Canadian Circle

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"All my life's a circle

sunrise and sundown ... "

Dateline: The Summer of '64 ...

I named my cow.

Unlike most farmers.

I named my chickens.

Unlike most farmers.

Not the pigs though.

The pigs scared me.

The smell, you know.

At the time I didn't know pigs were pre-bacon.

I've come to love pigs.

Double order, extra crispy.

It was the summer of 1964. I was 12. And I was farming.

" ... moon rolls thru the nighttime

till the daybreak comes around ... "

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

Four stories above the Niagara River.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

Steel girders flashed by the window.

To the beat of the '57 Chevy Belair.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

From the back seat I could see the white metal dashboard, and part of the silver radio ... two knobs on each side ... one for volume ... one for the AM station.

I saw my father's eyes in the rearview mirror as I yelled, "Stop ... STOP, right there." Dad just looked at me, but when I saw the smile wrinkle on the side of his eyes, I knew he would stop ... turning the radio tuning knob. Stop on a new sound ...not Dad's sound ... my sound.

The Beatles.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

The white wall tires making their own music on The Peace Bridge. From the back seat I could feel the beat of the tires on expansion joints.

Could feel the magic as the beat under my seat matched the music of the radio.

It was the moment music entered my soul.

And then.

THUMP!

As I looked up over the back seat door jam I could see the American flag framed in blue sky.

THUMP!

As I watched a new flag came into view ... red ... white ... with a leaf in the middle. A red leaf.

THUMP!

And with the loud thump, came another country.

Canada.

And with that loud thump, Canada entered my soul. Carried there by a '57 Chevy, the music of The Beatles, and the smile in my Dad's eyes.

Even now I never see the Maple Leaf without hearing the beat of the Peace Bridge deep inside me.

" ... all my life's a circle

but I can't tell you why... "

I am, Canadian.

A part of me. Legit Canadian roots.

But I didn't know it then.

As a 12-year-old in the back seat all I knew of Canada was the fuzzy black & white TV images that would bleed over the border onto our fuzzy black & white Buffalo TV's.

But Canada was also in the bedroom next to mine.

Canada, pretty much, raised me.

Canada, was my grandmother, Tess.

Tess was born and raised in Canada.

As was her husband, my grandfather, Clay, a native American from Canada.

Gramps passed away long before the '57 Chevy ride and the Beatles. Gram was with me pretty much every day of my life as I was growing up.

Gram passed away about a year or so after holding our first baby, Ashley, in her arms. I've missed her every day of my life since.

But on that day during the summer of '64 my father was taking me to the farm that had been in Gram's family forever.

We were heading to somewhere near the Ontario towns of Dunnville and Cayuga.

A drive, it turns out, my Dad and I made every summer for years.

My summers of farming.

My summers spent in Canada, with Gram. And cousins who I'm told are still there.

My summers of naming chickens.

Of naming cows.

But not pigs.

My summers of being Canadian.

Of being with family.

Of being in a land of beauty. Of oceans of hay, streams filled with pollywogs, skies filled with hawks, sky filled with SKY.

Magic to a Buffalo kid.

And all of that came back to me yesterday.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

The beat of the Peace Bridge played in my head as I stood there.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

The beat of the Peace Bridge played in my soul, the smile of my Dad's eyes, the hugs of my Gram, all bouncing around inside. Me.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

As my life came full circle at Candlewood Lake.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

As I met the Canadian Bass Federation Nation Team.

And they told me they were from .... Ontario.

" ... season's spinning round again

the years keep rollin' by ... "

Tournaments are very detailed oriented.

I am not.

For detailed information about the Bass Federation Nation Eastern Championship Tournament, just click around the Bassmaster.com web site.

Here's the db non-detailed version of the shindig on Candlewood.

You have as many teams as the New England states and Ontario, Canada, add up to.

Something like 18-19 ... maybe more, could be less, guys from the each state ... Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and the not a state, Ontario ... Bass teams come here and fish battle for the right to go to the national final in Shreveport, La., for a shot at competing in the Bassmaster Classic.

Dudes, that would be like your wife buying you for Father's Day The MLB Fantasy Spring Training Camp experience of playing with the team as a gift ... and you end up playing in the World Series.

Cool, but here's the real cool thing that frankly I had no idea about until last night at registration.

During the tournament you get two anglers in the boat, one fishes the front of the boat for half the day, then they switch around, vice-versa like.

