Friday, March 27, 2009

Coming of age: rattlesnakes, judo, and bikes

Image of a rattlesnake warning sign located in a park managed by county of Los Angeles, department of parks and recreation (sic). Photographed and uploaded by user:Geographer. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License and was sourced from Wikimedia.Dear Gentle Reader,

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.

Until tonight.

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 did. 

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.



Sepiru Chris said...


...Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering, stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ~ are Dead, Act II, by Tom Stoppard

jjdebenedictis said...

Great story, Chris! (Why am I not surprised you threw an apple down the toilet?)

Interesting quotation, above, too. I think my first understanding that I could die happened in grade six when they showed us the movie If You Love This Planet.

I still don't know if the horror of understanding, at that age, what nuclear warfare entailed was justified as a means of raising a generation determined to stop the cold war. It probably was, but damn, that experience left me and the other kids in my class scarred.

Teresa said...


Cloudia said...

this is a GREAT post!

It could be several GREAT POSTS.

You are not just interesting, not just nice, you are a WRITER, my friend! Aloha-

debra said...

What a terrific story, Chris. Did you ever tell them about the apple?p

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I agree with Cloudia, you are a brilliant writer!

But if ever you visit us in Camelopardalis I will make sure the fruit bowl is hidden and Trachelus Aplombus is present with his plumbing tools ...

Anonymous said...

Good lord, Chris, what a life you've had!

Hubby's parents were Canadian. Father born in Boys Town, New Brunswick and Mother born in Calgary. They met in Calgary, worked in California, and lived and worked in Hawaii before dying here.

Interesting that their 3 white children married Asians.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Sepiru (Me!)

Text of the play by Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ~Are Dead

Dear OxyJen,

Thank you so much, I think.

I may, however, have to clarify things other than butter.

Thanks for replying to the implicit comment and query. I remember the same programme, too, although I had tasted death, obviously, earlier.

Dear Teresa,

Palindromic interjection!

Something must have worked well!

Dear Cloudia,

You think I should have tightened it up? I sort of liked the meandering approach. It is very me, when I am not in court. Let me consider your comments, though...

Dear Debra,

But, no blue eyes...

Curiously, my Dad phoned me up a few hours ago.

I told him to read the posting.

I'm curious to see what the morrow brings...

Dear Raph,

I really am going to have to clarify a few things.

This is not (any longer) a standard approach of mine when a dinner or house guest. Unless the hosts are truly awful... and then I know a malum malus trick...

And I would never want to cause such upset at Necky Knoll House.

...Unless Trachelus Aplombus wants the challenge...

(So glad, by the way, that he is not Trachelus Aplombous... think how heavy, and dense, he would be then!)

Dear Gigihawaii,

It's not me that had the life, dear.

It was the apple and my dear Dad who both lived the good life, participating in exciting new variants of toilet spelunking, a lesser known (non-Olympic--not even on the planning boards...) sport...

I married a German, but as she is fluent in Mandarin, passable in Cantonese, plays the erhu (that two stringed Chinese violin) and does clerical script Chinese calligraphy, I sometimes think that, culturally, I received a twofer.

What can we say? Maybe its something in the water in Canada that drives us to the Far East.

Maybe it's what our Southern cousins would call manifest destiny, but we don't see the Pacific as a barrier or as an endpoint, merely as a second 'pond'...

Tschuess, all,

Reb said...

Chris, that was a great post. You reminded me of my first bike - a blue CCM with a blue sparkly banana seat and the high handle bars. You also made me glad I was raised at the other end of the province, we only had tiny little garter snakes.

Cloudia said...

What'd I say?!
Just that you and this post are bloody brilliant.

"Tighten up?" NEVAH! Carry on as you are doing. I'm your biggest fan. (OK, third biggest ;-)

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Reb,

Thanks. Glad to have brought back your old CCM to your mind, too.

Dear Cloudia,

:) My mistake. Thanks. I just feel that I always have too long of posts; I still write for paper and for myself.


murat11 said...

Deft the postbiblical postbiblicality of this treasure, choreography of snake eyes and Yahwistic Dad-eyes, son's Adamic throwing Eve (this time Mom) under the bus, all the wonderful, playful, timorous interweavings. You may have had it all mapped out before the rendering, but I like to think that the possibilities opened to your own delight as you trooped through the prose. Luminous any way it rolled. Peace/out.

Sepiru Chris said...

Merci, Murat

I'm finding my way and finding a voice.

Most of my writings are quite extemporaneous, and I am still determining the audience that I am writing for, here or elsewhere.

And it's true. The possibilities here opened themselves to me as I wrote, and their inclusion was absolutely intended to reveal the possibilities you saw.

Very fun and witty writings on your site. I will follow from a distance, as I am wont to do. Jumping in from time to time, perchance.

And thank you very much for your comments and encouragement. Very much appreciated.

And then I'll meet you at the e-crossroad, where Baron Samedi and Harold Bloom ride their favoured steeds while Joyce declaims in a quivering voice and Molly starts her Blaze...


murat11 said...


Thanks for your comments. Checked out your About Me profile. You know, of course you know, that "highly egocentric scribe" is a tautology. It takes one to know one, of course. We blog: that sez it all, brother. Blissfully so.

Heidelweiss said...

That may be one of the funniest stories in the history of the world. I'm still shaking with laughter over the whole apple fiasco. I was known in my house for flushing all the wrong things down the toilet. And denying it. A toothbrush and a goldfish the size of a koi were on the top of the list. I'm paying for it now. Will attempted a stuffed animal the other night. Also, some potpourri at his grandma's house (a large dried orange. Have you been talking to him?). Poor little 8 year old you? Peeing your pants over a dead snake. How were you to know? ;). Love it!

