The Urban Woods in Mid September

woods sunny mid SEptThe woods is very still this morning. We come down the sunny sloping path, the little caramel coloured sheba inu and I, and find a noisy smell. It takes some encouragement to get her through the domain of this angry skunk and I decide we will stick to the path just in case. Once we are through it, I hear an unseen cardinal whistle three times on the steep hillside to the left and then a chickadee call, farther off. Even the leaves of the poplars are still. The black oak leaves and the silver maple are etched against the blue sky.

blue sky above woodsI keep the walk going at a good pace in the interests of our primary mission, but once that is fulfilled and collected in the requisite stoop and scoop bag, I let the dog saunter. As we turn back three Canada Geese honk their way across the sky. They sound as if they are getting ready to migrate, but, probably, like most of their ilk, they don’t bother travelling anymore.

Now the little dog begins to show her zen-like nature, true to her Japanese genetic code perhaps. She stops beside a sunlit glade and turns her head to gaze back down the path.

sunny gladeWhat entrances her, I can not tell. Something I can not hear perhaps, for there is no nose work going on. It’s not an olfactory story she is reading. It is warm here and so quiet that I begin to relax as I wait. There are yellow flowers in front of me and a bee that hauls its whole upper body into the hanging “gondola” of the touch-me-not Jewelweed. It drinks deeply from one, tries another, finds it not to its liking and moves on.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

This photo is obviously not of the yellow flower, but is the same shape.

Goldenrod made change.

Goldenrod made change.

And there are other small delights.

snail on yellow daisyA slight breeze, a true zephyr,  lifts the leaves just above our heads momentarily. Still the little dog stands gazing down the path.

Peace descends. The cares that have driven me at a fast clip along my path drop away. None of the urgent problems – economic, social and health, besetting my loved ones and me- have been resolved. They have just melted. They have been set free. I am happy. Glad of this blue-sky day in mid September. Nothing to do but breathe, at home in my urban woods.

Mountain vista from Hereford Hill, Quebec: a photo essay


SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAHereford mountain is at the top to the right of the vista. The view then moves to the left with each subsequent picture, ending with Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire just above. The view is southerly.

You probably already know that if you click on a photo, it will expand to full screen.

Septuagenarians on the Road #4

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASee Septuagenarians on the Road #3 for the first part. (

We wake up on the third floor of Auberge Ayres Cliff on the third day of our road trip. I go downstairs to see if the restaurant is open. It is not. Back up that wooden Everest!

Since we are booked into the Auberge Ripplecove, we have to pack up our things yet again, and Georgia has a plan for getting them downstairs.

We take turns using the shower and my cereal bowl. Georgia’s nosh is All Bran and mine is gluten-free granola. Our ice packs have melted and so has the ice and in keeping with its historic charm, the old auberge has neither ice machine, vending machine or coffee maker. No problem, we know a great little place to have breakfast in Coaticook.

I heard people working in the second floor office while I was reconnoitering, but saw no one. Georgia goes to top of the stairs and pushes her bag off the top step.  I hear it thump, thump, bump and crash. Silence. She heaves down the second one. It is not until I start to bump my wheeled suitcase down the top step, that a man shows up on the second floor and gallantly sweeps her bags up. Another sprints up the stairs to carry mine down. See, all we had to do was ask.

The guy carrying mine is likely the proprietor, whereas hers has been working outside on the deck. He speaks English well and by the time, I have carried down the remaining odds and sods, Georgia and he are deep in conversation about the town. Communication is proving to be a challenge, so this is welcome.

We debate about who will drive. As usual, Georgia wants to drive early when she is fresh.

“Which way do you intend to go,?” I ask. She points back the way we came.

“I’m driving,” I announce.

I pull a u-turn right there on Main St. and head around the corner on 141. I have these maps in my head or so I believe, and indeed, they fail me only once and then for only 6 miles. As we drive, I explain that basically there is a wide fertile valley where dairy farms flourish and on either side there is a two lane black top. When we were young our father took the left hand road to get to Sawyerville where we had moved in 1941, but the mail van took the right hand route. I travelled in the mail van with my mother that winter and noted the ‘exotically different towns’, St. Isadore, St. Malo, Paquetteville. We were on a mission to reveal to my Nanny that a baby was “expected”. My 5 year-old self made little sense of this, but I was very glad to go back to Hereford. I stubbornly refused to understand what was “expected” until that fateful first day of school when Georgia inconveniently arrived. (See

In less than half an hour we are Coaticook. (This is an Abenaki word as is Massawippi, which means big, deep water.)

