Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Archive for March 2008

Saugeen Valley Maple Syrup Time

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Snow flat farm fields show signs of spring as we drive down Bruce Road 3 under a cloudless sky filled with sunshine. Patches of fall-ploughed brown mud and harvested beige corn stalks break through here and there. Crows pick and feed on them. Creeks and streams run free. Some snow and ice still survives on their banks. But the melt is on. Spring is well on its way. The sap is running.

Were heading to the Old-Tyme Maple Syrup Festival at the Saugeen Valley Conservation Area between Paisley and Burgoyne. Last time we did this we lived in Toronto. Our daughter was just a child and the memory of the experience is vague to say the least. Now that we live in the country we’re eager to see if it is any different.

Signs warn us of upcoming stands selling maple syrup roadside. We see the distinctive black Mennonite carriage first. The gentleman in black has unhitched his horses and let them feed in the field. Further down at the edge of farmstead driveways are more stands and more syrup for private sale. Obviously if you have a stand of maples and a small sugar shack on your property you can set yourself up in business during syrup season – no problem.

What surprises us as we draw near is the long line of cars stretching from the highway entrance and out of sight down the road. Mid-day and the place is packed. For a brief moment we contemplate turning back. But,there’s a shuttle bus that runs out of Paisley, so we keep going.

Again, to our surprise, there are more cars parked in tiny Paisley than we’ve ever seen. And the line-up for the bus runs from the arena entrance to the parking lot (which is jammed with cars). Street parking is our only alternative. It’s a good thing small towns haven’t discovered parking meters

Young families, grandparents – teenagers, locals and out-of-towners, everyone is in a good mood though. The big yellow school buses run every 10 minutes and no one had to stand. As we ride past the long line ofparked cars on the Conservation Area entrance road we know we’ve made the right decision.

Once there we are caught up in the crowds and the diversity of the place. There are line-ups everywhere but no one is complaining. Kid-packed strollers and wagons are pushed and pulled through the ice-rutted roads. Soggy sawdust and wood shavings fill the puddles. Snow still sits in the forest. The scent and smoke of wood fires hovers over the park.  Everyone is red-nosed and rosy-cheeked and enjoying themselves.

A man dressed as Grey Owl tells stories about how the First Nations first discovered maple syrup…tall tales and legends that make kids believe and adults smile. There’s a sheep shearing demonstration – an animal barn with baby goats,chicks, rabbits and piglets – horse drawn wagon rides – a petting pen with sheep jostling people and hungry lamas eating out of your hand – a blacksmith and forge  – historical exhibits with trappers in buckskins sitting by wood fires outside their tents – bush survival tricks – tree tapping and sugar shanties with giant cauldrons of boiling sap.Music and native drumming is everywhere.

Four men looking like Davey Crocket show off and shoot authentic muskets and muzzleloaders. Black powder makes quite a noise.

We eat fresh made doughnuts dipped in maple butter cooked in oil over an open wood fire. Pancakes and sausages smothered in maple syrup are our lunch.

After seeing it all we realize how late it is. The school buses are waiting. This couldn’t be better.

On the drive home we talk about how this maple sugar experience outdoes all the others. And we guess that it’s all about the people, the place and the fact that you can’t get the sap to run unless spring is well on its way.




Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 30, 2008 at 8:29 PM

Posted in Home Town

Owen Sound to Toronto – Terminal to Terminal!

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Squeezed into tight low-rise jeans cinched up by a tooled leather belt with a big NASCAR silver buckle, he pranced into the Terminal and paused so everyone could notice how well put together he was.

From the black leather ball cap where he stored his sunglasses, to the black leather jacket with fringed sleeves, to his cowboy boots with the silver-capped toes and heels, leather was obviously what he felt he was all about. A silver CD player was hitched to his waist and oversized silver earphones were clamped to his head. In one hand he held a KFC bag.  And with the other he pulled out Chicken Fries. He thought he was so cool. And perhaps some of the others in the waiting room agreed with him.

I‘m sitting in the Owen Sound Bus Terminal waiting for the 10:30 AM Greyhound to take me to Toronto watching him saunter to a row of seats well away from everyone else. There aren’t that many people here. Most are students traveling back to University. And they just look at him and wonder if he has ever heard of ipods and ear buds. 

An older woman wearing a heavy brown overcoat and fur-lined hat with the flaps pulled down over her ears, keeps a cautious eye on him through her thick glasses. She pulls her shopping cart closer and begins to rock back and forth, softly repeating the word “bad, bad, bad.”  Everyone shifts in their seats, turns away and pretends to ignore her. Eventually she stops.

“Are you OK, hon?” says the lady behind the counter. (She calls everyone who buys a ticket, ‘hon’.)

“Oh yes, dear,” replies the old soul. “I just lost my eyesight for a moment. But, I’m fine now. Um hmm.”

