“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past…”
Shakespeare – Sonnet 30
Recently a haze of childhood memories clouded my mind struggling to become clear. I was back in the city of my early years, revisiting the people and places that were so much a part of my early life. To my Italian relatives, especially my elderly aunts, those formative years were still clear. It was easy for them for they never left Sault Ste. Marie. They never abandoned the memories. I, unfortunately, did for a different life in a different place. I depended on their stories to bring those days into sharper focus.
One morning, I walked with N. to the now closed Soo Locks where I use to come to watch the big Lakers carefully creep through the canal leaving barely enough room on either side. I would marvel when the water gates closed at their stern and marvel even more when water levels rose lifting the ship ever so slowly up to meet the open expanse of the St. Marys River, before it crept away creaking and groaning under dead slow speed.
Looking down the length of the waterway I saw the long span of the International Bridge to Soo Michigan rising over the river. Beneath it, rusting and abandoned was the old rail bridge. It didn’t take me long to remember what childhood friends and I did there on lazy Sault Ste. Marie summer afternoons.
Railway tracks ran behind our schoolyard straight to the trestle. We would follow them, running between the steel rails trying to stay on the railroad ties and not touch the thick gravel. We paused only when we spotted a spike sticking up above the wood. This was a prize we stopped to pry loose.
It was only when we approached the trestle that we slowed down. Here we had to be careful. As we moved out under its steel span the ground gave way to open air. We were suspended over water now. To us, it was a long way to fall. We stepped carefully from tie to tie, yelling at the top of our lungs partly to keep fear at bay and partly to prove that we knew no fear. To hestitate would invite the taunt, “codardo, codardo, codardo, andare a casa di mamma.” Translated it branded you a sissy telling you to, “run home to mamma you coward.” None of us ever did.
Once across and before we ran down the embankment to the river we always looked back. It was in that one brief silent moment that we realized it was our only path. We knew the times when the freight trains rolled through so we were sure of safe passage home. And when the whistle blew for the sift change at the steel plant we knew we must be on our way. A freight was due through about an hour after that. Any later getting home would always mean trouble. Somehow our mothers knew where we had been even though they repeatedly forbid us to go there.
There is a river of memories that flows through us all. Its source springs from things past. These memories are but embers sitting silently, buried deep in our soul. All we need do is breathe on them gently to ignite a remembrance of things past.
Eight years ago, when the thought of retirement began to creep into the routine of our frenetic city life, the idea of finding quietude and simplicity in a place close to nature became a worthy objective. We knew of Southampton. Friends of ours retired in this simple summer town spreading up from the shore of Lake Huron at the mouth of the Saugeen River. The Bruce Peninsula, with all its natural allure and waiting-for-us-to- discover trails, was full with the promise of a much simpler life. Saugeen Shores would be the ideal choice for us. Oh, we were aware of the size of the nearby Bruce Nuclear Plant. Yes, we saw the Wind Turbines at the Information Centre. But we never gave either a second thought. We found our Shangri La, so to speak. The quiet contentment we were looking for would be all around us.
Not so today.
There is a fault line running under the length of Saugeen Shores. Two tectonic plates, one the proliferation of Wind Turbines (especially the C.A.W. Turbine), the other the proposed Deep Geological Repositories (DGR) for Nuclear Waste, shift and grate against each other. This once quiet community has become a community of protestors. Concerned citizens have formed committees against both. There are coalitions, review panels, mountains of research on both sides, accusations against local politicos, a claimed lack of transparency from council and nuclear authorities and the specter of a hosting agreement that suggests that surrounding municipalities are receiving upwards of $500,000 annually to support DGR plans. It is said that these municipalities will be splitting a 34 million dollar windfall by 2034 for their willingness to back the DGR. Conflict of interest, closed door meetings, a lack of transparency and questions of resident support all add to the tremors now shaking the foundations of innocence that once bolstered this town.
It saddens us to see this happen. This kind of controversy isn’t what we expected when we retired here.
Even so, our life hasn’t changed. There is still a slow, simple pace to our daily comings and goings.
With the potential of nuclear waste beneath us and wind turbine turbulence surrounding us, perhaps the magnitude of the controversy will one day change things. Perhaps not.
Right now it matters little. The reality of the DGR, if it happens, is decades away. Past the time when we will even care.
Upcoming generations will be affected. They should get involved now. From what I’ve seen they are not.
Meantime, we will live our lives as we intended. For all of the back-and-forth, the finger-pointing, the denials, the he-said-they-said and the hand-wringing – the sun still shines – most days.
Not long ago I stood gazing up at the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment rising high and ragged from the water on the far shore of Colpoys Bay. Not long after I found myself on the top of that same ridge marvelling at a reverse angle view of the small, curved sandy beach where I started.
To get to this point, we entered Hope Bay Provincial Park, followed the Blue Blazes of the Bruce Trail Conservancy until the Hopeness Side Trail led us to this impressive panorama. It wasn’t a rigorous a walk up. That was yet to come when we left the trail and cautiously made our way down the cliff face in search of caves.
We slid over leaf-mulched paths, skated down scree, circumnavigated moss covered boulders, traversed narrow slate strewn passages, free climbed short rock faces and fallen cedars while straight below us, through an occasional break in the trees, the crisp blue water of Georgian Bay sparkled in the sun.
