Happy Canada Day!

1 July 2015 — Another of the Prince Edward County barn quilts, this one near Bloomfield, and saved for today.

"Oh Canada" Rutter Bros. Heating & Cooling

You can see why.

Down the Street & Next to the Lake

24 June 2015 — But before I get to streets & lakes: Bonne fête nationale to any Québécois(es) reading this post. Today is the St-Jean-Baptiste, & there’ll be dancing in the streets tonight.

And, speaking of streets …

Down the Street

Down a few streets, in fact, but we won’t quibble, will we. When I headed off to Central Y on Monday, I took my camera along. Two targets in mind.

Here’s the first, & who could resist?

Sparky the Fire Plug...

So that’s the cutest Dalmatian you ever did see on a fire hydrant, but why is he there? Because the “314” on his cap stands for …

Grosvenor & Yonge

Grosvenor & Yonge


That photo opp I discovered all by myself, since the station is right next to the Y.

I learned about my second target of the day from my very good neighbour & even better friend, Brian. Yet another ratty old traffic signal box has been painted! he reported. Check out the corner of Church & Wood.

So I did.

painted traffic signal box, Church & Wood

Love it. Also love the artist’s website address.

signal-box artist's URL

It’s really-real. Type it into your search engine & go see for yourself.

So that was Monday, and then came — as it invariably must — Tuesday. Which marked the long-delayed reunion of the Tuesday Walking Society! Phyllis & I decided to take ourselves south on Sherbourne right down to Queen’s Quay Blvd. and …

Close to the Lake

While I was off admiring gardens & barn quilts & whatnot in Prince Edward County, the City of Toronto unveiled a new! improved! stretch of Queen’s Quay Boulevard. It now separates its various forms of traffic from each other, and provides more amply for pedestrians & cyclists into the bargain.

But first we cross Queen’s Quay, and skirt the west side of Sherbourne Common (its winter skating rink now miraculously a splash pad for squealing toddlers) to walk right at lake’s edge. This route takes us around the east face of a George Brown College building.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the reflective qualities of its huge glass panels — but I have never, ever, seen such a glorious display as they present today, cloud-swirled from top to bottom.

Just look. It could be a painting.

George Brown College, Sherbourne & QQ

Soon after, heading west, we’re at Sugar Beach, where the preferred seating choices show that summer has truly (as well as officially) arrived.

lakeside on Sugar Beach

What do I mean? I mean people are by preference lounging in the shade, not seeking the sun. The white ferry in the background is making its way through uncharacteristically murky waters: we had a fierce rainstorm overnight, and the lake is still roiled from all that wave action.

I referred to “Sugar Beach” a moment ago. Exactly the right name. The east side of the slip is all sand, deck chairs & happy umbrellas, while the west side …

Redpath Sugar Refinery

… is the Redpath Sugar Refinery facility, which processes raw sugar from the Caribbean. The cargo arrives in lakers that tie up in the slip, opening their maws for this great machinery to scoop up loose sugar from their holds and start it on the journey that ends in tidy packages on grocers’ shelves.

Phyllis & I walk on west, the warm smell of cooking sugar in our nostrils.

Past new condos now springing up; past Yonge Street; past Bay Street, with its Toronto Island ferry docks. Still weaving our way lakeside, now along the lakefront skirting Harbourfront Centre and the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery.

Each, as always, with outdoors art installations. I’m struck by this image by Ottawa artist Meryl McMaster.

Wingeds Calling, artist Meryl McMaster, in Ontario Square

“Wingeds Calling” is part of her In-Between Worlds series, which “explores the mixing and transforming of bicultural identities” — in her case, Plains Cree and British-Dutch.

Different medium, equal power as we pass The Power Plant installation of a work by French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira.

The Death of a Journey V, by Zeneb Sedira

“The Death of a Journey V” is part of Sedira’s 2008 Shipwrecks series. It shows a vessel called United Malika, which in 2003 ran aground on a stretch of North Atlantic coastline while enroute to a ship graveyard in Mauritania. I’m not clear if it was eventually towed to Muaritania or has been left to rust away where it first foundered.

Either way … what an image.

We do eventually make our way back out to Queen’s Quay Blvd West, in that reinvented stretch between Bay and Spadina. I think it an extraordinarily interesting bit of civic re-engineering. It has been transformed from roaring traffic lanes with narrow sidewalks squeezed either side, to a calm, spacious & very orderly separation of pedestrians, cyclists & vehicles.

More than that, it’s been done in a way that caters to, that showcases, the totally different environments each side of the boulevard. South-side: the lake & recreation. North-side: office towers & city commerce.

Queen's Quay West, from south-side sidewalk looking north

So. Here we are on the south side, looking north across the series of zones.

  • First, beneath my feet, the widened (and decorated) pedestrian walkway, with frequent & generous benches.
  • Then the dark grey bike trail, with a turquoise line to separate its lanes.
  • Then more pedestrian walkway, with newly planted trees at intervals.
  • Then two lanes (only two lanes!) for vehicular traffic.
  • Then a regular-width sidewalk on the north side. But look — with slivers of parkette tucked in where possible between buildings, complete with bright red Muskoka chairs for those who seek a get-away moment of relaxation.

I don’t know how motorists feel about it; I do know pedestrians & cyclists are already making major use of their expanded facilities, and we aren’t even in full tourist/summer season as yet.

