Monday, May 26, 2008

After Dark

This is the final post about the Sunset Ceremony at my son Jeffrey's university - Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. You can scroll down to see the previous posts, or you can find Part One here and Part Two over here.

As the sun began to set, music filled the night air. The RMC Band was originally a Pipe and Drum band when it was founded in 1953. It has grown to include a Brass and Reed Band, a Choir and a small group of Highland Dancers, and is now the largest volunteer band in the Canadian Armed Forces.

They marched in with all of the pomp and circumstance fitting of a military band.

The pipers piped.. the drummers drummed to the beat of our proud history.

Highland Dancers did a fling.

The Honour Guard, with their sixty nine Officer Cadets marched onto the parade square carrying our provincial flags. The graduating Colour Party handed off their duties to the incoming Party.

The darkening night made a clear shot difficult, but you can see how colourful our flags are.

When troops were garrisoned in inns, drummers were sent through the streets to sound the Tattoo (from the Dutch "taptoe" - to close the tap) in order to get the troops to return to their quarters for the night.

The tradition of Feu-de-Joie (Fire of joy) is the sequential firing of rifles to ensure that they were cleared of damp charges, and were in good working condition before the night guard was posted.

A lone piper stands atop the McKenzie Building clock tower and plays a goose bump-forming rendition of "Amazing Grace."

As the ceremony drew to a close, it was time to lower our flag.

The band faced the Canadian flag and played the National Anthem as it was being lowered.

The RMC Band played as they marched out of the parade square, signaling the end of the Sunset Ceremony. It was followed by one of the best fireworks displays I have ever seen - too good for my camera to do it justice.

Back at his dorm, we said good-bye to our boy for what we thought was going to be the full summer. As it turns out, Jeffrey's training has been postponed until mid-June, so he'll be home tomorrow for a couple of weeks. I can't wait!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sunset Ceremony at RMC

This is the second part of our visit with Jeffrey in Kingston last week. To catch up on the first part, please read the previous blog post.

Before the ceremony began, our Skyhawks did a couple of flybys, dropping streamers in order to determine wind direction and whether or not it would be safe to demonstrate their signature Canadian flag parachute jumps. Shortly afterward, they decided to cancel the jump due to the increasingly inclement weather. It was disappointing but, unlike last year when they canceled the full evening's events, the rest of the show still went on.

Once 7:30 rolled around, the rain clouds joined in. First with a spit, then a spatter and finally with a steady downpour. We watched as umbrellas in front of us dripped onto our laps, which were gratefully covered with a ground sheet. One of the good things about having a son in the military, is that he's always prepared.

RMC is the only Canadian university which has Tai Kwon Do as an official varsity sport. The evening started out with a demonstration of their skills.

Though the mats had been turned upside down until the demonstration was about to begin, they quickly became wet, causing this fellow to miss his footing on his first attempt to jump over his teammates and break the board. This second jump proved successful.

Old Eighteen refers to the first 18 cadets who entered RMC in 1876. Tradition dictates that first year cadets are required to memorize their names. The Old Eighteen Historic Drill Team demonstrated their daily training from over 130 years ago.

The Naval Gun Run was first used toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th as a means to supply the army with artillery support. The guns were removed from their fixed mountings on naval ships and transferred to shore, where naval crews fought alongside the army troops.

Shortly after the drill demonstrations, Old Eighteen had some help from some faux American soldiers to reenact a battle from the War of 1812. Ready, aim...


There were many casualties on both sides.

And the dead bodies littered the parade square where they fell.

After the historic battle reenactments, the RMC Sandhurst Military Skills Team demonstrated the skills they've learned and used in competition against military academies in other countries such as Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK and West Point in the US. They are the proud World Champions for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The Sandhurst team arrived on campus in a helicopter, which hovered over the field behind us. They then rappelled out of the helicopter and headed into the parade square for their demo. Don captured this film on his video camera.

The team showcased the various skills required to compete in combat.

These soldiers demonstrated the teamwork required to climb up and over a twelve-foot wall.

At some point in the evening, the rain began to let up. After another few minutes, it stopped completely, and umbrellas that had partially obscured our view were put away. I was already finding the photography challenging since the subjects were at a distance and it was overcast, but even more so now that it was getting darker, which shows in the grainy appearance of the pictures. This was a sunset ceremony after all. Not that we had actually seen the sun, but at least now we were no longer being rained upon.

