Excavator called in to clear ice jam at Isthmus

By: Mandy Tourigny, Reporter

Gananoque Recorder and News
Dateline Chaffey’s Locks, 04/01/2013

Dangerously rising water levels on Clear and Newboro Lakes today prompted Parks Canada manager Allan Denaigault to contract a local excavation company to break up the ice jam blocking the Isthmus between the mainland and Scott Island at the ferry.

The dropping water level on Indian Lake at Chaffey’s Locks exposed shoals and a sunken boat “I’ve never seen before, even in fifty years living on this lake,” said local resident Dave Nugent.

Terry Peters, whose excavator untangled the ice floes blown in by last night’s stiff wind, commented: “Yeah, the ice was actually up against the ferry, so I undid the chain and pulled it up on shore with my Hy-Hoe. Then it wasn’t all that hard to uncork the ice. I could only reach out thirty feet, but the stuff wasn’t all that hard to break. The real worry was that the rushing water would take out the causeway, cause it’s mainly just gravel they trucked in there in 1949 when they put the ferry in.”

By press time the water levels had returned to normal, with minimal damage to the ferry landing at the Isthmus.

I’d forgotten about a series of yarns I’d let Wilhelm, a blogger in the Netherlands, have back in the ’90s.  Here’s one in memory of Dr. Douglas Heron, a good friend who passed away this summer.



Someone once published a bumper sticker which said, “Never trust a man whose car cost more than his boat.” Some of the people at the Dock have obviously taken this to heart.

Rod has a very nice antique mahogany cruiser, upon which he lavishes time and expense. His car is a different matter entirely. He never seems to get around to taking out the tools and paint supplies accumulated in the trunk during spring launching, and Rod’s summer is built around attempts to get his most recent clunker to run well enough to make one more trip.

He drives elderly Volvos, which seem to have made their way to him because the previous owners left the country rather than deal with the electrical glitches in their cars. A man of infinite patience, he cajoles these otherwise solid crates into working for a few more years.

Rod claims that these cars run faithfully all winter, but that they seem to hate the grass on which they are parked at the Marina. Mornings are often punctuated with the grinding of the starter, followed by the hiss and smell of some ignition spray or other which Rod has found in his trunk. One spot on the road is notorious for tripping up Rod’s cars. One time Reggie was riding with him and was surprised when Rod suddenly pulled off the gravel road and waited. The car’s engine slowed, stumbled, and stalled. Rod got out, wiggled some wires under the hood, restarted the car and continued the journey. Reggie asked, “Why did you pull over there?”

“Oh, it always stops there on hot days,” was Rod’s reply.

Each car has had its idiosyncracies. The first had an annoying habit of lighting up every gauge and indicator on the dash, and then quitting. This required some wiggles to the wiring harness. The second’s fuel pump required occasional sharp impacts from a wrench — no mean feat when the pump was under the car, inside a housing. The last one has been perhaps the most taxing. Suffice it to say that, after three years of careful observation and interrupted rides, Rod discovered that an ice pack wrapped carefully around the distributor would restore the car to health and strength until the next time it quit.

One time we watched for six hours while he and his 12 year-old-son, Charlie, took the starter housing apart, soldered a wire from a battery cable onto it, and reassembled it, while leaving the main part of the starter still installed on the car. Why not take the starter out and replace it? Didn’t have a hoist, or a wrench big enough.

The funny thing is, this guy isn’t poor. He just likes the challenge of driving jalopies.

Rod’s patience is second only to Orville’s. A wealthy attorney with an exquisite cottage on Newboro Lake, Orville has the world’s ugliest boat, a battered 14′ runabout with an 85 hp. outboard he picked up from a colleague. In the last three years it has sunk twice, and had most of its exterior trim torn off by hostile encounters with docks. One strip of rub-rail hasn’t yet made it all of the way off, and lies twisted over the windshield.