Before Phyllis & I finally turn around and head east again, we revisit a couple of already-known but much-loved lakefront sites/sights.

Stacks and stacks of canoes, so dramatically bright against winter snow but even more cheerful now — or so one anthropomorphically imagines — with summer canoe day camps about to begin.

canoes by Harbourfront Centre

And then the Simcoe Wave Deck. It is far & away the loopiest of the three wave decks that were installed in 2009, all of them part of the city’s “new blue edge” and meant to help us connect with our lakefront more easily and more playfully.

Simcoe Wave Deck

The process continues, with the re-engineered stretch of Queen’s Quay as the very latest addition. And see how it complements the existing wave deck: the generous pedestrian pathways & big, fat Muskoka chairs add to the fun.

So, yes, in yearly increments, we can — and do — connect with our lakefront more easily and more playfully. I’m not an idiot booster, mind you; I’m aware of problems, & I’m uneasy about how many new condos & other buildings are still piling in, at water’s edge.

Still, as urban action goes, out here in the messy real world,  I think it’s pretty swell.

Look! Barn Quilts!

18 June 2015 – You’ll look at this & think,”Oh, she’s taking us back to Wisconsin, showing us another of those ‘barn quilts’ she discovered in the American Mid-West.”

on County Rd 32

Except I’m not. This is right here in Prince Edward County (PEC), in south-eastern Ontario.

Well, who knew? But isn’t it always the way: you learn a new word, & suddenly you see it everywhere. Same thing with barn quilts: I discover the phenomenon in their American Mid-West birthplace — & several weeks later they’re all around me on my side of the border.

Much credit goes to Pat Dubyk, a now-retired school librarian and County artist. She jumped on the idea when her horticulturalist husband Ron came back from judging Communities in Bloom entries in south-west Ontario, reporting he’d seen barn quilts in the area, and didn’t that seem like a natural project for their own County?

Pat Dubyk

That was in 2012. Pat tried a first experimental board (above), which still hangs on their property, and began rounding up support. By 2013, the first quilts were in place, and PEC had become — to quote their barn quilts website — “the newest community to become part of a North American network of rural art.”

Now it’s 2015, and you can follow a trail to discover 80-plus quilts throughout the County.

Credit not just to Pat, of course. Also to Ron; to the Ontario Barn Quilt Trails association, which they joined; to the Trillium Foundation for its grant; to local farms, schools, businesses and individuals — and to the volunteers who do the painting (except for those which people paint for themselves).

This particular morning, two veteran volunteers are up to their elbows in masking tape & paint pots: Audrey Tomik (left, below), a Victoria B.C. resident who summers here each year & now makes barn quilts part of her summer; and Gail Henderson (right), who recently retired as a local high school art teacher.

Audrey Tomik, L; Gail Henderson, R

Both Pat & Gail did very early quilts with school classes. Pat got grade-school students working on a design for CML Snider Public School in Wellington. Result: “Pioneer Patchwork.”

"Pioneer Patchwork" CML Snider Public School, Wellington

“Every barn quilt design is based on a genuine quilt block pattern,” says Pat. “Then you adapt. With the children, you may tweak their ideas a bit, but it’s still collaborative.”

I find I have to adjust to the scope of this project. I’d first been excited to see barn quilt panels around the County, but then slightly wary. Shouldn’t they only be on barns? Is the idea not somehow … um, compromised … to encourage art galleries, shops, schools, churches, and anybody else to arrange for one as well?

Then I learn that barn quilt trails first began in Ohio in 2001, driven by someone who deeply loved the art form, but funded as an economic development & tourism project. I accept that ideas have to be free to evolve, to find their way to live & breathe in their own era & local environment.

And I hear about the criteria. “We don’t do logos, ads, slogans, billboards, pictures,” says Audrey, laughing. “We make barn quilt art.”

So off we go, Leslie, Susan (Mme Chauffeur, thank you Susan) & I, to drive around the County and check out the barn quilt trail.

Well! We see the range. There is “Bee Creative,” at Love Nest Studio & Gallery near Bloomfield …

"Bee Creative" Love Nest Gallery

and “Stained Glass 1″ on the Wellington United Church hall …

"Stained Glass 1" Wellington United Church

and the “Wellington Gazebo Star” in the community park next door …

"Wellingon Gazebo Star" Wellington Park

and “Wellington Charmer” on the Home Hardware outlet on the town’s main street.

"Wellington Charmer" Wellington Home Hardware

The building has several more as well, and I’m not surprised. Pat has already told me that Home Hardware is a very good supporter of the project.

All fine, very appealing, great community stuff, wonderful to look at — but I’m still just a wee bit twitchy. It’s not personal, is it?

Then we visit another commercial establishment, Fields on the West Lake, near Bloomfield. With not one but two barn quilts, quite magnificently displayed.

"Henry Family Quilt" L, "Country Apples" R; Fields on West Lake

That’s “County Apples” on the right, next to the signage for their Blooms on West Lake shop, and “Henry Family Quilt” on the left.

"Henry Family Quilt" Fields on West Lake

I talk to the young woman. “That was the pattern for a family quilt,” she says. “And now, look, there it is on our barn.” I comment that she must really enjoy seeing it up there. She sparkles me a big smile before getting back to her tasks of the day.

So I have to soften my attitude. The barn quilt can be attached to a commercial enterprise, and still have a great deal of personal meaning.