Coaticook is an agricultural town, the centre for production of milk products, especially butter, but it also boasts an industrial park largely devoted to farm and construction equipment. And it boasts a covered bridge as well as a round barn. It seems that every time we go there, a major road is under construction. This time it is Child St. In trying to park on the opposite side of the street I came in on, I get entangled in the detour, which kindly offers us a tour of parts of the town we have never seen before. Finally, we disembark at that parking spot we have been aiming for for 20 minutes, walk half a block and arrive at the Croissant Chaude.

I order my usual gluten/ milk/ bacon- free breakfast – ham and home fries, while Georgia enjoys a fresh-from-the-oven muffin with butter and jam. There is one French couple, clutching a map and looking for advice and two women speaking English, very loudly, with interesting personal detail. Then in comes a couple in their early 50s, speaking with an Australian accent. It is not long before Georgia has struck up a cross-the-room conversation and we have learned that they have ridden motor bikes from Las Vegas up through Colorado and on to Chicago. There they switched to a car and, like us, they are siblings. Georgia reminds them that the longest relationship most people have is with a sibling.

Hey, two conversations in one day!

After breakfast, we turn south on 147 and begin the final leg of our journey home. Since I am still driving, Georgia has the leisure to observe that the infrequent houses we are passing have the largest, greenest, weed-free lawns she has ever seen. Prosperity and ride-em lawnmowers, I suspect. Our grandfather’s dooryard stayed short and smelled of what I learned much later was camomile. Even later, I learned that camomile lawns were all the rage in Elizabethan England. As you walk over them, crushing the little yellow flower balls, the perfume rises. Surely my harried grandparents did not actually plant it.

We skirt what we called Wallace Pond with its cottages and youth camp, pass a haulage company bearing my last name, catch sight of the Line -the wide treeless cut up through the woods that marks the dividing line between Canada and the United States, round a corner and find ourselves in front of the church.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAHere there will be silent conversations.

I park the car south of the church where the church hall used to be and the wagon sheds where the horses sheltered and munched from their bag of oats while we children skidded the wax onto the hardwood floor and the fiddles tuned up and the women hauled chicken pies out of the oven. I suppose this liveliness vanished long before the hall did. I was in it last in the mid 80s, having brought my father down from Ontario for his cousin’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. When it was pulled down, its lovely wood panelling sold for scrap, I do not know.

Georgia is the first to see that Uncle S. has died. His name joined his wife’s on the gravestone not long after we were here four years ago. Georgia is bitterly aggrieved that no one let us know. But, really, who is left that knows how to get in touch with us? Only our cousin R., 11 years older than me, but even he doesn’t answer my emails. Probably  an uncle and aunt my own age are still living in the States, but we don’t know each others’ addresses.

We visit each gravestone and leave flowers for our Nanny and our Aunt Mae. The wind purrs through the pines that stand at the edge of the church yard above Indian River. Nanny and I took off our shoes the last time I visited her -she was 87- and went wading in the cold mountain stream. And one of my best memories is of a church picnic a little farther up in a pine grove. After we had eaten, the women washed the dishes in the river. A well informed 4 year-old, I was aghast. “Don’t worry, Joy,” Maude sang out.” We’ll scald them off when we get home.”

We cross the bridge and point the car up the dirt road that leads to Cannon Hill. (Sometimes, we children called it McCannon.) It winds steeply up through the woods. I know that a good trout stream is dropping down through the trees beside us, for my father took me fishing there. I also know that wood spirits live there, brownies perhaps, rather malevolent little beings, quite unlike the fairies that lived in the corners of the hayfield and came in rainbow colours. Neither had the magnificence of the angels that I saw twice when I was little and once when I was 42. I don’t believe any of this really, but, on the other hand, I know it to be true.

