Day Four: In the Woods

“Who will show up in my life today?”

It was a good morning question. The answer came in the form of Pil, a well-bearded family friend who waltzed into Jo and Lydia’s kitchen shortly after noon. As we sat in the dining room over lunch, I learned that he was a retired surgeon who was in hospital last week as a patient, with an arterial thrombosis. We had a good conversation about blood clots and then he and Lydia started talking about something.

My plan was to head off to the shower but before I could make a move in that direction, here was Pil again, inviting me to spend the afternoon with him in the woods. I went small inside my head, wondering if my injured knee could handle a lot of rough ground. Seconds later, though, I smiled a “yes” at him.

“Do you have rubber boots?”

Oops. What was I getting myself into? Soon Pil was helping me get into a pair that Jo had. I didn’t know that the idea was to roll your socks down under the soles of your feet, wrap the cuffs of your pants around your ankles and pull the socks over them. Then shove your feet into the boots. The things you learn from a Belgian outdoorsman.

Next, Pil helped me get into coverings for my legs. He was so patient. I was just wondering how wet we were going to get! No matter … it was time for an adventure.

We stopped at Pil’s house in Roonse to pick up an important addition – his dog Chip, a black lab. He came right up to me in the hall and let me pet him. So cool. Soon the three of us were off to a world of narrow, twisting streets and long views across farm fields to tall stands of trees. Pil pointed out the hospital where he used to work and got me close to a stunning 1000-year-old church which just last week was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After a couple of gate openings, we were rolling through groves of trees, some ancient and some planted within the last four years. Then it was a transfer to a 4×4 for some rough trail riding. Yee haw! Pil’s first job was to refill about fifteen seed containers with corn for the pheasants. And we saw lots of them – scurrying along the paths with their red-ringed necks, and taking flight if Chip got too close, which he was good at.

Mr. Chip is a hunting dog and Pil came fully equipped with a squeaky orange ball. Many, many times I threw it in the air and watched as Chip leapt up to catch it in his mouth, usually on the first bounce. Once I tossed the ball into the bush and saw Chip dive in after it. He kept emerging without the ball, and when I investigated, I saw that the target was a thick bramble of raspberry bushes, armed effectively with thorns. Not to be deterred, Pil whipped out a machete and started whacking away. Maybe three minutes later, an orange globe revealed itself on the ground.

Pil loves his land and the beings who inhabit it. The pigeons overhead, the roe deer, the young deciduous trees, the pheasants, the ducks – but probably not the rats. He is a steward of at least 100 acres and he wants life to thrive there. For part of our time, he wrapped saplings with plastic shields that prevents animals from damaging the young ones.

At one point, we stopped beside a small pond. I launched the orange missile again and again, and each time Chip burst into the water and swam like an Olympian towards the floating ball. Back onshore, he shook for all he was worth and ran to me for some roughhousing. Hence the protective wear over my pants.

Almost two months ago, I was bitten by a tiny dog in Cincinnati, Ohio. And here I was today, virtually pummeling Chip and being well pummeled back, and reaching in to get the ball out of his mouth. I smiled at my rediscovered courage.

Pil, Chip and me: what a happy threesome. The generous man asked the adventurous man to join him and his bouncing dog for an afternoon of fun and frolic. And it happened. Yay! Thank you, dear universe.

Day Three: ‘Sploring

Ten hours of sleep … good for a jet-lagged Canadian. I awoke to the sun. Jo and Lydia’s dining room was bathed in light. As Julie Andrews was found of saying, the hills were alive.

Lore had an oral exam at school this morning and Lydia drove her, with me in tow. The sloping fields here are green and the tall trees cast magnificent shadows.

Lore was nervous and mom was reassuring her, in Flemish, so I didn’t know what she was saying. I told daughter that we’d be thinking about her from 10:15 to 11:00, and I followed through with that, sending her good wishes.

Then it was off to Lydia’s work. She and Jo are managers at a funeral wholesaler, carving inscriptions on headstones, and selling products such as urns. Lydia wanted me to meet her colleagues and I wanted to say hi to them. After a round of Flemish hellos and smiles, I decided to do the natural thing – sing them O Canada. They laughed.

