Slowly Unfurling #SOL2022

Good morning. How are you? Have you expanded easily into summer?

Slowly unfurling.

My father built his first sailboat in the garage of our bungalow in Toronto. We lived on a cul de sac, which sounds much better than “dead end street” which we used to say as children. It was a dingy, a single-sailed boat with a mast called a Penguin. He bought the blueprint designs, the wood and tools and constructed every part by hand, except the sail. He hand crafted the wooden hull secure against the water and waves, but purchased the triangular cloth, the sail with a symbol and a number, almost like a license plate but for boats, ready to catch the wind.

For three summers, he learned to steer the vessel, catching wind, navigating the waters of Georgian Bay. But, this wasn’t enough. One sail couldn’t harness much wind and he would fall behind other boats racing across the choppy blue-green waves. So, he bought another blueprint and built another boat with a mainsail and a jib – a Fireball – first conceived in 1962.

I remember skipping, double-dutch, in the driveway, peeking over at the sleek cedar hull, sanded and varnished, feeling admiration and pride. Neighbours came to watch the process unfolding, seeing the nearly five foot expanse jutting out of the too-small garage. It was summer and he had been preparing in the basement all winter.

That boat would speedily slide across the choppy waters and even with my mandatory life preserver, I was scared with every outing. I sat tense near the centre mast at the front of the boar. We would tack across the bay from Beaver Dams beach to Blueberry Island where we would fill a bucket with wild blueberries. Other than the odd pine growing out of the rocky mossy surface, blueberry bushes covered the tiny island. I’d sail for blueberries, knowing we had a destination, but fear would grip me every time.

Each tack sent me under the boom to the other side of the boat and my father would coax me to “handle the jib” barking commands to bring in the sail to catch the wind. I’d pull and watch the two white pieces of fabric flutter with each turn imagining they would never open again – we’d be stranded. Yet, each time, with a few turns of the rudder, and attention to nature, they would unfurl and open again to the wind.

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Obligation #SOL2022

The police arrived and smashed in the two rear windows of his new black truck parked across the street beneath the balconies of two newly constructed three story buildings, an infill on our old residential street. They needed to get a brown Lab out of the vehicle. It was nearly 30 degrees celsius and his tongue was extended, bouncing with his rapid panting.

For the past six months or so, I’d seen this new tenant, a middle-aged portly white man, living in an expensive apartment, yank and yell at his two Labrador Retrievers, one older and one younger – a puppy just learning to walk. Each aggressive thrust on the leash hurled their muscled bodies back against him as he leaned forward cursing and glowering. Each time, I felt my body pull away, my head turn sideways, eyes squinting, and mouth drawing in air through clenched teeth. I desperately wanting to admonish him. But, I didn’t.

Through my dining room window. I’d seen him enter the building with his disabled son, on his own, and thought I should hold my tongue, hold judgement. Maybe I’d witnessed him at a difficult moment. Unrestrained frustration. But then, I’d see the same public violence, yanking, yelling, nothing that would leave visible marks. I’d observe, weigh and measure, looking for an opportunity to speak, maybe offer help, a trainer, some advice on positive reinforcement, on kindness as encouragement. I’d imagine myself saying, “I’m no expert, but I’m a dog owner, and that looks harmful.”

This reluctance changes when I realize this animal’s life was in danger. He made a choice to leave a living being locked in a hot vehicle. This choice is not only illegal. This moment confirms my obligation. It’s no longer about kindness or being non-judgemental.

Another neighbour holds his toddler while two others twirl around his legs. He talks with my husband at the end of the driveway explaining the dog was in the car for 40 minutes. He, too, saw the police smash the truck windows jarring the neighbourhood out of summer slumber. He’d spoken to the man previously over the fence that separates their properties, the man who yelled obscenities at his disabled son; he’d asked him for kindness. “Please stop. My children are in my backyard and they hear you yelling.” He’d seen him kick his dogs and told him to stop.

This duty begins unfolding in my head as I calculate how, and when, and if I’ll speak to him directly. I research information on animal abuse through the Humane Society, my chosen charity for the year. Anil Seth reminds me that “I am a part of what’s going on; I am not apart from what’s going on.” My obligation is now clear.