Yesterday we returned from three magical days outside time in Wakefield, just north of Ottawa on the edge of Gatineau Park; days in which to wonder at the way winter transforms the landscape.
‘A Modern Indigenous Master’
First, though, we took in some magic of a different kind; a fabulous retrospective of the work of Alex Janvier, one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, at the National Gallery.
As an indigenous artist who himself was torn from his family and culture and sent to a reidential school at age eight, some of Janvier’s work references very directly the suffering experienced by indigenous people in Canada. At times it is, quite rightly and very movingly, political and outraged. But there is also huge vitality, spirituality and joy. I felt with many of his works that I could sit and be with just one piece for a long time and keep finding new elements and insights.
Winter – transformation and meditation
Our destination was Wakefield Mill, a lovely converted 19th-century flour mill on the banks of the Gatineau River, surrounded by 24 acres of forest. We arrived the day after a minor ice-storm; the roads had been cleared and the journey was fine, but, without significant subsequent snow-fall, even the day after we arrived was exceptionally icy and treacherous. Despite this, we managed to try out our new snow-shoes on a short trail behind Wakefield’s covered bridge.
Wakefield in winter
I find the light and sparkle of snow, the dampened sound cut through with the crunch of a crisp crust cracking underfoot, the distorted forms of rocks and trees, the transformation of running water into constantly changing sculptures, entrancing.
This is the best of meditations; I am effortlessly present, ‘just being’. For me, winter makes it easy to access the child’s wonder and joy.
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A second outing before we started for home saw us climbing fairly steeply up through woods to a peak above the village where we could look out across the white expanse below – stunning! We looped back down a gentler trail, the first folks through after six inches or so of snow the day before.
Of course, every homecoming is also a gift living here; today we were gifted Alice in winter pastels . . . (Alice is the first island we see as we look out across Cranberry Lake!).
In a year when I’ve been forced by a concussion (Easter Saturday; uneven pavements, a pitch into the metal door of the change room by the ice rink at Kew Gardens – not quite a hockey story) to avoid spending time at the computer, blogging has had to be largely shelved. Life has needed to be lived at a gentler pace and within tighter boundaries. At times, I’ll admit, this has felt constraining, frustrating even. But it has also been a powerful exercise in finding joy and fulfillment in small things, in the everyday; and 2015 has not been without its explorations and adventures.
Spring in Toronto is a case of ‘blink and you miss it’. This year I was able to live in intimate relationship with its unfurling, taking joy in the sunshine on my face and each new bud and bloom.
Thankfully we had already made the decision that we needed ‘cottage time’ this summer, opting for a tiny cottage right on the water at Newboro in the Rideau Lakes, about an hour north of Kingston.
Gina at the Cottages at Turtlehill
Heron on the dock
Our Cottage – Cottages at Turtlehill
Exploring Newboro Lakes Islands
Canal cottage – Lower Brewers Lock
Paddling on Charleston Lake – Whitefish Island
Waking, watching through our bedroom window a heron on our dock; lazing in a hammock strung between trees; easing into the water to paddle amongst innumerable islands, idly observing fish and frogs, osprey and loons, cottages and cabins; a fabulous country market in a C19th schoolhouse – fresh-from-the-field corn, dripping with butter; canals, locks and mill-houses, then wild, rocky vistas; and always water to catch and transform the ever-changing light. Is it any wonder that this is more or less the area in which we hope to make our home? Photos of our ‘Summer on the Rideau’ (Google Album)
For Paul’s birthday, we chose theatre at Stratford (Ontario). Considered comparable with the London or Broadway stage, Stratford Festival encompasses four distinct stages and many different styles. We saw ‘Possible Worlds’,partially performed in a pool of water (odd but effective), an absorbing rumination on alternate dimensions and social constructs. On Sunday, after luxuriating at Elm Hurst Spa, we abandoned wet waterfall walking in favour of a cream tea!
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Paul at Albion Falls
Thanksgiving saw a glorious combination of early colour and unseasonable summer temperatures (75 F/ 24C); not wanting to travel too far, we basked in the golden glow at Toronto Zoo, which is set in rolling parkland. Focused as I was on giving thanks, I was particularly wonder-struck by the rich diversity of animal life. Photos of Thanksgiving at Toronto Zoo (Google Album)
Fall continued mild, with particularly rich tones, sunny days – even a mild, dry night for Halloween! We had a fine dusting of snow in November, but, so far, December has continued balmy, though we continue in the belief that winter will come . . .
Downtown from the Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
From our window
2015 has undoubtedly been challenging. But, despite this, looking back I am grateful for the riches of these and other experiences and the new gifts of insight it has brought. Roll on 2016!
(You can click on any photo on the page to see it at a larger size, and flip through all the others in the same gallery too!)
I seem often to hear people questioning the attraction of Nuit Blanche.
For me there are two main strands.
