Rise of the Spirit of Independence

Over the last few days I’ve been busy moving this blog to its new home: www.nwpassage.ca. The migration is now complete, and everyone’s welcome to stop by for a visit. This (wordpress-hosted) incarnation will remain live for the time being, but if you’re interested in the latest goings on, you’ll have to check here.

Why switch? Customizable widgets, editable CSS, unique URL, the list goes on.

Showshoe Shadow

Come March, it’s easy to get caught up in lamenting the creek’s present impaddleability. However, as it stands (though, by definition, a creek isn’t standing water) the surface is perfect for snowshoeing (see “Focusing on the Positive”). Now, the key is to get out on the creek, but not in the creek (see “Focusing on the Negative”). But more on that later…

We decided to start out by the bridge in Bishops Mills and head upstream. One thing is that while snowshoeing, as opposed to canoeing, going upstream is just as easy as going downstream. Anyhow, Jen took one side of the creek and I took the other; I guess the theory is that if two folks are on the ice and close together the chances of it giving way increase. Sounds logical enough. At this point, the creek was completely frozen over and blanketed with a layer (about eight inches deep) of last night’s snow and freezing rain.

Moving along, our steps grew less tentative as we realized that the ice was not in any danger of giving out. But how thick was it, really? After we had gone a ways, we found that if we stood still and listened carefully, the sound of water flowing beneath the ice was audible. It was slightly strange to hear the soft bubbling emanating from somewhere beneath our feet — mesmerizing, almost. We soon came to patches of open ice and water.

Open water

To our delight, the surface ahead of us was no longer a flat expanse (as it was by the bridge), but had become topographically interesting. Of course, the topography of snow is not necessarily backed by more substantial topographies (such as ice or earth). Presented with prospect pictured below, I thought it would be worth testing the strength of the bridge-like formation in between the two crevices.

The Topography of Snow

The test, as you might expect, came back negative. It was amazing how quick I went through the upper crust of snow and ice — there was no warning that it was going to give way. I suppose that actually going through the relatively thick surface-ice would be different, as there would be audible cracking noises when it breaks loose. In my case, the only noise was Jen’s “I told you so!” Granted, I had been told. But “discretion is the better part of valor,” as they say.

On the plus side, there was a mostly solid layer of ice in between my foot and the water after everything was said and done; extricating myself from the hole wasn’t much of a problem. Also, the “break-through” revealed some beautiful ice formations beneath the snow (see the video above). You can hear the delightful “babbling-brook” sound track as well.

On the way home, I got to thinking that this episode raises an important issue — to what length is a blogger willing to go for the sake of a good post? What’s the trade-off between personal risk and personal promotion (such as hits on your website)? I’m not sure where exactly I fit in here, but as Jen put it, “You didn’t do that for a blog, you did it because you’re curious. And stupid.” Well, guilty as charged, but danger, admittedly, is a big part of adventure, which is in turn a big part of a good blog.

So, my advice to someone who feels like they don’t “get out” enough? Get a blog. Before long, you’ll feel obligated to drum up a story or two, and start doing stuff that’s worth writing home about. Just don’t blame me if you fall into a hole or two while you’re at it.

Well, one strategy for getting through winter involves taking advantage as best you can of the sunny days. In keeping with this, last weekend I headed out for a bit of an excursion out back, along with Jen and the dog. The point (aside from avoiding cabin fever, February blahs, and impeding obesity) was to try out Fred’s trekking skis, which are something of a cross between snowshoes and cross-country skis. You can kind of seem them here:

Dogs, snow, skis, etc.

They’re relatively short, and have a patch of “seal skin” fabric on the bottom to keep them from sliding the wrong way (which is backwards). I’ve been told that they came from Siberia (or was it Scandinavia?). Originally, that is; the skis that I used came from the store in Kemptville.Jen strapped on a set of “boreal” snowshoes, which are huge and tasseled. Wooden, too; none of this new-fangled aluminum stuff. I guess they’re suited to the deep powder. Anyhow, they smooth things out pretty nice for the skis.

