Pollyanna

Growing up I had a collection of story books from the Little Golden Books series published by Random House, including my favourite, Pollyanna

Mum did our grocery shopping at the A & P at Warden and Lawrence. We had no car in those days and it was within walking distance for us. I loved shopping at our A & P – the lovely staff, especially Doreen, who all became our friends; the smell of the coffee grinder which was, in those days, operated exclusively by employees; the seemingly never-ending supply of Jane Parker’s Spanish Bar Cakes which we only ever had as a treat on high days and holidays but which I wanted to slip into the cart on every visit; the oh-so-cool roller conveyer that made the greatest percussion sounds whilst shuttling brimful shopping bins outside to the waiting cars; the line of empty bundles buggies across the front of the store awaiting their cargo which would be packed, of course, in A & P brown paper sacks; and — most awesome to my tyke self – Mr. Beattie, the butcher who, obvious to me at least, was a man of gravitas, toiling behind the meat counter with the oh-so-long knives and his chainmail gloves.  I just knew they were his armour and that he was a knight of the round table. It was a shop of infinite possibilities and constant fun.

There was a revolving rack, exclusively displaying Little Golden Books, at the front of our A & P. It was in front of the raised office with the big glass window, and at the edge of the produce department where Doreen worked. From as early as age three I can remember ‘my friend’ Doreen slipping me a few grapes or cherries, a peach or an apple – I suspect she knew Mum and Dad struggled to make ends meet in those days. Doreen made me feel oh-so-special with those gifts and visiting with her was always the highlight of my shopping days with Mum. I was positive that Doreen liked those Little Golden Books just as much as me because she always knew when there was a new one on the rack. On those days she’d lead me by the hand, take the new volume down and let me look at it as long as I liked — at least as long as it took Mum to get our fruits and veggies. Every now and then, for a special treat, and only if I was very good, Mum would buy me the new story — a really big deal in those days. I still have most of those books; they are all well-read and well-thumbed but none more-so than Pollyanna, a beautiful tale penned by Eleanor Porter – do you know it?

Pollyanna Whittier is an orphan who is sent to live with her strict, mean-spirited and forbidding aunt named Polly. Aunt Polly makes it clear she is only having Pollyanna on sufferance. Despite the blows life has dealt, Pollyanna remains super-optimistic, mostly because of the “Glad Game”, invented by her dad. The “Glad Game” was something my Mum, Dad and I played very often ourselves, trying to find something good in every situation, trying to see the good in every person. Pollyanna was my favourite bedtime story, my most-requested choice and no pages, not even any words could be skipped in the telling as I very quickly had it memorized. I loved the story and its heroine, I wanted to be her and — so Mum and Auntie Pam have told me — except for the orphan/nasty Aunt bit, I was a Pollyanna.

My childhood innocence is long-gone. The world we live in, rife with horrors of our own making – Islamophobia, cheating (think: Russian state-operated olympic athlete doping), gang and gun violence, racism and homophobia — puts a bit of a premium on optimism. I wonder how Pollyanna and her creator Eleanor would handle the hatred and violence of our modern world? Would the “Glad Game” be enough?

It occurred to me that I don’t remember the moment, the event, the age that I ceased to believe there was good in everyone, that time when I only saw that good in everyone, their best qualities. Do you believe the best about others? If not, do you remember the time when your inclination was to view each and every person as inherently good?

How, then, as individuals, as a society do we regain and keep Pollyanna’s optimism? What adjustments do we have to make in our mindset to not only look for, but actually see the best in people? Because that perspective is what enables us to be welcoming, accepting, encouraging, helpful, friendly and kind — not only with our thoughts and words but our actions as well — all because we are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. So simple. So incredibly challenging.

Challenging because in making this mental adjustment we choose to lower our defences which makes us vulnerable to hurt, disappointment, betrayal, dishonesty and larceny.

Challenging because we are instinctual profilers — we interpret the words and actions of others based upon our own experiences. Knowing this, we bear the onus of first recognizing this thinking model and then consciously guarding against jumping to conclusions about another’s behaviour.

