Sunday 7 January 2024


Before becoming a weekly garden columnist for the Waterloo Region Record in 2001, I had written and published two books of humorous garden stories. However, I began writing long before that. At the age of fourteen, I was given a writing opportunity as the official Press Secretary of my local cycling club (no one else wanted it). It was my job to write a short account of the weekly club run and submit it to the local paper, the Holmfirth Express. The only instruction I received was that it should be written in the third person – ugh. I never in any way or at any time looked on this as me being a writer. It felt more like a chore, scribbling down the account every Sunday evening. I feel sorry for the editor at the time as I’ve no idea how he managed to interpret my pigeon scratches. Nevertheless, he made something presentable out of it.

It wasn’t until around 1993 that I took up writing again when I was required to write and present speeches. It soon became clear that all the speeches I wrote, delivered without notes, turned into stories. I went on to tell these stories for a few years at Mary Eileen Mclear’s storytelling barn in Baden, Ontario. Besides weekly columns, over 1150, I also wrote about plants and gardens for magazines such as Canadian Gardening, Grand Magazine, Garden Making, and in the US, Farmers Almanac. Many of these can be seen on the sidebar under Garden Stories and Green Trips.

The stories I've compiled do not feature plants at all, and they've suffered little from editing. They reflect what I was thinking, reading, experiencing, or reminiscing on at the time. Many were meant to be for telling, rather than reading. Not in any chronological order, some are serious, some not, and some are plain silly. If you like a story (or not) please leave a comment.

Scroll down or see the full list in the sidebar to the right >>>>>>

David M. Hobson

Saturday 6 January 2024


From 12,000 miles away the story swept through the media. Within twenty-four hours the news had faded, but not before providing me with the disturbing explanation of an echo that had spiralled through time, from a mountaintop twelve years previously.

Mount Ruapehu is a dormant volcano with a lake filled crater at its summit. It lies just south of Lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand. Its nearest neighbour is Ngorongoro, an active partner in the same range. Even though the whole area is an unstable rift in the earth's crust, it is a popular ski resort in wintertime. In February 1985 I was in New Zealand. I’d hitched a ride in the rain to Ruapehu. If the weather cleared, I had hopes of climbing it. Although eleven thousand feet high it was supposed to be an easy climb, made easier by a paved road that snakes up from a campground to the chalet.

I spent a cool night camped out but rose to the sun. I ate quickly and by seven started on the three-mile walk to where the real climb begins. I'd barely set out when a car stopped. The driver was on his way up to do repair work at the chalet and offered me a ride. As the car crawled slowly up the steepening grade, I gazed out at the scenery; a volcanic arena, peaks benignly coated with snow, thinly disguising formidable power.

The lower slopes of the mountain are violently barren. Charred and stunted pines are all that's left of the old tree line, crippled shadows against the massive cone of Ngorongoro. Less dormant than Ruapehu, innocent wisps of smoke betray it, like someone caught smoking, lungs full to bursting.

From the chalet my route lay up the ski field, a naked scratch on the side of the mountain, I tried to imagine it in winter, swarming with people, but exposed by the summer sun it was just rubble strewn desolation.

I began to climb, picking my way over rocks, stumbling upwards. I'd thought I was in shape but as I climbed higher, I could feel my body aging with the effects of altitude. It was cold and I was tiring quickly. Each ridge conquered only revealed another, blocking sight of the summit. Underfoot the ground was unstable, loose, and crumbly, blackened wet cinders of lava smearing the old snow. My legs were heavy; my fingers sore from scrambling up the almost sheer slope. As I dragged myself onto the crest I was gasping for air. From there I lurched along a narrow spine of bare rock which ended abruptly at the highest point, right on the edge of the crater. The blue sky should have been reflected in the water below, but it wasn't. Shielded from wind, it was grey and lifeless. Any other body of water would invite a stone to be tossed in. Not this one. It threatened retaliation.

I sat and rested as my breathing returned to normal. The pounding in my ears eased, replaced by an empty silence. I'd never been this high before, in a place so different, so far from people. Yet I was disappointed. I'd expected something more, enlightenment, wonder, or some emotion other than the pride that I'd made it. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the grandeur, to be amazed by the scenery, but the valley in the distance was hazy, without detail. Surrounding peaks blurred with the sky. I felt myself shrinking into insignificance against time and space. I was alone, the last person on earth, insecure, vulnerable. I wanted back, to be among people, to feel alive.

Boom! The sound rocked me, then again, and again. Six times I winced before silence returned. Nothing had changed. The lake was still featureless. The smoke from Ngorongoro still whispered from its peak. The tranquility was ominous. Anxiety tugged at my sleeve. Panicking, I scurried along the ridge, retracing my steps to begin the descent, slipping, falling, tobogganing down the slurry, obsidian rocks piercing the snow like rotten teeth, snapping at me as I slid by. Down, down, down. I eventually stumbled into the chalet, grazed, and bruised, remembering little of my flight, as though I'd fallen through time.

I was able to get a ride down to the campground with someone from the chalet. I asked about the sounds I'd heard on the summit, expecting to hear a simple explanation, but they'd heard nothing. No one had. It was a mystery, and remained so until just this month, when, from 12,000 miles away the story echoed through the media. On the 4th of February at Echo Lodge, a remote village on the slopes of Mount Ruahpehu, a popular ski resort in New Zealand, a deranged man has slaughtered six people with a shotgun.

