Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not Quite Winter - Not Quite Spring

These photos were taken on a recent visit to Frank's place. Many of the huge ice blocks from the flood a few weeks earlier had diminished significantly, and getting around on the paths was much easier, albeit muddier. Though warmer weather prevailed since my last time in town, the temperatures dropped after the first day, and our walks were brisk and all too reminiscent of the recently departed winter.

Muddy puddles and moisture on branches froze overnight, and Frank's idea to make a turkey dinner became more and more appealing. Delicious scents of roast turkey, stuffing and vegetables made his house a welcomed, cozy shelter from the cold. Hot apple pie and ice cream topped the evening off perfectly. No pictures of dinner - it disappeared too quickly.

With the changing seasons, so comes changes to the landscape. The shoreline of the creek erodes each year. Cracks in the banks eventually broaden, and large chunks of earth fall into the creek, sometimes taking trees with them. As the creek widens, it becomes more shallow which means warmer water and changing conditions for the fish which live within, and other wildlife which depend on them. (please click to enlarge)

Another large crack further along the shore. This piece of earth is probably in Lake Ontario by now. (please click to enlarge)

This is the same park bench which was previously surrounded with blocks of ice from the flood earlier this month. You can see how it looked just two weeks earlier in the image inset at the top right. (please click to enlarge)

Frank proudly shows how his caring ministration allowed this tree to recover from its near-horizontal, post-flood position. Nicely done, Tree Whisperer. (please click to enlarge)

Another risk to nature at this time of the year is brush fires. This small one was caught early enough to cause only minimal damage. It happened shortly after a morning walk and was photographed through Frank's front room window. (please click to enlarge)

It had become cold enough for the water's edge to refreeze, creating an icy border along the shoreline. Duck footprints wander along the muddy banks. (please click to enlarge)

Water droplets froze in mid-drip off of the dried brush of last year's vegetation. If you look closely, you can see a bit a green from this year's new growth. (please click to enlarge)

A pause along the worn footpath in the field to snap a shot of these milkweed seeds. This summer, they'll be in full bloom and attracting Monarch butterflies. (please click to enlarge)

If you take a look at the right-hand side of the photo, you'll see a little flash of white, which is the reason for these ducks in flight. (please click to enlarge)

This lone duck enjoyed a drink of water while afloat amid the sparkles of the setting sun. (please click to enlarge)

Monday, March 23, 2009

True Grits

I'm a far cry from what you'd call a Southern girl (unless of course we're referring to Southern Ontario) but this morning, I had hominy grits with breakfast - right here in my all-Canadian kitchen.

Earlier this month, Angie Ledbetter of Gumbo Writer published a post about grits on her blog. I commented that I had never tried them before but believed them to be something similar to Cream of Wheat. Angie never scoffed at me for that remark. Instead, she graciously offered to send me a package of grits so that I could find out for myself, and I gratefully accepted.

On Friday, I arrived home to find this parcel from Baton Rouge, Louisiana at my front door.

The Quaker's familiar face greeted me when I opened the package.

As did Angie's friendly message.

This morning Frank cooked eggs while I prepared the grits. Following directions, I measured enough product and water for two portions. Salt was optional.

I mixed the two together, and stirred.

The timer on the microwave was set for four minutes. Almost done.

Et voila! It did look suspiciously like Cream of Wheat...

And tasted rather similar.

I know that's supposed to be the wrong thing to say, but they're truly very much alike, except for their source (grits comes from corn) and the grits were... grittier. A dab of butter made them quite tasty and I found myself nibbling at leftover portions occasionally through the afternoon.

Thank you, Angie, for your generosity, and for enabling this Canuck to sample grits for the first time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


"Very superstitious. Writings on the wall"

So goes the opening line of the Stevie Wonder song Superstition. If you were to ask me if I am a superstitious person, I'd prefer to think that I'm not, but that's just not entirely true. Regardless of how silly I think the connection between certain objects or actions and subsequent events might be, there is no denying that my behaviour occasionally reflects a somewhat rooted belief that there are indeed potential consequences worthy of caution.

