Saturday, March 28, 2015


Two downy hawk chicks glared out of the car trunk, exuding sharpness from their talons, beaks, and eyes. "Their mother disappeared a few days ago," dad explained. When you spend days in a field, you get to know its inhabitants as well as their conspicuous absences. You see miraculous life and the glory of animals in their habitat, but you also see the natural predation and the machinery accidents that leave nests flattened and small animals mangled.

My dad has eyes like a hawk for the smallest sign of wild creatures. He would spot the mock-injured limp of a mother kilkdeer acting as decoy, and search for the nest she was trying to lure the tractor away from so that he could leave it intact. He would set a large stone beside any nest he found, to mark the avoidance spot for subsequent farming processes. He would spot a hiding fawn before the swather was upon it, and move it out of the way before he continued harvesting; it would have crept back into the standing crop by the time he had made a round, and he would move it again and again. He was always alert, always respectful of wildlife, and always loved the glimpses he caught of owls, elk, foxes, and moose.

Knowing that the abandoned hawk chicks would die sooner rather than later on their own, he brought them home. They went into a large chickenwire cage that had housed an orphan owl more than a decade earlier. I was always eager to understand animals and forge a quiet bond with them, so I was happy to inherit the task of keeping the chicks fed and watered.

For the first while, I fed them eggs that may or may not have been incubated for a while. A couple of our hens were enthusiastic about hatching a brood that summer, and as a result we occasionally had partially-developed eggs that made their way into the other nestboxes; the safest solution at the time was to open every egg, freeze the good ones, and discard the bad ones. And so, I filled a syringe with the scrambled mixture of yolk, blood, and rough outlines of eyeballs, held each chick pinning their talons so they couldn't shred me, and maneuvered the syringe into their beaks where i could discharge the contents right down their throats. Their deadly talons clenched my heavy leather workgloves, and they snapped their beaks fiercely at the syringe.

After a couple weeks I moved on to ground beef, still maintaining the procedure with the syringe. One time I hesitated as I held the syringe in front of them, and realized that they were no longer fighting it; rather, their snaps were more purposeful and they were scrabbling to grab the meat. After that, they received their meals in a bowl.

For a while the two looked identical, but as time went on one of the chicks became runty and underdeveloped. It was still downy when it finally died. The other chick, though, grew strong and fiery, and in time was a rich deep brown with a lighter brown front. Its talons became even more deadly-looking, jet black like the toothbrush-moustache tip of its hooked beak.

I would sit by the cage for hours on the cool earth floor of the shed, watching the hawk and quietly talking to it. One day I confiscated a mouse that I found a cat playing with, and dropped it into the hawk's food bowl. It snapped the mouse up a microsecond after it had touched the dish and swallowed it whole, coughing out a pellet of bones and fur a few hours later.

As the summer wore on, we used a front-end loader to perch the cage outdoors and I had to climb a ladder to feed the hawk. Then, as summer faded to autumn, we brought it back inside, opened the door of the cage, and gave the hawk free run of the shed for a few days. Finally, we opened the main door an armspan and stepped back as the hawk waited for half a moment, took wing, and flew out and away into the trees. I hoped it would cope well on its own.

It was at least a week later that I caught sight of something tumble out from the scrubby willows by the water and take a few tentative steps onto the path that wound around to our yard. Back?? I was shocked that this wild bird that had never shown any domestic tendencies had returned so close to the house. But it must have been hungry; I hurriedly thawed some ground beef and approached it as unmenacingly as I could. The hawk's steely eyes watched me set the dish down, and it quickly consumed the contents before giving me one last sharp look and tottering back into the foliage.

That was the last time I fed my unlikely friend, although I did keep an eye out for its return. A few days later as I roamed in the trees, I stumbled upon a heap of deep and light brown feathers, ranging from soft down to broad flight feathers. It wasn't far from where I had buried my tiger finch the previous winter. Sadly, I picked out one perfect beautiful feather, and took it back to the house where I placed it in a vase on my desk.