Here on the right is the farm I remember living on, although both barn and house have long since been rebuilt. What used to be a hayfield is pasture now and there are cows there. Then we are back into woods. Soon we will come to the Swamp, the part we children didn’t care for. I want the road just to go on and on. I don’t want to sail out into open and see the house where Nanny lived alone until she was well over 90. There it is now, with a long well groomed side yard planted with small fruit trees. Much of the white siding is still missing as an insulating upgrade proceeds slowly. I prefer to remember the gleaming white siding and the neat, little screened porch. We turn right, pass in front of the house and continue on up into the wilderness that lies below the mountain. We are making a pilgrimage past Aunt Mae’s tiny house. The road is much better than it used to be because somebody with influence and money has built a house out back of beyond. A very nice house, quite a cut above Aunt Mae’s.

On the way out, we stop near where Nanny’s first house stood, the one that burned down- well, the second one burned down too actually. By ‘down’, I mean utterly, to the cellar hole. I want to walk but mine is apparently a minority opinion. We press on, waving at the men loading a pickup in Nanny’s yard. Yes, one is probably Aunt Mae’s grandson, but we don’t feel up to the explanations. Our cousin R. has just had his driveway paved. It is covered in fresh tar and roped off. No sign of his huge white SUV.. Now we are higher between open fields, past the new forest that covers our grandfather’s fields.

He  had a stone boat, a sledge into which he threw the heavy rocks he dug out of his fields. The horses would drag the contraption over to the stone pile around the big spruce tree or one of the other half dozen that he and his long dead predecessors had broken their backs building and he would heave them off. Sic transit and all that. A rich American bought the land and planted it in trees.

At the highest point, we stop to take pictures of the mountain vista.


SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThen we drive down a truly scarey incline past our Uncle S’s house, one of those that make you think you vehicle will tip end over end, Then we are on the road that once changed places with the brook during a flood and we drove on the stream bed for weeks. (It was war time and we didn’t vote for the party in power,)

We cross the border at Beecher Falls, discovering that the agent on duty can fill us in about Cousin R. who seems to alive and kicking. We stop for lunch at Nanny’s favourite restaurant, the Spa in Canaan where I have fresh Maine lobster.

the SpaHereford was in Quebec and Canada, but we drew our identity from the States, from Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, from New England. Every New Year’s Eve, we gathered in the hall for an oyster supper. We even spoke with New England accent. LIke most immigrants, I got rid of mine asap but when Nanny said “Spa”, I thought she meant “Spar”.

As we attempt to cross back into Canada at the Hereford crossing, the Canadian agent keeps questioning us closely. Georgia tells him we crossed at Beecher Falls an hour ago and ate lunch and that we are now returning to Ayres Cliff. I repeat the same story. He keeps glancing at the luggage filled hatchback. “So you are coming from New Brunswick?” he says. Well, no, we are coming from Ayres Cliff and going to Ayres Cliff. “Then why do you have your bags?” he asks in exasperation. Because we are changing hotels? I offer as if seeking his approval. “Ahhh” and he waves us through.


to be continued -one more time

Septuagenarians on the Road: #3

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASo Georgia and I decided to take a sentimental journey, back to our roots. We started out on her birthday, the day after Labour Day (See

We didn’t make the decision lightly. We divided hip stiffness into the mileage and arrived at a two day trip. We reserved a hotel room at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston Ontario, which we thought was half way from Toronto to Ayres Cliff, Quebec. We were wrong. It was more like a third of the way there, but when we got to KIngson, we realized that factoring in the fatigue of packing and hefting bags made it a good choice.

When asked if we need help with our bags, my macho sister says no. Being older, I know better. Imagine the most awkward grocery cart you have ever tried to steer, turn it into a luggage cart, top-heavy with a hanging bar, add a tiny elevator and thick pile on the hall carpet.

Still it is a beautiful room that looks out over the ferry docks and one of the six squat, round Martello towers that guarded Upper Canada from the American invaders.

Martello Tower, KingstonWe stayed in a similar room 4 years ago when we last made this trip. The place is not much changed. The question is are we?

We rest. Resting will be a recurring theme in this blog post as it is in our lives. I would say ‘in the lives of septuagenarians in general’, but Blake (see and ) doesn’t rest much. Resting like Archemedes’ lever makes all things possible.

