“There’s an old joke about a Boy Scout who, one bright Saturday morning, puts on his uniform and declares to his Mother that he’s off to do good deeds all day long. When he returns a few hours later, with a black eye and looking like he just escaped from a dude ranch by being dragged through a hedge backwards, his Mother asks him what happened.
“He says, ‘I helped an old lady across the street.’
“‘But what happened to you?’ his Mother asks.
“‘She didn’t want to go.'” ~ I’m Not a Sheepdog – I Have Sheepdogs for That (Part 2 of 2)
On a Winter way back before the turn of the century, there came an olde fashioned “cold snap” of such depth and duration that it froze the entirety of Lunenburg’s front harbour, so for a spell it was possible to safely traverse its width afoot absent fear of aquatic consequences. The onset of Spring brought about a slow breakup, and when the wind was right, the outgoing tides launched thick rafts of ice that sailed majestically out to sea.
I was on duty in the emergency dispatch centre one quiet and blindingly sunny Sunday afternoon that Spring, doing my best to be the very personification of our company motto – “We doze, but we never close.” But not for long, as I was interrupted in my reverie by a call from a woman beside herself with concern for the welfare of an animal she described as not only stranded on an ice floe, but doomed to a terrible death by being swept out to sea.
On further inquiry, I learned the poor threatened thing to be, in fact, a Seal that my caller informed me she had observed being “washed up” on a free floating sheet of ice, and that had since then just laid there, to her mind frozen in fear as much as by the moderate northerly wind that was even now pushing the ice and its helpless cargo inexorably toward the harbour mouth. I learned my distraught witness had first attempted to report the incident to both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Whale Stranding Network, neither of which had been particularly helpful beyond telling her to call her local police.
My Grade 6 Teacher, Pauline M. Veinot, was a lady of such fearsome aspect as belied her diminutive stature. She was also a fount of rustic anecdotes and once told the class of a time tested practice for being rid of meddlesome children called “send the fool farther”. Quite simple in practice, it consists of entrusting the target with the important mission of delivering a written message to another person across town. The message, sealed in an envelope and delivered to its recipient, inevitably led to its being resealed and returned to the messenger on the grounds that the matter needed to be dealt with by someone else, again on the other side of town. This sequence was repeated until the exhausted messenger grew sufficiently suspicious to read the message themselves, only to learn that it read, “Send the fool farther.”
If you’ve ever called tech support for anything, or tried to get help from a government department, you’ll know that this game is still in vogue. My well meaning caller, however ill advised her reasons may have been, had arrived in my ear by the same means, and while I could have passed her off to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the grounds that the harbour waters were under federal jurisdiction, I chose to be helpful instead. After sending my compliments by wireless to the esteemed Constable J. D. (Jay) Bragg, and begging his indulgence to inspect the scene for confirmation that the animal in question was in fact taking its ease, and not in some form of obvious distress, I learned that the Seal was reclining happily in the head and tail raised rocking chair configuration that tribe is known to doze in. With that in mind, I returned to my restive caller.
“With all due respect ma’am, that Seal is not stranded,” I said.
“But it is!”, she replied, “I saw it get washed up on the ice!”
“I’m afraid it didn’t wash up. It swam there and climbed onto the ice.”
This seemed to inflame her. “Why would it do that?” she demanded.
“Well considering it’s sleeping right now, I’d say that it was tired and decided to take a nap.”
At this, she’d reached her limit I suppose, and started to cry.
“If that poor thing freezes to death,” she sobbed, “It will be your fault!”
After a pause, I said, “You’re obviously upset and you are quite right. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience, and come to think of it, there’s not much more I can do because the harbour waters are RCMP jurisdiction. Grab a pen and paper, and I’ll give you their dispatch number.”