The boy came down the pier, dragging a stick along the slats of the deck. Click, click, click. He was sullen, looking down, and his grandfather was as still as a bird, so the boy was surprised to suddenly come upon him sitting there on an Adirondack chair. His grandfather smiles.
“What are you doing?” the boy asks.
“I’m bored too.”
“I’m not bored. I’m sittin’.”
The boy gives him a withering look. “I hate it here. Mom won’t even let me bring my XBox out.”
His grandfather looks out at the grand view across the lake. To the right were the long reeds he and his brother would hide in to scare each other. Or just past that, the long winding area where they tried spearfishing the first time. Or way out, where his oldest brother would shoot golf balls and he and his other brothers and sisters would dive for them. He smiled.
The boy’s voice chimes in. “There’s nothing to do out here.”
“Being. What’s wrong with just bein’?”
The boy’s looking at the old man like he’s legitimately crazy. “You can’t just ‘be’ grandpa.”
“You can’t, eh?” His grandpa smiles. “Okay. You wanna do something? How about a boat ride?”
The boy looks over at his grandpa’s boat. Maybe in 1970 it was a streamlined beauty loaded with power, but by the boy’s standards it looked more like a rowboat than something cool people might ride in. He reluctantly accepts a life jacket from his grandfather and they climb in. They cruise for a short while. Over the minor roar of the little engine, the boy yells, “Where are we going?”
His grandfather looks at him and smiles. “Nowhere.” And it actually seems like that’s a pretty decent answer to the boy too.
Eventually the engine cuts and the boat glides into a gorgeous little bay. The grandfather handles the boat with great experience, and soon he’s spun it into position where they have a beautiful view of the incredible shoreline. It looks the same as it has for as long as the grandfather can remember. “Why did you stop here?” the boy asks.
The man takes a long time looking out at the shore, and the trees. A deer picks its way through the moss for a drink. “This is where your father and I used to come to fish.” This information instantly arrests the boy’s attention. There is a long pause.
“You came here with Dad?” He’s almost reverent. Suddenly the whole place seems much more interesting to him.
The boy hangs his hand in the water. “Did you guys catch lots of fish here?”
The grandpa smiles broadly. “No…. No, it turned out this was a terrible place for fishing.”
“So why did you keep coming here?” the boy asked.
“We just like bein’ here.” The boy takes yet another look around, this time even more interested, as though maybe he missed something on his first two looks.“Your Dad, he liked keeping busy out here. He was always playing cowboys and indians with his brother in the reeds, or they were water skiing, or diving for golf balls, or hunting for bird nests, or catching salamanders.”
“What’s a salamander?”
“It’s a lizard-lookin’ thing. Lives mostly in the water.”
The kid looks into the dark lake and then extracts his hand from it gingerly. “How big are they?”
His grandpa shrugs. “Big as this boat maybe.” The boy’s eyes bug out and the grandfather laughs. He holds his hands to indicate the animal was actually the size of a cob of corn. The boy relaxes. “When your Dad was tired of doin’ things, we’d come down here and just be.”
The boy looks at the shore yet again, still wondering what he’s looking for. His grandfather continues. “When we came here it was because you wanted to do something. But now you know this place was special to your father. And neither one of us are ever gonna see him again.” They both fight back a tear. “That’s a sad thing. But it’s still a good thing being here, isn’t it?”
“Me too. I don’t like doin’ anything when I’m here. I don’t even pretend to fish anymore. But even though it’s a little bit sad sometimes, I really like bein’ here anyway.”
The boy thinks a long moment. He eventually settles in with a nice view of the shore. “Yeah. Me too. This is a good place to be.” And they sat like that for about three hours, totally silent, just being.
Later, they got back and docked the boat and walked up the lawn to a few hundred yards to the cottage, where a dreamcatcher caught the setting sun in a window. His mother came out drying her hands. “What were you two doing all this time? I was worried.”
“We weren’t doing anything,” the boy said.
The mother looks at her own father with suspicion. “You can’t have been doing just ‘nothing….'”
The boy reasserts, “We were. We were just bein’.”
His mother’s brow furrows. What are these two hiding… “Being…?”
“Yeah,” the boy offers. “Mom.?”
“Do we have any containers good for holding salamanders?”
“Salamanders?!?!” His mother squeals. The boy looks over at his grandfather, beaming at the prospect of freaking out his mother with a ‘lizard.’ His grandfather smiles back, remembering he and his brothers doing the same to their sister. As he heads into the boathouse to return the two lifejackets he looks back at his grandson, now beaming with potential. He winks. The boy smiles and winks back. He is gonna be just fine.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.