Archive for August, 2010


I’m sorry that the photograph, above, can’t convey to you the serenity of standing at the edge of the August meadow. It’s peaceful and calm, although not quiet, really. The late summer air is filled with the cricks of crickets, the hum of cicadas from the trees lining the field, the buzz of bees. At first, the meadow looks very still, but as you stand and watch, you begin to see activity. At least a dozen big darner dragonflies were zipping across the tops of nearby flower heads. Butterflies suddenly lift into the air and are visible for a few seconds until they drop down and resettle on the next flower. Grasshoppers leap and shine like tiny bits of silver as the sun catches their wings.

A few plants dominate the meadow. The yellow is mostly goldenrod of several species, probably Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), above, and lance-leaved goldenrod (S. graminifolia) below.

Lance-leaved goldenrod with Yellow-collared Scape Moth

The Joe Pye Weed is past its peak and the flower heads are fading. Its pale purple flowers are giving way to the white flowers of a Eupatorium relative, commonly called Thoroughwort or Boneset (E. perfoliatum).

There are a few different stories as to how this plant came by the name boneset. One is that the leaves were used in the setting of broken bones, wrapped around the fracture with splints and bandages. Another version holds that boneset is so named because it was used to treat dengue fever (a viral disease once known as breakbone fever), which causes severe joint pain.

A third version says that the name reflects the use of the plant to fight the achy-bone feeling of colds and flu. Certainly boneset tea was a common home remedy for aches and pains and general malaise in many pioneer and native homes. The bitter tea induces sweating and was purported to promote bone healing.

Boneset has many flat-topped clusters of dull white flowers. The flowers consist of multiple insect-pollinated bisexual florets, with flower heads usually containing fifteen to twenty florets. They secrete abundant nectar and are popular with the pollinator crowd. Boneset prefers damp ground and is often found with Joe Pye weed and jewelweed.

The scientific species name perfoliatum, or perforated foliage, refers to the leaves, which are very distinctive. The leaves grow in pairs and at right-angles to the set of leaves below and above them. Each pair of leaves join at the base, with the stem perforating them. The common name thoroughwort also refers to the leaves, thorough being an old form of through (as in thoroughfare) and wort meaning flower.

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It’s a Beautiful Day

You want to what?

It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

You’re on the road but you’ve got no destination…

Yep, that was us on Sunday.  Ponygirl made it over to Willow House for a visit and we filled our beautiful day with a ride on the girls.  We were on the road, no destination, just out to enjoy the fabulous, early fall weather.

The girls don’t get out too much. I don’t feel too bad about this because at 17 and 20 they are past their youth and enjoying life as pasture ornaments. Ponygirl, on the other hand, leads a hectic life and it is a real treat when she can get away and spend an hour on horseback with me.

This is no easy matter. First, you have to catch the horses. They’re arabians. They have attitude, and plenty of it. Twenty? Seventeen? Growing old gracefully? HA! They can kick up their heels like two-year-olds. There is nothing Mousie likes better than a game of tag. She loves to lead you on a merry chase, tail held high at full mast, nostrils flared, snorting with imaginary fright. Czarina, on the other hand, is just plain loco.

Some trauma from earlier in her life, or maybe she was just born this way, causes her to react with anxiety to any change in her regular routine, breaking out in a profuse sweat. Once I had Mousie cornered, she came along quietly, and Czarina followed. We tacked up as quickly as possible for Czarina’s sake, and headed out.

Once resigned to the inevitable, Mousie settles right down. Oddly, Czarina is on edge until her rider mounts, and then she calms down too, and settles into a quiet, long-striding walk, apparently quite happy to be seeing a bit of the world beyond her pasture.

We followed the fenceline down to the forest and took the trail south through the trees. It was very pretty in the woods, almost jungle-like by this time of the year. However, deerflies were still about and bothering the horses, so we headed back to the open field.

We made a circuit of the fields. The girls stopped to grab a mouthful of grass here and there.

Then we followed the road up past the neighbour’s soybean fields. The plants are starting to die back already. It seems like the field was just planted a few weeks ago! Then we headed back to the barn, content with our little outing. Once they wrapped their minds around the idea, the horses seemed to enjoy it too. It was a beautiful day. We didn’t let it get away.

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Sun and Cloud



Perfect Day

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William Lyon Mackenzie King (photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950) was Canada’s 10th prime minister. He dominated Canadian politics from the 1920s through the 1940s. With 21 years in office, he was the longest-serving Prime Minister in British Commonwealth history. As prime minister, he led the Canadian government through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, finishing his last term of office in November of 1948.

King first worked in Ottawa in the fall of 1900 as a civil servant, assigned to study labour issues. In 1909, he became Canada’s first Deputy Minister of Labour, a civil service position. During these early years of his career, he was attracted by Gatineau’s rugged landscape, and in 1903 he purchased land on Kingsmere Lake and built a cottage, which he named Kingswood. Over the years, he purchased more land and he eventually owned an estate of nearly 231 hectares. Upon his death in 1950, he willed his property in Gatineau Park to the Canadian people.