And even when there may not be a personal story, why not enjoy it anyway? (I do, after all, enjoy urban street art!)

So when we three stop for a mid-afternoon treat in Bloomfield, I am totally happy with “Butterfly Blues” on the café wall.

"Butterfly Blues" Saylor House Café

Next down the main highway just outside Bloomfield, past “Sztuke Windmill” on the Sztuke family’s barn …

"Sztuke Windmill" Sztuke Family

before we take to a County road for a very special farm indeed.

This is Wilhome Farm, which has been worked by eight generations of Williamses, over the last 201 years. (Oh I know, if you’re reading this in England, eight generations is nothing much. But here in North America, it deserves a salute.)



"Williams Star" Wilhome Farms, Cty Rd 32

The barn quilt is the “Williams Star,” explain Anne & Don Williams on the quilt trails website. It has one star for each generation, and a colour for each element of their farm world: “green representing the land and crops, red representing the buildings and animals, blue representing water and rain and yellow representing the sun.”

Nearby, in another Williams family front yard, “Hole in the Barn Door.”

"Hole in the Barn Door" Bob & Helen Williams Cty Rd 32

The next day I’m out exploring again, this time solo, in a slightly different part of the County. I stop at Small Pond Arts outside Picton, to admire “Grandmother’s Fan #1.”

"Grandmother's Fan 1" by Krista Dalby Small Pond Arts

I talk to Krista Dalby, one half of the artist couple who own the studio. She tells me she painted this one herself — well, she is an artist! — to honour the quilt created by her maternal great-grandmother. “It was always there in my childhood, then it disappeared, and then it reappeared thanks to my sister.” The fabric quilt is pretty well in tatters by now, she says, but from it she could rescue the quilt-block design and create her barn quilt. (For more about Krista’s barn quilt & about Small Ponds Arts, visit her blog.)

“My husband is Macedonian,” she adds. “He is going to create a barn quilt design based on a family quilt of his own.”

I drive past one more example, “Swirling Star,” on a barn down by Milford. No commercial outlet that I can see. It’s just there. Settling nicely into place.

"Swirling Star" Nancy Fleck Milford

I think about what the two women told me of old family fabric quilts, now reborn in MDO board & paint. I think about what Pat told me, all the stories she hears as she contacts people about the project, all the personal history now being brought to life around the County as a whole.

The Trillium Foundation, says the PEC Barn Quilts Trail website, supports these trails in Ontario “as a way to tell community stories.”

Yes! That is exactly it. We also benefit — we who drive by & take photos — but the real value is within the community, whose stories are being gathered & made tangible in a whole new way.




Down the Garden Path

15 June 2015 – We’ve often holidayed in Picton / Prince Edward County, but this is the first time with friends. It is also, therefore, the first time with the advantage of additional resources of knowledge, curiosity & day-trip suggestions.

So I’m not showing you more of the County’s extraordinary porches & doorways (though I may yet). I am instead taking you where Chris & Susan took us: to SpindleTree Gardens. It is a 20-acre haven of gardens & architectural quirks about an hour’s drive north-east of Picton, created with love, skill & dogged persistence by Tom Brown & Susan Meisner.

I like visiting gardens, especially ones created by the sheer determination of obsessed individuals over time, and most especially ones that also include what I call ‘architectural quirks’ — old bits of stuff, the flotsam & jetsam of rural life, repurposed.

Like these welcoming pillars among the daisies & poppies & spotted willow next to the farmhouse.

garden nearest the tea room

I’m charmed, right off the bat. Well, I was already charmed, having heard tales from Chris & Susan, who are friends-of-friends of the owners. A preparatory coffee in the little tearoom & off we go, on a self-guiding tour. (Which we choose to do in reverse order, for reasons I now forget…)

Around a first corner, angling our way past the greenhouse conservatory with its gothic church-style windows & stained glass …

the greenhouse conservatory

and into the Pump & Circumplants [sic] garden. First I notice the spike guarding one corner of boxwood hedge …

in the Pump & Circumplants garden

and then the fallolloping spring flowers, happy in the sunshine, with one of the ponds glinting at us in the distance.

spring flowers in the Pump & Circumplants garden

Over the ponds …

bridge over two ponds

and after a bit up to to the Grande Allée of flowering black locust trees.

the Grande Allée

Probably a grander Allée when flowering, but I’m happy to admire the pattern of the brickwork path, and, even more wonderful, the pattern of the black locust tree’s bark.

black locust tree

Plus pods. Don’t forget the pods.

Poppies are at their best, exactly precisely right now. Leslie (another of our group) draws my attention to this one:

poppy next to the Grande Allée

And on down the Allée, and around another corner — and there’s the maze! I hadn’t expected one (not bothering to read my walk brochure), but it’s exactly the right thing to have, in such a garden, is it not?

the maze at SpindleTree Gardens

We each make it to the centre — guided occasionally by muttered “Oops” or “Yes!” from someone around the next bend — where we smack the fleur-de-lys pole to create audible proof of our success, before working our way out again.