Frank and I recently found ourselves in the clothing section of a store, where I was browsing the sale racks for bargains. He and I have very different tastes in what we each deem attractive colours and styles, and I generally reject the garments that he might pull from the rack as a possible addition to my wardrobe. I found very few items that I thought were worth their marked-down cost, and my eye began to wander toward the regularly-priced clothing. I had just selected a top when Frank came up to me with a simple, but attractive sweatshirt in my size, which carried a final price of $3. I promptly put it back on the rack.

Me: I do like it but it's navy blue.

Frank: It's a great price and a good colour for you.

Me: You've never seen me in this colour before but yes, I agree. I like how I look in navy but it's always been bad luck for me.

Frank: Maybe it's time you started making it a good luck colour...

I considered it briefly, but left the sweatshirt behind.

Thinking back to when navy blue became a bad luck colour for me, I realized it hadn't always been so. I had a short string of unfortunate situations about ten years ago, which prompted me to connect them to a particular top I'd been wearing each time. That association led to my attributing my misfortunes to the piece of clothing. Eventually, I took it a step further when another, similarly-shaded garment also coincided with a bad event. The final straw came a few years later when I decided that my thinking was nonsense, and I purchased a navy blue t-shirt. The first day I wore it, another "bad thing" happened, and rather than add the shirt to my laundry that day, I simply tossed it out in the trash instead. I've never bought any tops in that colour since.

Generally, I'm a reasonably logical and analytical person and I know that superstition is mostly born of fear, so you'd think that long before now, I'd have considered the source of allowing this to dictate my behaviour. But it was only this morning, when I thought back to an event in the middle of a winter's night when I was a child, that a connection was made.

When I was about five or six, we lived in a small, wonderful, old apartment building near the corner of our street. Occupying that corner, was a similar complex opposite our north-facing windows, with nothing more than a narrow lane-way separating the two structures. Early one morning, I was awakened by the overhead light shining into my eyes, and by my mother's hushed but panicked voice. "Get up quickly! There's a fire."

I tried to make sense of my surroundings. Everything appeared normal except that my mother was holding my coat and a pair of slacks. She was urging me to rouse and put them on over my blue, floral pajamas. She hurriedly helped me into the clothing, grabbed my hand and ushered my sister and me down the hallway to the front door. As I glanced to my right, my sister's bedroom window had an intense orange glow and I could hear sirens approaching from the distance. My grandmother lived with us, and she was cautiously making her way toward the exit, guided by my father. He had our pet parakeet's covered cage in hand as we left the apartment and descended the three flights of stairs.

The fire did its damage to the building across the lane but thankfully, there were no injuries. Our own windows had been hot to the touch, and the ivy on our walls was badly singed but our building escaped flame. By daylight, we were back inside our home.

I remember seeing the gutted apartment with its blackened windows by the light of day. Long icicles hung from the roof, balconies and each visible doorway and window. The smell of smoke permeated our home for weeks. I remember thinking that I would not like a repeat of those frightening events anytime soon, and opted very consciously to select different pajamas to wear for sleeping over the next several nights. Weeks had passed when I realized that the blue, flowered ensemble in question was never to be found again. I had to wonder if my mother had also decided that they were bad luck, and discarded them shortly after the fire. Most likely, I had probably outgrown them and they were simply weeded from my drawer along with other clothing shortly afterward, but that was what I believed at the time.

Fast forward almost fifty years, and I'm still making illogical connections between clothing and negative events, so I'm thinking that maybe it's time to put this silly notion of "bad luck" to rest. A colour can not manipulate the world around me, nothing bad will happen because of what I choose to wear, and I really like navy blue. So the next time I go shopping for clothes, I'm going to purchase at least one sweatshirt or tee in that colour to prove that I can free myself from the burden of superstition. And nothing bad will happen.

But, keep your fingers crossed just in case...

A few hours after writing this post, I found a dead Blue Jay on my driveway - a small pool of blood around its head. Doesn't that just sound like an omen of some sort? I'm going to take it as a sign that I'm on the right track in not allowing this superstition to rule me any longer.

Below are some photos which were taken over the past week or two. Along with my usual descriptions, I've included a reference to a superstition for each one. I hope you enjoy them.