This boat replaced a 16′ aluminum skiff which leaked so badly that all visitors to Orville’s cottage took to wearing farmer’s rubber boots. This one met its end one day in early spring when it bucked Orville out and took after him at full throttle for several hair-raising minutes. Orville dove repeatedly, and eventually got to shore, but he had lost his boots, and this was too much. The hull went to the dump, the outboard to a rental outfit.

Orville’s pride and joy is his Cessna 172 floatplane. Apparently he and his partner Kirk picked up the plane for a song, and then got another junker for its floats. They put them together and discovered that it would fly, if they could get the thing off the water.

A 172 has a notoriously lazy engine, and on floats it becomes strictly a two-seater, and that is if the passenger hasn’t eaten any breakfast and the tank is empty. Orville’s takeoffs have become legendary. At first we thought he liked to race us when we were cruising across the lake, for he would taxi up behind us, engine racing, and splash through our wakes. Then we realized he was trying to bounce off the waves and into the air. Another trick which would impress even a loon, I’m sure, was his tactic of bouncing ONE pontoon off the water, and gaining airspeed to get the other one up on the next set of waves. These cockeyed forced-marches across Indian and Newboro Lakes were more a source of merriment than inconvenience, until the day that Orville’s wife forgot to bail out the pontoons.

Orville and his wife had always seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time out at the Cessna’s mooring, pumping with an hand bilge pump, but no one thought too much about it until one morning someone saw that one wingtip had sagged down to the water’s surface, and the Cessna seemed doomed.

The rescue crew sprang into action. Wayne climbed into a skiff, started the engine, ran out to the mooring , where he promptly tangled his prop in the mooring chain. So much for Wayne. A couple of us in dinghies managed to disentangle Wayne and get him back to the dock. Then came the Cessna.

I guess the general thought was that, if it was sinking, the thing to do was to get it out of the water. But that’s not so easy with an object that sits on pontoons and has a board 35′ wide tied to its head. We hadn’t thought about the wings when we headed for the boat-launch ramp.

People on the dock quickly saw the problem and started moving boats to make way for the starboard wing, but nobody had the guts to move the oak tree on the port side. What to do?

Harry was in favour of cutting the wings off. Irwin wanted to let the thing sink, down in the bay, to let mud into the floats and seal them up. Orville was in court somewhere and not to be found. Saner heads prevailed and up the launch ramp it came, sideways, until it hit bottom. Then everybody lifted on the stranded pontoon, and up she came some more. There the Cessna sat, rather elegantly, actually, lording over the docks, fuse panels, carts and swimming area, this aluminum thing which didn’t fit the space.

I wasn’t around when the service crew came to pick up the Cessna. I understand that they pumped out the pontoons, somehow got the wounded bird into the air, and flew it to Constance Bay where they grounded it and rebuilt the pontoons at astronomical cost.

Not everyone on the Dock has been as patient as Rod and Orville. Reggie bought a slightly used Passat, and all went well until one day he ran out of gas. Something went wrong, and it wouldn’t start once fuel was added. Fuses started popping. Now Reggie is a Scotsman, and nothing if not careful with a dollar. He took to repairing fuses. This was amazing. He took a stray wire off a wrecked trailer, and bit strands of wire free from the others, then threaded them through the fuse to make the connection. Meanwhile he got madder and madder. Eventually the car started, but Reggie had already vowed we would never see that car again. The next week he had a new Nissan.

Then there was Veronica’s Fiat. Veronica is a new member of the community, and everyone admired her restored ’79 Fiat Spyder, at least until on a Friday evening a wheel fell off it (ball joint) when she backed down the twisting hill to the loading area. Great consternation swept the docks. You’d think these guys had never had a wheel fall off before. Then came the problem: what do you do with a ton and a half of disabled sports car on a 20 degree slope when there are six other cars waiting to unload and twenty more on the highway?

Wayne, the owner of the Dock, is nothing if not ingenious. Down came the lift truck. Under the car went the forks. Up came the Fiat, just like an errant runabout. Out to the parking lot. Block under the wheel. Veronica carefully locked the car up. We assured her that it wasn’t going anywhere, at least temporarily. A local mechanic had it going by the following Tuesday.

