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.


CBC Toronto has recently reported that six major bookstores have closed or will soon… all in a span of less than six months.  Chapters at Bloor West Village, Steven Temple Books, Book City Annex, the Cookbook Store and the World’s Biggest Book Store have all shut their doors.  Chapters at John and Richmond will close at the end of the month.  Oh dear… kids aren’t reading any more… electronic books are replacing paper… the death of page-turners is nigh… or is it?

I know the closures are not good news for employees of the book stores, authors whose books may not be on any other shelves, nor anyone else involved but remember when the monolithic book stores were stomping all over the independents?  Remember “Sleepless is Seattle”?  Well now there may be a little more room for independents again… and in my view that’s what a book store should be.

I like going into a store (any store, not just for books) where people know who I am and are genuinely interested in helping me.  They know where things are; they can find them quickly; and they can speak knowledgeably about them.  Also, an independent bookstore doesn’t need to have as many sales as a monolith to make ends meet.  As for the “death of page turners” I am optimistic and I’ll tell you why.

Booklore, near the top of First Street in Orangeville, is my favourite bookstore.  For birthdays and Christmas my mother buys us certificates there, and we return the favour, buying them for her.  One afternoon I went in to Booklore, not looking for anything in particular that I recall – I may have been buying a card that time – and it was full of kids and their parents.  There was no reason – no celebration or promotion – just a PD Day.  Three of the school age children were looking over each others’ shoulders at a book in the kids’ section.  Another was walking down the stairs carrying a book and two or three more were sitting on the floor next to the shelves, their legs out in the aisle, reading… not just reading, totally rapt.  Warmed my heart it did.


Signs Say the Silliest Things

Many years ago, we were on a road trip around Cape Breton – I just remembered the lobster rolls and clam chowder, it must be lunch time.  Anyway, I saw a sign in the window of a jewellery store in North Sydney.  It was professionally produced, printed with bright colours.  It read “Ears Pierced While You Wait”.  The first thing I thought was “No thanks, I’ll pick them up on my way home”.

Last summer, we were wandering around the area – in the Hills of Headwaters, not Cape Breton.  We turned right at the south end of Erin’s downtown, parked, and took a little walk.  Crossing the bridge over the river that runs south from town, this sign was set on a concrete block set right into the water, facing the bridge:

girl's head profile, with pony tail, eating ice cream, in the barred circle from road signs


and all I could think of was, “______?”

What’s it trying to say?

On the same subject (ice cream, not signs), if you’re in Toronto and want to enjoy the city’s best ice cream, go to Ed’s Real Scoop – on Queen East at Logan, Queen East at Beech, and now open on Roncesvalles.

Farmers’ Markets Starting Again – YAY!

The Orangeville Farmers’ Market starts up on Saturday May 10.  Although there have been monthly markets indoors in the atrium of Orangeville’s Town Hall, through the winter, they’re not the same.  The last one indoors is April 12.  Saucy Girl Foods will bring – and sample – their soups and other goodies… Wayne Speers will bring his “Smokin'” beef, Bert & Janet Niewenhuis will have lamb, Randy Leitch will have the output from his bees… lots to fill your kitchen with some treats for yourself or gifts… and best of all it’s local.

BUT… when they’re outdoors again, there’ll be fresh bread from Amanda and 100 Acre Bakery, fruit from Beamsville, fresh greens from Am Braigh and Fiddle Foot, Arthur Greenhouses will have annuals and perennials to kick start the garden.  Anthony and Cheryl from Black Willow Farms will bring maple syrup and preserves… I hope, anyway.  As the season goes on Evan Besley will bring his beautiful greenhouse tomatoes, the Best Baa Dairy will have sheep’s milk cheese – delicious… here’s the Website for more details.  No doubt there will be new people, maybe the guy with the fresh and smoked rainbow trout from Georgian Bay… mmmm.

I hope the weather is better than the day of the last outdoor market in October.

looking up 2nd Avenue at the snowy vendors

A Heavy Wet Snow and Cold Kept People Away at First

A scarecrow competition was part of the plan but I think this was the only entry.  It would probably have won anyway.

Hay Bay Scare Crow with Snow

Hay Bale Scare Crow

Despite the weather, there was fresh produce to take home… and when the snow stopped, the crowds fattened up.


a table of multicoloured tomatoes

A Stunning Choice of Heritage Tomato Varieties

I’ll let you know when the other markets are starting up.

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.