The Living Tree
Still early the next morning considering how late they
had been up, Drake knocked on Reid's door to see if he wanted to take a tour of
the campus. He glanced out of his window and saw the deep blue of the sky.
"Sure, give me five."
When he went downstairs he saw Taylor asleep on the couch
directly under the sun coming through the bay window in their living room.
"He didn't even make it to his own bed," said
Drake. Lying on his back he was wearing his Birkenstocks and a tweed jacket.
"Why's he wearing a tweed jacket?"
"Not sure, though I think he had a woman over here last
night." Small beads of sweat had formed on his upper lip, and a phone number
was written on his hand with a name above it.
Outside in the fresh morning air people were pedalling
their mountain bikes with swift assurance. The large amount of debris on the
dew-coated lawns and cup-covered streets made the ghetto look like a combat
zone. Across the road a student unloaded her things while her mother surveyed
the carnage of the previous night's festivities. Her Mercedes' licence plate
read: WAS HIS.
Beyond the bewildered mother an old Vietnamese woman was picking up empty
bottles and cans, her old gym bag full of refundable goods.
Within a couple of minutes they were at the main campus
intersection beside the John Deutsch Centre and Sidewalk Café, already packed
with students. A culture of academia. From the street in front of huge
stained-glass windows that dominated Douglas Library the university crest was
engraved over the corner window with the words: SAPIENTIA ET DOCTRINA STABILITAS engraved under it.
"Know what that Latin means up there?" Drake usually had
answers to the obscure.
"From my shoddy Latin I'd guess it means knowledge is
the doctrine of stability, or philosophy is the means to stability, or some variation thereof."
"Philosophy. I don't understand why anyone would
study philosophy. I mean what's the point? What kind of skill do you have with a philosophy degree?" Ivy
covering the library wall was mostly dead but had a few live strands of healthy
green leaves jutting up from the partially dead root. They walked past the
nineteenth century Fine Arts building with the three gothic arches in front of
the two sets of old wooden doors, rounded arches flanked by two huge turrets
with narrow-arched windows.
"You know my Dad always said that to," he went on
with his one-sided rhetoric. "And I must say I agree with him. How does writing
an essay on Plato's contribution to Western thought give you the skills you
need to find a good job? And to tell you the truth, I can't either." Reid
extended his hands as if giving up, but he knew he was speaking to Michelle by
"Don't you see that that's not the point? It's not a
question of knowing Plato's contribution or why Hegel was important. It's about
learning how to read and learning how to express ideas in writing."
"I don't know about that. You're reaching."
"It's about learning how to express yourself and
articulate thoughts, the kind of skills that benefit you everyday, and affect the way you
look at the world."
"But what kind of job can you get?" This
question was an unsolvable contradiction that had become a blind itch that had
bothered him since he chose his major.
Drake pointed at a limestone building with the
architecture of a church, a five-story tower with a bell and clock with crisp
Roman numerals contrasted against its black lustre background. A Queen's flag
flew in the wind above.
"Do you remember when we studied the Living Tree
year in history class for that chapter on the constitution?"
"No, not really." All a blur.
"Well," he sighed. "Simply put it's a term used
to describe how constitutional law is always changing and growing, not stagnant
and not resistant to change."
"Some people are open-minded and are able to listen
to new ideas and different opinions, while others who are close-minded don't
allow any new ideas."
"So can't the Living Tree Principle also be applied to
"Couldn't we represent a changing and evolving
"We're living trees?"
"Yes, better living than dead."
"That sounds ridiculous Drake." Voice now
"Reid, don't be so narrow-minded. It's the fastest
way to living in a cesspool of fear." Words specifically chosen for him.
They walked to a bench beside a rugby pitch to watch a
group of girls playing an organized scrimmage of rugby. Amid dropped passes and
timid tackles, it was the first time Reid had ever seen women's rugby.
