adventure, childhood

Lost In Time

They say that memory plays tricks on us. I think it teases.  

I had often thought it was 1967 that I had joined a sailing trip out to Giants Tomb Island, on Georgian Bay. I was part of a flotilla of two small gaff-rig dinghies and an 18-foot sloop. Our crew comprised a dozen young campers, boys who had all qualified to be in our expedition by passing the requirements necessary for open water sailing. We had embarked from our summer camp, nestled at the mouth of Frying Pan Bay on the northern tip of Beausoleil Island, one of Canada’s beautiful national parks.

As we entered the main channel that pointed us northwest, we had a clear view of our summer vacation home: twelve red-roofed shanties and a dining hall, perched on a frozen magma flow of pre-cambrian granite.

Our summer camp on Frying Pan Bay, Beausoleil Island

The glacier-smoothed, pink and grey rock was sprinkled with low stands of green juniper bushes which eked out a living on less than three or four inches of hard-earned sediment and gravel. Groves of young red oak trees occupied the site, anchored by tall white pines, quite symbolic of the northern Ontario 30,000 Islands—windswept, stately and rugged, all at once. A population of 160 campers and staff romped over and roamed the site, on their way to skills and sports sessions.

Ahead of us was the opening to Georgian Bay. Tomahawk Island to our right, and Ardilaun to our left. These two guardians let us loose to sail on the powerful, awesome blue waters of the Great Lakes.

If you look at a satellite image of Beausoleil, you will see from the advantage of height the terrible submarine terrain of the shoreline. Over 10,000 years ago the last invading ice age scraped away the surface of the rock with the slow, unrelenting brutality of a gigantic bulldozer. The landscape is indelibly scarred. It gives the impression of a housekeeper’s impatient sweep of a tired broom across a dirty kitchen floor, painful streaks left behind with each effort.  The region is blessed with the name of 30,000 Islands, and indeed, there are probably that many if you count all the small desolate islands and hidden shoals that may appear suddenly before the bow of your boat.

Which brings me to the strange beauty of Giants Tomb Island. It resembles a burial mound of a three-mile giant.

Giants Tomb Island, in southern Georgian Bay

Geologically, it is a glacial till, a deposit of residue from the receding glaciers. But historically, and more important, according to legend, the island is the final resting place of Kitchikewana, the powerful, and terrifying son of Manitou.  The story goes that Kitchikewana was frustrated in love, and in a storming rage threw a handful of gravel to the ground, forming the 30,000 islands. The people were frightened by him, and when he died, they burnt his corpse where it fell. As the flames grew, and black smoke rose from the funeral pyre, its ashes fell to the ground as swarms of painful, biting flies.  The flies are still a curse today for any sailor who visits Giants Tomb.

Our small expedition emerged into the open waters after passing the Whalesback Islands, an archipelago that is the southern guardrail of the Cognashene channel. From here we looked forward to long tacks in rolling six-foot swells as we steered west to the Tomb four miles away. 

While our Camp program was historically devoted to canoe tripping, sailing was an exciting diversion that allowed for the wind to do the work. With a crew of four in each boat, our skippers could test us on the techniques and knowledge that brought true understanding of sailing. Every item in the boat was identified, and worked until we were proficient. 

The task was to keep our bearing, but also to watch the sail and gaff for any change in wind. The constant hiking on the tilting decks of the dinghies was a thrill as the occasional swell reached  up to douse our shorts with warm lake water. The summer sun and pleasant breeze escorted us to the shore of the island by late afternoon. Overall, it was a successful crossing for a group of kids, many from the city who had never been so far away from home, let alone dry land. 

Giants Tomb is the remnant of glacial action. Its beaches have virtually no sand, but rather are cobbled in worn, rounded sedimentary stone, dredged up and exported from southern Ontario on the undersides of massive glacial arms in retreat. As a result, we moored our boats out in waste deep water to avoid any possible hull damage.

We spent the evening on the shoreline eating, singing and storytelling, feeding a warm fire with driftwood and looking up at the stars all around our heads.  Liberally coated in bug repellent, we fought off the scourge of sand flies which nipped at our ankles incessantly. The ashes of Kitchikewana bent on revenge. After checking the boats, we turned in and slept. The wind was steady out of the west, and as we were on the lee side of the island, the night was calm.

In the morning we were up with the sun. Except there was none. A heavy blanket of fog, low-flying cloud, had smothered out the light, and we ate our campfire breakfast in a clinging cool grey mist that swirled about the boats, but did not dissipate. By eight o’clock we were launched, and headed for home, with a gentle uncertain breeze behind us.

The voyage home was expected to be one long broad reach, sailing before the wind, and as we let out our sheets, the sails filled, suspended under the gaffs. For any spectator, our parade was scenic.

Our dinghies, gaff-rigged, and crewed enthusiastically.

