childhood, Culture, Education, Wildlife

Big Creek

For the past couple of weeks I have been enchanted by a Facebook site whose entire focus is looking back at my old hometown, Delhi Ontario.

Young fishers on the bank, waiting hopefully for that first tug.

It has been a treat, viewing grade school pictures and tagging names to people I haven’t seen in 60 years.  There have been renewed conversations with these long lost friends.  While the site’s members are asking others to remember their shared experiences, it has also rekindled some memories of my own that I clearly had forgotten.   Running central through these experiences is Big Creek.

The creek drains west Norfolk, like a vast willowy exotic plant.

Big Creek is about 40 miles long from its smallest tributary running into Windham township, at the northern border of Norfolk County. As it heads south towards Lake Erie it gains volume and girth, first with the addition of Brondy Creek north of town, then Cranberry Creek, from the west, in Middleton, then Trout Creek and Silver Creek come from the east, in Charlotteville.  Further south it expands as Venison Creek flows in from the west of Walsingham.

Two youngsters head into the edge of the Carolynian forest.

It drains west Norfolk through a valleyed web of locally named brooks, streams, rivulets, freshets and runs that on a map looks like the willowy profile of a vast, exotic plant.  Through its valleys grow a robust Carolinian forest, distinguished by towering beech, hickory, walnut, sassafras, butternut and tulip trees.  The woods are alive with rich scents and sounds, modified by the steady gurgle of flowing water.  Underfoot we find marsh marigolds and vast spreads of skunk cabbage.

Along every bank there is a path, both sides, worn deep by the feet of literally centuries of generations of natives, settlers, small animals and small people.  They are there to walk, fish, camp, trap, hunt, swim, wade and stare deep into  the current’s constant pushing of sand and silt towards the lake.

Green pools hide the fish on a sunny afternoon.

Fighting the flow are small fish– trout: brook, brown, and occasional suckers which vacuum the river bed.  They are scurrying against the riffles to sink deep into the green pools under fallen trees and trapped logs.  Every elbow in the river is the occasional site of fishers dangling a monofilament line over the pool, waiting for a tug.

The creek offered new events at every turn, especially after the spring floods.

As a boy, no more than 8 or 9, I accepted the waterway as open territory for discovery, as did all of my friends.  Big Creek was as accessible as the school yard and main street.  But more inviting, as it constantly delivered new events at every turn.

At the north end of town, a half mile pedal, racing down swimming pool road, a driveway took us into Deerlick, a rustic retreat.  Some church owned it, and sent their meditating members off to think, and maybe relax.  We wheeled in there on our bikes, and stopping in the woods, a few hundred yards, dumped our clothes, and jumped into a clear, shallow stream that flowed into the mother creek.

Icy water, 12 inches deep!  We hung in long enough to claim a short rebellion against our parents’ warnings to stay out of trouble.  Somewhere back towards the road we could hear the occasional rumble of cars over a steel bailey bridge paved with heavy, loose, oak timbers, and a pounding reminder that civilization wasn’t too far off.

The old swimming hole: fun, sand and noisy with shouts and splashes at a bend in the creek.

The little stream poured into a larger current, and a few minutes back to Delhi, past the horseshoe, which was an abandoned oxbow in the creek, and one could see the old swimming hole.  A sturdy wire bridge was suspended over the creek to reach the other side.

This was a service club’s effort to offer some fun for the youth of Delhi.  At a gentle bend in the creek, the water deepens as it wraps around a sandy beach, grossly out of place in the woods.  Were it not for Norfolk’s sandy composition, there would be no beach.  Nevertheless, there is a place to suntan, a change house, and every weekend the screams and chatters of a host of jubilant kids spread across the creek waters as they drift slowly by.

The dark water streamed by keeping us cool and moving.

The swimming hole is just that.  Shallow on the beach side, the creek bed drops off immediately into a dark, murky green pool.  The big kids jump off a diving board into the dark waters.  On the beach side, I walk out to the end of a small dock and jump in, expecting to hit bottom, waist deep.  There is no bottom, to my surprise, and am shocked enough to inhale two lungs full of water.  My last memory is a stream of yellow bubbles rising before my eyes.

I woke up in the change house some time later.  Luckily, I had been missed by a lifeguard who jumped in and pulled me out.  She must have been terrified as they pumped me and shook me in the change house.  I awoke under the eyes of a group of concerned kids.  I had a horrific case of the hiccups which lasted all the way home as my brother escorted me.  When I met my parents, I said I had taken a mouthful.  A couple years ago, I sent that lifeguard a note with a picture of my family and grand kids.  I pointed out they were her doing, and thanks.

The site was eventually downgraded to a camp for out-of-work transient tobacco workers, and the service club built a new pool up by the rink. Today the area is entirely unrecognizable, and the bridge is gone.

