Archive for September, 2009

gracie, giraffeinbackground

Update: To view an interview with artist Robert Turnbull, visit How to Make an Elephant.

Back in July, I visited Gracie the elephant at Homestead Gallery. The creation of Spencerville sculptor Rob Turnbull, the near-life sized Gracie is constructed of paper pulp, burlap, mixed media, concrete and plaster. She has now moved to Merrickville, where she was invited to participate in the Merrickville Fall art show and Artists’ Studio Tour. Gracie is standing outside the Judith Moore Gallery on St. Lawrence Street.


Gracie is no longer alone. She has been joined by a very tall giraffe. At 19 feet, the giraffe has no trouble looking in second-story windows.


Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the weekend studio tour, and when I dropped by the Judith Moore Gallery on Friday, it was closed. Consequently, I can’t pass on Giraffe’s name.


The giraffe is certainly impressive. Above, you can see the photographer reflected in the Gallery window between her long legs.
It’s hard to look natural when you’re a wild African animal standing on a sidewalk in Merrickville though. I think Gracie looked a little more at home at the Homestead Gallery. If you think Gracie or her friend would look perfect on your lawn, they’re available for purchase. Contact Judith Moore or Homestead Galleries or artist Robert Turnbull of Internal Combustion Studio.


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This weekend, Ponygirl and I participated in the Ramsayville Equestrian Club‘s Pink Ribbon Ride. The ride is organized as a fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The ride was located about 10 kilometers from Ponygirl’s place and we thought it would be a good opportunity to give the two horses some experience with trailering and being around a large group of strange horses.


Convincing a horse to get into a trailer can be tricky when the horse doesn’t have regular experience with trailering. Both Diva and our youngster have been trailered a few times, but it is not an everyday event for them. As it turned out, Diva initially balked at the prospect of climbing aboard.


To our delight, our baby had no such reservations and jumped in! Diva, seeing her buddy on board, soon followed with just a bit of encouragement. We have tried a few different names on our 3-year-old quarter horse mare since we purchased her. Her registered name is Leo’s Tuff Jackie. She came with the name Angel. But what we couldn’t resist calling her, in the end, was Baby. That name has stuck tight, but Baby isn’t a baby any longer. She has matured into a beautiful blonde.


Once loaded, both horses were quite comfortable on the trailer. Getting into a trailer is really an act of faith on the part of a horse. They have no idea where they might be going, what is in store for them. In fact, horses and other animals and pets rely on their owners for pretty much everything and have few options. I try hard not to betray that trust.


It was just a short trip to the ride location and soon we were there. There was a good turnout and lots of trailers and vehicles and horses and riders about.


Soon Ponygirl and I were saddled up. We had Birdgirl along to help with holding horses and taking photographs.


Above, I add an important item to my pocket: tissues! It’s terrible to have a runny nose and no tissues in the middle of a ride.


It didn’t take long before we were ready to head out. Here’s the horse from the rider’s point-of-view.


We started on our way, leaving the parking lot…


and entering the woods.


It was a beautiful place to ride. The weather co-operated and we had a lovely, sunny fall morning. The woods were streaming with shafts of sunlight and the trail underfoot was sandy and deep in pine needles. Because this was Baby’s first experience with trail riding we didn’t do the full ride, but headed back to the trailer about the halfway point. We didn’t want to overdo it. While we were out riding, Birdgirl took the opportunity to do a bit of hiking in Larose Forest. You can read her post here.


We got the horses loaded back in the trailer and soon we were back home again. Above, Birdgirl unloads Baby…


and rewards her with an apple.


Here they are, two terrific girls.


After a bit of a brush and a long, cool drink, Baby and Diva were soon settled back in their field with their friend BeeBee, the three amigos. It was good experience for the horses, we had a fun morning, and we raised $140 for breast cancer research! Thanks to Dave Wilson for the trailering service.


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Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones (with Donald and Lillian Stokes). Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

If you enjoy hiking, the first creatures you may want to learn about are likely to be birds and butterflies. Sooner or later, however, you start to notice other common fauna such as dragonflies and damselflies. In fact, the more you look, the more you will find that members of the order Odonata are common, widespread, and yes, very interesting! Whether you are hiking in woodlands, by wetlands or through meadows, you are likely to come across a few dragonflies or damselflies. The variety of species represented changes across the seasons from spring to fall.

