Just Perfect

Three and a half years ago I underwent treatment for breast cancer - lumpectomy and radiation. It was caught very early thanks to a spider bite that I went to see my doctor about, thereby establishing a life-long love affair with tiny spiders -despite having hated spiders as a young woman. That bite, about where a diamond pendant would sit, led to a mammogram and ultrasound, which in turn led to a diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
Today was one of the 2 days a year I go back for a check up at the treatment centre. Despite feeling great, and taking care of myself, yada, yada, yada, I generally find myself filled with dread on these days as we drive in to the city. What if, whatif, whatifff....
We can look at a lot of things and pronounce perfection...a sunset, a flower, a meal...but when your doctor looks at the latest blood test results and the most recent mammogram, and says, "You're perfect"? Well, THAT's what I definitely call perfect. And then on the way home, seeing two beautiful meadowlarks flirting in a field...that was the icing on the cake and the perfect ending to a perfect day.



The mighty Ottawa River is about to be declared a Canadian Heritage River on National Rivers' Day, June 14th, 2009. Without this magnificent river (that has the 3rd largest volume of water in North America) Samuel de Champlain might never have made his way west, nor lost his Astrolabe near Cobden, Ontario. The fur trade may not have opened the routes between England and the New World, the War of 1812 might never have... etcetera, etcetera and blah! de blah.
It all happened...this is not a history lesson. ( or at least, not intentionally).
And here I am today. On the banks of what I consider to be the most fabulous river I've had the pleasure of living beside. But there is a wee , er we, problem. It's rising today. Beyond what we have seen in the past 15 years we've been here. Thirty feet of reliable, beautiful sandy beach? Gone. The photo of our place taken a few weeks ago, shows a patio and a few steps...taken from further out on the beach. Today? April 27th? the water is lapping at the patio. Bonfire pit? See the log sticking up out of the water? No fires any time soon.
This afternoon was absolutely amazing. When I arrived home from work...winds from the south, gusting to 50 kph, and it felt like I was on the beach...in Maine, or Cuba...wherever there's an ocean...on a cheerfully warm day. Except. I wasn't. I'm here in the "valley" and it's April 27th and its + 27 degrees C. And that's just not ...right
I meant this to be quirky and funny, but really? As they say "WTF"?

THAT being said, the image to your left is of a root system, presumably from the oak trees about 200 feet away, or the pines which are closer. In either case, the water has wiped away the sandy protection, left the roots exposed, and well cleansed. This isn't the first time they have been exposed, and won't be the last.
I vacillate between trying to be relentlessly cheerful (which I am actually) and a doom'n'gloomer...I love the drama that the river is providing six feet away, and I hope that everything's gonna be alright. Really. Seriously. OK.


Loonie Tunes

Last night started innocuously enough. Voluntary attendance at a wine and cheese reception at our local museum which focuses on settlement in the Ottawa Valley - from the Ice Age onwards. (http://www.champlaintrailmuseum.com) It's a little gem of a collection which includes a pioneer church, a little red school house, square timber home, heritage gardens and a series of lifestyle vignettes, depicting the various tortures we have invented in the name of health, hygiene and beauty.
One these vignettes is an 1930's beauty (and I use the term loosely) parlour. In it, a mannequin is sitting in a chair with this, this... contraption attached to her head. It shows how the hair is wound around rods, and the end of each rod is an electrical outlet, which is attached via wire to a ring above the woman. When all is wound up and ready to go, it's plugged in and voila! If you're very lucky, your hair is permanently frizzy, and you may experience tingly sensations on your head forever, and if you're not very lucky, you're dead! Doomed to looking like a plastic dummy the rest of your life and living in a vignette at the Champlain Trail Museum. Look at this thing!! I mean, who in their right mind would ever subject themselves to this self inflicted torture! Completely loonie.
There's another vignette that is not for the faint of heart, or anyone with a toothache. It shows an early dentist's office. The electrified dental drill is next to the fully upright, locked and loaded leather dental chair, the arms of which are curiously worn right through to the steel beneath. Just looking at this foot powered instrument of pain is enough to make me grit my teeth. I completely understand now the little poem my ex-husband, who just happens to be a , you guessed it, dentist, used to recite: First you find 'em, then you drill 'em, then you fill 'em, then you bill 'em. (if you don't kill 'em. Ed.) I'm at a floss for words here.
Having quenched our thirst for knowledge of yesteryear, and white wine from Point Pelee, we took our leave, and headed home and so to bed. And that would have been the end of this story, if at 3:00 am I wasn't suddenly awake and feeling like I was in a surround sound theatre listening to maniacal laughter. Mad, electrified woman with curly hair? No. But close! A laughing, whooping, yodeling, partying flock of loons...right outside the bedroom window...which is entirely possible because the river is so high right now, and only about 5 feet of beach remains between river and ark. It was absolutely amazing! (and very loud) They were singing their hearts out...and did so for about an hour -maybe longer, but I eventually fell back asleep. This morning -real morning now, 8:30 ish there were four loons swimming out front...quietly. Resting their vocal chords for the next concert. I hope.
Total loonie tunes!!