Skunk cabbage: big, voluptuous and odiferous.

The creek flows south, just behind a cliff.  At the top is Talbot Street, and that is the address of the Anglican church, St. Albans, then St Casimir’s the Lithuanian church, and St John Brebuf school.  It is one of the oldest streets in town, and is named after John Talbot who mapped southwestern Ontario, earning himself a throughway called the Talbot Road.  More currently it is Highway 3.

Highway 3 bridge on the west side. Upstream we played hockey in the winter.

Just before Big Creek curves under the bridge, there is a slow spot.  In the winter the ice forms easily, and we often went down to play hockey on the grey skin of ice in the winters.  One had to be careful as open water drifted close by, and our mutual responsibility was to stop the puck from sliding into the icy black that bubbled and melted the edges of our rink.

After the bridge, the creek has a run of a couple hundred yards in shallow waters before it hits Quances Dam.  There are stacks of rough cut wood there, six feet high, air-curing.  I have climbed on those boards and waited for hours to spot the groundhogs coming out on a spring day to catch some noon sun.  The brownie camera I hold takes vague, grey pictures, but they are gold to me, better than Disney, actually.

Big Creek jams up at the dam.  The dam is old, originally placed there in 1830, and powered the lumber mill and feed mill owned by the Quances, one of Delhi’s earlier families.

Quance’s Dam: a concrete pillbox was our watching station for fish jumping.

In my younger years there, I never sensed that lumber was a business. The dam was for our entertainment entirely.  Water cascaded over the concrete, separated by a ten-foot-high pill box between two spillways.  We would jump into the pillbox to stare up into the lip of the dam that was under a steel bailey bridge.  We looked for whatever was coming down, and occasionally for some hardy fish that thought they could jump up into the water above.

Quance’s Mill, creekside.

In the pool below there were small retention ponds built out of stones put there by fishers who wanted to keep their catch alive but captive, until they went home.  One day we played in the pond looking for crayfish and found a nest of lamprey eel.  They were just babies, about six inches long, flashing silver in our hands as we grabbed for them.  They would grow eventually to attach themselves to the game fish in the stream, and in Lake Erie.  Evil little slitherers.

Around the corner, there once was a hanging bridge that crossed the creek.  I never saw it, but it was a convenience for folks who didn’t want to walk around Western Avenue to get to the dam, which was a rendezvous for many purposes.  Farther down, the creek flows under the road, and past Stapleton’s stone welding and metal fabricating shop that is a landmark. When we built a go-kart, he built us an axle for the wheels.

Perhaps the loneliest, most foreboding building in town, our sewage plant.

Further south, the pungent odor of sulphur fouls the air.  We have frequently walked down the dirt road to the town’s sewage plant.  There, we would pass by a one-story cinder block building, lonely, unattractive and foreboding.  Beside it, a fenced off water distribution system carouseled around a 60-foot-wide circle, dripping treated water into a bed of rocks.  There was an intrepid group of truants who climbed the fence and rode the pipes one afternoon, reportedly.  There was mention of a police visit.  It was during school hours, so we missed that.  Nevertheless, we were in awe of their bravado.

Beside the sewage plant springs a bubbling fountain of sulphur water.  It boils out of the ground, exuding its trademark stench, and leaves a milky film over the rocks as it flows down to the creek.  Like a saviour, Big Creek takes both the sulphur water and the treated sewage water away, cleansing the town of its trespasses.

A couple more bends in the creek and it curves past a reforested pine woods.  There were many Saturdays when we sat in those woods, loaded up with a giant bottle of Coca Cola and a pack of cigarettes and solved the problems of our world, mostly school, teachers, parents and girls.  The meandering creek took our troubles away with it.

The new Lehman’s Dam, equipped with fish ladder forms a magnificent small lake extending to highway 3.

Just before it hits another bridge, the waters are joined by the North branch as it is called locally, and Lehman’s dam traps a small lake of water further upstream.  If one ventures up North creek, it eventually cuts under highway 3.  Just around the corner we camped up there for a night in a small canvas wall tent.  Fire, food, smokes, our friendly companion dog for company, and the calls of mourning doves made for a pleasant vacation in the woods.  We were 11 years old, and living the good life.

The early Grand Trunk steam engines blew their whistle on the trestle coming into town.

Back down at Big Creek proper, it travels south under the railway trestle.  Grand Trunk used to run trains over it, and then the CNR.  The trestle still stands today, black and rusted, out of use, and it is a monument to the energy and will of a bygone business generation.   50-year-old trees are growing among its foundations.  When I was very young that same rail line had steam engines pounding over the rails, and I can remember their flute-like whistles, nothing like today’s diesels with their air horns.

The trestle today, unused but picturesque. Credit: Randy Goudeseune.