A red sail on a white dinghie, another yellow sail on a brown, led by the blue sloop with its jib and main sail spread wing and wing.  From above, three small dots venturing across the froth and foam of Georgian Bay waters. Hopefully, the fog would blow off and allow us to watch the coastlines as we headed back to Beausoleil. 

But the fog persisted. In spite of the wind, it hung around us as we tobogganed off the waves and made our way east before wide open sails. The water gurgled along our hull and bubbled up behind our stern while the steel centerboard moaned as it fought the currents below. It was another teachable moment. We sat in the cockpit of our dinghie, working the 1:50,000 chart and Silva compass to keep us in the clear, more or less. Tracing and projecting our path across the vast bay was exciting, guessing our exact location on the green and blue map spread across the floorboards.  

How long would this flying blind last? Little did anyone know, but in a lucky moment, someone looked up into the grey, over the gaff. 

“Look out!!” 


“Look! There!”

Suddenly, a huge, white, castle-like structure had appeared, bearing down on us quickly, not thirty yards ahead. It was a gigantic boat dividing the heaving waves in our direction. Staring up at the vessel we could see its upturned bow, a foredeck of windows, with a pilot’s cabin one deck higher. 

The City of Dover, with passengers waving to onlookers.

Our skipper yelled at us, “Hang on. We’re jibing!” He pulled the tiller to his side, and the boat heeled to the right as the boom flew across our heads. The stern of the dinghie broached for a moment , and we found our maps and gear in a pool of water. The boat tossed sideways with the change in energy, and when we looked up we saw that the gaff had goose-necked, pinned on the windward side of the boat, twisting the sail and lifting the boom upwards like a broken limb. The boat continued to turn into the wind until we were tossing in a violent luff, and then the gaff swung back to norm and the boom crashed down into place. Thankfully no one was under that piece of lumber as it fell.

The wild ride continued as the boat now spun into a westerly direction, and we were, ironically, chasing the steamer that nearly put us under. Along its starboard bow were the words, City of Dover. Its wake lifted us up and we scalloped across a set of waves as the stern of the steamer disappeared into the grey.

The City of Dover in the main channel heading to Honey Harbour.

Did it ever see us? I don’t know, but typical of young adventurers we roared with excitement, laughing off the near collision, righting our course, and continued our way back to camp without further disruptions.

But the event hung with me for years, always a moment of intensity, and I wondered whatever happened to the City of Dover? I set out to get its story. And when did this really take place?

Casting my line across the internet, I learned that the boat was built in Port Dover on Lake Erie in 1916, and was slated to deliver passengers, freight and fish to the port of Erie, Pennsylvania. The fact that this boat originated in my home County of Norfolk was an intriguing coincidence. 

The wooden hull was 75 feet long, 20 wide, and had a draught of 7 feet. It had a gross tonnage of 81 and could carry up to 197 passengers. 

In 1921 it left Lake Erie for Midland Ontario as the newest addition to the Honey Harbour Navigation Co. Ltd. Out of the fish business, it was a freighter delivering supplies and laundry to the islands around Honey Harbour. In 1928 the Dover was sold to the Georgian Bay Tourist and Steamships, Ltd. It provided service between Midland and Go Home Bay, north of Cognashene on Georgian Bay. For several years she was owned by a group in Penetanguishene, and ultimately sold again in 1955 to a couple in Sault Ste. Marie. They refitted her in Wiarton, and initiated ferry service between Salt Ste. Marie (the Soo), and Michipicoten Harbour, on Lake Superior. The business shifted however, and the Dover resumed service between Midland and Go Home. At some point, the boat added a pilot’s cabin above the upper deck for better visibility. That hadn’t helped us though.

The City, beached on the stones of Little Lake, Port Severn.

In 1960, the steamer was 44 years old. It was drydocked in lock 45 at Port Severn for the winter. There, sadly, its new owner discovered its keel was broken, and the boat was taken out of service. It was moved to the Lone Pine Lodge on Little Lake near Port Severn. Its latest owners planned to open a restaurant or an amusement park on the injured vessel. But over the years, it was crushed by ice and eventually burnt to the waterline. 

The timeline of my story however was suddenly altered. According to all reports, the boat was no longer on the water by 1967, the summer of our last meeting in my faulty memory. In fact, there are images of the once proud steamer lying on its side like a bloated elephant, circa 1965.

How could that be? For a moment, I actually imagined an image where the burning flames of the dying steamer launched a ghost into the fog of Georgian Bay to scare the daylights out of me and my fellow sailors. A crazed, fire-breathing Kitchikewana would be at the helm. What a delicious tale.

But after searching out fellow camp cabin mates, as well as two crew who worked on the Dover and the Keewatin in the 50’s, I came to accept that it was likely 1959 that we met the City of Dover. I was only ten and half years old. And it was in its last year of operation, perhaps its very last trip.

But I remember it like it was yesterday.

Thanks for reading and sharing! I also thank Dean Nichols (1952- 1953 crew Dover) and Jim Sykes (1946-1956 crew Keewatin) who worked on the boats starting in their early teens.