One is a kind of sensory re-awakening. Each year there are many weird and wonderful happenings and just one or two pieces that really engage me at a deeper level, staying with me. But the overall impact heightens my experience of the everyday – leaves in water, light and shadow penetrating our home courtesy of a street light as we open the front door to a darkened room. It reminds me to see, to hear, to notice.
The other is the incredible openness of the crowd – a glorious diversity united in an ability to connect with childlike delight.
(Written early in September but delayed due to lack of time to sort out our photos!)
Where are all the people? On a Saturday early in August, it seemed so quiet compared with Toronto! We realized how true it is that everyone leaves this city of politicians and bureaucrats at the weekend when we found it thrumming on Monday night.
Diving into Canadian history; the Museum of Civilization is amazing, beautifully put together in a wonderful building designed by First Nations architect Douglas Cardinal, but also overwhelming. We drank deep of the First Peoples’ Hall, wandered across a continent and through hundreds of years of history in the Canada Hall and came ‘Face to Face’ with some key Canadian personalities – I was pleased to find I already knew at least something about many of them. (The Wikipedia article gives a great overview).
Museum of Civilization, OttawaFabulous ceiling at the Museum of Civilization, OttawaZen Garden, Museum of Civilization, Ottawa
Chinese Fireworks over Lac Leamy in Gattineau (the Quebec side of the Ottawa river), were more spectacular even than our expectations of them.
Ottawa - SkunkA day to recover from intellectual indigestion, sandwiching our exploration of the Byward Market (one of Canada’s oldest, fabulous foods, with funky shops including a run of high-end boutiques to the east) between exceptional local food for both brunch and dinner (Navarra and Fraser Cafe) – it was particularly fun at the latter to let the chefs decide what to feed us! Paul risked expulsion from our hotel room – any closer to the skunk he photographed and I would not have wanted him anywhere near me. Strange that, in our capital city, we also got our first sightings of both a groundhog and a beaver.
Parliament Hill, OttawaParliament Hill, OttawaParliament Hill, Ottawa
Mosaika - Parliament Hill, Ottawa (great sound and light show about what it means to be Canadian)It seems as if much of Canada needs to be experienced from the water. Ottawa is no exception – you gain a really good sense of how things fit together (and we still find ourselves awed by the immensity of the rivers). Having absorbed the overview, we headed up the Rideau Locks to Parliament Hill. History and citizenship came together as we toured both the exterior and the interior, visiting the House of Commons and Senate, as well as the library, the Peace Tower and some of the committee rooms. Later that evening, we returned for Mosaika, a fabulous exploration in sound and light of what it means to be Canadian projected against the Parliament buildings.
Of course, this being August, we couldn’t skate the Rideau, definitely on our list of ‘must dos’. So I guess that means we will be back . . .
Then, on Friday with dear friends Steve and Paul,a last minute decision to take in Buskerfest; beat-box, contortions, giant ants, music – another great Toronto street party.
Swimming at seven pm on Saturday evening after shopping and chores – Lake Ontario is always bracing, but so beautiful to swim off a glorious beach as the sun sinks.
Then, on Sunday, brunch at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Filmtection – Festival) before heading for Toronto Islands to try out our new hi-tech Frisbees (driver, mid-range and putter each) on the 18 hole course. Next time I will wear long sleeves and trousers for probeing very much beginners, much of our time was spent scrabbling in the bushes searching for our stray shots (hoping not to encounter poison ivy!). On the plus side, by the end of the course, we had gained two Frisbees.
Last Friday we headed north out of the city for our home from home in the Blue Mountains (a chalet owned by my ski instructor, Richard, for whom we have been doing some web consulting, creating a new website for his company, Eagle Adventures). On Saturday evening were behind the scenes at Georgian Downs racetrack, watching a friend, Sabina, take blood samples from a selection of the horses before climbing into the starter car for a unique view of harness (buggy) racing.
Sunday’s adventure was a trip on a Zodiac four kilometres out into Georgian Bay to the wreck of the Mary Ward – sadly a storm was brewing and we couldn’t snorkel as planned, but it was certainly a great taster for a future expedition. With the simple but effective tool of a glass bottomed washing-up bowl, we were still able to get a great view of the wreck.
On Monday (Labour Day) we had a lazy paddle down the Nottawasaga river, trying out what will shortly be our own Kayaks.
This weekend the focus has been a BBQ, trying out the versatility of our Big Green Egg (everything from the cornbread, to pizza and steak) for Paul’s 50th birthday. How amazing to be able to sit outside in shorts, with not even a cardigan, until nearly 2am (OK, we do have a patio heater)! We felt blessed in so many ways, but particularly by the beginnings of a shared sense of ‘history’ with our closest friends, something that is a potential casualty of uprooting midlife.
I can’t remember another time in my life quite like this, filled to the brim with such a range of unique experiences, some exhilarating, some poignant, many of which just seem to find us! It truly is an amazing ride . . .