Monday, October 18, 2010

The Swimming Hole

My Dad spent some of his childhood living with his family in a log cabin built back in the woods in Northern Ontario. The house was a long way from the nearest road and had to be reached by hiking along a trail through the forest. Supplies were carried in on a toboggan in winter and in huge backpacks in summer. He and his brothers and sisters made their own entertainment when they weren’t occupied in the many chores necessary to the family’s survival.

They were delighted the summer they discovered a beaver pond that was deep enough to swim in. Unfortunately, their first attempt at using it as a swimming hole revealed one major flaw. It turned out to be infested with leeches. There are few things more horrifying than emerging from the water covered in clinging three inch long bloodsuckers that refuse to let go unless you happen to have a handful of salt or a lit cigarette to burn them off. No one was keen to try it a second time but my Dad and his brothers refused to be put off. They were determined to make the pond their own. All it would need was guts, perseverance and a little ingenuity….no problem.

They ‘borrowed’ the axe to cut down a few trees and went to work constructing a raft. It wasn’t long before they had something big enough to carry them and they lost no time in trying out the plan they’d worked out to clear the pond of leeches. Armed with a bucket they poled themselves out into the centre of the open water. With infinite caution they inched their way to one side of the raft tipping it just enough so that the water would slosh around their ankles on that side. The last thing they wanted was to have it flip right over dumping them all in the drink. Once they had the raft balanced with one side underwater all they had to do was wait. They might as well have rung a dinner bell with their own feet as the main course. In moments the water covering the raft was black with leeches. On a prearranged signal, the boys would redistribute their weight and the raft would bob back to the surface leaving the leeches stranded on the logs. Then all that was left was to collect them in the bucket before setting the trap again. What do you do with a bucket full of leeches? In the end they decided to build a fire and burn them to ensure they couldn’t somehow find their way back into the water.

It took countless repetitions over the next weeks until they began to notice a lessening in the numbers of leeches they caught in that way. Eventually they could stand ankle deep on one side of the raft without enticing a single leech to the proffered feast. It was a victory of sorts. The pond was pronounced safe to swim in at last. They still had to contend with an occasional bloodsucker but after all they’d gone through it seemed a small inconvenience rather than any sort of deterrent to their fun. The Beaver Pond was rechristened the Swimming Hole and for the rest of the summer echoed with the sounds of children at play.

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