There is a small pond just a bit farther on, covered in duck weed (or somesuch), except for the perfect oval of clear water created by the bubbler beneath.

small pond at SpindleTree

More happy plants, with (cross-reference to my previous post) what are surely happy rocks to keep them snug in their beds.

beds of peonies

Some native bleeding hearts, just as we round our way back to our starting point — all the more wonderful because, unlike hybrids, their bloom is so fleeting.

native bleeding heart

Some final found objects to bid us farewell. (“People see stuff here & bring him more stuff,” says Susan.) Some old sections of fence, maybe-perhaps, but just as likely to be sections of some old farm implement. Maybe-perhaps.

fence? farm implement?

And beavers.

ornamental garden post

At least I can recognize a beaver!




Happy Rocks

10 June 2015 – Years ago, an articulate, educated — & apparently sane — woman told me why she paid a clandestine second visit to a cottage property she was thinking of buying. It was on very rocky land, part of the rugged Canadian Shield country north of Toronto. “I snuck back at dawn, did yoga & listened to the rocks,” she told me. “I had to know if the rocks were happy, because otherwise, obviously, I wouldn’t buy the property.”

I roll my eyes.

But I also feel an uneasy, slightly alarming, affinity with this woman. I too love rocks, & want them around, & respond to them. They have never told me whether or not they are happy — but they make me happy.

This cluster of stones in my back yard, for example, brought home decades ago from a holiday on Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), off the British Columbia coastline.

Haida Gwaii stones, by Inuit soapstone carving

They’ve been grouped in assorted places over the years; currently they sit with this little soapstone Inuit bird on a chunk of log, halfway down the garden.

I have time to think about rocks these days, for not-so-happy reasons. My back is being annoying at the moment, curtailing my usual walks & expanding time spent close to home.

Also giving me time to scroll through old photos, revisit rocks that have made me happy at different times in different places around the world.

Most of which I couldn’t possibly bring home with me! Case in point: Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory. Admire it, preferably at dawn; respect it by keeping your feet off it; bring home the memory.

Uluru at dawn, Northern Territory, Australia

No issues about putting our feet on the rocks & trails of King’s Canyon in Watarrka National Park, also in the Northern Territory — so we did. Down in the gorge or up on the rim, all glorious.

King's Canyon, Watarkka National Park, Australia

More red rock, very different location — my first hike in Iceland after all those months of training. It’s a half-day trek up the Red Bowl crater (Rauðaskál) before carrying on to Hellisfjall, our first campsite.

 rim of crater

How happy we were! For the sheer beauty; for the excitement of finally being in Iceland, and starting our great adventure.

Six trekking days, some on high ridges, also one memorable slog through the black volcanic sands of the Mælifellssaudur inland desert. I confess I was getting tired of the sand. The inuksuk cheered me up.

 inukshuk in the sands

Final campsite at Langidalur, & a farewell morning hike in the area that brought us past the Steinboginn arch of rock. I did not climb it. I watched in awe, as others did. Watching made me quite sufficiently happy, thank you.

ISteinboginn rock arch at the height of the walk

Another craggy arch, but this one far from Iceland. I’m on a trail in Topes de Collantes Nature Park, within Cuba’s Escambray mountain range.

a trail in Topes de Collantes Nature Park, Cuba

We’re just 20-odd km from the World Heritage Site city of Trinidad; such contrast. And such joy, to experience both.

Same hemisphere, different country, and this time rock as reworked by human beings back in, oh, 500 B.C. give or take. I’m at Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, located near the present-day city of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the centre of the Zapotec world for almost 1,000 years.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Look what they accomplished. We wonder at it still.

More wonder during my trip to Guernsey, where sites speak to us of even earlier times. (Did you catch that? I just wrote that “sites speak to us.” Perhaps I have to stop rolling my eyes at that woman who listened to the rocks.)

Back to Guernsey. To Le Creux ès Faïes passage tomb on Lihou Headland just north of L’Erée Bay. It is neolithic or megalithic, reputable sources differ, but created somewhere around 3000-2500 B.C. In Guernsey folklore, this spot is considered the entrance to the fairy kingdom, hence the name.

Le Creux es Faies, Lihou Headland, interior

There are standing stones / menhir as well as caves and tombs, including the Castel Church Statue Menhir. It is thought to be late neolithic, dating from 2500-1800 B.C., and is considered one of the world’s finest examples of a statue-menhir from that era.

Castel statue-menhir, Castel Parish church

Pulled down & buried at some point when Christianity triumphed over the earlier gods and churches claimed the old sacred sites; rediscovered in the 19th c. when some repair work was being done to the Castel Parish Church, and erected once again — with astonishing tolerance, for the Victorian era — within the church yard. She keeps peaceful company with all those tombstones, and receives frequent tributes from visitors. (See her head-wreath? Real flowers, only slightly past prime.)

Now I’m circling you back to Canada, to rock that has moved me & made me happy, here at home.

This cliff edge overlooking Strathcona Sound, for example, at the north-west tip of Baffin Island.

cliff on Strathcona Sound, at Nanisivik

I was on assignment in Nanisivik, Canada’s last company mining town, established in 1975 and housing miners & their families until the mine finally closed in 2002. After each day of interviews & exploration, I’d climb a little trail on the edge of the community, and sit up there breathing the air and looking out over the Sound, revelling in the hard-edged beauty of the world above the tree line. It is summer and, yes, that is a tiny last bit of iceberg, still bobbing in the water below.

Right here in Ontario, I love the Bruce Peninsula, the rocky finger of land jutting up into Lake Huron that divides the main body of the lake from its Georgia Bay remnant on the eastern side. The land lies a-slant, rising to escarpment cliffs of dolomite sandstone on the east and falling away in great sandy stretches into Lake Huron proper on the west.