Stunning Grandparents

My sister asked if I agreed with her impression that we had had a very nice childhood...and I whole heartedly agreed that we had. There were ups, yes, and downs too, but on the big scoreboard, the one that rocks us to sleep at night, it was life in a small town, loved by two caring parents, nice roof, good food, and plenty of places to roam safely and alone. A Norman Rockwell spin-off.
Both sets of grandparents were interesting, intelligent caring couples as well. One set lived far away, in Ontario, the other lived above the store in Lloydminster.
They had their foibles, I mean, Grampa Ellis was a man who ate a pickled herring a day and smoked cigars! He wasn't all that cuddly..but thinking about it now, perhaps it was me who didn't want to sit on his lap because he smelled of fish and smoke! An optometrist , he lived a long life, dying at the ripe old age of 92.
His wife, my Grandma, made the best bread ever, and every Friday was home made bread night. She was struck with arthritis at an early age, and because she was unable to manage stairs easily, Grandpa had an exterior elevator installed that took them up to their gorgeous apartment above the drug store he owned. Used to love riding in that little lift! We (my sister and I) would often go and visit her, and play fish and gin rummy for hours. She told me that the reason she was so stiff and couldn't hardly bend was because she got hit by a billy goat when she was little. Maybe she did too!
When they moved from Prince Edward Island to the prairies in the early 1900's, it was because Grampa's first wife, Carrie, had pleurisy and the doctors told her she needed to get away from moist, salty, sea air. As a young bride, and mother of two little boys, they made the long trek across the country, with her sister, Addie, along to help out. Carrie died shortly after they arrived in Lashburn, Saskatchewan and Addie looked after her two little nephews and eventually married their father...who became my grandfather when Dad was born.
Tales like this are sepia in memory. I can't picture them happening today although I know that there are variations playing out throughout the world still. Families committed to helping each other, ties that bind. My grandparents tales, though, are injected with hardship and sacrifice that even now seem larger than life, with more drama and tragedy. It's highly unlikely that Carrie would have died today, and Addie's arthritis would have been much more manageable with a hip replacement or two. And Grampa certainly wouldn't be sitting around the drugstore in his leather chair, puffing on a stogie!
They were both dead before man landed on the moon. They would have been absolutely stumped if asked to analyse their carbon footprint, and the antics of the likes of Britney Spears et al would have shocked and rendered them utterly dismayed. Computers, cell phones, iPods, you name it...it all came after. Twitter, flickr, facebook, Blog - absolutely no meaning, context, nor easy explanation. We have come so tremendously far in the past 30 years that it's astonishing any one has kept up! Heart transplants, lung, liver, eyes, kidneys, even faces! All new.
They lived in harder times, tougher times – everything took more time and effort – and three generations have spent billions and billions inventing time and effort saving devices to come to this:
I sit in my home beside the river, far away from any large urban centre, listening to an individualized music track that's been downloaded from the internet, writing the next issue of my Blog on my laptop, and I just spoke to my daughter in Montreal via her cellphone, and she's sent me a picture of a display at the Atwater Market. Last night I submitted my tax return via email, that I did completely on line and I don't even have a hard copy. Earlier today I paid all my bills and read a gardening magazine with no paper to show for any of it. Amazing!
Re-reading the last paragraph, my grandparents wouldn't have a single clue what I'm talking about. ( Well, taxes, they had those). They spoke English 1960. We speak Techlish 2009. They would be speechless.