"Think about philosophy is. It's the study of wisdom. How
be a useless thing in life? It's the study of the greatest minds who ever
lived. I wouldn't call that a waste of time. You'd use those thinking skills everyday. Probably
save you from making many a tragic mistake throughout your life."
"Never thought of it in those terms." Reid grabbed a
cluster of moist grass and looked across the field at the goal posts.
"In a way it's likely the wisest thing a man can study."
The smell of the hot soil permeated into the potent air around him.
"Yeah. I see where you're going with that." That look
that Michelle had given him flooded his mind. It was the threatening aspect
that had bothered him.
They saw an elderly gentleman strolling across fresh
divots at the end of the pitch who wore a Deerstalker and dipped his hat at
Reid and Drake.
"All right. That's it. I'm going to take philosophy for
my elective. What the hell." Reid's words were firm but his resolve was thin.
When he and Drake strolled in to the house Taylor was
slouched on the couch in his surf shorts reading Brave New World by Huxley. Judging from the out-of-whack
angle of his body and stern brow, he was enthralled. Reid approached slowly but
the hardwood floor creaked just enough for Taylor to turn with lightning
quickness. Eyes wider than seemed possible that showed complete abandon, taking
a moment before Taylor's rubicund face returned.
"You scared the hell out of me." Taylor
marked his place with a pizza coupon. "Well yeah, it's a good book.
Alphas, epsilons, soma; it's prophetic." Reid fell on the old
lounge chair beside the couch. "Non-conformists buggering off to
Greenland, man." Sitting up, he looked like a guy who could talk for hours
about books, but wasn't encouraged by Reid.
"Listen Reid," he said sitting up. "I went
to the gym this morning-"
"Yeah, this morning. And I saw a note on the bulletin
board that said the novice rowing try-outs are on the weekend, Saturday morning
"Rowing?" Taylor put his book on the table.
"Yeah. I don't know about you but it's something I've
always wanted to do. My brother rowed in his first year when he was here. I'm
going to show up at the try-outs tomorrow." He looked at Drake sitting on
the other chair.
"You're doing your equestrian piece," then his eyes
narrowed on Reid.
"You should come with me. I know where it is. We can ride
"Ah, I don't know Taylor. I've never rowed
"So, neither have I. It's novice. No one
"Well-" To Reid it didn't make any sense to
complicate his term with rowing; it didn't fit into his plan.
"The point is that you haven't done it before. Rowing will be a new experience." Drake nodded in
"Yeah McFetty, why wouldn't you?"
"I wasn't planning on it."
"So, neither was I." Something in Taylor's eye
made me think about it. The idea of being on water was luring. But more than
that was the idea of being on the team with Taylor. It was easier than doing it
alone. The idea was gaining momentum.
"What exactly is the deal then?"
"I talked to the guy at the athletic centre and I
think he said the season would last into the late fall, and that there would be
a regatta almost every weekend starting in two weeks. Practices are in the
morning at six at the rowing club, starting at the end of the week. We'll all
for the tryouts there's a twelve-minute run and then five minutes on the rowing
machine," he added nonchalantly.
"Ah, I don't know," he answered cautiously,
thinking of his father. His father expected A's and nothing else this term.
"As my brother always said to me: `don't be neophobic.'"
"Yeah, afraid to try new things. Listen, just
because you've never rowed is no reason not to. Just think of the girls that
we'll meet, and the other schools we'll visit, and the road trips."
"Mmm, the regattas could be fun," he said like
a fence sitter, careful not to commit.
"Well then, whaddya say?" He didn't answer.
"`But when one is young,'" Taylor said, pointing his finger in the air like a teacher,
"`one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind.'" Taylor chuckled.
"The Russian said that in Heart of Darkness. I can't agree with that enough. You?"
He knew Taylor was looking for a wingman.
"Okay, I'll ride to the tryouts with you." A youthful
mischievousness unleashed itself in his gut with these words.