What’s my line?

We can credit the New York Times if the loose cannon in the White House fires special counsel Robert Mueller for crossing a “red line” by poking around in the president’s finances.

What some pundits predict will be a constitutional crisis might be traced to Trump’s acquiescence to a suggestion from reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman during an interview with the Times last summer.

SCHMIDT: “Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?”

HABERMAN: “Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?”

TRUMP: “I would say, yeah. I would say, yes.”

The reporters had to know the answer, that this was a sketchy rich guy hiding his tax returns and shady deals.

The Q&A was akin to asking children if they would be unhappy if there were no more desserts at dinnertime.

Predictably, since that interview last July, the conventional wisdom has become that the president declared his business out of bounds on the Russia investigation. Never mind that the dunderhead in the Oval Office never had an original thought, that the idea came from the interviewers, not the consistently incoherent interviewee.

No matter. The media love lines – the red one from Obama on Syria, the one in the sand from Bush Sr. in Iraq.

Trump’s supposed red line has been repeated so many times on TV – his primary source of information – that he probably believes he drew it himself.

For Schmidt and Haberman, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of Trump whisperers, their mischief was rewarded last Thursday when they reported that Mueller had subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization.

The media verdict was nearly unanimous:

  • Mueller Just Stepped Over Trump’s Red Line – Bloomberg
  • Did Robert Mueller Just Cross Donald Trump’s Red Line on Russia? – CNN
  • Trump Drew a Red Line for Mueller; Mueller Just Crossed It – The Hill

The headlines sent yaps flapping on cable news. Will Trump use it as an excuse to fire Mueller? What will the Republicans do if that happens? Will they finally slap down the Cowardly Lion? Will he start a war to wag the dog? Will he loot the treasury and hijack Air Force One?

I made up that last question. The rest, in some form or another, were solemnly posed and debated on cable news and editorial pages – by the same folks who habitually tell us any one of Trump’s outrageous, or disturbing, or demented, or cruel, or abnormal, or insane, or racist, or sexist, or senseless, or nonsensical, or stupid utterances or actions may derail “his agenda.”

The Chiseler in Chief , who upchucked tweets at Mueller on the weekend, has no agenda other than to pad his bank account and his ego. That’s always been his raison d’etre, besides getting laid.

The bonanza of the GOP tax cuts and other schemes we don’t yet know about are probably taking care of the money. Watching himself on TV day and night is the ego boost he craves – and undoubtedly a substitute for sex unless Melania and the Secret Service are giving a free pass to porn stars and Russian hookers frequenting the East Wing.

Bill Maher, who talks nearly non-stop about Trump on his weekly HBO show, said during the latest episode: “I don’t want to hear about this every day, this disgusting vulgar man and what he’s done, and what he’s said – and we always have to debate the latest batshit thing that comes out of his mouth. I just think people need a break – it’s exhausting, we’re exhausted.”

Some of the weekday cable news hosts seem to be punch-drunk. Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC often can’t stop laughing at the insanity. Don Lemon on CNN giggles a lot.

But it’s still all Trump all the time.

The one true thing he has said is that the media are secretly rooting for him to be around as long as possible, that he is a boon to TV rating and print/digital subscriptions.

He’s also raised the profile and bank balances of all the newspaper journalists who now appear regularly as “contributors” on cable news – When did journalism join the performing arts? – including Haberman on CNN and Schmidt on MSNBC. They give serious answers to serious questions.

But I’ve yet to hear either of them asked why they handed a Zippo to the Arsonist in Chief.

Ken Becker is the author of The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.


A Left Coast review of The Expat Files

My pal Hal Quinn (photo caption below), having not had the opportunity to kick my ass on the golf course since the ’90s, and having failed 362 attempts to post a review on Amazon, sends this along:

In these disturbing times of The Liar in Chief tweeting in the middle of the night about so-called ‘fake news,’ there could not be a better time for a book about real news, real journalism, and real journalists. Even those who read the Washington Post rather than tweets, watch PBS not FOX, most know little of how journalism works and what the life of a journalist is like.

For that vast majority, The Expat Files makes for very instructive reading (it should be on the reading list of the college where Becks, as I call him, taught and at every Journalism School) and as importantly, it is so well crafted that it reads like a novel not an autobiography as it relates most of the historical signposts of a generation from a front row seat. Becks’ life and our times are told with a reporter’s attention to detail and accuracy, and a novelist’s style and pacing. At times, it is also funny – and funny is the hardest to write.