The Sistercation

Just home from one of the best weekends I've had with anyone, let alone my sister, in a very long time!
It was to have been the three sisters, together for the first time in awhile, but one sister, whom I shall call Hop-a-long ended up moving some bone from her hip to her mouth, and in five words, “Hurts like shit, can't walk”...so she couldn't come, and then we were two.
The purpose of the get together was to celebrate a milestone birthday for my other sister, whom I shall call Hops-a-lot. Her actual birthday isn't until May 3rd, but because she is generally like a Mink on a Mission, and very well organized, she had suggested this past weekend as the beginning of her celebratory month...(so many cakes, so little time, really, unless, you plan for it...) which in true Hops-a-lot fashion she did!
So, off the two of us went to Prince Edward County, an island in Lake Ontario, accessed via Belleville. It's Ontario's newest wine region, so naturally one of the items on the agenda was touring the wineries and sipping and tasting and generally enjoying an experience that she'd never had before. Which explains why she now has 8 new bottles of wine in her home. And I have too.
We stayed at Hillsdale House B&B in Bloomfield -and if you're looking for a charming, comfortable turn of the century home filled with just the right mixture of antiques, fine art, books, and small treasures, look no further. The breakfasts were excellent – fresh, local, and mouthwatering – while the accommodation was very comfortable...snuggly beds, and exceptionally clean and quiet.
We met up around three o'clock on Friday afternoon at the B&B, and as I'd arrived a little earlier, and looked through some of the tourist info, I was telling her about discovering that Prince Edward County was in fact an internationally significant birding area...looking at a map it makes sense, but I'd never made the connection before (too busy at the wineries is my guess). Diane, our B&B landlady told me about the Prince Edward Point Conservation Area, so we quickly agreed that would be our destination for the remainder of the afternoon.
Whenever I travel, I carry a trip diary with me in my birding bag which also contains the usual maps, pens, binoculars, and bird books. I keep my own bird list(s), and following a pretty brief chat about the why's and wherefore's, Hops-a-lot said she'd like to start one too. As a loving sister, I absolutely agreed to enable her about to bloom addiction to birding,and handed her a blank ABA Birding Check List.
We drove from Bloomfield to Prince Edward Point, a distance of about 20 km. Our total trip time was about 2 ½ hours, and by the end of it we had seen 29 species! It was fabulous because it was so unexpected...and apart from the joy of welcoming back some wonderful birds after a long winter, it was even better watching my sister discovering a new life long interest (and racking up a Lifer every couple of minutes!) We stopped the car whenever we saw anything moving – and discussed in earnest the need for a bumper sticker: Birders on Board. Swerves and Sudden Stops to be Expected. Some wonderful sitings too – Red Breasted Mergansers, Ring Necked Ducks, Caspian Terns, Horned Grebes, Mute Swans, Long Tailed Ducks.
As we made our way back to the B&B we drove through Picton and dined at Portabella ...an upscale little restaurant that prides itself in good local food prepared well, and once again we were really pleasantly surprised. This is what a little getaway should be about - fun, food, and feathers!
On Saturday, our day began early as we made our way to a garden show. Are we talking girls' dream weekend or what? On our way we stopped at a yard sale, then scoped out a future weekend away taking a course in glass blowing at The Red Barns, and finally, spent two hours rambling around the show looking at trendy fun fixtures for the yard, 'til we tired of that and decided it was time to explore a winery or two or five. Now this was serious fun! Drive in to a beautifully designed architecturally interesting building, generally situated amidst fields of grape vines; chat with the staff – all of whom seem to have taken drama classes and are expert story tellers; sip some good grape juice; ka-ching; and on to the next! We had a blast! And we got funnier and smarter as the afternoon wore on!
Dinner Saturday was in Picton again, at Currah's and it was good too. By now I was beginning to feel like I was actually on a vacation – I hadn't thought about anything other than the next wee adventure for 24 hours. I'd laughed, relaxed, and been seriously sated. And it wasn't over yet! The best was about to begin. Like all excellent adventures, part of the reason it's so wonderful is that its completely unexpected.
We'd heard at the garden show that there was bird banding taking place at “our” conservation area from 6:00 am 'til noon, so we decided that on Sunday, our final jaunt would be to drive back out there, and see if we could find the volunteers who were catching the birds, then banding, weighing, measuring, and releasing them as part of the Canadian migration monitoring network.
After a few wrong turns, that led us to and from a beautiful old lighthouse, we did indeed find the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (www.peptbo.ca) and it was awesome...in the best sense of the word. Two cheerful volunteers giving up weekend family time to mind the mist nets, and checking for birds every half hour or so throughout the day, because they recognize the need and want to help.
We wandered around, observing the process, the care taken and respect given to each little winged creature, and then made our way towards home, mindful that it's not the grand gestures, but the small ones, that ultimately make a huge difference!
So! Two sisters, five wineries, ten bottles of wine, plenty of shops, and 48 species of birds later...time to start planning the next sistercation.
(Please note, I have had several technical problems trying to post this blog so the photos are not what I had originally taken, and the layout has been simplifed. For some reason internet explorer just doesn't like this post!)