Wednesday 4 October 2023


No turkey for me this Christmas — not after last year’s fiasco. For years we’ve been eating turkey at Christmas, but each year we found the taste was becoming less like turkey and more like a car mat. I put it down to the way they are artificially produced, reproduced, fed antibiotics, growth hormones, and miscellaneous additives, then killed, injected with dairy substitutes (I won't say butter) and frozen months before they ever reach your table.

And since I’m sure the unsold turkeys are returned to the store freezer if they’re not sold, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the turkey you are eating at Christmas could well have last seen the light of day as long ago as 1973.

I decided last Christmas that we would have a real turkey — a fresh, free-range, additive free, organic turkey: A turkey reared by a kindly farmer, hand fed and lovingly cared for by his children as a pet on a farm with a white picket fence, a farm with a long sweeping driveway lined by stately oak trees. I couldn’t find one, but I did find a farmer at the local market who swore his turkeys met my specifications.

“And they are treated well,” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “In fact, we play music in the barn for them.”

“What, the Bee Gees singing Staying Alive, or Gloria Gaynor and I Will Survive?”

“Oh, no, no, we plays classical music for them. A little Brahms calms them down, relieves any anxiety. It’s real important in those few tense weeks before Christmas.”

I was sold. The idea of a relaxed, stress free turkey sounded like my kind of turkey. I placed my order.

A few days before Christmas, I went back to the market to pick up my bird. I found my turkey man and paid for it. It was big, and heavy — around thirty pounds, packed into a large cardboard box that he helped me lift onto the back seat of the car. Off I drove with what was going to be the tastiest turkey ever.

As I drove down King Street the traffic was heavy and when someone cut me off, disaster struck. I braked hard. Unfortunately, the box containing the turkey flipped over and the turkey fell out — and started hopping around the back seat — oh, I didn't mention it was alive, did I?

You see, my plan to have fresh turkey involved keeping it alive in the garage until Christmas day. But now here it was flapping furiously inside the car. I tried to find some Brahms, or at least some classical music on the radio, hoping it would calm it down, but I all I got was AC/DC singing Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap — how ironic, and momentarily guilt inducing. The turkey flapped faster.

There wasn't much I could do except continue driving as I'd turned onto the expressway by this time, and when the turkey managed to reach over my shoulder and jab it’s beak at the radio, obviously not an AC/DC fan, I opened the window to distract it. It immediately stuck its head out — like a dog, but instead of a big pink tongue flapping in the wind the turkey's blue wattles were waving wildly. Meanwhile, it had shed so many feathers the car looked like a snow globe, travelling down the expressway at 100k with feathers streaming from the car like the tail of a comet.

 I finally exited the expressway and had only gone a little way before a police cruiser pulled me over. Must have been the feathers. I watched in the mirror as the officer approached. It's true what they say — objects in mirror are larger than they appear. She was huge, and I felt completely intimidated, and that was before she drew the gun.

Then there was trouble, started by the turkey. As the police officer bent down to speak through the window to me, the turkey made a grab for her gun. The turkey was fast, but not fast enough. The cop was good, she had the gun whipped out and a bead drawn on the turkey before you could say butterball. But she didn't say butterball. She yelled, "Freeze," which is not something a turkey likes to hear.

 "Hold it", I yelled. "You can't kill my turkey.”

 I managed to explain what was going on. The police officer was genuinely nice. She said she didn't blame the turkey. Said if she had a death sentence hanging over her, she'd go for a gun, too. She allowed me to drive on, but only after agreeing to fasten the bird in a seat belt. It took both of us twenty minutes to do it. We had to use all three belts on the back seat to hold it down, but we managed. My turkey was trussed up like a — well, I was going to say like a chicken.

When I arrived home, I parked the car in the garage and let the turkey out. I put an old dog leash on it and tied it to the bench. The kids were keen to see it, and since it was still a week to Christmas, I let them have the job of feeding it.

That was a mistake because they really took to the turkey. They named it Tanya — Tanya Turkey. They checked on Tanya each day, fed her, took her for walks on the leash. They were becoming attached, so I reminded them that we were only keeping Tanya until Christmas day, then we'd eat it.

They were a bit put out about that, to say the least. I had to explain that I wasn't going to kill the turkey. I wouldn't have to. I told them that thanks to selective breeding and a little genetic engineering, Tanya was cleverly pre-programmed to commit suicide on Christmas Eve.

This was a mistake. Now I was faced with the problem of dispatching the turkey without leaving any signs of violence on its body. Chopping off its head and splattering blood all over the place would hardly take a CSI team long to show the turkey hadn’t exactly expired voluntarily, or even by an assisted suicide. Then I had a brilliant idea.

After breakfast on Christmas morning, I told the kids I was going out to warm up the car before we went to church. I quickly attached a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of the car and shoved it under the garage door. After about five minutes I peaked in the window. I couldn't believe what I saw. The turkey must have been holding its breath because it was blue in the face.

I gave it another five minutes before we drove off to church. When we returned the kids rushed into the garage to see Tanya. Of course, Tanya was dead, dead as the burnt out Christmas lights I’d left on the tree all summer — not a flicker.

My little subterfuge had worked. The kids accepted Tanya’s demise as natural and were thrilled when I said they could watch me pluck and prep her for the oven. Hey, a turkey autopsy makes for an excellent lesson in anatomy.

We cooked up the turkey. All the family came for dinner. I was so proud. This was going to be the best turkey they'd ever eat — except no one ate any. Just one taste was enough. It was terrible. Due to the car exhaust, it had the strangest flavor — hints of a moldy floor mat and a gas station forecourt that left a petro-chemical aftertaste. We had to throw it out.

So that's it. This year it's going to be vegetarian all the way. One thing I did learn from the experience, however, is my car really needs an oil change.