“The Bruce” is home to the northern portion of the Bruce Trail. Little Cove is on the trail, near its northern tip. It offers a moment back down at water’s edge, between long stretches up on the escarpment.

Bruce Peninsula , Little Cove on the Bruce Trail

These undulating formations, I read, are “karst pavement” — limestone surfaces with potholes & twists formed by natural acidic erosion. Spring wildlowers tuck into their crevices …

Little Cove

This is old rock, very old rock, emerging from an area that, some 400 million years ago, was covered by a shallow tropical sea.

But all these great formations are like that, aren’t they — Uluru formed some 550 million years ago; King’s Canyon slightly younger at 450 million years or so.

Then there’s the Canadian Shield, once called the Precambrian Shield, since it was formed in the mid to late Precambrian Age. It is considered among the oldest known rock in the world, emerging somewhere between 2.5 & 3.5 billion years ago.

I cannot comprehend numbers like that. (And I don’t guarantee them, either. I look for reputable sources, but I am no geologist.)

Ahhh, but, once you get to thousands & millions & billions of years, it is simply — for everyday me —  very, very old. Beyond-imagining old. Beginning-of-time old. I am just happy that these great formations are so very old, that they connect us with the beginnings of our planet, and that earlier human civilizations have worked with rock and left us such wondrous evidence of their beliefs and their achievements.

And I am happy to have a little piece of that Canadian Shield, that impossibly ancient rock, now sitting quietly in my own back garden.

a rock from Muskoka, from the Canadian Shield

It was brought here for me by my partner from property he once owned up on the Shield. So I am happy on many levels — for his patient generosity (this is not the only rock he lugged south), for our memories of that property, and finally for the astounding fact of that little rock itself.

Like any ancient rock, it is memory made solid, the story of our planet.



Post Trip, Postscript

4 June 2015 – Every really worthwhile trip offers some reverberations, a few now-moments to illuminate the then-moments of travel.

And, if you’re lucky, it also offers a souvenir that still looks good when you get it home.  (T-shirt? Tasselled cushion? Box of fudge? You’ll see.)

Barn Quilts …

Big thanks to Kris Leaman, of Mason City, who wrote in to tell me more about the “barn art” I enjoyed throughout our mid-West loop. Remember?

barn Hwy 22 s. of Shawano Wisc

These panels are known as “barn quilts,” she explains, and may be admired not just by serendipitous chance, but also by taking part in an organized tour.

Further big thanks to my travel companion — and Kris’ sister-in-law — Danna, who promptly did an online research for an example. As you’ll discover, such tours are offered in a great many counties throughout Iowa. I’m guessing in other states as well, but will leave that research to you.

Bog Plants, Heroes & Villains …

Now Danna doffs her Mason City hat for her Dr.-Danna-the-Ethnobotanist hat. While walking the Cowles Bog in Indian Dunes National Lakeshore park, we loved a giant fern & a probably-iris plant.

But what are they? And do they deserve our love?

Yes, and no.

American Royal Fern in Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Yes to the fern! Cautioning this is a tentative ID, Danna labels it a native species, the American Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis).

That iris is another story, so I will not even show it to you again.

“The lovely yellow iris,” she writes, “may, alas, be an alien invasive (Iris pseudacorus: http://www.invadingspecies.com/invaders/plants-aquatic/yellow-iris/), introduced to North America as an ornamental pond plant. It behaves itself nicely when at home in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, but is an unwelcome bully where it has escaped into North American bogs and other wetlands.”

Let us all take a moment to renew our vow never to yoick species around the world, but instead leave them safely in their native habitat, where local conditions (including predators) keep them in balance.

And my Indiana Dunes souvenir!

Not a T-shirt, though heaven knows, they were on offer. Nor fudge. (Always on offer — what is it about tourists & fudge?) Not even a tasselled cushion. (I made that up.)


A recycled-plastic DIY birdhouse kit. For inside or out, real use or ornament, whatever you (& feathered friends) decide.

DIY birdhouse kit, from Indiana Dunes

All snapped together with my own little fingers …

the birdhouse, in its Toronto home

and hung on a convenient tree stub in my back yard over a recycled chair-now-ornament.

Farewell to old travels; new ones loom — off to Prince Edward County (Picton, ON etc.) in a week’s time, with my partner & other friends, for a week. Lucky me.




The Dunes, the Bogs, the Progress, the Barns, & Usonian Design

30 May 2015 – Sometimes a punchy little title just doesn’t cover it. This long lumpy one does, but not in the order you’ll find below. Never mind. We’ll make it through.

So here we are, last 2 days of the trip, hitting the edge of “Oh damn, let’s just jump on the Interstates & get to Toronto.” We had been so proud of our wiggly small roads all through all those states, hardly a sniff of Interstate. But, finally, it is time to go home.

Except that Danna, bless her, has one last delight up her sleeve. We’re going to nip up to the south-east curve of Lake Michigan, and visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (part of the U.S. national park system).

Some 15,000 acres along the shoreline and, yes, it has dunes.

