Uh Oh

I walked past the little garden by the car… and right beside I found….

Dandelion... da dum da dum da dum da dum... I think we're going to need a bigger boot

Dandelion… da dum da dum da dum da dum… I think we’re going to need a bigger boot

I have a good idea what Ray Bradbury thinks of dandelions… in “Dandelion Wine” he wrote “Dandelion wine.  The words were summer on the tongue.  The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”  “Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”  He also wrote the colour of a dandelion was so intense it’d burn a hole in your retina.  But when I saw these plants, all I could think of …. was the theme from “Jaws”.

Feeling Summer-y on Island Lake Trail

We went for a walk along the Vicki Barron Lakeside Trail this afternoon… parking in the lot on the south side of Hockley Valley Road just east of Highway 10.  The trail is clear, for the most part, but there are muddy sections, and a few places along the path where the snow and ice are still melting.  In the woods, on either side, there is quite a bit of snow… and against the lee shore of the lake, there is an undulating mass of leftover slush and what look to be Christmas trees.  But the ducks are there, black ducks and mallards, and a little diving duck I didn’t identify (no binoculars).  It was actually quite warm… warmest day so far.  So nice to take your jacket off and wish you were wearing shorts.

A Busy Place

The parking lot was jammed with cars and lots of people, dogs and bicycles along the paths.  With the kids off school, there were families there, with kids getting tangled in dog leashes.  One fellow, riding his bicycle, had a beautiful chocolate labrador retriever with him that I’m sure I could hear saying “I’m so happy.  I’m so happy.  I’m so happy.” all the way.  In fact there was probably a chorus of happy dogs but I’m particularly tuned to the lab.

We walked for a short while along a new section – it’s not quite finished and we walked past the “Do Not Enter” sign to see where it led.  There was a long stretch of wooden walkway over a boggy bit.  The wooden planks in the deck almost ring with your footsteps.  I was also thinking the chorus of frogs and toads must be deafening in there… pretty soon now.  We turned around when the track got too muddy… but later on we did notice where the new section joins the original: just past the eastern end of the causeway.

Despite the Snow the Flowers are Blooming

I looked beside the trail at one point and noticed a single bright yellow colt’s foot flower blooming…

One lonely coltsfoot poking its head up to check the weather.

One lonely coltsfoot poking its head up to check the weather.

A whole bunch of coltsfoots (colts feet?).

A whole bunch of coltsfoots (colts feet?).

then look a little farther and saw a whole herd.  Sometime soon I’d like to go to higher and dryer paths to see whether the wild garlic (ramp) is up yet.  Yum.

Grand River Living Up to its Name

The village of Waldemar is on the 10th Line of Amaranth two kilometres north of Highway 9.  Actually the 10th Line becomes Mill Street as it passes through the village, changing back to the 10th Line just north.  I used to live in Waldemar, in a house right opposite the Station Street bridge over the Grand River.  When the river would rise in the spring we’d hear it indoors… a heavy rush of water combined with a low vibration that would shiver the whole building.  At first the river would be full of ice and when a big chunk would smash into the bridge support, the sound would be a deep thrum that we’d feel as much as hear.

Pesshinneguning Just Doing its Thing

We went to see the river the other day.  As is often the case, Highway 25 was closed through Grand Valley because the river flooded the road.  At the bridge in Waldemar, just a couple of miles down stream from Grand Valley, the relentless rush was awesome.

Looking down river from the Station Street Bridge

Looking down river from the Station Street Bridge


Looking up river from the Station Street Bridge. The old train bridge supports still standing.

The Grand River has been flooding from near Dundalk all the way to Port Maitland on Lake Erie since long before the Europeans arrived here.  The first people called the river Pesshinneguning, “the one that washes the timber down and drives away the grass weeds”.  When the river ebbed and the land beside it dried, the people would plant corn on the fertile flood plains.

The river’s personality changes completely in the summer.  That’s when I’d take my dog out for a swim.  I’d walk up the middle of the river, about waist deep, and Carter would swim along beside me.  When he got tired, he’d just swim to shore and give me a look that said “OK, that’s enough” and we’d walk home.

