Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Knock at the Door

I had been thinking about my older son, Jeffrey on Friday. More than usual. In some strange way I felt like he was coming home but I knew that his next stay wouldn't be until his holidays begin on December 11th.

He was on my mind while I made lunch, thinking about how much he could pack away in one sitting. I thought about him while straightening up, and placing some of his mail on his desk in his room. I thought about him as I refilled the bird feeder, and checked the suet basket, a gift from him last year. I had many different, fleeting thoughts about him throughout the course of the day. I chalked it up to missing him and wishing he was here. Two more weeks, and he'd be home until after New Years. That thought was comforting and smile-evoking.

On Friday evening, we were trying to figure out what we were going to do for dinner. Frank was here, as he usually is Friday through Sunday, and we were waiting for my younger boy's Dad to come pick him up for the weekend. We had a couple of rock Cornish hens defrosting in the fridge and we weren't sure if they'd be thawed enough for that night's meal, so we were considering our options. As events evolved, it turned out that Alex would be staying with us for a few hours so we had to reconnoiter. Our choices were limited, considering portion quantity, state of readiness (frozen or not) and cooking time. We decided to check online to see what we might order-in. That's when we heard the knock on the door.

I thought it could be Don, on time for Alex after all. Or someone trying to sell me something. Or a neighbour, looking to borrow a cup of something. Or friends from across the street with a somewhat later than usual typical Friday visit. I trudged downstairs to greet whomever it might be. Brightening up my doorway and my heart simultaneously, was my son Jeffrey, with a surprise visit home for the weekend. His Dad knew he was on his way. His brother did too. Only Frank and I were in the dark, but my day brightened considerably upon his arrival.

Dinner ended up being a bit of a free for all. Frank opted to stay home with a sub, and watch basketball while Jeffrey, Alex and I caught up at a nearby restaurant. After dinner, the boys drove to their Dad's together to spend the night. On Saturday, Frank and I dug deep into the chest freezer and found a few racks of beef ribs - one of Jeffrey's favourite meals, so of course it didn't take any arm-twisting to convince the boys to come by for dinner the next night.

The weekend has now come and gone. After stopping by for a satisfying lunch, Jeffrey headed home for his three hour drive back to Kingston. He hoped to keep ahead of the snow storm that they threatened will start late today and continue into tomorrow, and he was successful at that. I've already received his email letting me know that he arrived safely.

Right now, it's pouring rain, and as the wind howls I am wrapped in the warmth of this weekend. I'm grateful for Frank, for knowing what it means to me to have this cherished time with Jeffrey. And to Don for slyly hiding our son's planned visit from me so that I could be joyfully surprised. And I'm grateful for whatever time I get to spend with my boys - my men. Thanks for the wonderful weekend, guys!

Below are a few photos - some are recent and some go back a few weeks. I'll post some more in a few days.

This is the first freeze-over of my local pond. Though we've had above-freezing temperatures for over a week now, parts of it are still icy today. (please click to enlarge)

This is a repeat posting of an apple on the frozen surface of the pond. When Photowannabe saw it, she wondered how it might have looked in black and white, so I took it into Photoshop and de-saturated its colours. This one's for you, Photowannabe. (please click to enlarge)

***Spider shot warning! Next photo only.***

Walking through the snow one day, we happened to notice this spider making its way along to.. somewhere. It was a long way from its home. I hope it made it to shelter. (please click to enlarge)

Nothing remains of this snowfall from a couple of weeks ago. We've had warmer temperatures and plenty of rain since then. For now, we can continue with the illusion that winter has not really begun. (please click to enlarge)

Let's back up a few weeks and breath in the fresh autumn air for a minute. This bench and its shadow caught my eye, as so many things do in the late afternoon sunshine. Have a seat before we move on. (please click to enlarge)

Enough sitting. Let's get ourselves in gear, and move on. (please click to enlarge)

Before autumn's end, this maple tree had resisted turning red. Looking up at its branches, you can see the sun filtering through its leaves. (please click to enlarge)

A vibrant tangle of dead and dying, amber-coloured leaves. (please click to enlarge)

One day in early November, the temperatures were unseasonably warm. I walked up to a nearby lake and spent a couple of hours strolling, sitting and enjoying my surroundings. This seagull landed on a railing close to where I was relaxing on the dock, and kept a close, watchful eye. (please click to enlarge)