In his essay ‘Walking’ David Henry Thoreau wrote, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” This ‘walk’ was certainly no stroll through, “garden or mall’. The land set the pace. We had to measure up to it. Recently, though, I have leisurely strolled through fields and woods, taken walks on back roads, shorelines and town lines.
In fact Thoreau describes me perfectly when he writes, “…with regard to Nature I live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and transient forays only…” Living here in Bruce and Grey County country has made these forays all the more possible.
I have read Bruce Chatwin, Robert Macfarlane, Wade Davis, Edward Thomas and others. I have soaked up Robert Frost’s early poetry. I have lost myself in their stories about tracks and footprints, songlines and journeys into wild places, about their visions of the earth as a network of paths dating far back in prehistory.
And I sometimes find myself regretting that I didn’t follow their lead a lot earlier in life. One must, in the cold face of reality, earn a living and live up to one’s obligations.
At the same time it is important, for the sake of sanity, not to forget that there is another world beyond the borders that now hold most of us back.
The therapeutic nature of walking, out beyond the confines of everyday circumstances and into the land, through fields, footpaths and country roads is restorative. A solitary stroll or hiking in the company of like-minded wayfarers lifts your spirit and lets you leave the known world far behind.
In this sweet and sad life things never go the way you want them to. Plans and aspirations often take a road least expected and a change in direction often leads to the unexpected. This is the ying and yang of life – the light and dark – the good and not so good.
You could say these are trite thoughts, more of those interminable clichés so prevalent in today’s social media. But, they are truths so real, so prevalent that their reality can be a drain on your dreams.
Alice probably never thought of her life this way. I imagine she simply wanted to endure her simple existence and survive as best as possible. We found evidence of that in a battered old cream-coloured ‘valise’. (Valise was the word she used for her small suitcase.) Family photos, post cards, trinkets, treasures, legion flags, remnants and reminders of the war sent to her by her husband – all those things she held dear but had now forgotten were in there. The significant signposts of her life we found in a square gun-metal-grey lockbox. She didn’t know where the key was at first but she knew that her important papers and documents were safe and secure even though they were long past any relevance or use to her today. This is where she kept her past – her memories.
They are remnants of a life lived and loved ones lost. Today those moments come and go, each one struggling for a place of prominence in her mind. Recollections of her young life come rushing through intruding unexpectedly, transforming the past into the present and the present into confusion.
Still, this is Alzheimer’s and we must deal with it. It is hard to understand why but as Virginia Wolfe wrote in Mrs. Dalloway, ‘What does the brain matter compared to the heart.’
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.
We walk the beach today from the bottom of High Street to Gerry’s Fries.
The sky is an unbelievable blue. The sun is warm, the wind brisk and cool. The Big Flag is gone. A smaller one flies in its place. A strong offshore breeze stretches it straight out.
Gerry’s Fries is closed.
A fishing boat churns out of the harbor mouth rising and dipping through the white caps. The wind blows the sound of its engines churning against the waves to shore. There are no SeaDoos, sailboats or pleasure boats on the water
The beach is empty. Gulls basking in the sun have taken over. Summer ends in Southampton.
In town there are more parking spaces. Bicycles no longer use our sidewalks as their personal road. Turning left is much safer. The crowds, the traffic, the summer people are almost gone. Geese are gathering.
We still have Pumpkinfest and Thanksgiving to live through. But after that, the cottages will close. Shutters will go up on the big houses. Snowbirds will head south. And Southampton will sleep through the winter.
I like this time of year.
Most everyone who plants a garden plants tomatoes. I’m no different. Each year I’ve put in tomatoes of varying varieties and each year I’m rewarded with the same problem…I’ve grown more than I need. When you try to give them away, friends turn you down with warm thanks and a smile. They have the same problem.
This past summer I outsmarted myself by only cultivating two plants, one a yellow, grape-style and the other a meaty, yellow Carolina Gold. Again, I have more than I need. Needless to say we are including them in just about every meal, which after a while gets a touch boring. So the other night we decided to purge.
My daughter had given us an excellent recipe for Asparagus Pizza. “Why not,” I thought, “swap out the asparagus for grape tomatoes. How difficult could that be?” We got a little creative and added some ingredients of our own. Here’s the recipe.
Make or buy the pizza dough (We buy and roll our own with great results)
- ½ pound of cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (The real stuff)
- ½ pound of mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- Several grinds black pepper
- 1 or 2 scallions thinly sliced
- A few drops of lemon juice
- Prosciutto – 5 or 6 slices diced and lightly fried.
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Basil leaves – about ten, rolled then sliced
- Black olives – sliced, no pits please
- Set oven at 450.
Halve tomatoes and get rid of the seeds (which can be messy). All you need is the flesh of the tomato. Toss tomatoes, olive oil, olives, salt, pepper, red pepper and mix gently to coat. Roll or stretch your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Roll dough on to a corn meal dusted pan. Sprinkle dough with parmigianno, then mozzarella. Pile the tomato mix on top (artfully distributed) and bake 12 to15 minutes or until the edges are browned or cheese is bubbly.
Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions, lemon juice, prosciutto, basil and slice.