Challenging because interpreting our judgement is necessary; are we concentrating on imperfections when we should be championing good character or is there a well-founded and fair basis for that negative gut-reaction?

After the hateful massacre at Pulse in Orlando, I feel overwhelmed, furious and sorrowful. I do not want to live in a world where the homophobes or the racists or the cheaters or the gangbangers win. I desperately want to see the good in everyone, in fact I desperately want everyone to see the good in all others. I want to live in a world that is tolerant enough and understanding enough to forgive the little things that might otherwise anger us. I want to live that life where the benefit of the doubt is given. If we can do that, there will be much less anger, less racism, less Islamophobia, less young men who feel their best option is a gang and less homophobia. It can happen — if we are willing enough, respectful enough and faithful enough. Please let us be optimistic because I really want to live in a world where the “Glad Game” is commonplace, where kindness and goodwill abound, a world where grace is freely given. I want to change the world, don’t you?

“My Friends,
Love is better than anger.
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world.”
[Jack Layton]

’Til next time, y’all…

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Today at the shores…

The lake is everything. It is why I come to Presqu’ile so often. It was my inspiration for the title of this blog. Today the lake is almost perfect; clean, clear and calm. Every pebble is clearly visible on the bottom. Yet despite her beauty I think Lake Ontario forgot to have her bath and use her deodorant this morning for the air is pungent with that fishy smell usually associated with the seaside.

Sadly, the summer scorch is beginning to appear already but there are still some lovely bright splashes of colour in the wildflowers growing throughout the park:

Every year nesting turtles come a cropper on the roads in Ontario and Presqu’ile is no exception. The other day I helped a Blandings cross the road, which took nearly an hour — he was quite undecided which side of the road was best — thus earning him the name Charlie Brown.

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“Charlie Brown” Blanding’s Turtle

The park staff is doing amazing things to protect the resident turtles this summer including a visitor education initiative and this amazing barrier which, they hope, will prevent turtles from even getting to the road. Well-done PPP!

The birds of Presqu’ile are thriving. Even the Plovers (more information to follow in another post). You never know which species you will see in the park:

Whilst at the lagoon I grabbed a couple of shots of my croaking friends. One lad stayed firmly in the water, out of harm’s way.

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Another one gradually worked his way to the edge of the lagoon, almost out of the water, but not quite.

Yet another came right up on shore and stared right into my lens. Bold and cheeky!

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Oh, and lurking in the leaves at the edge of the lagoon were these two:

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Aliens!

“The contemplative life is the happiest.”
[Aristotle]

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observation • examination • reflection • meditation

Aristotle’s writing teaches us that the happiest life is a product of deep, reflective thought about the eternal truths — our principles and beliefs. This divine mediation is not reliant on others, it should be an independent study, frequently practiced. Only through contemplative introspection on these fundamentals will the mind become pure and virtuous and only then will the soul find happiness.

PHEW! A tall order, is that!

The lagoon at Calf Pasture Point is bordered, on the north, by a slender finger of land, a spit if you will, which separates it from the wider Presqu’ile Bay. There is a narrow path of sorts leading from the parking area, through the trees and out onto the bay. From there one enjoys a splendid view of Brighton across the water and of the many water craft taking advantage of the beautiful venue. This is where, next week, I plan to make my maiden kayak voyage.

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A lot of visitors to the park likely miss this lovely spot in the summer months because dense foliage masks the open water from those in the parking lot. I never do, especially on hot days like today, because the bay’s shore remains shaded through the lunch hour; a wonderful respite from the sun and heat in which to enjoy one’s picnic. Some kindly soul, many years ago, had the foresight to drag a picnic table through the bush where it sits in the water, at the shoreline. This is where I usually eat my lunch in complete solitude; I’ve never yet been disturbed, nor noticed anyone else there.  This is where I love to meditate.

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The wisdom behind contemplation is not new to me, the time I spend meditating is immensely beneficial and is thus beyond value to me. Today I spent the time on my table in the water reflecting on my life, my health challenges, the medical disappointments of the past week and my faith which helps me survive it all. Finishing with twenty minutes of mindful breathing, I left the lagoon feeling so refreshed, calm and yes, happy.