After a while, he let out this silent yawn. He must have grown bored with me. (please click to enlarge)

On the dock, a lone oak leaf lies discarded, its skin shining like gold in the warm sunshine. (please click to enlarge)

The sunset burns like fire through the branches of the cedars. (please click to enlarge)

This was taken at dusk as we were walking away from the cedar grove. I had the shutter speed set fairly slow, and was rather unsteady in handling the camera, so everything turned out blurry. Frank is holding a stick and the ghostly smudge on the right is Benny as he jumps non-stop in his attempts to acquire that stick. Classic Benny. (please click to enlarge)

More photos in a few days.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Forgive Us - We're Canadian

Thank you to everyone who offered both sound and amusing advice in the comment section of the last post. I've not walked in that area since, but plan to shortly and I might just put some of your suggestions to work.

The video below is just a collection of photos from last winter. The silly song is from the Canadian satirical group, Arrogant Worms. One of the great Canadian pastimes is making fun of ourselves, and this song does a pretty good job of that. If you're one of my dear American friends, you might want to have a look and a listen while you're munching on some leftover turkey. Turn up your volume and enjoy the video.

And remember, when the snow blows in from the North this winter, please forgive us - we're Canadian.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Zentonym©: [zen-tuh-nim] noun: Something which disturbs the Zen-like quality of ones surroundings, by emitting a loud noise or attitude, or by displaying a cool, unfriendly demeanor. ~ The Smitten Image's Suburban Dictionary.

There are a few areas around and about my place and Frank's where we like to walk. As you know by the many photos I've shared, they're picturesque areas - all of which include a body of water of some sort. It's impossible to wander through these paths and shorelines and not be struck with the beauty of our surroundings. Every season brings a splendour of its own.

Generally, we encounter other walkers, many of whom have one or more dogs with them. Benny is a friendly pup and would like nothing more than to sniff and be sniffed by another canine. There's a bonus in it for him if the pet-owner also shows him some affection. Most people find it impossible to resist a happy, bouncy little dog running at top speed to greet them. Many of them know Benny by name, and will also oblige Frank and me with a bit of passing conversation when we catch up to Benny.

Recently, at one of our usual locations, two youngish women have begun taking daily walks along the path. We usually meet them head-on at the beginning of their quick-paced walk, their heads tilted downward, yet toward one another in loud, steady, animated conversation. The unusual, and somewhat off-putting nature of their activity, is that they don't look up. Ever. They do not appear to notice their surroundings, nature's activity or other people on the paths. They seem totally oblivious to the beauty of their environs, and they're missing out on a lot.

One lovely morning, before this wintry cold settled in, Frank was alone with Benny as they strolled down the path between a pond and the creek. Similar to the day when this photo was taken, the wonderful Great Blue Heron graced these women with its presence, as it ambled majestically across the path directly in front of them. The women never broke stride, never looked up and never knew what an incredible gift of nature they had just ignored. How important can your daily non-stop conversation be, not to notice such a beautiful creature walk right in front of you?

Between Frank and me, these women have encountered one or the both of us and Benny with some degree of regularity. Their eyes flicker upward only briefly - enough to avoid bumping into us. Benny does his usual "look how cute I am!" scamper and hop as he runs up to them and... nothing. It's as if a dead leaf blew past them. One morning, I decided to greet them despite the lack of eye contact. "Good morning!" In unison, they responded with a "gmng." Their eyes never left the pavement and their conversation scarcely skipped a beat. I thought I should try harder next time.

Last week, our paths were covered with a few centimeters of snow. It was the first accumulation this year and Frank and I trudged along trying to maintain our upright status, while Benny was all charged up and raring to go. He ran off ahead of us stopping only to bury his nose occasionally, eat some snow and run back toward us to encourage us along. The women were finishing their walk and approached us as we began our own. I didn't wait for eye-contact, which I knew by now was not forthcoming. This time I simply said "Good morning" and when I got my "gmng" in return, I pressed on with "It sure is a beautiful one, eh?" Again, I saw one set of eyes glance not even toward me, but upward, as if noticing the weather for the first time. One of them grunted with a mild, feigned enthusiasm "yeah." And that was it. The other one pressed the resume button on their mechanical conversation, and they tuned out the rest of the world once again.