This patch of creek is a highway for foot traffic.  We often came here, walking down from William street, over the tracks, and into the woods.  On any given Saturday this was a destination hike, punctuated by a campfire, and a sizzling frying pan of hamburger, potatoes and onions.

There was a particular elbow that we would camp on, where the creek rushed by in six inches of rapids.  Wandering out into the water, I fetched a peculiar rock that stuck out among the froth.  Picking it up, it looked like a brick, but very smooth and scarred with shallow scallops like someone had scraped the sides with a spoon.  It was block of flint.

Not knowing this, but still intrigued, I hefted the brick into my knapsack and took it home.  There, I chipped away at it with my dad’s hammer, and amid the sparks, broke off sharp thin wafers of flint.  Before long, I was failing,  but enjoying the attempts at making flint arrowheads.  Just another gift from the creek.  I still have the rock today.

Dicks Hill bridge under horse and carriage.

On Saturdays we went for bike rides beyond the tobacco factory.  The gravel road led to the long sloping Dick’s Hill intersected again by Big Creek.  The steel bridge there was a bailey construction with rumbling timbers that shook with every car that crossed over.  From that bridge you could fish, spit, drop stones and apples to the smoothly passing water below.  The town council closed that bridge in the 70s, and cut off the neighbours to the west of the creek.

The bridge in 1984.

A couple hundred yards in, at another elbow we camped in a grassy clearing over a 24th of May weekend: wall tent, food, fire and our same faithful dog.  It was a delicious, sunny warm afternoon followed by a quiet star-lit night.  Totally inspired, we rigged up a large tripod, and boiled a 5-gallon drum full of water and took showers, then turned in to bed, wet heads on a mattress of pine bows.  The dog wouldn’t enter the tent and slept outside, no doubt looking for varmints.  Next morning we woke under a heavy chill, with horrendous, thick, throaty coughs.  Outside, the dog slept, covered in a heavy coat of frost.

Croton Dam generated 60-cycle hydro to Quance’s Mill. It couldn’t hold the water back in 1937.

A couple miles down from Dicks Hill are the remains of Croton Dam.  We got there by gravel road and bike.  This structure was built over 50 years earlier in 1907, and blew out in 1937.  By the time we discovered Croton it had a young forest of trees growing out of its foundations.  The portions of the dam still standing are worthy of climbing and walking, all the time staring up the steep hill on the other side of the creek.  Looking upstream, it’s easy, and stunning to visualize what the mill pond used to look like, stretching back perhaps half a mile.  Croton provided Quances Mill with 60 cycle hydro, long before Ontario Hydro.

Our furthest bike pursuit of Big Creek was Lynedoch.  This little hamlet is poised in a valley around the bridge over the creek.  Just south is an orderly grove of walnut trees planted decades before: probably thirty or forty 50-foot trees in neat rows across the flats.

A few tools from the fields south of Lynedoch.

As the creek wanders past Lynedoch to another elbow, you can still walk up to the field above where there are arrow heads and tools left behind by an Indian village centuries ago.  Just another find by the water’s edge if you care to look.

Having unloaded my memories of Big Creek, it comes to mind just how lucky we were as kids to live in an unfettered, free-range world, to wander for miles, away from home.  By today’s urban standards, our parents would all be in court facing child abandonment charges.  Thanks to their trust, and maybe to their post-war sense of relief, we were launched optimistically to explore and learn, full time.

All the while, Big Creek was our playground and classroom.

Thanks for hanging in there and getting this far.  This was a long essay, but so is the creek.  Please like and share this one!  Thanks also to John Waite, Randy Goudeseune , James Bertling, and Alice DeGeyter whose Facebook posts supplied some of the images.

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Agriculture, Culture, direct mail, Fundraising, Wildlife

The Forest, The Trees, Or The Beans?

It’s not a secret any more that I enjoy reading direct mail. Not much of a life, you might suggest. Still, it guarantees a walk to the mailbox everyday, and a chat with our favorite USPS mail carrier.

My current discovery revolves around the offer I could not refuse, straight from the Arbor Day Foundation.

These good folks in Nebraska City, Nebraska are on a mission to blanket the country in a thick, variegated quilt of forests.  So when they selected me to represent a small portion of the people in Illinois, I was hard pressed to decline.

Why?

Premiums often trump the original product offer for appeal.

It is a fact that in many successful direct mail offers, it is not the product that gets the sale, but the premiums which come along with good behavior.  Good behavior in this case is responding quickly, and munificently.  In other words, pay up, fast.

The survey is a powerful engagement device, selling all the way.

In return for my promptness, albeit somewhat stingy in retrospect, I might receive Arbor Day’s special rainforest, cool-shade-grown coffee for a year.  Wow!  I am supporting Starbucks right now, but I can be swayed.