Then it is time to pop the cork on the Veuve Cliquot. It is a birthday after all.

It seems wise to find a restaurant within walking distance, so we search through the available literature and come up with Olivia, an Italian restaurant two short blocks away. As it turns out there is live jazz from the Dave Barton trio with Amanda Balysy on vocals. Amanda has a retro look, blouse and skirt out of the 50s and songs to match. So the ambience is delightful. The day’s special of wild boar sausage seems too demanding for my digestion and I willfully ignore the black cod and order risotto. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I know I have been wrong. I’m used to risotto at Marcellos in Toronto where they don’t even add cheese. This dish is swimming in cheese and oil. But the optimism of the moment prevails and I take the risk.

As evening falls, the Kingston City Hall across the square becomes ever more beautiful ( Its limestone glows silver and its lovely dome stands etched against the sky. After dinner, we sit in the park at the water’s edge and enjoy its beauty.

Kingston_City_Hall__#3All in all, the day has gone well, we think. Georgia settles down to watch Netflix on my Mac Air Book and I lie down to sleep. To no avail. Yes, I am tired enough to sleep, but my body has other ideas. I am aching all over. The pillows labelled soft are so soft, I feel smothered. The ones labelled hard hurt my head but don’t support my neck. But most of all I blame the risotto. Years ago, in this same town, I spent the night sitting on the bathroom floor reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.I might have been better to spend this night there as well.

I’ve had considerable experience with insomnia – who hasn’t at this age?- and developed strategies to deal with it. In between bathroom trips, I try them all. First, I roll up a bath towel and put it under my long neck, a softer version of the wooden Japanese head rest. I do my three part deep breathing exercise over and over. I take a sleep aid. I put in my ear buds and hit the white noise App on my iPhone. Even the continuous swish of heavy rain doesn’t send me off. By now, Georgia is soundly asleep, or so it seems for she is very softly snoring. At what seems like 2 a.m, but is actually much earlier, I get up to do tai chi exercises in the dark. That seems to calm my system down. Then just as I begin to slip into sleep, someone hammers on the door next to us and calls out in a aggrieved voice, “Come on Michael, I forgot my key.” Apparently that is just the ticket. I am gone. I don’t even wake up when Georgia spends an hour reading at 3 a.m. Of course, in the morning, she maintains not only that I had kept her awake, but also that I was groaning. Perhaps she is right.

So unrefreshed, we find our way to the complimentary breakfast with a view of the water. I am unenthusiastic about eating but I need to take on fuel. Fortunately, Georgia is able to enjoy the free meal, which we have earned by being members of the Canadian Automobile Association.

There is one more little hiccup. I neglected to bring down our parking stub. There is no attendant. Fortunately, someone from the bar across the street yells out instructions on what button to push to contact the office and my car is finally released. That is one drawback to this particular hotel. We call them parking Nazis.

So we set out on the second lap of our journey and a very long lap it turns out to be. It begins with a Google Map gaff -you have surely experienced at least one of those. Instructions are to head north on Princess St, which is, as luck would have it, one way, going south. We do what we can and find ourselves crossing bridges we’ve never seen before and confronting signs to west bound 401. We reason that east bound 401 has to be in approximately the same place, but the west bound signs proliferate and get larger. Just a little kick of adrenaline from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Once we have achieved the elusive east bound highway, we feel as if it can only get easier.

The newly renovated ONroute service centres are a plus, clean and up-to-date. You can take your own lunch in and eat it at the tables or make one up from Tim Hortons and Subway or Burger King. I carry in my rice crackers and home-made salad dressing, and manage to scrounge up salad and chicken to go with them. We take turns driving, trading off every hour or so. Some time after lunch, we cross the provincial border into Quebec. I recall that there used to be a lovely stone building in the old style, which served as an information centre. A few of those stones seemed to have been recycled into the service centre that has replaced it. I line up at the counter to ask the same question as everyone else. Google had told me to take exit 29 to new highway 30, but the maps show no bridge there. What gives? The bilingual receptionist has the interesting skill of being able to write on a map upside down and she assures me that there is now a bridge, which will cost me $1.50 to cross. If you have ever had to drive into the city Montreal to cross the St. Lawrence River on the Champlain Bridge, you may understand what a cause for rejoicing that is. As we discover the bridge is really two bridges, the first one low to the water and the second soaring up over the widest part of the river to let the ships pass up the St Lawrence Seaway.

