“I like collecting sticks,” the little boy responded, after turning his head to one side and tapping a thoughtful finger on his chin. The children had been asked what their favourite outdoor activity was, and we’d received the usual answers: riding bikes, playing with friends, visiting the playground. This was unexpected.
“Sticks hey?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he replied carelessly, “but not so much anymore since Mom told me I had too many damn sticks. She says the backyard is full of ‘em.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice confidingly, “I got a lot of sticks.”
I hid my smile, but got thinking later about my own youthful outdoor activities. I used to like cycling. Lately I’ve taken it up again in order to stave off the threat of obesity during this pandemic.
It’s been good. Daughter Aliyah and I pedal down our road in the crisp evening air discussing everything from Shakespeare to Charolais cattle. (Okay, we don’t really discuss cows. I threw that in to please my Dad, the cattleman.)
On our latest excursion I told her of a bike ride, taken many years ago with my brother Bill. He’s five years younger than me, yet we were inseparable. Of course, as the oldest, I took the lead when it came to important decisions. Stuff like whether to: swing on the corral gates (after we’d been expressly forbidden), climb on the stack of square hay bales (also prohibited), or cross the creek on a raft made from an elderly tire tube and a hunk of rotting plywood. Often—alright—usually, these choices ended in disaster.
But I digress. One afternoon, when I was about twelve, we found ourselves pedaling far from home. Dad was fixing fence in a far pasture and we meant to surprise him. Refreshments, consisting of a thermos of coffee and a roughly made peanut butter and honey sandwich, jangled in my metal bike basket.
Laughing, we rounded the bend beside a thick poplar bluff and gazed down the road ahead.
Trotting toward us was an insignificant animal with a powerful presence. A skunk. He stopped, we stopped—the whole world stopped as we eyed one another not ten feet apart.
From the corner of my mouth I hissed, “When I give the word, drop your bike and run.”
Likewise Bill addressed me sideways, his lips barely moving, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to ride our…”
“NOW,” I hollered as my bicycle clattered to the turf and I sprinted away. Still doubting this wisdom was Bill, running close behind.
Perhaps similarly questioning my sanity was the skunk, who also took his leave, but without all the theatrics.
“I still think we shoulda ridden our bikes home,” Bill grumbled from a nearby hill as we paused to pant. “And what about Dad’s lunch?”
It was a reasonable question, but one I wasn’t prepared to entertain until that evening when our irritated father returned from the field.
“It’s bad enough you kids can’t take care of your things at home, but now I find your bicycles tossed into the middle of a road half a mile away! What are you playing at?”
Aliyah snickered as I relayed the tale. “You weren’t a very sensible kid were you?” she said.
It was more of a statement than a question and of course it’s true, but when you’re young, what’s sense got to do with it?