The very next morning, I stopped briefly, but often to take some shots since the snow-covered trees looked quite lovely. This time we could hear them approaching loudly from behind. You'd think by now they'd acknowledge the people they encounter daily, but their steady conversation - important and busy, cut through the tranquility of the day like an approaching siren. They were quite far behind me, and I stood with my back to them, camera poised to take a shot of the cedar-lined path - the breeze creating a mini snowfall in front of me.

Through the years, I can't guess how many times I've stopped or changed my route slightly to allow a photographer to get the shot he or she is after. I'd say there were at least as many times when others have extended that same courtesy to me. I'm not suggesting that these women intentionally ignored my attempt to get a shot. I doubt they would be that rude if they had noticed, but they didn't. Without so much as a pause, or a "good morning" they walked right around me, and into the shot. To add to our growing distaste for the pair, Benny gleefully trotted alongside them for a greeting. One of them must have twitched her eye slightly because she saw him approach with his usual excited, tail-wagging bounce. This is when we heard her utter her first voluntary words to anyone other than her walking partner. "Get Down!"

Frank dislikes their presence because they mess with the quiet, Zen-like surroundings which are otherwise so soothing and relaxing. We are calmed by the incredible species of birds we see each day, and by the sound of the water which trips and bubbles over rocks as it makes its way out to the lake. Throughout summer there are numerous flowers which add brilliant colours to the the sunny fields, and the trees in the nearby cedar groves share their undeniable magic - whether dotted by emerging ferns, accented by the hues of autumn or covered in a blanket of snow. A living being can not walk these paths and off-paths without feeling the wonder which surrounds them. I have to question why this is all invisible to these women. What makes them adhere to the paved path, unable to look outward from the tiny space of their own conversation? Why can't they feel some sense of harmony with nature - the air, water and land to which we're all connected?

I do realize that despite my feeble attempts, I can't change how others behave, so I know that I am simply going to have to refuse to allow it to bother me. It's truly their loss. They're young. Maybe someday, they'll open their eyes and have a good look around them. Perhaps they just need a camera or a dog, or a walk off-path, into the magic of the cedars.

Below are some photos which were taken on our walks last week.

You know it's winter when apples no longer float on the pond, but sit upon its frozen surface. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

The entrance to the pathway which we take on our morning walks is lined with cedars. The trees offer shade in summer and protection from the cold winds of winter. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

The breeze stirs the freshly fallen snow, and creates a mini flurry of snowflakes - best seen at a larger image size. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

Leaving the paved path behind, we broke through fresh snow to follow the creek. (please click to enlarge photo)

Last winter, Frank spread birdseed at various points during our morning walks. As he cleared the snow from specific logs and rocks, Benny would transform into manic mode, biting and eating the freshly-swept snow. With this new dusting, it was evident that he hadn't forgotten that routine. Here he is, with his snow-covered face, waiting for Frank to clear the snow. Maybe next time, Benny. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

The sun filters through a patch of snow-laden brush. A tree log might be home to a few small, woodland animals. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

A small cluster of snow-covered red berries stands out among the otherwise barren branches. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

Just before dusk, our afternoon walk takes us to another part of the field, where the south cedar grove awaits us. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

The sky beyond the creek reflects the vibrant hues of the setting sun behind us. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

Inside the grove, this cedar balances the fiery sun in the crook of her elbow. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

Exiting the grove, a beautiful sunset guides our way home. (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

How can the beauty of this day not touch even those in their state of Zentonym©? (please click once, and then again to enlarge photo.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

As Autumn Fades

We got our first few inches of snow yesterday evening. The balmy weather we enjoyed during the first week of November has dropped to frigid overnight lows, creeping to just above-freezing temperatures during the day. Most of the leaves have withered or dropped to the ground, and bare branches are covered with their first blanket of snow. There will be many months of winter photo opportunities ahead, but for now I'd like to continue to enjoy the colours that warmed the fall landscapes before this frost set in.

Below are a some photos taken earlier this month. Please be sure to click on them to enlarge.