So we skirt Montreal in that low level river land, which is fertile but also being eaten up by industry as time passes. Now all signs are exclusively in French. Sud and nord are simple enough and easy to figure out as south and north. Est and ouest are trickier. I keep reciting “est” as a clue to finding the right exit to #15, which will take us toward Sherbrooke. “Traveaux” is pretty clear, including as it does miles of orange cones and on occasion, actual workers and machines. The sign that orders us to respect the security zone or so it seems, puzzles me, until I realize that I am to pull out into the left lane when I see someone stopped on the shoulder. Then there is an urgent LED sign that absolutely eludes me. I can not catch even one word. We fly by oblivious.

Like all Canadian children, I have studied French, in my case until I was in grade 12. Moreover, I have a brother who lives in Belgium and speaks French most of the time. I have spent long holidays there and in France. I just finished watching Spiral on Netflix, a made-in-France police drama, with  sub-titles, it must be said. I’m more than willing to give it my all, but really! Nothing but French. The stop signs say “Arret”. Even in Europe, they say “Stop”. When I am flying along at 110 km, I could use a little help.

We can just glimpse Mount Royal over the river on the horizon. Then a solitary mountain rises from the plain, a volcanic cone. The country grows more rural. The road begins to rise and curve and finally, we begin to see the soul-soothing mountains of our childhood, the northern-most Appalachians.

By the time, we round the corner into Ayres Cliff, we have been on the road for six hours. I seem to think I know where the Auberge Ayres Cliff is and I am not wrong, although I hadn’t realized it was right in the middle of town, a quiet tourist town of one main street and side streets leading down to Lake Massawippi. I stayed somewhere near here 16 years ago, but it takes me a full 24 hours to realize it was the same place and when I do, I seriously wonder if senility has crept up on me. It is a hard place to forget. It is said to be 200 years old and while that may not be an exact number, it is certainly very old. (www.aubergeayrescliff)

It has a huge patio at the side, full of expensive wicker seating and those outdoor heaters and little canvas-covered nooks, all on wooden decking. It also has seating on the veranda. We check in at the bar where some of the locals are having lively conversations. I’d like to join them, but we have to go up to see our room. Up is the operative word. We are the only guests, but we have booked two adjoining rooms, which are on the third floor. The second flight of stairs is made up of a large number of steps -each one 14 inches high.

The rooms are furnished with a double bed each, with good mattresses and dressers in a VIctorian style. And a  fan. There are no chairs. There certainly is no television set. No mention is made of this but apparently we were warned on the website. I give Georgia the room that has a more or less level floor, it being her birthday, and allot myself the one that slopes so dramatically that it takes all my tai chi balance to walk across it.

And yes, we want to have our bags brought up, a task that falls to the slim bartender/receptionist/ farmer’s daughter and a guy who gets up from dinner with his family to help her.

It is clear that we would not have got much sleep if we had come a few days before, on Labour Day weekend, but summer is over, the temperature has fallen, the tourists have left.

True to their hype, they have an excellent Angus beef fillet mignon. After dinner and the long slog back up the stairs, I get Georgia set up on the internet to watch Netflix: she is well into season 5 of Weeds and well fed with simple food, I fall fast asleep in my Alice in Wonderland room.

to be continued

Septuagenarians at Sea: #2

Rick at tiller '12(I’m categorizing this post as humour but don’t get your hopes up.)

So I set off late to meet Blake and go sailing, but since Blake is unlikely to care about punctuality, I’m not worried. What I am apparently is absentminded. I sit at the “punishment” light at the bottom of my street, daydreaming. Four minutes later I wheel left and then right up the ramp to the Gardiner Expressway. No traffic. Great! Soon I am flying by the last exit to the Lakeshore which runs parallel and, oddly enough, along the lake shore. The Gardiner is about to achieve elevation. I realize I should have taken that exit. That last exit! I realize I should, in fact, have turned right at the punishment light and taken Lakeshore Blvd. I am on the wrong road altogether!

