Something Smelly This Way Comes.

You just never know who you'll end up chatting with at a dinner to honour family doctors. That's where we were last night. It's about the safest dinner in the world I've ever attended. For once in my life, I was suffering from a richness of doctors! Imagine! About 70 of them for 350 'patients', also known as dinner guests. What a feeling! Choking on a chicken bone? No probbie...poke the guy next to you, he'll fix it. Cut off your tail with the carving knife? Surgeon's next table over, two seats down! It was wonderful! And wouldn't you just know it? Not one Doctor got called!!!
So in that sense, we all got skunked.(Slang Dictionary : verb, as in,no points and nothin' happening you want to remember).
However, the woman I sat next to used to take in orphaned,abandoned,sick, and wounded wild animals. Having been to her home once, years ago, we reminisced about the raccoons that roamed the dining room that evening, searching for treats...Rocky and his pal Mustave. She said that she no longer took animals in, as they'd moved from the country to town, but one of her fondest memories was taking care of baby skunks (North American striped variety).
Note to readers! I sat next to a woman at a doctor dinner who said, " You scoop the skunk up by the scruff of the neck, stick his tail between his legs, and give it a baby bottle.Would you please pass the pickles?"
For your sake (and mine) gentle reader, I demanded clarification! A skunk will not release his disgustingly odoriferous, makes me want to puke, scent if he/she can't get the tail up above the back. So! Note to skunk skulkers, tail goes down.
Former wild animal rescue girl, now real estate agent, also said that skunks can't actually see very well - mostly shades of black and white and shadow - which is why they also are sometimes seen snuffling along the edges of things. Living things like cats or dogs, who then jump and bark or meow in dismay as a mega spritz of skunk juice hits them between the eyes. And then they (STINKY cat or dog) let their slaves (you or me) bathe them in tomato juice and club soda for the next several weeks.
Score at this point? Skunk - 1, Cat/Dog/Human - 0 (aka skunked).


Is it in Good Taste? How Apt is it?

A couple of days ago I ran across an article about aptonyms. It became my new word of the day as I learned it refers to the phenomenon of some people's names being particularly suitable to their professions. As in Dr. Dick Tapper, a urologist in Toledo, or Mrs. Shirley Loveland, a wonderful kindergarten teacher in Ottawa. Today I heard the best aptonym ever! It belongs to Mr.Dickie Arbiter...who is the Queen of England's former (ahem) press secretary. Dickie is quoted by CBC News as saying "I find what she's done extraordinary to comprehend". He is referring to Canada's Governor General attending a northern celebration in Nunavut with Inuit elders, and honouring their cultural traditions by eating a sliver of raw seal meat. (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2009/05/27/gg-seal-snack-527.html) The British establishment is, apparently, in an uproar, thinking we Canadian's are pretty gauche, while vegetarian's world wide are going "ick". Anti-seal hunters are aghast, pro-seal hunters are happy happy, and pretty much every Canadian has formed an opinion by now.
Me?? Well, I think it's amazing that we love all things "Native" when it suits us. We can eat meat, but raw meat? uh, no. Who cares if it's done with respect for the animal that will feed a village, and has been part of the Inuit culture long before there were government regulated hunting and fishing seasons? ( I do, for one)
I also think GG Michaelle Jean is to be praised for respecting the traditions of an ancient culture and being brave (yes, I think this was a brave act on her part)to do it so publicly.
And Dickie Arbiter? Would you care for some Steak Tartare?


Let's Make Couplets

The Luna Moth is beautiful

And only flies at night

The Nighthawk craves her silky wings

Thinks they’re a tasty bite.

The fiesty little Siskins

Are eating niger by the bag

The Hummers flitting to and fro

Are recovered from jet lag.

The Phoebes and the Pee Wees

The Swallows and the Finches

All flocking round our garden now

It’s growing bugs and inches.

Even the flower beds are springing!