Superstition tells us that a wish made on the first robin of spring will be granted.
This wasn't the first robin I saw this year, but it's the first one I photographed. (please click to enlarge)

A baker's dozen is the widely-feared number thirteen.
I saw what I first thought was a peeled tangerine floating in the pond. It took my zoom lens to help me realize that it was actually a donut. Perhaps one of a baker's dozen. (please click to enlarge)

If a farmer could see the sun shine through the branches of an apple tree on Christmas Day, this could be taken as a sign that the following summer would provide a good yield of crops.
Before the ice was fully thawed, this branch and its reflection caught my eye. I thought it looked like a stick man, with a large, featureless face. (please click to enlarge)

Most coconuts have three eyes but rare One-eyed coconuts are considered by some cultures as a bringer of good-luck and prosperity.
I thought this was the strangest collection of debris that I'd ever seen in the pond - several Carnation heads, a half coconut and a plum. Perhaps somebody dumped their green box (collected for compost) here. (please click to enlarge)

As kids, a common saying to express excitement for an others good fortune was "You lucky duck!"
This Mallard couple had just spent the last several minutes preening. You can see a soft, downy feather still clinging to the female's bill. (please click to enlarge)

Before leaving on a semi-lengthy drive, Frank touches the feather he keeps on his rear-view mirror for a safe journey.
This duck feather was one of many left behind by preening pair above. (please click to enlarge)

I imagine that mink are unlucky animals since their fur is in such demand.
Glancing into the sunset, I could see something swimming in the water alongside the dam. A few seconds later, this little mink emerged and scampered along the edge of sundown. (please click to enlarge)

Some say that the colour of a cooked Goose's breastbone can predict the weather for the following year.
This pair of Canada Geese relax in the same golden light of sunset. (please click to enlarge)

It seems there's an Italian superstition that frowns upon toasting with with water, or attempting to "clink" with plastic cups.
A child's colourful sippy-cup must have fallen off of the dock at some point. You can easily see the cute little hippo, but can you see the little bear smiling back at you? (please click to enlarge)

It's considered bad luck to kill a seagull (particularly for the gull).
The pond was alive with gulls taking off and landing, one evening. I liked the way shadows fell from the tree and the dock behind this seagull in flight. (please click to enlarge)

Many people hope to ward off bad luck or tempting the fates by knocking on wood. I don't think that knocking on a Wood Duck would count.
Generally, our pond is filled with Mallards, Canada Geese and Seagulls all year round. In warmer seasons, we'll also see Cormorants, three varieties of Herons and various transient species. This Wood Duck stopped by for a visit this week. He worked hard at chasing off another drake, in hopes of keeping a Mallard female to himself. Doesn't he have beautiful colours? (please click to enlarge)

What superstitions do you believe in - if only for fun?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

On The Rocks

Last month, I posted a few February images. Among them was a photo of Benny, whose muzzle was all covered in snow from chasing down shovelfuls of the flaky, white stuff.

Shortly after that blog post, I received an email from very talented artist Jeanne Long whose wonderful work is featured in The Long Zoom exhibit at University of Minnesota's art gallery - The Arboretum. Her email included this sketch of Benny. Jeanne stated that she hoped I didn't mind her taking the liberty of sketching him. Of course neither Frank nor I minded one bit, and were in fact very pleased that she shared her fine drawing with us. I'm just as happy that Jeanne permitted me to share her creativity with you. Please click on the above links to see some of the other lovely artwork she has done.

When I went to Frank's last week, there were a few obstructions on the pathways which we follow on our usual morning walks with Benny. As a result of a sudden thaw and heavy-duty rainfalls, the ice-laden creek flooded the area surrounding its shores, the walking path and into the groves several meters away. The force of the water broke up and carried huge blocks of ice with it.