The trouble now is that everybody is buying SUVs. Rod’s 4Runner, Justin’s Pathfinder, Bill’s and Dick’s Explorers, Jeep Grand Cherokees’s too numerous to mention, have taken the fun out of fixing jalopies. At least the boats still misbehave…

“We can fake the oath!”

February 5, 2012

“We can fake the _____!” has become the hottest catchphrase in journalism since CP reporter Jennifer Ditchburn broke the story about the faked citizenship ceremony on October 19th, 2011 at Sun TV in Toronto.  Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney blamed a middle level bureaucrat for the fiasco, so for your amusement I decided to fake an excerpt from the autobiography of the scapegoat, Tracie LeBlanc.

Tracie’s, my handbag salon, used to be a T-shirt shop in the basement of the Eaton Centre. It’s tough starting out in retail, but if the business fails it’s because of what I did or didn’t do, not because The Minister told Raylene to find a scapegoat for last October’s foul-up at Sun TV.

I was working at Citizenship and Immigration on a short-term contract. In the job interview I told them that the character in literature which had the most influence on me was Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.  I loved the way that each day Winston had his hand on the pulse of the nation, and was able to contribute using his intelligence and imagination, even within the confines of a bureaucracy. Both of my interviewers smiled when I mentioned Comrade Ogilvie, the heroic character Winston completely made up to fill a news gap.

Then two weeks later a voice called and asked me to start at 400 University Avenue, where I was escorted to a fourth-floor cubicle not unlike the one Winston occupied in the first chapters of Orwell’s novel.

I was to be an acting senior communications advisor. My job was to sign letters and press releases cranked out by The Minister and many levels of management above me. The letters were already written by the time they got to my inbox, but it was my name, Tracie LeBlanc, that was the signature on the final copy.

Then came the show at the Sun TV studio at 25 Ontario Street. The Minister wanted a Citizenship Week ceremony on a tame network and Sun TV was happy to oblige.

Someone had to call new Canadians and ask them to come to the studio. Margaret asked me to round up ten bodies and get them in front of a camera on Wednesday, October 19th at 2:00 p.m. She sent along a list of 3000 names and phone numbers.

Nobody answered during working hours. The machines contained messages in languages I couldn’t understand. When I stayed late to call, I’d get a couple of words out and then somebody would swear at me for interrupting their supper hour. Whatever happened to phone manners?

But on Saturday morning I did manage to nab one sweet Pakistani woman who was very polite to me. She confided that she was a stay-at-home mother and would only be able to attend the ceremony on a Wednesday if she could bring her son and daughter along. I assured her that would be just fine.

A dozen others agreed to come, but they didn’t sound serious about it. I put them down as possibles, and warned Margaret that we might have a problem with numbers because most new Canadians who would talk to me couldn’t take time off work.

As a backup I slipped over to the Eaton Centre, found a T-shirt store having a going-out-of-business sale, and had the guy print me ten, extra-large T-shirts. He only had white left, so I took them.

As a student I had learned that there are two things that motivate everybody: free food and free clothes. I figured if I couldn’t get enough new Canadians into the studio, I could nab a few people in the office with T-shirts and Subway coupons.

At ten o’clock Wednesday morning I made like a T-shirt cannon, tossing shirts over the cubicles to anyone who looked up. “Does this mean I have to become a Canadian citizen again?” Fred yelled.

“That’s what it says. I’ll likely only need you as a spectator, but I’ll buy lunch, and you might get on camera if nobody shows up.” More arms went up.

As I had feared, only the nice Pakistani lady and her two kids showed up. Seven of my crew extended the line in front of the camera. The other three mugged behind the glass and took pictures for the office bulletin board.

My bosses were effusive in their praise for my “quick thinking.”  “Thanks for the feed back and the quick fix to bring CIC staff,” wrote Raylene Baker. Senior management had noticed me!

