Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Archive for April 2011


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Day One: 

The day showed little promise.

Overhead the overcast sky alternated between dark and gun-metal gray. In the first hour of our drive thick fog hung over the highway. As we approached Georgian Peaks slashes of white appeared through the shadowed morning. The remaining snow on the ski hills was prominent enough to cut through the mist. Throughout our drive to Algonquin Park we were in and out of rain.

We were on our way to meet up with members of the Bruce Birding Club (BBC) to spend time hiking Algonquin’s bush and bogs searching for four Boreal Species  – Spruce Grouse – the Grey Jay – the Black-Backed Woodpecker and the Boreal Chickadee.

Now Birders are an intrepid group. Nothing stops them. There is no inclemency that can slow them down. Rain gear is like a second skin to these people. So when we entered the Park’s West Gate in a downpour, I knew to expect nothing less than a damp, wet 48 hours.

Algonquin was still in winter’s grip. Ice covered the lakes. And as it slowly melted, it threw up lateral levels of fog that drifted across dark green trees, black blogs, up jagged slices of granite and into the brooding forest. The sight of it left you with an ominous feeling.

A line of cars were parked at the side of the road. Across from them a moose stood stoically at the edge of the bush while humans armed with cameras moved in clicking away.  We found some of the BBC.

After settling in at the East Gate Motel we put on our second skin to tromp around the Park’s Logging Exhibit. A hard rain fell as we carefully made our way across the lingering snow and ice covered paths in the forested areas. No birds of note.

That night, Kevin Klute, our guide, (education@algonquinpark.on.caled us through the darkness in a Wolf Howl. No wolves answered. Was this an omen?

Day Two: 

The weather continued as promised the day before.

Our motel was typical strip-mall style small town Northern Ontario, a stone’s throw from a highway dominated by giant 18-wheelers driven by Mad Max types who cared little for the speed limit.

I thought our room’s mint-green walls would inspired nightmares, but we slept surprisingly well. And for $5:00 East Gate’s cozy dining nook served an excellent breakfast.

The good people of the BBC were hoping for ‘good looks” in today’s Boreal Species quest. As a guarantee, Park Naturalist Kevin came armed with a recording of a female Spruce Grouse call.  With iPod and tiny speaker he wandered off into the bog. After a few short minutes he yelled. Success! He found a male, deep enough in, to make getting there an adventure. Determined not to miss this, BBC Birders found themselves sinking knee-deep in roadside snow. But, they all emerged happy and excited.

Rains came mid-day. We parked in the mud flats of the Sanitary Station. Kevin returned from a scouting and announced that it was a ‘rubber boot trail.’

And that’s how it all ended for N. and I.

Sadly, perhaps, she and I are not true birders…yet. We were not ready for a walk in the rain through knee-deep mud on a water-soaked trail. We decided to leave. The day kept its promise as we headed for home in the fog and rain once again 

Check out Jennifer Howard’s shots at:

Bruce Birding Club at the West Gate - Day 2 (Doug Pedwell shot this)

The elusive Spruce Grouse deep in the bog. (Stewart Nutt photo)

64 Species Sighted   
• Common Loon – 1,
• Double-crested Cormorant -1
• Great Blue Heron – 2,6,9
• Canada Goose
• Wood Duck – 10
• Mallard
• American Black Duck
• Canvasback Hwy 61 and road to VC
• Ring-necked Duck – 2.3.11
• Common Merganser – 2. 6
• Turkey Vulture
• Red-tailed Hawk – 1
• Merlin – 6,
• American Kestrel – 12
• Ruffed Grouse – 8, 11
Spruce Grouse – 3. 7, 11
Sandhill Crane -1 
• Wild Turkey -1,2
• Ring-billed Gull
• Herring Gull
American Woodcock
• Mourning Dove
• Rock Pigeon
• Belted Kingfisher -5
• Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -5, 4
• Downy Woodpecker 5.7.
• Hairy Woodpecker 5.7.
• Northern Flicker – everywhere
• Pileated Woodpecker – 5
Black-backed Woodpecker – 11
• Eastern Phoebe – 5,7
• Eastern Kingbird -12
• Blue Jay -5. 6.7.11
• Gray Jay
• Common Raven -2, 7.
• American Crow
• Tree Swallow  1,
• Barn Swallow -7
• Black-capped Chickadee -5 +
Boreal Chickadee – 11 on rail trail
• Red-breasted Nuthatch -5
• White-breasted Nuthatch -5
• Brown Creeper -7
• Winter Wren – 6
• Golden-crowned Kinglet -3
• Ruby-crowned Kinglet -3, 5, 7, 11
• American Robin
Hermit Thrush – 4
• European Starling
• Bohemian Waxwing -7
• Yellow-rumped Warbler -7,11
• American Tree Sparrow – 5.7
• Chipping Sparrow -7
• White-throated Sparrow -5.7, 11
• Song Sparrow -7
• Swamp Sparrow -7
• Dark-eyed Junco
• Snow Bunting -12
• Brown-headed Cowbird -7
• Red-winged Blackbird
• Common Grackle
• Purple Finch -8
• Pine Siskin – 8
• American Goldfinch -9


