Git Off'a Mah Land
This land is my land, this land is my land ...
When I was about half-way past seven years old, my parents packed up and moved us from our home in a small town north of Montreal to the veritable wilds on the outskirts of Sudbury, in northern Ontario.
When I say 'wilds', I mean it. We stayed first in a house my great-uncle Ray had built for my maternal grandparents and, later, in a house built by that same great-uncle and my father (who, quite rightly, takes credit for having hammered most of the nails, but not for the quality of the resulting edifice) in a clearing a few hundred metres away.
We had no running water, nor electricity, but if the adults found life difficult, for a child, it was a very large piece of heaven.
The road into town was unpaved and the forest on the eaves of which 'we' had built our house — what I thought of as my back yard — was in fact 50 or 60 kilometres of bush that didn't stop until you hit the big waters of Georgian Bay.
Our own property amounted to some 30 acres. Throw in that belonging to my grandparents and to my great uncles, Ray and Alan (whose parents had homesteaded here in the early part of the 20th century) and I had something along the lines of 130 acres of wood and water and stone I considered my own. To say I very quickly developed a fiercely possessive attitude towards it is to put it mildly.
This land was our land, and nobody else's!
Despite this sense of being a sudden member of the landed gentry, we were not wealthy and my parents were both socialists (roughly speaking) of long-standing on both sides of the family. And also rather liberal in other ways.
My mother's background is Finn, and Finn means saunas. And in our family, sauna meant nudity. Both sexes and all generations sweating and swimming away together, whenever it was dark enough or far enough away from the prying eyes of uptight and/or perverted neighbours.
Our own house was built atop a steep and heavily-wooded hill a couple of hundred meters from the lake, and so fully-screened from the road which skirted the shore. Only weather, whim and the density of black fly and mosquito populations determined what, and even whether, clothes were worn.
Anyway, as I said and socialist background or no, I was very possessive about "my" private property and I was very quick to tell off any interlopers I might come across they were trespassing if I caught a stranger wandering the paths around our house and in our woods.
And yes, I had a bicycle.
One day — I think I was nine — I was restless and so determined to make a patrol of our boundaries.
I boarded my trusty machine and coasted down the steep, coarse-gravel driveway to the public road. I turned left and pedaled past Rod Fabro's monster-home that loomed on a point that had once belonged to our family, as if (though I didn't know it) a harbinger of further losses to come, then carried on past my (great) aunt and uncle's much more modest summer home.
As I passed the entrance to their yard, a car approached in a billowing cloud of dust from the opposite direction, heading into town. It slowed, and I thought for a moment the driver might be in need of directions. But he only stared at me and slowly rolled on by with a baffled expression, but as he didn't stop I thought little of it and rode on.
Perhaps a half-kilometre from where I had entered the public road, I made another left and stood to pedal hard up the mossy incline that led to the trail that circled back to our house, a path that had first been blazed by my maternal great-grandmother in the early years of the 20th century, one of many she had built and one of many still in use.
About a third of the way home was a clearing where my parents had made a single-season's attempt at planting a garden. Both writers, not farmers, a few ears of corn, a couple of bags of potatoes and baskets of tomatoes were clearly deemed unworthy of a second try. The field was left to go fallow, rapidly became a meadow and was, by the time I was in my late ttens, only a vague area in which the trees were younger than those around it.
It was there, right next to that field already going to primeval seed, that I saw him, the Trespeasser.
At a guess now, I would say he was under thirty, but when you are a nine year-old boy he was a Grown-Up and that was definition enough. I saw him first, sauntering along the path as if he had every right in the world to be on Our Private Property.
That he was a grown man did not stifle my outrage. I stopped my bike and dismounted to confront him, legs spread wide, arms akimbo and eyes (no doubt) a-fire.
"This," I pronounced with every ounce of smugly self-righteous pre-pubescent authority, "is private property! There is no trespassing allowed here!"
The interloper said not a word. He just stared, as if at some demonic apparition, rather than that of a young, albeit angry, boy.
"You're on private property!" I said again, but he remained frozen, staring at me. And slowly, it dawned on me that his expression was less one of fear than of shock, with perhaps a dash of amusement. The sort of expression that, sooner or later, will cause even the most self-assured to wonder if it might not be wise — just this once! — to take a deep breath and give themself a quick once-over, just in case they have missed something they ought to know about.
Finally, I let my eyes fall from the stranger's, and followed his gaze instead. All of a sudden, like Adam after the curse, I understood why it was the Trespasser had paid so little attention to my words. Looking down, I could just see my nine-year's glory dangling on full display between my legs like a flaccid flag, even as I lectured him on the importance of respecting private property.
A sun-bronzed nature boy, it had just slipped my mind to put on a pair of pants before venturing out into the world.
My Authority expired like ... well, I'm sure you can think of a euphemism.
I hopped back on the machine, circled wide around the stranger, and pedalled as fast as my young legs could manage. The Trespasser, I decided, could have his way with our land, at least I could find some pants.