Thursday, February 3, 2011


The interpreter had been watching the weather radar, waiting for the lurid core of the blob to pass, and now left the nature house to trek across the park to the regional office.  It was sprinkling lightly, not a problem since he was wearing his new jacket, the first Parks-issued jacket he had received that wasn’t a hand-me-down from someone who had quit, the first that wasn’t musty and stained, the first that actually fit him.  He kind of liked it.   He was off to seek his supervisor, who had responded to neither email nor voicemail that morning.  Perhaps she was away.  He hoped she was away, and that he would be able to speak to her supervisor, whose name was Carl.  Carl was typically a lot more useful than his supervisor.   He was crestfallen to find her in the lunch room.   She was drinking coffee and reading a travel magazine.  She looked up and asked, “Have you ever been to the Bahamas?”

“No,” he said.  "A long time ago I went to Anguilla, which is somewhat southeast of there."

“Well I’m going.  I leave next week, a cruise among the isles.   I’ll be gone until the 12th of next month.”

“Lucky you.”

She closed the magazine.  “It isn’t luck.  It’s called long-term financial planning.”

The interpreter had a different opinion.  It was called early and masterful achievement of union deadwood status, making the most of indifference and attrition, which somehow led to being nudged one increment above interpreter three decades ago and being satisfied with squatting there, from whence to spit upon entry-level employees until retirement.  

He said to her, “The Loop Trail is pretty-much washed out at the footbridge, and in long stretches is side-to-side deep mud.  It should be closed for a few days.  The forecast for the weekend is more heavy rain.   I think you should call the Works guys to close the trail completely, at least until Monday.  After the weekend the weather is supposed to dry out.”

The supervisor pondered, and then said, “That’s not necessary.”  She waved her hand around airily. “It rains, the Loop Trail floods, and then the rain stops and it drains.  If people get stuck in the mud, they learn a lesson.  Nature is muddy.  Wear proper footwear. If we close the trails willy-nilly, people will start to ask what the point of the park is.”

He knew the real reason for her opposition.  It was because closing the trail was his idea.  She was notorious for pointless contrariness.

“At least we should place warning signs at the trail heads.”

She got up.  “I’ll make you a sign and print a few copies.  Come by my office in half an hour.”

The interpreter closed his eyes so as not to roll them.  The supervisior was also notorious for her inscrutable signs, invariably a red circle-diagonal slash combo superimposed over an icon of her own creation.  She claimed that print made signs “too wordy.”   What would she draw a line through this time?  And how long would it really take?  She would lose herself in her artistry, enhancing her financial well-being while accomplishing nothing useful.

The interpreter went into the lobby and spoke to Corinne, the office manager.  “She’s going to draw another sign,” he said.

“More tax dollars well-spent,” she replied.

“Not to mention a waste of my time.  I have programs to plan.   A lot of good hanging out over here will do.”

“What do you need to do your work?”

“Not much.   Basically a networked computer.”

“Use Marie’s.  She’s on vacation.”  She pointed to the office of one of the assistant planners. 

“You’re awesome,” the interpreter said.

“I am,” said Corinne.

He finished his work in two hours, which meant he only had to play Solitaire for 90 minutes before Corinne poked her head into the room.  “It seems she’s finished the sign, and she’s quite pleased with herself.  It must be a masterpiece.” 
The interpreter walked to the supervisor’s office.  There were actually two signs.  The first was a green circle surrounding a pen and ink rendering of classic pink-soled gumboots.  The second was the predicted red circle with diagonal strike-through, partially obliterating a pair of women’s dress shoes, pumps, with what looked like three-inch heals.  They were in mid-stride, and shapely female legs rose from them, cut off below the knees by the red circle.

The interpreter said, “Very nicely done.”  His supervisor was very good at drawing footwear.  She had missed her calling by a long shot.

“I made two copies of each.   Laminate them and take them to the Works Yard.  Ask one of the guys to post them at either end of the Loop Trail.”

The interpreter pulled back his sleeve to look at his watch.  “They went off duty almost an hour ago.”

She frowned.   An artist likes to have her work hung.

He said, “Don’t worry.  I have to walk back to the nature house.  I’ll take a staple gun and post them along the way.”

“Make sure you bring it back to the office in the morning.”

He ignored that, and said, “If I don’t see you before the end of the week, enjoy the Bahamas.”  He hoped he wouldn’t see her before the end of the week.  

He went into the windowless photocopy room that contained metal shelves stacked with reams of paper.  Even now, the paperless office remained elusive.  He laminated the pictures and showed them to Corinne.

She said, “I’d like a pair of those shoes.  They’re hot.”

“The next time I meet a woman on the trail wearing such a pair, I’ll ask where she got them and let you know.” He was looking out through the glass doors of the lobby.  “Although I’m pretty sure that won’t happen today.”  Rain was pounding down.  He sighed, “Well, off I go.”

Corinne ducked into Marie’s office.  “Take this.”  She gave him Marie’s umbrella.  It was a full-sized, official Parks umbrella, dark green with a golden logo.

