Thursday, 27 August 2009

Another Starry Night

The views from our hotel

For our anniversary, we went to one of those places that folds the bathroom tissue
into a point in the public washrooms. We arrived according to my on-line receipt, but the lady behind the counter said we were a day early. Good thing I’d printed out the receipt – I showed it to her and she corrected the info on the computer. We were given a room, stat. I’m glad to say it still had a balcony facing the waters of the Trent-Severn waterway. It was also pretty fancy.

We had a few hours before meeting my friend Val and her husband Ted for dinner, so we took a walk into beautiful downtown Port Severn. It has forty marinas, ten residences, two hotels, an ice cream place and one general store. Bonus item: one liquor store. It’s also the kind of place where everyone says hello, even the kid riding by on his bike.

The Severn Bridge is a combination of a swing bridge (to let big boats through) and a lock for the smaller vessels. The bridge was closed to automobile traffic due to construction, so we had to walk across the locks to get to the bustling downtown area.

Check SpellingClosing the lower gates

Waiting for the water to rise

Two large wooden gates hold the water at bay, and the operators turn big cranks to open and close the gates. As one gate opens, the water rises in the lock, and boats rise with them. Then they close the gate and open the other one. It’s kinda like an escalator for boats so they can get past the falls. (John Elder Robison would love this stuff. He's totally into large turning cog things made of iron.)

Cogs 'n stuff

We explored the lower portion of the falls where the water churned violently from the dam opening, wearing the Shield rocks smooth. After exploring the rocks, we climbed up the stairs and squeezed past the mechanisms on the gates to reach the other side.

Lower portion of Severn River

We fought pedestrian traffic (one kid on a bike and a family of four) and picked up a bottle of wine to take back to our room in case Val and Ted decided to accompany us for a nightcap. They had promised a moonlight boat ride through the waterways after dinner.

We met them at the other hotel dining room and had a lot of laughs. Ted charmed Natasha the bartender into creating some pretty wild fruity-tinis for him, and we enjoyed the outrageously expensive meal.

After paying our half of the bill ($100 yikes!) we followed Val and Ted across the lawn to the darkened boat slips. I expected them to have a little 12-foot runabout with an outboard motor, but he stopped at a large pontoon ‘party boat’. I thought he was just joshing us until he turned on the motor. Woo Hoo!

Val had beers and coolers and a couple of blankets ready for us, and we pushed off into the waterway. We had a delightful leisurely cruise through misty waters and under a fantastic explosion of stars. The chill in the air collided with the soupy water and created swirls of mist on the surface. I stood at the front of the boat and felt as if we were floating on clouds.

Captain Ted on the SS Rodd

Ted knows these waters like the back of his hand - he spent every summer of his childhood around the bays and inlets. He pointed out sprawling cottages owned by CEOs and sports heroes. At one point, he cut the motor and we sat on the cushioned benches in the middle of Gloucester Pool, a wide area of the Trent waterway. We sat silently in the darkness, listening to loons. Someone at a cottage beyond the trees set off fireworks and I felt like they were doing it just for us.

I lay on my stomach on the deck and reached through the gate, dipping my fingers in the warm water, disturbing the start that studded the black surface.

On the way back to the Inn we made a quick pit stop at their house for a potty break. We collected their Labrador retriever Trooper so the old girl could have a little ride with us. She’s 13 going on 50 - just like my Chester - and she leaned against my leg to keep her balance whenever the boat wobbled over gentle swells.

Val and Ted slid the pontoon boat into one of the slips at our Inn and delivered us safely to our doorstep. What a magical evening!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Still Crazy After All These Years

The first time I saw him, I had just completed a 1.5 hour bus and subway ride from Newmarket to my first day on the job as a camera salesperson in a retail shop in northern Toronto. I was 20 minutes early and sat in the quiet mall, reading my book. A young man arrived to unlock the sliding partition and disappeared behind the counter.

I got up and and peered through the slats of the partition until he re-emerged from the small rear office. "Excuse me, I'm starting here today," I announced.

