My Friend Danny

We were never quite sure whether Danny could swim. He had lived in the Falkland Islands for some forty years, where swimming in the frigid South Atlantic was probably not a priority.

“Danny, can you swim?” we would ask him, to which he would never really give us a straight answer.

“I’ve lived around water all my life,” he would reply. “I’ve lived on and off the sea. When I was but 18, I jumped a boat from Wales to the Falklands.” And, as if to settle it once-and-for-all, “I used to go to the pool when I was a kid.”

I took Danny up to our island cottage for the first time in May, he was going to help me open up the place. We carried a big 100 pound propane tank down to the dock to load it into the boat. Danny took a step backwards, when he should really have taken a step sideways. My swimming question was quickly answered when he sank like a stone. I heard the splash, and then saw his cap floating on the lake surface.

I darted over to the edge of the dock, and looked in the clear water. I saw Danny’s shiny noggin, now bare, some twelve feet down. He was thrashing about on the bottom of the lake. I thought for a minute or two about jumping in to help, but hesitated from being heroic, knowing that the ice had only recently left the lake, and the May waters would be quite frigid.

Finally, he bobbed up to the surface with a huge excel of breath, “Haaaaaaaa!” I grabbed his soggy coat by the shoulders and flung him onto the dock. Danny loves his tea, usually consuming some 16 cups a day. He needed one now – that, and a seat by the wood stove.

Danny is, what you would call, a colourful character. Give him his cup of tea, and sit him by the wood stove at the cottage, and he will keep you entertained for hours, spinning yarns of his days on the Falkland sheep stations, sheering, gathering, and riding the barren, rocky, desolate landscape. He has an uncanny memory for people and events, and a wonderful way of making the ordinary seem quite extraordinary. The children also love his tales, especially when he tells his Falkland ghost stories around the evening bonfire. These tales of the macabre are all the more spooky and sinister, because Danny believes them to be true.

I met Danny shortly after I was married, 16 years ago. I guided him on a horse trip through the Canadian Rockies. We became friends, and he has returned many times since, firstly to our BC ranch, and now to our Muskoka home and cottage. He is like the hero of an old western novel or movie, a lonesome cowboy, riding into town, helping around the homestead, and then riding off into the sunset when his good deeds are done.

We work side by side, bucking, splitting and stacking wood for the cottage stove. He demonstrates his English touch in the garden, coaxing the impossible to grow in the rocky soil. We replace some dock boards and shingle the porch roof. We work ourselves into a grimy sweat, and then take a break, sitting back on the steep pitch, he with his tea and me with a cold beer. Ink-black clouds are looming over the lake, and the wind is whipping the water up. It reminds Danny of a story, a sudden deranged squalor that he faced while riding the range in the Falklands, a storm that has him sheltering at a haunted, old, ocean-side shanty. Everything seems to remind Danny of a story.

Danny left Muskoka recently, flying off to Australia. in search of new adventures, new stories to tell, and a new audience. It is a little quieter, and a little less interesting with him absent. He is a colourful eccentric who, through happen-stance, has threaded his life into ours. He has visited the cottage, and his early Spring dip has granted him an important place in our cottage lore. And I know he will put a much different spin on his swim when he tells the tale during his travels.

Another cottage guest who will no doubt return … my friend Danny.