I followed Jo around, first through the shop to see how the inscriptions are created, and later out and about in town. First stop was the bakery, the home of freshly-baked smells, Then it was on to a huge home improvement store to get plumbing and electrical supplies for Senegal. While there, I picked up a can of insulating foam. Like at home, the words were in two languages. Unlike what I know, the languages were Flemish and French. Welcome to the rest of the world, Bruce.

Baziel and I went for a walk in the afternoon. Across a muddy field to see a 300-hundred-year-old windmill. I wondered what stories were hidden between those walls.

We walked on a lovely paved path between emerald fields. Such peace in the country. Turns out that the path was a road and we had to move onto the field a little to let cars pass. Soon a Mcdonalds cup appeared and then seven cans thrown out at intervals, each labelled as a gin and tonic drink. We picked them all up and later recycled them at home.

Baziel described a conflict or two with his mom – no big deal from his end but mom sometimes builds it up in his opinion. As for fights with his sister, Baziel shrugged and said they make up within five minutes. Usual family stuff but I sense an unusual love among them.

Later in the Monday agenda, Lydia, Lore and I headed to a grocery store. As the women picked up cool items from a variety of displays, I tagged along, often falling behind the purchases. At one point, I passed an old couple. The woman and I held gazes for a few seconds and then started chatting, she in Flemish and I in English. Neither of us knew what the other one was saying and it didn’t matter. We just kept looking and smiling. It was fun.

Yesterday Lydia asked me what my favourite food was. My response? Pesto pasta. So three guesses what the meal was tonight. I was in heaven and generously allowed myself to have seconds.

I am being treated like a king near Oudenaard, Belgium. The simple events of the day, as long as they’re experienced with family, are a joy.

Day Two: Family

“Je sens déjà une partie de ta famille.” Lydia and Jo, the friends I met on a hiking trail in Alberta, are sitting with their children Lore and Baziel (and me) as we shared a meal. I had been in their home for only an hour or two but I knew what was true: “I already feel a part of your family.”

I picked up my luggage at the Brussels airport and there was Lydia greeting me at the gate with a big hug. On our serpentine way home, we laughed a lot and actually giggled about me being here. Lydia’s friends had said “You mean that Canadian guy is really coming?” Yes, indeed he is.

Lydia is so in love with life. Enthousiasme! Tonight we walked down a dark street on the way to watching Lore and her horse doing jumping training. We bounced along walking arm in arm. I made animal sounds and Lydia smiled lots.

Jo started almost two months ago turning a dusty attic into a sanctuary for me. His home is a marvel of his own making and my bedroom fits right in. Right now I’m sitting in his designed living room with a wall of windows facing a horse meadow sloping down to a pond. There’s such a feeling of space. Thanks, Jo.

Last night, Baziel stayed up to 11:30 to do the finishing touches in the room – and this with exams looming on Monday. Such dedication to someone he’d never met.

Baziel’s passion is basketball. I saw him shooting hoops in the farm’s courtyard … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And tomorrow evening, I’m going to watch him practice with his team. That should be fun. I think I’ll be the proud uncle.

I walked into the muddy yard to greet Lore’s two Shetland ponies: the 24-year-old mom and her son. What a wonder to run my hand through that long hair. And then there was the star of the show – Jackson, truly Lore’s horse. I watched the two of them together, and the love between animal and human flowed freely.

Tonight Lore and Jackson had a jumping session at a nearby horse barn. Poles were set up in various configurations for Jackson to float over … and mostly he did! I stood nearby to watch the grace and power.

Lore was the main chooser of objects to display in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was Jody’s book standing proudly on a cupboard. Across the way was a small statue of the Buddha – perfect for me. Her attention to detail was a perfect expression of love for, again, someone she’d never met.

I’m home here. The old sharp-sloped rooves, the shale tiles and the red brick are a factor, but essentially the people in this home are the beauty. Thank you, dear loved ones.

Day One Some More: All Aboard

I’ve just finished a three-course meal, with wine. And exactly what universe am I in? Clearly not the world of Air Canada. The entrée was an Indian dish – chick peas blended with some saucy spice, yellow rice that suspiciously tasted like that expensive stuff called saffron, and creamed spinach. Yum!