I have a few more photos from the rest of the ceremony that day in Kingston which I'll save for next time. Stay tuned for part three which I'll post in a few days.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Visit With Our Boy

Last week, we took advantage of what might be our last opportunity to see our older son, Jeffrey before sometime in August. He finished his second of four years of academics, and is now awaiting the information which will tell him where he'll be spending most of his summer in training. Recent course changes have left his plans to be at the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick up in the air for now. As soon as he knows, he may find himself on his way there, to nearby Trenton, Ontario or to somewhere in Alberta. If it weren't for the fact that the course in Trenton would be teaching him how to jump out of planes, I'd be hoping for the nearby location. But that choice is not mine.

About a month ago, Jeffrey began telling his Dad and me about the upcoming Sunset Ceremony at RMC (Royal Military College), suggesting that we take the time to come visit for the day. Don and I decided to take him up on it, and drove there together on Wednesday. We left after the morning rush hour and arrived in Kingston shortly after one o'clock. We picked up our hungry and tired son, who greeted us in uniform, and headed into town to share a lunch at Morrison's where we knew we could order a classic all-day breakfast.

The restaurant was as I remembered it from previous visits to this university town - an old-fashioned diner-style setting where they care about their customers and the food they're serving. If you're ever in Kingston, you won't regret giving them a try.

Once our appetites were sated, we spent some time wandering around the campus. RMC is situated on Point Frederick peninsula at the point where The St. Lawrence River begins its journey from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.

The centerpiece of the entire campus is the Mackenzie building with its clock tower which overlooks the parade square. Built in 1878, it's one of the many historic buildings on the peninsula.

This is one of four Martello towers built in Kingston. The one you see here, is contained in Fort Frederick, a fort made mostly of earth mounds and a stone wall. It's situated on the point of the peninsula and now serves as a museum.

This view is looking toward the Martello tower through the doorway of the stone wall.

Small sets of steps like these can be found all around the earth walls. That's my boy at the top of them.

You'll also find cannons strategically spaced along the earthen mound. This little sparrow was perched at the end of one of them.

Meet Brucie. He represents the cadets with their motto "Truth, Duty, Valour."

The folks at RMC have a casual approach when it comes to Brucie. He can often be found dressed up for various occasions. During the last hockey playoff series, he was sporting a Montreal Canadien's uniform.

Jeffrey was very tired when we arrived. He had been out celebrating the end of the academic school year with friends, since he was free of obligations for the next day's Sunset Ceremony. That was a rare treat for us, as we usually sit through these events while trying to keep an eye peeled for a glimpse of our son, dressed identically to hundreds of others. This time Jeffrey would be able to spend the full time with Don and me. The only problem was this growing fatigue he felt from an inadequate night's sleep. Knowing he'd feel better after a short nap, Jeffrey sent us into town for a while so that he could catch up on some missed sleep. Don and I wandered along the harbour and through the city streets, stopping for a coffee and waiting for the "I'm awake" phone call from our son.

It was a hazy, drizzly day, but that didn't keep people from enjoying the waterfront. Kids fed and chased seagulls, and groups strolled along the walkway.

As we continued toward the city streets, this curious site caught my eye. The mismatched footwear seemed to be abandoned in just this manner, nowhere near any of the many people who dotted the pathways and grassy area. There was no apparent reason for these "sole mates" to be there, except to be photographed - so I did. Don commented that he'd be willing to bet that there's another pair just like it somewhere...

This locomotive was built in 1913 for the Canadian Pacific Railway on the exact spot where it stands today, in front of what used to be the train station, now serving as a tourist office. The city of Kingston has plans to restore it by the time it reaches its 100th birthday in 2013.

We soon got the phone call from a much refreshed Jeffrey, who had worked up an appetite and was ready for dinner. While we ate, we made our plans to be back at the parade square with about 45 minutes to spare before show time. The sky was getting grayer and the rain we had been promised all day looked as if it was planning to put in an appearance just about.. now. We grabbed an umbrella, ground sheets to cover our laps, and towels upon which to sit, and settled in for the show.

I'll post some photos from the Sunset Ceremony in a few days.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Petals & Wings

Just a few more images of flowers and birds which I've taken over the past few days.

