Call it Like it Is

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A tiny owl greeted us as we turned onto our property this weekend. Arriving in darkness, our car headlights momentarily lit up the surrounding forest to reveal the small nocturnal bird perched upon a low tree branch. We stopped the car of course and promptly took out our phones to capture as many pictures of the elusive little fellow as possible.

I don’t profess to know much about birds (Refer back to my post, Look – a Heron!) Every year at about this time, the Pelee Island Bird Observatory offers saw-whet owl banding sessions and every year I say, I’m going to partake. I have yet to do so. My mainland life always seems to get in the way. So my first thoughts upon seeing the little owl was that it must be a saw-whet. I based my assumption on the fact it was small and since this is the only saw-whet characteristic I know for certain, it seemed entirely plausible. Only now, upon closer inspection, I think the owl in question was probably a screech.

I’ve quite often heard owls on Pelee Island but don’t often get the chance to see them. Early on, the first sounds of hooting had me jumping out of bed in order to share my excitement with my small children at the time. Gently shaking them awake, I’d eagerly tell them to listen.

“Kids can you hear that?” I’d ask.

Their sleepy responses always paled in comparison to my own enthusiasm.

“It’s an owl!” I’d happily state the obvious.

Since those first audio encounters I’ve had the chance to hear many owls and even see a few over the past number of years. Last summer I was thrilled to discover the eerily alien trilling my son and I heard was in fact, Eastern screech owls communicating with each other. And then there was the time I was driving my daughter and her friends around the Island when a large grey owl swooped down off a tree just in front of our vehicle. Their cries of “What the heck was that?!” echoed my own thoughts exactly.

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Good Bye Sweet Summer

Call me crazy but I’ve had enough of summer. Bring on the chilly evenings, cozy sweaters and fall foliage. Heck, even set the clocks back. I’m ready for autumn.

We Canadians so look forward to our summers; time spent at the cottage, flip flops, the ice cream truck, no snow to shovel…but come the end of August and I’m done with it; the heat, the humidity, the sunscreen, and yes, even the ice cream truck with its incessantly sweet music heard from a mile away. I can never seem to resist its siren call and soon find myself standing before the truck’s open window pondering all the sweet choices, Nutty Buddies, Rockets, Snow Cones and Creamsicles. Inevitably, I always settle on my favourite, never straying too far from a soft vanilla cone with sprinkles.

This October, my husband Rob and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage. We’ve spent the past year considering how we should commemorate this special milestone. We started with very grand ideas and have slowly scaled back, from Europe to the Southern States to an all-inclusive beach resort. Why were we finding this decision so difficult? We’ve finally agreed on someplace much closer to home – a few days in the country, a few days in a quaint town – where we will be pampered at a spa, take in a theatre production and stroll city streets and woodland trails covered in crunchy fallen leaves. We realized Ontario, in all its fall glory, is exactly what we want. Vanilla with sprinkles? Yes perhaps, but still sweet.

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Cold Car, Warm Grapes

The grapes are growing on Pelee Island. I can’t help but think of my girlfriend Lizanne as I look out to the fields, vines strung up in rows, green grapes slowly ripening to purple.

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Lizanne and I met in our final year of college. Always a joker, I was drawn to her sense of humour and mischievous spirit. She always made me laugh. Lizanne was one of the lucky girls at school in that she had her own car. As the majority of us navigated through the Big City on public transportation, pushing and shoving and vying for a seat on the subway, Lizanne made her way around Toronto happily unperturbed in her little red Hyundai Pony. She brought it with her all the way from her home town of Timmins, Ontario and was quite proud of the tiny automobile.

Lizanne was more than happy to give a friend a lift especially in the cold winter months, when harsh temperatures would have one shuffling their feet and blowing warm air into cupped hands while waiting at a crowded bus stop. So it was one evening, when we met up leaving the building we lived in together, that Lizanne offered me a ride.

“Want a drive?” she asked as we made our way down the front steps.

“Sure!” I eagerly replied.

As we approached her vehicle I noticed a plug hanging out from under the hood of her car.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a plug.” She responded.

“Yes, I know. What’s it doing sticking out of your car?”

“When it gets really cold up North we have to plug in our cars over night so they start in the morning.” She humoured me.

Having only ever lived in Southern Ontario, I’d never heard of anyone ever having had the need to plug in their car!

“No really, what’s it for?” I asked again. I wasn’t going to fall for one of her jokes this time.

“No, really!” She stressed but I wasn’t convinced and she knew not to push.

The next year Lizanne and I travelled to Europe together and while on a bus tour through the French countryside, Lizanne looked out to the farmers’ fields and asked,

“What’s that growing?” She pointed out the window.

I looked.

“What, that?” I asked scanning her face for any hint of trickery.

“Yeah, all that, growing in the fields. What is it?”

I couldn’t believe it. Could it be she really had no idea what grape vines looked like?

Growing up in the Golden Horseshoe meant a farm was only ever a short drive away for me; peaches, apples, strawberries, grapes, all at my fingertips. And just as I had only ever lived in Southern Ontario, Lizanne had only ever lived in the far North. Her thirteen hour trek from Timmins to Toronto wouldn’t have exposed her to much, if any, farmland.

“They’re grapes!” I finally responded.

“Oh.” She said content with my answer.

Later that evening, sipping a glass of French red wine, I reflected on our different upbringings; mine, where growing grapes and making wine were part of my cultural identity, and hers, where plugging in your car every night was as routine as brushing your teeth before bed. And yet our friendship was born in a city new and neutral to each of us. It took a trip to Europe to appreciate my vast and varied homeland province of Ontario and it made me wonder what else I had been missing back home.