He peered at me through his oversized glasses and I noticed his big-ass brown eyes. "Finally! They decided to hire somebody!" He let me in and showed me around. I knew my way around a camera store since I'd worked for the same company at another location. This was just a temporary assignment until my local store had an opening.

He was the assistant manager, and I quickly made friends with him and my other fellow workers. Within a couple of months, we were a tight group and a crack team in the store.

He had a girlfriend, but the relationship seemed a little rocky. Just before Christmas I was sorting lens filters in a drawer and casually asked one of the girls, "So... is he going to the company Christmas party with her?"

She said, "Oh, didn't you know? They broke up last week."

I grinned at the filters. "Oh... that's too bad."

During the company shindig, we started to talk about horses. I mentioned I liked to ride, and he said, "We should go trail riding sometime."

He mentioned a stable to the east of the city. We made arrangements to meet up at the bus stop (he didn't have a car) and went riding on a cold, clear day. It wasn't a date, just a couple of friends enjoying a winter activity.

It wasn't long before a blizzard moved in, and the guide led us back to the barn, slipping and sliding on ice patches covered with powdered snow. We went back to the bus stop and the wind and snow battered us. The stop lacked a shelter, so we stood withour backs to the wind and huddled for warmth until an old model car with pom-poms all around the windows rolled to a stop beside us. The kind man gave us a ride to the closest stop with a glass bus shelter.

Our second non-date was closing time on New Years Eve. I was scheduled to catch an overnight train to Cochrane, a town in northern Ontario to visit my sister and her husband. There was enough time to catch a bite before boarding the subway to Union Station, so we decided to grab some dinner before he went home to his parents' house.

Several restaurants in the area were already booked, but we found a table at a little pub on Yonge Street. We both noticed we mixed our peas with our potatoes and laughed. The waiter gave us free champagne and we toasted the arrival of 1982.

I paid for my portion and accepted a little peck on the cheek, then boarded the Yonge subway south while he hopped on the Bloor Street West train. Again, it wasn't a date.

We went out as a group with our co-workers to movies and dinners for the next few months. As springtime thawed the ice on the sidewalks, we gathered at a little restaurant with a second floor lined with bookshelves.

When the other couple left to visit the facilities, he leaned toward me and said, "This has been a long time coming," and he kissed me.

When he visited me in Newmarket, he had to take a city bus, then the subway and then a regional bus, then walk up my street. I often waited at the top of the hill and my heart gave a little jump when I saw his familiar silhouette.

We married in 1984. Our wedding was modest -- Dad provided the catering and I made my own multi-tiered banana wedding cake. It was ugly as Hell but delicious. We danced to Blue Danube and then enjoyed all the 80s dance tunes.

Along with the arrival of two children and lots of tears and laughter, we skidded through the years.

Today is our 25th Anniversary. As long as the laughter outnumbers the tears, we'll cruise together far into the future.

(I'd show you a picture but I can't find the damn photo album!)

Friday, 21 August 2009

From Star Fall to Tree Fall

My friends to the south have the sense to take proper precautions when active weather approaches. However, being a wide-eyed innocent when it comes to disasters, I react in a different manner.

When I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon I heard an ominous rumble to the west. Yup, another storm a'comin'.

We have several estimates out to have our eavestroughs replaced but in the meantime we have to batten down the hatches every time a thunderstorm approaches. My husband and I placed a sheet of plastic across the front of the house and made sure the fireplace was equipped with buckets. Since our Shop Vac is on the fritz, I didn't want to deal with a wet floor and wringing out towels and Sham Wows.

Sure, it burns calories but who needs that kind of exercise?

I parked myself near the living window to watch the rain and wind lashing the trees. I didn't have a good view of the sky (too many trees) but every flash and boom made me go, "Ohhh.. that was a good one!"

I had no idea things were serious until the Weather Channel started talking tornadoes. They're rare around these parts - maybe ten F2s per year, but yesterday there were about five funnel clouds or suspected tornadoes in one afternoon.

The first was northwest of here, in Durham. Several people were injured at a day camp, and one 11 year old boy was killed by flying debris.