Kingswood Cottage

His estate became his sanctuary, where he could retreat to the peace of the forest and countryside. His original cottage, Kingswood, has been restored and maintained in much the same state as it was in when King spent his summers there. A simple building, it has a rustic charm from another age. The four-room cottage was constructed in 1903 and enlarged in 1916 and 1924, but it is still quite small. Close by, there is a little guest cottage, added in 1922 and a garage that was built a year later.

Kingswood kitchen

Kingswood living room

The cottage is situated above Kingsmere Lake. A small boathouse with a change room was built in 1917.

Kingsmere Lake

King became prime minister in December of 1921. He continued to summer at Kingswood until 1928, when he moved his summer home to Moorside, a short walk from Kingswood. Moorside features open grounds and a larger cottage with four small bedrooms upstairs, two of which were used by King as offices.


The livingroom has been converted into a little tea room where visitors can enjoy tea or a light meal. At Moorside, King received such distinguished guests as Winston Churchill and F.D. Roosevelt.

Moorside Tearoom

From the veranda, you can look out over some of the restored formal gardens that King laid out.

Among the most popular features of the estate are the ‘Abbey Ruins’. Erected between 1935 and 1937, the stones came from various places including the old Parliament Buildings (destroyed by fire in 1916) in Ottawa. King liked to visit the ruins to meditate. Now, they are very popular backdrops for photographers.

The triumphal arch was built in 1936 from the entrance pillars of the old Bank of British North America, and celebrates King’s 1935 electoral victory after five years in Opposition.

In 1927, King bought additional adjacent property, which included a 19th-century farmhouse. He lived at the farmhouse in his later years and died there in 1950. Today, the house is the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and is not open to visitors.

Moorside is a bit bigger than Kingswood, and has beautiful grounds, but would not qualify as a grand house. I was very much struck by the modesty of the buildings that a man who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 20 years called home. The contrast between Moorside and the monuments to wealth and self·-aggrandizement that were constructed by successful businessmen such as George Fuller could hardly be greater.


George Fuller's summer house, completed 1901

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Lake Fortune

On the weekend, the weather was just too perfect to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. We travelled up to Gatineau Park, north of Ottawa and spent a relaxing afternoon there. At 33,000 hectares, the park is huge. We were just able to see some of the attractions in the southern section, which features easy-access hiking trails and a scenic driving route that winds through the hills and past wetlands and lakes. Our first stop was the Champlain Lookout, where you can get an idea of the geology that shapes the region.

Champlain Lookout

Gatineau Park is situated at the junction of the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands. The Eardley Escarpment marks the edge of the Shield, and the lookout offers a view of the escarpment to the right and the lowlands stretching out to the Ottawa River before you. The Eardley Escarpment is the richest and most biologically diverse area in the park. With a height of about 300 metres, the escarpment has its own warm, dry microclimate. In winter, about 80% of the deer in the park take shelter on the escarpment.

Signs at the lookout explain how the escarpment and lowlands were formed over several hundred million years as the earth shifted and glaciers eroded the surface. The sign above shows the route of a hiking trail that starts at the lookout and we decided to follow it as it winds through a section of the escarpment.

Having moved to the Ottawa region from west of Toronto, we are familiar with the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from the Niagara region to Tobermory on Lake Huron. I was struck by the similarities between the too escarpments. The view from Rattlesnake Point on the Niagara Escarpment, looking out over farmland (and now a whole lot of development) down towards Lake Ontario is very similar to the view from Champlain Lookout.

The forest is similar too. Both escarpments feature a mix of deciduous trees with Sugar Maple, smooth-barked Beech and Black Cherry dominating. The Black Cherry trees are easy to pick out, with their dark bark in rough, squarish scales.

The trail follows the escarpment and leads to another lookout platform. From there, the trail leads away from the escarpment edge and loops back to the parking lot.

While the forest shares similarities with the Niagara Escarpment where we had hiked in the past, there were also new things to see. I photographed this yellow flowerhead and checked on its identification when I got home.

It appears to be Hairy, or Upland Goldenrod (Solidago hispida). I’m used to goldenrod having a bushy head, like the flowers shown below, which grow in the fields around the house.

However, there are quite a few different goldenrod species. About a dozen grow in Ontario. Another plant that roused my curiosity featured pretty pink flowers.

It had large, maple-shaped leaves and berries. The fruit looked like fat, flattened raspberries. I tasted one. It tasted like a raspberry. If it looks like a raspberry and tastes like a raspberry, it probably IS a raspberry, but not like any I remembered seeing.

In fact, it is purple-flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus), a native perennial shrub. Raspberries belong to the rose family, and you can really see the family resemblance in the flowers. Speaking of maple leaves, I also spotted trees with these tulip-like leaves.

They belong to Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). Striped maples have the coolest bark, with the young trees striped green and white. Older trees have brown and white bark. Also known as moosewood, this tree grows as a small understory tree or shrub in deciduous forests, where it is very shade tolerant. It likes moist ground and prefers slopes, so the escarpment forest offers ideal conditions.