Photos were provided by summer camp mate Skip Lumley; John Todd, Administrator for Facebook group site Huronia Past and Present; and Tom Barber, “Looking Back 60 Years in North Simcoe, January 15th 1961.”

Government, Media, Mystery

Ballooning Problem

What a complete embarrassment. First we let a floating convoy of three school buses float by at 70,000 feet. We shoot it down. Now, no news about the buses.

Where’s our super powers when we need them?

You know, thirty-seven years ago ocean scientist Robert Ballard discovered the burial ground of the Titanic.

When finished arcing through space at 18,000 miles per hour, every returning space capsule is reliably plucked out of the waters within minutes by US Navy frigates. After the tragic downing of a PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988, forensic scientists combed the debris field to find an incriminating piece of metal with a serial number to track down the terrorist bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrai.

Still, as of today, we have no news about the “object” which so threatened us.

But to deflect some of the scorn, we then went out hunting, and brought down three more unidentifiable objects, one the size of a Volkswagen. It took several days to reveal these objects were suspended from balloons. Really? Did no one in the press room have the temerity to ask? Or was the administration not bold enough to answer?

Meanwhile, one such object is splatted on the ice off the north shore of Alaska. Another lies on a mountainside in the Yukon, being picked over by mountain goats. A third is quietly sleeping below the drifting currents of Lake Huron, resting on the sandy bottom, waiting for a ride.

When will we see the Volkswagen?

Now we are told with a shrug that the objects were probably privately owned. No doubt the owners fear getting a ticket, and are not claiming the goods.

If there ever was a time that the administration needed to communicate clearly and consistently, and the news media attempted to get to the truth, this would be it.

Environment, Science

This Is Breathing Easier

This summer we encountered a situation that was creepy and unnerving, and hardly expected. The house we were living in was on top of a radioactive site.

Well, that may be exaggerating a bit. Not a Chernobyl, for instance. But nevertheless, we were surprised to find that about one quarter of the homes in our neighborhood are subject to potentially deadly radon gas.

We bought our house over thirty years ago, and have loved its layout, design and location. It is a beautiful home. Coming from Ontario, we were a little surprised to find that our prized ranch did not have a full basement, but rather a large crawlspace adjacent to a subterranean room which serves as the ‘real’ basement. In fact, that smaller-sized basement has discouraged us from stowing thirty years of accumulated unnecessary stuff.

The crawlspace now sealed under 6mil plastic sheeting

But the crawlspace– it runs under two-thirds of our home. It is high enough to allow one to crab about on all fours, with easy head room. The expanse of it is covered with about 4-6 inches of pea gravel. Under that is a thin plastic sheet to keep out the moisture from below.

When we closed on the house, a necessary radon inspection was performed in the basement. This was a foreign concept to us, but, hey, we’re from out of town. The fellow used a sniffer geiger counter of some sort, and observed, “Oh, it’s a little high, but no big deal.” The real estate agent was quick to agree, and encouraged us to close the deal. We loved the house, and we closed. Commissions were earned.

Flash forward to 2022. Our county health department advertised the availability of do-it-yourself radon test kits. Since we had been conditioned to COVID self-testing, the radon kit was easily understood, and after all, what can it hurt?

So, we tested. The numbers came back in a few days by email, in RED block letters, citing unacceptable ratings. Like three times higher than barely acceptable. Wow! The stuff was collecting in the basement, but worse, settled nicely in our bedroom and family room where we spent more than a third of our lives.

Drilling below the basement

It was time to check out radon, and understand what the big kerfuffle was about. Information is easily found online, and we read that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. The numbers are confusing, but bottom line, radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year according to the EPA and 2,900 of those are in non-smokers.

Who knew?

Radon is an inert, noble gas. Its cousins are helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and oganesson. They are called “noble” because they don’t react or bond with other elements easily. Stand-offish you might say. Nevertheless, they do have their value: helium is perfect for balloons and making squeaky voices. Neon gives us every flashy sign we ever saw, and is at the core of every country song. Krypton is used in fluorescent lights, and as the fabled home planet of Superman. Xenon also is used in lighting. Radon is actually used in cancer therapy. It is the result of radium, uranium and thorium decay, and is found in well water, rainwater and in the ground. It has a half life of about 4 days, so it does diminish in potency. It is also heavy, so tends to stay low, like in our basement. You can imagine how impressed we were to have that radon bubbling up in our living space.

The vacuum pump and exhaust pipe

Consulting the county health department’s website, it turns out that 24% of the homes tested in our county have unacceptable radon ratings. Virtually one in four. Really.


We felt it was worth our while to eliminate the threat. We hired a radon mitigation team to seal up our basement. The solution was low-tech, but required some physical effort. Two contractors came in from Wisconsin, and laid perforated PVC piping across the floor of our crawlspace. The entire crawlspace was then sealed under a thick sheet of plastic film. Then the piping was connected to a vacuum pump that sucked the air out of the ground beneath the sheet, and vented it outside. A second pipe was also punched through the concrete floor of our basement, and connected to the vacuum. The installers turned on the pump, and within a week, the radon rating plummeted to a safe level.

