withdrawn dog from a questionable store on an impulse.
In no time at all, the scrawny dog grew. Before we knew it, my wife and I weren’t a couple anymore, we were a family. 

The World continued to spin, as it does when you don’t pay much attention. We grew a little older and our family got a little bigger. Soon the Savages (as we were affectionally called by those who knew us) were storming through life. First steps were soon followed by walking on water- the learning curve is pretty steep in our family. 

Walking on water, a Savage tradition.

Sandy was always there. She was certainly there more than I was. As my kids were learning to walk and talk, I was learning how to fly. It was hard for all of us, especially for my wife as she gave up her dream so I could pursue mine. I’m not entirely sure how we struggled through it together but we did. I didn’t notice it much at the time, but the World continued to spin, and we all got a little older.

We moved to a beautiful home on a quiet street with a big back yard close to the ocean. My wife started teaching music again, the kids grew, Sandy walked the beach and I had my dream job. No one noticed much, but the World continued to spin.

I was away chasing bad guys when I heard the news. 

We struggled with Sandy’s loss as we have done with challenges before, as a family. As we mourned, the World continued to spin.

We got Ben from a great breeder in Annapolis Royal. His parents were Rhodes Scholars and beauty pageant winners. He is confident, well mannered and speaks four languages. 

World is still spinning, and the Savages can feel it now.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dream Come true a week too late

On a sunny June afternoon in northern Newfoundland, a tourist from Ontario curiously pondered aloud, “What’s going on here?”

Standing in front of her was a small crowd of strangers, waving, shouting, laughing and crying at a gray helicopter that was trying its best to make as much noise as it could.
The assembled group was in St. Anthony, Nfld., on the eastern part of the far northwestern tip of the island. Precariously located between the cliffs and ocean here, a lonely lighthouse has stood as a guardian to sailors for many decades. And on that special day in June, the Canadian flag at the lighthouse station stood at half-mast.

An elderly woman amidst the gathering turned to the tourist, wiped a tear from her eye, and spoke softly to her, straining to be heard over the background roar of rotor blades. Listening intently, the tourist from Ontario learned she was witnessing a dream come true — albeit a day too late.
When the thundering aircraft shook and rattled the cliffs one final time before it sped off, the tourist from Ontario wiped tears from her own eyes. At that moment, in the helicopter itself, I handed the controls to my co-pilot and did the same.

My maternal grandfather, Baxter Pynn, was the lighthouse keeper in St. Anthony for 35 years. I spent the first year of my life living in that lighthouse and spent many summers thereafter clambering over the rocks and staring out at the ocean. 
When I was a kid, my father told me a story of when he did a flyby of the lighthouse in the old Canadair CP-107 (CL-28) Argus maritime/anti-submarine patrol bomber. He told it countless times, as did my grandfather, because it had meant so much to both of them. 

It all made an impression on me, too, and I often dreamt of flying low and loud over those cliffs. Sadly, my only chance to do so occurred a day after my grandfather passed away. 
It had been a difficult week leading up to that day. On the Monday, my father’s mother, my Nan, Uldine Bowers, passed away after a very short illness. Our last words to each other were on the phone. It wasn’t how I wanted to say goodbye, so I didn’t. I told her I loved her, and she said the same. She died in the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld., and was buried next to her husband.
Then, on the Friday, my mother’s father, Baxter Pynn, my Pop, passed. He was like every man — imperfect and flawed, but there was greatness in him, too; a greatness that yearned for opportunities to come out. He was a hero, but he wouldn’t tell you that. In the years to come, I will hope to even better understand who he was. For now, all that mattered is that he was my Pop, and that I loved him dearly.
As luck would have it, my squadron had a crew-training, cross-country exercise already scheduled for that weekend, and would be passing nearby the three spots where I had wanted to be. So, all I needed was special permission to make some slight detours. When I briefed my crew, I told them what had happened and my intentions. This trip would be a celebration of my Nan and Pop’s lives and a display of how they had shaped mine. 
My father’s family was assembled at my Nan’s cabin in Bobby’s Cove (about 100 miles southeast of St. Anthony, as the crow flies). It wasn’t until I looked for it on the map that I realized it was right next to a place called Paradise. It didn’t surprise me, however. And, there, gathered on the beach, stood my extended family: uncles and aunts, and too many cousins to remember. They waved and laughed and cried as I made as much noise as I could. I’m not sure what Nan would say, but I’m sure Pop Bowers would have been smiling.
When I arrived in St. Anthony, all my family from my mother’s side were waiting for us at the lighthouse. There, too, was the aforementioned tourist from Ontario.

After my farewell pass of the lighthouse, I had one last stop to make. My Pop was lying in state at the Anglican church in Raleigh, some 15 miles away from the lighthouse. 

I landed the aircraft at the old Canadian Coast Guard helicopter pad, which just happens to be located next to the town’s graveyard. And, then I did what any self-respecting Newfoundlander would do in such a circumstance: I got out and hugged my Nan (Pynn)... and got a feed of moose to take back home.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Thank You Mr. Sexsmith

A couple of months ago I wrote about a flight to Newfoundland I made. I put some of the photos of that trip to music, and with the help of Ron Sexsmith I would like to share it with you.