Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Owen Sound


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Wind whipped the overhead wire back and forth in a tight oscillating pattern. Gripping tightly with its tiny claws the Shrike wavered slightly but, as birds do, it held on. We stopped quickly. C. and N. were beside themselves with excitement as the window went down and the binoculars came out. On their urging, I grabbed my camera and opened the car door both at the same time. The wind blew it closed on my leg that was half in and half out. I swore, pushed it open and clicked away. A sighting documented cannot be argued with. And getting on the list is what its all about.

It wasn’t the greatest day for shooting; typical November weather, grey, overcast and blustery. The Shrike was a “bird by chance” on our way home down the Allenford Road.

Birders have this unique ability to scan countryside and drive at the same time. It also helps to have good brakes since stopping suddenly and often is part of the routine.  We had been out birding. Or rather the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, heavily stacked with members of the Bruce Birding Club, were. I was just along for ride. My objective was to shoot some pictures.

November has colours all its own. November is all brown, wet, beige, golden, dark and gunmetal grey. You could see it in the grasses as they bent to the wind, their bushy beige heads waving in unison.

But, there is a chill-infused brilliance to November. You can see it when the early sunsets bring a light that is a photographer’s dream. But not today, today was typically bleak.

There was one blast of colour, though. A tiny Oxeye Daisy lay close to ground beside a big rock, the white of its petals and the depth of its yellow centre bordered by its rich green leaves, stood out sharply among the surrounding dark earth and pebbles.

It was well past its time. But for some reason it decided to bloom bold and rich in spite of the lateness of the season. Such contrast can only leave you with a smile.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

November 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM


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Video courtesy of Peter McNeice as posted on The Saugeen Times

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A few months back I received an invitation to join the Organizing Committee for the Saugeen Shores Olympic Torch Relay. I hesitated. But then I realized that the Olympic Flame would probably never pass this way again in my lifetime. So, I said yes. Good thing. I got to work with some wonderful, resourceful people and local media, all of whom gave their time and talent to all aspects of the task.

On a typical Saugeen Shores squall-filled night the Flame started at one end of Port Elgin and made its way down the highway to Southhampton, on to Saugeen First Nations and then to Owen Sound. Our trademark ‘horizontal snow’ did its worst. But the community didn’t care. They braved the winds and cold to line the streets and cheer the Torchbearers on. The flame went out a couple of times. The road was slippery. But the runners prevailed.

Afterwards they came back to the Plex for our after-party. As they entered the Green Room prior to their introduction, the looks on their smiling faces were priceless. And this is the thing…they were cold, tired, exhilarated and excited and so happy to be part of our local history. The squalls didn’t bother them a bit.

Noted broadcaster and Olympic Commentator Brian Williams was one of the Torchbearers. Between interviews with CTV and the local press, he was selfless and unselfish, posing for multiple photos with local dignitaries and anybody else that happened to be in the room. And he did this in spite of his worry about getting back to Toronto to make a morning flight to Saskatoon for the announcement of the men’s Olympic Hockey Team. There was rumour that they were closing the highway behind the Relay.

And they did. When I left the Plex to head home down Highway 21…the barriers were up. I knew all the alternate routes. Even though the squalls were coming directly off the lake, the Shore Road was open. It took me home.

I’m not sure what everyone else did that night…but the pubs were full. And I did see Brian on TV like he said he would be.


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Snow geese

Early on a November Sunday.

The sun had melted the frost that came by night and the remaining moisture hung in a haze over the Sound. The grass was still green. A few leaves, drained of colour remained on the trees. The day started out warm and comfortable. It was a typical ‘British Morning’. So says Peter, our guide for the day.

I am here looking out over Owen Sound with Birders from the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Now, I am not a birder. Far from it. But, I am outside, under an unbelievable blue sky, in the company of people who find staring at waterfowl from a distance, fascinating. They come armed with books; binoculars and spotting scopes, which make birding, look like a very expensive hobby.

As the day, progresses, and we scoot from location to location, literally circling the Sound from one shore to another searching for different species of ducks, geese and biggest genus of sea gull in the world…I am impressed. I am impressed with the fine points of difference between ducks and greater and lesser geese recently arrived, thanks to the shift in jet stream, from different parts of Canada’s north.

And there were firsts for me as well. I saw pure white Snow Geese for the first time. I had never seen Snow Buntings before. They’re big. And their winter plumage gives them hawk-like colouring. Across from the grain elevators on the foreshore just in front of the weeds a Great Blue Herron stood silent as a sentry.

Its regal head turned slowly as if watching me watching it through the binoculars. It too, is big.

I learned that is it OK to talk, but softly, as you approach birds sitting close to shore. You won’t spook them this way. They know you’re not a threat if they hear and see you. Why? Because predators move swiftly and silently.