Is the threat significant? Depends upon your state of mind. One thing’s for sure, if you intend to sell your home, it will probably include a radon inspection, at which time you might have a 24% chance of losing the sale as panicky buyers run out of the house.

For all the information on radon, here’s a website that may help you: And for a closer look at your state and county, try this:

Culture, direct mail

You Gotta Know How To Fold ‘Em

You know you’ve been COVID-locked down and masked up waaaaay too long when you have time to dissect a napkin fold. But there it is, lying before me in our favorite Thai restaurant, “Green Basil” in Vernon Hills, IL. –a beautifully constructed paper napkin. It is neatly folded and tucked to a soldier position at the side of my placemat.

I am captivated. Why?

Well, as a direct mail designer, I know the importance of format. As I was once told early in my career, by a great, professional copywriter, Chris Tomlinson, Toronto, “Before you can write good copy, you have to learn how to fold.” This, and a lot of other good advice is in my book, Many Happy Returns, expressly written for people who earn their living through direct marketing.

Anyway, as we were waiting for our food–shrimp rangoon and pot stickers– I was captivated by the napkin fold that was before me. I immediately unholstered my cell phone to photograph the construction of this napkin. I hope you get it, and try it out for yourself!

Here is the diner’s first view of the napkin. Notice the diagonals and neat corner fold which is used to tuck in another corner.

So I unfolded the napkin, all the way, and here’s its starting position.

Fold in half:

From the top, down, fold in half again.

Fold up one loose corner.

Flip it over. You are ready for the close!

Start the vertical folds, into the center. See the diagonals forming at top and bottom?

And again, fold into the center, and tuck in the corner.

The finished product is simple, yet elegant, and conveys the sense of purpose that the Thai restaurateur has for pleasing their diners. You know the napkin will be left in a crumpled mess, but no effort was spared in preparing it for the pleasure of the guest who sat before it.

The meal was perfect!

Agriculture, Culture, Mystery, Science

Standing On The Edge

Please forgive me for my absence! For the past few months I have been carefully editing a new novel, Edge of Destiny.

We have all found some escape route that has led us through the endless months of COVID, and mine was writing a story about two kids who grow up in a hurry on the eve of World War Two. This is a tantalizing and compelling tale that takes place in a small town which is on the brink of recovery from the Great Depression. Reppen is located in Norfolk County, and its ticket to greatness will be the fast-growing, world demand for Virginia ‘bright leaf’ tobacco. Claudia and Theo are high school seniors that are watching that future crash before them as the Nazi and Soviet threat unfolds in Europe.

They graduate from Reppen High and leave for college quite literally as war is declared by Hitler, September 1, 1939. Over the next year the couple navigate the streets of Toronto, the halls of university, and the growing pressure to enlist and fight, all the while learning about themselves. Claudia is a brilliant girl who up-ends the physics department as she enters that long-established male bastion. Theo, straight off the farm, faces the prospects of joining the RCAF.

Their trajectory comes crashing down when Theo is mysteriously swept away by unseen forces that drop him into the future, 80 years later. He seeks help from amazed and puzzled strangers in a desperate, impossible search to re-unite with Claudia.

This is a story that delivers a narrative about small town life, farming and the grit and reality of urban living. The characters reveal the unbeatable optimism of youth in the face of military conflict and raw, undisguised evil.

Above, my personalized offer for U.S. residents.

Edge of Destiny is available for all Canadian residents online at Amazon.Ca.

I will add, that U.S. readers can order direct from me using PayPal.Me/pmb1267, or mailing me a check. In return, I will personally sign and dedicate your book and get it delivered, pronto! The details are in the enclosed brochure, here.

Culture, Thanks

They Earned Remembrance

Nearly two years ago I was invited to get involved in a writing project focused on my hometown. More specifically, about a generation of kids who lived in Norfolk County and died in World War II. The task looked academic in nature, and I was drawn to it, as much for the opportunity to write as well as to learn about the sacrifices these young adults made.

John Luxton, RCAF 23 years old

I did not realize what I had signed up for. The penny did not drop until I cracked open my first case.

George Brockington, RCAF 21 years old

Norfolk County is a picturesque spread of land that rests on the northern shore of Lake Erie. From the air, its most distinguishing characteristic is the long spit of land that creeps eastward into the center of the Great Lake. That’s Long Point. The next recognizable feature is Big Creek which is fed by countless streams and brooks, and runs from north to south through the heart of Norfolk, and spills into the bay created by Long Point.

The land is primarily agricultural and its sandy loam has been the productive real estate for a century’s worth of tobacco, fruit and vegetables. By 1939, Norfolk had a population of more than 35,000. Most lived in the countryside. Some 6,000 of these residents took it upon themselves to join the million-plus Canadians who went to war in support of Great Britain and its allies.

