Courting Good Behaviour

The beautiful Superior Courthouse in our town recently received an international  Building of the Year  award, in recognition of the outstanding renovation, restoration and heritage conservation that has taken place in the building in the past few years. It is truly a magnificent structure, that by its very presence says Justice Lives Here.

The building was originally built in the mid-1800's, and was in need of upgrading...bringing it into compliance with the modern building codes and security standards necessary to keep the the judges and lawyers and victims safely separated from the criminals. Crime has changed in the past 150 years, and so to have it's perpetrators. The architects and designers tried to show this in their renewal efforts.
Still stately, a place where the weight of the world often sits on the shoulders of those in this courtroom,
 pondering the depth of the crimes and misdemeanors.
 Now, it's also bullet proof, and there are emergency panic buttons if the need arises.
The light shines softly through the windows, and seeks hidden channels so that it can reach the inner depths of the building and shed a little more light within.

The quiet shadow land of the interior court is a place to reflect.
And, if you're about to be sent to jail, a place  to be very, very happy that our criminal justice system decided it was too harsh on the criminals when they were sentenced to a term in what are now euphemistically called "heritage jail cells".
Imagine spending time in here?
Approximately 4 ft. by 8 ft. No windows. A brick platform to dream on. A tiny cubby hole for your slop pot.
No TV. No computer. No lights. When it's dark, that's where you are.
A place to contemplate the reason that all of society's privileges have been removed.
 But it's been deemed too hard and horrid a place, and relegated to history.
But there are some criminals that I think it suits perfectly.
It's a good place for a disgraced, depraved, serial rapist and double murderer who once was a Colonel.


A Walk Around the Neighborhood

Today was one of those picture perfect days, an apple  of a day, a day to celebrate being alive! Cool, clear blue skies, soft southerly winds, and best of all, a Sunday, so nothing to do but enjoy it.
We live in eastern Ontario -the Ottawa Valley, which is a little slice of heaven on the shores of the Ottawa River. I brought my camera along on this morning's walk so I could show you my neighbourhood...
First - the walk out the back door, towards the driveway...and right past the coming winter's warmth:

Yup. We heat with wood (and electric when we're lazy).  There's tons of it around, and it means you can open the doors on a cold day to cool
the house down, and not feel guilty.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself here,
Our driveway is beautiful.

There comes a day, every year when the trees just give up their gold.
And let it fall. Today was that day.
There's always a few hold outs... waiting to be the last leaf to fall.

The sidewalks in my neighbourhood are not paved with cement. 
They lure me, lead me and make me walk slowly. I do not wear a watch.

 I wander down the "sidewalk" and check out the block.
The view of the main drag, so to speak...

Like any urban area, we have to contend with litter:

So many of them! And the smell is evocative of childhood. Rich, earthy, ripe scents of yesterday and filled with promises for tomorrow.
Today, I found plants that weren't quite ready for winter...
Still blooming, defying the odds. How  like a daisy-cle.
The lane to our home is not paved with good intentions.
It's simply winding and welcomes me every time I'm on it.

The front yard is inviting too.

I sit and watch which way the wind blows,
while the leaves dance.



Company's Coming. Now We're Cookin'

Well! My last post led me smack up against a brick wall- nary a thought shared nor a comment posted. So I have to now admit that sidewalk embellishments are more of a niche topic, and I shall send the post off to a bunch of urban planners. They may enjoy it.
In the mean time, I hope you all feel like eating. Food is a topic I love. Not only do I love eating, I love growing it, foraging for it, talking about preparation methods, and ultimately cooking it.
I am not one of those people who eat to live. No, I live to eat.  But I will never suffer from being too thin. (Or too rich sadly). However, I digress.
I achieve almost the same meditative state I get from taking a walk in the woods with my camera and binoculars when I'm in the kitchen, preparing something special. Not just anything though...the daily drudge does not induce peace. Just plain ol' boredom. As in ho hum, another supper, I wish they'd invent new food and I wish I could find the genie in the olive oil bottle, and he could do the dinner drive.
BUT! when company's coming, that's a whole other bag of groceries!
And so tonight, having first served frozen fish sticks and coleslaw (see what I mean? Pure drudgery), I am now cooking up a storm for guests who are coming for dinner tomorrow night.
On the menu:
Warm olives with orange slices, cheese and seeded crackers
Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup
Mushroom Lasagne
Spinach, Pear and Pancetta Salad
Strawberry Rhubarb Vanilla Yogurt
The soup is first up, and is  pretty easy peasy...roast the veg to bring out the flavours, simmer in stock, puree, done.
I have never made this before, but it sounds delicious, I love eggplant, garlic , onion and tomato, so it should be tasty. Should may be the operative word here. We'll see.
It's not that I like to experiment on my guests, it's that  having guests ignites the creative cook within. And I have difficulty following specific directions and cooking within the pot so to speak.  Sometimes the results are disastrous...but not always.
Bathed with olive oil, it's into the oven  the veggies go for some flavour intensification. The kitchen  smells incredible as they mingle in the heat.

Once they've softened up somewhat, and browned a little, then it's time to make formal introductions and let them dance together in a slow simmering pot filled with a tangy broth with accents of cumin, pepper, and thyme...I'm making myself hungry here!

The flavour is rich, full bodied, earthy with a tangy lemon accent and back notes of pepper. It tastes wonderful as it's simmering away, but truthfully, doesn't look all that swell. The eggplant is quite stringy, a gelatinous mass.  I suspect once it's all pureed it will be a caramel colour..a bit odd for soup..but the taste! That will overide the visual, and I'll be sure to serve it by candle light.
or maybe in full light. Bon appetit!