But dig this, it's like the United Nations of fishing out there, all jumbled up like a blended Margarita.

A New York angler could have an angler from Massachusetts fishing with him (and I hope saying nasty things about the upcoming Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriot game).

Ontario fishing with Vermont, or Maine, or Connecticut.

It's pulling names out of a hat détente.

Pretty cool.

I first met the Ontario team in the parking lot of some hotel. They were working on their boats, tying stuff, talking about stuff, playing with GPS stuff.

Boat covers are on the sidewalk, electrical cords dangle from the hotel room windows ... the second floor windows ... down to their boats.

I walk up to them and say something 1st Amendment like that clearly identifies me as a reporter and not some lost member of the Grateful Dead band or ... David Crosby.

En masse they turn and look at me, and say hello.

And I can hear what they are not saying. Oh great another reporter going to do a story filled with jokes about "Aye," or moose, or the Great White this or that, or even "Beer Aye, Labatt's Blue."

I know the feeling, I see it every time I tell someone I'm from Buffalo and I see the wonderment in their face that I'm not wearing a parka and carrying a snow shovel.

And it's July.

I say this:

"No moose."

"No Aye."

"Ah, maybe a Blue ... if ya got one."

"My Gram would not be happy with me if I did the easy, stereotypical, lazy story. Raised me to respect, not ridicule."

"And dudes, my grandmother and grandfather were born and raised in Canada ...O ntario, Canada."

"I'm like freakin' Canadian ... "

And from someone on the sidewalk behind a boat, in the accent I have heard since I have been alive, I hear this:

"Told ya man, it wasn't David Crosby."

" ... it seems like I've been here before

I can't remember when ... "

So around a boat, in a Connecticut hotel parking lot, 46 years of db melts away as the Ontario team tells me their names, and the towns they are from.

And as I write the info down I'm smiling because this is what I really hear Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

... the beat of The Peace Bridge, the Beatles through the speakers of a '57 Chevy, Gram calling for "Donnie."

Then I start sniffing, not sniffling, sniffing, food hunting smelling. I turn around to see off in the corner of the parking lot a truck camper, and outside of it, a couple grills, and a guy with gray hair grilling.

Brian Geisel from Kitchner, Ontario.

And the dude has some Hall-of-Fame good smelling food going on. And as he walks by, a tray of great smelling beef in one hand, baked potatoes from the grill in the other, he yells out to me, "Dude, you hungry, let's go eat."

Food.

Me.

Oh yeah.

So I follow the guys into the hotel, up into room 300-something, and when they open the door the room is filled with people.

And food.

A banquet of food.

And people.

Wives. Kids. Maybe 20 some people, most of Team Ontario, all pretty much being fed by this dude, Brian, and his wife, Rose, who later told me the two of them have been married, "Forever."

Brian put a number on forever though -- 34 years.

Team Ontario is spread out eating everywhere there is a flat surface, or semi-flat lap. Rose sees me standing there taking notes and somehow, from somewhere pulls out a Margarita and hands it to me.

As she smiles and turns, I lift the plastic cup, just slightly, and silently toast Team Ontario, toast the sport that makes this happen, and toast, Gram.

" ... but I have this funny feeling;

that we'll all be together again ... "

Everyone in the room had a story. One guy made sunglasses, Blue Water Optics, one guy was expecting his first child, due date, October 5, one guy was in the Canadian Military stationed in Ottawa.

Some retired stiffs.

Some working stiffs.

Some married stiffs.

Some single stiffs.

Then I got to Brian, and it was his story that floored me.

Floored me because as I learned, less than a month from this hotel room feast, Brian almost drowned in the ocean that is Lake Erie.

During a qualifying tournament to once again make the Ontario team and fish in next year's Eastern Championship, "we got hit by a rouge wave, capsized my boat ... about a mile and a half, maybe two miles off Crystal Beach."

Crystal Beach ... when I was a kid, it was the Disneyland of my youth. Saved money all summer to go to Kenmore or Buffalo Day at Crystal Beach. I'd buy tickets at Woolworth, a dime or so at a time, have a brown bag filled with them, go down to Mang Park, climb on a school bus with a bunch of other young teens, and take the hour-ride across the Peace Bridge, and spend the day in bumper cars, the Magic Carpet Ride, Crystal Beach Suckers.

Crystal Beach, on the Wild Mouse, the first time I ever held a girl's hand.