Two Friends

It’s funny how you notice different things in the winter, with the leaves gone and all. Stuff you’d miss in the spring all of a sudden comes out loud and clear. Take a look at this:

Thorny patch

See the nest? First of all, you’d never notice it in the summer because it’s surrounded by prickly ash, and chances are you’re not going anywhere near that stuff. But with the braches bared, you realize that some critter was crazy enough to set up house in the middle of it all. Wondering if there was an egg or a bird in the nest, I took a closer look,

Snowy egg

…but it was just a patch of snow; nobody home.

…probably shouldn’t throw stones either.

Maison Sous-Marine

On a side note, I read today that the original proverb can be traced back to Chaucer’s “Troilus & Criseyde”: Who that hath an hed of verre, Fro cast of stones war hym in the werre!

Hmm, I think I may have something vaguely intriguing for you today. Be warned, though, that this post is about postage stamps.

* * *

Well, diligent reader, let me begin: many of the stamps I have accumulated over the years have been passed on by the few thoughtful folk aware of my philatelic predilection. And so, every now and then one of these kind souls will hand over a few months’ or years’ worth of stamps.

Anyhow, while sifting through one of these packets the other day, I noticed a particularly handsome issue from Éire (Ireland). Dated 1991, the stamp’s subject was a small fishing boat, and the text “LOINGEAS IASCAIREACHTA” was printed along the bottom of the frame (What does that mean? I don’t know). But as the sifting continued, I noticed another copy of the stamp. And another, and — how about that? — yet another.

What caught my interest was not, however, the pretty pictures of boats (although that, typically, is enough to catch my interest); on these speciments, the original sender of the letters had actually written on the inside of the envelope. My leftovers, therefore, contained not only the stamps, but also scraps of correspondence. Here’s an image of the fronts & backs — take a look:

Eire1

This batch was the first group I noticed, as the typewritten message had bled through the paper envelope, and was clearly visible on the other side. There’s also another batch, written not in type but in cursive hand. These I did not notice until after collecting the typewritten samples — at which point I started examining the backs of the stamps too:

Eire 2

Interesting, hmm? The appeal here, I suppose, is really in the “collected stamp as found art object.” The fragments of text, especially in the first (typewritten) example, are almost poetic. Taken as a whole, this lot is, to me, a curiosity. Why would the sender write directly on the envelope? Is it a paper-saving measure? Why are some typed and others written long- hand? Many more questions too, but of course I’m left guessing. Which is part of the fun, after all.

It’s been awhile — I almost forget how to use this “blog” thing…

Anyhow, the other day we went driving out behind a friend’s place. There are some nice trails running through the bush, most of which are wide enough for the old Ford Bronco. Of course, it didn’t take long for the mud to get the best of us, and subsequent efforts at locomotion were varied in both method and efficiency. Pushing proved futile,

Push!

and the mule couldn’t budge the Bronco, either.

Mule vs. Bronco

We ended up using an old bulldozer, which dragged the truck out without any trouble (even though somebody left it in gear). The only thing was that it took about half an hour for the silly thing to crawl all the way from the barn, through the field, and into the bush. Suddenly the mild weather we’ve been having didn’t seem so mild after all…

Dozer vs. Bronco

The dozer proved useful later on when the truck appeared to run out of gears — I ended up walking back to the house as the truck (somewhat ingnobled by the process) was towed back to the barn. Being rather clueless as far as engines go, I had no idea what the problem was — but one fellow noted that “it smells like burnt clutch.” I’m afraid that I’m somewhat lacking in those sorts of sensitivites.

…and possibly for the last time this year, depending on when the snow flies. Anyhow, it was just a short paddle, playing around in the riffles under/around the St. Lawrence street bridge in Bishops Mills. Due to the rain we’ve had lately, water levels were higher than they’ve been in recent memory – but still not deep enough to get a good pull when you’re heading upstream. Of course, navigating the narrow creek’s proto-rapids in the big aluminum canoe (“Old Ironsides”) is a bit of a challenge. A good challenge, though.