The path was fairly clear up until this point where the creek overflowed days earlier. In order to continue our walk, we had to climb upon, and walk along these huge blocks of ice. On the right, you can see that a tree stump was brought along for the ride. Up ahead, Frank keeps a steady pace but Benny decides to wait for me to catch up. (please click to enlarge)

Ice chunks are lined up along the shore. There's going to be a lot of mud when warmer weather returns. (please click to enlarge)

You can see the layers of freeze-thaw-refreeze on the sides of these over sized ice cubes. (please click to enlarge)

Tree roots have been rudely ripped out and exposed. (please click to enlarge)

This young tree is one of the casualties. (please click to enlarge)

Other trees were bent, but not broken. Frank has been trying to reorient this trunk daily so that it will stand tall once again. (please click to enlarge)

Just to get a bit of perspective, Frank is a tall guy, and this wall of ice probably reaches about two thirds of his height. (please click to enlarge)

Taken from on top of the ice, this park bench looks dwarfed by its new surroundings. (please click to enlarge)

Frank finds a new, but cold place to park his rear end. (please click to enlarge)

Benny is totally unaffected by his scamper over ice blocks, and tromps through the mud. He dares anyone in sight to take his stick. (please click to enlarge)

This little video shows how Benny responds when we "threaten" to make a grab for his prized stick. It takes place in an area farther from the creek and therefore unaffected by the flood.

A happy, victorious dog. (please click to enlarge)

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Sun Track Mind

It's almost spring in Southern Ontario. This means that in the past week we've had temperatures ranging from -20C (-4F) up to a lovely high of 16C (61F) on Friday. We've experienced rain, snow, quick thaws, floods and glorious, golden sunshine. We've also welcomed a revisit from Daylight Saving Time.

Before too long, the snow and ice will be completely gone and signs of new growth will be apparent. Despite a return to colder temperatures this week, it's encouraging to be on this precipice between winter and spring.

Last week, I took one of my semi-regular trips to visit Frank at his neck of the woods. It takes me three hours by bus and train, but it's a relaxing trip as long as I have a good book to read, and I usually do. My camera is typically on my lap throughout the trip, just in case something catches my eye.

Not far from my departure point, the tracks cross the Credit River. In summer, its waters are dotted with boats and wind surfers, but throughout the winter, its icy surface takes on many patterns, whether snow-covered or in semi-thaw conditions. (please click to enlarge)

As we pull out of Toronto's Union Station, a peek through the window across the aisle allows me to capture a shot of the St. Lawrence Market. (please click to enlarge)

The tracks hug the shoreline of Lake Ontario for much of the trip. (please click to enlarge)

The railroad tracks are shared by both commuter trains and cross-country railroads. The green GO Transit car where I sit, is reflected in the window of the VIA Rail train as it zooms by. (please click to enlarge)

Once I've settled in at Frank's place, the excitement begins. We'll usually grab some lunch, get a bit of shopping done, play a game of cribbage and before you know it, Frank is ready for a nap. Oh yes, I just exhaust him! Once he awakens, Benny is ready for his late afternoon walk. It's my favourite time of day, this time of year because the sunlight offers beautiful visuals like this gateway to the magical south cedar grove. (please click to enlarge)

At this bend in the creek, a beautiful tree bows to meet the rushing, swirling waters below. The frigid air weaves lacy patches of ice close to the water's surface. (please click to enlarge)

A closer look at the ice-covered twigs. (please click to enlarge)

This tree has a tiny wooden ledge nailed into it. It's one of the many spots where Frank leaves a peanut for the squirrels throughout the winter. One day, finding himself without a supply of peanuts, he added a nickel instead. This of course was left unappreciated and untouched by the woodland critters. Sometime after that, just for fun, I added a dime to his coin but it disappeared shortly afterward. The snow has recently thawed considerably, and as we approached the tree, I asked Frank if he'd ever found the dime on the ground nearby. As I asked, I looked down and saw it shining back up at me. It's now repositioned on the ledge beside the nickel. (please click to enlarge)

I've photographed this grove of cedars before, but I find it irresistible when the golden sunlight hits it just so. (please click to enlarge)

Along the shoreline, the golden tree trunks shimmer in the icy waters of the creek below. (please click to enlarge)

On our way back out of the grove, the sun glows from behind these kissing cedars. (please click to enlarge)

Just outside of the grove, the full setting sun brightens the path ahead of us, transforming icy patches into gold. (please click to enlarge)

In a few days, I'll post some photos of the results of last month's flood which carried great chunks of ice out over the morning walking path.