12 July 2014


We went camping last week, in the same spot we've gone to with our friends every summer for the last few years, just a couple of hours south from us. One of the major attractions of this campground is that it's situated right next to a river, a fairly shallow stream which winds its way right around the campsite and is ideal for floating on with inner tubes and inflatable boats. Usually, that is. This year, we had unseasonably cool, wet weather until just before we went, and even though the weather was really hot by the time we got there, the river water was still very cold, and it was running really high. And that's what led to the big excitement of this camping trip.

It began on Wednesday night. Around ten or eleven o'clock (I don't carry a watch on holidays, so usually don't really know exactly what time it is) we saw the lights of a car slowly driving around the campground. I took one of my many trips to the washroom; the car was stopped in front of it, and it turned out to be the camp warden. I overheard him asking some other campers if they had seen a nineteen-year-old boy on a bicycle, he was missing. But that was all we heard then. In the night, we saw some emergency vehicle lights flashing against the walls of our tent; I slept poorly, worrying about this missing young man.

In the morning, the excitement really started. By 7:30, people in safety vests came around, going from campsite to campsite, handing out photocopied sheets with a description of the missing boy. It gave his name, "19 years old, mentally challenged; black hair with long sideburns, blue t-shirt, black shorts, green bicycle" - a woman's handwriting, probably his mother's. And then the Search-and-Rescue machinery rolled into operation. Our site was quite close to the campground's entrance, so we had a front seat to the action. There were at least three big trucks, one of them outfitted as headquarters (my man went over there to ask if they needed help looking for the boy; they took his name and campsite number, and told him they'd find him if, or rather when, they needed volunteers). They had ATVs, and dog handlers. The helicopter landed, whirling most of the sand off the kids' playground, then took off again to fly slowly up and down the river, the infrared sensors on board trained on the rapidly-running water. Please, God, please, don't let him be in the river…

And then, around 9:30, my son calls out: "I think they found that missing guy! I heard someone say so, and they were clapping!" Sure enough: he was found. Rescue personnel drove from campsite to campsite on ATVs, spreading the good news. I cried… The helicopter flew really low overhead, and made a triumphant "whoop whoop whoop!" noise with its siren; we all waved and cheered. It turned out that the young man had ridden his bike back all the way to town, 120 km over a 1200m-high summit - and he was perfectly safe and unharmed. As my friend said, next time this boy says "Mom, I'm bored, I'm going home," they'd better pay attention.

It was all quite exciting. But what was really moving about this event was the effect it had on all the people involved, ourselves included. The Search-and-Rescue machinery in action was quite a sight to behold - dozens of people out there searching, looking for this one young man. And for those two hours that the search was on in full force, the campground became a community. All of us were worrying, concerned about this one lost boy, praying, hoping - and then so relieved when the good news was spread that he was found safe and unharmed.

It restored my faith in humanity. Yes, we hear so many bad, sad, disturbing stories in the news every day. But this, it showed me that by and large, people do care. We worried about this boy whom we had never met, and probably never will, and we all rejoiced when he was found. One mentally challenged boy who did something silly, and so many people out there concerned for him, and making sure that he was safe. Even one life matters, and it matters to so many people. It was beautiful.

Life, the Universe, and Humanity. There is still so much good in the world.

Steve on the campsite

04 July 2014

Stacks of Stickies

I just mailed off my final grad school paper. That paper, that's why I've been AWOL from the blogging front in the last few months; I've been up to my eyebrows in fairy tales (meaning I've been writing about them, not that what I'm telling you is one). But now it's done, one big treatise on "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast", and "The Frog Prince". I'll be anxiously awaiting my mark, and then editing the thing for submission to my uni's thesis collection.

So the paper is sent in, and I feel slightly stunned that I'm actually done. Two-and-a-half years of study finished with one click of a button. It can't really be true, can it? But then, there's always one more thing to do after that button has been clicked: I have to de-sticky my research materials. Yes, you know, de-sticky? Take the sticky tags out of the books, of course. I might have mentioned once or thrice, marking books is evil and will get you smote by the library gods. But a grad school student (or indeed any other student) has to keep track of interesting points in books somehow, so, enter the sticky note. I go through pad after pad of those things in the course of my research, plastering them all over the margins of the books, sometimes adorning them with expressive arrows  (← !!!) or erudite comments such as "Does NOT!!" or "pfffffft!", or even, I hesitate to admit, the occasional "IDIOT!" (it's true. I found one like that this time. What can I say - I was justly incensed at a scholar's assessment of my favourite movie.).

So then, by the time I'm finished my writing, I don't need all those place markers any more, and the university library, slack though they may be about the state of their books (I once had one out that sported the dusty print of a running shoe sole across its front page spread), would probably not appreciate all those pink and orange and green bits of paper sticking out of the book. So I pull 'em all out again and pile them on my desk. One stack of stickies indicating just how educated I have become. Or how muddled, either way. It's the sure sign that I really am done with whatever piece of research I've been doing.

And then I dump the stickies into the garbage, take the library books back to the library and put my own books on my book shelf (or pile them on the floor, because there is absolutely no book shelf space to be had any more), and then - then I go and find myself a book to read or a movie to watch that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever I just finished studying. Fairy tales? Hmm, I think I'll read a Regency romance now, thank you. But don't worry, I'll be back to fairy tales soon enough. Even studying them as intensely as this hasn't soured me on the topic, and that, my friends, means that it really is my thing.

Life, the Universe, and Stacks of Stickies. The sign of the end of grad school studies.