Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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SPRING DAY SUN

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Stone

Sun shadows fall on the diminished snow and wind wicks away whatever white grains remain as the contradiction of sun and cold conspire to sacrifice only the surface, revealing nothing but more of the same. Winter is not yet done with us. 

snow rise2

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 22, 2014 at 2:56 PM

WALKING

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view2

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.

view

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.

cave1

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.

slough

 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.

boulder

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.

stones

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.

gate

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.

car

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.

roots

 

 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM

EMPTY BEACH

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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.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 9, 2012 at 5:22 PM

TOO MANY TOMATOES = PIZZA

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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.

Mangia bene!

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 8, 2012 at 3:05 PM

BALCONIES

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There is no doubt about it, Toronto the Good, The City of Trees, Hog Town can also be call Condo Town. Given the amount of condo construction in every part of the city it clearly deserves the name. Approaching the city on the Queen Elizabeth Highway the towers line either side of the 8 lane black top. In the distance you can see them rising above and through the haze and smog covering the downtown core. As you exit the Queen E. and slip on to the Gardiner the skyscrapers now begin to intrude into the Expressway’s space. Creeping close to the guardrails and butting up against the roadway condo balconies lean out and over the speeding traffic. The sound must be annoyingly intrusive as it permeates the glass and steel skin of these buildings filling the smallish living space with what must seem like constant white noise. From early dawn to late evening Commuter traffic in Toronto is relentless. Along the lakeshore freight trains, passenger trains and Go trains add to the never-ending din.

And here I am on the 12th floor of one of these condos overlooking Toronto Harbour feeling the cacophony drifting up towards me. As I look around the complex I can’t help but notice the profusion of balconies. They jut out from building to building like the openings in cliff dwellings from ancient times. Then I realize that balconies are the only access cliff dwellers have to the outside world. This is where they find fresh air – where they can throw open their sliding doors to admit whatever breeze might be out there. Besides that, balconies are the storage bins, the sheds, the backyards of high-rise living. There on that narrow, concrete slab is where they store their stuff. Outdoor furnishings, potted plants and trees alive and dead, bikes, boxes, wooden clothes dryers are just some of the things you see. Some balconies are hung with bamboo privacy curtains. Others double as smoking rooms. Strings of lights or photocell lamps glow in the dark, mixing with the blue TV light that seeps out creating an eerie ambiance that frames whatever stuff is stored out there. Spring summer and fall balconies are an extra room. Come winter they are abandoned. But how different is that from those who own a home?

Sitting on this balcony looking out, spying actually, on the others across the way I feel like a peeping tom.

The thought fades, though, as I recall the day when I left home and started living life on my own – in an apartment – with a balcony that looked out over a busy main street with never ending traffic – and I smile.

 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 11, 2012 at 4:55 PM

ADVERSITY

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Perhaps there is something about adversity that makes brothers and sisters of us all. Something in the sharing of what we choose to call our passion rather than just our hobby. Something about being out there in the soaking rain and wild wind, hiking a tortured root-twisted, rock-strewn, slippery trail in search of that perfect shot, that once-a-season-wildflower or that elusive bird you can hear but can’t see in the dense spring-green foliage. Birders and amateur botanists will understand. So will nature photographers, amateur or professional. At least, that’s my personal take after three foul weather days – two hiking the North Bruce and one photographing the waterfalls of Grey County (www.visitgrey.ca/waterfalls), in the company of strangers who willingly, without complaint, accepted whatever mother nature threw at us.

Day One was supposed to be spent on Flowerpot Island looking at the geology of the place and specifically orchids. But the pending high winds and storm coming in from the East cancelled the trip. Everyone was disappointed but graciously accepted Plan B. The rewards of this change first took us to the top of the National Park’s viewing tower where a Pileated Woodpecker glided by at our eye-level, banked directly in front of us, its slow, deep wing beats taking it to a treetop just eye-sight away. For some, it was a major sighting.

That afternoon on the Alvar Trail we came upon an Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake pretending to hide. We gawked and considered ourselves fortunate for the find. Continuing on we found another, coiled and from the sound of it, not pleased to be discovered. Two rattlers in the space of 15 minuets, it was a good day.