Flowers for Mother's Day from my younger son, Alex. This along with a hanging basket will help brighten up my front yard. His card to me read "To the most metal Mom out there. Love, Alex" If you're familiar with my boy, you'd know that that was the best compliment he could ever give me. Totally inaccurate, but high praise nonetheless. Thanks, Alex!

The lilacs in my back yard are coming along very slowly, so I wandered over to another location to snap this shot. Lilac is one of my all-time favourite smells.

Dandelions, on the other hand, are growing just fine in my back yard.

Gee, any guesses as to why? Click to enlarge for detail.

Having some fun with my macro setting. Make a wish!

Wandering around my local park, I came upon this wary robin which had just caught a small worm (click to enlarge). A second later it was gone, along with its dinner.

Moving along, I found these three geese standing in line at the top of the dam, at a nearby pond.

Later in the week, I noticed this bird perched upon one of the concrete structures which appeared behind the geese. It was flapping its wings in place, and resting occasionally, but always with its wings outstretched. After checking a few sources, I eventually learned that it was a Double-crested Cormorant - a bird that is quite familiar to many, it seems, but one that I've never seen before.

I learned that its wings will not repel water as with other water birds. Water absorption allows the Cormorant to dive and remain submerged, in order to hunt for fish. It then needs to dry its wings, and does so by flapping and holding them open.

I stood there for so long that the bird eventually turned around and took notice. Please remember to click the photos to enlarge.

A different day, our friend the Great Blue Heron made a return visit. It landed by the shore, but soon waded into the water when it knew I was hoping to get closer. It returns most days around five p.m. so I hope to get more chances to photograph this beautiful bird.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Buds, Blossoms & Blooms (and Happy Mother's Day)

When my sons were born, we decided to commemorate each event by planting a tree.

When Alex came along, we planted a pine tree so small that every time I caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye, I thought someone had left a half-filled, green trash bag on my front lawn. In almost eighteen short years, it has grown taller than our two-story house.

Our back yard was in need of some foliage when Jeffrey first made me a Mom, so we actually planted two fruit trees. The cherry tree never did thrive, and though it produces sour cherries each year, it remains small enough that it resembles a bonsai tree. This year it has about as few leaves as it does flowers. The plum tree did much better, and in twenty-one years, the branches have grown tall enough to reach an upstairs window. Of course that's too tall for a fruit tree, but I know nothin' about prunin' no fruit trees. Besides, it has produced wonderfully sweet plums every year and why mess with that?

Well Frank and my kids' dad, Don both decided that they should mess with it. Last year, Don talked me into letting him hack away at strategically trim the excess branches of the tree. I agreed and watched much of its growth disappear before my very eyes. It was actually rather shocking to see what was left. The tree was also in shock, and protested by not producing a single blossom last year. It was the first time in twenty years that we didn't have plums.

Over the summer it still sent out those pesky suckers which are supposed to be cut back, so Frank took the clippers this time, and trimmed them last month. When only the cherry tree began to sprout blossoms a week ago, I figured that the barren plum tree would spend another fruitless summer. A few days later, its partner cherry tree was in full bloom and I took a closer look at its own branches. Lo and behold, I could see the tiniest blossoms beginning to form. By yesterday, they looked like this - all over the tree.

It looks like we'll have plums this year after all. Thanks Don and Frank!

Here are a few photos taken over this past week at home, and while walking and biking around the local parks.

After a rain, water droplets cling to the the leaves. You can see them more clearly if you click to enlarge.

A daffodil - up close and personal.

A grape hyacinth grows along a neighbour's fence on the walkway leading into the park. The flower stands about 5 centimeters (2 inches) tall.

Also after the rain, droplets cling to these fuzzy seeds. Remember to click to enlarge.

Gnarled roots secure these trees which grow outward from the edge of a small bluff.

The rain ended but the skies remained cloudy - except for one small patch of blue. When the late-day sun shone through that space, it made the colours of the wet surfaces and foliage come alive. The sunlit branches of the weeping willow drape themselves over the dock.

And here's that same willow from a distance.

Just around the bend, you'll find this picnic table where we like to stop from time to time, to just sit and enjoy the sites. In cooler weather, we'll often have a sip of something intoxicating. And in autumn - spring - summer...

A hastily-plucked and discarded tulip lies withering on the pavement of the pathway.

There are numerous blossoms emerging on plants all around the lake and throughout the park.

And where there are flowers, there are bees. I love that macro setting. Click to enlarge for more detail.

Wishing a Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms out there this Sunday!