A Lesson From Oliver

by David Jorgensen

Like any other morning I was up at four, the day Oliver met with his
violent death.

At four in the morning the grass is wet.

Now, it's still wet at 6 a.m. and even at seven, and these tend to
be the hours of choice for most people wishing to appreciate the phenomenon
of grass wetness. But it's a tragedy of economics that, when work starts
at 5 a.m., one is not afforded the same time-options for grass appreciation
as members of the sane world.

Nor was this tragedy confined to my having to appreciate the wet
grass while in a metabolic state more suited to hibernation. Four a.m. was
my only chance to absorb all of northern Ontario's summer morning
treasures. These were numerous and shamefully underrated by my dormant
faculties, so rudely aroused before their time. But here was nature,
determined to be wonderful with or without my participation, and somehow at
some subconscious level, stored for future reference, I seem to have
imbibed her subtle stimuli. Along the eastern shores of the night-sky a
splash of colour would emerge. The all-night cricket band would
reluctantly wane under the first gentle reveille from those "early-birds"
of epigram fame. And then would come the most striking sensation of all:
the smell of fresh dew on the grass - I think the terms "exhilarating" and
"intoxicating" were coined by someone who'd just taken their first breath
of northern morning air (though they likely did so between 6 and 7 a.m.
when one is better primed to wax poetic and the passage of sensory
information from one's nostrils to the brain is not so hopelessly clogged -
as is the case at 4 a.m.).

All these sensations I can fully appreciate only now, in retrospect
(since at this moment I assure you it is not 4 a.m.).

At four o'clock that morning of June 26, 1979, as I trudged across
the acre-sized lawn to the old shed outside my parents' modest rural home -
situated along the English Bay sideroad, overlooking the secluded,
sparkling waters of Blue-Pine Lake, some six miles west of the small
tourist town of Thistle, Ontario - the only sensation permeating my groggy
consciousness was the bite of that long wet grass seeping through the seams
of my ancient running shoes. And even this twigged only one, unpoetic
image at 4 a.m.:

"Mom's gonna make me cut the lawn when I get home."

The truth of this semi-depressing insight was reinforced as I pulled
up my pant leg to snap an elastic band over the cuff: my ratty jeans were
wet up past the ankle. No doubt about it...the grass length had now
officially surpassed my mother's tolerance of things long and grassy. This
lawn would be cut. I would be the executioner elect.

I hopped on my ten-speed: second-gear to get up the driveway, a
rather formidable incline from the bike-shed; sixth-gear over the gravel
road, roughly two miles. Then hit the highway, pop her into tenth and
cruise the last four miles to town on glorious pavement. As usual, though,
I'd barely pumped my way out of the driveway before the breeze from my own
modest jet-stream began making my grass dampened feet start wishing for
thermal socks - an annoying irony, considering the broiler of a sky under
which I'd always pedal home later in the day. That's one point in favour
of 4 a.m., all wet feet aside, it's the friendliest time of day in the hot
summer months to go long-distance bike riding.

In the dim, flat pre-dawn light I could make out only three distinct
forms. There was the blue-black sky hanging overhead like some bottomless,
gravity-defying lake; there was the ghostly grey strip of gravel tenuously
marking my pathway; and there were the two ominous black walls, shapeless
and unbroken, flanking either side of the road. The cool air licked at my
face and began to wash the throbbing numbness from my head. It also
cleared my eyes and I began to distinguish for the first time the
individual trees - mostly birch, poplar and pines of several variety - of
which those unending roadside walls were built.

I was beginning to wake up.

Accordingly, my thoughts progressed to the next stage of their
traditional morning jog which took them daily from the bed of utter
incoherence, to the streets of trivial musing and - usually, eventually -
to the offices of constructive organization.

For those who