It was with this initial buzz on my coffee nodes that I rushed to complete the Arbor Day Tree Survey, carelessly pushing aside any concerns about what would happen next.

The Arbor Day Tree Survey for Illinois is an excellent example of powerful sales rhetoric.

It helps that I am a tree lover.  We live on a third of an acre, and have 17 trees.  I feel rich, and enjoy the annual blooms, the blossoms, the pollen, the seed drops, and the mounds of leaves I rake.

Arbor Day is celebrated nation-wide, thanks to the Foundation’s efforts.

I think the survey deftly gets all the right answers from me.  It lulls me into a positive frame of mind.  I race through the harmless queries.

They ask, ‘have you ever climbed a tree?…when you were a child, did you ever play under or amongst the trees?… did you ever collect leaves, acorns, or pine cones for a school project–or just for fun?’

These questions are softballs, and I hit them all out of the park.  “Yes!  I climbed a tree!  I lived in a tree!…I built a small condominium in a tree!..Yes! I played under a giant Beech as a child!…Yes! I just finished a vast collection of leaves with my grandson!  Yes!  Yes! I did all of that!”

Sophie’s Choice: pick one. But how?

These are soothing thoughts.  For a moment, I slip into a gauzy reminiscence of TV’s defense lawyer Ben Matlock, asking woodsy questions in his unassuming, folksy manner.

But that reverie is smoothly swept aside by a troubling vision of Patrick Jane, the thoughtful, boyish, enigmatic Citroen-driving sleuth in CBS’s TV show, “The Mentalist”.

The questionnaire asks,  ‘Which ONE of the following is the single most important function of trees:    Providing shade?  Providing oxygen? Being a source of beauty?  Absorbing carbon dioxide?  Filtering water? Saving energy by cooling our homes? Providing habitats for birds and animals?’

Like, how to choose?  This is some kind of arboreal Sophie’s Choice, with the bark left off.

The motherlode of premiums: plant your own forest!

Really, the questionnaire does focus the reader to the countless benefits provided by a our forests, here and around the world.  So kudos to Arbor Day for the survey approach.  It segue’s to some opinion questions, and then asks for a donation which opens the gates for premiums.  Big premiums.

Because I have asked for them, I will be receiving 10 Norway Spruce Trees, 2 Fragrant Purple Lilacs, a copy of The Tree Book, and a Rainforest Rescue Calendar.

And the coffee, for a year, I hope.

It turns out that the coffee offer is part of a sweepstakes.  The fine print is found on the inside of the envelope.  500+ words in 10-point sans serif type, arranged in block paragraphs with no indents.  My hopes of those rainforest-cool-shaded coffee beans are evaporating like dew drops on a hot car hood in July.

The 10 x 14 envelope costs extra, but its impact, complete with faux label does the job: it gets opened.

Speaking of envelopes however… I do applaud the package.  It measured 10×14 inches, for no good reason other than to dominate the mail box, and to get my attention.  It was printed to look like brown kraft.  A knockout on the face presents the image of a label, but looking closely I find it is a varnish over the original white stock, masterfully done.  This kit looks impressive, official, and urgent.

The power of data-driven variable imaging: customization.

Inside, there is a personalized letter, and it has a personal note referring to the spruce trees, just right for Libertyville, IL.

Alongside, I find a set of address labels, which are pretty much table stakes in fundraising, but they are optimistically entitled, “Arbor Day Foundation, 2018 Supporter”.  That must be me!  Their 2018 calendar further alerts me to Illinois’ Arbor Day being April 27th.

The mandatory address labels of fundraising, but tastefully designed.

So, I wait.  The trees are coming next spring.  The book and calendar, who knows?  The coffee, fearfully a long shot.  What I do know is that with every delivery, there will be a further prodding and arm-twisting for a gift.

While I am desperately trying to find a place to plant those trees, I’ll give it a thought.

Thanks for reading! If you would like the full appraisal of the Arbor Day Foundation, it is available here, at Charity Navigator.

 

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Culture, Environment, Government, Politics, Wildlife

If A Tree Falls In The Forest

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The woods that colored our view.

This past October has been a searing lesson in keeping one’s antenna up. The teachable moment was the watching of a highly efficient logging crew cut down a thousand or more trees from the lot across the road.

The clear cut was requested by the church which owns the land, and it was approved by the village after due inspection.

You see, where we live we have a village administration which has pretty strong rules about keeping up appearances. You can’t just cut down a tree unless it’s sick, damaged, or dangerous, and if so, you need a permit first.   I used to think too much government is a rein on individual freedom, but this set of rules is a good one.

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This old gentleman looks forward to a questionable future.

It turns out that the church is in the mood for selling the land for development. The challenge was to make the parcel more attractive, and to that end, counseled with its lawyers to build a case for removing a wilderness of 60-year-old trees.

