Monday's post on green vipers in Asia took your humble scribe back to his own childhood.
Every year, almost, was a different city if not a different province for your humble scribe.
Your humble scribe's Dad specialised in making offices work better without firing people. He made offices more efficient and helped people become more productive--skills that put him in demand.
Despite a peripatetic life, grades one to three were rooted in Lethbridge, Alberta.
There were a lot of rattlesnakes around Lethbridge.
There also were a lot of Japanese Canadians who lived around Lethbridge, because many Japanese Canadians had been interned near here, during the Second World War, as their loyalty to Canada was considered suspect.
Blood, it was pointed out by politicians at the time, was thicker than water.
Some people see this as proof of racism in Canada.
While it's true that some Polish Canadians, for example, were also interned during the Second World War (your humble scribe has visited their internment site in the Rocky Mountains), not all Polish Canadians were interned. But, over 22,000 Japanese Canadians were.
So, your humble scribe agrees that the internment of Japanese Canadians in World War Two was proof of endemic racism in Canada, at least in that era.
Among the many Japanese Canadians who stayed in Southern Alberta, after their internment was lifted, was Yoshio "Yosh" Senda who lives in Lethbridge.
Yoshio Senda has now been elevated to Membership in the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian order.
Yosh's patriotism is no longer suspect.
The motto of the Order of Canada is desiderantes meliorem patriam (they desire a better country) because its few, elite members contributed substantially to Canada's betterment over the course of their lives.
Yoshio Senda is one of a handful of ninth dan (ninth degree black belts) in the world recognized by the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo, Japan. He was the founder of organised Judo in Canada and coached numerous judokas and national teams.
Yosh Senda is the highest ranked judoka in Canada, ever, and the gentlest man imaginable.
Yosh (more properly Senda Sensei) was your humble scribe's first Sensei.
Yosh deserves his own post, but not today.
Yosh taught Judo out of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, in Canada's dry prairies.
In Lethbridge, if the weather was warm, I would cycle the few kilometers to the dojo (the judo practice hall) and then back home.
I remember going home on my beautiful bike, one particular summer evening.
That bike was my first bike.
It had high handlebars with tassels that I half cut to make them spiky and tough, a banana seat, and it was metallic gold.
CCM (Canada Cycle Manufacturing) made that bike.
That bike was the greatest bike of my life (to that point).
It gave me mobility, freedom, and the feel of the wind in my hair.
This post is not about that bike, either.
At least not specifically.
This post is about riding my bike home, after Judo practice, and going through the prairies.
I am cycling up the long hill, out of the river canyon formed by the Oldman River.
It's a steep climb.
When the local Blackfoot First Nation weren't slaughtering members of the Cree First Nation here, and crowing about that, calling the place Assini-etomochi ("where we slaughtered the Cree"), they might call it Aksaysim ("steep banks").
I have almost finished cycling up those steep banks.
The burn is sweet and deep in my calves, tired from Judo practice.
Leaving the climb, I am now cycling onto the flats of the prairies.
The sun is going down but it's not at the horizon yet, that band way off in the distance where the flat sky meets the flat land. This is the place where dreams and nightmares both must come from, because there is nowhere else on the landscape for such great beasts to hide.
I know to keep a lookout for smaller beasts, snakes, because they become quite active right now.
The rattlesnakes are warm from the sun, have gathered on the asphalt for its residual heat, and they get frisky because, while they are still warm, the asphalt is cooling down and it is time for them to leave.
I know all this.
I've been told this.
But, I've never seen a rattlesnake while cycling.
Tonight I see one.
I see it right in front of me; I have been daydreaming and haven't been paying attention.
I squeal my CCM bike to a stop.
Suddenly, the fact that I modified my golden CCM so that it would not fully brake and so that it would slide and skid to a halt is no longer quite so cool.
The rattlesnake is motionless on the ground, maybe a foot in front of me (Canada hasn't gone metric yet, but this would become 33 cm in a couple of years.)
At this distance I can see the texture of its overlapping scales.
I can see the detail of the yellows and browns and blacks and sand colours on the snake's scales.
I observe the patterns and my eyes are inexorably drawn to the snake's head.
I look up to its head and lock eyes with its eyes.