Okay, now I’m worried. Surely if I take the Spadina exit, I can turn right, go south and double back on the Lakeshore. I sail down the exit. Absolutely no right turn. Because the Lakeshore eastbound lanes are where the turn should be.The westbound lanes are no where to be seen.  Darn.

I turn left, avoid the first left turn as unpromising, carry on up over the railway tracks and slide into the left turn lane for Front St. Oh good, we have an advanced green. Not so good, we have a driver who is waiting for something better. That’s what my horn is for, tinny though it is. At Bathurst, I catch another punishment light. An orange and green taxi and my red Yaris, wait and wait and wait. Then we are released to turn left and re-cross the railway tracks. Left or right? Left or right, Joyce? Make up your mind. Okay I pick right.

Alas. While it is the right direction- I can see the Tip Top Tailor sign on the top of  a building, I can’t get there- I am on Fleet St, which parallels Lakeshore W, but never the twain shall meet. I have to keep driving west, on the other side of the dedicated streetcar line, well-protected by concrete barriers. I steam on in the direction of the Exhibition, our seasonal adventure in frivolity. Okay finally, an available left hand turn onto Strachan. With an advanced green and a mere 7 cars waiting. The light changes. We’ve got it. Guys! Guys! I am 7 cars back but the only one willing to tell those stupid tourists at the front how to turn on an advanced green.

Since there is a T intersection at the Lakeshore, I make the left turn easily for once. And at last I am back where I should have been 20 minutes ago.

Blake is sitting in the club dining room, over the remains of his late (very late) breakfast, unperturbed, and he orders me a glass of pinot noir to calm me down.

By the time we collect his little dog and take the water taxi out to where Sirroco is moored it is mid-afternoon. Not that it matters. Sailing proceeds on slow time. The bugs have to be swept up. Well, some of them, anyway. The mainsail cover has to be removed and shaken. We have to decide which genoa to use. The wind isn’t quite as gentle as Blake led me to believe, so I vote for the #2. Astonishingly, he agrees. As usual, the main gets caught as he pulls it up.

Rick rigging sailHe starts the motor and hands me the tiller.

Excuse me. Hasn’t there been some mistake? Apparently not for he is off up onto the bow to pull up the gennie. “Just aim for that buoy,” he calls back. “It doesn’t really matter but it makes a good reference point.”

There are two things about steering a sailboat with a tiller. It’s like driving from the back seat of a car and once the sails are up, visibility gets worse. Then there is the fact that if you want to go starboard (right to you landlubbers) you push the tiller left and vice versa. Oh my goodness! There is a motor launch bearing down on us portside and downwind a smaller sailboat. The southwest wind has freshened and there is a nasty little chop. Panic! Panic! Then suddenly, my almost 40 year-old body-memory takes over and I discover, not only that I can steer, but I know who to avoid and who has to avoid us. Once the sails are up, I find it easy to keep them full by nudging the tiller gently. It’s like playing a huge kite high in the air. I am part of the boat.

We sail west to Humber Bay and come about. By now the dog has given up her post as a living figurehead jutting out from the prow and has come back to the cockpit. She is wearing a dog life jacket with a convenient carrying handle on her back. A long line is attached to it. She has on occasion fallen or jumped in, swum about and been pulled back aboard. Never at speed. I once learned a physics lesson while trying to fill a pail with water at 6 knots. I bore the stigmata on my palms for some time.

“Do you want to sail around the island?” Blake asks.

‘Twas ever thus. It sounds like such a good idea.

“Will you get too tired?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. I seem to have spent my life agreeing to such good ideas. And living to see it was not wise. I imagine that I will be very very tired if we sail around the island, but it is such a good idea. So we do. In my defense, I can only say that we skip jumping off for a swim.

Now that we are going downwind, we seem to be standing still. Only the trees move in relation to the CN Tower. Perspective seems distorted. The people walking on the island seem like ants, but I know we are not that far away. Kayakers and paddlers on boards, miniscule. The freighter at the wharf, not so much. Like Alice in Wonderland, I resort to nibbling – on a cheese tray and handing large chunks to skipper Blake on the knife blade. We forgot the crackers.