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Lorie needs a new heart. And the wait – nine months now – no doubt feels like forever to her.

I’ve known Lorie for six years. I along, with three others, am part of her Saugeen Afternoon Writer’s Group. We meet (every two weeks normally) to share and honestly critique each other’s work.

Lori has a novel in progress. It’s really her story. Fictionalized reality.  All about a young girl who falls into a fantastical dream world after her first operation for complex congenital heart defect. Lori is a strong, determined, brave woman. She is a mother, once a teacher, an entrepreneur along with her husband, and a survivor who refuses to give up on life. She soldiers on carrying more than her share of an unbearable burden without complaint. And, I admire her greatly.

The other day she sent this email to her friends:

“I have been wanting to blog now for quite some time, and now that I am finally beginning, I have to admit, that I am starting in a less than authentic fashion. I decided it was time to ‘put myself out there’ after a young pregnant woman confided that her unborn baby is suspected of having a congenital heart defect, CHD for all future references. Since my techno-whiz husband, is determined to set up my blog on our ‘new improved server’  – sometime next week – I have decided in the meantime to ‘blog’ to friends and family in my address book who may be interested in hearing what I have to say…As a Fontan patient, (Fontan being ‘a palliative surgical procedure used in children with complex congenital heart defects’ (April 2011, Wikipedia) and mother of cardiac congenital kids, I completely understand the world of cardiac medicine. That is at least from a patient and mother’s perspective. Let’s face it the patient is the central component of medicine, and the reason why I have chosen to blog my thoughts in the first place. Cardiac defects affect a huge number of births annually. The Heart and Lung Association report that 1 in 100 babies are born with cardiac birth defects each year in Canada. That means 1% of all babies born will have some form of heart disease! When I was born, only 10% of the children with my condition survived. In a 2010 interview with Dr. Erwin Oechslin, Head of Adult Congenital at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Oechslin noted the survival rate to be closer to 90% at that time. I told her, CHD is difficult to get your mind around, but it is not the end of the world. I am living proof.”

A Prayer for my Daughter

Lorie’s mother has started a prayer circle. Her reason is simply expressed in these, her own words:

“…Lorie…is generally doing quite well.  However, with a failing heart which also affects major organs, this is a day-to-day waiting game.  This message is the start of a prayer circle for her and my request is for you to remember Lorie in your prayers. Recently her transplant team, because of the decline in her condition, thought it would be necessary to admit her to Toronto General Hospital until a heart is available for her. This could take months or even up to a couple of years.   Fortunately for now, in typical Lorie fighting form, she has rallied again and they have decided that the best place for her recovery is at home as long as they can manage the delicate balances of her body from a distance.   We are hoping that Lorie can enjoy a lovely summer with her family and friends but can only be hopefully optimistic. For anyone who may be uncomfortable with the concept of prayer, I want to emphasize that this doesn’t have to be a religious act, but simply an act of love.  It has been proven in hospital research that prayer does make a difference in the recovery of patients and there is truly strength in numbers. I pray daily for a healthy viable heart for Lorie and for it to come soon. I pray for a safe and complete recovery, for her wonderful teams of doctors, nurses, surgeons and fellows, and for her family.  She is in the hands of the best medical team imaginable and I am grateful beyond words for their kind and loving support…please feel free to forward this request to anyone you know who would be willing to join our circle. Together we will help Lorie to a new life.”

