“So tell me, what is the difference between Canada geese and Canadian geese?”
Our neighbor in cabin number six was standing on his porch, an elderly man from Wisconsin who looked to be in his late 60’s with grey hair and neatly trimmed beard to match. He and my Dad had befriended each other yesterday. Now they were deep – as deep as one gets while making small talk at a public campground – in conversation about the geese.
I was standing at the green Coleman two-burner stove, making breakfast. The morning was warm and dry. The cloudless sky was teasing, drawing summer to a close as autumn was patiently waiting. On the menu for our breakfast was one of my cuisine specialties: oats. Not the glue-like, tasteless slop that most come to hate. I stir up a thick, chewy, nutty variation, with toasted walnuts and fresh apples. And salt. Oatmeal without salt is like eating paste.
One thing I learned in my past career as a professional cyclist was to make killer oatmeal.
I was listening to the talk, keeping an eye on the boiling pot, and watching my daughter, Olympia, scurry around on the gravel pathway leading to our cabin. She had learned to walk three weeks ago. Already, running was more efficient.
I diligently measured the oats into the plastic measuring cup. His question was puzzling – was he joking, I wondered? What possibly could be the punch line?
But he was serious.
I craned my ear in their direction. I wanted to hear my Dad’s response.
My Father politely explained – as only a retired minister from Canada could – how there was no difference between the two: Canada and Canadian were the same annoying, protected bird (in Canada) from the north.
We were camping at Horsetooth Reservoir, a large dammed lake just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. My parents were visiting from Toronto, and we all made the one-hour drive for a final weekend of summer fun before they headed home.
The sun was now fully above the eastern hill that borders the southern end of the reservoir, now at an extreme low due to draught-like conditions, and the high use by the thirsty farms. Most of the water rights in Colorado are owned by agriculture. This summer they had drained the southern end of Horsetooth reservoir dry.
I peered out as I stirred the oats into the bubbling water, taking in the view of caked, dried mud and green growth that had sprouted where water used to lie a few months ago. In the far distance, beyond the three closed boat ramps now exposed and laying bare, waiting for the water to return to bring back their purpose, a few boats still dared to enter. They were stubbornly sucking the last remnants of recreation the reservoir had to offer, like wringing the last drops of water out of a damp towel.
However, the topic of this warm and sunny mid-September morning was about the geese. They numbered in the thirties was my guess – not that many from a Canadian standard. They were oblivious to the lack of water as they fed on the green field grass poking through the cracked surface.
“Have you eaten them? Do they taste ok?”
Only a curious Canuck could ask that.
They were like the forbidden fruit in Canada. But Mr. Wisconsin had hunted them, permitted in the USA, and had eaten them. They were tasty, he said.
I turned back to my cooking duty. I looked away from the defunct lake to the east, where a road entered. It curled around the bottom end of the Reservoir as it clung to the hillside, gradually ascending, until at the crest to the west it disappeared from sight. I watched as cyclists slowly pedaled, climbing in single file, following the wheel in front as closely as they could to save energy. The Reservoir was a handful of miles west of Fort Collins and a popular cycling area.
That was my life less than a month ago. I had not touched the bike since I finished my last race, now officially retired from the sport that consumed me for two decades. I watched the bicycles efficiently move upwards, appearing effortless, but I knew better.
I looked out again at the barren Reservoir, the aridness, the water slowly seeping away, draining with it the energy, the life that once was.
We are a lot alike, I thought.