Lake View site within Indiana Dunes

I tell you, this park is a triumph of stubborn citizen will — not once, but often, as each new development threat took shape. First praised in an 1899 scientific article by botanist Henry Cowles (an article, that, it is said, established him as “the founder of plant ecology”), the area was repeatedly proposed for protection, given some, threatened anew, and on the dance went, until a 1966 act of the U.S. Congress established the first national-level 8,330 acres, since expanded.

There is a very industrial Port of Indiana plonk in the middle, presumably the price paid for the protection otherwise gained. (Nothing I found quite states that quid pro quo; I am here drawing conclusions.)

But life’s benefits always have prices, and the port is invisible unless you are actually driving past it. Certainly not visible, or injurious, from here — the Lake View beach, with its splendid dunes & squealing kiddies running in & out of the waves.

beach at Lake View, in Indiana Dunes

We picnic here, wander the beach a bit, read the signage with its recipe for creating a dune: take 1 receding glacier, preferably advancing/receding in cycles, add strong wind & wave action, stir & tumble for a millennium or so & voilà, rippled shorelines & dunes.

Fed & at least superficially educated, we turn back along this road, to regain the main road and our next target, the Cowles Bog.

No, next target but one. Our immediate target is right out here on Lakefront Drive, where we saw, goggled at, almost stopped for, but decided to visit after lunch … this.

1933 Century of Progress,  Lakefront Drive

Yes, really. The Century of Progress Historic District. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair featured a group of homes under the banner, “Century of Progress,” each one a showcase of innovative building materials & designs.

In 1935, a developer barged five of them over here.

Including the Florida Tropical House …

Florida Tropical House, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

and the Armco-Ferro House …

Armco-Ferro House, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

and the House of Tomorrow.

House of Tomorrow, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

All are now publicly owned & administered, but leased to private tenants. While several are clearly under further restoration, the impact of the group is so unexpected & surreal & glorious that you just giggle with joy as you hop around during your 15 minutes of permitted parking.

On to the bog.

Cowles Bog, of course named for Dr. Henry Cowles, and who more worthy of tribute? Three interconnecting loops offer 4-5 hours of steady hiking, but we don’t have that kind of time. We have dawdled quite a while already, it is mid-afternoon, and, alas, an Interstate does beckon.

So we spend an hour. Long enough to enjoy stretches on wooden paths over the bog …

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

and to admire huge, happy ferns …

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

and also some equally happy but more delicate yellow-bog-iris-plants-we-guess.

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Then back to the car, oh sigh, and we think the fun is over, but you can’t count on that, can you? Because smack at Hwy 12, which runs its ribbon through the park, we see this:

house on Hwy 12 within Indiana Dunes

How silly can you get?

It’s boarded up, but we still can’t quite bring ourselves to trespass, so we admire from relatively afar.

Back to Frank Lloyd Wright

I am grateful to reader John Panning, who commented on my previous post, noting another FLW house open to the public in Iowa. It is Cedar Rock, an outstanding example of the architect’s Usonian design (“his version of the average American home”), located in Quasqueton, Iowa.

So there you go: two FLW homes open to the public in Iowa, each a prime example of a different style: Stockman House = Prairie School, Cedar Rock = Usonian.

Why on earth don’t these two organizations cross-promote?

Back even farther, to Wisconsin Barns

Well, that jump is enough to give you whiplash. Back at least a week & multiple states in this trip’s chronology. Don’t care. I want to show you these barns, and they just didn’t fit in earlier on.

I had already seen U.S. barn art, decades ago in Pennsylvania and (I think) closely linked to the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Starting in Wisconsin, and on through the other mid-West states, we saw many examples, all part of the mainstream farm culture.

Here’s a close-up of one, evening shadows picking out the design …

barn Hwy 22 s. of Shawano Wisc

and here’s a long shot of another the next morning, with that fresh early light and that big sky just rolling on & on. (Made me remember my Alberta days.)

backroads Wisconsin

Aren’t they terrific? Art as part of the mainstream culture. Not needed for function, not interfering with function, just loved for its own sweet sake.


Prairie School Architecture. Plus.

26 May 2015 – Let’s start with the Plus, because it really is very, very nifty. In the parkland in front of the Mason City Public Library stands this status: “Circle of Friends,” by Karen  Crain.

"Circle of Friends" in front of Mason City Public Library

Charming without being saccharine & entirely appropriate for a public library, you think. All true — but the story is even better than that. Each year, River City Sculptures on Parade, Inc. (not-for-profit, despite that “Inc”), in partnership with Sculpture One Network, invites artists to lend the city one of their works of art for one year. The sculptures are displayed in a big walking-tour loop around the city, and are available for sale. So: good art for the city; good marketing opp for the artists.

On top of that, each year people are invited to vote for the People’s Choice award. Whichever sculpture wins, is purchased by the city and kept on display.

Back to “Circle of Friends.” In 2014, someone purchased it, and donated it to the library.

Danna & I lingered at another reading-related sculpture, also in front of the library. “Oh look,” says Danna, such delight in her voice, “look at the dolly hanging off the scooter handle…”

"Summer Distractions II" in front of Mason City Public Library

This is “Summer Distractions II,” by Lee Leuning & Sherri Treeby. It won People’s Choice in 2013, was therefore purchased by the city, and now also stands near the library.

We wander over to one side, drawn by this powerful bear. “Beetle the Bear,” by Cedar Mueller, is built entirely from recycled pieces of metal, cunningly fitted together.