He held it at arm’s length. “The last time I used an umbrella I got struck by lightning.”

“I heard about it.   Now get back on that horse.” 

He danced around the growing puddles and muddy spots until he came to the first Loop Trail junction.  There he stapled a gumboot sign and a sexy pumps sign to the brown wooden post.  He continued along the main trail to the second Loop junction, and stapled signs to the post there, and then looked down at his feet.  “Oh hell,” he said.  Deep, paired, parallel ruts turned off the main trail, onto the Loop.  The ruts were twice the width of baby stroller wheel tracks, and very deep, indicating considerable weight.  They were fresh, just beginning to fill with water.  He set off in a jog, in pursuit of whoever was driving the scooter, hoping he would catch up before the person hit the deep mud near the bridge.

He was too late.  The scooter was hopelessly mired, dead centre in the muddiest stretch of trail.  “Hey there,” he called out, so as not to alarm its rider by suddenly appearing at his shoulder.  The rider was a young man in his early twenties, thin and tall.  He was soaked to the skin in sweat pants and a cotton hoodie.  The interpreter tip-toed through the mud to him.  “Good afternoon,” he said.

The young man wrenched around in his seat.  He spoke in a laboured way, his face contorted.


“Yes,” said the interpreter.  “You look really cold too.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“What’s your name?”


“Well, Doug, let’s get you unstuck.  Here, hold the umbrella, and try to keep from getting any wetter.”  Doug struggled to keep the umbrella upright.  His hands were tightly clenched and he had to pin the handle against his chest, which caused the umbrella to tip backward and provide no protection whatsoever.

The interpreter examined the scooter.  The only possible hand-holds were at the bottom, between the wheels, either front or back.  He tried both, squatting and pulling with all his might, which did little more than strain his back muscles.  The combined weight of Doug and the scooter was too much.  He asked Doug, “Are you able to stand on your own?”

“I...cannot....stand,” he said.

“Okay, we’ll try something else.”  His hand was in his pocket, on his radio, which he could have used to call the Works Yard for help had they not all departed as the shoe pictures were being produced.    He considered using his cell phone to call 911.  But did a scooter stuck in the mud in a park rate an emergency call, and anyway, how to direct anyone to where they were?  He came up with another plan.

“I’ll get you unstuck.  Who’s with you?   Who drove you to the park?”




“Where’s Stefan?”

“In... the...van.”

“Is he in the parking lot?” 


“Okay, I’m going to get Stefan.  He and I will get you out.”  Then the interpreter removed the radio from his left pocket and his keys from his right pocket and placed them on a nearby stump, and took off his jacket.  “Let’s get this on you.”

Putting the jacket on Doug was difficult.  Apart from pulling it on over a sodden hoodie, the young man was longer-limbed than the interpreter, and his arms were rigid, from his condition or the cold or both.  The interpreter finally got the jacket  zipped, repositioned the umbrella, and patted Doug on the shoulder.  Then, as he retrieved his keys and radio, he said something he immediately regretted.  “You just sit tight.”  As if he could do anything else.

The interpreter ran back to the main trail and on to the nature house.  Yes, there was a van in the parking lot, blue, with a handicapped parking sticker on the rear window.  But first he went into the nature house, and opened a closet.  He yanked his old, ill-fitting jacket from its metal hanger, the jacket he had been given when first hired, the one two sizes too large, the one that was already old and worn back then, and put it on.  He put the keys in his right pocket, and the radio in his left, and in doing these steps of an oft-repeated routine realized he had left his cellphone in the breast pocket of the jacket now worn by Doug.

He went into a back room and pulled two pairs of work gloves from a plastic bin.  He then locked the nature house and strode over to the van.   He could smell pot from twenty feet away.  He knocked on the driver-side window, and heard rustling sounds, but no reply.  Stefan was lying low.  The interpreter walked around to the other side of the van, knocked again, and called, “Hey, Stefan!”  There was still no answer.  For some reason, Stefan did not seem to the interpreter the name of a large or dangerous man, and so he put his hand on the handle of the sliding side door, and yanked.  The door sailed open.

Stefan was crouched down in the narrow space behind the driver’s seat in fragrant blue haze, but had managed to stash his joint somewhere.  He was red-eyed and alarmed and coughed out a cloud of smoke.  He was young and thin and not very tall, more-or-less as the interpreter had predicted.

“Uh, hi,” he said.  “Can I help you?”

“Stefan,” said the interpreter.

“Yup?  Who are you?”

“Park interpreter.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I need your help.”

“I’m kind of busy.  I’m actually working.  How do you know my name?”

“Doug told me.”

 He stood up.  “Oh, Doug.”  He came to the door to scan the parking lot. “Where’s Doug?”

“Up to his axles in mud on the trail.  You have to help me get him out.  Take these.”  He held out a pair of gloves.

Stefan looked at them.   They were stiff, and stained with mud.  “I don’t want to wear someone else’s old gloves.”

“You’ll need them.”

“I’m not dressed to go out in the rain.”

“I can get you someone else’s raincoat.”