Day Two. Under darkening skies we headed to Malcolm Bluff Shores Nature Reserve (Malcolm Bluff Shores | Bruce Trail). It was cold. Winds were high. A heavy rain fell – not a good day. We hiked the lower trail. On one side it fell off steeply down to Georgian Bay. On the other a grey, cedar clad cliff face rose to a towering, heavily wooded precipice. A Black Throated Green Warbler was calling. My binoculars found it and I could finally say that I’d seen my first warbler. Not significant to anyone but me. We scrambled down a steep, slim, slippery path and scree to the rocky shoreline below to look for fossils but the pounding wind and rain drove us back up.

Malcolm Bluff Shores is a magnificent 1000 plus acre nature reserve with over 110 metres of elevation change and we happily climbed it all in what felt like a deluge. The top trail is spectacular as it hugs the crest of the cliff giving you spectacular lookouts that, in better weather, would probably present you with unlimited vistas of Georgian Bay. At that height, though, the gusts made covering the entire trail risky to say the least. So we headed home with a few lessons learned:

  • Wools socks stay warm when wet.
  • Glove liners are useless in the rain.
  • Gore Tex hiking boots are not always waterproof.
  • I need rain pants with pockets.
  • My rain gear is past its Best-Before-Date.
  • My camera doesn’t like the rain.

Day Three was a direct copy of days one and two only this time the objective was to photograph 4 different types of waterfalls. The idea of trying to shoot falling water in falling rain was amusing to me. Perhaps it was because waterfalls give off negative ions, which are supposed to be rejuvenating. That being said the adverse weather did not dampen our spirits (sorry for the pun) although at one point we did consider mutiny if only to preserve our cameras.

Plastic bags, wide brim hats and golf umbrellas held over tripods don’t necessarily keep splash spray away. In our defiance of Mother Nature the storm broke that afternoon and the sun shone…a just reward for our perseverance.

A fairly steep ascent up the side of a gorge brought us to a horseshoe shaped ‘bridal veil’ of falling water.They call Indian Falls a ‘classic plunge waterfall’ that drops about 15 metres into a bowl-shaped gorge.

Using a single leg of our tripods as walking sticks we navigated a tricky, narrow path down to its base. The drumming of the water into the bedrock sent spray all around us taking the place of the rain that had stopped. But, this was a wet infused with refreshing negative ions, so we had no choice but to be happy for it.

Our three days began under grey skies and ended under sunny skies. Through it all everyone stayed upbeat because were united under a common cause and here by choice. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why mere humans can oftentimes overcome nature’s adversity.  

A lone Dwarf Lake Iris on the Alvar Trail

Locked in the rock on the side of the gorge descending to Indian Falls

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

June 4, 2012 at 3:17 PM

THE SOUTHAMPTON RANGE LIGHT

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DEAD SLOW

NO WAKE

Lighthouses inherently inspire all manner of allegory. The symbolism we read into them creates a multiplicity of meaning. There is one, among many, on the Huron Coast and specifically in Southampton that that has touched me from the first moment I saw it. Look out to the lake driving in or out of town and you can’t miss it.

The Southampton Range Light sits sentinel-like peering outward over the vast expanse of Lake Huron to the empty horizon. Rising like an exclamation point at the extreme end of the concrete long dock, a man made extension of the Saugeen River’s north shore, The Light points the way to safe harbour.

There is a sister Light upriver just past the bridge off highway 21. The Saugeen River Light sits about 2300 feet from the Front Light. It is a smaller structure, only 31′ high. But because of its hill location, it rises 61′ above water level with a fixed, electrically powered, automated signal.

Sailors and boaters line up the front and back Range Lights and stay the course to reach the river channel.

The Front or Southampton Range Light is a square tapered wooden building, painted white with a red top. It is electrically operated. Like all great lighthouses it has a working foghorn. A signal from a marine radio turns it on. Its bellow can be heard well into town.

DEAD SLOW. NO WAKE. These four words on the side of the Southampton Range Light greet everyone sailng into harbour.

DEAD SLOW is in red, bold face, all upper case letters. It is shouting to get your attention…a warning to watercraft to throttle down. NO WAKE is a confirmation of the initial request. What they are saying is simple…the uncertainty of Lake Huron is behind you. You have reached the shelter of the Saugeen River shoreline.

