Visit an amazing place

Brockville railway tunnel

We may not be able to travel right now, but you don’t need to go far to find some amazing places to explore.

I live north of Kingston in South Frontenac township, and while I’ve always known how amazing this area is, many people may not be aware the United Nations thinks it’s amazing too, which is why they have designated the Frontenac Arch a UNESCO designated biosphere.

In Ontario, we have three UNESCO designated biospheres, Long Point, Georgian Bay, and Frontenac Arch. You can read all about them and their amazing sites at visitamazingplaces.ca.

There are 686 UNESCO world biospheres in 122 countries. Biospheres are protected areas that are significant for their biological diversity and ecological systems and that exhibit a balanced relationship between people and nature through sustainable development.

The Frontenac Arch extends from Sydenham and Westport, down to Gananoque and over to Brockville. It is where the grandeur of the Canadian Shield meets the St. Lawrence River valley. It is home to windswept pines, shimmering waters, boreal forests, trails and fields and such diverse and at risk species like barn swallows, blanding and mapped turtles, bald eagles, and black rat snakes, all of which we’ve seen on our lake.

Here are some of my favourite places on the current “most amazing places” list*

Brockville Railway Tunnel: Dave, Clare and I visited the tunnel just a couple of weeks ago. Canada’s first railway tunnel, it opened in 1860 when the Brockville & Ottawa Railroad (B&O) was incorporated to link Ottawa with the Brockville waterfront. The tunnel has been outfitted with an impressive light show, making it a must-visit spot in Eastern Ontario.

Brockville railway tunnel

Brockville railway tunnel

Mine Loop Trail at Gould Lake: mica, a thin shiny silver mineral was mined in this area at the turn of the century. Mica was used by the electrical industry as an insulator in items such as toasters, and as windows in items such as lanterns. The mine at Gould Lake is exposed, but there’s an even more amazing one you can explore at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park (closed right now due to COVID).

Rock Dunder*: probably one of the most popular hikes in Eastern Ontario, this former scout camp property takes you past beautiful lakes to a summit with a breathtaking view of the Rideau canal.

Jones Falls: be sure to start this leisurely stroll at the top of the falls at the stonearch dam, an engineering marvel, then meander down past the locks and buildings that date back to the 1840’s.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore an amazing place in your region.

More happyacts on some of the amazing places to explore in the Frontenac Arch

*Rock Dunder isn’t on the current list, but it’s made the list in the past

Dave and I at the summit at Rock Dunder

tree at summit

Ode to the stinky bulb

garlic

There’s a big stink in my little town and we’re proud of it. That’s because my neck of the woods is fast becoming known as the garlic capital of eastern Ontario.

Every year, the Verona Lion’s Club hosts a garlic festival on the Saturday of the Labour Day weekend. This year it’s a “farmer’s market” on a much smaller scale due to COVID, but it will still be a reeking good time.

I love garlic. I love it in everything: pasta sauce, salad dressings, roasted vegetables and potatoes. You name it, it’s usually better with garlic. Plus the medicinal benefits of garlic are legendary.

Google the health benefits of garlic, and you get a list as long as your arm: it prevents hypertension, heart disease, some cancers, it helps scars heal faster and fights bacterial and parasitic infections, it’s known for warding off the common cold and the list goes on and on. You can even apply it topically for skin conditions like eczema and athlete’s foot or on a splinter.

One thing I didn’t know was that garlic is also considered a powerful aphrodisiac. It contains allicin, which apparently increases the blood flow to the sexual organs making it the sexy bulb (if you can get past the stinkiness of your partner).

I’m not a doctor, but I remember working as a summer student for the City of Mississauga forestry department. I spent the entire sizzling hot summer sandwiched in our crew cab between two older Ukrainian guys, Peter and John who literally reeked of garlic. They were the strongest, healthiest dudes I ever met.

Garlic is also one of the easiest plants to grow and critters tend to leave it alone—a bonus in the country. You plant it in October, and harvest it in the summer. Once the scapes (the green curly part on the end) starts to curl, you cut them off so all the energy goes into the bulb. I make garlic scape pesto with my scapes which is yummy as a base for pizza or on pasta or burgers. It’s delish.

This week’s #HappyAct is to join me in paying tribute to the stinky bulb. My garlic was puny this year, so I will definitely be stocking up on some new varieties to plant at this year’s garlic festival.