Becks and I have been friends since we first met decades ago as he mentions in the book. I thought I’d get a bit more than a mention, maybe a chapter, but this isn’t about me. I enjoyed every page of it anyway.

– Hal Quinn, North Vancouver

Photo caption: For those who don’t know Quinn, he’s the tall, bearded golfer, writer and raconteur on the left. I’m the other guy, now lamenting the loss of his chili-pepper hat.




If you have received this message elsewhere, please ignore. Just trying to touch all bases.

The print edition – paperback – of my memoir, The Expat Files, is TEMPORARILY not available from Amazon due to a publishing problem that is too infuriating to get into. I will advise when it is back.

In the meantime, if you are anxious to read the book, please get the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Please pass this message on to anyone who might be interested.

Advertisements for Myself

Every good review, every message of praise of my book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, makes my day.

Two reviews, both by former colleagues and lengthy for an Amazon page, have been especially rewarding.

The latest popped up on Wednesday, written by Ron Cohen, an editor who encouraged me when I was a rookie reporter at United Press International in New York, and went on to become managing editor of UPI.

I hesitate to use the word “literature” in reviewing a memoir — mostly out of fear that my old UPI colleague Ken Becker will cross the border into his native land, track me down, and kill me. But literature it is, in the finest sense.
The stories are interesting, the pace compelling, the writing snappy. There are many phrases I wish I had written and would like to steal — one of my personal measurements of quality “literature.” The central character performs some feats of derring-do, but understands that even brash and bluster sometimes encounter uncrossable lines.
Having recently completed a memoir, I know full well what a slog it can be. Mine took seven years — there is a fine line between braggadocio and clear-eyed self-examination, and Ken Becker has toggled it beautifully. Read this excellent book and take a journey through the mysterious world of journalism that denizens of “The Outside World” rarely are afforded.

The first review posted came from the first person – as far as I know – to buy and read the book, Ken Ernhofer, a favorite coworker from my CBC days, now at CNN in Atlanta.

Ken Becker weaves his own life story as a disinterested kid and baseball fan growing up in New York, through his first marriage and travels abroad, into journalism with some of its legendary figures. Ken will have you laughing or outraged and yelling at him, probably both at the same time. He is a blunt, no-nonsense character — yeah they once made movies about this kind of guy — who writes news leads that will grab you by the throat. He’s been insulted by at least one prime minister. And he’s made enemies all over the place, but also lifelong friends. The section about how he taught journalism to university kids who couldn’t write has so much good advice about writing, news gathering, and life it could be a textbook, but no textbook was ever so entertaining. It helps if you know something about journalism, but you do not need to be a reporter to like this book. Breathing will suffice.

Yeah, I know, a rave on a screen is not a printed page in the New York Times Book Review. But I’m operating at a disadvantage here.

I didn’t have a literary agent to sell my manuscript to a publishing house which, in turn, has a publicity department to courier review copies to newspapers and other media, and publicists to promote the book.

I’ve had to solicit reviews in emails to book editors at the major newspapers in the United States and Canada.

I tailored the message to fit the paper, its geography and readership, added the Amazon link to The Expat Files, and ended with the same line: If you are interested — but not enough to buy the book — I would be happy to send you a review copy.

I have no idea whether the Times, or the Washington Post, or the Globe and Mail, or the Toronto Star, or any book editor, has ordered my book. None has asked for a review copy.

In the meantime, I pass my days playing publicist – as I am doing now – and taking pleasure from every review, every note from readers:

  • From my cousin Brian Meyer, the rabbi (pictured above), in Portland, Oregon: “I am loving this book … Beautifully written. About the grit of life.”
  • From Hugh Wesley, a great companion with a camera on assignments for the Toronto Sun: “A good read – smooth as butter.”
  • From my son-in-law, Hugh McCrie: “I just flew through this book, only disappointed when I ran out of pages.”
  • From my accountant, Peter Newhouse: “Excellent story … Well written and easy to read.”
  • From my old tabletop-baseball pal Gord Shank: “More like a fireside chat with an extremely interesting journalist than reading a book.”
  • From an old acquaintance not forgotten, Greg Eby from Thunder Bay: “I really enjoyed it … Very well done! I hope it is widely read, and a ‘best-seller’!”