Jus' Fiddling Around

To enhance your reading pleasure, click here
(That's Andre Brunet, a Canadian Fiddling Grandmaster playing)

As we (me and a great committee of staff and volunteers)are putting the final touches on our plans for this year's annual Waterfront Festival it's hard not to think about the amazing talent that exists n the Ottawa Valley!
The "Valley" was first settled 180 years ago by a rough and ready mixture of Scottish, Irish, German, and Polish lumberjacks, who honed their musical skills in the logging camps during the long winter nights. Step dancing and fiddling help to while away many an evening,as there were no boom boxes, TV's or laptops available. While I definitely do NOT profess to know much about music, I DO know that the fiddling that evolved out of the Ottawa Valley is considered "dirtier" than that found in Ireland, and the dancing is looser...Likely because

they were all having far too much fun to worry about concerts before the Queen and her consorts!
Most importantly, when the men would erupt from the logging camps in the spring like a bunch of wild banchees, the fun really began, and thousands of little stepdancers and fiddlers and singers were begetted or begatted. And that lineage is responsible for the the fact that you can't swing a cat without hitting a musician of some sort here in the Ottawa Valley today.
And a great bunch of people they are too!

Brian Hebert, Peter Dawson, Louis Schreyer - all from the Ottawa Valley - all in the Ottawa Valley Music Hall of Fame - and AMAZING to listen to and or watch. Bands from the 70's, like Rocky Sands and the Pebbles with the incredible vocal chords of Eli Boucher, and his band of merry dancers with really big hair, and really tight pants. THAT'S a sight for sore eyes! And to top it off, they weren't good, they were great! Three decades later they can still sing, and dance, and fill the local arena.

Not to be outdone are local legends like Timmy Hermitte, who croons and fiddles and charms everyone he meets - and has been playing pretty much all of his life.

And then there's Sab, with a voice like Tom Waits, a love of cherry whiskey, rock and roll and life itself.
These guys are all phenomenal, and many will be playing here in Pembroke this summer - along with their friends and families - at the Waterfront Festival - Aug. 7, 8, 9, 2009.
It's a Celebration of the Ottawa Valley, and YOU should come!


Techno Birding

The trip to Point Pelee was a complete success! Great weather, lots and lots of birds (including 8 new ones for my life list) and the RV we rented was fabulous! A flat screen TV with satellite antenna? Who knew you could have all the comforts of home, in the middle of a provincial park, surrounded by trees and water! I actually got to watch the final episode of Gray’s Anatomy…(and I bet Izzy isn’t dead come September)…

But what really struck me this trip was all of the technology that seems to have inserted itself into our lives …not just satellite TV and radio, but, there I was, walking around Hillman Marsh and literally looking at a Grey Catbird on top of a sumac, when my cell phone rang. Hmmm. To answer or not? Caller ID identified my son in Calgary (2000 km away) so I answered, and he wanted to know about his cat! Specifically, can they/do they fight to the death? After assuaging his fears, we continued on our trek around the pond – which is a wonderful place to see shorebirds. Lots of photographers set up their tripods on the edge of the marsh – and the competition among the digiscopers can get pretty fierce! I actually overheard one guy comment that he could actually count the feathers on the gadwall’s head. Digiscopers? Try explaining that one to your grandma!

The following day, back on the boardwalk at Pelee, amidst a group hike, we were trying with great difficulty to spot the Common Yellow throat who was adamant about sticking in the thicket of things. No problem, the man next to me pulled out his iPod, scrolled to a photo of said bird, and hit play…very softly mind you, as this was slightly against the rules of better birding…but in a flash, there was our little friend, sitting on the end of a branch, looking to see who was calling. iPod? Maybe something like a collection of eyeballs, laid out in a row, like in a pea pod?? I don’t know – and nor does Grandma.

To keep things interesting, many of us were twittering back and forth with friends and family –a little tweet here “Finally got a Northern Parula” and another tweet there, “Time for lunch, where are you guys?” I mean, you have absolutely no reason to be out of touch – even if you have a million reasons like you might want to be! Even saw one group walking around with walkie -talkies, “Hey, Bert, come back to the Tilden Trail, that's where the Kentucky’s been spotted.” (Never did find it myself). And then there was Simon. Simon is the Brit who kept saying I was “a fruit”, until I figured out that what he (who lives inside a little black box) was actually saying was that we were “off route” and either follow his instructions on how to get back to the campground, or turn the damn GPS off! Which we did. Found our way back just fine…in time to watch the telly.


