Life As An Adjective
After the first few weeks of classes
Reid's life began to settle down to an agreeable degree of sanity. Rowing
filled his early mornings and classes filled his days, and social engagements
filled his evenings. Tests for his commerce classes he I still didn't care
about. It was his philosophy class and the readings that had his interest.
Never before had something spoken so directly to him. He had no idea people
wrote like that; it was like discovering a new colour and new smell and new
vista all in one. Not only did he make a point of doing all his required
readings, he tried to read the recommended readings too, which he hadn't ever
crossed his mind before. But that's what happened; he had finally discovered a
source where words meant something. Finally he had found a lair of writers who
got to the point.
The early mornings became a time to
enjoy rowing on the water. Getting up was tough at first, but after a couple
weeks he and Taylor had developed a system of waking each other up just in case
one of their alarm clocks didn't go off. It was usually still dark out when
they hopped on their mountain bikes to ride off to the rowing club. And the
darker it became at dawn, the colder it became. Getting rid of the shivers was
his first task when he hit the morning air. There were some mornings when
Taylor could hardly get himself out of bed due to the previous night's
excessive partying. He was a work-hard, play-hard maniac. Somehow he could
party all night and then get up to row for two hours at the crack of dawn. On
the mornings when he was hungover Reid could smell the alcohol fumes emitting
from his pores. Reid rowed in the number-one seat, or bow seat, and Taylor was
in front of him in the two-seat so they became known on the crew as Bow Power. There were more than a few
times Taylor didn't come home at all. It was not uncommon to see him leaving
the campus pub with a girl and spending the night in the girl's dormitory.
Despite his carefree lifestyle, Taylor never once let the crew down or failed
to be there in spirit as well. That's the way it was with him.
At the first regatta on the last
weekend in September at Trent University the crew raced to a distant fourth,
two full boat lengths behind the winning crew from Western. He and Taylor had
loads of fun at the regatta. Since they were in the novice division they raced
first after the initial heats so they had lots of time to drink the traditional
drink of regatta culture, schnapps, and get into all sorts of mischief. But the
rowing coach Loren Orris, whom Taylor had started to call Orson Buggy, wasn't happy at all with the crew's performance. So
when they returned to Kingston he made rowing practices tougher. Orson Buggy
started to include the dreaded twenty-minute piece during each practice. Orson
Buggy yelled from his little outboard motorboat as the eight rowers splashed
atop the water with burning legs and weakened arms. The twenty-minute piece was
a grind but Reid kept his mind off the pain by enjoying the scenery along the
Gananoque River. The only good to come out of the dreaded twenty-minute pieces
was where the crew ended up: miles away from Kingston surrounded by ducks and
flocks of Canadian geese. When resting after twenty minutes of fast rowing they
listened to the sound of golden-eyed loons in the slow rising mist surrounded
by tall straw-coloured marshes and rich smelling maple, some mornings being
like a Group of Seven painting.
Both he and Taylor continually went
out to the campus pub, but it was Taylor who seemed to be expanding. His
happy-go-lucky nature grew over time. His Mohawk a constant conversation piece
when he met new people, he brought out the best in his fellow schoolmates. His
ability to love life intimidated Reid's inability to comprehend how gregarious
people embraced life, so he chose to remain aloof.
The second week after the Trent
Regatta Reid relaxed on the couch after an economics class. Just as he was
beginning to relax Drake came in.
"Reid, how 'bout we go up to
the farm." He had been so busy with rowing and the pub he hadn't been up
to the farm with Drake since the summer.
"Nice one. I need a break from
graphs and charts."
When they arrived at the farm and
the smells seeped into his nose he felt the tension of the day evaporate under
the October sun. Beside a red barn with the word SALISBURY painted in faded
white paint was a traditional gingerbread house with four proportional windows
and corners of beige brick. The porch housed some old furniture and a rustic
table. Like a postcard of a country home. A footpath laid with freshly cut wood
chips starkly contrasting the dark rich soil led to the stables where a few
people milled around with horses. The freshly hoed soil emitted a strong aroma
of earth that was a medicine.
Through the open doors to the stable
a women was sitting on an upside-down metal bucket in casual conversation with
another woman who was brushing her horse. The stable smelled of fresh leather
"Good Day Mrs. Wilkins," said
Drake, half a step in front of Reid. "How're doing today Madison? Looks like
you got those new boots." They both casually greeted Drake. He left Reid
there to speak to the daughter of the owner of the farm. Reid saw that she was
blind in one eye.
"'Bout time," Madison replied.
""This is Reid," he said.
That was the extent of the formalities. Embarrassed, he glanced at both of them
"Hi Reid. Ever been here
before?" Madison's plentiful blond hair carefully tucked under her riding
hat, boots hardly creased, pretty features bred like a good racehorse.
"No." In the silence he
felt a paralysis of not knowing what to say. "Been busy at school I guess."
"So you're friends with
"Best friends you could say."
"He's a good rider." The sweaty cotton shirt clung to her skin
revealing her style of sports bra.
"Is that Reid with an e i
or a double e?" Expecting a punch line to a joke
that never came.
"Ah, it's with an e i,"
he said, feeling as if he may be falling for it.
"Did you know that your name
means red in Gaelic?" In her paddock boots and
chaps Madison looked at him with her welkin eyes.