“Aren’t there other people you can call?”

“I can call Fire-Rescue, but believe me those guys will want to know why you left him out there alone, and I am certain they will not be pleasant about expressing how they feel about it, and I can also call the police to come have a chat with you about the things you have not been doing that you should have, and definitely the things you have been doing that you shouldn’t have.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“About driving stoned with a disabled person in your care in the van.”

There was a long pause.  Stefan squinted at the interpreter.  “What are you, the park security guard or something?”

“Let’s go.”

“Because you say so?  Maybe I quit this job, right now.  This is a crappy job.

“You get to sit in a van and hot box it while getting paid.  Some might consider that a perk.” 

“I get paid crap.”

“What about Doug?”

“Oh Doug.  It’s all about Doug.”

“Yes it is all about Doug.  He is sitting out there, getting hypothermic, in the rain.  He’s waiting for us to come and haul him out.”

“It was his idea.  I told him the weather was iffy.”

The interpreter said, “Smarten up.  Shake it off.  You have work to do.  Doug is your responsibility.”

 “I don’t care about Doug.” 



“Get out of the van and clear your head.  C’mon.  Let’s go get Doug.”

Stefan reluctantly left the van.  He was wearing a light nylon jacket, nothing against the rain.  The interpreter led him to a maintenance shed where scrap lumber was piled against an outer wall.  He put on his gloves and pulled two battered sheets of plywood from a heap, each about 5-feet square.

“One for me, one for you,” he said.  “I recommend the gloves.”

Stefan slowly, cautiously pulled them on, his face tight with revulsion.  “How do I know there aren’t spiders in the fingers?”

“You don’t.”

Arms wide, the interpreter and Stefan carried the plywood, alternating between overhead and off to one side or the other as their arms alternately tired.   At least the sheets provided some protection from the rain, which had picked up again.  But they also made it hard to see overhanging branches, which both men blundered into, trying to avoid puddles.

At one point the interpreter heard Stefan say, “You guys should have closed the trails this morning.  Did you ever think of that?”

After ten minutes they arrived at the Loop Trail junction.  “Take a break,” the interpreter said.  They put the plywood down.  The interpreter pointed at the laminated signs.  He asked Stefan, “Tell me, what do these signs mean to you?”

Stefan shook his head.  “I have no idea.”

“Give it your best shot.”

He studied them, gumboots and lady-shoes.  “Uh, fishermen yes, hookers no?”

“Exactly,” said the interpreter.  “Good work.”

Stefan said, “But that makes no sense.”

“Right again,” said the interpreter.  He picked up his plywood.  “And now we rescue Doug.”

Stefan said, “By the way, I actually do care about Doug.  I was just venting.  Doug is a sweet guy.”

When they reached him he turned and beamed happily.  The umbrella was inverted on the trail with a pond among its spokes.


“Dougie buddy.  Look at you.  Nice jacket.  You look like a forest ranger.”

The interpreter wedged the edge of his sheet of plywood under the rear wheels of the scooter. “Put it in reverse and give it a little juice,” he said.

“Back up, Dougie,” said Stefan, who leaned to push on the handgrips. 
The interpreter stood on the plywood and pulled, and was almost bumped off into the mud as the scooter lurched toward him.  “Whoa!” he yelled.  Doug stopped the scooter. The interpreter and Stefan placed the second sheet behind the first, and Doug reversed onto it.  They then moved the first sheet, placed it back down, and in this leap-frogging way were able to get Doug backed up to a wide bend in the trail, where he could perform a painfully slow twelve-point turn, and then, with the help of a few more strategic placings of plywood, was able to drive the scooter back onto relatively solid ground.

“You’re free,” the interpreter said.

“Yippee!” Doug exclaimed, and with that he shot away at a remarkable speed.

“Hang on, Doug!” Stefan called, and ran after him, leaving the interpreter with the plywood.  He propped the sheets against a tree, would ask works guys to pick them up tomorrow, and hustled after Doug and Stefan, but then remembered Marie’s umbrella.  He ran back for it.  

He overestimated the time it would take to lift Doug into the van.  When he got to the parking lot, Doug and his scooter had already been hoisted inside and Stefan  was climbing into his seat.   “Hey, wait!” the interpreter yelled, “Doug’s got my jacket!”

Stefan waved cheerily out the window as he drove away.  Doug, secured in the back, was not visible as the van turned out of the driveway, onto the road.  

The interpreter looked at his watch.  Stacey was probably still at work in her cubicle in Head Office.  He wanted to phone to tell her of this latest confounding series of events.  He would have to use the nature house phone.  His was in Doug's pocket.  

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swamp4me said...

Fishermen, yes; hookers, no. Priceless.

pattib said...

Good to read the interpreter is back!

Dave said...

Great post Hugh - when is the book coming out? Liked the fisherman/hooker line too!

Hugh said...

Thanks Swampy and Patti, and thank you Dave for the shout-out. The book? Just the usual form-letters from agents/publishers (if even that). Maybe I should follow Terry Fallis and do it on my own.