The trees in question were part of an abandoned tree nursery. Fifty-five  years ago, they were planted 10 feet apart, and do you know what happened? The owners gave up the business, and Mother Nature took over.

In fitting out her arboreal family, she attracted a host of wildlife, from deer, coyote and other furry creatures, complemented by boisterous flocks of birds who populated the tree tops with a chatter of music all day.

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20,000 motorists enjoyed this view every day.

Meanwhile, the trees matured to their full 5-story height, and spawned a wilderness of jungle under the canopy.

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Not a winner: this tag identifies a tree that didn’t make the cut, ironically.

The critters loved it; the church not so much.

Then about a year ago, a developer sniffed out a golden opportunity to build a settlement of new homes on the property, and before long, a deal was made. The developer became the authorized agent for the church to get the trees removed.

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Every summer and fall a corn grower leased the land for this harvest.

The new agent petitioned the village government, pointing out the church’s liability if, God forbid, a tree might fall down and clobber a hiker foraging in the woods for morels. It hadn’t happened in 50-plus years, so odds were likely that the jig would soon be up.

With detailed, supporting testimony from professional arborists hired by the developer, and then double-checked by the village’s own arborists, and ultimately inspected by the mayor, the village gave the okay to axe the forest.

Each offending tree was tagged, and given a C.V. page in a three-ring binder. 2,500 candidates were put on the rolls, and 38 were deemed salvageable.

The news finally broke when the local reporter headlined an article on the pending clear cut. Then, and only then, did the public wake up.

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The loggers, like good executioners, did their job swiftly, and well.

But sadly, too late!

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A 57-year-old bleeds a story for the arborist.

In November the heavy machinery came in, and in a matter of a few days, decimated the woods which had pleased passers by for decades. Today, there is a giant mountain of chipped wood on the lot, over 20 feet high, and enough to fill the village swimming pool three times over.

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Three winners. 38 trees survive the cut.

I mentioned passers by.   Approximately 20,000 motorists pass the woods every day. Year after year the woods have been the backdrop to the driver’s view on a seasonal corn crop that has graced the parcel forever, accented by a colorful palette of leaves each fall.

One day it’s there, the next, it’s gone.

Driving north today we see a sodden battlefield of tree stumps, roots and tangled branches, exposing fresh, grainy wood under torn bark and up-ended logs.  A water tower overlooks the scene, never before visible from the road.  Behind that, the once sheltered golf course now presents a naked 20-foot-high wire fence used to catch wild golf balls.

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The new view. Passers by witness the harvest, and drive on, chastened.

As we drive by, our eyes are drawn to the carnage, and then we avert our gaze in disgust.  The sight is sickening.

One wonders if the village will have the gumption to direct the church to clean up the stubble and make it pleasant, minimally, just to keep up appearances.

Though the word “development” is attached to every discussion about the deforestation, we are assured by the village that the decision to remove the trees is not connected to any housing proposal.

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This row of trees is no longer a threat to the hiker.

The questionable proposal to crowd up to 147 houses on the parcel of land is nebulous.  Despite the best drawn plans, it has earned no approvals for re-zoning, plats or building.

In the face of the public’s nausea over the decisions to date, the development may never appear, or perhaps hover in limbo indefinitely.

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2500 trees, reformatted.

Meanwhile, the steam and fumes of fermenting wood chips fill the air with a bitter tannic scent that drifts across our neighborhood.

The lesson we have learned from this smoldering string of events is that despite our best wishes, bad things happen if we don’t pay attention.   To that end, there is an aggressive interest among the population to watch what’s going on down at village hall.

 

While all the time, we grieve, and get on with it.

 

 

Thanks for reading! Please take a moment to share this with your friends. 

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Culture, Sports, Wildlife

Paddles Keen And Bright

We have a fleet of canoes.  It was never planned that way, but nevertheless, fate, good fortune and the wish of one man made us canoe mavens.

Freight Canoe Honda

A typical sight along the summer roads of Ontario.

Just last week our son rescued one from the shaky rafters of a rustic, ancient boathouse on a lake in eastern Ontario.

The craft in question is a Chestnut brand Prospector with v-stern. It is 18 feet long, and has a transom that could host a 3hp outboard if required.

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The Chestnut Prospector known as “Pickle” by our grandchildren.

Our grandchildren call it the Pickle, because it’s green. The Pickle is the last of three canoes which my late father-in-law bestowed upon his three daughters, fulfilling a wish that spanned over half a century.

Chestnut Canoes were an iconic boat company headquartered in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  It went under in 1979, victim of changing tastes.

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1983– Mabel’s Tremblay loaded down with our young family.