Crystal Beach, my first kiss, on a green park bench looking out on the blue water of Lake Erie.

And as Brian told me his story, 46 years of db melted away.

And as I wrote down his story, my story played on.

Thump ... thump ... thump ... thump ...

The beat of The Peace Bridge.

The song of Canada echoing in my soul.

" ... no straight lines make up my life

and all my roads have bends ... "

Brian is a retired meat inspector, retired early, he's 56 now, 4 back surgeries took a toll.

Been fishing since he was 4 or 5.

Not a newcomer to the ocean at Crystal Beach's door. Lake Erie, the bottom of which is littered with boats, and ships. Little boats, big ships.

Brian and his non-boater blasted off at 7:01 a.m., Saturday August 28, 2010. By 8:15 a.m. they were at their first spot, by 9:15 a.m. Brian had 5 Bass in the livewell, "about 15 pounds worth."

"We were going to take one more run, out to about 30 feet of water. I could only go about 10-15 miles an hour because we were going head first into 2-3 foot waves."

And then like Lake Erie can do, it reached out and slapped Brian upside the head.

"A 6-foot rouge wave came suddenly came over the boat, completely submerged the back of the boat, killed the engine. The boat floated back up so I hit the switch to get the engine going, and all I heard was a click."

Suddenly, "we got hit with another 6 footer over the back of the boat, and this one took it down, as it started to sink I jumped up and got some flares, my partner grabbed his cell phone, and then suddenly the boat flipped and threw us off."

All that was left was about two feet of the keel of the boat sticking up out of the water.

"All we had to hang on to was the bow eye, the little round thing you hook the trailer to, I had one finger through it, and with the other hand I was holding on to my partner."

Both had life vests on. Brian managed to shoot off 4 flares, his partner managed to call 911. They were about a mile and a half, two miles off shore in water of about 70-degrees in 3 foot swells.

"I had to keep my cool for my partner, but I knew this could go bad quick, I tried to remain calm, but it was scaring the crap out of me."

Brian tried to climb up on the keel twice, but waves knocked him off both times. "I saw my wallet float by, my passport, but I couldn't leave my partner to try and grab them. I lost the wallet, the passport, my cellphone, a whole bunch of rods and all my tackle."

With one finger he held on for 30 to 45 minutes, and then through the waves, another tournament boat saw them, and plucked them out of the water.

In that boat Kenneth Hamilton, President of the Ontario Bass Federation Nation, and Paul Kroisenbrunner of the Kitchener-Waterloo Cambridge Bassmasters club.

"I was happy to be rescued of course, but I felt bad because when Ken and Paul came to our rescue they lost their day of fishing, which cost them the chance to fish in this tournament next year. They gave that up for us, for me."

Brian is fishing in this tournament in a borrowed boat. Laurie Ferris-Charlebois, the VP of the Ontario Bass Federation, towed her boat down here so Brian could fish.

I named the chickens.

And the cow.

Not the pigs.

I rode on my uncle Leo's lap as he planted the stuff that became hay.

As it came closer to going back home to Buffalo my gram would push me on a huge robe that hung from the barn rafter, and I would let go and fall into Uncle Leo's hay.

And when Leo's tractor broke, his neighbors helped put it back together.

And when I left the gate open and my named chickens got out, everyone around came and helped chase the birds down.

And banquets were many, more so in lean years.

Long wooden tables on the side of a white farmhouse with a red tin roof.

In school I read about helping others.

On the blurry back and white TV, I saw something totally different back then.

Riots.

Cities on fire.

As my city did, Buffalo, 1967, the riot not very far from my home.

But it was that summer that I stood in a field of hay.

On a tiny farm in Ontario, Canada.

Watching neighbors, help neighbors.

Giving me a balance in life that has never left.

So as I drove home from the interview with Brian, I wasn't surprised to hear that Kenneth and Paul came to his rescue, even to the peril of their own dreams.

That is what this sport is.

This Bass Tournament fishing stuff.

And the people of it.

Thump ...

The moonroof open.

Thump ...

Heading home from registration.

Thump ...

The Beat of The Peace Bridge on I-84.

Thump ...

Gram's presence in the empty passenger seat.

Thump ...

And the song of Ontario playing in my soul.

" ... there's no clear-cut beginnings

and so far no dead-ends."

Circle

Harry Chapin

-- db

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.

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