how to see wine country in two and half days (with wine being only a smallish — though pleasant — part of things)

 

Avoid traffic. Leave early. Eat your banana breakfast in the car.

Somewhere in the countryside near Beamsville realize you’ve forgotten your notebook so stop at a back-roads Dollar Store and find a gorgeous red spiral bound one with creamy lined pages.

Let the holidaying begin.

Quick stop at a winery you heard makes a raw and organic beverage without sulphur. Anticipate a pleasant conversation. Be disappointed. Your host is a cranky soul who should a) have stayed in bed, or b) better yet, avoid work that involves speaking to people, or maybe c) have some sulphur.

Go directly to lunch on a shaded patio with a view that is so lovely you forget to take a picture. Also the fries are excellent.

Find a sleeveless polka dot blouse for $2 at a thrift shop.

Head to second winery (also no sulphur) where conversation (with owner/winemaker) is top notch and much is learned and wine samples are offered (siphoned) directly from fermenting barrels, a rare treat.

Make annual pilgrimage to house you grew up in. Marvel how stone planter your dad made two thousand years ago is still there, as are the chicks and hens he planted (consider calling Guinness… or is it normal for chicks and hens to live this long? Surely they owe their life to neglect). See Minerva (new owner) sitting on shady porch. Wander in to say hey ho and end up spending the better part of half an hour realizing she is as sweet as ever but losing her faculties and it won’t be long before she can’t manage the place and whoever buys it won’t be so welcoming and so perfectly and wonderfully eccentric. Chat away the time and ask to see the wildly overgrown backyard (because she has done almost no yard work since moving in a dozen years ago)  which still has the shrubs, trees, rocks and shells that your mum and dad put there, and see how the patio and carport your dad made is crumbling and a field of weeds blocks what was once a path along the blackberry bushes… but Minerva’s eyes are bright with love for the place. Isn’t it beautiful, she says, and it is, yes, it’s absolutely beautiful in the most bittersweet way. Ask to take pictures and she will say yes, dear, take all the pictures you want.

Share hotel pool with Serious Swimmer doing laps. Better than Marco Polo.
Dinner.
Walk along shoreline.

Discover remnants of old fort and be reminded of the people who used to live on this land (before forts). Do some research. Find out their names. Be reminded there wasn’t always a pedal pub pedaling by on the street at dusk with merry/raucous passengers singing Sweet Caroline. (Although, really, how raucous can anyone be while singing Sweet Caroline? )

Day Two:

Be happy that you are alone for morning swim. Until you aren’t. Until Serious Swimmer arrives, turning bliss into a wave pool. Pretend you are in the ocean.

Take three things to patio:  red notebook, breakfast date ball, peppermint tea.

Drive along Welland Canal as far as Thorold. Be surprised at how pretty the streets of Thorold are and how really extraordinary is this canal that connects Lake Ontario with the higher elevation of Lake Erie, a canal you grew up around, played Tom Sawyer on, but have never driven the entire length of (eight Locks) nor have ever seen the ‘steps’ of Locks 4, 5, and 6, which allow freighters to climb over the escarpment. Watch two freighters pass in opposite directions. One, coming into the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway and/or Atlantic Ocean, and the other, ocean bound. Watch a couple of sailors embark on ocean bound one. Chat with young family from Woodstock who share your awe. Wilt a little in the heat.

Continue to end of canal (Lock 8) at Port Colbourne where you see sand piles like those you remember from Lock 1 where, as a kid you used to climb them until someone realized they posed a danger of air pockets into which you or your friends could easily fall and suffocate and so they were removed. Probably coincident with the end of the unsupervised lawn darts era.

Stop at the most unlikely place to buy books (near Fort Erie). Buy several. Many of which will be donated to the library at a women’s shelter.

Find yourself on a heaven-sent patio overlooking Lake Erie eating freshly caught pickerel for lunch. (Heaven-sent because it’s the real deal, nothing fancy, great music, and on this scorching day it’s shaded, with an unexpected cool breeze off the lake that you learn is common, even constant, on this shore. A slice of old Crystal Beach.)

Stop at one more winery. Be grateful it’s air-conditioned, has a four-legged host (Simba), and an owner who talks you through the tasting while explaining the wine history of Turkey, from whence she and her partner came twelve years ago with zip wine knowledge.

Remind yourself that your parents, too, came to this country with their own variation of zip (and so many others!) and how proud they were to be all things Canadian, just like Simba’s mum and dad. Raise a glass to that.

Remind yourself of the people who lived here first. (Not as sweet a story.)

Another swim, another dinner, another walk, more tea on the patio.

Morning of last day.  Another book store and then farmers’ market where the bat mobile is picking up some new potatoes.

Be unaware of gallery hours and arrive a half hour before it opens. Be happy to have this time to sit in the shade of a park-like garden with a view of backyards and bridges and remember growing up in this town.

Inside gallery find Carolyn Wren’s exhibition celebrating “meditation in the repetitive tasks of life”, featuring installations such as the entire text of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own hand-embroidered on canvas, a video showing Wren hauling a sack of 50 one pound rocks up and down a hill, depositing a single rock each time she reaches the top (to a voice-over of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus). Dresses representing maps made for pilots during the war, made out of Dupont silk because they were light and durable, and which women used after the war… to make dresses. And more. So much more.