For an investment of just $10 or so, this Beginner’s Guide offers a great introduction to Odonates. The opening pages provide a brief summary of their life cycle and behavior, and offer tips on identification. The helpful introduction is followed by “A Quick Guide to Families”, which aids the reader in grasping the most significant differences between dragonflies and damselflies and between 3 damselfly and 7 dragonfly families. This is of assistance in narrowing down the possibilities when attempting to identify an individual.

The identification pages feature about 100 of the most common and widespread of the approximately 435 species found in North America. Each page covering a different species features a good colour photograph and a description of the appearance of the species, its size, behavior, habitat and flight season. A small map gives an idea of the range of the species discussed. Once you have mastered the basics of Odonate identification, you might want to go on to a more detailed guide such as Sidney Dunkle’s Dragonflies Through Binoculars or a guide specific to your region.

At this time of year, Meadowhawks (genus Sympetrum) are common. The guide notes that:

The red meadowhawks of North America present an intractable field problem. Although some species are recognizable in the field, the identification of many, even in the hand, is difficult at best. The taxonomy of this complex is unclear, and the exact number of species uncertain.

White-faced, Cherry-faced and Autumn Meadowhawks are among the most common. While males are often reddish, females and immatures may be yellowish to bronze or olive-brown. Below are a set of photographs of Meadowhawks spotted here in the past week.






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Release the Flying Monkeys

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Last weekend’s Richmond Fair offered a wonderful display of draft horses. Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales were all represented. We had the pleasure of watching the 6-horse hitch class. When 6 huge horses trot past, the ground shakes. What an awesome spectacle! Ten teams participated. The teams worked in the ring in two separate rounds of 5 teams each. For the final lineup, with all 10 teams, there were 60 giant horses in the ring. It was really something to see.

The Clydesdales are my personal favorites. Maybe it’s because of my Scottish ancestry, but I love their lanky good looks, beautiful colours with white markings, and of course, feathers. The long hair around their hooves is called feathers. However, all the teams were wonderful.

The announcer pointed out that each team represented an investment in the neighbourhood of half a million dollars. I don’t know how accurate that figure might be, but they surely would be a major undertaking. The winner of the class was the Bourbonnais entry of black Percherons.

McLaughlin Clydesdales, Haley Station, Ontario

McLaughlin Clydesdales, Haley Station, Ontario

Maple Creek Belgians, Stittsville, Ontario

Maple Creek Belgians, Stittsville, Ontario

Stead Family Belgians, Lanark, Ontario

Stead Family Belgians, Lanark, Ontario

Bourbonnais Percherons, Metcalfe, Ontario

Bourbonnais Percherons, Metcalfe, Ontario

Trout Brook Belgians, Potsdam, New York

Trout Brook Belgians, Potsdam, New York

Allan Foster & Family Belgians, North Gower, Ontario

Allan Foster & Family Belgians, North Gower, Ontario

Wilson Family Percherons, Van Kleek Hill, Ontario

Wilson Family Percherons, Van Kleek Hill, Ontario

Nesbitt Riverview Farm Belgians, Gatineau, Quebec

Nesbitt Riverview Farm Belgians, Gatineau, Quebec

Hambleton Belgians, Alexandria, Ontario

Hambleton Belgians, Alexandria, Ontario

Kelly Family Belgians, Brockville, Ontario

Kelly Farm Belgians, Brockville, Ontario

First Place Winners

First Place Winners

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At the beginning of the week, we had some much-needed rain. Actually, we had a LOT of rain, with a heavy downpour on Wednesday. Consequently, I welcomed the sunny weather on Thursday, an absolutely beautiful fall day, and I couldn’t resist idling away part of the afternoon with a tour around the property. Here are some of the sights I saw.


Behind the house, the maple leaves are beginning to turning bright colours, although there is still a lot of green. Farther down the drive, the touch of red is provided by a Virginia Creeper vine that has entwined itself high in a tree.


I walked down the lane to the bridge over the little river. Today the flow was much more impressive than it was just a few days ago. Agricultural land along the river has drainage and trenching systems that mean rainwater is diverted into the river rapidly following a storm. As a result, the river flow swells quickly in response to wet weather. Presumably, this also contributes to the muddy appearance of the water.


Down by the water’s edge, there were a number of blue darners zipping about. Those darn darners! They never hold still to get their picture taken. I was lucky even to catch this guy in the photo frame. It is likely a Mosaic Darner, a member of the genus Aeshna, possibly a Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis). That would be appropriate.


Along the bank of the river, I noticed these mullein (Verbascum thapsus) rosettes. The fuzzy, felt leaves are the first-year growth of the biennial plant. Next year, they’ll put up a flower spike.