A young mother, ladened with pack back, child and baby seat wanders towards the washroom. Her hair is spiked, her lower lip and nose are pierced. The old woman watches her wide-eyed.

“Oh my, dear. That must be so uncomfortable for you,” she exclaims loudly to the young mother who pays her no attention.

More people drift in and out of the Terminal carrying their plastic bags and yesterday’s newspapers. Some come to use the public washroom, others sit with their morning Timmy’s waiting for the local bus. Everyone is restless.

At 10:20 the bus pulls in and passengers quickly gather their belongings. People are eager to get out of the Terminal and on the road. Boarding is orderly.

Why is it that Bus Terminals always attract colourful characters?

It isn’t often that I ride the bus back to where I came from, but under certain circumstances it is more entertaining and  interesting than driving.

With seven people on board we drive out of Owen Sound through Motel Alley, down Highway 6 & 10 to Toronto, four hours and twenty minutes away.

The bus is clean and our driver is definitely our Captain. Young and neatly dressed, his closely trimmed goatee says he takes himself and his job seriously. You can hear it in his voice when he clicks on the intercom to announce our travel time and the stops along the way to our destination.

Every time we pull in to one of these small towns, though, he takes a quick smoke break. Whether this is a Union Mandate or not, I have no idea, but it works to our advantage. In Orangeville a couple of students convince him to wait long enough for them to get to Tim Horton’s and back.

“Thanks man,” I hear them say. “That’s a two cigarette break.”

The Wind Turbines of Shelburne tell you that you’ve left the country. By the time you pass through Caledon into Snelgrove the creeping sprawl of Toronto is expanding outward like the Big Bang Theory.

It isn’t long before you’re caught up in the speed of the big city. Traffic carries you along as if you’re on rails. The numbers of cars funneling from six lanes to two measures your progress. Toronto is big, dirty, noisy, crowded and claustrophobic.

Stepping off the bus at the Arrival Terminal a panhandler asks me for spare change. He needs an insulin shot and he hasn’t enough money for bus fare. I give him what I have just to get rid of him.

Soon I’m on the Subway, watching the other passengers sullenly sitting with downcast eyes, not smiling, avoiding the glance of anyone who looks at them.

 “THIS USE TO BE ME!” I think. And I feel like I’ve gone from one Terminal to another.

Then the realization that I’m just visiting hits and I’m the only one on the train smiling.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 17, 2008 at 9:31 PM

Posted in Home Town

The White Winds of Southampton

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It was reported in the local media that we’ve had over seven feet of snow so far this winter. Right now it doesn’t look that way.        

We’ve had some rain and warm weather. The melt has taken the snow down and, for the most part, cleared the ice out of the river. Judging from the height of the banks along the road you might agree. But that’s the work of the snow ploughs. They hit street-snow fast and hard. Their big blades throw it fairly high and thick. If you look at the piled up mounds in parking lots, malls, driveways and street corners you could agree that the white stuff has hit us with serious regularity. Even the hillocks at the edge of the pack ice on the lake are impressive.                 

If you ask me, though, we didn’t get dumped on by regular, everyday snow storms. No! Here along the Lake Huron shoreline we get Snow Squalls. ‘White Wind’ if you will.         

You can track them through Exeter Radar on the Environment Canada site. You watch it build and move slowly – heading straight for you. The wind pushes clouds out of the North or West out over that vast expanse of water. That’s where the magic occurs. The snow builds. Winds gather velocity. When both make landfall it falls…vertically mostly.        

Although that’s not exactly correct because the Squall whips snow in every direction – so thick and so fast all you see is a monochromatic blend of grey and white. There is no colour. Just a blinding blast of white that stops everything…cold.          

Snow is blown across flat farmer’s fields and roads are closed. Snow days pile up too because schools close. Driveways drift up deep. What lands on the ground doesn’t stay there long because the wind picks it up and moves it elsewhere. Then it stops. There’s a lull of about ten to twenty minutes. Then the streamers build up and hit again.        

And so it goes. The repetition tends to get boring after a while. This can go on for nights and days. You get a lot of reading done. Or else you stock up on DVDs. Or send stupid e-mail jokes. Or update your FaceBook profile.        

Surprising thing is…it doesn’t bother the birds. They gather at your feeders and fight one another for prime perch position. Some hunker down on the railing, fluff up their feathers and ride out the wind. They are braver than we are.

Eventually you get a break and after the snow-plough passes (having clogged up your driveway) the familiar white noise of snow blowers fill the air. You join your neighbours for the ‘clearing-up’ ritual. And sometimes – when you’re almost done – a Squall comes out of nowhere and you’re lost in the White Wind again…waiting for it to move on through. If waiting means watching the seven feet grow to ten…fine.

Snow Squalls have their own timetable.

You can’t fight ‘The White Wind.’  

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 2, 2008 at 10:26 PM

February Light on the Range Light

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 2, 2008 at 9:00 PM

Posted in Home Town