The four most important words you can say

View up the lake

I was standing on my dock today, watching the sun sparkle on the water on yet another glorious summer day, and all I could think was “How lucky am I?”

How lucky am I to be able to wander up my driveway on a jet black night, gaze at the stars and milky way, and watch meteors stream across the sky?

How lucky am I to have a family who loves me and makes me laugh and who I still want to spend time with more than anyone else in the world?

How lucky am I to be healthy and happy in a world where at every turn, there is a constant reminder we should never take our health for granted?

How lucky am I to have never enough, but enough, money for my wants and needs?

How lucky am I to have a spouse and partner who deserves his crown as the President Choice of Husbands?

How lucky am I to have friends and neighbours who look out for each other and know the value of community?

How lucky am I to watch the grin on my first-born’s face as she lands a five-pound bass after it dances across the water?

Some people say, just be lucky you’re alive. But being alive doesn’t make you lucky or happy.

I have had my share of loss, grief, pain, fear, doubt, and uncertainty.

But how lucky am I?

Note: There’s still time to catch the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids peak every August as the earth passes through the debris of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are supposed to be even more spectacular this year. Last night didn’t disappoint. I saw three meteors, one fireball that spanned the entire sky. We found 11 p.m. to midnight to be the best viewing time. Look to the northern part of the sky near the big dipper. For more on star gazing, see my post gaze at the stars.

The night time is the right time

whippoorwill

 

Special guest post by Alison Taylor

I have been spending more time in my screened-in gazebo this summer.  Not only during the evening cocktail hour, but as day turns to night.  It is one of the best times to sit back, listen, and watch the show.

There is that magic time when the sun sets and the daytime creatures tuck into bed and the nighttime creatures wake up.

The crickets get going first, then the creepers and tree frogs. Next, the whip-poor-will calls out….and if he is close by, he goes on and on and on. Anyone who has heard one knows exactly what I mean. They are very difficult to see as they are masters of camouflage, but you can’t miss their call. Around our place, they like chatting with their friends and we often hear them calling back and forth in the night.

As I sit still and listen to the nighttime symphony, you can also tune in to all the bugs that are busy buzzing in the night (definitely glad to be in a screened enclosure!)  I’m not sure what different species there are–not a real bug lover–but I can confirm the mosquitos are alive and well.

The best part of the evening is the call of the Great Horned Owl. We also have a few in the area that like to chat with each other. I find their call peaceful and soothing, not like my whip-poor-will friends. When you hear the owls, you get to know each has a distinctive call and they do sound like wise owls as they calmly chat with each other.  I wonder what they are saying?

This week’s #HappyAct is to eavesdrop on nature at that special time from dusk to dark the next time you are in the country.  I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Editor’s note: We are very lucky to have several owl species in Eastern Ontario. While Alison may be hearing Great Horned Owls, she may also be hearing the popular Barred Owl, which is famous for its “who cooks for you” call. If you are ever lucky enough to see these shy magnificent creatures, the Great Horned Owl has yellow eyes and tufts of feathers protruding above the eyes, to make it look like they have horns. Barred owls have brown eyes and no tufts. This is a picture of a barred owl I took at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area–not a great picture, but he was still a handsome fellow. You can see the difference between him and the Great Horned Owl, pictured below. Happy hooting!

 

Barred owl in a tree

Great Horned Owl

Swimming in the rain

raindrops on a lake

My hands move rhythmically beneath the surface of the water
The water parts unwillingly, creating a wake with each stroke

The water is calm and cool
Dark clouds swirl above
Threatening the peace and stillness

The first raindrops fall
Tiny circles ripple across the surface

The drops grow in intensity and size
Until the entire lake is like pebbled glass
Or bubble wrap in an Amazon shipment

The raindrops make a perfect, pitter patter pattern
Pounding down, then reversing upwards to the storm clouds
The skies’ tears flowing freely

I glide through the water
Watching the drops dance and leap like the lead dancers in a ballet
It is blissfully peaceful

A thin veneer of fog forms on the horizon
A rainbow appears and I swim towards my treasure
The droplets cleansing my sins

Ed. Note: I wrote this poem one day last week on my iPhone after I went for a swim in the rain. I’ve never figured out why people don’t swim when it’s raining. You’re going to get wet anyway. I find swimming in the rain one of the most beautiful, peaceful times to swim. Of course, at any sign of thunder and lightening, make sure you get out of the water to be safe.