Across from the river and beside our property is a field planted in soybeans. They’ll be ready to harvest soon. Their summer green is gone and the field is a golden brown. Look at those clouds! One of the nice things about a flat, open landscape are the frequent displays of breathtaking skies. It’s like living in a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. Only without the windmills.


This majestic Crimson King maple is beautiful in every season.


Hi Mousie! Hi Czarina! Hi Louis!


The field behind the barn is beautiful now as the long grass fades to a soft sandy brown and the seed heads catch the sunlight.


I didn’t notice the spider until I downloaded the photographs and spotted it, perhaps an Argiope species.


Down by the pond, it is much quieter than it was in the spring and summer. After I had stood by the water for a few minutes, however, I noticed a number of reddish dragonflies. One landed on my pants-leg, facing up towards me, and I noticed it had a white face. Then I saw that along the water there were a few dozen red dragonflies, all in pairs. They were dipping down to the water surface, rising up a foot or so, and then dipping down again. It appeared to be females laying eggs in the water with the males in tandem, contact guarding their mate. I was quite sure the dragonflies were White-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum obtrusum) until I got back to the house and checked my guide. Hmm. Problem. Both the males and females appeared red, while the females of meadowhawks are usually a dull olive-brown. It’s a mystery.


As I returned to the house I noticed a butterfly land on the arm of a lawn chair. There was a fair breeze, and it struggled mightily to get its sail-like wings under control.



Finally, it managed to settle on the chair arm with its wings flat and out of the wind. A Viceroy (Limenitis archippus).
Not without regret, I returned to the house to tackle more prosaic tasks.

Jan van Goyen: View of Rhenen, 1646

Jan van Goyen: View of Rhenen, 1646

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There was a time when Brockville was one of the richest cities in Canada. In the 1890s, millionaires were building vacation homes along the St. Lawrence River. One of the most famous of these was Boldt Castle, constructed on a 5 acre island in the 1000 Islands for the American businessman’s wife, Louise. Construction began in 1899 and was discontinued upon her death in 1903. Farther east, one of Brockville’s native sons, George Taylor Fulford, also began construction of his new vacation home in 1899. Built on 11 acres overlooking the St. Lawrence at the east end of the city of Brockville, the mansion was completed in 1901.


Fulford Place was designed by Albert W. Fuller, an architect from Albany, New York. The house features 35 rooms and is about 20,000 square feet in size. An example of the Beaux-Arts style, the house is designed for entertaining, with a dining room to seat over 50 guests, a billiards room with an adjoining moorish smoking room, a rococo-style drawing room for the women, and a gracious veranda overlooking the river and grounds.


The marble facing the house was brought across the frozen St. Lawrence in the winter by sleigh from Gouverneur, New York. The house was bequeathed to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1991 after the death of George T. Fuller II. Restoration work is ongoing, and stained glass windows are currently being refurbished. The house is now open to the public, with a tea room and tours available.


Landscaping work began before the house was even built. In 1895, Fulford hired Frederick Law Olmstead and his brother John to lay out the gardens. Olmstead is famous for his design of New York City’s Central Park and Mount Royal in Montreal. The remaining Italianate garden is a rare example of a privately-owned Olmstead-designed garden. The rest of the grounds were sold off in later years in order to maintain the house.


George Taylor Fulford (1852-1905) was born in Brockville to a family of United Empire Loyalist stock. After finishing school in Brockville, he went on to Business College in Belleville before apprenticing with his brother, a dispensing chemist in Brockville. Fulford took over the modest apothecary in 1874 and developed it into a successful business.


Fulford’s stroke of genius came in 1890, when for $53.01 he purchased the rights to a patent medicine from a local McGill-trained physician, Dr. William Jackson. At a time when medical care and medications were beyond the financial reach of many, patent drugs promised affordable relief for a variety of conditions. Fulford was a brilliant marketer. He advertised widely, relying on testimonies submitted by customers attesting to miraculous cures. The advertisements were placed in newspapers in a manner that made them look like news articles. The pills were marketed in 87 countries worldwide and Fulford became a self-made millionaire. The name of his product? Dr. William’s Pink Pills for Pale People.


The pills contained mostly sugar, starch and iron sulphate. Anemia was a fairly common complaint, and the pills did likely do some good as an iron supplement, although they were not the miraculous cure-all advertised. Fulford married Mary Wilder White in 1880 and they had three children, including George II. Fulford was elected to the town council in 1879 and served as an alderman. He was involved with the Liberal Party of Canada and was friends with the prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier. In 1900, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate.