Fowl Morning

I usually stumble out of bed every morning around 6:30 am, and head to the kitchen to put the coffee on (organic, fair trade of course). This is the view that greeted me on Tuesday.

The feathered flotilla had arrived! Where we live on the Ottawa River, there’s a fairly shallow bay, Bellows Bay -and it’s a local birding hotspot for waterfowl. Not sure why it’s called Bellows Bay though – perhaps after the cows that pasture beside it?
But I digress. It was a spectacular sight…all these geese swimming on water so calm they were making little goose wakes.

There’s a reason I’m often a few minutes late for work! I’d much rather sit and sip my coffee and just take it all in.! And you never know what else will show up…like this pair of Wood Ducks. In my mind, the most beautiful ducks in the world! Right in front of me, no less! Look! Duck Duck Goose for real!

There’s really no appropriate place for them to nest on our beach – some big old trees yes, but some big old dogs and some big old boats …and if they choose the tree they’re scoping out this morning, by the end of the month they’ll be fifty feet from water, not 10 as it is right now with spring run-off.
The intrepid little pair of fancy ducks just marched right out of the water, and up the slope to check out the pine tree. Man! I need a better camera!

Don’t think they like the neighbourhood, sadly. Not sure that the phoebe likes the purple martin house either. I know! It needs a lick of paint – it’s on John’s honey-do list….right after plant the garden, fix the porch ceiling and screens, build new deck, lay flooring in the basement, new ceiling there too, and paint the family room area. So, uhm, might get done soon… or it might not.

Oh oh, look at the time! I’m going to be late again.
Dang! Memo to self. Find a clone.


FINALLY! Hummers are here!

Monday, May 4th, 7:34 pm -Allumette Island, Quebec,
about 5 minutes from Pembroke, Ontario. Let it be noted that the first Ruby-Throated Hummingbird of 2009 (in our yard) has been spotted at the feeder!!! -which I put out yesterday just in case...It was such a big thrill because this year's winter/spring transition has felt long, cool, rainy, and depressing and this just makes it feel like finally(!) spring has sprung!
The little guy made it! and I feel really good! Like cheering on the tiniest marathon racer in the world with all odds against him...and he wins! Yayyyyyy! There is a glimmer- no, an iridescent explosion of fuchia - hope indeed.
I reported this first annual siting on: http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html and if you haven't already seen one, then this is the place to do it. Cheers all!


Tour de Back 40

It's spring here in the Valley and time to take a little walk around the back quarter and see what's up! It's also time to get some fresh air and exercise and exorcise the memories of the last night's failed gourmet rotisserie chicken.
Coulda been the wine, coulda been the beer -coulda been the total lack of rotisserie-ing experience that we had, but our attempt to impress worked! Just not the way we thought it would. Good news, we caught the burning chickens just in time, doused the flames and the cottage didn't catch fire. Bad news, they were, uh, slightly charred. Not my finest moment as a chef! Nor John's.
On we go. First up, is the wintergreen...it's so up it never really goes down all winter, and here it is all bright and shiny. Kind of want to smack it then walk all over it...but then it would smell like spearmint (or wintergreen). Once when I was about 8 years old I spent my entire allowance (25¢) on a bag full of spearmint “leaves”. Ate everyone of them too. And have never eaten another since in over 40 years! And don't like the smell much either. Lesson about not sharing well and truly learned, thank you!

On to the next discovery...
Ah, Cat with Nip. Cute...Did you know that cats aren't supposed to actually eat the leaves? Or drink Rum and Pepsi?