Spring Dirt

We live on the Ottawa River and walking into our home is kind of like being aboard a ship – because as you enter you look straight through a wall of glass to water and sky. After six months of moody gray skies and white frozen river, to see blue movement above and below again is wonderful! This morning I wandered in to the kitchen and the whole sky was washed with pink. There were flocks of geese all over the bay, and a loon calling directly in front. Wow is such an inadequate word except when it really does describe the view and the feeling.
Spring is an incredible time of year – my favourite actually. I love that the whole earth seems pregnant with possibility. Birds chasing each other round the yard, otter’s antics on the river, even sleepy dumb flies waking up and trying to figure out how to avoid a swat. Not that I like house flies, but that first warm day that brings them out? That’sa nice.

I love the smell of the damp earth, the ice receding, the snow melting – the changes that are constant and make each spring day fresh and new.
Way back in grade four science I remember learning about humus. Not the food (which I just reconfirmed is spelled with two ems, thank you dictionary) but the decomposing soil variety that you shouldn’t eat unless you like worms. What I love about humus is its smell. It may be decaying plant material but it has a richness about it that evokes ghostly memories of winter, fall and summer and the feet that walked upon it. It’s all so ripe and fertile! And I only seem to smell it on lovely spring days like today, when the sun has warmth, and everyone you see is strolling, trying to prolong the getting there for a change.
These are the days to linger and think dirty thoughts.


Big Bird Has 2 Words for You: Ornithological Iconography

On the drive back from Montreal today, I had a little flight of fancy, and it occurred to me that there are a lot of hen pecked people out there, who may be having difficulty feathering their nests. Well, a wise old owl once said that birds of a feather flock together, and perhaps if there was something good to crow about, then there might be less concern about the pecking order , and a little more billing and cooing going on!
While Tweety was busy tinking he taw a puddy tat, and Hughie, Louie and Dewey were busy running circles around Donald, nobody was really doing anything except Woody who was laughing all the way to the bank! Donald on the other hand was having an identity crisis, but if it looks like a duck, and it acts like a duck, then chances are it is a duck. Which he was. Is.
Is it any wonder the bluebird of happiness doesn't make daily landings? With so many people acting like turkeys, there are far too many swan songs!
....and that's the end of today's flight. Thank God! As I finally ran out of cliches....

And just to reinforce that I have finally flipped my lid, here's a little poem inspired by a sight outside the passenger's side:
Turkey vultures in a tree
May look pretty ugle-ly.
But with feathers fluffed and beaks all buffed,
They're acting kinda snuggle -ly.

I wouldn't consider this edition a feather in my cap, but there is a reason the blog is called Featherbrained! :>)

Happy Easter all!