 

Kemptville Creek

Well, the canoe was barely wet when we noticed a small pumpkin floating downstream (“gourd overboard!”). The good news is that it was recovered in one piece, and will be incorporated into some baking later this week; you know how the old saying goes: “out of the creek and into the pie.”

 

Pumpkin

So, as befits a November day with August weather, we took a wander out back – and came across an old disc harrow. See if you can make it out:

Plow

As you can see, it’s grown right over with dogwood, grass, and prickly Elm Ash (ouch). It’s nice and ironic, seeing how this implement that was once used to turn the land is now overgrown, practically invisible. Here’s a closer look:

 

Discs

Cause and effect: we spent the afternoon picking burrs out of dog fur. Reading, too (Ben Jonson and an old copy of Men’s Health magazine); it’s funny that men’s preoccupations and sense of humour really haven’t changed much in the past 400 years or so.

It’s always interesting, I find, to run into old acquaintances, long lost friends, and the like. The last few times this has happened, I’ve noticed that I seem to have much to talk about with the folks I wasn’t really that close with previously; as impromptu reunions unfold, in coffee shops or on park benches, I can’t help but think it funny that in this one chance visit, five years since we last crossed paths, we exchange more words than we ever did during the ten-or-so years of acquaintance during public/high school. Maybe the words accumulate as the years go by. Maybe time makes us better people, turning some of us into folks we actually wouldn’t mind chatting with for a while. Whatever the case, a little nostalgia can go a long way.

Before we even started the trip, we knew that the van had a bum battery. “If you leave the lights on, or the radio,” we were warned, “she won’t have enough juice to start up again after you turn off the ignition.” Wishing to avoid trouble, we were diligent in avoiding potentially battery-draining activities; on the way down, ignition was not a problem.

But the battery got worse. By the time we were headed home, ignition was a problem… if we turned off the vehicle, it would not start up again. As it turned out, the extra battery-pack we brought along — used for jumping dead van batteries — needed an extra battery-pack of its own to charge itself.  And the jumper cables had gone missing.  And it became apparent that a very important part of the ignition process is having fuel to ignite.

As you know, gas stations like you to turn off your vehicle while you fill the tank. I’m not sure exactly why they request this — does it present some kind of fire hazard? Is it in fact about emissions, and the harmful effect of breathing in exhaust fumes while you’re standing beside your tail-pipe and pumping gas? Wishing to avoid trouble (see a pattern developing here?), I asked the gas jockey if he’d mind if I kept the engine running. “That’s okay,” he said. “But you didn’t hear that from me.” At this point, the girl behind the cash register headed behind the store, fleeing, no doubt, the impending disaster.

Various thoughts ran through my mind as I unscrewed the fuel cap at the MacEwen station along the 1000 Islands Parkway. After all, don’t some jets refuel in mid flight? It’s not like they turn off their engines during the process.  Cursing Ben Franklin, I inserted the nozzle, and squeezed the handle.  The Texas Tea started flowing, and I am glad to report that nothing blew up as it was pumped into the running minivan.

Well, this post marks the second gloomy weekend in a row, and the continued back-burnering of a growing list of sunny-day projects. Welcome to north-eastern Ontario’s monsoon season.

A mushroom 1UP

On the plus side, the mushrooms seem to be happy. I came across one particularly beautiful specimen growing on the forest floor, and another more stalwart variety atop an old pile of rotten timber and broken windows. At least something’s finding a use for it.

For something to do, I went looking for a decommissioned quarry that is supposedly not far from here. After a brief excursion, however, all I had found were a few wild apple trees. I’ll have to try and get directions next time. Along the way, I startled a grouse – who in turn startled me as it, in a clatter of wings, burst from beneath a pine only a few feet away.

 

Limerick Forest

Last week we stopped by the 5th Annual Open House at nearby Limerick Forest. One thing I learned from this experience was that if you arrive late to a public barbecue, chances are you’ll get stuck with a veggie-burger. Despite the occasional downpours, the visit was as pleasant as usual. Many folks attended, to enjoy the various activities and horse-drawn wagon tours. It’s nice to see the forest bustle every now and then.

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