Why are they all men?

Sorry. Almost forgot an email from an old drinking companion and fellow scribe in Vancouver, Christine Hearn: “I loved your book. I read it in two huge gulps … What memories … Those early newsroom years seem like yesterday. The clatter of the typewriters, people yelling ‘copy,’ deskers screaming, long nights at the press club.”

Look forward to the next one.

Author! Author!

On the top shelf of a bookcase in my living room, between Catch-22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, are a couple of proof copies of my new book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

When the first one arrived in the familiar brown cardboard Amazon packaging, I tore it open with an enthusiasm and anticipation not felt since I was a kid.

I wrapped my right hand around it, measured its heft. Raised it to my face. Was there a secret scent only the author could detect?


“You’ve been waiting for this your whole life, dad,” daughter Jodie said on Christmas Eve when I showed her the book.

She’s not far off.

In my early twenties, while paying my dues and learning the craft of reporting and writing news, I dreamed of someday picking up where Hemingway left off, engaging in literary combat with Mailer, going Gonzo alongside Hunter S. Thompson.

My writing heroes changed over the years, but I never lost the belief that I would someday have a book – many books – published.

All the false starts, frustrations and disappointments are chronicled in The Expat Files. What’s not included is how this book came about.

In November 2006, I turned sixty, a time for looking back and trying to figure out how I got that far. I’d kept all the files of my working life, from the letters I wrote and received as a teenager applying for newspaper jobs in New York to the memos and emails that ended my career at Canadian Press and revived it at CBC News in Toronto.

There were boxes of bylined newspaper and magazine clips and stacks of cassette tapes from dozens of interviews I’d conducted as a reporter.

I finished the second draft of a memoir on May 1, 2007. What happened next is in the book.

Flash forward to last summer, when I decided to rewrite the manuscript with the intention of publishing it through Amazon. I took an axe to the original and added more personal stuff than I’d ever revealed in my writing.

My goal was to have it published when summer turned to fall. Didn’t make it.

I set a deadline of my birthday in November. Missed it too.

I kept rewriting, cutting, trimming, making corrections. When I sent the manuscript to Amazon in early December, and it came out to 600 pages, I screamed “holy shit,” pulled it back, and cut 18,000 words.

The Kindle edition came out on December 21. The print edition was available the next day in the United States.

I was told it could take up to thirty days to release the paperback in Canada. Every day, I checked Amazon Canada. One year ended, another began.

Amazon sent me those proof copies I mentioned. But, as far as I knew, I was the only one in Canada with my hands on my book.

Finally, late last Friday, I found the listing on Amazon.ca.

I immediately fired off emails and social media posts – already prepared – to spread the word.

I spent the weekend replying to messages of congratulations and encouragement. The most gratifying was a Facebook comment from a former CP colleague, Dan Slovitt, who wrote: “Your book is captivating so I haven’t accomplished a damn thing for the past day.”

My sister called twice from New York to tell me again and again, “I didn’t know about that!”

I talked to my pal Ken Ernhofer in Atlanta, one of my favorite people from my CBC days, who had finished the book. He offered praise and kind words, though we argued about the merits of hockey – he loves it, I hate it.

Will writing I hate hockey cost me book sales? I hate thinking about such things more than I hate hockey.

Salesmanship – salespersonship? – makes me queasy.

All I want to do is get back to the real work – writing – move on to the next project, a novel.

Maybe next year I’ll get my mitts on another book. Then I can call myself not only an author, but a novelist.


Good stories well told

My old UPI colleague, Ron Cohen, has written a delightful book called Of Course You Can Have Ice Cream for Breakfast!: A Journalist’s Uncommon Memoir.

The title reflects the 80-year-old Cohen’s gift of his life’s stories to his grandkids. The subtitle foreshadows a charming and amusing brew of tales from inside and outside the newsroom.

Throughout the narrative, Cohen weaves personal anecdotes with memorable news events, such as:

  • The day killer grizzlies in Montana competed for his attention with the birth of his first child in New Jersey.
  • How his high school French teacher, FiFi Allen, helped him report a major development in the 1970 October Crisis in Canada.

