Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘bruce county


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Side roads. Concession roads. Hardtop and hard-pack gravel. Graded and ungraded. Rutted and rain-eroded. They can get your car dust covered or mud caked depending on weather and which road you’re on. They are Bruce County two-lanes leading you everywhere and not necessarily where you want to go.


We often drive these Bruce County back-roads. She is looking for birds. I’m looking for pictures. I don’t care much about shooting birds. My meager 250 mm lens fails in comparison to some of the big glass that other shooters carry. Most times, birds are just too far way to capture anything decent.


I’m OK with that. I’m more interested in what was…the abandoned barns and farmhouses, the fences, the fallen in roofs and stone foundations…the what’s-left-on-the-land from times gone away.


The structures that faced years of winds and weather, that struggled to stay upright and remain proud of what they provided to their hard-working owners…structures of shelter and warmth, places, markers that families once called home.

Some markers are different.


This pockmarked weathered stone, its carved inscription unreadable, sits solitarily, a sentinel overlooking a vista of fields un-ploughed or planted. It seems out of place. More often than not you’ll see clusters of resurrected tombstones sitting on the side of secondary roads salvaged from some long forgotten cemetery to make room for more farmable fields. This one stands alone.

Cloud shadows silently drift across the fields it watches over. Why is it there? Is there meaning in its placement? Or is it just a photo-op for a wandering amateur with a camera? I doubt if I will ever know. But I take the shot anyway and move on.


There is a great deal more to discover and capture on these roads.


So we drive on.


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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


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What do you do with yourself when you have all the time in he world?

Ghandi had some good advice – Live as if you were to die tomorrow ~ Learn as if you were to live forever.

Learn! Discover! Re-educate yourself! An old U.S. advertising campaign for education use to sign off with these words ~ a mind is a terrible thing to waste; to which I would add ~ especially when you retire.

Of all the idiosyncrasies that come with old age, the closing of your mind, in my mind, is potentially the most debilitating. Retirement should not mean the retirement of your thirst for knowledge, your curiosity, or your quest for an understanding of what the world is all about. The meaningful learning opportunities that exist for the inquiring mind suddenly open up to the one who has the time and the desire to pursue them.

You would be surprised how easy it is to put yourself in a learning situation. In my part of the world I was happy to discover a small cottage industry of seminars and lectures conveniently available for a small fee. Most are offered by not-for-profit, volunteer managed organizations.

If you live in Grey/Bruce County check out The Bluewater Association for Lifelong Learning In Collingwood there is the Georgian Triangle Lifelong Learning Institute Saugeen Shores offers The Chantry Institute Lecture Series .They also feature recorded seminars with world renown scientists in The Perimeter Institute Public Lecture Series  And there is so much more if you look for it. All of these lectures are delivered by active and retired teachers, university professors, artist, writers, scientists, and highly placed working professionals who unselfishly share their time and knowledge with those who want to learn.

Winston Churchill sarcastically said ~  I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like to be taught. Well, the pressure to learn now becomes the pleasure of learning. There are no questions other than the ones you want to ask. There are no exams. You control the curriculum. Topics you never had time for, those subjects that were once a mystery, everything you ever wondered about, is spread out before you. The hardest thing you have to do is pick and choose.

Enlightenment, inspiration and information are out there for the mind open and curious enough to seek.


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Winter driving is nerve wracking at the best of times. Winter driving on county roads with wide-open farm fields on either side is hardly any fun at all. I always wondered why farmers never planted windbreaks on the road-side-edge of their fields. You always see a tree line running 90 degrees to the highway marking off sections for pastures and planted crops. But never parallel to it. So when the wind blows, it moves surface snow off their land and on to the roads. One is always mindful of wind direction (among other things) when setting out on long drives.

We watch the sky too. High Cirrus clouds predict fair weather. By watching their movement you can tell from which direction weather is approaching. When you see Cirrus clouds you know a change in weather is 24 hours away. High thin, sheet-like Cirrostratus Clouds that often cover the entire sky usually come 12-24 hours before a snowstorm. The Cirrocumulus clouds usually indicate fair, but cold weather. When we see gray or blue-gray mid level Altostratus clouds covering the entire sky we wonder. They’re made up of ice crystals and water droplets. And Altostratus clouds often form ahead of storms of continuous snow.

Local radio stations give you the weather. They tell you about road closures. Whenever we’re under a Snow Squall Warning we can predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, where the OPP will set up their barricades.

Then there’s the Internet. Its always fun to compare The Weather Network’s and Environment Canada’s forecasts. They are never the same. Environment Canada is more accurate. The Weather Network is more optimistic. Although they do give you an hourly breakdown. But Environment Canada gives you radar and a complete list of road conditions.

Usually, a day or two before we have to drive any distance, we check all of them. If there’s a 40 % chance of snow in the forecast and if the winds are any higher than 30 km per hour…we have second thoughts about going. Even though we drive a 4×4 with snow tires…we think twice about driving. We’ve been caught, day and night, too many times by miserable weather.

Snow Squalls are blinding. We drive in the middle of the road, high beams on, as much as we can. We leave space. We slow down. When we loose sight of cars ahead of us, we slow down even more. We’ve learned to hang well behind snowploughs as they throw back the equivalent of a blizzard when they move fast. We learned how long it takes between towns and memorized the distance so we always know when and where we can safely wait out the squalls if we have to. We are cautious when we have to drive. Maybe its a sign of old age.

As terrible as this all sounds, there are days – when the sun is high – the sky blue – the air crisp with floating ice crystals – when long, smoky shadows fall across pure white frost-crusted snow – and wind drifts swirl like a whirling dervish off roadside snow shoulders – when circling hawks hang in the air – and the road is dry – that you marvel at the beauty of a winter’s drive in the country.


Gateway – Signs of the Times

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Somewhere, on a continuum of approval, lies the prospect of new Gateway Signs for Southampton and Port Elgin.

Those are the installations that greet visitors and locals alike as they drive into either town. It’s all part of a Bruce County signage strategy. Which is all well and good. But, there seems to be a problem. No one can agree on anything. The curse of committee consensus is upon the project. Which is not a surprise.

Consensus is not a creative force. Good design is seldom the end result of approval committees. Public Meetings, Focus Groups and research can provide direction, but, more often then not, they are misinterpreted and their dictums carved in stone. Everyone has a different take on objectives, creative strategy and tactics. A quick reading of all the articles on this subject proves me accurate.

What is even more surprising is that a American Firm is charged with designing for small town Ontario. More surprising is  that the cost of these Gateway Signs is approximated at $40,000 to $50,000. Really! Just looking at some of their proposals shows you how off-base they are.



I have only one question – Are there not creative, competent design houses in Canada? Having worked in the business, I would have to say “Yes!” Why we went across the border for an American interpretation of our County is beyond me. That’s a question for Bruce County Tourism.

Nonetheless, I can’t recall the Port Elgin sign. But, the one for Southampton features a visual of the Imperial Light on Chantry Island and the line – “The Oldest Port on the Bruce Coast.” You can’t turn around in ‘South’ without seeing some replica/picture of that beacon. And so it should be.

The Chantry Island Light

The Chantry Island Light

The lighthouse identifies the town. That place, where the Saugeen flows into Lake Huron, the reference to the harbour, radiates years of historical importance.

It’s a great sign. Relevant, intriguing and instant in its communication. Sure it could stand a little freshening up – or some new reincarnation – but it needs no more than that. Southampton’s Gateway Sign needs no change as far as content is concerned.

Port Elgin faces a bigger challenge. Committees, consensus and politics are bad designers. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. I wish them luck.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 21, 2009 at 10:55 PM