Earlier, there was a salad featuring some exquisite white seeds, bathed in a sweet cream sauce. (Woh. Maybe I should start writing for some gourmet magazine.) Later it was a scrumptious chocolate cake, plumb full of semi-sweet chips. (That does it … I’m officially moving to Switzerland to scribe for Epicure.)

I’m sitting beside a friendly Japanese couple. They live in Orillia, Ontario and have a getaway condo in Toronto. Alrighty then. Despite their probable wealth, they’re the nicest folks. The gentleman has been helping me figure out the entertainment system. They’re heading to Rome. Actually, I bet I have world travellers all around me. (That does make sense, Bruce. After all, you’re going to Europe.)

I just switched the screen to “Flight Tracking”. We’re a bit past Newfoundland so I’m the furthest east I’ve ever been. More to come.

I’ve paused the movie A Wrinkle In Time for dinner and now it’s time to get back to it. So far the story is delicious. The scientist father of a 12-year-old girl named Meg and her younger brother has disappeared during an experiment about realities beyond time and space. Celestial beings come visiting to coach the kids about finding dad. The girl is très dubious about all this but I can feel her starting to come around, in a stretching sort of way.

Now the film is over. Brother and sister enter another universe in search of dad, and assorted creatures of light and darkness come their way. Meg becomes a girl of faith and at one point leaps back from the alternate world into the void, trusting that she will be deposited back on dear old planet Earth. And there’s a blessed reunion with her father. “I’m sorry, Meg, that I left you. I wanted to shake hands with the universe and instead I should have been holding yours.” Oh my … love abounds.

It’s two hours later. I slept like a baby … crying all night. After the cabin lights went out, I took off my shoes, wedged the two blankets between the edge of my headrest and the window, plunked the pillow on top, and longed for my teddy bear. Sleep? I don’t know. Maybe an hour. Now the lights are on again (5:30 am Brussels time) and we are being plied with breakfast. Bring on the coffee. Conventional wisdom says to adjust to the new time right away. So if I go to bed at 10:00 pm tonight (Sunday), that means I have sixteen-and-a-half hours to go. (Sigh) “I can do it,” he said unconvincingly.

Forty minutes to Amsterdam. Speed 967 kph. Outside temperature -52 degrees Celsius. I knew I should have brought a winter coat.

Breakfast was similar to dinner … delicious. There was a soft ciabatta bun layered with a big slice of mushroom, red peppers, onions and something unknown, all pulled together with a sweet sauce. Then there was raspberry yogurt, not to mention orange juice and two coffees. Guess I’ll just stay awake from now on.

I spared a thought for the human hands who created and displayed the airborne food I consumed. Artistically done. And it’s possible that those hands will never hold such a ciabatta at 39,000 feet.

Amsterdam Airport at 8:30 am local. It’s such a huge place. People look like Torontonians to me, with such a wide range of cultures. What I find really strange is that all the signs are in English. I want Dutch!

Thirteen-and-a-half hours of wakefulness to go. I can do this.

That’s enough for Day One, since I’ve already leaked into Day Two. I’ll see you today, my friends.

Day One: Toronto Airport

I was supposed to show up here three hours before my flight time. As it turned out, four hours was the actual result. Late morning, I said goodbye to my friends at the Belmont Diner and headed down the freeway to Toronto. You might say I was flying high, listening to the sound track of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and belting out the tunes. My audience was simply me, and I was feeling my oats.

Am I really doing this? Belgium. Senegal. Human beings I’ve never met before. So cool. What wonders will reveal themselves in the next three weeks? Who will touch my heart? I sense that life will unfold as it should.

Nothing is fazing me today. Let’s have stuff go wrong. Who cares? First up on the problem list was the fact that KLM’s counter wasn’t open yet. Oh well. The next task was finding a place to sit. I roamed the concourse without success, and marvelled at the faces passing me by. Who are they, really? Where are they going … in life and airplanes?

I finally found a seat. I whipped out my phone to see how many folks had viewed my latest post on WordPress. I really shouldn’t concern myself with such things, but what the heck – I’m human. Some of me needs to be loved.

There were momentary things, such as not having my passport ready for the KLM attendant. She smiled. Not remembering how to go through customs with minimum strain. Moderate strain only cost me a few extra minutes. What’s that in the span of my life? Nothing at all.

