The following is a transcript of a booklet Mary Rauton prepared for Greg Sperry’s funeral. Greg Sperry was a dear friend of almost everyone who worked in the Ragnarokr leather shop or who lived in the Baldwin Street community. Greg was a many-faceted personality and had the gift of relating to many persons in many different ways. He was a multi-talented, good hearted person who never had the chance to be corrupted by wealth. Greg was involved in many ventures and misadventures with many different people during his time in Toronto. Almost every one of his friends can tell a story similar to the story Mary Rauton tells here.
“A Day in the Life of Gregory Linn Sperry” by Mary Manning Rauton. Respectfully submitted to Maja and Sam on the occasion of the Greg’s funeral, February 1997.
Greg Performs an Extraordinary Bush Dance
May I take you back to a hot July in the mid 1970s?
Greg had come up from Toronto to South River to do some brush work on a plot of land that his friends had bought five years earlier.
Six houses and a sugar shack had been hand-built on the only strip of dry land available. The log cabin, furtherest down the laneway of semi-completed houses, was Sam Sperry’s first home.
A growing interest in reclaiming three acres of the swamp began to brew among the “farmers” in residence during the previous winter. An intensive study ensued which included primitive forms of surveying to determine where the original creek lay before the beavers abandoned their dams forty years earlier. We trekked through the hundreds of heavily-branched tag alders growing in the foot-deep sphagnum moss.
The alders were hacked away with axes or a chain-saw. A tractor pushed the alder tops into big piles and pulled the massive root systems out of the ground with chains. A clearing formed with a background of stately spruce and fir trees.
The work crew followed all of the regulations regarding the burning of the piles of branches. After the clearing had been smoke-free for a few days, everyone headed back to the City leaving Chris and I to hold the fort.
Greg was just pulling out in his truck when he and I heard what sounded like eggs being fried by a giant. The CLEARING IS ON FIRE!
We ran down to the site screaming for Chris. “How do we put out a fire like this one?” Chris appeared with sections of a rug. “Take one and beat the edges of the fire… I saw people do this in a film.”
When we got to the clearing only a thin line of grasses was on fire. It had not reached the standing trees at the rim of the clearing. We stood well apart from each other and started to beat the fire. My effort was ineffective so I glanced at Greg to learn his technique. He clutched the two ends of his long rug and hurled it high over his head until he heard it hit the ground behind him. Then with an amazing forward thrust he brought the rug high overhead and came down on the blaze with a resounding THWAK. What style!
My rug was shorter so it only hit my back, but I was learning how to come down hard on the blaze. Soon I heard a piercing scream.
I looked through my wet, matted hair and saw Greg tearing off his shirt while writhing and twisting. His arms and legs punched at nothing in the air. He was covered with bees! His rug has hit a colony of wild honey bees nesting in an old tree stump. When he brought his rug forward a cloud of angry worker bees boiled up and swarmed over him. Greg didn’t stick around long. “I’m going back to Toronto.” And he left.
Chris and I went back to work. It was under control, we thought. Then we saw a tree become a torch. Then another. Suddenly trees all around the clearing were going up in smoke. Chris hurried to the other side of the clearing to see if he could match strength with this massive power.
I heard a motor and, thinking it was Greg again, hurried to the laneway. Three men got out of a pick-up. “We’re Park Rangers from Mikisew Park. Is there a creek around here?” They loaded themselves with fire hoses, a portable water pump and shovels. I took them to the head of the clearing where a trickle of water flowed. One man dug a hole in its center and lowered down a wide-mouthed pipe. The two other men laid out the long fire hose in a straight line over the clearing. Both hoses were attached to either end of the engine and the pump was fired up. The stream of water that gushed out of that nozzle was breathtaking.
The fire was extinguished. During the cleanup I asked the Rangers how they discovered our dilemma in this isolated place. “A young man called us from South River and reported the fire and its exact location.”
Chris and I looked at each other and said, “Greg!”
This story has never been told because it’s been too close to me. Greg’s quick thinking saved the forest and the houses. How could I say that in mere conversation?
Thank you, Maja and Sam, for giving me this day to record a Hero’s work.
The booklet lists photograph credits: “Greg” by Mary Rauton, “Sam” a gift to Mary from Bie, “Log cabin” and “The Clearing 1996” by Lorraine Wright.