The dog has been sitting on me so long that both of us need to stretch. A good time to come about again. But the southwest wind isn’t as strong as it was. Perhaps it is evening coming on or the city moderating its influence.

city from boatBlake decides to put the motor on and take down the sails, handing me the tiller just as we are about to pass in front of the ferry dock. Which is fully loaded, two car ferries straining at the bit. While it is true that we have the right of way over large motorized vessels, it is not a point I want to press. But, hey, I take my ease. I make my own decisions and they turn out to be the right ones. I do draw the line at getting the boat through the gap and hooking the mooring line up over the cleat.

It has been only 5 hours, but 5 hours of the most beautiful water and sky. Five hours of peace that passes understanding. It feels as if I have had a week’s holiday.

And it will only be 2 days before this septuagenarian body gets rested.

Sirroco, taken on a previous voyage

Sirroco, taken on a previous voyage

Stewart Lake, a thing of beauty

lake shore cedar leaningStewart Lake near Mactier is one of the countless lakes that dot the Muskoka Region of Ontario, Canada, about 2 hours from Toronto. It is, real estate agents will assure you, a lesser lake, the greater and pricier lakes being Muskoka, Joseph and Rousseau. But Beauty has no truck with such opinions. Beauty serves the light.

For the past week, I observed Stewart Lake from its southern end, Kilty Bay. At dawn, it was as smooth and clear as a mirror. By mid-morning it was beginning to darken and ruffle under a NW breeze, the bane of sun umbrellas. As the sun went down, the breeze fell and the water began to reflect the sky, fading gradually back to silver as the trees blackened in the background, a black on silver silhouette. Some evenings, sunset glowed pink at the other end of the lake, deepening and deepening into a narrow band of vivid colour on the western horizon. One spectacular night, the entire sky turned mauve and the deep purple.

lake and clouds iphone

lake and cloudes 2 iphone

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERATrue a lake is watery as well as light filled and the fragrance of eau du lac haunted me night and day. Just breathing it seemed to heal the urban soul, beset this summer by power outages and road closures. It smelled like water lilies and wet cedar and earth and wilderness. (Well pseudo wilderness at least.)

It was home to a sizable otter and its frolicksome offspring and largeish fish that came up to feed at dusk and made undulating patterns like lesser Lochness monsters. A large hare scampered down for a drink. The deer, however, kept to themselves in the woods.

Stewart Lake has a squishy muddy bottom, an acquired taste for toes. It had very few motor boats while we were there, so kayaks and canoes could drift along the shore silently, an especially pleasurable experience when someone else is paddling. The tariff I paid was comedy: I sat in the bow and attempted to push off from the dock. The canoe didn’t move but I glided gracefully and silently off the seat onto my bum, feet in the air.

“Wait,” cried my sister Georgia when I had righted myself. “You don’t have a life jacket.”

No problem, we all agreed. If we tipped, I could walk back on the lake bottom.

Muddy, shallow and entirely beautiful!

(Click on pictures to enlarge.)

Secrets of the Urban Woods

sunny gladeA few minutes into the woods, I come upon a sunny glade where one robin is singing from a hidden perch. I go down the sloping path to the little stream bed, almost dry now but still muddy from last Monday’s torrential downpour. I come out of the woods onto mown grass and stop, confounded. I should be able to cross this open area and begin the climb up the path to the ridge, but the opening is completely surrounded by impenetrable bushes. I go back. No, this is definitely the way. I stand and consider.

Gradually, it dawns on me that the storm has brought down a young oak and what looks like a bush is the tree’s crown. Looking closer, I see that there is a barely discernible path around it. I brush through the foliage and come out onto the trail again. A few feet farther on, another small tree’s top forces me on another bushy detour.

I come around its bend and find myself staring into the face of a young stag. He is standing in the middle of the grassy trail and gazing at me. His antlers are about 5 inches long, he is very lean and completely unafraid. He seems to be trying to figure out what kind of creature I am. We stand gazing at each other. I don’t move.

But of course, I can’t maintain that stillness. I reach into my pocket to take out my phone and as I look down to put it on camera, he moves soundlessly away and vanishes into the woods.

stag on ridge trailCan you see him? Click on the picture to expand.