159 soldiers, sailors and aircrew never came home.

In the greater scheme of things, the casualty rate doesn’t seem shaking. Less than three percent. Covid-19 has been just as lethal. Joseph Stalin was once quoted as saying, “when one person is killed it’s a tragedy. When a million die, it’s just a statistic.”

Donal McLeod, RCAF 21 years old

A small group of Norfolk citizens decided to push back on this detachment. Why? The names of the 159 are engraved on a brass plaque in Simcoe, the county seat. Once a year there’s a ceremony to celebrate and honour the dead, but beyond that, those youthful volunteers are lost in the fog of time and current events.

Glendon Theakston, RCIC 20 years old

To that end, this motivated group decided to write the short life stories of the young fighters. They enlisted researchers, including secondary school students, retirees and part-timers. The Norfolk County Public Library gave structure to the project, and a generous benefactor provided seed money to deliver an astounding book about this lost generation of kids.

The source of detail on the men, their families and service record was retrieved from Ancestry.Ca, local newspapers, as well as from personal accounts provided by living family members.

What was not well understood at the outset of this project would be the effect it had on us doing the research and writing. As a seasoned Baby Boomer, I have taken a lot for granted in my upbringing, and I bet most of my peers, their children, and grandchildren have not a clue about the grave developments that gave us 1933-1945. Sure, we’ve seen the movies, and read a few books. A tiny fraction, a scintilla of us, may ever have seen a military cemetery up close. And the raw, territorial aggression of three malevolent dictatorships that spawned the war is unfathomable by today’s standards.

Eighty years ago the scene was different, and Norfolk’s young adults, mostly in their late teens or early twenties–college-aged by today’s measure– safely protected by the Atlantic Ocean, left their homes, and committed to fight a fight three thousand miles away.

Doyle Culliford, RCN 22 years old

I was lucky to receive thirty boys to write up. We wanted the stories to bring to life their upbringing, their family background, their hobbies, schooling, girlfriends, wives, and in some cases, children. In the telling we found family photos, portraits, service records, military journals and diaries, medical reports, post mortems, letters from home, letters from defense departments, character references, heartfelt pleas from parents, and yes, burial details. As one worker commented, “I had to stop every once in a while, just to process it.”

The end result of this revealing expedition is the publishing of an incredible book ‘Norfolk Remembers World War II’ that gives an honourable recognition of just who these 159 kids were. And in many cases, what they could have been had they not been struck down in the cause of freedom.

As Remembrance Day occurs, I will give more heed to what these heroes did for us, and as the book wished, I will remember them throughout the year.

Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope you will keep a lookout for Norfolk Remembers World War II which will be available later this year.

Cars, Science

Woolly Bears Unleashed

This past weekend we enjoyed what can only be described as a summer extension. Sitting by the sunny warm shores of Lake Michigan, we were delighted to find a fuzzy little friend, the Woollybear caterpillar.

As I have been deeply involved in authoring another book, a time-consuming project, I am shamelessly reprinting a story first published by the Toronto Globe and Mail, September 21, 1985.

“As we approach the end of another summer, we can look forward once again to sanity on the roads– but not quite yet.

“Any day now, drivers will be rattled by the wanton and reckless onslaught of woolly bears, those brown furry caterpillars that churn across the roadway like runaway locomotives.

“At one time I cultivated the notion that these creatures were compelled by nature’s dictates to make the near-suicidal break for the other side of the highway — in search of food, a mate or something mystically greener according to their multimodal instincts.

“This is not so. In fact, the woolly bears do it for a lark. They hear the oncoming cars and then dash for the pavement like surfers in search of the perfect wave. As the car whooshes over them, they are scooped up in a pocket of turbulence and tossed head over tail before they tumble harmlessly to the road like an old sock. Then they unfold themselves, and with antennae twitching and fur bristling, await the next car.

~ Phil Brown, Brampton, Ont.”

Thanks for reading and sharing! These little fellows are mythically said to foretell the winter coming soon. Mean time, they traverse the road for recreation. Drive carefully!

Agriculture, Culture

At The Edge of Cliff and Water

Niagara Escarpment, Wisconsin

Twenty-one months into COVID hibernation, we often wonder when we’ll see our kids again. They reside on the other side of the border, a thin imaginary political line of separation. While thinking of that, it dawned on me that we do share some common geography.

Living near the shore of Lake Michigan, outside of Chicago, we share the same water basin as those kids who live in Toronto, on the shore of Lake Ontario. So while we may be some 600 miles distant, I take some comfort knowing that we drink from the same trough.

Paddle To The Sea

I am reminded of that wonderful book, Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. A young boy dreamed one late winter of sending his small carved canoe “Paddle Person” from the melting ice of Lake Nipigon down into the Great Lakes, and ultimately to emerge in the Atlantic. It’s an excellent illustration of our connectedness by way of the water.