"Beetle Bear" by the Mason City Public Library

Did you notice that hapless salmon, hooked in the raised paw? Here’s a better view of the underside, the pad & claws, of that paw.

the salmon hooked in Beetle's paw

He is a 2015 entry. Danna & I agree he’d get our People’s Choice vote, hands down. (Paws down.)

There is a lot more, but alas we didn’t get to much of it (though we did study each image in this year’s pamphlet). If you’re in Mason City, go find the art. It is a treat.

Prairie School Architecture

I already knew some very basic basics about the Prairie School — balance, horizontal lines, Frank Lloyd Wright. I did not know about FLW’s presence in Mason City, or about other great architects of that same school.

Herewith the world’s shortest primer, first with two FLW buildings — each deserving the abused adjective “unique” — and two buildings by another architect, whom many prefer to the “starchitect” whose name we all know.

First unique building: the 1908 Stockman House, an early example of the Prairie School by Frank Lloyd Wright — and the only FLW house in Iowa open to the public.

Stockman House, 1908, FLW

I find, with Prairie School buildings, that I become mesmerized by the details, all carrying through the same great themes, in perfect harmony.

Stockman House windows

Second unique building: the Historic Park Inn Hotel, completed in 1910 and reopened (after a $20-million restoration) in 2011 — the last remaining FLW designed and built hotel in the world.

Historic Park Inn Hotel, FLW, 1910

This shows just one end of the structure, which originally housed a hotel at this end, a bank at the other end, and a set of law offices in between. All are now part of the hotel.

Restored tiles in the entrance pillars welcome you inside. (You can glimpse some window & light fixture details as well.)

restored tiles in entrance pillar to hotel; note also window detail

Inside, the restored skylight, a very FLW kind of detail I am told, but one that had been lost — now back in place, complete with the original 25 panels of art glass. See the furniture below? Mission-style, of course.

skylight, with the 25 original panels of art glass

The entrance to the bank section of the building originally had two imposing FLW-designed “Spirit of Mercury” statues flanking the door. This one and its partner are inside, and are reproductions, but faithful to the original.

"Spirit f Mercury" repros of FLW originals

But. But.

Prairie School is not all about Frank Lloyd Wright. Among its other practitioners you’ll find Walter Burley Griffen, who also had considerable impact in Mason City and seems to have the respect shown him mixed with real affection.

Here is one of his buildings, the 1913 James Blythe House. (Something else I really admire about Mason City: they have informative plaques embedded in the sidewalk outside each architecturally significant house.)

James Blythe House, 1913, WBG

Can’t go in .. but I can still fall in love with window detailing.

windows in James Blythe House

And now, my friends, for a very special Walter Burley Griffen house: the 1915 Sam Schneider House, which backs onto Willow Creek.

Sam Schneider House, 1915, WBG

Here is what’s so special. It is for sale, by the bank that holds title, for USD $285,000.  So if you have a spare 285-grand lying around, doing nothing special for the world, why don’t you buy the house — and donate it to the River City Society for Historic Preservation?

They’d be very grateful, they really would.




“76 Trombones…”

23 May 2015Sylvie Greeniaus commented on my previous post about Mackinac Island, noting I was on my way to Mason City, Iowa, and asking: “What’s going on there?”

Think trombones, Sylvie.

trombone in streetside flower bed, in hour of the parade

Think 76 of them.

Since 1938, Mason City has been home to the North Iowa Band Festival. No wonder composer/playwright/songwriter/etc. Meredith Willson, born in Mason City in 1902, grew up to write book & music for the Broadway hit, The Music Man.

Which introduced and made famous the song, 76 Trombones (led the big parade)…

Which explains why the yearly Big Parade is now led by exactly 76 trombones, playing that song.

76 trombones, playing "76 Trombones..."

Then all the regional marching bands get to strut their stuff.

Some 60 of them this year, lots and lots from middle and high schools, showing that the tradition is alive and very well. A Clear Lake band, for example, complete with twirling flags.

the Clear Lake marching band

Then there’s everything else that makes up a Big Parade.

Marching horses …

in the Mason City parade

a vintage fire truck …

old fire truck in the parade

vintage automobiles …

with an "ouga-ouga" horn!


and a vintage steam engine. Oh all right, this one is made of cardboard, but it’s a splendid replica of the beloved real thing, over in East Park.

replica of steam engine in East Park

Balloons on trucks …

in the Big Parade

and costumes on people …

in the parade

and kids on roller skates, doling out candies (Batchild checks his haul) …

just two of the roller-skating candy tossers

and a kid on a unicycle, intent on his own balance, not candy for the moppets.

the only unicyclist

People marching with dogs …

biggest dog in the parade

and with kids …

lots of kiddies, getting a ride

and moms holding entranced, happy kids along the route …

on the sidelines...

and entranced, happy adults along the route.

my friend Danna...

A serving of barbecued corn on the cob, awash in butter & salt (the only time I pile on the salt), while we watch the parade …

oh that corn on the cob!

and then, finally finally, the parade is over.

I follow my friend & travel companion Danna (whose hometown this is) to a post-parade picnic.

family friends & their annual picnic

And that, Sylvie, is what brought us to Mason City, Iowa!

But we’ll be doing lots more here as well. As you will see.


Mackinac, UP

20 May 2015 – That “UP” may give it away to a few people — but just a few, in a tight geographic cluster. I only learned today that “UP” is local slang, meaning “Upper Peninsula,” with the further explanation “– of the State of Michigan, USA” neither provided nor needed.