Everything is changed. The rhubarb has bolted. The choke cherries have ripened.

ripe choke cherriesAnd a new species of flowering weed has attracted a host of tiny ants.

white flowerThe path along the wire fence above the settling ponds is so overgrown I can hardly find it and there are more fallen obstacles.

When I come down onto what should be the meadow, the plants are as high as my shoulder and I feel completely disoriented again.

milkweedNearer the river the milkweed flowers are about to open, to the delight, no doubt, of the monarch butterflies.

I can’t get to my usual river view because the willow is knee deep in water.willow kneee deepI can still make out the swan billing up reeds to mend her nest on the other side of the river, but only just. (Expand the picture and you will see her white dot below the apartment building.)

flooded riverAs I walk back up the paved path in the sunlight, a doe silently flies across in front of me and disappears into the copse on the other side.

Around the bend, I come upon a fallen silver maple, 50 feet long.

FALLEN MAPLEWhy are the deer awake in mid-day? The answer shivers in the air. A few miles away, people are racing million dollar cars, very noisily around a closed circuit.

I don’t regret that anymore than I regret the fallen trees. The woods is an organism, a whole thing, that thrives and dies, decays and germinates. So is the city. The race fans and the deer and this Sunday walker, taking sylvan therapy, are all parts of that larger organism.

Miracles in Early July

cherry tree #1Anna’s cherry tree from the roof of her kitchen.

butterflyWestern Tiger butterfly on screen door in Los Angeles.

river from east bankSix years later, I finally get a look at my river from the high cliff on the other side and find it has an eastern branch that I have not been able to see from the west bank. A long island of rushes blocks the view.

rush bankRush barrier seen from west bank.

Late Bloomers: tree blossoms in late June

Japanese Tree LilacThe riotous fuchsia and pink of early May have faded and gone as has the purple lilac. The white spirea and mock orange and apple blossoms ditto. This week I saw only the Japanese tree lilac, which I managed to get a picture of. I knew it was a lilac because of the shape of its leaf, but it was not in my Trees of North America, so I had to find it on-line.

The other blossoms I saw were on two tall trees, one on Annette and the other on Davenport. I thought I remembered that the leaf was that of a catalpa (Northern Catalpa). I had long ago learned that on a nature walk in Rondeau Park. I stopped twice on my drive home to have a closer look at the two trees I had noted, but traffic and rain have so far prevented a picture.

The flowers are like tiny orchids with four petals and red stamens that stain the petals yellow and draw the eye into their heart. The leaves are about 4 inches across and smooth edged, plain as the palm of a hand and pointed. The trees are over 60 ft. high, I think. There are many beautiful pictures on-line, but none that are shareable here.

Once again they are an introduced species that not everyone cares for. The Ontario government calls catalpa ‘invasive’ and recommends that you plant a native species instead. Too late, too late, O bureaucrat! Because of someone’s ill-advised decision 50 year ago, I can have an exquisite moment just outside a traffic lane.

Deadwood: a walk in the woods

I mean ‘deadwood’ in the nicest possible way.

oak crownMy local woods is part of an oak savannah that borders the river and once stood much closer to the shore of Lake Ontario. The trees are rooted in undulating sand hills, which are themselves the remnants of a prehistoric lake. Perhaps it is their loose footing that brings so many trees down. Once down, they lie where they fell. Even if they block a well-used path, the parks department let them be. Their decay is imperceptible but sure. The deadwood is host to insects and seedlings and whatever else thrives on it. Today is ideal decaying weather – very hot and humid. This is what I saw on my walk.

fallen tree #1fallen tree 2fallen tree 3 edtrickle treeThe tree above was undermined by a tiny trickle of a brook. The same trickle took down the next tree, a tall one. Its crown fell across the usual path and it took me several months to discover the detour around it.

fallen tree 5 edSomeone has ill-advisedly fashioned a rail of dead branches, certainly not a parks person.

railThere are, thank goodness, no “Use at Your Own Risk” signs nor should there be walking aids. Wood-walkers are made of hardier stuff.

fallen tree 7 hollow tree edSome oaks hang on valiantly in spite of past trauma.

new tree edMeanwhile new trees just planted near the river are loving this extremely wet June.