“Happiness extends, then, just so far as contemplation does,
and those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are more truly happy.
Happiness, therefore, must be some form of contemplation.”
[Aristotle, Ethics]

Whilst I lay no claim to leading a contemplative life as yet, I am in the process of building one and with each step forward — each block added to my foundation — I feel more sure of myself and more at peace with the world and my lot within it.  The time spent in my park plays no small roll in this endeavour.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Dappled

“Look around, look around…”

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“Look around, look around at how
lucky we are to be alive right now.”
[Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Schuyler Sisters, Hamilton]

I confess that I’m more than a little obsessed with the musical Hamilton just at the moment – I spend more time than is good for me trying to figure ways and means of getting to Broadway to see it this month before the marquee players are replaced. Today’s park visit and this post were inspired by the lyrics from the sisters’ song…

Look around, look around, beauty abounds at Presqu’ile, always, but especially at this time of year and today I was caught firmly in its spell. I found so many beautiful wildflowers today, and a daisy as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen:

The lake was nearly perfectly still, optimum kayaking conditions in fact. This couple were having a grand time out there today, they passed my picnic site several times. Now, if only I had a yak — a Wilderness Systems Ultralite, for instance — to paddle myself (are you paying attention, Wildrock?)…

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Now at Float Your Fanny, this would definitely be in the “Crazy Craft” category. It might be hard to tell from this shot, but this um, boat?, has two pontoons that are connected by what appears to be a section of a television antenna tower. It has pedals for propulsion (the chap sitting aft does the peddling) like a paddle boat. There are what seem to be two standard kayak seats although the young lad in the bow is not using his — he spent most of his time hanging over the front looking in the water, watching for rocks, I’m guessing. Sitting on the shoreline I could hear them giggling long before then came into my line of sight, and long after they’d passed by.

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Indeed, there were all sorts of boats enjoying what was an idyllic day for it:

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Not me, of course, I was on dry land all day because I’m still awaiting delivery of my kayak

A Duck, A Swan, A Seagull

As I was unpacking my picnic and my camera gear I frightened this poor duck out of the bushes beside my table. He paddled around on the lake keeping an eye on me whilst I ate and I noticed, when I eventually pulled away, he was waddling back up the incline to investigate what scraps (none) I might have left behind.

This lovely swan made sedate and dignified progress along the shoreline bobbing for food. The wife and kiddos were about a hundred yards or so behind him and sticking closely to the leaf canopy hanging over the water so, sadly, no photo op which is a shame because the babies looked, from my vantage point, to be thoroughly adorable fuzz-balls.

What picnic by the lake is complete without a visit from the requisite seagull? I came home with about 30 shots of him, easy to shoot because he got steadily closer and closer to my table. After eating I got up to shoot some nearby flowers and this cheeky boy immediately hopped up on my table looking for nibblies and — thank goodness I’d finished with food and drink — he even pooped on my blanket which, at this very moment, is being laundered ready for the next excursion.

My friend, Norma, coined an über-cool term, the “tindominium”. Borrowing from her, I think this may be a “spideminium”:

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A park friend who is a near-professional birder and I were shooting together down by the lagoon (he — birds, of course; me — an adorable frog) when a very agitated, middle-aged man ran up to us, urgently begging for help:

“Please come immediately. Some pecker-head is willfully damaging trees.”

Having no idea who or what we might encounter, we followed him in my friend’s car, and this is the wreaker-of-havoc we found:

The guy and his wife apparently thought someone was banging nails into the trees and — this just gets better and better — they earnestly explained to us that they were worried the lumberjacks would ruin their saws when they hit the nails. Um, time to screen park visitors for IQ do you think? I’ll be kind and not say what license plates (not Ontario) were on their vehicle…

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It was a delightful day to enjoy the pleasures of Presqu’ile.  I left the park feeling calm, centred, happy and lucky to be alive right now.  I hope your day was as splendid as mine!

“Look around, look around at how
lucky we are to be alive right now.”
[Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Schuyler Sisters, Hamilton]

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‘Til next time, y’all…

 

Ostriches No More!