Paddle Makes His Trip

Less well known is our connection due to the Niagara Escarpment. As a boy raised in Southern Ontario, I have always taken the escarpment as one of those unique wonders of Canadian geology. The escarpment appears–and I will elaborate on that in a moment–to originate at the Niagara Falls, the escarpment’s namesake. Being some 170 feet high, the Falls are an incredible sight of raw nature, and have attracted millions over the years to view them, and feel the mist on their cheeks. They drain Lake Erie, and feed Lake Ontario. Back to our young boy, his Paddle Person will plummet over those falls in the story.

The Escarpment Starts in Rochester

What any Ontarian knows is the migration of the escarpment west to Halton County where it turns north, moling through the terrain, eventually emerging on the Bruce Peninsula, which forms the western shore of Georgian Bay. At the northern point, Tobermory, the escarpment slips under water and emerges at Manitoulin Island near Georgian’s north shore. For Canadians, myself included, the escarpment ended there.

Upper Level of the Door County Quarry

Imagine my surprise a few years ago when a friend in Green Bay Wisconsin pointed out that the Niagara Escarpment actually formed Green Bay itself, on the northwestern shore of Lake Michigan. Who knew? Our public education system failed to make that clear, decades ago. Let me just add, that as of thirty years ago, living in Toronto, I had no idea even where Green Bay was. My ignorance of Great Lake geography was woeful. The escarpment arcs in a southwesterly direction from Sault Ste. Marie, and forms a ridge that descends as far south as Appleton in northeast Wisconsin.

Potawatomi Park

Only then did I appreciate the true size and dimension of this iconic limestone ridge. As a frequent visitor to Door County, Wisconsin, I marvel at the escarpment’s height and color. Well I should, as The Door owes its existence to the rugged cliff. The county’s maximum height is around 150 feet above Green Bay, close to that of Niagara Falls. At hundreds of sites along its coast, viewers can see the craggy cliffs that jut out of the waters. Inland, the roads nudge up against the towering limestone and dolomite rocks comprising thousands of distinguishable layers of sea floor, exposed to the air after hiding nearly 400 million years underground.

The Caves on Lake Michigan

How did that happen? What made the pre-historic promontory raise its head?

The escarpment’s genesis is a long story told well in a short paragraph. Over a period of some 24 million years, during the Silurian age, an ancient sea was the home of jawed and bony fish and arthropods. They lived, died, and floated to the bottom to be pressed into limestone for the next 400 million years. You can see the remains of these creatures in the cliffs as long flat layers of cream-to-gold colored crumbling rock.

Early May Cherry Blossoms

For your confirmation, the Jurassic period was only 200 million years ago. During the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago, the region surrounding the Great Lakes was submerged under a two-mile thick layer of ice. The weight of the ice pack actually depressed the land beneath it. When the ice melted, the weight was removed, and the land popped back up. The melt water helped dissolve much of the outcropping, and the escarpment was revealed. The process is called post glacial rebounding, and it continues even today.

A New Planting of Grapes

Door County is the beneficiary of this geological epiphany. It is sandwiched between the temperature-moderating waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The 40-mile spit of land is ideal for growing grapes, cherries and apples. The bi-products are wine, pie and cider. This agriculture is very similar to the escarpment in the Niagara Peninsula which also flourishes with similar viticulture and orchards.

Trilliums in Abundance

We visit Door frequently, and as I stand on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, I think that as far away as Ontario may be, the water, and the cliffs connect us. Living in the Great Lakes region is a wonderfully inclusive thing, and the little Paddle Man proves it.

Thanks for reading! I hope that COVID has not prevented you from seeing your family, but hopefully you have mutual reference points, a star, a TV show, a sports team, perhaps a song that brings you closer together.

Paddle-To-The-Sea was written and first published in 1941. Beautifully written and exquisitely illustrated, its ISBN is 0-395-29203-4.

childhood, Culture, Sports


It’s an odd word. Historically, ‘scrub’ was a pejorative meant to dismiss people of poor moral content. More recently, it meant to be cleaned whole. And in sports, a match was scrubbed due to some other factor: weather, disqualification, illness, schedule. But for me, Scrub is the game we played as kids in my hometown of Delhi. I was reminded of it as the Yankees and White Sox emerged from the cornfield in Dyersville Iowa last Thursday night.

White Sox and Yankees emerge from the magic corn in Dyersville, Iowa

There are whole libraries devoted to baseball, so I won’t try to start another, but Scrub was a derivative of the game that frankly was a lot more fun than nine against nine players. What made it attractive was the balance of a strict empirical order of play versus wild random luck. You could be at bat, and a moment later, lost in right field.

Scrub used the same diamond as regular baseball. Our school had two diamonds, and any recess in the spring would find them full, playing this all-inclusive game.There were no teams. Everyone was welcome. Players were positioned by how quickly they responded to the invitation to play.

“Who wants to play Scrub?” This invitation was announced usually by the guy who brought the bat and ball.

