Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Saugeen River


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Eight years ago, when the thought of retirement began to creep into the routine of our frenetic city life, the idea of finding quietude and simplicity in a place close to nature became a worthy objective. We knew of Southampton. Friends of ours retired in this simple summer town spreading up from the shore of Lake Huron at the mouth of the Saugeen River. The Bruce Peninsula, with all its natural allure and waiting-for-us-to- discover trails, was full with the promise of a much simpler life. Saugeen Shores would be the ideal choice for us. Oh, we were aware of the size of the nearby Bruce Nuclear Plant. Yes, we saw the Wind Turbines at the Information Centre. But we never gave either a second thought. We found our Shangri La, so to speak. The quiet contentment we were looking for would be all around us.

Not so today.

There is a fault line running under the length of Saugeen Shores. Two tectonic plates, one the proliferation of Wind Turbines (especially the C.A.W. Turbine), the other the proposed Deep Geological Repositories (DGR) for Nuclear Waste, shift and grate against each other. This once quiet community has become a community of protestors. Concerned citizens have formed committees against both. There are coalitions, review panels, mountains of research on both sides, accusations against local politicos, a claimed lack of transparency from council and nuclear authorities and the specter of a hosting agreement that suggests that surrounding municipalities are receiving upwards of $500,000 annually to support DGR plans. It is said that these municipalities will be splitting a 34 million dollar windfall by 2034 for their willingness to back the DGR. Conflict of interest, closed door meetings, a lack of transparency and questions of resident support all add to the tremors now shaking the foundations of innocence that once bolstered this town.

It saddens us to see this happen. This kind of controversy isn’t what we expected when we retired here.

Even so, our life hasn’t changed. There is still a slow, simple pace to our daily comings and goings.

With the potential of nuclear waste beneath us and wind turbine turbulence surrounding us, perhaps the magnitude of the controversy will one day change things. Perhaps not.

Right now it matters little. The reality of the DGR, if it happens, is decades away. Past the time when we will even care.

Upcoming generations will be affected. They should get involved now. From what I’ve seen they are not.

Meantime, we will live our lives as we intended. For all of the back-and-forth, the finger-pointing, the denials, the he-said-they-said and the hand-wringing – the sun still shines – most days.


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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


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Early the other morning I went to Macs to pick up my usual paper.  High on their pillar just below their big logo was a sign that caught my eye – Worms & Spawn 24 Hours – it said.

Now Macs has just recently decided to stay open 24/7. And I guessed, given that it is the favourite stop for local fishermen, that they were well in tune with their market and decided to stock bait somewhere inside the store as an added revenue souce. Perhaps in a cooler next to the coffee machine. Thats where most of the guys head when they pop in at 6:00 AM before they hit the water.

But as I stepped out of my car I discovered otherwise. There, just beside the door, was a new vending machine. The words – LIVE BAIT – closely followed by a smiling worm doffing his Top Hat beside the line – Guaranteed Fresh -immediately got my attention.

Now, I know that vending machines or ‘automatic retailing’ is capable of putting just about anything up for sale anyhere that’s convenient. These machines run the gamut from simple to surreal. You can get anything – french fries, ramen noodles, Buddist prayer beads, condoms, snacks, drinks, and anything in between. The Japanese lead the world in this area. They even have vending machines that will wash and blow-dry your dog. Google tells me that the very first recorded reference of a vending machine was in an Alexandrian Egyptian Temple. It accepted a coin and dispensed a small amount of holy water.

How far we’ve come.

Today we have dew worms living in a steel rectangle. And with the right coin it will dispense 8 of them…or 8 bags of spawn…or 1 Mr. Twister Jig Head plus 9 assorted heads. I stood looking at this thing and smiled. Only in a small town I thought.

And why not.

The boats are meandering at trolling speed up and down the Saugeen right now. Fishermen at Denys Dam are standing in their waders knee deep casting into the slower water. Cars are line up at Fisherman’s Park. Others fish from the shore on either side of the bridge. The big white trawlers are lined up in the harbour.

Spring is here. It is time.

What could be more right than a vending machine for live bait in our little town. And full credit goes to the folks at Macs for thinking of it!


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Long shadows lie across fresh snow. If you look closely you can see them stretching out as the sun moves slowly down behind the trees on its way to setting. Its as if they are reaching out to touch the tracks left behind by wandering deer. Its as if they want to erase the imperfections on the surface by hiding them in lines of grey.

Last night the moon lit up the dark sky as if it was dawn. Folklore says wolves are hungriest in late January, which is why their howling sounds so sad. That’s how the first full moon of the New Year came to be called The Wolf Moon.

The squalls are over now. From out of the bush birds sprint in irregular flight patterns. Their fast is over. Finches, Juncos, Chickadees and Nuthatches swarm the feeders. They peck and dart at each other with a ferocity that suggests they are frantic that the seeds will run out. This break in the weather is a chance for them to fuel-up, to store the energy they need to keep them alive through the cold nights. A pair of Cardinals waits patiently in the tree watching for a break in the ongoing melee. Their colour gives them a certain distinction, but the others are not impressed.

Snow crunches under foot. It is cold. Ice has taken over the river’s surface all the way down to the harbour mouth. Usually brown, the Saugeen’s water is now a solid white. Solid enough, at least, to support some animal that left its tracks crossing from one bank to the other. There is ice floating in the still open water of the lake. Far out towards the horizon, drifting on the wind, you would think small icebergs are heading for shore. But, the shore is a line of peaks and valleys now. Incoming surf freezes and builds on the pack ice, creating a miniature mountain range of ice on the once sandy beach.