The whole thing would have been just an amusing incident if not for Jennifer Ditchburn. Using a freedom of information chit she nabbed the emails which had been flowing back and forth from The Minister to our office and to Sun TV.  When she put together the account of my T-shirts and the bogus photo-op, it hit the fan.

By then I was well out of it. My contract hadn’t been renewed because of the upcoming federal budget.  If I do another contract maybe it will be in the Prime Minister’s Office. Those guys are no more qualified than I am, they make a lot of money, and they get to have the real fun.

How to blow up a tree

August 2, 2009

The elm had been full of health when we built the house, but the blight took it and left a huge and rotting cadaver.  I was afraid to cut it.  As elms often do, three trunks had grown from a common stump, then together, and apart again.  The disease had shorn the heavier limbs off it by the time I had worked up enough nerve to do something about it.

Over the previous years I had cut up and burned a number of large elms, so I wasn’t exactly a babe-in-the-woods when it came to felling large trees.  Still, this one gave me the willies.  Most trees lean, and can be tipped in that general direction with a large notch, some careful cutting, and a steel wedge.   But I couldn’t tell where, if anywhere, this one wanted to fall.

A colleague, Pat Quinn, got wind of my problem.  Pat is legendary for his explosive solutions to problems.  “Rod, why don’t you just blow the thing up?  I’ve got some dynamite the County let me have to clear beaver dams out of culverts, and it’s getting pretty old.  I should use it up because it’s starting to sweat.  Want me to come up on Saturday and take care of the tree?”  I nodded, a little nervously.  Like most of the rookies and all of the kids at Smiths Falls Collegiate, I was a bit scared of Pat.  I told him I’d be ready for him on Saturday morning, though.

That afternoon I tried to cut the tree.  Even with a huge notch and deep cuts all around, the tree would not tip.

Pat drove in Saturday morning.  “I was a little nervous over some of the bumps on Hwy. 15 with that dynamite in the trunk.  It’s sweating, and those drops on the outside of it are nitroglycerine.  Be sure when you’re handling it you wear heavy gloves.  Otherwise your heart will start to race like crazy from just a touch.  It absorbs through the skin.”

I didn’t know if he was doing a number on me or not, so I tried to appear relaxed. Pat looked the tree over and decided to tie three sticks to the side of the trunk just to see what happened.  He sent me to put in the electric cap fastened to the 200’ of wire.  We would set it off by shorting the contacts across the poles of a 12v car battery.

Dutifully I carried the cap and the wire over to the tree where Pat had made a show of tying the dynamite on with his hands encased in heavy gloves.  I looked back to ask him something.  No Pat.  That’s strange.  I followed the yellow wires over a rise and found him lying behind a boulder with eyes shut and fingers in his ears.

“All right, Pat, quit foolin’ around!  I’m going to hook them up now!”  Feeling none too eager to bring cap to nitro, I nevertheless stuffed the cap into the end of one of the sticks.  Then I did not run.  I walked back to Pat’s boulder, but he made me find my own.

He fired the shot.  It went “bang”.  A bit of bark fell off the trunk, but that was it.  A couple of Holsteins looked up, but soon lost interest.

Pat got serious.  This time he jammed three sticks into a crevasse between two of the trunks and shot that.  More bark flew, but the tree barely moved.

My turn.  “Okay, this is what we’ll do.  Over there on the other side of the house is a pile of clay.  Bring over a pail-full of it while I cut a mortise into the trunk to hold the next shot.”

I fired up the saw and made a plunge cut straight into the back of the trunk.  It went in all 30” of the bar’s length.  I pulled it out and made three more cuts into the punky wood, until I had created a 4” mortise straight into the heart of the tree, just at the level where I had cut the wedge before.  Then I hit it with the axe and wonder of all, the square plug of rotten elm popped right out.

Pat looked really apprehensive at this, but I pushed in three sticks of dynamite and a blasting cap.  Then I used half a pail of clay to seal the hole.