I learned that birders never stop birding. A prime example of this happened on Grey Road One as we drove past Cobble Beach. Peter, from the open window in the lead vehicle, frantically waving and pointing skyward, suddenly pulled off the road. We scrambled to follow suit without a long rear-ender. He jumped out and ran from car to car. There up in the sky, just above us, a Bald Eagle was gracefully riding the wind off Georgian Bay in lazy circles. It must have been a crazy sight to the motorists that zipped by us…14 people with binoculars trained on a dark, white-headed bird who couldn’t care less.

Birders know what to look for and where. They love nature. They love the land. They know what they’re doing. And I would follow them again just to be amazed at a world most of us tend to ignore.

Peter discovered this epitaph on a grave in Suffolk. The author was not recorded but the date was 1560:

The wonders of this world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades:

These I saw.

Look ye also, while life lasts

Good advice.


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EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR BUSINESS…at least they think they do.

One of the idiosyncrasies of small town Ontario that I’ve yet to get use to is the one the lets you think you can live anonymously in your community. If you come from away, you immediately forfeit your privacy. Any unfamiliar face on the street suffers intense scrutiny. Your identity must be made known. The townies will not rest until your past and your present is revealed or, at best, subject to some subtle investigation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Most new-kids-in-town expect some scrutiny. They’ve taken up a new life, in a new place by choice. Making new friends is part and parcel of fitting in. The prying of new neighbours is, at first blush, kind of fun. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?

What is kind of unnerving though, is when they look at you and say,

“Oh, you’re the ones who bought the old such & such place,” and then fall silent, and look at you sideways, watching you try to figure what they really mean.

Case in point. Not long ago my son bought 42 acres of untouched meadow next to a site protected by the Grey/Bruce Conservation Authority. It was an old farm, long abandoned close to Big Bay. It had a sawmill, at one time. The original house, barn and out buildings were removed after the Niagara Escarpment people ordered an Environmental Assessment. (It passed.)

Eventually he will build his family a home there. But right now it sports, a fire pit, a woodshed and a trailer – nothing else. It is his escape from the city.


The other weekend we enjoyed a picnic and some bird watching there. Afterwards we drove to Keppel Croft Gardens to wander their nature trail. My daughter-in-law was chatting with Dawn the owner. She mentioned that they were up visiting their property. Dawn innocently asked where it was. When told, she immediately responded, “Oh, you’re the ones who bought that old farm…lots of mosquitoes on that property. And you’ve put a caravan there. How long will you be living in it?”

My daughter-in-law destroyed their assumption that they were living in the trailer.  But she did plant the idea that an architecturally different home would soon be built on the land…just to give them something else to talk about.

Now Dawn will be telling everyone that a lovely young couple have taken the old storied farm that stood vacant for so long, under their wing.

Word sure gets around, doesn’t it? Well, at least now, they have a clearer picture. The owners of the old farm are no longer anonymous.



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I never considered myself part of a demographic. Never, that is, until I was notified of my eligibility to receive compensation for being of a certain age. Canada Pension wanted to give me back a meager portion of the countless dollars I had contributed all my working life.

            “Well, that’s OK,” I thought. “I’ve earned it. But, is that all there is?”

            What I realized, right then and there, was that I was now considered different.

My new classifications were Retired, Senior Citizen, Pensioner, a full-fledged member in good standing in the Golden Age Club and one step above Baby Boomers. As someone in their sunset years I am a statistic in that target group marketers and advertisers pursue with diligence and diffidence.

            I don’t like being pigeonholed much less being considered old. All of that ageism comes with the stigma of someone who can finally spend the rest of their life on the golf course, taking bus tours, gardening, looking after their grandchildren, reading or getting lost in that insidious little screen.

            I have learned, though, that there are those of us who, as Dylan Thomas said, rage against the dying of the light. We are the retired ones who don’t considered ourselves retired. We still get involved by spending our days actively pursuing whatever it is that keeps our brains from going soft.

            I met a group of these very people the other day at the Legion in Owen Sound. I was there to attend a lecture sponsored by the Kiwanis Golden K Club. The primary purpose of their organization is geared to helping others. They spend their days in volunteer work. They were sharp in their observations and decisive in what they wanted to do.

They were smiling and friendly to an outsider like myself. These folks, much older than I, stay committed in spite of their personal health problems.

            Some say that in old age we become like children again. If so, there was a childish delight in how they went about their business. There was innocence in their attitude belied by a sense of purpose honed by years of experience. In short, they were sharp. Not old.

            They were elders.

            And doesn’t that term have a resonance to it. Elders. Our First Nations respect and seek the advice and council of their Elders. It’s the same with other indigenous peoples. They’ve done so for decades because with age comes experience, wisdom and knowledge that the young have yet to encounter.

            Perhaps we need to do away with all the labels sewn into the fabric of those who have reached that time in their lives. Give us our due. Call us Elders. And we will pass on all that we know of this world.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 21, 2009 at 7:16 PM