This is one of my favourite places to walk in the morning. The cedar-lined path runs alongside the creek, across the road from Frank's place. Through the winter, he'll pack a container of bird seed and a handful of peanuts, and he'll leave them in strategic areas for the critters to find. He's an old softie that way. (please click to enlarge)

Most of the trees have lost at least half of their leaves, making it easier to spot animals and objects on their branches. A couple of weeks ago, during one of our walks, we spied this empty bird's nest. It was within reach so Frank bent the branch gently so that I could get a shot. (please click to enlarge)

At home, a walk around the park reveals a similar state of bare-branched trees. This squirrel watches closely. Maybe we have something for him. (please click to enlarge)

Good Evening. Something about this scene made me think of Alfred Hitchcock... (please click to enlarge)

This lone leaf clings to the tree as if to deny the season's passage. I can empathize. (please click to enlarge)

Looking down, a scattering of pine cones and tattered leaves blanket the ground. (please click to enlarge)

As the foliage thins out, it becomes easier to see the lake through the trees. The late day sun illuminates the colours of the season. (please click to enlarge)

Slightly off-path, kids like to sit on this rock or climb a branch and daydream. Others party. Unfortunately, it's taken its toll on the tree which has seen better days. As the sun goes down, it still look pretty wonderful to me. (please click to enlarge)

Living near the airport as I do, our skies are busy with arrivals and departures. Sunset offers a startling sky for lingering contrails. (please click to enlarge)

A walk at sundown reveals the last colours in the darkening sky. The slivered moon peeks out between the branches. (please click to enlarge)

To see some beautiful photos from around this area, head on over to Frank's blog.
I'll have some more autumn photos of my own in a few days.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mental Snapshots

The other morning as my son Alex was getting ready for work, and the cats were loudly demanding their breakfast, I stumbled downstairs to feed the felines and make a lunch for my boy. The first order of business was to give the critters fresh water. I stepped into the kitchen, barefoot as usual, and found that their water bowl was in the middle of the floor rather than against the usual corner of the room. There was also a small tidal pool of water surrounding the bowl, which has two little arches on opposite sides to ease lifting it from the floor. The cats watched me expectantly as I scolded them for making such a mess of their water bowl. I had to wonder what made them so rambunctious as to move it so far from the corner in the first place. Seconds later, I had my answer.

I lifted the bowl to empty it, and refill it with fresh water when I saw a small, wet figure in its place - standing stock still. I remembered the fluffy, grey toy mouse that we've had for years. My cats show occasional interest in it but tend to lose it behind a sofa or desk. It shows up again when I do a decent house-cleaning. My house must be quite overdue as I've not seen the fake rodent for many months. I figured that Alex had found it, and knowing that I'd be the one to tend to the cats in the morning, he'd hid it under the water bowl to jump-start my morning. I was about to curse him under my breath, when the tail moved. This mouse was real.

I'm an animal lover and have always felt uncomfortable with the notion of mouse traps. The one time I was aware of a wee rodent in my attic, I engaged a live trap and left cheese and peanut butter treats for the unwanted guest. He quickly obliged by feasting on his high-protein meal and I was able to release that mouse safely into the park. This was different. I had no trap. I didn't have anything close at hand with which to scoop him up. The poor, little thing was frightened and wet. It looked quite pathetic. I put my hand down on the floor in front of him, hoping he might decide to hop on for a ride. No such luck. He turned around and hesitantly scampered in the opposite direction, toward my floor-length venetian blinds, which he then tried to climb. While he was semi-vertical, I scooped my fingers around his mid-section and placed him into the palm of my hand, cupping my other hand over it to secure him. Alex opened the front door for me, and I walked across my deck and set him down on the front lawn. He stood there motionless. I gave him a small nudge from behind and he burrowed into the fallen leaves, and hopefully to safety. My cats, so preoccupied with anticipation of their morning meal, never even noticed what was happening, though they must have been aware of the mouse during the night - hence the relocation of the water bowl.