Sepiru Chris said...


Hey, hey, hey! No pant wettage there!

I became a man, or at least not a child, that day. Not a pant wetter.

Sheesh! A writer has to be ever-vigilant, here! :)

Koi down the toilet...


I am suppose to be working, not smothering laughs.

What the heck was the koi-sized goldfish doing to offend you so much?

We could be lost karmic souls, Heidelweiss.

I think we need to get together and discuss the range of items. And the driving forces.

Think of what Jungian analysts would say. Think of what Freud would say.

Richard Soloman, the great Sinologist, when writing about Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution ("Mao's Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture") used the oft-quoted phrase (and I paraphrase) that Mao was an anal leader seeking to transform an oral society.

What would the shrinks think of you or I?


Heidelweiss said...

WOOPS! MUST read these post more carefully! Well, I AM a girl. *I* would have peed my pants. The shrinks would certainly not think much of me (or perhaps have a grand time analyzing my oddness). The koi sized goldfish had died. While the whole family was out of town. I was the lonely child with a room in the basement. I entered said basement after a week long vacation and was overcome with the stench of rotting fish flesh. What was I supposed to do? I flushed the idiot fish. He didn't go down. And didn't go down. And DIDN'T go down. The toilet had to come apart. My sister's now ex husband had to do it. Serves him right. He's an ass.

Candace said...

How I enjoyed this. Thank you too for your very kind comments re: rain and drawings. LOL.

Last summer, I had taken my girl Molly for a walk, and T grabbed me as I entered our fenced in dog yard. "Watch out!"

A foot away from us, coiled and ready, the most beautiful creature... a copperhead. We gave it wide berth. But it was in the girls' pen. What to do?

We huddled and reached the sad conclusion that oldtimers had taught and for good reason. "If it's black, just step back. If it's brown, strike it down."
One blow with a shovel and the head came off, neat as a pin.

We wept over slaughtered beauty.
"Why did you come in here? Why?"
When one promises to protect one animal, at some point, another may have to fall...

And I know -- sort of -- people from Lethbridge. Mmm... small world, Chris. And as always, the woman is blamed for the trouble caused by that apple!!!

Take care and have a good rest of weekend.

Your Friend in Athens.

Elizabeth said...

Oh my ...has been long as we've been in Victoria visiting new grand girl " Bella Eliazabeth". Resulting in my not having read Jan, Feb or Mar. Now the reading of your posts, poetry and comments is done and my kudos can begin.

I've enjoyed the poetry and the posts. All of which are good and some of which are great and cause me to grimace as I attempt to stiffle chortles while dispensing.

Huge hellos to hero and heroine and scribe as well. I will try to read more often as 3 months in a day (including the every increasing comments) was daunting. Though, to be playing in the drift of your thoughts is joy.

Lots of Love



Teresa said...

Dear Chris,

I had to read your post several times before I was able to regain my verbal functions; therefore, I just posted "Wow" after the first time through. I really enjoyed the story, and it is very well written.

I, too, was wondering if you had peed your pants, but on the third perusal figured out that you had managed to wait for the car to pass and maneuvered yourself to the side of the road. Being male does have its advantages.

I would definitely say that in this particular post your raptorlike stylus beat the words into submission while etching them into the clay.

Have you and the Heroine thought any further about hot spots in Taipei for me to recommend to my classmates?


floreta said...

i love the story and your retelling of it! i awarded you at my blog.

Sepiru Chris said...

Liebe Heidelweiss,

The Heroine have your humble scribe both cracked up as a result of your comments and their corresponding mental images generated.

We are now suffering with Humpty Dumpty. Further, all the king's horses and all the King's men are as useless as ever. Why couldn't they have watched MacGyver or CSI in the intervening years?

P.S. I like the idea of the potpourri being flushed. Give my commendations to the next generation of toilet terrorists...

I'd suggest pinning the Order of the Goldfish onto him...

Dear Canadace,

That is indeed a remarkably sad story. And I hear you, all actions require consequences. Protecting one inevitably means harming another.

Certain aspects of the world are clearly distributive and zero-sum; one's gain is another's loss.

Thanks for sharing that tale.

Dear Lizzikers,

Congratulations on adding a new jewel to you hoard (horde?)!

It's lovely to see you again; you have been missed.

When are you catching that flight to Hong Kong to visit? Then we can play punning scrabble and explore the history and the gustatory corners of Kowloon and Hong Kong...

Dear Elaine,

Thank you ever so much. I apologized for not posting anything recently at catsss........meow recently. Life has been crazy, and I will be back in the third week of May (at least there is a break in the clouds).

I love the ideas of spaces for small poems between the lines. If anyone will find them, you surely will. I am in awe every time I visit catsss........meow and a traspirare il pomriggio di sole.


Dear Teresa,

I was poking fun in jest, Teresa. No offence is ever taken. I need to revisit the pants and determine if more clarity is required, although I also love ambiguity.

Taiwan shows up today, in the afternoon... (April 1st).

Dear Floreta,

I thank you very much, Floreta, and I will write something for Friday when I will publicly revel in the award and meet it's terms and conditions!


Bliss out to you, too. I have not written a long note on your site yet, and it shall come. I love your playfulness with language, especially the language of ideas and the language of knowledge.

Your effulgent poems brighten not just the nights, but the days too. Even at a difference, and standard physics tells us that radiance diminishes with the inverse square of the distance from the source. Or something like that.

Check this out... for an example...


Barbara Martin said...

Beiseker interred Germans, not racism but a fact of war; same with the Japanese.