Bap­tism by fire and water

Rites of spring and the rites of pas­sage of­ten col­lide

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - David Muise I’m Just Sayin’ David Muise prac­tises law in Syd­ney with Shel­don Nathanson Law and is the creator of the Jim and Far­quhar se­ries. Watch for The Best of I’m Just Sayin’... due out in the fall.

In Cape Breton there are two rites of spring that ev­ery red­blooded Ca­per at one time had en­dure to gain ac­cep­tance — jump­ing clam­pers and light­ing grass fires. This bap­tism by fire and water is a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion in these parts although what starts out as in­no­cent fun could lead to real trou­ble.

Ev­ery spring, Mike and I would head for the Wash­brook, of the Thanks­giv­ing Day flood 2016 fame, to prac­tise jump­ing clam­pers. We started in a brook be­cause the water was shal­lower and the jumps re­quired were a rel­a­tively short dis­tance. Once we had prac­tised enough in the brook, and be­ing blocked by bridges and cul­verts, we headed for the har­bour for some real cham­pi­onship clam­per jump­ing. Those of you not fa­mil­iar with this sport let me ex­plain, clam­pers were pieces of drift ice that floated near shore and “clamped” them­selves to the rocks. The event be­gins by find­ing a loose clam­per that you could float on (some used a hockey stick to move the ice along) and once you have gained some speed and depth, you jumped to an­other piece of ice.

This ma­noeu­vre had to be ex­e­cuted with the great­est of care. You had to time your jump so you landed on the new clam­per at suf­fi­cient dis­tance that it didn’t tip be­cause, God knows, a cold dip in the har­bour was no re­ward. You had to be watch­ful too that the clam­per didn’t have too much water on it, mak­ing it slip­pery. Fi­nally, you had to watch for the po­lice who would drag you home by the scruff of the neck for a sure pun­ish­ment from your par­ents.

Mike went com­pletely un­der on one at­tempt which sent us scur­ry­ing to a nearby laun­dry­mat to dry his clothes be­cause God knows you didn’t want your par­ents find­ing out. It took ev­ery cent we had to dry his coat. I still re­mem­ber the Old Man’s words,

“You drown jump­ing clam­pers and I will kill you!”

Not quite log­i­cal but you got the mes­sage.

The sec­ond rite of spring was the light­ing of grass fires. This was not a cer­e­mo­nial event but sim­ply set­ting a va­cant field alight then wait­ing for the fire de­part­ment to ar­rive so you could play fire fighter for a few hours. Un­like jump­ing clam­pers, if you went home smelling of smoke you could just say you were help­ing the fire de­part­ment. Ma al­ways bought this but the Old Man was some­what leery.

A num­ber of years ago I was guest speaker at a fire de­part­ment in­stal­la­tion of of­fi­cers. When they an­nounced my friend, Joe L., had been cho­sen as fire­fighter of the year, I was flab­ber­gasted be­cause I had hard ev­i­dence that in the ’50s and ’60s he lit half the grass fires in Ashby. The proof — I lit the other 50 per cent.

Now I must stop and is­sue a warn­ing — light­ing grass fires is not a good idea. An out of con­trol fire could cause lots of dam­age. As for jump­ing clam­pers, well I don’t think too many young peo­ple are at­tracted to drift ice any­more, un­less it’s a video game. I’m just sayin’...

“The sec­ond rite of spring was the light­ing of grass fires. This was not a cer­e­mo­nial event but sim­ply set­ting a va­cant field alight then wait­ing for the fire de­part­ment to ar­rive so you could play fire fighter for a few hours.”

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