What else does the land reveal to me on this walk with the cat, who's name is Dawson? Well, the pecker wood tree (as we call it) seems to have had some recent visitors...hmmm...Downy? Hairy? Pileated? All three call our place home, so maybe they take turns and share nicely. I'll admit, it's got me stumped.
Although it is indeed May 2, it's too chilly to linger on this walk, as there's a bit of wind happening...so let's get on to see what's saying helloo today....
Ah, yes, the French Tarragon that will not give up. This herb amazes me! It will grow to be about four feet tall, and lives in complete ignorance of the fact that it is totally neglected off in the back corner, stuffed in to a hole in a cement cinder block and left to its own devices pretty much all year. I LOVE plants like this. I think Tarry and me are BFF's!
Oh, look! There's Oregano under the rotting oak leaves...also stuffed into a cinder block because experience has shown that this baby loves to spread itself around and is pretty promiscuous – Orgie will go anywhere, and hang out with anything. She's great for fresh salads and pizza and eggs and pasta and tomatoes...doesn't do all that well with ice cream.
What else do we have here? Ah yes, the several parsley plants that John nurtured last year...not sure why or how they overwintered...very odd! I thought they were annuals...mea wronga apparently.

Well, that's it for today's tour. Did I see any birds you ask?? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I did..just forgot to focus for a moment: (there's a thunder storm happening) phoebe, chickadee, pine siskin, purple finch, white breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch...and I have to shut down before lightening stri....: <()


Gaspé, Percé and Bonaventure Island (aka Paradise)

Without doubt, this beautiful region of Canada is one of my favourite places on the planet! From the moment we left Quebec City, and headed towards Ile d’Orleans, we began to unwind, seeking out the special little shops, like the boulangerie for fresh bread, the fromagerie for some cheese, and the poisonnerie for delicious shrimp and lobster. All these ‘eries made us very happy, and slightly larger than when our journey began! But nothing compares to an impromptu picnic sitting beside the St. Lawrence River watching the soaring gulls and ocean bound trawlers while nibbling on a baguette and sipping some vin blanc!

One of our many stops was at the Reford Gardens (Les Jardins de Métis). This incredible park is the home of the stunning blue poppy and the site of many national and international garden art installations. Our “let’s stop for an hour” turned in to half a day as we wandered happily through several gardens with various micro climates that Elsie Reford strived to create many decades ago. Successfully I might add. If you can’t go in person, be sure to visit their website: http://www.refordgardens.com/

Another must–see is Percé Rock which is a Canadian icon. Probably the most photographed rock north of the 49th, it’s awesome when you come around the bend of the highway, and there it is for the very first time, looking exactly like all the paintings and pictures you’ve ever seen of it. At low tide, you can walk around the base of the rock, but are constantly cautioned to keep an eye on the time less the tide rolls back in leaving you stranded and more than a little wet!
Just beyond Percé is the one of the prime reasons we took this trip (besides the food of course) and that’s Bonaventure Island and the Northern Gannet colony that has claimed it as home and a great place to make and raise baby gannets. Words cannot do justice to the sounds and the smell (!) as you approach the colony, which is primarily nestled on the southern cliffs overhanging the Atlantic. There are so many birds that you can actually see the undulations of the rocks on which they sit. And they love the rocks – in fact, they won’t go on the grass, so you can approach within inches, literally, and as long as you stay on the grassy parts, they won’t move from their hard fought piece of scrabble.
We watched and watched these lovely birds with their striking blue eyes and soft peaches and cream colouring. There were thousands of them. How could they possibly go out fishing and come back to the same spot, without error? They do though, identifying their mates with subtlety unique vocalizations. There’s a lot of crowding on these high rise cliffs, but relatively little fighting. We watched as males returned to the nests, and the females immediately began to stroke their necks and beaks – a lovely gesture that calms the males and keeps their attention focussed on the family and not the big feathered butt bobbing around beside him!
Over the years, I’ve been on many beaches, and simply strolling along them is fine – rather nice actually – but searching for sea glass makes it even better! And the rocky shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence yield up lots of shards of green, and brown, and blue, and white. Between looking up at the birds, and down at the water, gathering bits of this and snippets of that – flotsam and jetsam for the intrepid gatherer – it’s a lot like paradise – and I can’t wait to go back again!