“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.”
[Lin-Manuel Miranda]

Great strides towards acceptance and inclusion have been made so maybe we felt comfortable. A little too comfortable? And perhaps we lowered our defences. A little too much? Perfectly understandable! After all, we Canadians are living in the age of “sunny ways”. We can be forgiven for letting down our collective guard, for relaxing — even momentarily — until a weekend like this one happens.

“When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

that nothing here is promised, not one day.”
[Lin-Manuel Miranda]

Three excruciatingly painful days. Three incomprehensible acts of violence and hatred:

  • a beautiful young girl with a voice like an angel is murdered by a deranged fan; and
  • forty-nine tender souls are murdered in a senseless massacre at one of the hottest nightclubs in Orlando in a savage attack on the LGBTQ² community; and
  • a Canadian hostage is murdered in the Philippines.

Ohmigosh! We are instantly overwhelmed by feelings we cannot seem to process — sadness, anger, disappointment fear, loathing, contempt, remorse, aggression, depression and despair.

“We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.”
[Lin-Manuel Miranda]

In the days and weeks to come fingers will be pointed, accusations will be levelled and post mortem discussions will be held ad infinitum because, you see, this violence makes no sense whatsoever and we want, we need to understand all of the whys. Me? I don’t know the whys. What I can say with conviction is that it is time for each and every one of us to stand up for what is right. No longer do we have the luxury of complacency. Ostriches no more! With our heads in the sand, we’re complicit. One by one my LGBTQ² friends are standing up, pledging to do more, help more, be more…

My childhood friend, herself a member of the LGBTQ² family, has rededicated herself:

”There is so much more that I can do and I vow that I will take on a stronger role in our community. Too long I have sat on the sidelines, supportive of those who were not afraid to face those who would harm us.”
[Sam Moffatt]

Oh, how I admire, love and respect Sam.

Ostriches no more! Politicians on both sides of the border are amping up rhetoric which, depending upon the source has widely different interpretations — beefed-up security for Pride celebrations, increased hate crime deterrents/punishments, renewed gusto for the fight against ISIS and its recruiters, new gun control legislation, religious protection — security, particularly for North American Muslims who will face enormous blow-back from this weekend, legal protection for the LGBTQ² community (not on this side of the border, of course, because of Bill C-16 guaranteeing the inclusion of gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act – “sunny ways”), etc., etc., etc. Imagine the posturing and policy fights we’ll read about in the days and weeks to come…

Here’s the thing, my friends, the LGBTQ² universe and the politicians cannot move this mountain alone. We have to stand shoulder to shoulder with our gay, transgender and lesbian friends. We have to prove with our actions that we are accepting and inclusive — we cannot rely on witty sentiments and “shared” social media posts to show our support. We cannot merely cringe and look the other way when we overhear homophobic slurs. We cannot allow cruel internet jokes at the expense of gays to go unchallenged — write back to the senders, tell them — in no uncertain terms — that you do not want to receive that type of joke. Unfriend those people, if necessary. Do not leave them any moral wriggle room! When any one of us faces adversity, we all face adversity. Ostriches no more! With our heads in the sand, we’re complicit. We were plunged into the depths of sadness, anger, disappointment, fear… And love. Yes! Love!!! Did you watch the Tony telecast? I doubt anyone will be able to say it any better than James Cordon in his opening statement:

“Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that.”
[James Cordon]

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Together, my friends, we can move that mountain!


“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.”
[Lin Manuel Miranda]

’Til next time, y’all…

Flowers and Frogs

After a week away from Presqu’ile, a week thoroughly spoiled by worrisome and frustrating medical results and a wicked-sore back, I finally had some time in the park on Friday – and it was heavenly! And restorative! And Fun! So much fun!!!