Friday, March 27, 2015


"I always wanted a pair of finches," my dad told me on the long drive home from the pet store in the city. Two tiny tiger finches were in a little cardboard box; they were going to be my "Small Pets" 4-H project for the year. A drab light-brown female, and a dusky gray male with burnished copper cheeks, white breast, and a strip of copper speckles dividing his white front from gray back. Both finches had pumpkin-orange beaks and feet. Neither of them ever had names.

They were tiny bundles of energy, hopping ceaselessly back and forth from one perch to the other. They only stopped their nasal finch-beep calls when they were dozing, and the male would lustily sing his shrill melody as often as he could. Their cage sat on top of the record player, just to the left of the TV. Whenever they heard a tiger roar on the TV, they would both raise their voices in alarm, warning everyone who cared to listen of the nearby danger.

In the evening they would lean against each other, grooming themselves and taking turns preening each other's faces. At night they roosted snuggled side by side, their tiny beaks silent and tucked behind their wings. I covered their cage with a lightweight cotton baby blanket adorned with images of zoo animals. They would stay quiet until the blanket was removed in the morning, and daylight refilled them with energy and song.

One evening in their first year, the male escaped the cage and flapped terrified around the house, descending the staircase and losing his way completely until he came to a frightened perch in the pitch dark family room. I found him tucked in a bookshelf, his little talons clinging to the books. The first thing that became apparent was that he was all but blind in the dark, which made him easy enough to catch. His tiny body felt massless in my fist, and his little heart thumped furiously against my fingers until I deposited him back into the cage.

They began in a smallish cage, but soon inherited a two-storey rig cobbled together from smaller cages, with multiple entries and nooks. In one of the doors I attached an enclosed addon bath that they used to enthusiastically splash the entire vicinity, until I filled it with shredded kleenex for them to use as a nest instead.

They tried diligently to raise a nest of eggs, but the chicks would inevitably die days after hatching and be unceremoniously pushed onto the cage floor. The female was always sickly, and died at age two. She sat on the floor of the cage for the final day or two; one morning I found her lying on her back with her little orange feet gently curled toward the sky, while her partner sat quietly on the highest perch possible.

One day I forgot to close the cage door after refilling his food dish, and noticed with some alarm that he was perched on the open door looking out at the room for a long time. Eventually he turned and hopped back inside, and I quickly latched the door behind him.

But before long we began to keep the door open for him to come and go as he pleased. Most of the time he sat in the plant stand in front of the large living room window, peering out at the trees and wildlife and picking at the houseplant leaves. Once in a while he would stretch his wings and fly a lap around the wall segment dividing the living room from the kitchen/dining room before returning to his perch and singing at the world outside the window. When he was hungry, thirsty, or night was falling, he would return to his cage. After he had settled into his nest for the night, I would close the door and cover the cage with his animal print blanket. He had learned from his first frightening brush with freedom, and kept to the open upstairs rooms in his vicinity, scrutinizing his surroundings before embarking on any flight path.

The summer he was four was the summer my parents' new house was being completed across the yard. My eldest brother and his young family had moved in with us in the house my siblings and I were raised in. I was finishing up grade 11, and would move with my parents to the new house for my final year of high school while my brother's family assumed the old house. My brother would farm in partnership with my dad, while my sister-in-law—who had previously run a daycare—began to provide childcare on the farm for a handful of children.

On fine days we hung the finch cage on the deck near the goldfinch feeder, so he could feel the breeze and talk to his wild comrades. Given his free reign of the house, it was probably inevitable that one time he would find himself out on the deck with his cage door inadvertently open. I came home from school one day to learn that dad had put the finch's cage outside to distance him from the exuberant children that were there that day, not realizing that the cage door was open.

A tiny exotic bird did not stand a chance in the enormous expanse of lawns, gardens, orchard, shelterbelts, dugout, and buildings that formed our yard. Any number of bird or mammalian predators would find him; he would become hopelessly lost in the enormity of the outside world; he would freeze overnight or in the cold prairie rain. Most of all he would be frightened and alone, and in any case he would never be back.