All of which may suggest I am not at the moment tucked up in my usual Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

And I am not. Could I have taken this photo in Toronto?

outside the Mackinac Island police station

See? I am definitely elsewhere. I am, in fact, spending the day on Mackinac Island in that curious northern peninsular bit of Michigan that butts against Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

No cars on Mackinac; transportation instead by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. I’ve always been curious — as I am about almost any island — but not at all informed about the island’s history.

A plaque provides that history, pared down to the essentials. (Well, no, not quite all the essentials. It does leave out the aboriginal history.)

historical plaque on Mackinac

When my very dear friend Danna & I were plotting our spring get-away to Mason City, Iowa — home of the North Iowa Marching Band Festival every Memorial Day weekend — we decided to included Mackinac Island in our itinerary. It meant a 12-hour drive from Ottawa (her home) to St. Ignace (ferry jump-off for the island) on Tuesday, a feat requiring us to “get up before we went to bed” as one friend likes to put it.

But totally worth it.

Group-of-Seven-scenery all along the Canadian portion of the drive; a U.S. border guard who lit up with delight when she learned we were headed for a marching band festival (“I was in a marching band in high school myself!”); and a cheerful motel room next to the ferry docks, with a lake view.

So I will not complain about the fact that, on May 19, it was only a degree or two above freezing. (Anyway, as a Canadian, I’d be embarrassed to complain about feeling cold in a country south of my own…)

This morning, onto the ferry, and on to Mackinac Island.

map of Mackinac Island

Choices galore. Jump into a tour-carriage; yield to the gob-smacking array of shopping opportunities; perhaps spend our time in the butterfly conservatory? We don’t do any of that. We decide we are there to walk some trails. So we do.

We start from the ferry docks in the bay in the south end of the island, & follow the main drag east toward Mission District out there where the island curves to the north-west. The barrage of tourist shops fades away as we walk east; other island characteristics become more apparent — the horses, the bikes, the grand, grand homes.

Lake Shore Blvd, approaching Mission District

A tour-carriage is heading toward us, pulled by the usual troika of heavy horses; a workman’s bike  (with some plumbing supplies in the boxy cart) is propped up outside one of the homes; tourists fill the sidewalks; fine homes line the street; the spire of Ste. Anne’s Church (1874) rises in the distance.

This is what I mean by a “troika of heavy horses.”

horses pulling tour carriage, Mackinac Island

Aren’t they wonderful? Team after team, patient & strong, steady of nerve. Sometimes smaller carriages with just two horses, but most of the ones we see have three.

I mentioned grand homes, and that’s what they are. Many are now some variety of tourist accommodation — enough of them that, presumably to avoid confusion, private homes often have a neat sign to that effect at the gate. This home, for example.

private home on Lake Shore Blvd

No confusion about some tourist accommodation, however! Mission Point Resort was purpose-built to be exactly that, a resort in the grand tradition.

Mission Point Resort

We pivot around the point of land, head north-west on up Lake Shore Blvd., along the shores of Lake Huron. Lots of rocks, which here — as in Canada, as in Iceland, as I suspect everywhere else — means inuksuks. Where there are rocks, people will pile them up.

inuksuks on Mackinac Island

More shoreline, then up many-many-very-many steps to Arch Rock high on the bluffs. Given the formation, the name was inevitable.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

We visit one more of the tourist destinations up here in the woods, a limestone stack given the equally inevitable and descriptive name of Sugar Loaf Rock.

But, mostly, what we do is walk trails. There is a lot of forest up here, entirely another world from the retail/tourist world below. And just as beautifully presented: good trails, maintained but not over-groomed, and well sign-posted.

And, oh, the names!

Just one of the Mackinac Island trails

Plus Juniper Trail, Tranquil Bluff Trail, Crooked Tree Road, Beechwood Trail, Watch-Your-Step Trail, Soldier’s Garden Trail …

We meet only two other people, as we weave around, and both live here. Each provides further tips about favourite trails and secluded parts of the island. The friendly residents and enjoyable trails lead to wonderful discoveries, none of which bears a price tag.

For example, trilliums up and down the slopes …

just a few of the trilliums in the woods

two Jack-in-the-Pulpit …


and a tree trunk with the most glorious fungi I’ve ever seen. Danna tells me the nickname for this particular one is Artist’s Conk …

Artist's Conk (fungus)

because, she explains, you can incise a design on its underside when it is fresh, which it will retain  when it dries.

Finally, we leave the wooded heights, drop down to town via Garrison Rd., and Custer St., and Turkey Hill Rd. (with its warning that its steep slope is dangerous and not to be attempted by bike or in a horse carriage without brakes).

There is time for one more turn around a few lower-level streets before catching the ferry back to St. Ignace.

And one more bit of proof about how deeply these heavy horses are part of the island psyche. Even grand, lakefront homes show their love.

door with horse motif wreath, Mackinac Island

Confession: at first I think it is a misshapen, left-over Christmas wreath. Silly girl, of course not! It is a very deliberate, very elegant, silhouette of a horse’s head.

Itinerary: we leave St. Ignace Thursday morning and, within hours, “UP” Michigan — in fact, all of Michigan — as we head farther south-west and inland.

On to Mason City in a day. Or two. I’ll let you know what happens.




    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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