                                                                                         ...to be continued.


All Around the Circle.

When we began paving paradise a few centuries ago in North America there were craftsmen hired to do the job. They took pride in their work and despite it being back breaking, they also tried to inject some creativity into the paving stones so that they would smooth the way, both literally and figuratively.

This wavy tile treatment is a fabulous example of form meeting function! The steel grate serves two purposes: it warns the pedestrians that the cross walk is near, and it drains water away from under their feet.

These bubble bricks do much the same thing, notifying the blind and those in wheelchairs to be careful and watch for passing traffic. Someone was thinking with both sides of his (or her) brain. And while the good councillors of the day may have ranted and raved about the costs of careful construction, I'd lay odds that thousands of lives - and dollars - have been saved as a result of these design considerations. 

And who ever said that stair risers couldn't be attractive; adding greenery and life to a concrete and clay landscpape?
I want to walk up these stairs.
Or these ones...
The idea of letting nature assist, especially  after bulldozing most of it away, is a good one.
Creating spaces that suit humans, plants and animals is a challenge.
One that some cities, like Savannah, seem to be better at than others.

I thought at first, how funny! They think that dogs can read...then I realized
how far some people will lower
themselves for a drink.

This little guy's quenching the thirsty child within.

Travel. See. More.


Between the Earth and the Sky


If you're a birder, with  capital 'B', then you will have heard of Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. Since 1932, it has been a sanctuary for birds and buteos and  buzzards and the humans who want to watch them.
It is an international birding hotspot, and people from all over the world
make special vacation plans so they can be here. 
Just like we did two weeks ago.
The first bird I saw was big. And goofy looking.
Oh. A guide to let us (and the 100's of others streaming to the park)
know that we had arrived. And park your car over there to the left, please.
If by chance you didn't actually know why you were here, the park is filled with reminders, and outdoor guides to let you know what you may be seeing.

And the excitement begins to build as you realize it is entirely possible that you may soon be eyeball to eyeball with a bald eagle. Or a hummingbird.
Just depends which way the wind blows.

So filled with energetic expectation you begin the trek to the top.
 A mere 1500 feet. Straight up, and sometimes down, over boulders.
Can I just say that this looks a lot easier than it actually is? Not so much the climb, but scrambling over and around the rocks was an exercise in ankular dexterity. And for god's sake, don't wear flip flops! ( No, I didn't.)
1450 feet later from this spot on the path, I spotted my first bird!

A Great Horned Owl. Just sitting there! Oh, wait...why is there a tail feather lofting in the breeze? And why so mangy looking? Ah ha!
It's a stuffy GHO. Truly.
I guess he's mounted here to let you know that you are indeed now here too. You're at the north summit, a remote corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, where you  can sit quietly and watch as hawks soar by, catching thermals alongside the mountain ridges and kettling before your eyes. A sight to behold.
Did I say alone? No?
Good, because that is one thing you won't be.
(And no, it isn't a Tilley Hat fashion show.)
It was such a surprise to see all of these people! Although in hindsight I can't imagine why, as they likely read the same birding publications that I do, and were just doing exactly what we were. Seeking Mecca!
So, what's a birder to do?  Enjoy the scenery...birders come in all shapes and sizes, and you may as well people watch while you're waiting
for a bird to fly past.

He was enjoying the cool mountain breezes as well.
Eventually, the birds drifted through. On bright, sunny days like the day of our visit, the traffic is slow. No imminent storm brewing,
no strong winds blowing...
just a nice day for a leisurely flight south.
This Bald Eagle -the fuzzy one that was pretty far way- was one of four that we saw, along with several Broadwings, Sharp Shins, Coopers, Merlins, and assorted other birds, including Chimney Swifts, a Hummingbird,
and some Cedar Waxwings.
Oh, and a Bronze Eagle. Best shot of the day!

 Hawk watching is a different kind of birding all together. Unlike warblers or shorebirds, that you seek out and generally find as you enter their habitat, with
hawks you sit and wait. And wait. And hope the wind picks up.
Would I go back? Depends which way the wind's blowing.
Was I happy we went?
Do birds have wings?


Just Skimming the Surface

I am not a religious person.
Not in the organized  I go to church every Sunday and pay my tithe and listen to the preacher/father/reverend tell me what's right and what's wrong while it  has waged wars, shed blood, burned women and children, harboured pederasts, and committed countless other shameful acts - all in the name of God .
Nope. Not for me.
But I am a spiritual person.
And when I need to connect with myself, my thoughts, my life,
I simply go outside.
And there I find peace. And harmony.
And a sense of wonder.

While garden nymphs gather rosebuds and  look for beauty beneath the bushes,
a miracle is beginning  to dawn along the shores of Cape May, New Jersey
It's a warm September morning. The air is soft, the seas are calming,
and the flock is ready.
Like all good sheep Black Skimmers, they face away from the windy waters
and do not go gladly into any storm.
There is usually a bit of strutting and jockeying for position, especially by the young'uns, but things get arranged as they should.

'Course, like in any congregation, there's always one who just needs a little more
time to say what he (or she) thinks needs to be said,
before settling in for the sermon.

and finally, it's time to just stop. And let waves of peace roll on over you.

Or not. For every flock must have a dissident.
Oddly enough, the little Sanderling wandered hither and yon,
amidst the flock, pecking and picking at the water's edge.
And not one feather was ruffled!  Well well. Well.

But you know, really?
These are flights of fancy, and I'm just winging it here.

But -  at the end of my hour on the beach, I've touched something incredible.
I feel that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

And I wonder if this little Black Backed Gull is playing charades?
See Pee?  Be Pee?
Oh flock, I don't know!

Here endeth the lesson.