Now I’m in a bar near Gate C31. Chicken wings and a beer basically cover all of Canada’s main food groups. I’m happy, even with the fellow two seats down continually swearing into his phone. The self-esteemed version of my identity is complaining that I should have spoken up. I suppose, but nothing is going to waver my well-being on this day.

TV sports are overhead. The highlight show on TSN shows the best of the best – impossible catches, miraculous saves and slow motion flying through the air. It’s better than blooper shows, where an athlete’s poor decision-making creates angst in the human breast.

On the other TV, jocks in suits are revving up their testosterone on a variety of topics. They’re not exactly yelling at each other but the venom curls their lips. No thanks. Give me the awesome pass any day.

My next experience is sitting in the departure lounge. Apart from the multitude of humans lined up, almost everyone else is staring at their electronics. (Wait a minute … so am I!) All around me are colours, shapes and ages. Lovely. I’d like to talk to them all but no one seems interested. That’s okay.

Once I’m on the plane, I expect that I won’t be able to send this post, so here’s Bruce signing off. Seven hours to Amsterdam and then a short hop to Brussels, and my friends Jo and Lydia. Yay! See you tomorrow.

Safe Landing

How easily today fades into yesterday.  I planned to blog last night but the last minute events of Friday ran away with me.  Today I fly to Belgium.  Yesterday I did things I love with people I love and crammed packing and erranding between.

The love part was reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to five classes yesterday morning and listening to my friends Liv and Braden sing their hearts out in concert last night.  Wide-eyed 5-year-olds gazed up at me as I jollied my way through the poem.  Their mouths as little o’s transformed into glee as I said “Twas” a second time … really fast.  My record yesterday was one minute and one second.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

My friends form the duo “Tragedy Ann” and they blend beautifully – as singers, as instrumentalists, and most impressively as human beings.  Their love for each other shone from the stage.  And songs such as the haunting “Regulars” shine a light on us human beings, this time the stories of ordinary folks who frequent a bar that is home.

Morning and evening were deliciously slow.  Still, the nasty little voice would sometimes intervene.  “Why did you say “Twas” to so many classes today?  You’ve got a big deadline tomorrow.  And what’s with the concert?  You should be focused on the task at hand.”  Silly voice.  People are infinitely more lovely than schedules.  Don’t worry, frantic one, I’ll get the job done.  I’ll fly from Toronto tomorrow (today) at 6:00 pm.

Other parts of my day were a blur of doingness.  A stop at Best Buy to pick up an electrical outlet adapter for Europe and Africa.  Hmm.  Do I also need it to be a voltage converter?  I didn’t know and neither did the well-meaning salesman.  I bought a combo unit.

The kitchen counter was covered with stuff.  Most crucial was all the health info.  Make sure I take the vaccination card so Senegalese officials know that I’m protected from yellow fever.  And oh, where did I put the bottle of insect repellent – the type with super-DEET?  Clothes for very cold and clothes for very hot …

Wait a minute … I forgot to fill the nyjer feeder.  The new seed that I bought is still in the trunk.  C’mon, go go go!  Scissors to open the bag.  Feeder all dry now in the sink after a good washing.  Remember your physio appointment in London at 2:30.

Feeders filled, birds soon to be happy, I set off for London, just a little late for comfort.  Seven minutes to the freeway and now I can rev it up.  110 kph, not many cars … I’m golden.  I greeted the clinic receptionist with three minutes to spare.  Ahh …

Slow through the session of exercises and muscle stimulation.  That’s better.  But my re-entry into Scarlet got me going again.  “Once you’re home again in Belmont, you’ll have at least two hours of organizing time before you have to drive back to London for the concert.  No sweat.”

And then the moment of the day: At a stoplight, there’s a woman knocking on the passenger window.  She’s holding something.  I roll down the window.  “These scissors were on your trunk.”  Oh my.  “Thank you so much.”  As we started up on the green, I waved to my new friend in the rearview mirror.

Now you tell me … How exactly am I still in possession of my dear scissors?  Is there some benign force that’s wishing me well as I head off into the world?  I say “yes”.  And that voice simply says “Be with people.”