Nevertheless, I traipsed helplessly around the yard as far as the orchard, carrying the cage on the slimmest of hopes that maybe he had had enough exploring and was ready for some familiarity. After my fruitless search, I hung the cage back on the deck and ignored my family's assurances that they'd buy me a replacement bird. I don't want a replacement. I want my little buddy.

In the morning, I walked into the dining room and sighed as I looked out at the forlorn cage on the deck. Then I blinked. My finch was inside, gustily pecking at his food dish. I slid out into the deck and closed the cage door in disbelief, then brought him inside to his spot on the record player by the TV.

The little finch made the move across the yard with us to the new house once it was ready for habitation. But he was five years old now—the lower end of his species' life expectancy—and gray feathers pocked his copper cheeks. Over the year he increasingly slowed down, until one winter morning his little feet reached up to the sky like his partner's had years before.

His body was even lighter in my hand than I remembered, as I carried him out to a bank overlooking the tiny lake and island my dad had painstakingly built. I dug through the snow and into the cold ground beneath, and placed my little wrapped bundle in a shallow hole beneath a willow. I covered it back up and placed a stone on top. Goodbye, little friend.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Autumn has always been my favourite season because of its association with my idyllic memories of harvest. When I think of my favourite autumn colours, they are in terms of farming and rural life: the burnt orange of pea stubble; the sunny gold of aspens; the scattering of yellow and red leaves over green grass; the rich variety of pale and deep brown grains; the dusty red of the Big Grain Truck—puny by today's semi standards; the bare grey-brown of dirt trails packed hard by heavy machinery; the clear blue of the autumn sky, the flame of prairie sunset. There are of course the less palatable harvest memories, too: clouds of fat grasshoppers whirring into your hair and down your shirt collar; the burning fumes of caraway seed; dust choking the air inside the combine cab. Even these have a certain nostalgia attached to them.

When I was very young and there was still a bustling hub of a grain elevator in my hometown, I would sometimes get to tag along when dad hauled a load to town. Sometimes my brother was also in the truck cab, and one of us would sit on an upturned 5-gallon pail between the two seats. My earliest memory is from before I began school, probably when I was taken along out of necessity on days when my mom was away at a 12-hour shift. I'm watching as wheat pours liquidly out of the truck's raised box and pools onto a grate in the floor. An elevator employee and my dad work with grain shovels to encourage the grain out of the truck and through the grate. Everything has that golden tint of prairie autumn sunshine, and shafts of light ignite the airborne grain dust.

My next earliest memories of harvest were riding along on the self-propelled swather, as my dad cut hay near the yard or long rounds around golden fields. I sat on the sunny engine-warmed flat space in back of the seat, wearing heavy-duty earmuffs, feeling more than hearing the contented whirr of the blades as they cut through the crop while the reel gently batted the cut sheaves onto the conveyor belt, spinning a golden swath that trailed behind us.

I would watch my father as he prepared and maintained the machinery each day, going over it with a grease gun, repairing conveyor belts, blowing chaff from the radiators with the air compressor. If I was lucky he would save the delicate pith ball for me. If I was luckier, I'd be able to help out in some small way.

Later, I would ride in the tractor cab as the combine gobbled up the cured swaths and the hopper filled with a bounty of grain. Sitting on the narrow window ledge in the tractor cab, my dad would sing in his clear tenor, and I would join in. Years later when I was in university and driving the swather or combine on my own, I sang those same songs that he had taught me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Farm Ninja

When I was very young, it was much less common to see an airplane flying overhead than it became in my teenage years. In the quiet of my parents' farm, you could hear the jet engines even though they were impossibly far away, and you could follow the gentle white contrails all the way across the wide prairie sky. On a lazy summer day with a clear blue sky, it could almost be peaceful.

Unless your older brother told you they were bomber planes.