Frogs

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The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gap-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’
Or ‘Bill Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
[Hilaire Belloc]

Anyone who has read my blog knows that one of my favourite things about Presqu’ile is the frog song. David (resident wizard and educator) always advises park visitors to sit still, be silent, and the frogs will show themselves. Usually, and despite some long waits, I do not manage to catch a glimpse of them but on Friday, I did. Two of them, happily calling to each other, perhaps making Friday night date night plans (frog song is, after all, a mating call). These two were in the lagoon at Calf Pasture Point – one in the open, one in the rushes. I was able to walk to the water’s edge to shoot them and they seemed quite unperturbed by my presence.  Thank you, David!

Flowers

This is a beautiful season in the park, all lush green foliage and bright flowers ahead of the summer scorch. True confession: I do have a bit of a giggle at some of your comments on my flowers — the whole ‘weeds vs wildflowers’ debate. I, of course, choose the latter. Regardless, for me, they make the process of traversing the park most enjoyable.

The day was not all sunshine and roses though… Sadly, a predator had found some buried turtle eggs and eaten them, leaving only shell remnants behind. The park staff work so hard to safeguard the turtles but sometimes the universe has other ideas.

Turtle eggs might be eaten by racoons, skunks and foxes, amongst other creatures, plus, um… Great Blue Herons! And guess who I found skulking around these buried turtle eggs?

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Without a word of a lie, he flew out of the marsh not more than five feet in front of us! On our faces, we could feel the breeze created by his enormous wings as he rose up from the rushes. Becky kept saying “Pam! Pam! Pam!” and nudging me. I kept saying “I see him! I see him!” She finally shouted “Take a **** picture, you idiot!” but of course, by then, he was off in the distance. I never did claim to be the sharpest tool in the box and, on Friday, I proved that I am not! Still, he’s gorgeous, non?  Our alleged turtle egg thief!!!

Once again the park worked it’s magic, I left happier than I’d been all week even though, technically, I was still a “floor-watcher” (not yet able to stand perfectly upright).

’Til next time, y’all…

Intentionally

intentionally /inˈtenSH(ə)nəlē/
adverb, to have as a plan or purpose

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The writings of professionals of all types — medical, self-help, style, educators — are peppered with the word intentionally and as a result it has become the buzz word of choice in our current lexicon:

  • intentionally choosing to purchase only classic wardrobe pieces
  • intentionally choosing a minimalistic lifestyle
  • intentionally choosing an organic diet
  • intentionally choosing holistic healing
  • intentionally flawed
  • intentionally ending one’s life
  • intentionally choosing sustainable food sources
  • intentionally childfree
  • intentionally shabby

Believe it or not I found each of the above phrases with a cursory scan of this week’s newspapers used, in each case, to imply deliberate rather than random choices meant to ensure optimal outcomes. I understand this logic. I am trying my level best to incorporate intentional choices in everything I do.

Virtue

I signed off my post “Nana and Aristotle: Happiness & The Best Life” with my commitment to intentionally incorporate virtue into the foundation of my good life. Key to leading this good life, according to Aristotle, is eudaemonia — an ancient greek word meaning flourishing — virtues being the qualities needed to achieve eudaemonia. All week we’ve been reading, re-reading, conferring about and trying to understand as fully as possible, the writings of Aristotle concerning virtue. Of course the writings of all the ancient Greeks have been translated and in the translation process, interpreted somewhat, yet the concept of intentional choices is a recurring theme in Nicomachean Ethics.

“Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with purposeful choice…”
[Aristotle, Ethics]

What I have learned about Aristotle’s philosophy of virtue so far can be condensed into these eight statements:

  1. Nurture not nature. Virtues are not innate qualities arising in us from birth but are chosen behavioural traits — we are able to learn and perfect them.
  2. If the practise of a virtue becomes a habit, that norm will be pleasant and bring happiness.
  3. Virtue does not occur at an extreme point but exists in the middle of the spectrum. For example: The mean between fear and rashness is bravery, bravery being the virtue.
  4. Acting virtuously and being virtuous are two very different things.
  5. Being virtuous requires that a person knows what he is doing.
  6. Being virtuous requires that a person intends to act so for its own sake, not because another prescribes such behaviour.
  7. Being virtuous requires that a person acts with conviction in this behaviour.
  8. Aristotle specifically identifies twelve virtues in his theory of Eudaimonia: Courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, proper ambition, patience, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, modesty and righteous indignation (at the same time, taxing and inspirational, non?).