I worked with Ron in the early 1970s when he was running UPI’s overnight operation and I was a rookie reporter/editor at New York headquarters. He would move on to Washington where he would become managing editor of the wire service.

The essential attribute of a supervising editor is news judgment. And Cohen exhibited it in spades the day President Reagan and his press secretary, James Brady, were shot in March 1981.

While AP, Reuters and the U.S. TV networks were erroneously reporting that Brady was dead, Cohen insisted the news “must come from a responsible source at the hospital,” he writes in one of the most compelling chapters in the book.

I was reminded of the Brady blunder 30 years later when many in the media “killed” Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords –and when Aaron Sorkin highlighted the fiasco in an episode of The Newsroom on HBO.

A couple of Sorkin’s characters at fictional TV network ACN appear to be channeling Ron Cohen when they refuse to follow others reporting Giffords is dead.

“Get me official confirmation,” says one producer.

Adds another: “A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news.”

When their judgment is proven sound, there is sustained gloating.

There is little self-congratulation in Cohen’s memoir. Just good stories well told.

Statesman, egghead, lover, hero

The first story in this space appeared exactly two years ago. I’m big on dates that have meaning, so I chose July 14 because it was the 50th anniversary of the death of Adlai Stevenson.

Stevenson was a hero in my house when I was growing up. My mother’s hero, anyway.

She voted for him for president, in 1952 and 1956. He lost twice, of course.

Dorothy Becker and Adlai Stevenson, with apologies to Jude the Apostle and Bernie Sanders, are my patron saints of lost causes.

Stevenson was the inspiration for the character of William Russell in Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man.

Russell was a former secretary of state running for his party’s presidential nomination. The rap on Russell – and Stevenson – was that he was an egghead, too brainy to be president. He lost, of course.

In the movie version of The Best Man, Russell, played by Henry Fonda, is asked by a reporter, “Do you think people mistrust intellectuals like you in politics?”

“Intellectual? You mean I wrote a book? Well, as Bertrand Russell said, people in a democracy tend to think they have less to fear from a stupid man than an intelligent one. Actually, it’s the other way around.”

Flash forward to the White House in 2017. On second thought, for the moment, let’s stay in the past.

Stevenson was JFK’s ambassador to the United Nations. It was the former Illinois governor, the egghead, whose words crushed the Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin, in the Security Council during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

“Let me ask you one simple question. Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no?”

“I am not in an American courtroom, sir,” the Russian replied, “and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion in which a prosecutor does. In due course, sir, you will have your reply. Do not worry.”

You are in the court of world opinion right now and you can answer yes or no …”

The Russian tried to duck the question once again.

Stevenson went in for the kill. “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over … And I’m also prepared to present the evidence in this room.”

Which he did. Three days later, the crisis was over.

Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come

In yours and my discharge.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

Okay, let’s fast forward to last week’s Trump-Putin tryst in Hamburg, the German city where the Beatles first made their marks.

Oh, please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man.
And, please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand.
You let me hold your hand.
I want to hold your hand.


Trump and Putin met for more than two hours in Hamburg. Here’s how the American CEO described his faceoff with the ex-KGB officer on whether the Kremlin orchestrated a cyberattack on the U.S. election:

“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ He said, ‘No, I did not, absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time, in a totally different way. He said, ‘Absolutely not.’”


Not exactly Stevenson facing down the Russian bear – “I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don’t have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk.”

His words would today fit Putin. Or Trump. (Though the vocabulary might be beyond the comprehension of the Tweeter in Chief.)

Stevenson was in London in July 1965 with his longtime lover – her husband apparently didn’t mind, and he was divorced – Marietta Peabody Tree.

Marietta Tree

The daughter of a Massachusetts Episcopal Church rector, the young Ms. Tree had been an ardent supporter of Stevenson’s presidential runs and served under him as the American representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Marietta Tree reminds me of the Viennese socialite and seductress Alma Schindler (1879-1964), who bedded, among others, composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius and novelist Franz Werfel.

Alma, tell us,
All modern women are jealous.
Though you didn’t even use Ponds,
You got Gustav and Walter and Franz.

– Tom Lehrer

Marietta’s romantic tree and progeny included a first husband, New York lawyer Desmond FitzGerald and their daughter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frances FitzGerald; film director John Huston, with whom she had a passionate affair; a second husband, Ronald Tree, a wealthy British politician, and their daughter, the ’60s fashion model Penelope Tree.

