Breezing through the doors of Scadding Court Community Centre on a fall Friday night, I'm prepared to be appalled.
They've stocked my local swimming pool with trout. An absurd idea. But they're celebrating Scadding's 30th birthday, and my attitude softens at the sight of all the glowing faces greeting each other and chowing down on spring rolls and hot dogs.
They aren't letting any more people onto the pool deck, so I watch the fishing from the balcony above. The swimming pool is ringed by people of all sexes, colours and sizes, mostly kids, casting and reeling. Giving them poles and teaching them is a group of gruff, goofy youths: big guys in baseball caps and young women in sweatpants, one with hair streaked to match the turquoise pool.
Ignoring the brat beside me who yells that they're doing it all wrong, two little girls in hijabs arc their slim arms gracefully. As the hooks at the end of their lines sink, they reel them back in past the sleek grey shadows that flick through the rectangle of blue water. The trout move with tiny jerks of their tails, arrow-straight, unconcerned.
A memory is tugging at me. I'm trying to figure out why the surreal scene looks so familiar.
It's not the peaceful, casual grace of the fish, darting like the minnows that nibble my toes in summer, or the fact that this pool is really a giant version of the restaurant fish tanks in Chinatown, where the leftovers will end up. For now, the fish look pretty safe down there.
As the fishers cast and cast without success, I start to nod off against the rail. The two boys fishing below me are starting to get a little irritable.
"Hey, no swearing over there!" shouts the woman in the toque who's helping the girls in the hijabs.
Then, suddenly, the fish are biting. The first to score is a handsome boy in a black sleeveless shirt, only a few years from the cigarette pack and the tattoos.
The fishers who'd begun to slack off perk up and make smooth, rhythmic casts. Another trout bursts from the water, the white of its belly a flailing sickle moon. The lines suddenly come alive, and staff helpers are busy scooping the fish out with nets and dropping them into pails.
Then the potty-mouth below me hauls a trout out of the water. The supervisor who comes to help glares up at him while the fish twists in his grip, its mouth opening and closing, its blood spilling on the tiles.
"Throw him back? After what we've done to him?" says the supervisor.
The boy's hands do a wild dance of empathy for the fish while the hook is cut from its mouth and inexpertly, too slowly, the volunteer grips its gill covers and breaks its back before bagging it and handing it to the boy.
The trout would have fared better at the hands of an experienced killer. The kid is in shock, his prize still and heavy in his hand, its scales flashing rainbows.
Those moments when we learn where our food comes from are hard ones. I remember the blood-specked mallards that my dad, who taught me to respect the wild, brought home after his hunting trips.
And here, it's not just about having fun. These fishers are expected to take these fish home for food. I understand now why Scadding Court called this a "food access program."
People learn to garden at the community gardens here, and I'm astounded to see that people can learn basic fishing skills in a half-hour at a swimming pool.
It's almost closing time, but nobody wants to stop fishing. As the attendants boss and holler, collecting poles and goofing around, I realize what this good-natured scene reminds me of.
It's like smelting in Kagawong: the whole neighbourhood of brats, babies and beauties coming out to scoop gleaming smelt out of the river as the fish make their spring run for the lake.
It's a magic spell: throw a few fish in a pool and you've got something so elemental that you can't tell Sudbury from Scadding. The peaceful, life-bringing fish and the excited human harassers, teachers, helpers, killers, cosmic greeters of fellow-beings - the wheel of karma blazes.
The attendants finally manage to get rid of most of the fishers and are threatening to throw one another into the pool.
Beside me on the balcony, a baby calls, "Bye, fishies!" as the lights go out.