Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘winter


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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

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March 22, 2014 at 2:56 PM


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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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“Have a good winter,” she said.

“You too,” I replied, not realizing exactly what she meant.

Then it quickly struck me. She said, “WINTER, not DAY…Have a nice WINTER.” This wasn’t the customary well-wishing you expect from the friendly salespeople at Highberry Farms.

Looking around I saw that most of the pumpkins were gone. The bins were empty of vegetables. The cupboard was bare so to speak. That’s when I realized that this was ‘goodbye.’ At least until next spring. They were closing down for the winter.

We drove to Smith’s Apple Orchard. The chalkboard out front had SOLD OUT scratched in beside all of the apple varieties. Inside their bins were empty too, except for squash. The last of the apple pies were baked and being scooped up by the few customers that were there. Along with the fresh baked pies, the ladies were grabbing the uncooked frozen pies to store over the long cold months. This was Smith’s last day as well.

Down on the beach, the steel poles for the snow fences are up. Most farmer’s fields are harvested. Hunting season opens tomorrow. Armen’s is closed. There are no motorcycles. Traffic is normal.

All is quiet. Southampton sleeps.

On this last day of October, the town readies itself.

Winter is coming.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 31, 2010 at 4:14 PM


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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


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I left Bruce Road 10 and turned down the River Road where the Saugeen River runs through a slight valley with farm fields rising up on either side. The nights have been cold these past few weeks and I wanted to see if ice had taken over and slowed the usually fast-flowing water. Sometimes this ice builds to such an extent that it heaves itself up the banks on to the edge of the shoulder. Thick frozen chunks, slabs, branches, even huge tree trunks end up stacked along the roadside…nature’s traffic barrier. It isn’t wise to drive this road in early spring, especially if there’s a melt. Mud and water usually turn the unpaved surface into a quagmire. That’s when they close the road. The ice is building. But it will be some time before things turn dramatic.

As I approached Smith’s Apple Orchard ( ) I noticed  that the entire area was fenced off…perhaps to keep the deer away…for there  were tracks everywhere. Then the colour of his dwarf trees caught my eye.  Hanging languidly on the bare branches in the cold afternoon sun, like winter  blossoms, were apples, not quite red, frozen and obviously abandoned. The  lush summer-fall reds had faded to a rusty hue. The winter had frozen the life  out of them. Without the contrasting green of the leaves the orchard was a  barren, desolate sight. Tree after tree supported the shriveling fruit on  branches drooping slightly to the snow. Nature exacts its toll on what we leave  behind.

What does Steve Smith do with these when he comes to prune sometime in February, I wondered. Perhaps these apples were left dormant for a winter harvest. Perhaps he’s copying the vintners of Niagara and plans on making ice cider this year. Perhaps not.

Looking on the bright side, the orchard’s colour broke the monotony of the winter white that lay all around me.


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“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer…”

Ah yes, Richard, Duke of Glouster pontificating on how good things are…or can be…or at least appear to be. And in our realm of reality, as we look forward to summer…what is it that we have to wax poetic about?

Folks up here have just about had it with winter. I’ve heard many long time residents complain that it has gone on long enough. Those that take a break down south and return are dismayed to see nothing has changed. Winter hasn’t gone anywhere.

It is cold now. Some grass is showing. Ice is back in the river. And even though spring is just around the corner, the word is – enough!

What else? Well! Tim Hortons (after much controversy) is here and thriving. Walmart (after much controversy) arrived this winter. Is it hurting local business? One look down Port Elgin’s main street will have you wondering where all the cars are…they’re in Walmart’s gigantic parking lot. Are main street merchants suffering? Some say yes. Some say I told you so.

Still, Council forges on allowing monster Drug Store chains (with much controversy) to keep building bigger. How many drug stores does a population of approximately 12,000 people really need?

The Port Elgin library opens its doors with bright, new bigger space…and debt. Fund raising is tough these days.

There’s one hell of a debate at Council, in the newspapers, on-line, in editorials, and letters to the editor about the need (or not) for a new swimming pool. Everyone has an opinion and an idea of what and where it should be. Everyone, though, takes pause with the nine million plus price tag. There’s an insightful letter to the editor about it at Read it if you live in Saugeen Shores and be amazed at what is going on and what we seem to have gotten ourselves into.

There’s not much one can do about any of this…except tough it out. Things always look better in the warm sunshine.

Macs Redux

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The Trials of Living in a Small Town

In my very first Blog on this site I wrote about the routine pleasure of venturing out for my morning paper.