The Show Must Go On

“Does anyone have some bug spray?” he paused between sets to ask the crowd.

We laughed warm heartedly. Not the usual banter spoken by musicians to their audience. We were watching Dave Russell and (one of) The Precious Stones perform at the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion, when the setting sun brought with it the usual onslaught of biting mosquitoes. Not so easy to play the guitar while you’re swatting at blood sucking insects.

“Oh, and cigarettes and batteries?” he added, “We didn’t know you can’t buy those here.”

Amidst more laughter, spectators reached into beach bags and raced to their cars to oblige. A few sprays later and the concert was able to continue for a short while longer before the bugs finally won.

You can see Dave Russell and The Precious Stones perform this weekend, along with numerous other musicians, at the 3rd annual Island Unplugged Music Festival. Check it out if you can. Just remember to pack your bug spray.

http://theislandunplugged.org                                                    http://www.peleeisland.com

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It’s All in How You Look at It

Most holiday weekends we spend on Pelee Island. This past Canada Day was no exception. We wouldn’t think of missing the annual parade and fireworks. We even took in a concert at the Winery, supporting this year’s 3rd annual Island Unplugged Music Festival. It was a jam-packed weekend of activity, by Pelee standards. Or so we thought.

We found a spot and lined up our chairs on West Shore Road sometime before the parade start at one o’clock, our usual spot for viewing the eclectic mix of Island floats and smiling participants. First Responders typically start the parade off, followed by the marching band from Kingsville. The Mayor, the Shriners, the Winery Workers and my personal favourite, Herb Feltz’s Cast Iron Tractor Seat Collection, all follow. As we watch, we prepare to be pelted with the flying candy that is thrown from most passing floats and welcome the occasional water gun aimed in our direction in the heat of the mid-day sun.

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Not everyone would be impressed I know. We’re all different in what touches or impresses us. Personally, (as the song goes) I love a parade, the more small-town-Ontario, the better. And when that parade day is capped off by fireworks, my holiday check list is complete. Perhaps, my daughter Megan and I thought, we could fit in a bike ride to the beach sometime in between, a perfect trifecta.

Lying on my beach towel reading my book, I looked up to watch Megan wading in Lake Erie. I looked around happily at my surroundings; fluffy white clouds hung low on blue backdrop, lake water twinkling under big bright sun and a group of nearby individuals frolicking in sand and surf. One of them I noticed was changing out of his wet bathing suit up against the rocks. Bare bum in my sight, I turned quickly back to my book…but not too quickly…Well, that wasn’t what I expected to see!

Later that night, wrapped in blankets, swatting at bugs, we watched the fireworks display. Not bad, I’ve always thought, for a small community like Pelee. When the fireworks ended we returned hastily to our car, in an attempt to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes, but not before a passerby approached us.

“Is that it?!” He asked, referencing we assumed, the length of the light show.

“Yup.” I responded, “It’s only ever 15 – 20 minutes long.”

He looked disappointed.

I thought back to the bare bum on the beach and realized – it’s all in how you look at it really……or don’t.

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If the Shoe Fits

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These are the shoes my son, Harrison came home with from college.

Not in a suitcase or backpack or trash bag, but on his feet.

“I didn’t have enough money.” He answered when I asked why he didn’t just go out and buy himself a new pair. “I was saving what I had left for food.”

“I would have sent you more, you know.” I said.

“I know, but I like these shoes.” He justified.

I looked down at his old, decrepit running shoes and couldn’t wait to throw them out but then I thought of Pelee and the famous “Shoe Tree”.

A strange species of tree indigenous to Pelee Island, you can find this rare specimen on the northwest corner of the Island, where West Shore Road bends to meet up with North Shore Road. The Shoe Trees (a second one has sprung up to handle the large quantity of donated/retired/abandoned shoes) sit on a privately owned property and are a long standing tradition. How this tradition started, I’m not quite sure. I’ve never stopped to ask. But every type of shoe adorns its branches; sandals, work boots, runners, even a pair of skates, hang swaying in the westerly breezes that blow in off the lake. Tourists from all around, stop at the side of the road to take a picture and admire the Shoe Trees in all their glory.

I look down at Harrison’s feet, the rubber soles of his shoes flapping like big, fleshy lips, seem to talk to me,

“Take us to Pelee!” they beg.

“Come on,” I say to my son, “we’re going shopping.”

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Chop, Chop

Another spring, another ride aboard the M.V. Jiimaan, another cottage opening. I always hold my breath a little as we turn down Stone Road and approach our schoolhouse for the first time each spring. How will it have fared through the long, harsh winter? Will we return to find missing roof shingles, damaged shutters or worse, a family of raccoons living in our attic? I exhale as soon as I spot our house through the clearing. Aside from one downed tree, all looks well.

Opening the door and entering the schoolhouse, I’m met by its recognizable smell. A little bit musty, a little woody, I am comforted by its familiarity. I pause to take a look around assessing the interior for any signs of damage. Nothing Pledge, Pine-Sol and a good sweeping won’t fix. I dawn my Latex gloves and get to work.

My husband, Rob meanwhile is eager to fire up the chainsaw and address the toppled tree. He cuts and chops for hours that day, pausing only to join me at the picnic table for lunch. Later, we move the seemingly endless supply of wood to the pile under the old lilac tree. During one of my wheel barrow runs, back and forth, I look up at what I know to be an overgrown bush and wonder how old it could possibly be; its fragrant flowers moving in the sweet breeze that has made our afternoon of heavy work, a little lighter.

The reward at the end of the day for me is a stroll to the beach, a bike ride, a great supply of wood for all those summer bonfires… Home again and so much to do.