Most of them present to us as puzzles, as in, why do I never have a half-inch wrench in this toolbox when there is at least a dozen of them somewhere in the place? But then there are the deeper mysteries, some of which never get explained.
I have two tiny bantam chickens, a wily, self-sufficient couple that have been dodging threats to their well-being for a few years now. Suddenly in July, the hen disappeared. There were no signs of foul play—and the rooster did not seem put out. So I assumed she had found some spot to make a nest and hatch some eggs. Three weeks went by and I was beginning to think the hen was a casualty, after all. I went into the shop and reached down into a box in the dim light and was startled by a beady eye staring up at me. It was the hen sitting on 14 eggs she had laid on top of 10 pounds of galvanized nails. Mystery solved.
Then there was my daughter’s pet rabbit Thumper, who was very skilled at escaping his cage. I would frequently find him hopping around the barnyard at the end of the day. One very cold winter morning, I came out to find Thumper had vanished once again. I tried to follow his tracks in the snow, but it was storming and the trail went cold. Very cold for several days with an ice storm. Then, on my way to the barn, I saw several tufts of grey fur under a pear tree. I took the fur into the kitchen and we concluded that poor Thumper was no more. A month went by and then, on my morning trip to the barn, Thumper suddenly hopped out from under the kids’ playhouse, did two laps around me and let me pick him up. Another mystery solved. Except not quite as happily as the hen because my daughter brought out the tufts of fur, which she had kept, and pointed out that they were a completely different colour than Thumper’s. My stock as house detective dropped sharply in value.
There are some mysteries that were never meant to be solved. My godfather lived in an apartment in Ottawa, above a sweet little old lady who owned a turtle, which she kept in a bowl on her balcony just below his own. Every day, she would ask my godfather about the proper care for this turtle, which she didn’t think was doing very well. My godfather had several turtles of his own. So he gave the lady a bottle of a special elixir he promised would restore the turtle to health. Then, when she was out, he reached down from his balcony with a pair of grabbers on a long stick and replaced her turtle with a bigger one. She was delighted with the results of the elixir and gushed to everyone in the building about her turtle’s dramatic recovery. Then he replaced it again with a bigger turtle and then another one. She stopped him in the corridor one day and said, “I have decided not to give him any more of your medicine. He’s growing almost too big for the bowl.” And she handed the bottle back to him. Over the next few weeks, her turtle returned to its normal size.
Then there are the mysteries that appear to be solved but aren’t. A school friend of my daughter’s worked evenings as a dog walker for people including her next-door neighbours who owned three aging poodles. Her father was out walking in the field behind the house one morning when he came across a dog leg, quite fresh and very white, the exact same colour as the poodles. He took the leg home and the family had a panicked conversation at the kitchen table. “Are you sure you got all three poodles back in the yard? Did you shut the gate? There are coyotes everywhere.” The father briefly considered taking the leg next door but decided against it. All eyes turned to the neighbour’s yard in breathless expectation. In due time, three poodles emerged from the house, each one of them with four legs. Father closed the investigation and put the leg in the trash, assuming it belonged to another dog from town. Then a few days later, the neighbour opened the back door and four poodles trotted out into the yard. The new one was missing a leg.
That one was never solved and went into the cold case file.
Dan was born in Toronto and raised partly in the city and partly in the country. His mother moved the family out of the city each spring to a hobby farm near Rosemont, Ontario where he and his brothers and sisters tended to a herd of Jersey cows and worked on the neighbouring farms of the 7th Line.