Precocious child on the river
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by Heidi Wallenborn-Cramer
"Have you ever been on a locomotive?"
"Why are flies black?"
"Why do bees sting?"
"How far have you traveled on that boat?"
"I don't like eggs. Why do you?"
"The Easter Bunny leaves me chocolate eggs. Do you know why?"
On our last of five days on the Glenelg River in Australia over Easter weekend, I was peppered with questions by a five-year-old like buckshot from a 12-gauge rifle.
My husband Steve and I had settled in for the night. We moored our small sailing yacht at Saunders Landing and took the outboard tinny out to fish before sunset. No one was at the offshore picnic area we chose. In fact, it seemed that no one was around for several miles.
Steve lit the wood-fueled barbecue. We cooked steaks, sautéed some onion, and baked corn-on-the-cob and potatoes in foil. While eating at the picnic table, we settled in for a game of Scrabble. Dusk turned to night, and we enjoyed the sounds of sleepy parrots and other birds settling in.
Midway through the board game by flashlight, with our dinner nearly finished, we heard a foghorn-like Australian female voice drifting over black water: "Hoy! Yeah mate! That's the place we saw earlier today, mate! Oi! There's bloody boats there! But I'm sure it's the same place! Oi! It looks like TWO bloody boats are there! Pull in anyway! Oi! I see lights! Pull in hard right, mate! I'll watch out!"
Resigned, Steve and I helped these boaters trying use flashlights to navigate the snag-filled river underneath a black, star-filled sky. My husband got our tinny out of the way and helped them get their old houseboat into the dock. When finished, we invited them to share a yarn or two by our fire while sipping sparkling wine.
This couple, older than Steve and I in our late 40s, had a five-year-old son with them.
Campbell was precocious, to say the least, and an absolute delight. Curious, he processed information quickly. He noticed our interrupted Scrabble game and asked questions about the letters on squares with tiny numbers in the corner. I explained the game to him while the others gathered around the campfire.
I enjoyed watching him learn. He was fascinated with our flashlight and randomly turned it on and off. He lit up the surrounding gum trees looking for ring-tailed possums and koalas. He asked how far light goes.
I replied, "How far do you think light goes?"
He pondered a moment and answered, "As far as I can see."
"Really?" I said. By this time the moon had risen and hovered above the horizon. "But light travels so much farther than we can see. What if someone was on that moon over there and saw your light? Do you think that could happen?"
Campbell didn't answer, he stared at the moon.
"What about the stars?" I asked. "What if the light shining down to us from space is really a bunch of people on planets with flashlights shining them in our direction--hoping we could see them?"
Campbell looked at me quizzically and said, "Flashlight?"
"I mean torch," I said. (Australians refer to flashlights as torches.)
Thinking about that for a minute, he smiled. With a childish laugh, Campbell discounted the idea. "Nah," he said. "That's just too far away."
The child was distracted then by Steve offering a perfectly melted marshmallow from a stick over the fire. As the evening wore on, the little fella was ushered off to bed on his parent's houseboat.
“Oi!” his mother called to me, trailing after her husband who held her sleeping son. “He’s pretty smart, ain’t he?”
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Delightful piece. Enjoyed this.