The class of canoe is cedar-canvas. That is, a cedar rib and plank hull, over which canvas is stretched and bound into place. You will find modern canoes made out of fiber glass, and the truly exotic craft are made from pure cedar strip.  Last summer we lifted a carbon-fiber canoe with two fingers.   It weighed 14 pounds.

In the heyday of cedar-canvas canoes, it was common that most cottages in eastern Canada had a canoe, or were in sight of one off their front dock.

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Camp was our training ground, and today it commissions at least one war canoe, seen above in their brochure.

Truly a Canadian legacy, the canoe today is still seen on the tops of vacationers’ cars speeding along the highways all summer long. But more often, you will see kayaks.  Hard fiberglass, ultra light, in hues of red and yellow.

When not on the road, or in the water, canoes are habitually found in the rafters of boathouses and garages, nation-wide. Which is where we have two, right now.

The Big Idea

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1996–Our boys ponder a launch of our Pal Chestnut off the front point of the cottage.

Tom Hamilton is my wife’s Dad, and from the time of his youth he had been an outdoorsman. Very much into camping and fishing, Tom enjoyed no greater release than to glide among the ripples of a quiet northern lake, trolling a lure in search of a hit from a bass or muskie. If he couldn’t experience that first hand, he was intent on passing the thrill along to his daughters.

So they went to camp.

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1950– Tom took his team to camp to build cabins. Here they are arriving in “Tough”, a war canoe.

The YMCA summer camp of our youth was built by service groups, in one of which Tom was a member. After WWII, he spent springs and summers cobbling together cabins, docks and dining hall for generations to enjoy.

The waterfront was well stocked with Chestnut canoes, donated by wealthy benefactors.

The skills regimen at our camp focused on canoeing and out-tripping. The requisites were quite firm for campers to canoe and out-trip.

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1989– Tom with his grandson and friend paddling the Grand River in his Pal, “Hochelaga”.

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2016– Tom’s Hochelaga now carries three great grandchildren on the Bruce Peninsula.

We graduated from Tenderfoot to Tribesman, Brave, Chieftain, and Chieftain Expert. A fully-fledged canoeist was eligible for out-tripping when they had mastered bow, stern, portage and solo.

The strength test was to hoist a canoe onto one’s shoulders, unassisted, and portage it about a quarter mile. The canoe weighed around 80 pounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you are swinging it over your head in one move.  The ultimate test was to paddle a “Figure 8” without changing sides.

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The beauty of river canoeing is to enjoy sights unseen from the highway. Grand River, Ontario.

This was the environment Tom treasured, we were raised in, and not surprisingly, it generated tremendous self confidence and pride. The dividend was paddling these sleek, quiet craft on waters through valleys of forest and granite, easily gliding up to wildlife unaware at any bend in the shoreline.

Among Tom’s three daughters, we have 5 cedar-canvas canoes.

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2001–Mabel’s Tremblay under total rebuild. The red paint bled through an earlier canvas.

When he retired in 1985, Tom searched classified ads, read marina bulletin boards, and probably pestered a few motorists who were transporting a canoe, and eventually acquired three beauties.

They are all in Ontario. Mary’s Chestnut (a Pal model) canoe resides in a bay by her cottage on the Bruce Peninsula.   Bonney’s Langford is beside the Mississippi River in Pakenham, and Jane’s Prospector “Pickle” is just returning from a week on Silent Lake.

Many years before Tom hatched his acquisition plans, I had a well-travelled canoe given to me by a veteran cottager on our lake. Her name was Mabel Stearns. Her canoe was made in eastern Canada, around 1951.   I think it is a Tremblay.

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2003– Mabel, all spiffed up, trim and pretty.

It looked pretty rough. Coated in layers of chunky blue and green paint, it had dirty brown, peeling varnish coating its ribs and gunwales, and a hole in its bow, attributed to a fast speeding bullet.

Like most older canoes that live outdoors, its decks were crumbling and rotted from years of storage on the ground.

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Bonney’s Langford among the rushes in Pakenham, Ontario.

We were nevertheless thrilled to have the canoe, and that fall we put on a new canvas, reinforced the bow and stern stems, and painted it red. Not a professional job, but sufficient for the time being.

A couple years after that, in 1981, Tom found a red Chestnut Pal looking for a new owner, and convinced me to buy it from a childhood friend of his for $100.  For me, that was considerable, but at the time, a Pal retailed for $800 or more. This canoe was also broken, and I forthwith re-canvassed it, and painted it yellow.

The reconditioned canoes went to our cottage and traded places a couple of times when a more serious attempt was made to give them a worthy overhaul.

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2015– My $100 Pal after a major overhaul, complete with mahogany gunwales.

Ultimately, we sold our cottage, which is a not uncommon phenomenon in Ontario where tax law makes inheritance of family cottages a costly consideration.