The Juncos are Jammin'

Three days ago it was sunny, warm and spring like. Two days ago it got colder, yesterday was miserable, and today, we're back to winter! Everyone I know is miffed, depressed, threatening to do...something...and just wishing that whoever ticked off Mother Nature would just apologize so we could back to Spring! (Hey -if it was you, do it! you'll feel soo much better!)
But there is a bright side to the dark side! Suddenly, the juncos are jammin' around the feeders, hundreds of them! Fox sparrows, three of them, are doing their funny little digging dance in the grass to uncover seeds, and there are tree sparrows just hopping around looking cute and kind of dozy. The resident chickadees are happy to see some new faces, the redpolls are looking a little worried, 'cause the juncos are eating everything in sight, and the woodpeckers could care less who's here as long as she (that would be me) keeps the suet cage full.
Spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming.


Deer. Oh Dear.

Waiting for new spring green growth to appear, I thought about last fall’s beautiful colours and the day that I noticed there were new colours popping up in the woods on my route home - blaze orange and process blue. Plastic tape, not so artfully arranged, every kilometre or so, near places where I’d happened to see deer over the late summer and early autumn months.
Having also seen men with half ton trucks, camo vests and ball caps along that same road, and knowing that sometimes hunters will mark deer trails, it wasn’t much of a stretch to figure out who had hung all the orange and blue markers, and why they’d done it! It was very obvious to me what they were up to – trying to increase their odds of bagging a buck when hunting season started!
Not being a hunter and loving little Bambi, it became my mission in life to foil their efforts and save some deer in the process. It took about two seconds to convince my visiting city sister to help in this preservation effort, and off we drove filled with good intentions, on a meaningful mission! Exhilarating!
It was truly amazing how many trails the hunters had marked! At least 10 in one 3 km stretch – but we also have a lot of deer, so that made sense to us as we cheerfully slogged up and down steep ditches, through prickly wild rose bushes, and over to the flapping Bambi’s-been-here ribbons to quickly yank them off the branches from which they dangled.
A few of the ribbons had writing on them – things like “PTC-1 A:200’ D:60M” and so on, but this is the hi-tech age, so we knew that these were GPS coordinates (or something like that ) giving the exact spot where the deer had been sited. It was a little trickier though trying to figure out why they would also put stakes in the ground at two of the sites and paint them blaze orange as well. And rational explanations completely eluded us when we saw what looked like a tap (also blaze orange) screwed into the ground. We both stared at the tap and it was then that we shared a Oh. My. God. AH HA moment, or rather… AH Hydro! moment. Very much like a deer in the head lights, lets get outta here quick moment.
We dashed back to the car like little comets, knowing we had been vixens during our anti-blazing blitz.
We offer our sincere apologies to Hydro Quebec.
Your tape is in the back seat of my car. Sorry. Won’t do it again.


He's an S.O.B.

You meet the most interesting people when you least expect it! We were in South East Arizona, following the birding trail that we had devised, we being me and John, my “we’renot marriedbutwe’ve beentogetherfor16 years” mate.
One early morning, we were in Madera Canyon on a quest for the utterly lovely flame coloured tanager. As we walked along the winding canyon road, past quaint cottages, we could hear him singing his little heart out high above us. And we weren’t alone –which was such an odd and wonderful thing about birding in Arizona – to discover groups of people strolling around at 6:30 in the morning with binoculars hanging around their necks and smiles on their collective faces became quite commonplace! So, as we peered up and down, someone in the loosely formed, unintentional group, called it, “Over to the right in the tree next to the house!” And sure enough, ten heads spun to the right, twenty hands lifted their binoculars, and there was a group “Ahhhh!” One of the many, many memorable moments of the trip. The next happened immediately after. John, my intrepid side-kick, hadn’t brought his binoculars along, and when I asked if he wanted to see, he took a quick look, said “that’s nice,” and handed them back to me. Overhearing this, the woman standing in front of us turned and looking directly at John said, “You’re an S.O.B., aren’t you?” We both gaped at her –I mean ,really, that was a little uncalled for - when she immediately followed up with, “I am too! A Spouse of Birder!” We all chuckled, and then the impromptu conversation amidst the group started, with who was and who wasn’t a birder, (about half) but wasn’t it nice that they came out with us (It was. And is.)
Another day in paradise with my S.O.B.