Stevenson popped up in the show biz scandal sheets as well, as a frequent escort of Lauren Bacall after Bogie’s death.

In any case, on July 14, 1965, Adlai Stevenson and Marietta Tree, who was nearly 20 years younger, were walking through London’s Grosvenor Square when he had a massive heart attack and crashed to the pavement.

He died later that day in St. George’s Hospital at the age of 65. LBJ dispatched Air Force One to London to bring Stevenson’s body home.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II – his namesake grandfather had been vice president under Grover Cleveland – was buried in the family plot in Bloomington, Illinois. President Johnson and Lady Bird sat in the front row at the funeral.

I couldn’t make it. I was a counsellor at a camp in the Catskills and had lifeguard duty that day.

My Canada: The expat experience, Part II

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the last of seven parts.

I’ve now lived in Canada much longer than I did in the United States.

Yet, I’m afraid, I will always view Canada from an American perspective.

I know what July 4th is – it’s American Independence Day.

But what is July 1st?

That’s a bit more complicated.

The Fathers of Confederation – John A. Macdonald and 18 other lawyers – spent about three years yakking and hatched a scheme to create something of their own out of the British colonies in North America.

There would be four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – which they proposed to call the “Kingdom of Canada.”

But that didn’t sit well with the Brits, who were still in charge and would be for another century or so. They came up with the Dominion of Canada, a made-up word with roots in Middle English, which, roughly translated, meant frigid stepchildren.

Since the Brits would still have dominion over Canada, their Parliament passed the British North America Act, which was given royal assent by Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867.

It did not take effect until July 1, 1867 since, as Queen Victoria noted, “Our subjects across the sea prefer to go to the cottage and set off fireworks after the ice melts and the black flies lose their sting.”

July 1 was not proclaimed a statutory holiday, Dominion Day, until 1879, when the governor general, Lord Lorne, the Duke of Argyll, and his wife, Princess Louise, Victoria’s daughter, hosted a wiener roast at Rideau Hall.

By then, there were seven provinces, from the Atlantic to Pacific, breweries were bottling beer from Saint John, N.B.. to Victoria, and Sir John A. had sent the Mounties out to tame the west.

But there were still more beavers in Canada than people, the last spike had yet to be hammered in a transcontinental railroad, and hockey was a new game played by dilettantes at McGill.

When I first moved north of the border in 1973, I figured Canada’s birthday – it was still called Dominion Day – was celebrated on July 1st just to get a three-day beat on the Fourth of July.

I also didn’t understand why Thanksgiving was in October or why Queen Victoria’s birthday was a national holiday.

Or why Canadian kids didn’t get off school on Yom Kippur like I did in New York. Or why I never met a Jew in Vancouver.

Why did Canadians call November 11th Remembrance Day instead of Veterans Day? What’s with the poppies?

And what the hell was Boxing Day?

Why was it the Grey Cup and not the Gray Cup? Why did two of the seven teams in the Canadian Football League have the same name?

I never bought the explanation that one was the Rough Riders, the other the Roughriders. Why did they name teams after Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry unit, anyway?

Also, if Canada is so damn politically correct, why is there still a football team called the Eskimos? And why is it the Toronto Maple Leafs and not the Maple Leaves?

Why can’t I get an edible pastrami sandwich in this country? And what the hell is a New York steak?

But Canada is my home and I’ve learned a damn sight more about this country than most Canadians.

When I was teaching college journalism in Toronto in the early 2000s, most of my students didn’t know John Diefenbaker from a ’49 Studebaker.

The other day, at a Canadian Tire store near my home in Mississauga, I was greeted by a gabby old clerk and a large banner heralding Canada’s 150th birthday.

While I wanted directions to the aisle where I could find something to clean my computer screen, the clerk had his own agenda.

“Where you from?” he asked, apparently detecting a remnant of my American accent.

“New York, originally,” I replied.

He chuckled. “What do you think of Trump?”

“I’m not amused as you seem to be.”

Driving home, I thought I should have been more polite, more Canadian, changed the subject, maybe asked the old chap why I was taught the War of 1812 was a draw and Canadians say they won.

Or, asked: How about that sesquicentennial, eh?


This piece and the rest in the series inspired me to write my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

My Canada: A country retreat

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the sixth of seven parts.