I remember us running with our heads hunched down and our hearts thumping, hoping to reach the safety of the shop before we were spotted and the bombs let loose. Maybe it was a crop duster, which would understandably be more alarming than a high-flying jet. It was the late 1980s; who knows what bits of media had rearranged themselves in my brother's young mind to manufacture the idea. In any case, the sound of a jet engine would thereafter grip me with the terrified need to hide, and I would run for the nearest roof—the house, a barn, a shed, even tucked under the hopper of a granary. Years later, when the first helicopter that I encountered "in the wild" hovered overhead dropping off bundles of oil-surveying equipment, I watched from a hidden vantage point and only scurried away when the helicopter was facing away from me.

At some point, somebody must have set me straight about airplanes, though I can't remember when or who. The impulse to hide from outsiders, though, had been instilled deep, and went far beyond aircraft. At any sign of an approaching vehicle—which were not frequent, as our kilometer-long lane was a dead end that only visitors, the schoolbus, and disoriented travelers would drive down—we children would tuck ourselves into one of myriad hiding spots and stay out of sight until the coast was clear. I'm not sure what the motivation was; it seemed to be a mixture of uncertainty, unwillingness to be involved in conversation, a sense of safety that came from seclusion, and the reinforcement that comes with years of habit.

I learned to be as invisible as possible, to see without being seen, to listen without sharing my own inner dialogue.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Summer Camp Part III

It was my very last week of summer camp season. We were having our Beach Day, when the whole camp walked to the nearby village and spent the afternoon on its sunny, sandy beach. There were usually a few activities planned—obstacle course relay races, beach volleyball, etc—with the rest of the time devoted to free swim.

I've never much cared for lake swimming, and much less for stepping on half-rotted fish half-buried in slimy mud. I opted for dry land whenever possible, and letting my campers bury me in sand seemed to be a good way to get through the afternoon. The heaviness of the warm sand was relaxing, and I was enjoying the lethargy of soaking up the sunshine.

On retrospect, it seems rude to breeze through a group of girls obviously working purposefully in the sand. At the time, all I could do was watch in the stunned helplessness of my sandy prison as a tall teenage boy strode distractedly towards us. When his foot planted on my ribcage and his entire weight came down, my body curled out of the sand of its own volition as I began gasping in pain. Only then did the boy realize that there was a person beneath the sand. In typical Megan fashion, I assured him that it was an accident and I was fine.

But I wasn't fine. I felt as though my ribs had been cracked, and my ragged, throbbing breathing made me worry that my lungs were injured. In the remaining day of camp, I moved around gingerly, wincing at every slightest motion.

I was certain I had a broken rib or two, so I stopped at a medi-clinic in the city on my commute back to my parents' farm. The doctor suggested a word that I didn't quite remember, and sent me home with the advice that the only treatment was rest and ibuprofen until it cleared up.

If anything, it got worse and lingered for months. I remember helping with harvest that autumn, and how excruciating the hop from the combine cab to the ground was. I moved as slowly as a geriatric in need of full-body joint replacements, and had little control over the pitiful groans that kept escaping. Easing myself into a chair was agonizing; standing up was agonizing; doing anything was agonizing. It's still one of the most painful experiences I've ever had.

Through all the years of my life, I've come to depend on and trust my mother's knowledge of health and, more importantly, illness. Her best guess was pleuritis, which matched my dim recollection of the word the doctor had enunciated. It did eventually clear up, though it took months of near certainty that I would never breathe or walk easily again. The downside is that it has also stayed with me in occasional bouts of costochondritis that sometimes present in abnormal ways—in unexpected ribs, under my collarbones, and encircling my throat.

That was the last summer I worked as a camp counselor; I spent the next summer completing my final undergrad classes. Maybe it's best that I quit while I was ahead.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

After-School Loitering

The farm kids always stayed an extra half hour in the schoolyard each day, waiting for buses to arrive from the highschool in the neighbouring town. At the same time, buses would depart westward filled with elementary school kids to complete the process in the opposite direction. When they arrived, the buses unloaded their town kids and picked up the farm kids on their way to the country.