A large cell went through Vaughan, southwest of my location. 600 homes were damaged, with about 60 deemed unsaveable. Minor injuries, but no deaths reported.

The same cell traveled east and curled north, just missing the centre of my town. A tornado touched down at a local riding academy east of here, where a show was in progress. Witnesses say trailers were overturned and a pony was lifted with all four feet off the ground. A young rider gripped her horse's lead while a section of arena roof tore away above their heads. Nobody was hurt at that location.

I love storms. The power of weather is awesome to me, and the photographer and writer in me wants to absorb every moment. In another life I would have been a storm chaser. I had to resist the urge to run outside to take pictures. If we were forced to hide in the basement, I had my little mini lappy all ready to record my moment-to-moment experience.

Once when we were kids, my sister stood in front of our picture window and shouted,
"I LOVE the lightning!" and a bolt struck the house across the
street with a giant fireball. The lights went out, everyone screamed, the dog ran under the couch and my grandmother missed the bathroom by about two feet and ended up in the hall closet.

When I was a teen, the trees in front of our house were small so we could see across the street. A lightning strike caused a phenomenon called "St. Elmo's Fire" - a ball of fire rolling across the ground.

Later, when my daughter was a baby, we were driving in the countryside when a massive cold front rolled in and caught us unprepared. We parked the car as close to a ditch as we could and hunkered down. Before the storm hit my husband and I brought out our cameras and captured images of a solid wall of blackness careening across the sky. This was before the digital era so all I have are some slides and negatives somewhere.

My daughter sat in her car seat in the shaking vehicle, her brown eyes wide. She was only a little nervous, probably because her mommy and daddy were so calm. I guess our fear of mortality hadn't set in yet. Even today she sits in her room during storms, ignoring the call to round up the cat and dog and hit the basement.

I saw a funnel cloud try to form while we watched from the observation deck of the CN Tower in Toronto. I've never really seen a tor
nado with my own eyes, but I dream about them all the time. I wonder what that means?

The house (and the fireplace and the basement) survived yesterday's onslaught. I had visions of our office being carried away overnight, but alas I had to report to work this morning. Sigh. We have one tree split in half by a wind shear last week, but it's safely tucked into the crook of another tree. We'll call the tree guy after the eavestroughs are done.

Our problems are miniscule compared to the many famil
ies in Vaughan and those who lost a little boy in Durham. My prayers go out to them.

When all is said and done, I'm rather thankful we live in a section of town where nothing ever happens - except, of course, for the

In the meantime we plan to take advantage of a rare weekend of sun and hit the beach. Unless, of course, there's a storm.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Star Fall

Last night I wrapped a blanket around me (to keep the mosquitos at bay) and ventured out to my backyard to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. Trees surround my yard so I had to position my patio chair in the middle to get the most coverage. By the time I was settled, my quilt was dripping wet from the dewy grass.

I didn't realize how quiet a town can be at midnight. We're a sizable community, but all I heard was the distant hum of traffic from the 404. A single cricket chirped off and on. I thought there would be more crickets in August but it's been damp and cool most of the summer.
I also heard the sleepy peep of a bird in the next yard.

Although the sky was clear, dew fell, each drop hitting the leaves of the trumpet vines on the back of the house like soft, intermittent rain. I guess I'm not as deaf as I thought I was. It's odd to be surrounded by a kind of silence you can actually hear.

I tucked my head into the quilt and felt the cool night air on my nose. I stared at the sky and could swear it was visibly rotating. You know how you stare at something long enough, it seems like it's moving?

A few things did move. A satellite drifted past, like a star that had broken away from the pack to seek its own fortune.

After a half hour of patience, I was rewarded by one meteor that passed over the house in a long streak. No multicoloured tail like the websites promised, but it was enough to make a wish.

Then the mosquitos located me and I retreated into the house.

Maybe tonight I'll try to add to my wish collection.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Thirteen years ago his mom, a Siberian husky, backed up to a snowbank to accommodate his dad, a Shetland sheepdog.

That's what the owner told us when we went to Mount Albert to pick out a puppy.