I don’t think Lori and her family is looking for sympathy. They are the kind of people that thrive on positive reinforcement. This page then is for Lori, for those that wait with her.  And for awareness of CHD.

When Lori’s Blog is up and running I’ll post her link on this site. Until then I decided to make my Blog hers this one time.

“Hey, Old Man!”

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“Hey mister, what’s your name?”

The voice came from the direction of the school playground that makes up the last part of the Nature Trail around Little Lake. Out for a walk this bright spring afternoon, I was curious to see if the sun’s warmth had any major effect on the stubborn ice covering the pond’s surface.

“Hey, mister walking man, what’s your name?”

When I turned around I saw two young girls –  no older than 9 or 10. They were hanging over the rubber-tire seats of the swings. One of girls leaned over staring at the ground, her momentum carrying her lazily back and forth. The other was twisting in a deliberate circle. When she lifted her feet off the ground the tightly wound chains released themselves and she spun quickly as they unraveled. More annoying than joyous, her high-pitched squeal cut through the spring afternoon.

“Hey Mister, your name. What’s your name?”

I smiled at them and kept walking. It is, after all, a tricky thing talking to young girls these days. Especially in school playgrounds. I spotted a teacher looking at me looking at them. My decision not to respond was, I admit, partly motivated by his presence.

Anyway, there was something in the children’s tone of voice that told me nothing would be gained by answering. Each time they asked for my name they would point and laugh as if it were a joke. They’re teasing me, I thought. As the trail took me closer they suddenly ran up to the chain link fence.

“Hey, Old Man…what’s your name? Old Man…Old Man…”

Their chant stopped when I stopped.

“What’s your name, little girl?” I answered. The teacher approached. I turned and walked away.

A sadness followed me home that beautiful, sunny afternoon under an unbelievably blue, cloudless sky. The reason was simple…a child had mocked me for no reason…a child who had a world of experiences yet to live.

Then it struck me. I was the victim of bullying.

Looking back at the girls, I shook my head and wondered about the loss of childhood innocence and how life in that school yard could be so unforgiving.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 9, 2011 at 6:45 PM


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Morning sunrise on my drive to Mac's.

My very first adventure into Blog-Land was an entry about the routine pleasure of venturing out for my morning paper. There’s no home delivery of big city newspapers here in small town Southampton. So each morning after getting up, getting dressed, and getting in my car I ventured into town to Mac’s Milk on Highway 21 to see if the Star had made it from Toronto three hours down the road. No matter what the weather, somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 AM I’d be at Mac’s making small talk with the not-yet-awake cashier. Twice a week I’d pick up some lottery tickets and hope for the best. (No luck yet!)

It was a routine. A boring pattern. A rut if you want to call it that. A totally personal, predictable, pedestrian 4 season habit that unfolded like clockwork regardless of weather. And I was proud of it.

But then the great god of change began to creep into my life. Store ownership changed. Counter staff changed. And newspaper arrival times changed. Sometimes The Star wasn’t there during my window of arrival.

“Fine.” I would say to my friendly Mac’s attendant. “I’ll take the more expensive Globe & Mail. Better paper anyway.”

But just as my morning newspaper quest became routine, so did the lateness of The Star. The 6:30 – 7:00 AM window expanded to 8:00 – 9:00 AM. I complained gently because I knew it wasn’t Mac’s fault. Their answer was a frustrated shoulder shrug. They had no control over deliveries. My only options, at times, became the Toronto Sun (no thanks) or the Globe. I was reduced to calling the store and asking if the paper had arrived yet because I didn’t want to get there and feel the disappointment of a wasted trip. Nothing could be done.

So, I stopped. Dropped my morning habit cold turkey. No more morning paper for me. After almost six years of doing the same thing day in and day out, I was forced to acknowledge a blip in my simple life. It wasn’t all about me and what I wanted – no – had come to expect. It was some cosmic outside influence, a controlling force extending from Toronto all the way to Southampton setting its own schedule and paying no heed to mine.

I no longer rush out before sunrise. I don’t buy the Toronto Star any more. They’ve driven me to the on-line edition. It’s easier. It’s always there on time. And with gas prices the way they are today, it’s cheaper.

If newspapers complain that their losing readers to the internet…its their own fault.

But I do miss the small talk at Mac’s in the morning.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 8, 2011 at 5:00 PM