After completing our hike, we drove down to the Mackenzie King estate, but that is a story for another post. However, I will include here our last stop of the day. We drove a bit north of the park to watch bungee jumping! I’ve never seen this in person. The Great Canadian Bungee jump opened in 1992 at Morrison’s Quarry. The jumpers jump from a crane-like structure that reaches out high above the water filling the quarry. A pick-up boat waits to retrieve the jumpers and bring them to the dock. You can just see the boat on the water, to the right of the picture. The jump is 200 feet, with a 160 foot rebound.

It was a perfect day, and there was a lineup of adventurous, immortal young people waiting for their turn to take the plunge. Just watching was excitement enough for me! There’s a person dangling upside down on the end of that bungee cord. The daredevils seemed to be having a lot of fun.

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Remembrance of Things Past

Yesterday morning, when I entered Mousie’s stall with her breakfast grain, I was surprised to find a shed snake skin on the floor of her stall. It had one blade of grass piercing it, but was otherwise intact. It appeared that it had been in Mousie’s evening hay and she had carefully eaten all the hay around it and left the snake skin behind. Whether the snake skin was bound up with the grass when the hay was baled, or whether a snake had left its skin behind in the hay at some later date, it’s hard to say.

I always find snake skins fascinating. The very idea of being able to slip out of your old skin and move on with your life, refreshed and shiny new is an appealing metaphor.

I also like the way that the skin, so beautifully intact, is like a memory of the snake that left it behind, a sort of remembrance of things past. I let the horses out into their pasture and set about cleaning their stalls and readying them for the evening. As I worked, I was thinking about the snake skin, and how it might have come to be in Mousie’s stall, and the metaphors it provokes.

I was only half paying attention as I picked up flakes of hay and carried them down to each stall. Suddenly, I noticed that one of the snakes I had been thinking about was staring back at me from the top of the hay I was carrying! I hastily set the hay down and the snake, a little one, made haste to depart, as alarmed by this surprise encounter as I was. I laughed at the coincidence of meeting two snakes within the hour, snakes past and present.

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I just walked out to check on the tomatoes. Still green, just a touch of pink here and there. This is my fault. I started the seeds late, and was late in getting the baby plants into the ground. I’m not much of a vegetable gardener, probably because I’m not very interested in cooking, but I sure do enjoy that first tomato of the year, fresh off the vine. Nothing like it! I enjoyed Barbara’s take on fresh tomato sandwiches over at Folkways Notebook. While I wait for that first homegrown tomato, I have been doing the next-best thing, visiting our local pick-your-own and garden market farm and buying tomatoes there.

On a recent visit, I picked up a handout on the counter, a folder advertising local food farms. There is an amazing array of fresh food available right here, close to home, everything from vegetables and orchard fruits to honey and maple syrup. The flyer says it all: “No matter how you slice it, local food is more than a passing fad. In fact, supporting local food is one of the simplest things you can do to support the local economy, conserve valuable farm land, protect the environment, improve your health and learn more about where you live. Today, the average Canadian meal travels over 2,000 kilometers from the farm to your plate. … vegetables may be picked days or weeks before ripening. …local food is harvested fresh – as it was meant to be!”

The “Eat Local” movement has caught on and spread like wildfire. Books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Smith and Mackinnon’s The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, have helped to raise awareness of food issues. Recently, I’ve noticed new books such as native plant gardening guru Lorraine Johnson’s City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, Sarah Elton’s Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields To Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat and Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer have focused on urban food issues. Celebrity chefs such as Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy are promoting local food culture and restaurants have begun to offer dishes featuring all-local food. There are even festivals celebrating local food. The local food movement has been so keenly embraced that even supermarkets are jumping on the bandwagon and advertising local produce.

Yes, eating local is big news these days. I was therefore aghast when I read of the Canadian government’s plan to close down prison farms! These farms are a 100-year-old tradition in Canada and to close them just at this point in history when local food production is more relevant than ever flies in the face of reason.

Beyond the obvious advantage of providing inmates with farm-fresh produce, farms offer an opportunity to work out-of-doors and experience the natural world in a way that it is unlikely many inmates have ever been able to enjoy. The Public Safety Committee, a group composed of representatives from all political parties, heard from witnesses who said that prison farms teach inmates valuable work and life skills that serve them well upon release. Mark Holland, the committee’s vice-chairman, said “The bottom line is it’s one of the most effective programs we have at rehabilitating inmates.”

Yet the Conservative government, making the announcement through spokesman Chris McCluskey, says that traditional farming is outdated and less than one percent of inmates find agricultural employment after leaving prison. The Conservatives have even refused an appeal to hire independent experts to study the impact of the closures, and is acting without full insight into the benefits of farms and the effects the closures will have.

If you agree that prison farms should be saved, you can sign the petition at Saveourprisonfarms.ca.

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Sun on Water

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August Sunset

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Four in a Row

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