Crying and Sport

The Athletic is a fairly new website which follows the stories of professional sports teams in several North American cities. I love the Toronto news. Gifted writers analyze the play of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team with a level of insight that I haven’t seen before. And then there are the human interest stories about the players – some famous athletes and others recently uncovered. Bottom line: I click on The Athletic and find myself nodding or smiling or ah-hahing. It makes me happy.

Then there was today, and a masterpiece of writing from James Mirtle. The Leafs are on their annual Florida swing, with games Thursday in Tampa and Saturday near Fort Lauderdale. The history is that the players’ dads come on down but this time it’s the moms. James writes about the tender relationship between superstar Auston Matthews and his mother Ema. She talks about her parents in Mexico:

He started watching. They can see (Maple Leafs games) in Mexico. I would buy it (on satellite) for them, and they can see it. He kind of understands the game better than my mom. Mom only wants to go to see where Auston is. She’s always asking “Where is Auston?” She just wants to see her grandson, not the sport.

Woh. The tone is set, and it’s called love. Here’s more from Ema:

I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to seeing what Auston actually does. Because usually when you ask Auston – everything is cool, it’s fun. But he doesn’t tell you details. Guys don’t explain to moms what they do. I’m looking forward to seeing what goes behind all the work the team does before the game. And to spend some time with the team, with the moms, and of course with my boy.

Well … this is worlds away from how many goals and how many assists, how well Auston gets his wrist shot off, and whether he has what it takes to be a good backchecker. There’s something else, something big, going on.

I admire Auston so much. You’re going to make me cry because it’s hard for me to talk about Auston. He knew what he wanted since he was little. He always knew. Even myself, now looking back, all the things he used to tell me – he knew what he wanted. And to get in this market (in Toronto), who would have thought, right?

We’ve always asked our kids to be humble. It doesn’t matter if you have money or if you don’t. You always be humble. Don’t get things into your head. We always loved people like that. We wanted to raise our kids like that. We always saw kids that were spoiled, and they didn’t appreciate what they had. We didn’t want that for our kids. Auston, we tell him just to enjoy what you have. Be grateful.

I’m sure you feel it … Ema Matthews is a full human being. And you and I aren’t the only ones with brimming eyes. Here’s a sample of the comments that readers sent in:

I’m not crying. It’s just been raining … on my face.

For many years my wife sacrificed for our 19-year-old but even without the NHL, it was worth it. Auston’s mom is the real star. As are hockey moms everywhere that just want the game to be fun for their boys and girls.

I have to go call my mother and tell her I love her.

My next jersey is going to be Matthews. Ema Matthews.

Greatest story I’ve read on The Athletic so far. Thank you Ema for raising such a good young man. It’s both a pleasure and a thrill to watch him play for the team I’ve loved since I was a little boy.

Is any athlete’s mother as beloved by their fanbase as Ema Matthews is by Leaf fans?


We touch each other

Tomorrow, Death Comes

Ardently do today what must be done
Who knows?
Tomorrow, death comes

The Buddha

What if the rumour is true, that I will die tomorrow? First of all, I don’t have time for this. I need to pack for Belgium and Senegal. Secondly, I like a gradual approach to things. Knocking off in a few hours would be far too … spontaneous. Not to mention that I’d need to get my affairs in order first. And no, no – not that type of affair.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I could die right now and be happy. No regrets. It’s been a fine life. I’ve touched many people and have welcomed their sweet influence in return. I have done my part in having the Earth be a better place. I’d prefer to have twenty more years of human contact but if the jig is up tonight, I’ll lie down with a grin on my face.

But back to tomorrow. If the sands run out at 4:00 pm, how will I spend my morning? If I had superdupersonic speed at my disposal, would I jet off to some vacation spot that I’m supposed to visit before I die? Hmm. Guess I need to give you an example:

Bora Bora is the poster child of the iconic tropical paradise. This island sits 143 miles northwest of Papeete, in the South Pacific, and features the extraordinary turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and beautiful greenery you’d hope to find in the tropics – only it’s more fantastic than you can imagine.

Would that do it? Surely turquoise would provide the ending bliss appropriate for an ending human being. I’ll just cram some turquoise inside and all will be well. Maybe.


Speaking of cramming, how about a sumptuous meal at the world’s finest restaurant, which as we all know is … Osteria Francescana – twelve tables in the heart of Modena.

