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In the great bear-whistle hunt, I missed the mark

MATT FRENCH/The Globe and Mail

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

I have never given much thought to the value and efficiency of the spoken word. That changed recently when a callus on my vocal cords rendered me voiceless.

After seeing a throat specialist, I decided to stop talking to speed my recovery and let things heal. Now I communicate through charades or by writing on an erasable LCD board. My wife and I are not good charades partners. I am too impatient. I get frustrated and start shaking my head and thrashing my arms around wildly. Without the board I would be lost.

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The board is less efficient at work, where I oversee a 20-man construction crew. I have to write everything down, and the guys sometimes misunderstand what I am trying to convey. Also, getting their attention on the job site is next to impossible unless they are looking directly at me while I flail my arms. For a while I tried whistling if their backs were turned, but in my desperation nothing would come out.

I needed to go buy a whistle. Brilliant solution, I thought. With my erasable board in hand, I headed to a nearby outdoor-outfitter store.

"Do you have whistles?" I wrote, showing my board to the man at the gun counter.

"Yes, we have dog whistles," he said. Without giving me an opportunity to clarify things, the gun guy flagged down a clerk to give me a hand.

"Audible whistle!" I wrote on the board, but before I could show it the man from the dog-whistle department showed up.

"This man needs a whistle for his dog," said gun guy. I shook my head wildly and waved my board: "Audible whistle!"

They both puzzled over why I would need a dog whistle that would be audible. Dog-whistle guy, who seemed excited at the prospect of selling a whistle, asked me to follow him.

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I frantically tried to think of a way to get my message through, and wrote: "Bear whistle!"

Stroke of genius. That should do the trick, I figured. If I got a whistle that could scare a bear away, it would surely be loud enough for my workers to hear. I showed both clerks my board and their faces lit up.

"You need bear spray," said gun guy.

Again I shook my head wildly. In my mind I was yelling "NO, JUST A WHISTLE!" I pointed to my board: "Audible whistle!"

Dog-whistle guy asked me to follow him to the bear department, where he explained the situation as he understood it to a bear guy.

"This guy can't talk and is going out into the woods and is looking for a whistle to scare away the bears," he said.

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Bear guy looked at me sadly. "You need bear spray," he said.

Thankfully, dog-whistle guy was still there. He told bear guy that I didn't want spray, just a whistle. Bear guy looked at me with concern. I could see what he was thinking. "This guy is going into the woods without bear spray and thinks he'll scare bears away with a whistle? How stupid can he be?"

Bear guy thought about it for a second and said, "We don't have bear whistles, but we have bear bells."

Dog-whistle guy got excited and enthusiastically said, "Yeah, those would work great!"

He grabbed some colourful bells off of the rack and started shaking them. At this point I was about ready to just take the bells and leave, but I thought I'd give it one last try.

I wrote: "The whistle is for me to communicate with my workers – to get THEIR attention, NOT BEARS."

It was as if I'd taken all the air out of their balloons. The mood suddenly changed. They looked at each other.

"Hmmm, I don't think we have anything like that, but maybe we should look in the camping department."

Off I went with dog-whistle guy to the other end of the store. Dog-whistle guy explained the whole story to a tent guy, who said, "We don't have anything like that."

I looked down at the shelf where we were standing. Before me hung an array of whistles: whistles with thermometers, whistles with compasses, with mirrors or even waterproof matches. Who would have thought?

Then I saw it: a beautiful blaze-orange whistle with an orange string. It matched my orange construction vest and everything! I didn't even bother trying it out. I'd take it. I smiled and nodded enthusiastically to dog-whistle guy and tent guy. Off I went to the checkout counter with my whistle.

At the checkout, there was a serious hunter in front of me buying lots of ammo. I put my prized whistle down on the counter. As I waited, I texted my wife about the humorous encounter I'd just had.

After ammo guy had been rung through, I looked up from my phone to pay for my whistle. The counter was empty. My whistle wasn't there. I assumed the checkout guy had already taken it. We looked at each other for a few awkward moments.

Finally he asked, "Can I help you?"

He had sold my whistle to ammo guy!

Never had I imagined that buying a whistle would be so difficult.

Fred Klaszus lives near St. Albert, Alta.

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