I started taking pictures of The Light the week I moved here. Each season lends it’s own unique, hypnotic ambiance. From high on Scubby’s Point, from ground level on either side of the harbor or road, at sunrise or sunset, there is always something dramatic in your viewfinder.

Whenever I’m shooting The Light, I always find myself drawn to those four words. There is a life lesson in their simplicity that goes beyond any maritime meaning.

If the lake represents the unpredictability of everyday existence, perhaps the message The Light is trying to convey is this: we must all live with cautious purpose (DEAD SLOW) and do no harm to anyone (NO WAKE).

But that’s just me.

 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

May 9, 2012 at 8:59 PM

A SIGN OF SPRING

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Caught this ROBIN in our Ash Tree just before a day-long snow-fall. Poor thing has since disappeared.

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February 28, 2012 at 5:47 PM

Posted in Commentary, Photography

THE VIEW FROM MY SITTING ROOM

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The crows are quite vocal this afternoon. They circle the tree tops in a tight crowd and in their own time light on the topmost branches, black smudges on White Birches, bare White Ash and dark-barked Black Walnut trees. All the while causing a commotion that shatters the quietude of the day. The clamor persists as more join their gathering. Then, for no obvious reason, they take flight heading down the line of trees to yet another perch to begin the process all over again. The bush behind my house is a favourite gathering place for crows.

I live on the shoulder of the Saugeen River. It is but minutes from my back door. But between the water and me is a thick forest of red tipped Sumacs, high weeds, gnarled apple trees and wild lilacs choked with wild grape vines that descends into a steep bank thick with cedars. These cedars have grown so dense that little light gets through. You must look up past their dead and dying branches to the green canopy to catch a glimpse of sky.

Somewhere along the brow of this line is a hard to detect path leading to the river. It slides down into darkness. The dead branches arch over it making the descent a sinister passage like Orpheus into the Underworld.

We seldom take that walk. We say it is because the path back up is an uncomfortable pitch for our old legs. But perhaps the claustrophobic forest recalls some deeply buried childhood fear. Why else would it attract crows?

This line of bush is different in winter, though.

Below it, the canyon that holds the Saugeen becomes a snow channel. Winds off the water charge through the harbor mouth and follow the path of the river blowing the lake effect squalls up and over our river-hill subduing the bush and trees and obliterating them under a weight of white. When the weather changes so does the view.

This is the forest outside my sitting room window.

Its tree line catches the light of the rising sun, then turns black at sunset. Green, grey, beige or white, whatever the season’s colour, there is never a time when it is boring or taken for granted. It is constant in its consistent changes.

 

 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 26, 2012 at 5:00 PM

SNOWY

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They came to occupy our back roads and farm fields. Stoically perched on hydro poles and fence posts, they survey their bleak surroundings, heads rotating in seemingly full circle, ever vigilant for any movement in the mud and snow. Oblivious to any kind of weather, they wait. Patience is their stock in trade. They sit almost motionless for hours; the only sign of movement is the wind ruffling their feathers. When they take flight they glide low over the ground. Then with a few short strokes of their wings they gain height and settle again on another high vantage point – to wait.

It all started with emails from Bruce County Birders. The Snowy Owls had arrived in more than normal numbers. This was something that doesn’t happen every year. Sightings were posted. Locations changed from day to day. The excitement was palpable. The news sent all serious birders on a quest. The search was part of the excitement. Those that found them were happy to send their photographs.

Our first sighting was early in the morning driving down Bruce Road 3 at 80km an hour…one solitary bird, high above the road on a hydro pole in the breaking dawn light. It was an accidental view, a fleeting glance but a glance nonetheless. We crisscrossed the county a number of times after that. Finally, one sunny day, on our way out of Paisley towards Underwood we saw four of them. They sat quietly for their portraits waiting for us to be done.

Looking at them I got the impression that they were unimpressed with the whole procedure. If I were a Snowy Owl looking down at all these people with their binoculars and cameras with protruding lenses I would probably be wondering what all the fuss was about.

But I’m not a Birder or a Snowy Owl. 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 5, 2012 at 5:21 PM