by Earle Jones
"Now I don't like to complain, but..." The mere sound of that phrase initiates a myriad of thoughts, almost with the same fervour as the proverbial "life flashing before your eyes" when staring in the face of death. We're all guilty of uttering those seven mood setting words. Like a cheap novel that starts with the words, "It was a dark and stormy night," you've already decided that you're not going to like the next words you hear. You're seldom disappointed. To illustrate, "I don't like to complain, but... didn't I pay for the gas the last time?" A good rebuttal would be, "You know, for someone who doesn't like to complain, you certainly have mastered the art extremely well."
Why is it that when we are about to do the one thing that we state we don't like to do, we exhibit such grace and style in the execution of said task? During one recent weekend canoeing and fishing trip with three of my closest cohorts, one of whom was new at this sort of thing, the full impact of man's ability to elicit an air of criticism manifested itself to me like a divine apparition. I'm sure that he is reading this so I'll just call him ... John. John is a new outdoor enthusiast in the purest sense of the word. John likes to camp outside, when the bugs aren't bad, when the weather is perfect, when the fish are biting - well, in short, when he's fully prepared for the experience. What John doesn't like to do is (and he repeated himself over 50 times during that specific two-day trip) complain, or so he consistently told us. At the start of the trip, as the four of us were cramming truck with packs, fishing tackle and the canoes, (we had to go back for the paddles but that's another story) John voiced, "I don't like to complain but... shouldn't we bring a map just in case we get a bit... disoriented." (John had been on enough camping trips with me to know that I would not tolerate the use of four letter words such as "L.O.S.T.". "Relax, Frank knows where we are and besides, we'll be on a small lake, not thrashing through the bush like last year's hunting trip," I answered. Frank and Mike were quick to busy themselves with the loading as that ill-fated trip reappeared in their still-bruised memories. Mike was displaying that bizarre twitch and soupy look in his remaining good eye. Frank does not know his left from his right.
Fully loaded (the truck... not us), we bounced down the logging road that Frank assured us led to the most isolated lake, overpopulated with rainbow and bass enormous enough to bring the most seasoned angler to his knees. Three hours later (a little longer than Frank's estimated 45 minutes) we arrived on the shore of the most pristine lake I have ever had the satisfaction of seeing. "Here we are," Frank said from the driver's seat with a beguiling grin. The three-hour trip was quite peaceful with nary a peep from John who in past expeditions with me would often break the anticipatory silence with gems like. "Are you sure we're on the right road?" or "That lake there looks good enough." Always preceded by the nefarious phrase, "I don't like to complain, but...". "I know this great campsite on the other side of the lake," Frank said with an excited bounce that resembled a child at the gates of Disneyland. "Let's load 'em up," he barked. Frank locked up the truck and, as usual, hid the keys in the hub cap, 'just in case something happened to him'.
Halfway across the 2-mile wide lake, John in the bow of Frank's royalex canoe observed a slight chop on the surface of the water that seemed to be increasing in size. We all knew it was too good to last. "I don't like to complain but.. shouldn't we be staying closer to shore?" he said without even turning around. Seeing Frank's face from the corner of my eye I realized that he was going to have fun on this trip and John would be his plaything. I know Frank's abilities and I feared for John's sanity. Frank bellowed from the stern, "Don't worry. We're over half way across and the wind's at our back. The waves won't get any bigger than this. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?" Somehow the famous words of the infamous Murphy drowned out Frank's as we anxiously awaited "the worst possible time." We didn't have to wait long. As we neared the shore, we retrieved the large cooler that had floated away during Frank's upset. Frank was exceptionally quiet during the rest of the crossing.
Within 20 minutes the tents were set up, dinner was cooking and Frank and Mike were wetting their lines in the warmth of the setting sun. Both hooked good sized large mouth bass and complemented our dinner conversation with conflicting stories of how each man could have played the fish better. Ah, how I looked forward to these next two days of intellectual tete-a-tete. "Well I'm going to turn in," Frank said, unfastening the top button of his pants and uttering a bellowing belch. "I'm stuffed. We can do the dishes in the morning." "I don't like to complain....But shouldn't we clean up before bed? After all, this is bear country and you know how they love a good fish fry," John rebutted. I have to admit John was witty at the best of times. We all had a good chuckle on the way to our tents, especially Frank. "Don't worry. We'll be up plenty early and on the lake before you know it," Frank replied, still giggling at John's amusing 'complaint'. Aside of John's snoring, which began almost the instant his head hit the bed roll, it was a serene evening.
By four in the morning, after the commotion died down, the pepper spray had dispersed and there was enough light to see just how much damage the bruin had done to our gear, we looked at each other, chuckled nervously and agreed that it was time to get up anyway. All except John, whom I think was beginning to lose his sense of humor. John, it appeared, was beginning to wish he had not taken us up on this offer to spend two glorious days with the guys on the lake. Already he had spent part of his first night in a wrung-out sleeping bag, which offered less than warmth, most of our gear had been chewed and spat out by a curious and hungry bear, and his eyes still smarted from the direct hit from Frank's miss-directed pepper spray. Such was day-One of the adventure.
The following morning and afternoon proved to be almost uneventful except the fly hook in his neck from Frank's wild cast, and the overturned box of John's cherished flies floating slowly over the shadowy overhang. Nothing, though, could be as humiliating as seeing a large school of 'bows ignore the hundred or so (what we erroneously believed to be) scrumptious imitations. As I looked over at Frank after the 'flies overboard' incident I thought I detected a slight devilish smile on his face. Maybe not. In retrospect, I think that, despite the many diversions during that particular trip, the consensus taken on the ride back to town was unanimous. As the final icing on the cake, so to speak, John got his revenge on Frank a few miles along the logging road. We were reminiscing about the finer moments during the weekend. John sat quietly in the back seat of the truck as Frank glanced in the rear view mirror and asked him, "Think you might be interested in another of our excursions sometime, John?" Above the drone of the truck's engine we heard the bones in Frank's neck crack as he spun his head almost completely around in response to John's reply, "No complaints here!"
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