Take country roads to find a view for lunch.

Find (another) thrift shop en route and buy two pairs of jeans for a dollar each. Be told they’re on sale because who wears jeans in summer?? 

Who indeed.

Don’t attempt an answer.
Just embrace your one dollar summer jeans… and run.

More Niagara.

 

 

 

 

nova scotia, part three: how to visit three gardens

 
Find yourself driving from the Halifax airport to the Annapolis Valley when you see a sign for Coffee. Decide to stop, stretch your legs. It doesn’t matter that you don’t drink coffee, maybe they have something else, which they do… because you are at The Tangled Garden, which has not only beautifully out of season, unruly paths (devoid of other humans) that lead to a labyrinth, but also jams and spicy jellies and chairs made specifically for fairies.

Spend a good half hour walking the labyrinth.

And be so happy it’s October when there’s less to see so you can see it all.    **

A few days later in Annapolis Royal find yourself at the Historic Gardens where once again you are the only souls wandering this 17 acre space that abuts a wetland complete with dykes.

Enjoy an impromptu starling ballet.

**

A few days later still, in Halifax, spend the better part of a grey morning at the Public Gardens and marvel at this splendid bit of greenery in the heart of downtown.

Notice the extraordinary number of garbage cans in almost every conceivable space. (Regret not counting them.) And the corresponding lack of litter. Realize that you have never seen such generosity displayed (of the waste receptacle variety). There is even an off-stage area for garbage-cans-in-waiting, presumably in case any of the regulars get injured in some way.

Stop for tea at an oasis staffed by delightful young people. Be reminded of what a joy it is to come across people of any age who enjoy their work.

Take your rooibos chai outside to the deck where no one else dares to venture in October and watch those who wander the garden paths and wonder how it is that so many people are able to drink tea/coffee while walking. You have never mastered this skill nor do you want to as it seems to deny maximum pleasure of both activities.

Notice a man in a trench coat, a fedora and a bow tie.

Notice him stopping and looking at you from the path just beyond the deck.

When he says “Are you with the cruise?”, answer that no you are most definitely not nor would you ever be. Offer that there are a number of people inside the tea house and perhaps they are with the cruise if he’s looking for people from the cruise. He says he is not, he was just curious.

Realize that you are now engaged in conversation and that it’s only a matter of time before he walks up onto the deck and sits down at your little table and proceeds to talk for at least forty minutes, most likely longer, during which time you learn a multitude of things about him, not the least of which is that he is 83 years old and was once Harbour Master at the Port of Halifax and that under his trench coat he is wearing a leather blazer that he bought at a thrift shop for $2.00. He tells you that he often comes to the gardens to dance with his wife on a summer night when a band is playing and that they’re even on YouTube he says. (You will google this later and find that it’s true and then you will never be able to find the video again., which will be annoying as you write this post. Nuts, you will say.)

The best you have to offer is a furtive snap of him walking away after exiting the gardens together and agreeing it was lovely to meet.

**

Nova Scotia, Part Two: Two Hammocks

 

 

 

friday fete-ish

 
Although I haven’t worked in an office for years I still work office-ish hours.
So Fridays are very TGIF for me and this one in particular seemed in need of some goodness. A distraction, a need to play hookey, to get away from it all. Bird seed seemed the logical answer. So off I took myself to a nearby town where a source told me I could score some excellent Ethiopian nyger at the local feed shop.

I got twenty five pounds.

It was noon by then so I stayed for lunch. The first place I stopped didn’t want me to sit at a table by the window as I was just one person and that’s primo seating. So could I please move to another table at the back? No, as a matter of fact, no thank you… I do not care to sit at the worst table in a half filled room as penance for being a single diner.

Ta ta, said I.

And wandered down the street feeling oddly buoyant.

dsc08530The next place I landed reminded me why things happen the way they do. Had the other folks been nicer I may have never have discovered this  place, which not only said sit where you like — it was ten times busier, had a merry vibe, a shelf of books for reading not for decor, people actually seemed happy to see you and the food was out of this world delicious.

AND they had mussels… so………..

I read a cookbook about seasonal food.

dsc08529And had PEI for lunch.

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Moral of the story — How being faced with the unkind or unjust can still have a good outcome if you put your heart into it, trust your gut, stand for what you believe in, and other bodily metaphors… and how fete-ing myself on Fridays might just become a thing.