The shot wasn’t particularly loud.  It was more of a roar, but the hundred-foot tree seemed to lift slowly above the stump about four feet.  Then it stopped and turned horizontal in mid-air before it did a spectacular belly flop into the neighbour’s quarry.  It hit so hard most of the trunk broke up into chips.

When the dust had settled and the last few branches had found their way to earth, there really wasn’t anything to cut up and move, so Pat and I celebrated a job neatly done and he left with new respect for the power of dynamite sealed in a tree.

I dread Friday the 13th.  I have done so ever since April, 1971, when on a Shakespeare exam at Queen’s I faced a compulsory 45 mark question on three plays I hadn’t read.  Then I reeled into a Canadian history exam and had forgotten pretty well everything by the fifth hour of the six-hour ordeal.

It’s not that I’m overly superstitious.  No, my fear of Friday the 13th comes as the result of a lifelong series of catastrophes on that day, many of which have had a built-in ironic component which makes my head spin.  The mysterious case of the runaway Bronco is a good example:


I was in the shower, a bit late for the drive to school, when I heard a loud crash.  Bet shouted, “Rod, somebody’s hit your truck!”

I stumbled outside.  There was my poor 4Runner, huddled against the curb, one back wheel driven up onto the lawn.  The left side had been creased and scratched and the mirror was nowhere to be found.

Just past my truck a Ford Bronco had wrapped itself around the hydro pole which grows at the edge of our driveway.  Coolant gushed from the radiator and perfumed the air around the wreck.  I checked the cab.  No driver.  What’s more, the interior of the truck was tidy, locked up, and with no keys in the ignition.

A Smiths Falls Police cruiser arrived. The officers looked as bewildered as I about the absent driver.

About this time a little guy strolled up the road from Quattrocchi’s vegetable warehouse, a block further down the hill.  “I’d just got in with a load a’ potatoes from New Brunswick when I saw those poles and wires-a-dancing, so I left my truck to come up and see what’s happened.”

Constable Jim Ecker asked, “Sir, did you see the accident?  Did you see anyone running away from the vehicle?”

“No, all I saw’s the wires, but they were really jumping around there for a bit.”

The stranger walked over to the wrecked SUV.  “Say, now, that’s a 1986 Ford Bronco.  I had one a’ them.  Thing kept jumpin’outa park whenever I left ‘er parked on a hill.  Finally it got away on me out front o’ my sister’s house and it rolled into a swamp and we never did find it again.  Brand new tires on’er, too.  I missed those tires.”

Constable Alison Smith piped up:  “Sir, are you suggesting that this vehicle might have been parked up the street, and that it jumped out of park and rolled down the hill until it hit this pole?”

The man looked at the wrecked Bronco, looked up the street, considered the slopes, the distances, the angle of deflection off my Toyota, and nodded his head in the affirmative.  “Yep.”

Constable Ecker ran the plate and discovered that the Bronco was registered to the pastor of his church.  He called and interrupted the clergyman’s breakfast.  He promised to come right over, and soon parked his Crown Victoria behind my stricken 4Runner.

“I lent the Bronco to my daughter to use while her husband is out of town.  They live in an apartment up the hill,” gesturing up Church Street towards the town hall.

“What’s her name and phone number, Reverend?” Smith asked.

“Would you mind not calling her?  She worked the night shift and is probably just getting to sleep now.  Why don’t I call my insurance company and the tow-truck and we let her sleep?”

The officers decided that this would be all right, so a genial and very knowledgeable tow truck owner soon arrived and separated the Bronco from its splintered adversary.

It fell to me to notify my insurance company of the accident.  The local answering machine referred me to another in Kingston, into which I dictated my message.

“Dear Sir, Madam, or machine:  This morning at approximately 7:30 a ten year-old Bronco got away from its owner and ran down the street, plunged through an intersection, sideswiped my 4Runner and killed itself on the hydro pole in my driveway.”

