“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 and lately have taken it up again, in order to stave off the looming possibility of obesity during this pandemic.
It’s been good. Aliyah and I pedal down our road discussing everything from Shakespeare to the superiority of Charolais cattle. (Okay, we don’t really discuss cows. I threw that in to please Dad.)
On our latest excursion I told her of a bike ride, taken many years ago with my younger 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 decisions ended in disaster.
But I digress. One afternoon, when I was about twelve, we found ourselves far from home, pedaling along the grassy path between two fields. 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 say so, drop your bike and run.”
Likewise Bill addressed me sideways, his lips barely moving, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to ride our bikes?”
“NOW,” I hollered as mine clattered to the turf and I sprinted away. Still loudly questioning my sanity was Bill, close behind.
“I still think we shoulda just ridden our bikes home,” he further grumbled from atop 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 seem to 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’s true of course, but when you’re young, what’s sense got to do with it?
Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. To find more of Helen’s stories or to order Prairie Wool books please go to myprairiewool.com or Amazon.ca