Italian hospitality is in the details
the ironed tablecloths and the polished silver
It is an ensemble of gestures that define a way of life
The table is where the journey begins

Blah, blah, blah

But if I’m about to expire, do I really want to be loosening my belt so my stomach can breathe? To need a nap before the really lengthy one sets in? No thanks.


Okay, what else? I know … sex! Eight hours of orgasmic bliss with multiple Hollywood beauties? Uhh … then a short remaining life of being sore and exhausted. More sleeping needed, again before the big snooze.


So, if not these imposters … what is left to ardently do?

How about finding one open-hearted one
either male or female
and looking deep into their eyes until mine close
gazing upon the beloved as my finale nears?

Yes, that will do nicely


About six months ago, “Geoff” and “Barbara” moved into our condo community to be close to their daughter and her family. I’d say they’re both in their 70’s. Geoff can’t drive any more and is starving for male companionship. That’s where I come in. Every two or three weeks, I drive him to the Belmont Diner for breakfast. Geoff is very appreciative.

We sat around the horseshoe-shaped counter today with five local guys. One asked how Geoff could stand me. He replied with something like “Oh, it’s a challenge.” And the banter flows. Geoff’s a natural. He makes wry comments about the political situation and is already taking a playful jab or two at the assembled locals. All in good fun.

Geoff doesn’t see well and he doesn’t move well but his spirit is strong. He doesn’t let his current physicality determine his congeniality. And he laughs at himself. The guys already like him.

In the summer, I sat on Geoff’s deck, which like my patio backs onto a field, this year planted with corn. I remember him talking about the beauty of the green stalks, their tips waving in the breeze. Geoff sees. Geoff feels, and is willing to talk about it. Rare.

We went for a drive this morning after breakie, and my friend was so thankful for the journey. He waxed poetic about the feeling of space, the long views across the fields. Once again I marvelled. Here is a kindred spirit … drinking in the majesty of the world. His previous home near St. Catharines, Ontario was overrun with dull gloms of sameness – expensive homes that somehow all looked like each other. The extended tongue of urban life. Now, already after a few months, Geoff was home.

I wanted to show him the golf course I love – Tarandowah – now blanketed in white. I told him about the flow of the fairways, the long fescue grass in the rough, the Canada geese flying overhead, the silence. He got it. He was there with me as I wondered at it all. I thought about the club members I know. Not a one has ever cast their eyes to the horizon and talked of the loneliness of the links, the sensuous undulations of the seventh green, the vista from the fourth tee. Thank you, Geoff, for entering my world.

On the way home, we talked of trees. Geoff told me of the “Serengeti tree” he sees framed in his living room window, and how the sunset through the branches is glorious.

Just like my neighbour, I too am home.


We will begin to marvel that we let ourselves build our lives around the belief that we, the real self, were identified with these various descriptions, which descriptions required so much protection, justification, grief, anger, pride and so on.  So much vital energy.  We exhaust ourselves in the support of our descriptions.

I don’t know who wrote this but I like it.

As soon as I say “I am X”, there’s the opportunity for fear, smallness, defense.  “Could it be that I’m not really X?”  And would that possibility be a problem?  If it is, I better muster lots of energy to protect the truth of my Xness.  There are enemies out there who want to prove I’m actually not X.  I tighten my fists to beat them back.

I am a real man
I am intelligent
I am kind
I am determined
I am handsome
I am mature
I am generous
I am athletic
I am creative
I am popular
I am loved

But what if, sometimes, I’m not?  What then?  If I shrug my shoulders and say “Oh well” without feeding the statement and its contradiction, what would happen in my life?  Would angst fade to the background?  Would a reservoir of energy previously invisible be revealed?

I believe the answer is “Yes”.

Perhaps I’m not a personality riding on the roller coaster of life, raising my head here, letting it slump there.  Maybe I’m a fierce spiritual being who’s vibrant with the energy that flows outwards and unconcerned with the energy coming in.  There might not be any deficit, nothing to be fixed or improved.  What’s it’s all about could simply be expression rather than reaction, giving rather than fending off, flowing rather than damming.

In my better moments …

Bruce, you’re free
Bruce, you’re simply a space vibrating with possibility
Bruce, you’re marvelously sufficient
And did I mention that you’re free?