While we enjoyed the convenience of the cottage’s stable location, we now appreciate the canoe for its portability to other lakes and rivers.

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2016– Tom takes his place on the Chestnut.

As a result, the Pickle has visited Silent Lake and awaits its next trip, now likely next year.  Mean time it rests dry in storage outside Toronto.

And our $100 Chestnut has been on numerous lakes and rivers before taking up residence behind our house.   Mabel hangs from the garage ceiling, waiting for her next outing.

For me, the pleasure in all of this has been the fulfillment of Tom’s wish, that the canoe stays front and center in our family.

It has done that, and more so.

 

Thanks for sharing our canoe story!  “Paddles Keen And Bright” is lifted from a Canadian canoeing song, written by Margaret Embers McGee.  The song is sung as a round, a supposed assist for paddlers.

My paddle’s keen and bright, 
Flashing like silver,
Follow the wild goose flight, 
Dip, dip and swing.

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Sports, Wildlife

October 29, An Unintended World Series Moment

Sarnia – Ontario Border Town.

Moments after Game 7 started, a quick visit to the parking lot of our hotel presented this fleeting pleasure: the smell of Fall.

It’s cool here, about 45’F, and the air is refreshingly moist, a mile away from the St. Clair River.

There is an enchanting fragrance in the air. It’s the sweet musty smell of old leaves. Millions of oak, maple and ash leaves, colorful all day,  have fallen to the ground, and are settling in to their final journey of decay. Above them, several million more are hanging on, urging their last breath through the night air.

The bouquet excites the olfactories. It ignites memories of secret Halloween raids on dark nights, running down alley ways and through back yards, over fences, chasing, or being chased.

All the while, there’s this intoxicating sensation from long ago: the cold brew of spent leaves, spiced with distant wood smoke, floating across the yards, streets and empty verandas of a small country town.

Upstairs, it’s 2-0, San Francisco over Kansas City, top of the 2nd.

I really hate to leave this, but it’s baseball.

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Agriculture, Environment, Science, Wildlife

Something’s Rotten in Seattle

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Spreading good everywhere.

My dad and I are driving down backroad south of Delhi on a warm spring morning.   In the air is the unmistakeable bouquet of fresh manure, wafting up from a newly treated acre just upwind.  “Smell that?” asked my Dad as he leaned his head out the window, “That’s the scent of profits!”

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Gogo and Wembly consult Marjory on composting, Fraggle Rock.

Compost is one of nature’s small gifts to those of us who wish to take it.  Bagging up potato peels.   Separating lemon rinds from swizzle sticks.  Throwing eggshells and coffee grounds into a bucket under the sink.

And any kid has to wonder, “when are they going to ask me to take that outside?”

The Korsts, a Dallas, Oregon couple composted their entire consumable garbage for a year after removing all recyclables.  Turns out their actual “garbage” filled a shoebox.   For a year!  Meanwhile the compost heap quietly bubbled and burped in their back yard.  No newscast has yet reported that they have gone missing while detectives are following up some promising leads next to the tomato rows.  But we wait to see.

Today, composting is de rigeur.  Ask the virtuous and self-denying citizens of Seattle who just this week accepted a composting by-law.   Simply stated, compost-eligible items may not exceed 10% of their weekly garbage pick-up.  In other words, “if it rots, keep it.”

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Seattle City Council hash it out.

The city council opened up this can of worms in July with city ordinance 124313.  It requires the frugal and resourceful residents  to reduce recyclable contents in landfill garbage to less than 10%.

Two months later, still not satisfied with the purity of their garbage, city council expanded the 10% cap to compostable matter.  From now on, that leftover duck a l’orange goes under the Spiraea bush in the back yard.

The motive behind this cleansing is to reduce landfill waste.   It turns out that Seattle was shipping 300,000 tons of garbage to a site in eastern Oregon annually.   Remember the Korsts?

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Bags to go: we love ’em but we hate ’em.

Today consumers are whipsawed by legislation over garbage.   Just east of us, Torontonians are thrilled that the 5-cent tax on grocery bags has been repealed by city council.

In this instance, the “single-use” plastic bag definition ran into a legal shredder.   Lawyers argued that once home, using the flimsy bag to hold garbage was a multiple use, and therefore acceptable.

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The sweet smell of success!

You may remember Toronto has had its share of political low days.   One of its good days is the 2010 cessation of trucking over a million tons of garbage to a Michigan landfill site every year.

And farther east, in Ottawa, the citizenry of Canada’s capital were presented with a training video for folding their newspapers.  Why?   To line their wet garbage bin.  There’s government at work for ya.

Which brings me to my main interest: the business of composting.   In my world, if it’s vegetable, it’s compostable and… it’s profitable.

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Modest contributions: raw materials.

