Blue hated school. But he hated lunchtime detentions more. He’d gotten the word “sham” wrong on the vocabulary test three weeks in a row—and Miss Grey was mad, really mad. Didn’t think he’d ever seen his Grade Five English teacher so mad: “Enough with your stupid drawing and daydreaming, Blue! Can’t you see that it’s time! Time to APPLY yourself! Such wasted potential. Wasted. Utterly wasted, because you refuse, totally refuse, to focus, to focus, Blue, focus, focus, focus, FOCUS! Are you even listening to me now, Blue?”
sham, n. A thing that is not what it is purported to be.
sham, v. Falsely present something as the truth.
Though he’d never admit this to Miss Grey, Blue actually liked doing his copies. There was something calming about it, something meditative. And besides, he liked his own handwriting, strange as that may sound. Blue’s school was on University Street, across the street from McGill, in downtown Montreal. And he lived on Laval Avenue, in Plateau-Mont-Royal. So it really wasn’t much of a walk. About twenty minutes. Thirty minutes tops. But Blue never did anything the easy way. He preferred the long version of stories, and, much to his mom’s chagrin, walks. Rain or shine, Blue’s after-school walk took at least an hour. Sometimes two. The police had been called twice. And he’d been grounded on numerous occasions. But Blue wouldn’t budge. This was HIS time, and he was ready and willing to fight for it, come hell or high water.
His route was far less random than the adults thought: First, he walked up University Street, past that McGill building with the brainy quote on it, past the towers filled with giggling college students, and into the dark forest that blanketed the south side of Mount Royal Park. Sometime after that, he could be seen on the east side of the Mountain, popping out of the forest like a fawn, a stone’s throw from the Monument to George-Étienne Cartier. From there it was but a ten-minute walk to his humble home.
Blue’s time in the forest was time outside of time. Magical time. Holy time. And today was no different: He climbed some trees, threw some rocks, and had an epic stick-sword fight with a host of imaginary enemies: enemies with tree-bark faces. Then he found a patch of Wild Black Raspberries, and ate them till his fingers and lips were suitably stained.
Then he turned over some mossy rocks, in search of magical fairy creatures, commonly known as Red-Backed Salamanders. He watched two Grove Snails greet each other and make some rather queer decisions of long-term consequence. He let a Northern Walkingstick walk up and down his arm till he was so ticklish he couldn’t take it anymore. He watched an Assassin Bug waiting patiently for prey in the snowy depths of a Trillium Flower. He let a Black-Capped Chickadee land on the fingertips of his outstretched arm. He followed a Raccoon for so long that it stopped caring he was there; sure, it would glance back at Blue from time to time, but it did so lazily, and without conviction. He watched a Comma Butterfly shape-shift before his very eyes: dead leaf, dead leaf, dead leaf—explosion of sunset colors—dead leaf, dead leaf, dead leaf—forest fireworks—dead leaf.
It was that delightful time of year: you know, just after the melting of the last of the winter snows—those hidden deep in the forest, on the shady side of the Mountain. The forest floor comes alive at that time with Yellow Dogtooth Violet, Stinking Benjamin, and, when Mother Nature’s good and ready, Great White Trillium. The first really hot summer days in Montreal cause a sweet woodsy smell to rise, like Jesus, from the leaf litter and the soggy logs. It mingles with the smell of the spring flowers to produce an intoxicating forest perfume, which has always signaled, for Blue, the much anticipated end of the stupid school year. It’s really no exaggeration to say, gentle reader, that the smell you’re smelling in your head RIGHT NOW is, for Blue, quite literally, the springtime smell of summertime freedom.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here: A Love Letter to Montréal (2017)