The space in front of the school was not where students (except Kindergarteners) spent recess, but we farm kids waited for the buses there every day. We were required to stay on the sidewalk until the first buses had left and the presiding teacher gave the signal for us to swarm into the playground.

In the winter, the lawn on one side of the walkway would be turned into a snowscape. Once enough snow had accumulated, a giant hill would be pushed up in the centre of the lawn by a tractor. Over the course of the winter, we would transform the little hill with tunnels and slides.

In the spring when the snow had melted and we put away our winter boots, long skipping ropes would be dug from the depths of the gym's equipment room. Feeling light in our fair-weather shoes, we would line up on the walkway that led to the road—around eight children, however many could squeeze in—and jump, jump, jump, jump on and on while two unlucky kids swung the rope at either end of the line.

The other side of the walkway was dominated by a playground apparatus that can only be described as "old-school." It was a large installation made of green, treated wood that would give you splinters if you weren't careful. One of the slides was gleaming metal that became scalding on sunny days; the other was a steep segmented tube that you were sure to either bash your face on, or catch your pants on one of the bolts connecting the segments. There was a fire pole that would burn the skin off your palms as you slid down. There was a tire swing suspended by three plastic-covered chains that held three children sitting in a circle, as likely as not being given a "spinner" push by a fourth child. There were monkey bars a little too high off the ground and a little too far apart to be used by anyone smaller than a grade fiver.

Beside the main structure was a swingset, which was where everybody wanted to wait when the weather was fine. There were only eight or ten swings, and kids would line up on the sidewalk as if they were at a trackmeet, waiting for the teacher's signal like a gunshot starting a race. The bigger you were, the likelier it was you'd reach the swingset first; so, the swings were typically dominated by the grade fives. Grade sixes seemed to prefer lounging against the building where they would chat or read.

One day when I was in grade four or five, I sat on the concrete in front of the school, shaded by a section of roof that jutted out from the building. I felt unhappy in an apathetic sort of way—something I had felt once in a while, but didn't know why. I sat there staring at nothing in particular and probably wearing my angry/unfriendly/melancholy expression (aka my resting face), when a girl in my grade strolled by. She stopped in front of me and studied at me for a moment.

"Stressed?" she asked.

"Depressed," I replied.

She nodded and continued on. I'm not sure I knew the difference between the two, at the time. I doubt I really knew what being depressed meant, for that matter. Despite my nostalgia and the simplicity of childhood, however, I do remember very well that life began to shape me into a melancholy creature, even at that early age.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Summer Camp Part II

My second year as camp counselor was in stark contrast to the first. As much as I felt an outcast and inept the first year, I felt a sense of belonging and (to use a portmanteau one of my co-counselors, "Screech Owl" invented) hardcawesomeness that summer. It was a summer of zaniness and adventure, community and pranks. In fact, Screech Owl was so keen on pranks that I was certain we had gone too far by midweek.

My favourite prank was the day we were in charge of the evening campfire. We marched our campers down to the firepit while the rest of the camp was indoors for the after-lunch siesta. There, we dug out the firepit deep enough for Screech to huddle in, depositing the charred gravel in the surrounding trees and stashing some kindling for later. During evening game time, we concealed Screech in the pit with planks of wood and crumpled newspaper. Anybody could see that it was a terribly built fire, but it wouldn't need to burn.

The perfect disguise
We left Screech in his cramped situation and rejoined the camp, impatiently trying to hurry people to and through vespers (the reverential pre-campfire gathering on a hilltop). He was probably in there for at least an hour. Finally I got people settled around the campfire. As Screech and I had planned, I told everyone we'd be starting with a song before we lit the fire, which was abnormal practice. Between this unexpected pre-fire song, the newly strewn ashes all around the firepit, and Screech's glaring absence from his own campfire, some of the counselors began to be suspicious.

As prearranged, I ran through the song once, and then had everyone join in for the second time through. It was a familiar song, but I had them sing it to the tune of "Solidarity Forever." On the last note of the second run-through, Screech rose out of the fire like a zombie clawing through the earth, with campers and counselors alike gasping and applauding. With a little help, we hastily rebuilt the fire and were back on track before long.