Also moral of the story — It’s one way to remain sane. 

reasons and benefits of aimless wandering

 

“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.” —Gertrude Stein DSC04920“To see things in their true proportion, to escape the magnifying influence of a morbid imagination, should be one of the chief aims of life.” — William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life (1899)

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“The constant remaking of order out of chaos is what life is all about, even in the simplest domestic chores such as clearing the table and washing the dishes after a meal…but when it comes to the inner world, the world of feeling and thinking, many people leave the dishes unwashed for weeks so no wonder they feel ill and exhausted.” — May Sarton, Recovering DSC04916“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the mind.” — EinsteinDSC04921

“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” — William Blake
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“The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.” — Yutang Lin
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“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” — Iris Murdoch DSC04912“The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.“ — Rainer Maria Rilke

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“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” — Gandhi
DSC04914“I once thought it was not worth sitting down for a time as short as [ten minutes]; now I know differently and, if I have ten minutes, I use them, even if they bring only two lines, and it keeps the book alive.” —Rumer Godden, A House with Four Rooms
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“Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.” — Diane Arbuscarin

“Do not hurry; do not rest.” — Goethe

“Never hurry, never worry.” — Charlotte’s Web

Now go eat some chocolate. (see Iris Murdoch instruction above)

 

 

i feel like juan du fuca (but in ontario and on land)

 
I discovered a beautiful thing today.

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A library in a town I’ve been to three thousand times. I don’t know how
I ever missed it other than to say I was likely distracted by the bakery.

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It’s in a house built in 1882 for $450. Originally owned by the Waddell family, local furniture magnates. They also owned a hotel in town and had some doings with a cheese factory. Big money in cheese.

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No official library in those days but there was a makeshift sort of lending service using 34 books the townsfolk gathered up and kept in various shop basements where, on various days, you could take out the latest best seller.

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One of the Waddell children, a lad, tried to start a flax business. I like his style. Sorry it didn’t work out.

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And, this is interesting… the Waddell daughter, in 1903, became the first Canadian woman to join the American Mathematics Association, which included women from not only the U.S. but the U.K., Canada and Europe.

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In 1969, the house was purchased by the Township Library Board and voila, presto bongo, the library opened in 1970, looking very much like a house with many books.

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I love how they’ve kept it authentic in feel. The ceilings are high. The floors are original.

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And it’s so, so, so… quiet.  Which is something I miss in libraries. (Whatever happened to stern women with buns shushing everyone??)

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I’m told there was talk some years ago of closing it down because it doesn’t meet somebody’s idea of “adequate usage” or whatever, and the town went ape shit and, long story short, the adequate usage people decided to keep it open.

Going ape shit for a good cause is not to be under-rated.

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And because this gorgeous bit of brick and mortar history—and the slice of sanity it provides—isn’t enough on its own… you’ll be happy to know it happens to sit on an acre or so of treed land with oodles of parking and a large gazebo that begs to be read on.

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As in aloud.

As in what a great space for a literary event.

The Juan du Fuca Literary Event we could call it.

An ocean of flax would be our logo.

And something with cheese.

a post about nothing at all

 
I meet a friend mid-way between her town and mine in a town the size of a walnut that neither of us know.

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The kind of place where you can buy a summer dress, ice cream and a box of worms in the same store. Time-saving ingenuity, this, and sadly lacking in larger urban centres.

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My friend brings her dog, a border collie named Becky, whose goal, given the amount of attention she gives the trees and hydrants, is to pretty much own the town.

We wander through the cemetery (where it always feels too weird to take pictures) and talk about people who come to tend their loved one’s graves and those who don’t and how it’s impossible to judge these things.

A reminder about judgment generally.

I tell her about a certain Olive and Burt, who now reside in the ground side by side but for years it was just Olive that was buried and her plot was never without the most beautiful arrangements, Bird of Paradise, that kind of thing. I’d notice them when I went to visit my sister there. Then one day the flowers stopped. Soon after Burt’s name was added to the headstone.

Here people leave more ‘things’ than flowers and I wonder why that is. Stuffed animals, a yellow toy truck, one of those windmilly doodads you hold up as you run and it flutters… I wonder at the stories behind them all. My favourite is the solar powered dog light. No story required.

We walk down side streets where the houses are made for jewellery’d windows…

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…and the porches for sitting a while.

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And if you’re wondering where all the flamingos went, they’re here in this walnut-sized town.

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We walk across Becky’s newly christened bridge…

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… past places no one has the heart to tear down but which I would love to see used and maintained before they fall down.

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There’s a gas station, a grocery store, a place to sit outside and eat fish and chips, a shady corner to park the cars…

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…and a bakery that opens at 5 a.m. to feed farmers and town workers and people driving into the city, and people who come in later too, people who’ve known each other close to forty years and still don’t run out of things to say, who come to do nothing at all except wander in this nut-sized town and eat freshly baked cheese bread with a few deli slices on the side…

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roadside attractions (aka: perspective)

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“There are always flowers for those that want to see them.”

—Henri Matisse. DSC03364DSC03365

“Some people see the glass half full, some see it half empty; I see a glass twice as big as it needs to be.”

—George Carlin DSC03366DSC03367“While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.”

–Dorothea Lange

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“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time…”

— Georgia O’Keeffe DSC03389DSC03390

“Reality simply consists of different points of view.”

Margaret Atwood DSC03392DSC03393“There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.”

—Conrad Hall DSC03394DSC03395“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, hunters the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

–John Lubbock DSC03396DSC03397

“If you look the right way you will see that the world is a garden.”

—Frances Hodgson Burnett

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“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

Groucho Marx