Frantically, my hind brain screams at me.
"Don't look at its eyes!"
"Don't be aggressive!"
"Stop looking at its eyes!"
Eventually, I listen to my hind brain as a second terror asserts itself.
I have been stopped on my bike one foot, or 33 cm, away from the snake.
I have been balancing on my bike, terrified to put a foot down.
Suddenly, I become aware that I have been balancing on tires alone.
I have never managed to do this before.
I can't do this.
With that certain knowledge, eyes locked on the neck of the rattlesnake, I start to fall.
Electric terror bisects my brain with a massive electrical surge.
My foot unconsciously lunges out and steadies me.
Watching my alien foot, in slow motion, approach the ground and the snake, I wait for the bite.
Amazingly, with a warm ankle near its heat-sensitive pits, the rattlesnake does not strike.
Maybe the sudden jerk squeezed all the warm blood out of my leg and into my body?
I start praying for forgiveness for all my misdeeds and promising to change if I get out of this situation alive.
I will clean my room.
I will make my bed. Every morning.
I will stop calling Tara Yvette Gemer, at school, "the Barfing Mammal".
I will tell Dad that I flushed that apple down the toilet which caused him such grief.
Dad had asked me, four hours after he started trying to fix the flooded toilet, if I knew how an apple had become lodged in the toilet's nether regions of plumbing, requiring complete removal of the toilet to extricate the apple.
I suggested that the apple might have fallen from the tree outside, through the open window, with a gust of wind.
Dad stared at me, apparently considering this, as he looked me in my eyes.
I almost thought that I heard him counting.
Dad pointed out that the apple, now recovered, had had one bite taken out of it.
I waited, silent, wondering if Dad would follow this observation with another question.
He asked me if, given this new information, I had any other ideas as to how this apple might have arrived, deep inside the toilet.
I suggested that Mom might have done it.
He asked me why she would have flushed an apple down the toilet after one bite.
I said, who knew? Mom does all sorts of crazy things.
I had a point, and a good one, too.
And, besides, I wasn't stating anything as facts, merely as possibilities to be considered.
I guess Dad believed me because he just shook his head and kept recoiling the toilet snake...
And, he didn't ask me any more questions about the apple.
So, I left him to the task.)
(English language aside:
A toilet snake is an exceptionally long, flexible, spiral spring that is threaded through a toilet and can extend into the pipes. It can push through, and unblock, many obstructions in toilets. It is, as Dad found, ineffective against whole apples.)
Thinking back on the apple, I kept staring at the rattlesnake stretched out on the cooling asphalt.
Then my calf started twitching.
Then my thigh started quivering.
Then my whole body started shaking.
The sun started to set over the horizon.
And I desperately had to pee--I never should have had so much water after practice.
And that snake just lay there, daring me to move my foot again.
Just then, a car came by.
In the early evening flash of its beams, my attention was distracted.
I saw the rest of the snake's body.
My eyes flicked away from the snake's head and down the length of its thick girth, strangely still and stretched out on the asphalt.
I saw the huge, flat, double groove where two side-by-side tractor-trailer tyres had flattened the snake's body.
This rattlesnake was dead--it had never even rattled.
This snake had been dead for hours.
How did I know? The pavement was dry.
But, the pavement was not dry for long as I stiffly let my bike drop and released a pent up stream after the car had gone on in the distance.
That ragged stream was hot with fear, with shame at being afraid, and with shame at not seeing the tread marks and the signs of death. Shame at being fooled by my fears.
My breath was ragged, as the hot liquid splashed onto the sandy soil and onto the asphalt. The fears of youth were not spent, but the fears of that day poured out.
Finally, I knew that I could go home.
I arrived home late.
I was in trouble with my Mom for dawdling and wasting time.
I was smart enough to not tell her about the snake; I wanted to keep on cycling.
I didn't tell Dad about the apple, either.
It was neither an apple of life nor of knowledge, after all.
It was just an apple of deceit.
I went to bed without any supper, but it was OK; I had swiped another apple when my Mom wasn't looking.
And I had faced down my first snake, albeit a dead one.
I might not have been a man yet, but I was not just a child anymore.
This was one of the passages from innocence to experience.
I was eight.