To that end, I happily walk broccoli stems, corn husks and wilted flowers out to a pile in the side yard that is the resting place for last year’s Jack ‘o’ Lantern, the weekly grass clippings, and all of the neighborhood’s fallen leaves.

Within this melange of produce there hustles a busy community of worms, sow bugs and centipedes.  They are quietly chomping, digesting and extruding high grade fertilizer.   Behind them, a trail of microbes are further breaking the matter down to its fundamental parts.

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A hard, loyal worker. His rings indicate seniority.

While they seemingly toil without cease, I have learned that the earthworm follows regular hours.   A New York State College environmental paper reveals that it takes 8 hours for a worm to digest a meal, head-to-toe as it were.   And the output?  Anywhere from 2%-44% of its weight.

The scientists who made this finding also report that the optimum population density for earthworms is about 8 one-ouncers per cubic meter.   I know that my compost heap does much better than that.   Judging by the cafeteria lineups, I have a high density worm farm in operation.  Don’t tell PETA.

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Rich, dark goodure.

The compost pile delivers the richest, loamy soil every spring and fall.   In the spring, I transport bushels of the black mulch to our garden.  There, it caps the ground, surrounds the new flowers, stifles the weeds and holds the water.

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Compost delivers!

In the summer, I used another 20 bushels of compost to plant 11 rose bushes.   They are bursting in bloom continuously.

In the fall, I’ll dump another load of compost to cover over the roses and the mums, keeping them insulated until next spring.

Total cost: zero.

My hat is off to the noble and frugal citizenry of Seattle.  But my thanks is to Dad making his point on that early spring morning.

Thanks for reading!   You can “like” this on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr.   Be social and share!

 

 

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Wildlife

Pesky Neighbors

Do you think Bill Murray got his part in Groundhog Day because of his prior experience in Caddyshack?

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Just wondering.

In our own home, we were nearly over run by a rage of groundhogs.   I am not sure what you call a roving gang of 20 herbivorous groundhogs, so I made it up: a rage.    Actually, there was only one groundhog, which we called Doug.   But Doug did have his way with us.   He trimmed all the heads off our tulips.

One day I discovered that Doug had created a complex tunnel network in our backyard, headquartered under the cable TV/electrical/phone station.   I had a vision of Doug one day holed up in his cave, controlling the cable feed, and playing Groundhog Day non-stop like a renegade radio DJ.

We decided that Doug had to go.   My neighbor suggested we flood him out with a garden hose.     Or blow him out.   He  kindly offered two small sticks of dynamite.    Instead, I rented a “Have-A-Heart” animal trap.  It’s a humane wire cage with a spring door. No leg holds.  No harm, no fowl, so to speak.

I placed the trap outside one of Doug’s many doorways, and loaded it up with broccoli, carrots and cabbage.   For two days we visited with no success.   I added even more vegetables, including some turnips.   That worked.   Next morning, we had our perp.  But it wasn’t Doug.   It was an opossum.

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Opossums have a face only a mother could love.   They have silver fur, a pink nose, beady eyes and oversized teeth that they like to bare with a gnarly, nasty grin.   Kind of like Bob Dylan, but without the hat.

They have pink feet and toes and a pink tail.   Nothing like the cuddly little cartoon character Pogo.   More like God had a bunch of spare animal parts left over at the end of the week and decided to throw them together before closing up.

But our work was just starting.   My son and I decided to release him in the park.   So, the steel cage was loaded into the back of our station wagon, and off we went across town to set the opossum free.

I should have thought this through.   After passing hundreds of livestock trucks on the highway, I should have recalled that animals generally react badly to caged transport.  And I should have thought more clearly about the half bushel of raw vegetables fermenting inside our cargo’s stomach, too.

Shoulda-woulda-coulda…

As we slowly moved through afternoon rush hour, the opossum exploded.

The inside of the car was ranker than a jar of gramma’s tomato preserves.     We gasped for air, groaned and gagged as the opossum crawled to the far end of the cage.   Was that an expression of embarrassment on his snout?   Relief?  Or pure animal satisfaction?

And then, he died.   Well we thought he had, but true to his instincts, he had rolled over on his side, and pretended to be dead so we would not eat him.

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Doubling down, the opossum then pulled his final defense: gas attack!!… showering the walls of our car with an odor so foul it would melt the paint off a Sherman tank.

For the next mile, we crept along to the park, windows down, fan on high, and heads leaning out the windows like sorry bloodhounds.   Finally, we pulled over in a wooded area, and opened the back, yanking the Have-A-Heart cage out.   I opened the trap door, and, he wouldn’t come out, hanging from the wall like a furry super hero.

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I won’t detail the extrication, except that we had the car shampooed, inside and out.

But another curious annoyance has cropped up.   Every morning, our TV is on before we are out of bed.

What channel?   The Animal Planet.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this, feel free to follow!

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