Armed with this very basic knowledge and my admittedly limited understanding of Aristotle’s teaching, the next step in building my best life is towards eudaimonia. Aristotle describes the connective tissue, encompassing all virtues and how to live them, as phronesis, an ancient Greek word most commonly believed to mean practical wisdom. It is this wisdom that informs and dictates our behaviour in every situation, knowing for instance, what the mean is and intentionally choosing that mid-way point on the spectrum of actions and feelings. This is the grey area and, as you all know, I have a dearth of grey in my life, having always tended to see the world in terms of black and white. My new resolve, then, is to recognize that moment when I move towards the extremes and to pause in that instant so that I am able to intentionally choose the centre wherein lie the virtues.

Inevitably this will take tremendous will and determination and yes, there will be failures, but I do have a passionate desire to succeed and you have my word that I will put my best foot forward.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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The Swooning Swan

Allow me, please, to be completely honest: Despite recent studies, I know very little about the ancient Greeks, nothing about swans and even less about boats! Still, I’m about to tell you a story about all three.

Part énas – The Greek

Although merely an amusing (I hope) anecdote it is fitting, considering all the Plutarch and Aristotle references of late, that this story has its roots in Greek mythology. Narcissus, so the story goes, was a hunter/gatherer known for his beauty. Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution, noticed his self-obsession and took Narcissus to a pool. In it he saw, and fell in love with, his own face. He did not know the image in the water was his reflection. Taken literally, hard to believe. Until this afternoon. Now I have seen Narcissus with my own eyes…

Part two – The Swan

Swans mate for life. When I see swans at Presqu’ile they are in pairs. They seem to look out for each other, even cherish each other. It is an unusual sight to find an adult swan alone. Enter Narcissus, a swan so enamoured with himself that I couldn’t help but recall the familiar myth.

Part three – The Boat

Outside Dougall’s on the Bay, there is a small marina, part of which is reserved for boaters wishing to moor and dine. Today there was a beautiful new boat, covered and tied up to the dock. It was a gleaming navy blue with sleek lines and although it was not, by a long shot, the largest in the marina, she sure was beautiful. Here’s where the honesty bit comes in – I’m describing it as new because it was so clean and shiny and obviously in mint condition. The cover was not even a little faded. Any boaters reading this may take one look at that boat and know her to be several years old, but still — she was beautifully pristine! Until this afternoon. Now she is riddled with tiny pockmarks which, after the week they’ve just had, Torontonians would describe as looking like bullet holes. Just imagine the horror the owner will feel when she (or he) arrives at their boat this weekend…

Friday Lunch By The Lake

We ate inside today; it was too cool and too windy to dine al fresco. While we ate we watched several groups wander out to the patio, only to quickly change their minds and come indoors. All, that is, except the four Coast Guard lads who came off their boat already well-wrapped against the elements. Happy to be watching through the windows, we finished our lunch and wandered to the water’s edge before getting into the car. There we saw a sight we’ll never forget.

A swan — let’s call him Narcissus – was gazing adoringly at his reflection in the side of the boat. Then he began to nuzzle his reflection but sadly, the reflection did not return his affection. He preened. He played hard-to-get — momentarily — then he returned for another try at nuzzling. Still no joy. By now Narcissus is getting a little perturbed that his advances are being shunned so he becomes a little more aggressive, rapidly swimming back and forth along the port side of the boat and pecking at the ‘other’ swan. Over and over again he swam the length of the boat, repeatedly pecking at his beloved. He was not about to be thwarted; his flirting lasted a good half-hour that we witnessed. We were not the only ones entertained by his antics — the restaurant staff and a few patrons gathered at the water’s edge. None of us had ever seen a sight like this and, although we felt badly for the boat’s owner, we felt enormously sad for Narcissus who clearly could not grasp the concept of reflection.

So… If you happen to be the owner of a gorgeous blue Four Winns, moored in Brighton, now you know how the port side of your beauty came to be dimpled!

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Narcissus desperation

Desperation!