Things May Soon Change

I just read an article – and saw the picture – of an Asian grass carp caught near Dunnville, Ontario.  That’s down by Lake Erie.  While these are not the same fish that leap out of the water  when frightened, they can cause the same kind of damage to the underwater environment.  They gobble up plankton and weeds that hide and nourish the critters at the bottom of the food chain, potentially wiping out the population of game fish.  According to a CBC report from Kitchener-Waterloo…

“An angler near Dunnville, about a half hour south of Hamilton, didn’t just hook a big one — the fisherman also managed to land a fish story that has all of North America’s biologists and sport fishing enthusiasts talking.

Authorities with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Ontario of Ministry of Natural Resources have confirmed that the fish is a live Asian carp and it was caught close to the mouth of the Grand River, near Lake Erie.  Whether the fish is the leading edge of an invasion or a single escaped fish remains to be seen, but authorities with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources urge all fishermen to become familiar with the species and report any new discoveries to Ontario’s Invading Species Hotline, at 1-800-563-7711.

Hugh MacIsaac, professor and director of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, said it’s not time to push the panic button.  He said this specific type of carp is used in states like a Michigan and New York to control of aquatic plants in places like ponds. They will not reproduce.  There have been about 10 records of them being in Ontario.  He said the much bigger threat is the big headed and silver carp.”

You can read the whole story here.

Tardy Spring 2014 – Continues

On Tuesday April 15, winter roared back, on the heels of a promisingly warm Monday.  Soft spring rain gave way to freezing rain, ice pellets and snow as the northwest wind brought the winter down again.  Later that day I shovelled the back steps – as I have too often this winter – and looked at the little garden there.  The daffodils had poked their heads up in the warmth but now they were nearly covered by snow.
And once again, all I could think of was:

Sh*t that's cold!

Sh*t that’s cold!


By the way… have you ever noticed that the dagger leaves of springtime flowers often impale the autumn leaves that were laid on top of them?  At first I wondered how that happened.  I’m sure that you could balance a dry maple leaf on the pointy end of a very sharp needle and it would not go through.  Even if there were a stack of leaves, there wouldn’t be enough weight to push the leaves down onto the pin – let alone onto the sharp end of a green leaf.  Then it hit me.  The bulbs grow under the snow.  The spring sun warms the soil right down to the bulbs, even before it has melted the snow.  The green leaves push up right into the snow, and right through the autumn leaves.

There are two lessons to be learned.  Spring bulbs are hardy enough to survive a late snow… and spring is inexorable.  It will come.  Soon.  Please.

Island Lake Bridges

Last Thursday evening, April 3, we went to Farmhouse Pottery on Hockley Valley Road.  Al Pace has organized Thursday night speakers for the next three weeks.  Close to 30 people were there to hear Wayne White and Bob Shirley talk about bridges on Island Lake.  They will be followed by Laurie McGaw this week.  She’s a renowned portrait artist, who will share stories about recent projects; Al Pace himself who talks about the wilderness canoe trips as inspiration for his work; and Tim Falconer to talk about his latest project, a book about singing badly, aptly named “Bad Singer”.

in the distance, bridge across Island Lake

Wayne and Bob have obviously told the Island Lake story before.  They handed off the story back and forth, describing the process of building three spans of bridges – some 300 meters in all.  It was a daunting task.  First they built 75 cribs out of square hemlock timbers (hemlock doesn’t float), about five feet by six by 10 (1.5 meters by 1.8 by 3 meters high).  They flooded the ice, pumping water from the lake onto the surface to make an extra  thick layer along the path the bridge would take.  The winter of 2013 wasn’t particularly cold so the natural ice wasn’t thick enough to support the weight of wood and stone as they hauled the materials into position.  Then they cut holes in the ice about a foot larger on each side than the cribs, set them into the holes, levelled them, filled and finally surrounded them with stone.  According to Bob Shirley, each crib has about a tri-axel load (more than 20 tons of rocks) in and around it.  They brought the stone out onto the ice in motorized wheelbarrows that would hold two or three bucket loads from the small back hoe they had on site.