Immediately, all involved named their positions as they were sequenced: first batter, second batter, third batter, catcher, pitcher, and so on out to left field. You had to be quick to get high up in the order. And there could be numerous players. That is, the outfield could have ten fielders, who were numbered as such.

The play of the game was initiated by the pitcher who as always, trying to strike out the batter. But failing that, a fly ball was an option to be caught out, and the interchange between fielders and basemen was the other avenue to get the batter out. And here, the numbers worked against the outed batter. They went to the very end of the line, maybe as far back as tenth fielder, while everyone else moved up a notch. So it was that everyone had a chance to play every position. What better way to sharpen one’s skills?

The beauty of this game however was the introduction of pure, wild random luck. If the batter popped up a fly, and it was caught, that catcher traded places with the batter, thus skipping to the head of the line. Catching a fly in Scrub was like winning a lottery, albeit a very small one.

An additional merit of Scrub, absent any team requirements, is that no one suffered the ignominy of being the last chosen for a team. I think that’s why I enjoyed Scrub so much.

There may be some baseball allegories in life: ‘striking out’, ‘getting a walk’, ‘popping up’, ‘a home run’ for example but Scrub was a receptacle for all of these. You could be on top one moment, and out in left field the next, and before you knew it, right up to bat again.

Thanks for reading and sharing! I hope you had the opportunity to watch the “Field of Dreams” game the other night. Apart from the crowds who came onto the field, and then invited to walk through the corn, it was an eye opener too: what kind of corn grows nearly twelve feet high??

Agriculture, Wildlife

Fence Wars

The pandemic is winding down, sort of. Despite the restrictions put upon us, I decided early in the spring, that this would be the summer of the flower garden. How much trouble can you get in, if you never leave the yard, right?

A fine summer garden, suitable for replication!

To that end, I retrieved pictures of a magnificent Door County Wisconsin garden that I wanted to replicate. Taking this photo in hand to a local nursery, I sought the help of a smiling lady who would identify and select the flowers I wanted to grow. She enjoyed my enthusiasm as I racked up the charges. She joyfully counted up the zinnia, rudbeckia, sweet potato vine, coleus, ageratum, gladiolus, alyssum and countless pots of geraniums. I was envisioning a floral presentation which would turn the heads of any passers by.

While I trailed behind her among the rows of flowering flats of annuals, I couldn’t help noticing the abundant displays of leafy, shade-loving plants as well. Perfect for the crabapple-covered berm in our front yard! So I loaded up on some plants blessed with strange and exotic names like hosta, lilies, caladium, coral bells, heartleaf, and lungwort, and pushed a crowded steel buggy back to the cash register. It was without doubt, the most expensive impulse I had enjoyed in a long time. And the flowers would pay that all off.

The Shastas delivered a mountain of white.

I won’t bore you with the earnest labors which followed, turning over the earth in our front, side and back gardens, pulling out the weeds and dead roots from prior year’s efforts. But count on it, the ground was mightily disturbed, and by the end of two weekends, I had planted all the greenery, laid down some delicious fertilizer, and watered.

And waited.

The summer of the flower garden was off to an auspicious start. Every day through May and June I walked the perimeters, pulling out weeds, and smiling as blooms started to appear. Meanwhile, the perennials were covering for any spot not in bloom, so I watched as the shasta daisies blew up into a mountain of white, our bed of roses went wild all at once in multiple colors, evening primrose, sweet william, even our hollyhocks rocketed to new heights outside the fence. The day lilies lining our hedge delivered a marching brass band of orange trumpets. There was no end to the diverse display of blooms, and my dream of the summer flower garden was being fulfilled.

Day Lilies on parade.

The dream was not mine alone however.

On an early morning stroll through the zinnia patch, I was stunned to find that five of the thirteen plants had been felled like prime pulp wood. The perpetrator left no footprints, but in a brazen attack on our sovereignty, had chewed through the stalks at knee height, bringing them to the ground where they were then masticated into shredded greens. Gadzooks!

Zinnias trimmed and cut.

I scratched my head at this, and then went to the side garden where the full Door County display had been planned. Calamity again. Three more zinnias, which are the tall variety and much counted on for color, had been trimmed and toppled. But adding to that injury, the same dastardly villain had also chowed down on the sweet potato vine. The vine, when mature, provides a brilliant light green, or a dark purple outpouring to the garden, knee high. It was at this time, lower than a coalminer’s boot.

I recalled a short discussion at the nursery: “Do deer or rabbits like sweet potato vine?” The helpful lady replied, “Well, they are a vegetable, you know.”

Baby bunnies: “Don’t leave the nest!”

Galvanized by these assaults I quickly looked for our asiatic lilies and their brilliant orange blossoms. There they were, in shreds like forlorn tears, fallen from their completely denuded and decapitated stems.