George Taylor Fulford died in 1905. He is considered the first Canadian to die in an automobile accident, although the event happened in Newton, Massachusetts, when his chauffeur-driven car was side-swiped by a streetcar. At the time of his death, Fulford was the largest single shareholder in General Electric and was reputed to be considering buying General Motors. It has been suggested by relatives that Fulford was killed in a conspiracy by the Rockefeller family. Fulford was only 53 years old at the time of his death.


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So that’s it then. It’s official. Summer is over. The autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere arrived at 5:18 PM EDT on September 22. Not that we needed an official time to let us know that the summer of 2009 is fading away into memory. All around, there are plenty of signs that winter is on its way. It has to be admitted that, if we really must slide back into winter, fall is a pretty nice way to watch the summer disappear.


Among my favorite fall sights are the vees of Canada Geese winging in waves across the sky, their goodbye song trailing out behind them and drifting down to my ears. One of my favorites of the poems that I shared with my kids when they were young is about the geese in fall. It’s titled Something Told the Wild Geese, by Rachel Field. It captures something of the mystery of migration and the melancholia of their departure. Here it is:


Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring
Berries, luster-glossed.
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, “Frost!”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice.
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese,
It was time to fly —
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field


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On Sunday, we attended the Richmond Fair horse show. They had a wonderful event, with 3 rings running concurrently. In one ring were the light horse English and Western classes. In a second ring was a miniature horse show, and in the third ring were draft classes. One of the highlights of the afternoon was the 8-horse miniature hitch. Putting together a hitch of eight horses, even miniature ones, is quite an undertaking. We watched as the teams were assembled.


Here is the first pair, the wheelers, being hitched in position. They were a well-behaved pair who stood quietly as the other teams were assembled.


The third mini gets a pat and some encouraging words.


The fourth mini is brought around into position.


Numbers five and six are added to the hitch.


Here is mini number seven.


Finally, number eight is brought out.



Many hands help with holding the horses and work on the harnessing.


Everyone is ready and they head for the show ring.





The team works both ways in the ring and then stands in the centre of the ring for inspection by the judge. The little horses fan to the right and back, just like the Budweiser Clydesdales do! After a wonderful display, they make their triumphant exit from the ring. What a great showing.


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arctic chill

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Scudder/Cribb. Random House Canada, 2005/2008.

If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a bit violent and misogynous for my taste, and The Cold Light of Mourning was as fluffy and light as cotton candy, Arctic Chill fits my taste in mysteries just right.

This is the fourth book I’ve read in this series that features police investigator Erlendur and his colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli. The unusual and interesting setting for the series is the small Icelandic city of Reykjavik. A quick check via Google shows that Indridason has written 9 Erlendur mysteries but not all of them have been translated into English. Erlendur is an oddly appealing character, although it is hard to put a finger on exactly what his charm is. He is a dour, uncommunicative man, often absorbed by his contemplations of his lost brother and his estranged children. Yet Erlendur is also intelligent, thoughtful, sympathetic. The cover of Arctic Chill includes a number of endorsements. The quote from Library Journal reads “Exceptional fiction that transcends its genre” and from writer Harlen Coben, “Gripping, authentic, haunting and lyrical”. For once, I have to agree with the often-exaggerated cover claims.

Arctic Chill begins with the discovery of the body of a dark-skinned 10 year old boy found outside a block of flats, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The boy, Elias, is of Thai heritage. His mother, Sunee, is Thai, while his father, now seperated from Sunee, is a native Icelander. While Elias was born in Iceland, his half-brother Niran immigrated to Iceland with his mother when he was nine years old. Unlike Elias, Niran has had a difficult time adapting to his new homeland. Now Niran has disappeared. With few clues to work with, the police must consider the possibility that the murder was racially-motivated. And where does Niran fit into events?

Although I enjoyed Arctic Chill, it was my least favorite of the four series titles I’ve read. I found the treatment of multi-culturalism and racism a bit heavy-handed. Further, compared to Canada, the level of immigration to Iceland is low, and I found it hard to sympathize with the issues expressed over what seem like small numbers. The story mentions that about 10 % of Icelanders are non-native-born. In Toronto, with a population of over 5 million people, about 49 % of residents are non-native-born.

Arctic Chill also offers less on the continuing storyline about Erlendur himself, and I missed that element. If you want to try an Erlendur novel, I would suggest starting with Silence of the Grave.

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