Rising wood smoke hangs in the crisp air. Breathe in and the scent of cedar makes you smile. The sound of the snow plough sweeps through the stillness of the day. Snow blowers churn, spin, scrape, swallow and spit out wide arcs of what clogged the driveways for the last four days. Their sounds belong to this time of year but seem so out of place with the portrait I’ve been looking at.

Winter’s touch is everywhere, on everything and contradictory at the best of times.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 31, 2010 at 8:26 PM

The Snow Blower Brotherhood.

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The snow blows horizontally here in Southampton. That’s one of the first things we noticed during the first days of our first winter in our new hometown. The squalls come in off Lake Huron and blow down the Saugeen River behind our house, sculpting drifts that shift with the wind leaving my driveway sometimes clean and most times buried.

Having lived in Sault Ste. Marie and Montreal, I’m no stranger to snow, deep or drifted. But living in Toronto spoiled me with those once-or-twice-a-winter storms. So, I had to get used to shoveling all over again. And it hurt. It hurt my back. It hurt my knees. It hurt my self-image of having the never-ending strength of someone use to hard, physical work.

Finally, after four years of digging out after the snowplow passed…after enviously watching my neighbours effortlessly clear their snow with mechanical ease…after a continually aching back, I realized that joining them was the only way my aging body would survive future winters.

So, I bought a snow blower.

And, it’s a beauty. I got me a red, Honda HS724 with Hydrostatic Transmission and electric everything. It has tracks instead of wheels. I can control the angle and height of the chute with a video game type toggle, no manual cranking, no manual anything. Just set it and go, forward or reverse. Twenty minutes and I’m done. I’ve never been happier.

Right now, there are cleaning patterns to work out, wind direction and speeds to content with, all of which are proving to be a pleasant learning curve.

My neighbours have all been by to inspect and comment on my new machine. And they approve.

Now, after the squalls have had their fun, I don my lined Kamicks, my Tough Duck bib overalls, my Honda Red Parka, pull on my toque, take up my position behind my machine and turn the key. It starts first time, every time. Then I set her in gear and follow her to the driveway. I raise my hand to my neighbours – the sign of the brotherhood – and then I blow snow…with a smile on my face.

A Quickening Of The Heart

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I just got back from a couple of days in the Big City…Toronto that is.

For years it was where I lived, the place where I was born, the city I was constantly leaving and inevitably coming back to. On return trips by train, plane or automobile, there were familiar landmarks that quickened my heart, telling me that I was almost home.

Driving up the small rise just before you exit the Queen E on to the Gardner the sight of Lake Ontario’s shoreline and Toronto’s Skyline never failed to make me smile. (So did the slight feeling of being airborne if you hit the rise at the right speed.)

Flying over the city at night was magical. I could spot landmarks from the air. I always knew which runway we were to land on from the direction of our approach. If we banked out over the lake then leveled off, I could see the street where I lived. That’s when the blood returned to my knuckles.

Entering Toronto by train brought me through the bottom of the city. Coming in from the West the lake and greenery of Sunnyside were certainly prettier than the industrial wasteland of the East end. Either way, pulling into the grandeur of Union Station always told me that I was in the city at the centre of the Canadian universe. At least, that’s what Torontonians believe.

But, all of this fails to impress me now. Now, I come to Toronto reluctantly and leave as quickly as I can. Whenever I’m there, I’m always planning my exit.

And this time, as I made my escape, it suddenly dawned on me; Toronto is no longer where I come from. Southampton is. And this reality, this transition happened effortlessly. I can’t remember suffering any withdrawal, homesickness or regret as a result of my leaving.

Racing everyone along the 401 speedway and up the 427, I realized that the pace of the city no longer excited me like it once did. Toronto was no longer my kind of town.

My blood pressure settled as we turned on to Highway 10. We were driving into quietude. There was no construction congestion, just the openness of farm fields freshly ploughed, that vivid just grown greenery breaking out everywhere, the soy bean fields now a brilliant buttercup yellow, all under a great big brilliantly blue sky.

And then, as soon as I saw the Saugeen River beside me on Highway 21, it happened. I knew I was home. Past the Range Light and across the bridge was the harbour with the sun glistening like fool’s gold on the water. That quickening of the heart I once experienced came over me. Only this time Southampton was the inspiration.

Yes, I come from away, as the locals describe us. Yes, I was once a ‘citidiot’ the name they sometimes use when they refer to newcomers. But I consider myself an adopted son now…a Southamptoner (Southamptonite?) I’ve happily traded the shores of Lake Ontario for the shores of Lake Huron, hazy smog for brilliant sunsets, hustle and bustle for peace and quiet, the fast lane for the slow lane, competition for contemplation.

There is a marvelous passage from The Place No One Knew by an unknown author, which sums it all up:

“You want a place where you can be serene, that will let you contemplate and connect two consecutive thoughts…that can stir you up as you were made to be stirred up, until you blend with the wind and water and earth you almost forgot your came from…There must be room enough for time – where the sun can calibrate the day, not the wristwatch, for days or weeks of unordered time, time enough to forget the feel of the pavement and to get the feel of the earth and of what is natural and right.”

I have found that place…right here, in Southampton.

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