The tune was the second part of the prank; we sang every single song that campfire to "Solidarity Forever." It had been fun leafing through the camp songbooks earlier in the day and determining which lyrics could be squeezed into the melody. There was a good deal of grumbling by the end of campfire, but I think the initial firepit surprise kept people from outright rioting.

Aside from pranks, we also infused the week with as much random zaniness as possible, like the tarp we rigged up as an enormous kite and flew occasionally while the rest of the camp was indoors for the midday rest time.

My least favourite prank was the one that I thought went too far. Most counselors read to their cabins once the campers were settled in their beds, in an effort to keep them quiet and preferably drift off. After lights-out one night, I went to Screech's cabin to tell his campers a ghost story that involved terrifying noises coming from the floor, and the gruesome scene that was subsequently discovered beneath the floorboards in daylight. Meanwhile, my entire cabin of girls was funneled silently into a secret trapdoor that led to space underneath the cabin known only to Screech and his cabinmate. When the campers were safely in, I wrapped up my story and retreated to a nearby bench where I could watch the cabin door.

Horror and ghost stories are anathema to me. As a young camper myself, I would either cover my ears when these stories were told, or endure long-lasting terror whenever daylight faded. Watching the cabin door and hearing the mounting fear inside as my girls scratched at the floor, I no longer felt like it was a harmless prank. Unfortunately, the camp director chose that time to walk by where I was sitting suspiciously in the pitch black of the summer night as if it were a sunny day at the park.

She didn't have to try hard to winkle the situation out of me. I'm not sure how they managed it, but somewhere between the director storming into the cabin and the cabin counselors distracting her, my girls filed out silently and slipped back into their own cabin unseen. They had enjoyed every moment of it.

The next dawn at the counselors' meeting, Screech recounted the evening escapade with a little too much jollity, while I tried to express some of the deep apology that I felt. The director expressed her opinion in a very measured tone before she rose and stalked silently out of the building. I was expecting nothing short of being fired.

By the end of the week, though, the camp director had come around and asked me to come back for an extra camp later in the summer beyond my originally scheduled weeks. I went home with a multitude of fun memories, and the knowledge that this time at least, I had helped give my campers some fun memories as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Summer Camp Part I

One of my earliest memories of summer camp was from when I was 5 years old, on my very first 3-day camp. All I remember is the pitch dark of the cabin at night, and the lonely sound of the train whistle across the lake. I remember being so homesick, and lying awake as the deafening total silence carried the train whistle to me for what seemed like an eternity.

I returned to camp every summer until the upper grades of high school. When I was at university and casting around for a summer job, I returned as a counselor for two summers. The counselors' real names were never used in all those years of camp; instead, they always went by nicknames that were often inspired by nature but could be anything at all. I chose Rhythm for my camp name—a gentle nod to my musical upbringing.

The first year was tough. I was a shy and socially anxious bookish type with a festering case of undiagnosed depression in my back pocket. I felt like a failure most days, and unprepared for the new challenges that herding groups of children brought. Mostly, I felt lonely and out of place, and the night train across the lake still sang its melancholy song.

That was the year they shocked the water, and every sip tasted like barely-diluted chlorine—worse than gulping the pool water with its skim of drowned bees. Nobody could bear to drink it, but trying to be a model of outdoorsiness in the blistering August heat forced me to chug the burning liquid or risk dehydration.

Midway through the summer, I came down with a terrible cough. It might have been from the onslaught of corrosive water, or it might have been from living in less-than-sterile conditions with packs of children. It might have been the time my cabin's sleep-out was foiled by a thunderstorm; we lugged our gear from one camp-out spot to the next, but eventually turned back and made a pitiful attempt to heat the food we had packed over a smoky fire while thunder rumbled overhead and rain poured down. I still had one camp left to counsel, and I armed myself with an array of cold medications and two bottles of cough medicine (one of Buckleys, and one of something less toxic-tasting).