It struck me that I had sown my own misfortunes. Back in April, while weeding around one of our hundreds of clumps of narcissus, I spied a small brown furry animal. It was a baby rabbit. Following his mother’s instructions, he was frozen in place, waiting for me to go away. But I didn’t. Looking around, I discovered that this little fellow had disobeyed a greater instruction: “Do not leave the nest!” Indeed, there was a nest, burrowed under the side of one of our roses. It was beautifully made with a soft bedding of warm, sun-soaked leaves, and at that moment, home to three more baby bunnies.

Then, I made the worst error possible. I informed my wife who is an ardent bunny lover, that we had a tiny family of four in our rose garden. After settling her down, and dampening those motherly instincts, I promised to leave the small nursery to itself. Cute little fellows, they were smaller than my fist, and had tiny bunny ears. How could I possibly harm even a whisker on their adorable heads?

The wiley bunny: hungry and crafty.

We watched for them constantly, and after a couple of days, they had fled. Occasionally they would pop their heads out from under the back deck, or play a hopscotch game beside the yew hedge. We were entertained as they rolled in the sand–where there used to be a healthy lawn–and laughed as they nibbled on blades of grass.

So I was reconciled to a hands-off policy vis-a-vis the bunnies. As it turned out, one day a gorgeous red fox was skirting around the backyard. Foxes are quite extraordinary. They have sharp, well defined facial features which telegraph high intelligence. And their tail, it floats behind like a giant white-tipped bronze scarf in the wind. But most importantly, though sadly, they love rabbit. From that day on, the bunnies no longer frolicked in the yard. Except for one, whom I suspect is the same one that wandered from his nest as an infant. And he was now the numero uno in our backyard.

I thanked the fox under my breath, and explained to my wife about the circle of life and other esoteric philosophies about food chains, karma and rabbit ragout, which by the way is highly over-rated. We had rabbit once in a Montreal restaurant, and I nearly dislocated my jaw because of its rubbery texture.

Trimmed, just like McQueen would do it.

The fox disappeared from our yard, and I saw that my best defense against further intrusions was a fence. I retrieved a sturdy green plastic net fence from the garage, and staked it up around the zinnias. I likewise circled the sweet potato vine in the vain hope it would recover. Returning to discuss my “wall” strategy, I was reminded of my promise.

“You won’t hurt the bunnies.”

“Nope. I am just cordoning off the area. We will co-exist.”

“Good, because they have a right to be here. And I like them.”

“No problem. We’re good.” I smiled and pursed my lips.

Maybe the bunny can read!

Next morning I returned to the garden to view the zinnias. Two more were down. But not eaten. Just snipped off at knee height and abandoned, with the blooms lying on the ground as if their necks were broken.

“What the hell?” I searched again for tracks. I found none. But looking closely, I found a small trap door had been incised through the green fence. Ankle high, the door was opened from the bottom, hinged at the top, and its sides neatly snipped off. “Crap!” I couldn’t believe it. The rodent had cut his way in, like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. To his credit, he mischievously decided not to eat the flower, but just to kill it, to vex me.

Doubling down, I placed bricks against the hole. “That’ll do it, mister. I am onto you now.”

A perfect 3×5 incision.

Next morning, I couldn’t get out to the garden fast enough, and to my dismay, another hole appeared in the fence. And he had cut through three giant marigolds. Rabbits don’t like marigolds. They smell, and they leave orange stains like Cheetos. Still the bunny had struck again.

“Do you know what he’s done now?” I challenged my wife. She responded defensively, “You need to share. They’re hungry too, you know. I think they’re cute.” The fact is I kind of admired the little varmint. The bricks had only egged him on. “I gotta get a better fence!”

ACE Hardware had just the thing– a black plastic, tight mesh fence, 30″ high. I brought it home, and wrapped it around the original green fence. “There. That’ll show ya.” I mumbled to myself. Our summer of the flower garden was getting off to a rocky start, but I felt that there was still time to bring it across the finish line in full bloom. Mind you, the garden was taking on the appearance of a prison yard.

Enjoying a mid-day snack.

Next morning, I stared out the living room window, wondering if I should even take the regular patrol. “What the hell, may as well.” So out to the yard I went, and carefully navigated among the geraniums to get to the prized zinnias. Almost with silent admiration, I gasped, “Two more down! How the heck did he do that??” I should point out that these zinnias are the “cut and come again” variety, according to the little plastic bookmark that comes with each pot. It dawned on me that perhaps the rabbit could read.

Looking closer, I found a section of the new fence where it did not cover the old green one. And there, like the open door to a rabbit smorgasbord was a perfectly carved opening. The bunny had precisely cut a 3″ x 5″ entrance, leaving no sloppy trim, no hanging flaps. A tech school grad could not have done better. I actually think he preferred the new material.

The surprise of this latest violation was that he had cut down no new flowers. I suspect he wanted to leave them for a later meal. But I am off to ACE again, this time, for a steel fence, and perhaps a 12-volt battery.

My plans for the magnificent summer of the flower garden continue, but I now admit that I have a hidden partner in the operation.

Thanks for reading and sharing! I hope you have better luck with your summer garden!