“Big city newspapers don’t get home delivery in small towns. Which means getting out of bed, getting dressed, getting in your car and driving into town to Mac’s Milk on Highway 21 to see if the Star has made it from Toronto three hours down the road.”

That was back in January 2008.

A year later nothing has changed. I’m still a creature of a habit that relentlessly starts my day, regardless of weather. There’s the odd time that the Star doesn’t make it. So I make do with the Globe or the Owen Sound Sun Times. There was one stretch where the Star was consistently late and the others were on time. I sent off an email to TorStar but they never answered. They probably don’t care about some small town complainer. Where’s the equity in making me happy?

Notwithstanding (love that word) I came smack up against the reality of small town living this morning. Macs was closed. The lights were on. The door was locked. The place was empty. And there was no way I could get my hands on a morning paper.

Just then, the guy who delivers the papers arrived with what I wanted. 

“Where are they?” he said.

“I dunno,” was my simple reply.

“Guess I’ll just leave them out here. I got other deliveries to make in Port.”

“But it’s snowing.”

“Too bad. They’re wrapped.”

“Can I take one? They know me. I’m a regular. I’ll pay them tomorrow.”

He looked at me like I was some kind of thief. “Nope. They count ‘em. If they’re short, it costs me.”

Tempted as I was, I resisted. As I watched him leave I realized that there was no other place in town that (a) had papers and (b) were open. Southampton was deserted.

And that’s the thing about small towns. You can’t always get what you want. Here in Southampton there’s one radio station and it doesn’t program Jazz or Classical Music. The local paper only comes out once a week. The Saugeen Times is up-to-date and available daily online but it’s not the same as holding and folding newsprint. Nobody carries the weekend New York Times and there’s no bookstore that stocks newspapers from around the world.

Am I complaining? Not really. Are there things I miss? Definitely!

But, yesterday, driving along Lake Huron’s shoreline we saw two Bald Eagles riding on the wind. This morning they glided high above my backyard.img_41481
Deer tracks crisscross the snow. They wander through scratching for wild apples in the snow and munching on tender Sumac branches.

The fishing boats are out of the water and dry-docked in the harbour parking lot. 

img_40341There is pack ice on the shoreline and floes floating down the river towards the harbour mouth.

Winter sunsets burn up the sky. A full moon lights up my neighbourhood. Walking after a snowstorm leads you through pristine paths. And winter quiet has restoratives powers you just can’t buy in the big city.

I never did get my paper. I went back after 7:00 AM and Macs was still closed. Tomorrow morning, I’ll ask them what happened.





Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 19, 2008 at 6:55 PM


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Slowly – at trolling speed – a solitary fisherman guides his boat under the Albert Street Bridge and turns into the shadows along the shore of the Saugeen hardly leaving a wake. The sun is burning its way through the trees casting a trail of sparkling diamonds on the water.

High in the blue western sky the waning moon is still visible. Yesterday evening, in its fullness, this harvest moon lit up the night with an eerie silver light. But, it’s done now.

There’s a chill in the morning air. Frost sits on roof tops and covers lawns with a white tint. Mist rises over the river’s surface. The vivid fall colours are close to over. Some trees are already bare. A cold wind stripped them the other day. Now they lay in haphazard piles on the lawns, in the fields on sidewalks and roads, their colours dying. They decay into dust or mush depending on the heaviness of the morning dew. Walking though them creates a rustle that makes you smile.

Sunsets are earlier. Sunrise is later. Snow fences are going up along the beach. Summer people are boarding up their homes and cottages. Summer is long gone. 

Southampton is known for its sunsets. Tourists gather all summer long at the big flag on the shore of the lake to watch and listen as the Piper provides background music for the sun’s setting. Our sunrises, on the other hand, are seldom celebrated. And what a shame.

The best place to watch the rising sun is from the bridge. It gives you a long view down the Saugeen. So you can watch the big golden ball climbing up over the horizon and throwing its light down on the river bringing a completely different brand of beauty.

The river is a good indicator of the change. There are fewer boats on shore. Most of the docks are in. Only one or two still remain. Ducks and Cormorants are heading south. Some of the summer residents have done so as well. Highberry Farms’ migrant workers will be heading home to the warmth of Mexico in a few days. Southampton is quite. All the signs are there. We are relentlessly moving towards winter.

As the sun rises over the river and the trees reflect themselves on the surface it is hard to imagine the freeze that’s coming. How thick will the ice be?  Will the town people gather on the harbour shore – day after day – waiting and watching for the ice out – as they did two winters ago?

These are questions for the coming cold. For now, the Saugeen basks in the morning sun…waiting.



Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 18, 2008 at 10:45 PM