This week’s #HappyAct is to swim in the rain. Enjoy!

If I could talk to the animals

baby loon

It’s official. I’ve gone Covid crazy and have started talking to the animals. I have become Dr. Dolittle.

I had no choice. After four months of living in close quarters, my family has stopped listening to me. The animals still listen.

I had a spat the other day with a five foot black rat snake that was crossing the road. I started off asking him a joke. “Why did the rat snake cross the road?”. He just lay there, heckling me in silence. Then I told him he better hurry up or some mean person might run him over. I kicked a few pebbles toward him to urge him along. He recoiled and hissed at me. “How ungrateful”, I said.

The next day I had to apologize to a kingfisher when I startled him in the back lake. It was very still, and as I paddled up to him, I let out a huge sneeze. He jumped two feet off the branch and flew away, chattering the whole time. “I’m sorry, your highness”, I yelled as he flew off in a huff.

I presided over a christening for our loon family on the lake. We christened the baby “Letty” since her parents are Lionel and Lucy. They inform me Letty is doing just fine, and has learned to dive and fish.

I swore at a fellow creature when I surprised a mother bear and two cubs on my nightly walk. I was on a desolate stretch when I heard a rustling in the trees beside the road. Thinking it was a deer, I stopped and peered in the woods. I heard a few snorts, then saw two bear cubs scramble up a tree.

“Holy sh**t” I exclaimed, then looked to the left to see the mother standing on her hind feet, staring at me. Running through my head was the silly song, “The other day, I saw a bear, a great big bear, away up there… she looked at me. I looked at her”, then we both took off in opposite directions.

Mostly I’ve been having friendly conversations with our little chipmunk that Clare has been feeding. We talk about the weather, what’s for breakfast, how many nuts he can stash in his cheeks (he says 12), and how many tunnels he’s dug under our lawn.

Oh, if I could talk to the animals, think of what fun it would be…

Look up

trees in beautiful BC

I’m tired of watching people looking down all the time at their devices but at others too. It’s time we looked up for a change.

When you look up, you discover a new perspective.

Towering trees, brilliant skies, amazing architecture.

Sunshine, positivity, admiration, kindness.

Leaders who deserve to lead.

Just look up.Kingston city hall

 

goats grazing on a roof
Goats on the roof at Coombs country market in BC
ceiling of BC provincial government building in Victoria
Ceiling of provincial legislature building in Victoria, BC

Strange times brew

My husband Dave with beer

Sometimes, when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, you just have to remember, in beer we trust.

For the past three months, in the spirit of supporting local retailers, Dave has been stopping in at one of our local microbreweries on the way home from work and buying a healthy helping of hops.

We figured strange times calls for strange measures and the measures we choose are pints and quarts.

We started out with our local “go to” microbrewery, MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company. We love these boys and their delicious brews. What’s unique about MacKinnon Brothers is they grow everything on site on their farm in Bath. They recently expanded, building a big barn where there was once just a small tasting shack. They also throw one hell of a party every year—their Back to the Farm musical bash in August. Try their Crosscut Canadian Ale, or their Red Fox Ale (my personal favourite).

Next up was two Kingston breweries in the west end: Spearhead and Riverhead. Spearhead has a nice Hawaiian style pale ale and Sam Roberts Band Ale. A hoppy type of guy at the best of times, Dave was partial to Riverhead’s Tropical IPA, while I sailed towards their Kingston 1000 Islands Ale or Belgian Blond, being the hot blond that I am. Riverhead has fabulous music nights on Fridays and has been hosting virtual beer nights during COVID-19.

One of the newest craft breweries in Kingston, Daft Brewing in Princess Street is more than just a brewery. When COVID hit, they started producing hand sanitizer. We skipped on the sanitizer but brought home a New England IPA that tantalized my head beer taster’s taste buds. Their bottles have a funky flamingo on them.

Our latest foray was to the Westport Brewing Company in Westport. We took home three packs of Lakeside Lager, Beaver Pond Trail Brown Ale and Upper Rideau Blonde Ale in one litre cans. The owners told us they already have a COVID beer on tap. It’s called “It is what it is” and will be ready next week.

This week’s #HappyAct is to support your local microbrewery and enjoy. Cheers!