A host of hard-working volunteers from Friends of Island Lake (FOIL) carried out much of the work building, placing and filling the cribs, with guidance, equipment and labour from Sunshine Landscaping.  The company took over the construction of the deck and rails.  Not only does the wooden path cross the water, it meanders over two islands as well… and the finished project is breathtaking.

Looking down the longest section of bridge over Island Lake

Bob’s Bridge over the water.  The lookout you see about half-way across also serves as an ice breaker to protect the bridge from shifting ice.


Tony on wooden bridge across island

Bob’s Bridge crosses two small islands as well as the water.

The bridge opened officially in a ceremony last June and the bridges were named Bob’s Bridges, to honour Bob Shirley’s 30 years of contribution to conservation in the area.  He was a member of the Credit Valley Conservation Board of Directors from 1977 to 2008, of the CVC Foundation from 2003 and FOIL from 2005.  According to the Credit Valley Conservation Web site, Bob has been “a tireless fundraiser, a passionate trails advocate and the heart and soul  of the Island Lake Community Trails Campaign”.

What’s Next?

Bob’s Bridges and the connecting trail join the north and south portions of the Vicki Barron Lakeside Trail and the next project is closing the loop.  Wayne and Bob showed the projected path of the loop and more bridges running close to highway 10.  Here, too, the bridge will cross a couple of very small islands.  These bridges will not be on cribs, however; the lake bottom is too soft to support them.  They’ve been out on the water testing metal supports that have something that looks like a large auger bit on one end.  They screw into the soft lake bottom and will carry the weight of the bridge.

Fundraising is continuing for the final link.  In fact, the $10 per person fee Al Pace charges to attend his presentations all goes to FOIL.  With the support of the public, many sponsors and grants from the provincial and federal governments that are in the works there will be an 11 kilometre trail around – and over – Island Lake.

Next… a floating stage in the bay where the swimming beach was (the beach is being moved)… then…

We’ll have to see.

Tardy Spring 2014

Driving along the number 5 side road, just up the hill from Hockley Valley Resort, I saw a pair of geese on a frozen pond.  It’s on the north side, just east of the Third Line E.H.S. (East of Hurontario Street) and is one of myriad examples of water just appearing here in the Hills of Headwaters (Please read “Why ‘Hills of Headwaters‘”.  This flows down to join the Nottawasaga River in the valley.

One of the geese was standing on the ice on one foot and the first thing I thought was:

Sh*t that's cold.

Sh*t that’s cold.

Woody Was Here

Sugar maple on Church at Margaret Street

Sugar maple on Church at Margaret Street

On the north side of Church Street, just west of John, there’s a big old sugar maple tree.  Perhaps it was one of the trees planted in 1878.  The then mayor of Orangeville, Joseph Patullo, decided the town needed more shade, so he and the Council offered 20 cents for each tree planted.  I don’t think it’s as old as that but at some time in its history, the tree’s main trunk broke off, in an ice storm, perhaps.

Today the lower branches are thicker and sturdier than usual, having taken over the energy that would have otherwise gone into pushing the main trunk

Pileated woodpecker on a softwood tree.

Pileated woodpecker on a softwood tree.

higher.  Near the top of the foreshortened trunk, there is one sturdy branch, still green and thriving and on the opposite side there is a hole, a deep rectangular cavern, the mark of a pileated woodpecker.

The pileated woodpecker has been busy.

The pileated woodpecker has been busy. Looks like he carved a face.

The pileated is a large woodpecker – about the size of a crow.  If you’ve never seen one, the bird looks a lot like the creation of Walter Lantz – Woody Woodpecker.

Regardless of its size, the bird’s ability to dig such a deep hole in a maple is amazing.  I’ve often seen the same sized holes in pines and other softwood trees, but this is hard maple.  If you’ve ever set a screw or hammer a nail into maple wood, you know how hard it is.  I’ll grant you, the top part of the trunk has likely deteriorated, may even be a bit rotten, and it was (I hope) full of larvae of some sort, gnawing away, but it still seems quite a feat.  Just think about bashing your head against a maple tree how many hundreds of times to dig a hole that deep and wide.  Would he get a headache?

I just hope he had a good feed to make the effort worthwhile.