I sipped cough suppressant throughout the day and night as if I were swigging from a flask, but it only seemed to grow worse as the week progressed. My voice faded to a hoarse, painful croak that had little power to exert leadership over my campers. My co-counselor and I were in charge of leading campfire late in the week. As I struggled to pull my weight, my co managed to elicit silence in the circle of faces by explaining that we'd all have to listen extra-hard when I spoke, because I had a "choir of angels" in my throat.

One night I tried to stifle my coughing as best I could, but I had no wish to keep my entire cabin awake. I headed to the washroom building, hoping to get through the coughing spell and get back to bed. But the coughing barely let up enough for me to snatch the odd breath here and there, so I curled up on the long counter across a couple sinks, trying to ease through the long hours until sunrise as comfortably as possible.

The week stretched on and it all became too much. I didn't have what it took. It wasn't just the illness incapacitating me; my personality was all wrong for the job. I didn't have any leadership qualities and never contributed ideas. I got through the summer, but was certain I would never be hired back as a counselor.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


For five and a half years, I worked at the front desk of a music conservatory. The days were filled with the sounds of all kinds of instruments: voice and piano, strings and brass, percussion and a particularly ghastly saxophone. There were students practicing technique or in lessons with their teachers, faculty polishing their repertoire for upcoming performances, intensive summer academies that drew fine musicians from across the country, and touring artists performing in one of our venues. All these sounds drifted down to the front desk and mingled into a cacophony that was both beautiful and aggravating.

And one autumn, a particular melody began to emanate from the piano wing directly above the desk. It was familiar, but how did I know it...

It didn't take me long to place: it was the theme song from a computer game that i had played as a child, back in the golden days of DOS. You were a sort of humanoid-aircraft transformer, flying through a maze and blasting barricades and malevolent pixel-formations with a laser.  I could picture the game perfectly, I could hear the 8-bit tones in my mind, but the name frustratingly escaped my memory.

The pianist practiced the song faithfully; every day the melody tormented me until one quiet evening, as I manned the desk for the solo night shift, I determined to find out the name. Knowing only that I was looking for a DOS game from the 1980s, my internet search led me to an alphabetical list on Wikipedia. I paged through the list, not at all sure I would even recognize the name if i saw it—but eventually I found it.


Like any name that hovers frustratingly just beyond the reach of your memory, it only took a glimpse to prompt that eurekic moment of total recall.

old-school Thexder

I eagerly found a YouTube video of the theme song; it was what the mystery pianist was playing! Fitting a missing piece into the jigsaw  puzzle of the past gives you the kind of wings that you just have to share. I sent my boyfriend an excited chat-rendition of the mystery I had just solved, and linked the video. Almost immediately, he wrote back:

"Oh, that's the Moonlight Sonata," he said.
"No it isn't," I contradicted, offended.

It was, of course, which made the situation extra ridiculous. Here I was, a classically trained musician who had started piano lessons at age 5 and had spent a wildly successful year in voice performance at university. Here I was, sitting inside a music conservatory where I was both a student of composition and an employee in the administrative office. And not only had I not recognized a famous Beethoven sonata; I had actually recognized it first as a song from a computer game I had played nearly twenty years ago. The irony of it might just be my favourite thing ever.

Castle Adventure
DOS is one of those things that makes me almost unreasonably nostalgic. I remember the day when a very young me spent a good five minutes trying to open a primitive golf game, eventually realizing that I had been typing gulf the whole time.  I remember searching for sigmas and section signs in Castle Adventure. I remember the downstairs computer with the green screen that only had three functions: printing text documents, Typing Tutor, and Prince of Persia. I remember the old dot matrix printer with its semi-transparent continuous paper. I remember the 8-bit melodies and 5¼-inch floppy disks. At the conservatory, I was the sole supporter of our DOS-based registration system, misguidedly resisting the browser-based replacement that was phased in halfway through my tenure.

They say that smell is the sense most linked to memory, but music has always been my primary passion. I like to think that the Thexder Incident is more revealing of how important memories and the past are to me, rather than how poor my mental library of repertoire is.