I left my contact numbers and soon a smart and very competent woman called to guide me through procedures. The repairs were soon done to my satisfaction, the rental Ford went back, and I thought I had heard the last of the matter.

Then, three months later, a letter arrived from the insurance company:

“Dear Mr. Croskery   re:  Animal Collision, April 13, 1997.  We hope that you have found the repairs to your vehicle satisfactory…”

Animal collision??? This left me in a quandary.  The nice lady on the phone couldn’t possibly have mistaken a 1986 Bronco for a horse.  So was she joking?  I couldn’t tell, and worse, I didn’t know how to respond.  Do I clear up her “misconception” and make myself the butt of the joke, or do I let it go? Torn by indecision, I finally wimped out and said that everything was fine.  Maybe that gave her the best laugh of all.

When I told the guys at the Marina about this, my Newfoundland friend Les said that he had the same thing happen when he hit a moose with his Blazer.  About three months later a letter came, this one about a “collision with a flying object.”

“Well, that moose was a’flyin after I ran into ‘er, but maybe they’d used up all the animal collisions in Ontario and gave us what was left over.”

The Battle of Apple Hill

December 28, 2007

Irwin Smythe drove his Cadillac down the ramp one Friday evening in early August, got out, slammed the door and stalked down the dock without a look at anyone. Every ounce of his 340 pounds radiated outrage. He had the bearing of a man, not just angry, but on the verge of a heart attack.

After a while, the groceries and his wife Eleanor stowed aboard their houseboat, Irwin took the car back up to the parking lot and made his way back down to the porch, where he unloaded his tale of woe.

Irwin and Eleanor had bought this bass boat, one with a zillion horsepower, a trolling motor, and enough electronics to knock out a submarine. He had rented an extra slip for it at the marina, so that it would always be ready for them to use. But Irwin hadn’t finished at this point. He decided that the sun was too hot for Eleanor when they were fishing, so he had a bimini top built for the boat, with special supports to hold the shade in place at the 70 miles per hour the thing could do.

Irwin wanted only the best, and this went for tackle and bait, as well. He tried all of the catalogue specials, and they had worked reasonably well throughout the month of July, but August bass wanted frogs, and so Irwin gave up on artificials in favour of the real thing. He even modified one of the wells on the boat to make a vivarium for frogs. Though he killed them before he put them on a hook, up to that time Irwin’s frogs lived in air-conditioned comfort in his black, metal-flake, Ranger bass boat.

Notwithstanding his expensive equipment, Irwin got his frogs the same way the rest of us did, by catching them in the parking lot. None of Irwin’s high-tech toys paid off like his two-dollar butterfly net. With his bulk, Irwin needed the net to catch the frogs, but with it he proved a crafty and successful frogger.

The bass had been biting, and the parking lot was running temporarily short of frogs. Irwin decided that there was some nice moist grass a couple of miles down the road, in a rural suburb known as Apple Hill. Irwin vaguely knew the developer from his real estate dealings, so he got the fellow’s number from his secretary, and had a word with him on his car-phone about his bait-supply problem. The developer told Irwin to go ahead and send his crew over to pick frogs.

Irwin’s “crew” this Friday afternoon had consisted of one man, Irwin, still in a white shirt and tie, but with tennis shoes and a pair of fluorescent green Bermuda shorts. Eleanor chose to relax in the idling Cadillac with the air conditioning set at glacial and the CD player whispering Vivaldi.

Irwin had removed one of his socks when he changed his shoes, because we had taught him that the most efficient and humane way to transport frogs was in a woollen sock, slightly dampened. (The wool wicks the moisture off, thereby cooling the frogs and keeping them more comfortable.) Eleanor’s bottle of Perrier lay empty and abandoned on the hood of the car.