It was only after the mouse was gone and my hands were scrubbed, that I began to realize that I'd missed a decent photo opportunity. I suppose that there was no guarantee that he would have stayed still for a macro shot, or that he wouldn't have panicked as my camera zoomed in for a closer look. In retrospect, I would have been reluctant to risk losing sight of the mouse in my house, while I would have to find and set my camera up. I concluded that I would just have to place this non-photo alongside some of the other mental snapshots that I've taken over the last year or two - because of a forgotten camera, dead batteries or this slow-moving photographer.
I'd set this mental photograph aside with the one of the little, bright yellow bird which landed on a perfect magenta flower, the majestic Great Blue Heron lifting off in flight, the squirrel which had Velcroed itself to a tree because its body and tail were so covered in burrs, and the leaves which glistened from a steady rainfall, and exploded in colour when a small burst of golden sunlight escaped the heavy band of gray clouds. That little mouse should be quite at home in that environment.

With each incident of unpreparedness, I've become more resolved to have my camera with me, no matter where I'm headed. I'll never get the missed shots back, but keeping them in my private, metal album is not so bad either. At least there, along with all good memories, they're always in sharp focus and perfectly framed.

Below are a few shots that I didn't miss. Most of the autumn colours have diminished now, but the last couple of weeks still offered up some vivid hues. As I'm usually a few weeks behind in posting what I capture, the photos below have retained some of the season's gold. Please remember to click on each image to see it enlarged.

Golden sunlight filters though a semi-bare branch to reflect in the water below.

Red oak leaves are not ready to fall just yet. They seem to desperately cling to their youth. I can relate!

Brilliant yellow, orange and red maple leaves begin to blanket the ground beneath them.

These colourful berries belong to the Spindle Tree. The tree is quite ordinary throughout the summer but in autumn the bright pink pods burst open to reveal orange seeds. When more of the surrounding trees have lost their bright leaves, the Spindle fruit stands out like a summer flower.

Walking around my neighbourhood park one day, I paused on these stone steps to capture this image of disheveled oak leaves and stem. The textures appealed to me.

Taken from a bridge, this creek which carries salmon and trout upstream during their respective spawning seasons, flows out to Lake Ontario.

This lovely pond sits out behind the house on the farm that Frank's in-laws have owned for many years. The late afternoon sun appeared though the otherwise-overcast day to cast a golden hue upon the water.

The sun's reflection peeks out from behind this beautiful, weathered old tree.

On our way home, we stopped a couple of times to have a look around. As the sun continued to set, it created interesting shadows, colour and angles on this simple wood fence.

The amber lamps which light up our park paths at night lend their warm hues to the autumn leaves. There's magic to be seen at night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Red and White

Thanks, once again for the thoughtful comments from you folks. Those on the last post were no exception. Just this one time, I wasn't going to respond to comments individually and I've been finding it hard to adhere to that plan. The always-entertaining MLH of The Surly Writer asked a good question which requires a reply, so I thought I'd make another mini-post about poppies, and seize the opportunity to post this photo of Jeffrey and his RMC squadron, which was taken at yesterday's ceremonies. That's my boy as Guard Commander. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

MLH's question: "Hilary, is it true that in Canada it is a tradition to wear red poppies for those people who are in the service and white poppies in remembrance for those who lost their lives? I heard this somewhere but I cannot remember if it is an actual fact?"

It's not true. From the last Friday in October, through to Remembrance Day on November 11, Canadians traditionally wear (fake) red poppies on the left lapel, pinned as close to the heart as possible. We wear them to remember those who gave their lives in past and present conflicts.

This practice was inspired by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's poem In Flanders Field. The poppies, which are offered by the Royal Canadian Legion each year, are available on street corners, in storefronts and at federal buildings such as banks and post offices for a voluntary donation. The funds earned provide assistance to past servicemen and women in financial distress, and for medical-related services.

From what I understand about the white poppies, they are being sold by anti-war activists since 2006 - not handed out in exchange for beneficial donations, and are meant to promote peace. Understandably, it's upsetting to our veterans, as it undermines the symbolism and good work behind the red poppy. I've never seen anybody wearing a white poppy, and just about everyone does wear a red one.

Another touching, fairly new (since 2000) tradition takes place in Ottawa after the ceremonies and wreath-laying has occurred. Veterans and civilians alike remove their poppies after the service, and lay them on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's a very moving gesture and sight.

I'll be back with my own traditional blog posts soon - tradition being less frequent postings, my own photos and individual comment responses. Please check out MLH's blog, and leave her a kind comment. Today is her one-year blogaversary.