Seven of them romped around in an enclosed dog run. Some resembled mini-collies, and others looked like grey-furred huskys with blue eyes. We'd Googled "How to pick the perfect puppy" and tried all the tricks:

1) Call the pup. If it comes to you and follows you, it gets points.
2) Pick up the pup and turn it on its back. If it struggles briefly, then settles, it gets points. If it freaks out, no dice.

3) Stroke the pup from nose to tail. If it tries to reach back and bite you, it loses points.

There were more, but I can't remember. Two pups were in the lead. They looked the same - sable tri-colour markings - except the female had a broad strip down her nose and one blue eye. She lost the contest because she was a little nippy (bitchy). We chose the male.

During the drive home, the kids listened while Mark and I discussed names. We went through a list of my former pets - Sabado (Saturday in Spanish) Quasanche (Little Girl in Ojibway) Gidgimidge (Asshole in Mik'Maq), Tippy (well, you know, tippy). Can you tell I'm into languages?

My husband's past name choices were simpler: Morris the cat, Chloe the sausage dog, Chester the other cat, Chester the cockatiel, and Simon and Garfunkle the budgies. And he's the one with English as a second language. Go figure.

While cuddling the puppy in the back seat, my four year old son picked up on the name Chester and declared that should be the puppy's name. And so it was.

Chester passed more tests - housetraining, sit, stay, speak etc. There was one bad habit we couldn't break. He was an excellent escape artist, and when he got loose he ran. He ran and ran. It must have been the sled dog in him because we couldn't get him to stop. Several times, neighbours called to tell us our dog was in their backyard playing with their kids.

During one chase I drove around the neighbourhood in the dark and caught the white tip of his tail waving in my headlights. By that time he was exhausted and glad to get a free ride home. Another time my son (by then about ten years old) chased him for blocks and lost a shoe in the snow. He didn't take time to stop and kept running through the slush until he caught up with the little bugger. We never recovered the shoe.

I posted a while back about Chester's aversion to loud noises. Lately, it seems his hearing is suffering. When a storm brews, the cat hides behind the furnace but Chester keeps snoozing. This was a welcome relief during the last fireworks display at the end of the street. At least my rugs are now safe from panic pee.

I ask him if he wants to go out, but doesn't respond until I point at the back door. Hand signals I'd taught him years ago are now alternative forms of communication.

He gets up slower and walks bowlegged. I taped squares of carpeting to the hardwood stairs so he could make it to the main floor of our raised bungalow without stumbling. His butt is disappearing. If he was human, he'd look like one of those guys who yells at kids to get off his lawn. He sleeps most of the day and paces around like a Nervous Nelly most of the evening.
He's starting to smell like an old couch.

I know he's getting older, and the inevitable scenario approaches, but like Scarlett O'Hara I don't want to think about that right now. His vet says he's healthy considering his age. My daughter, however, worries about every wart and lump and nosebleed.

I always took the logical approach when dealing with pet loss, offering condolences when needed and looking back with affection at the lives of various beloved companions. I took my neigbour's dog for her final journey to the vet when he couldn't. It was a sad event, stroking Gypsy's ears when the life left her eyes, but I didn't cry.
She was no longer suffering. She was going to a better place.

When a co-worker recently chose to euthanize her dog due to age and disease, I gave her a hug and wondered why they'd taken so long to make their decision. The dog had seizures, couldn't stand on her own, didn't eat, etc. They had made repeated visits to the vet with no diagnosis for her various symptoms that had taken away her quality of life.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Marley and Me against my own advice. I teared up more at Jennifer Aniston's post-natal depression than Marley's decline. I wondered if something was wrong with me. Am I some kind of emotionless bitch?

Yesterday I looked at Chester and called him over to me. He stiffly sauntered close and I stroked his smooth forehead like I always do. The fur on his forehead is so soft unlike the mass of unruly fur that only leaves his body to infest every corner of the house.
He closed his eyes and sighed with apparent contentment.

I started to cry.

Pictures: My daughter took these while Chester slept through a yard sale.