Mrs. Emily Penney was returning from an expedition to a craft store in Westport, thinking half about her new garden sculpture by Doef, and half about what to serve her future son-in-law for tomorrow’s dinner when she encountered, parked on the grass at the approach to her home, an idling, white Cadillac. A large, dishevelled man with a butterfly net, ludicrous trousers and one sock, was hopping around her lawn, waving the net at what appeared to be pieces of clover, then pouncing, only to come up with delight clutching a small, quivering object, which he would promptly thrust deep into the bowels of an executive-length sock, tie the sock, and repeat the process.

Mrs. Penney watched this for some moments, then, realizing that the pursued were frogs, rather than some sort of loathsome insect, decided that she must do her part to save the wetlands of Ontario. She drove up behind the idling Cadillac, shut off her Subaru, and slammed the door behind her as she strode to confront this intruder.

This broke Irwin’s concentration, and he looked up with annoyance after missing a nice green leopard.

“Those are my frogs.”

“What?” Irwin asked.

“I said, those are my frogs. This is my property, and those are my frogs. Would you please leave?”

“Lady, I just talked to the developer, Stan Miller, on my car phone on the way through Portland, and this lot is still for sale. You don’t own it, the corporation does.”

“Those are still my frogs.”

“How can they be your frogs? They’re not on your land, I’m not on your land, and the frogs are all jumping into the ditch as we speak. Now what’s your problem?”

“Those frogs have grown up in Apple Hill. I live in Apple Hill. We are fellow residents, and we are not about to have you hooligans from a campground come over here to traipse around our lawns with butterfly nets.” Mrs. Penny ran out of breath at about the same time that she ran out of invective, and so subsided with a puff. We could imagine Irwin’s face turning from pink, to red, to bluish black. Perhaps he remembered to breathe in time, because we hadn’t heard any ambulances.

Anyway, Irwin backed down, with little grace, one might guess, still clutching a half-dozen spotted hostages. Her voice rang out once more: “Give me back my frogs. You may not kidnap them to use for your purposes.” Irwin clutched the sock to his chest, climbed into his car, and backed out to the road in a cloud of dust. Mrs. Penney, satisfied that she had done her bit for the environment and all of the loathsome creatures in it, drove her Subaru in triumph the remaining fifty feet to her driveway.

We felt badly for Irwin, and a little frightened for his health. This was the angriest we had ever seen him, and he normally had blood pressure that a giraffe would respect.

So we hid our smiles and started a discussion about who owned the frogs. Bloody-minded crew that we were, we could find no one to argue the Apple Hill side, so we decided to ask for a judicial review.

Out of Irwin’s earshot we approached His Worship, Justin Paul with the facts of the case, and asked him for a judgement. Jack did a creditable job of describing how Irwin must have appeared chasing frogs with a butterfly net, and Justin had a hard time containing his mirth, especially when Jack, an unconscious mimic, re-created both sides of Irwin’s dialogue with Mrs. Penney. Finally, the judge announced his intention to consider this in chambers, and went off to his boat for an afternoon nap.

A few days later, Justin announced that he was prepared to deliver his judgement on the case of Smythe versus Penney. We all gathered round and His Worship began:

“In Ancient England there were common lands where the villagers could graze their cattle on the grass, and take them home to milk later. The precedent for this case comes from the ancient English common law which governed the possession of cattle and other livestock ranging upon the common land.

“Mrs. Penney’s claim to the frogs depends entirely upon the state of mind of each frog at the time of the dispute. Before the law there are two possible states of mind for an animal: animus fruendi, and animus revertendi, that is, the impulse to flee, or the impulse to come to its owner, when called. The villagers proved ownership of their livestock by calling their animals off the common.

“Mrs. Penney does, indeed, own the frogs. All she has to do is call them. Any and all of the frogs which come when she calls them, belong to her. If they do not come when she calls them, or if they flee at her approach, they are fair game for anyone else on the common.”

We greatly admired this judgement, particularly his informed use of Latin, but by now Irwin had cooled down, was catching bass on surface plugs, and Eleanor thought it probably would be best not to disturb him with the news. Still, we liked the ring of animus revertendi, and we still talk about the Battle of Apple Hill.

Copyright, Rod Croskery, 1995