"Yeah?" He asked her if
she was a Queen's student.
"I'm a fourth year English
major." She smiled. "What about you?"
"Commerce." The word hung
in the barn like an impostor, and Madison took her eyes off Reid. A horse
"I should let you get back to
your horse." He straightened his posture and left the stable for the
practice field. The sky cloudless and the grass along the fence dry like straw.
Putting his foot on the bottom plank of the fence he breathed deeply and
watched a flock of birds fly out from the red and orange and yellow maple trees
beside the barn as the breeze picked up. He thought about how he spoke to his
father less frequently as the days went by, a result of his growing
indifference to an old life and goals.
"Reid!" He was startled.
"Want to take a run?" Face
full of colour as he pulled up on his horse. "Get you in top form for the
championships next month."
"Yeah, alright." He
trotted on his horse named Phineas while Reid ran beside him along
the perimeter of the field. The breeze warm and fresh with the aroma of fall.
"Did you see who I was talking to?"
"From afar. Who is she?"
"Lynn lives here on the farm. Plans
to go to Queen's next year. Really kind person."
"One never knows. She's absolutely
stunning though." Reid thought of the eye.
"Did she have a bum eye?" Drake
"One of these days you'll see that
beauty is inside Reid." Tone impatient. "Let's just say Lynn
had an accident when she was a girl."
"So that's why you've been spending
so much time up here."
"You're smarter than you look."
Drake seemed as happy as he had ever seen him at that moment. "Speaking on
which, how is that philosophy class you and Michelle are in? Liking it?"
"He's a pretty sharp guy, our prof,"
he said. "There's something about Bakhurst that's different, which is
"Have you told your father yet?"
"I think my parents would have had a
hernia. They're paying for my education and if I turned around and told them I
was studying philosophy, I think they'd
have a baby. And why should I?"
"Because they'll find out
eventually. And because your father pays for your education."
"So let it be eventually then. You
know the irony is that it's way more interesting than commerce - the most
boring subject in the history of the world."
"I have been thinking about my
own little philosophy," he said glancing over at Reid. He pushed his riding hat back exposing his
sweaty yellow hair. "I've been thinking that you could look at life as either a
noun, a verb, or as an adjective. For me life is a verb." Drake negotiated
Phineas over some wooden debris along the perimeter of the forest as Reid
watched out for grasshoppers flying into his face. "Life for me is
something to be achieved through action. Through my actions I define who I am,
"Alright. I can se that."
"Living life as a verb is revered
because men of action achieve things.
They achieve greatness."
"Yes, like Sir Francis Drake."
"The example I always think of Sir
Edmund Hilary." He glanced at Reid.
"Life as a verb. All right."
Salty sweat slid off his skin stinging his squinting eyes.
"Life could also be lived as a
noun. I would say the majority of people view life as a noun, like it was
something one is born with without
working for it. It is a thing and idea that is just sort of there - like a couch - with no impetus or desire to do anything, except to look
around and enjoy the scenery." Drake rode with confidence with his new
"Life as a noun. The modern
phenomenon of a couch potato. Yeah, just take a look at Michelle's roommate
Barbara. What does she do with her free time? Watch
They watch life go by. They don't do anything. They regard life as something
they own for nothing."
"Sure. Static as opposed to dynamic."
Reid dodged drooping branches from weeping willows wavering in the wind,
hindering him of a smooth run.
"The third way one could live
is as an adjective. This is the way of the artist. That is the way that I think
Taylor lives. This, I believe, is the most admirable. Somehow the artist can
extract the manifold of adjectives from the everyday and, as it were, live in a
finer array of colour."
"I can see Taylor as a
poet." A butterfly grazed his lip.
"So in all life's harshness,
the adjectival poet is able to enjoy the irony in life. Taylor,
I would say, is a unique case. His yoke is particularly wide." Drake
straightened his posture and looked at Reid.
"Yes, a wide yoke. He can enjoy the poetic flow of each day""
"Right. I'd call him an adjectival dilettante."
"Yeah, Taylor seems to have a far
reaching albumin." They approached a group of sparrows darting through the
"The egg white which I think is
almost a hundred percent protein. Taylor has both a wide adjectival yoke but also a far-reaching albumin of
This was precisely what Reid had seen in Taylor throughout the rowing season.
Then he remembered a quote he had come across from his Nietzsche readings.
product of the philosopher is his life (first of all, before his works). That is his work of art." Drake kept
riding as if he hadn't heard what Reid said, but he could tell he did because
of the way he was riding Phineas.
"Yeah, I like that: living your life
as a work of art."
"That's a line from Nietzsche."
"It's not studying. It's reading for
the sake of figuring out life for
"Maybe you're going through a grammatical metamorphosis?"
"I'm sorry?" They
approached a fork in their trail, one path veering left back towards the farm
and the other veering right to an unknown path.
"You're unknowingly morphing
from a verb into an adjective." Drake picked up his pace and chose to take
the path to the right. Reid followed the horse up the path until they came to a
hill where he passed Drake to take the lead at the crest of the hill. The new
path opened up to a forest of red, orange and yellow leaves. In a flash Reid
saw his life as a sentence: at birth a noun then being led to an adjective via
the trail of the verb. Despite the rocks and incongruities their new path was
more exciting than the trail along the perimeter with its inhibiting weeds and