“We can go anywhere,” I said to the kids, looking at the map of North America on the dining room table, hoping to make it sound like a great adventure.

It was 1995. Daughter Jodie was twelve, Lacey nine.

We’d been living in the same house in Clarkson for a dozen years. I’d been at Canadian Press all that time, and a buyout was in the works.

For weeks, Linda and I had looked at that map and eliminated places we didn’t want to live. We knew we wanted a house in the country, with a view of water – an ocean, a lake – or mountains. Or both.

We decided to stay in Canada, hoping any culture shock would not be as jarring for the kids. We crossed out all of Atlantic Canada because it reminded of us Maine, where people were less welcoming of outsiders.

Quebec was also out. Language. So was southern Ontario, since we wanted a change from the flatland that had long been our home. The Prairies were never considered for the same reason.

British Columbia was eliminated because it was just too groovy.

In the end, we focused on Canmore, Alberta, and Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Canmore was a fast-growing community on the eastern edge of the Rockies. But, though we truly loved those mountains, it was just far from family.

So, the winner was Thunder Bay. It seemed to be a big enough city – with more than 100,000 people – to provide the creature comforts we required.

Linda flew to Thunder Bay and found us a fabulous house in the country, on a bay of Lake Superior, just outside the city. We arrived in late September.

The house was even more spectacular than Linda had described it. The pictures she’d taken had not shown much of the interior, the great open space that included the living room, dining room and kitchen, all windows facing the lake, tree-covered islands and the Sleeping Giant peninsula.

The kids seemed happy, taking the bus from the top of our driveway to the rural schoolhouse that included kindergarten through eighth grade.

Jasper, our second black standard poodle – Yaz lived to thirteen – especially loved our new home, since he was set free whenever he asked to go out, and could wander in the woods or saunter down to the lake for a drink.

Remarkably, he avoided confrontations with the foxes, wolves and moose that out-numbered the people in our neighborhood, though he did alert us one night to a huge black bear consuming a tub full of sunflower seeds I’d left on the deck, near the birdfeeder. Another time, he treed a small bear for entertainment.


I welcomed any diversion from the chore of working on a novel, taking long walks in the woods with Jasper, driving through Sleeping Giant Provincial Park to photograph wildlife, spending many hours splitting wood to heat our home. Very macho. Very Canadian.

Winter arrived on Halloween and lasted until June, when the ice on the lake broke up in a storm one night, throwing huge chunks onto our shore.

Ice on shore

By the next spring, I was taking freelance writing assignments. The most memorable was a magazine piece on an outfit called Blue Loon Adventures, run by a trio of Canadian biologists.

Starting at 5:30 a.m., I spent a morning in the bush with one of them, John Woodcock – yes, that was his real name – capturing and tagging a smorgasbord of birds: warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, vireos, grosbeaks, flickers, and many more of the hundreds of species that migrate to northwestern Ontario.

While the birds fed on bugs, the bugs fed on us. “That’s part of roughing it,” John said with a chuckle. The kid from the Bronx was not amused.

Despite growing to love the wilderness over my many years in Canada, I do not consider discomfort a requirement of being one with nature. Biting bugs – no thanks. Bitter cold – ditto.

My ideal wilderness adventures may begin with a hike up a mountain in the Rockies or along a trail through the rainforest on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but they end with a sumptuous dinner in a fine restaurant and a good night’s sleep in a king-sized bed at the Jasper Park Lodge or a five-star Tofino resort.

I want to view bears and moose and elk, not smell like them. And we had that luxury in our house on Lake Superior.

Still, over time, the isolation of the place overrode the scenic beauty. Living in a two-channel universe was no longer a novelty.

Our first winter, we were snowed in for days. One spring, when a beaver dam burst and washed out the Trans-Canada Highway, we were cut off from Thunder Bay – in fact, cross-country traffic had to turn back to Michigan or Minnesota on a detour of hundreds of miles to get around Superior on the U.S. side.

At 12:01 a.m. on my fiftieth birthday – November 19, 1996 – alone in the living room of my rural retreat, I knew it was time go.

By the time Linda and the kids were on the same page, it was the early summer of 1998 and I had taken my first job in television news, with the consigliere of Canadian culture, the CBC.

Tomorrow: The expat experience, Part II


This piece and the rest in the series inspired me to write my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.