Photos from the first month in our new home.
We have stepped into the pages of a novel filled with richly drawn characters – more than a hint of Stephen Leacock, but giving life too to my reading of Mary Lawson (writing about a more northerly Ontario rural community), Robertson Davies’ Salterton Trilogy, Monique Proulx’s Laurentian forest folk. I think perhaps it is easier to live in an unconstrainedly authentic way outside a city. Whether this is because of the people this life attracts, the grounding effect of an ever-present awareness of the natural world, less pressure from the tyranny of ‘nomal’ or something I do not yet understand I am not sure.
I love that there are farming families who have been here for generations, with a deep knowledge of and love for the land. There are those who left but felt the tug of their roots and returned, those who came thirty or twenty years ago, those who drive five hours each way every summer weekend from Pennsylvania or western Ontario, and newcomers like us – a healthy mix that includes at least a little multicultural leavening. It is good to know that about 60% of us are permanent residents.
The community is drawn from all walks of life; as well as the farming families we have so far met a lawyer, a civil servant fresh from a posting as Consul General, the published author of a fantasy novel, a forensic psychologist, a tech entrepreneur, a lawyer, a physiotherapist, a wonderful character with many stories to tell who described starting adult life as a ‘huckster’, the Chinese owner of a local fishing lodge and his wife who runs an LED import business, a couple with a tech background who have a smallholding with a straw-bale home, and more.
One eighty-year-old neighbor settled here with her ex-naval husband after travelling the seas on a schooner he built. She is on intimate terms with the raccoons, as well as the ubiquitous chipmunks and squirrels, and has this summer permitted the construction of the Groundhog Hilton in her rockery, though she plans a forced resettlement of the young engineer next Spring.
The pot of honey and card that arrived on our doorstep between our pre-closing inspection and our return from the lawyer with the ‘keys to the kingdom’ were no one-off. There is a genuine kindness and warmth that seems to characterize our new ‘hood; people take care of each other. There will always be someone willing to share their knowledge or who can help with the things that need doing. And there is something pretty awesome about setting out for an evening paddle and ending up getting to know new neighbours over a beer on their island party deck!
 Dictionary definition of huckster: retailer of small articles, especially a peddler of fruits and vegetables; hawker.
A good friend asked for my first impressions of this new stage of our lives. If I had to choose one word, it would be ‘blessed’.
For me there is a real sense of coming full circle, of ‘home’, of ‘returning to the land of my soul’. Although I have tried throughout my life to live authentically, have enjoyed each new stage and adventure, all the riches of experiences and connections, in returning to rural life there is a feeling of re-accessing a true, deep part of me that I associate with my childhood and teens. I was a child of nature, integrally connected with the rhythm of the seasons, with a strong link between external and internal realities. I have at times struggled to find that link amid urban overload. Here it is a sweet, familiar melody running through my living.
As each day dawns, I am excited to experience anew the beauty of ‘most this amazing day’.
Cranberry Lake, a cranberry bog flooded during the construction of the Rideau Canal, is what I see when I open my bedroom curtains; it takes my breath away every time I glimpse it. In a house with more windows than walls, it is a constant presence, the backdrop to our lives.
Some days, the water has been sprinkled with diamonds or fine, powdery glitter. Then there are the times of mirror calm, when every island become a Rorschach inkblot, or of grey shot with silver, of rising mist heralding the mellow mornings of Fall; and, to start and end the day the sun (and sometimes the moon) throw fire into the lake, painting it in reds and golds or soft pinks and purples.
I have always loved the wind, but until now I had not begun to understand its subtleties; the lake shows me how its tendrils touch and change things, shows me the quiet spaces where the wind is not. I notice which way the wind is blowing – usually from the south east; even through this hot August, colder when from the north.
The lake roots us in change, it is never quite the same as it was. Out paddling in the flat calm of early morning, I understood both that that calm is always present beneath the water’s every mood and that in those moments of absolute calm it is can most fully reflect back the light – it is truly magical to watch it ripple on a leafy overhang.
 A reference to a lovely song I know through Neshama Carlbach, ‘Return Again’
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.
We were already committed to a trip to Montreal for Canada Day and WordCamp at the beginning of July. We spent five days enjoying wonderful food (especially at Toqué) and a necessarily gentle exploration of the old city (lovely, though we had to take refuge from a downpour in Notre Dame Basilica), Mont Royal, Le Musée des Beaux Arts, the Olympic stadium, the Botanical gardens and Biodome (Space for Life), and more. It was a little galling to be in town for the Jazz Festival and not to be able to more than cast a glance in its direction – just half an hour passing through the Place des Arts was almost more than I could cope with. Another year! One delightful discovery was ‘Dragon’s Beard Candy’ in Chinatown, a confection of sugar threads, peanuts, sesame and coconut, reputedly once made only for the emperors of China.
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.
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)
The one post I did manage to write reflected a magical wilderness weekend at Wintergreen – a truly joyous experience. (See also Wintergreen Studios – a piece of heaven at the edge of wilderness – a Google Story for more photos!)
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!
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 . . .
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!)
Nestled in the woods just north of Frontenac Provincial Park, Wintergreen is a year-round education and retreat centre. Their focus is education, culture, and the environment and they offer courses and retreat and meeting facilities for individuals and groups.
This last weekend we had the pleasure of staying two nights in the main lodge, a wonderful, off-grid straw-bale building with a green roof. The lodge sits in a meadow, immediately surrounded by flowers, herbs and vegetables with the forest beyond.
Wintergreen’s 204 acres features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake – we managed to explore a good part of this during an awesome two-hour wilderness hike.
I watched a beaver slide into a pond and swim across it, my first certain sighting. Less romantically but no less a landmark, I picked my first tick off my clothing as we sat on the dock by the glacial lake. With ticks increasingly present – even in Toronto this summer – and concerns about Lyme Disease, this is something we all need to know about!
I stopped worrying about sticking to ‘the beaten track’ (sometimes we lost the trail for a while) and soaked up the beauty of the woodland, the lake and ponds, the rock, as we explored, occasionally investigating one of the wilderness cabins (including a hobbit house) that dot the property. We did do a thorough tick inspection when we got back to the lodge, though.
Earlier that day, I had joined thirteen other women in ‘Celebrating the Sacredness of Woman’, a workshop led by Julie Vachon a Metis woman who has studied with many elders and has attended ceremonies over the last 18 years. Among other things, we shared a new moon pipe, part of a ceremonial setting of personal intention at Sturgeon Moon, the August new moon. At a moment when my life is literally at the cusp of a major transition, this was moving and profound, as well as joyous.
This was one of those magic times outside time that feels utterly ‘meant’!
See also Wintergreen Studios – a piece of heaven at the edge of wilderness – a Google Story for more photos!