Ed. note: SCTV fans will get the play on words on this week’s post title: Strange Brew was a 1983 Canadian comedy featuring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Doug and Bob Mackenzie, brothers who work as spies in a brewery to help save the world. That’s your trivia for today. G’day, eh!

Go wild for wildlife

Moose in a pool

Last week, I blogged about the abundance of birds who have made this spring a delight. It’s only fair that I give the same air time to the animals who have reclaimed the land during COVID-19.

There have been many news stories about foxes, raccoons and other animals being seen more frequently in urban areas. Just this past Friday, a moose decided to take a dip in a south Ottawa pool. It was a hot and muggy day, so who would blame him. I heard a deer wandered in front of one of our local radio stations here in Kingston last week too.

For those of us who live in the country, run ins with wildlife are a regular occurrence. But even at our house, we had three interesting wildlife encounters in this past week alone.

Last Saturday, I was woken up by a strange screeching sound around 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I went back to bed, but in the morning, the ruckus continued and we discovered two porcupines screaming at each other in the tree down our path. I’ve seen and heard a baby porcupine cry when it went too far on a branch and couldn’t get back to its mother. They make the weirdest sound, something between a screech and a squawk. Well, the first porcupine at the top of the tree was squawking at the other one to get out—it was his tree. Finally, the second one climbed down the tree and loped down the path in defeat. Watch this video to see what they sound like.

The next day, Clare and I were sitting on the dock when we heard rustling in the underbrush on the hill between the lake and our deck. The last time we heard this, our neighbour’s dog Buddy was chasing a baby fox across our property. This time, it wasn’t Buddy, or a fox, but a fast moving brownish animal with a bear like face and a stubby tail. He went up the hill toward the house, but then came down the path and stopped behind the canoe, only about 10 feet away from us. It was a fisher.

Now I don’t know how much you know about fishers, but you definitely don’t want one on your property. They are vicious and one of the only animals that will kill a porcupine (I thought of our prickly friends from the day before and hoped they made a clean getaway). Fishers have rapier like claws and will kill cats, small dogs, and any small animals.

There was even a story in the Whig-Standard a few years ago of a fisher that dropped from the trees on a local hunter (a relative of my friend Karen who took the black-necked swan photos from last week). He said the only thing that helped him not be seriously injured was he was wearing a hood.

I was surprised at how fast this particular fisher could move. After hiding behind the canoe, he went back up the hill. Clare said she saw him as she was walking up the path, his brown face peering out between a crevice in the rock face only about twenty yards away. We’re still a little freaked out every time we pass the cliff on the way to the lake.

Our final wildlife adventure came two nights ago when we heard something moving on our front porch. We have a bad habit of throwing our recycling on the porch, then taking it to the barn the next morning. I had tossed out a coffee cake container, and there was a very handsome raccoon helping himself to the crumbs. Raccoons can be nasty too (we’ve lost several chickens to raccoons) and last winter, we had one big fat fellow eating our bird seed every night on the back deck, but at least this guy was kind of cute.

This week’s #HappyAct is to go wild for the wildlife. What encounters have you had in the wild?

Be like Bill Murray

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd photo

If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’re desperately looking for the next great show to watch on Netflix.

If that’s the case, add The Bill Murray stories to your viewing list. Dave and I watched it last week, and it’s a funny, entertaining and enlightening chronicle of a man who has embraced the idea of living in the moment and spreading joy to people he meets.

An alum of Saturday Night Live and Second City, Bill Murray is a legend for his comedy and long list of film credits from Ghostbusters to Meatballs to meatier roles like Lost in Translation. But his real legendary status stems from his random encounters with normal people, which has “earned him nothing short of godlike admiration from people around the world.”

The documentary shows him doing dishes at a London house party, playing football in the park with a bunch of university students and serving up drinks at a bar in Austin Texas. People love him, not because he is a celebrity, but because he becomes one of them.

We had our own Bill Murray story in our little neck of the woods a couple of years ago. It was a Saturday night, and our local pizza joint, The Pizza Place in Harrowsmith was rocking. In walks Dan Aykroyd with Bill Murray (the Aykroyds have a family cottage in our area and Dan is a regular around here). The guys took pictures with the locals, and it made it into the local paper.

Sure, maybe only celebrities can crash a wedding or walk into a house party uninvited and be welcomed with open arms. But we can all be a little bit more like Bill Murray and go with the flow, take an interest in others and make the most of the moment you’re in with the people around you.