Prewinter Pretty ‘n Posh: Thursday 13th November 2014

After such a long time I’m beginning to question the wisdom of referring to this blog as a “recovery journal” as there is no sign of recuperation; not recorded in my medial chart nor noticeable on my person. More’s the pity.  Cam and I are at a new level of frustration.

It has been a very long time since my last blog entry, since my last day off the dreaded dialysis machine and since I’ve paid a visit to my beloved Presqu’ile. Feeling completely disillusioned with the seemingly ineffective hospital routine and having been ditched (true story) by my community care driver, I felt in desperate need of the peace I feel at Presqu’ile. It seemed imperative (to me, at least – to Cam, not so much) that a trip to the park on the way to the hospital was my only possible option.

Presqu’ile Goes Posh

As soon as I arrived, I realized a lot had changed since my last visit…

  • As I roll up to the very obviously unmanned gatehouse, I sadly realize Evan has gone back to school.
  • At least ninety percent of the leaves have fallen, which is an obvious observation, but their absence really opens the forest making the trails much lighter and the hikers clearly visible from the parkway.
  • Judging from the signboards scattered about, the volunteer fundraiser “Christmas at Presqu’ile” has come and gone – is December already upon us?
  • The Lake Ontario water level is alarmingly low.
  • There is tarmac…

Fresh, wide, black and very smooth Tarmac!

Presqu’ile Parkway has been reborn with a new and very serious-looking coat of asphalt. Gone are the myriad potholes, many of which were cleverly disguised L’Oeuf-sized craters. Gone now and replaced with this slick, smooth, racecourse-like surface, protected by speed humps and adorned with fancy new signage. It’s (horrifyingly) like the entrance to one of those clever, planned, adult-lifestyle communities where Stepford-like seniors live in smug self-satisfaction. Yes, I am a little intimidated.

I’m sure the majority of park patrons will appreciate the smooth pavement over the cavity-ridden lane that ensured we would pass through the pannes at a sedate pace, absorbing all its pleasures – sights and sounds – but not me. For one thing, now that the “dodge the crater” game is over, the speed of the vehicles has really picked up; where is everyone headed in such a tearing hurry, I wonder?  What is going on in the park that is so time-sensitive, I wonder?  What if a child or animal runs out onto the parkway, I wonder?

My usual leisurely pace is clearly annoying the driver of the pick-up truck behind me who, if he got any closer, would actually be pushing me. I deked off onto the shoulder (AKA bike lane), let him zoom by, ignored the salute and resumed my plodding. Progress, even at Presqu’ile, is not always positive.

Prewinter Pleasures

Most leaves have fallen and have created a deliciously dry, crunchy, rustly massive carpet that covers the peninsula, imbuing the air with that perfect autumn aroma. This perfection lasts such a short time – a few weeks at most – before the winds blow the leaves away or they become sodden with rain and melting snow. Not, however, on November 13 – on that day it was ideal. I parked L’Oeuf about a mile from the southern tip and walked the rest of the way, happily scuffing and kicking my way through the leaves, thoroughly enjoying the susurration, ignoring the odd looks I was getting from the park visitors warmly ensconced in their vehicles. I am ten again, romping through Edward’s Gardens with Dad, both of us unheeding of my best Sunday frock and shoes and of the semi-serious frown on Mum’s face. Bliss.

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Warmly ensconced” because although the thermometer registers 3°C the wind chill factor is fierce; after barely two minutes, my hands are aching with the cold (gloves safely stored in L’Oeuf where they offer no comfort whatsoever). When I reach the beach I am the only walker and if I thought I was cold on the trail, I feel frozen out in the open on the sand. No regrets. I am glad I have made the walk because I am seeing Lake Ontario at the lowest level I have ever observed and am glad to be able to document this discovery.   In the following picture you can see a line in the sand created by the two tones; that line is the normal water level.

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Just off the north beach is an enormous boulder. It is well-used in the summer: Imaginatively incorporated into the activities of young pirates, a climbing/jumping attraction for the much braver adolescents, and for the more sedate, a photo-op Copenhagen Mermaid-styles. Although I’ve never climbed onto it, I’ve swum by it many times and the water was typically hip or waist deep. The water today is choppy and there is no sun so it is difficult to see clearly, but today at the base of the rock, the water is barely a foot deep.

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Enough! I can barely feel my fingers now so I make a mad dash back to L’Oeuf to get warmed up. I’m sure the temperature has dropped at least ten degrees but no, L’Oeuf confirms it is still plus 3°C. It must be wind-chill factor, right? It must!

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Heater blasting, gloves on, I drive on to the lighthouse facility which is closed (read: deserted) today. I wander out to the point mainly because I have it all to myself – a first. Here too evidence of the lower lake level is apparent. Obviously there are rocks in the water; there’d be no need of a lighthouse if there weren’t. It’s just that they’re usually below the surface. Not so today. This discovery is unsettling: How can the water level be so low after such a wet summer? Where has it gone? Water is a resource we Canadians have had the luxury and privilege of taking for granted, should we so choose, all our lives. For me, this is a very visceral reminder that this natural resource is beyond price and fragile and finite.

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My last stop on today’s park circuit is Jobes Woods Trail. I’ve not nearly enough time left to hike its length so I opt for the short 1km loop, desperately wanting to have a bit more time on the leafy carpet and to savor the prewinter prettiness of the forest.

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There is a hush, due in no small part to the previous departure of many of the birds (only a few brave Robins remain). The trail begins with some boardwalk sections, presumably to guide the hikers comfortably into the woods on the first leg of their walks. Today as I step onto the boardwalk I am struck, most unfavourably, with how exposed the trail has become, and with the sight and sound of the vehicles traversing the park, not normally visible from the woods.

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A very spiritual solitude and silence engulfs me – the perfect aura for meditation and invocation. As I walk I am getting my head straight and accepting the hand I’ve been dealt. The rudeness of my driver no longer matters and I am calmly prepared for another session at PRHC. This place – the park, the trails, the lakeshore, and the lagoon – this place is so very restorative and beautiful. While wondering why it is so very nearly empty, I give thanks for my cleansing experience today.

Presqu’ile, always a bit of a Peacock, delights in presenting a limitless palette of colour, delighting artists and photographers alike. Today, here in Jobes Woods I am struck by the vivid green of the moss (which is everywhere) collocated with the brown, dead leaves and bark – a natural, subtle beauty I cannot resist.

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Poof! Just like that I am late for dialysis again. I am not sorry.  My truancy has given me peace and contentment and I know that this trip was exactly what the doctor ordered (regardless of what is recorded in my medical chart).

Presq 13                                                                                Evidence of the lake’s low level in the marsh.

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The Swantastic Stories: Thursday, 13th November 2014

THE SWANTASTIC STORIES

Swantastic Stories 4

Hospital. Again. Today. Sigh.

But first…

Whenever I visit Presqu’ile, my last stop is always my favourite place in the park: “Calf Pasture Point” at the hotel lagoon, beyond the meadows of Atkin’s farm.  Today I’ve saved my lunch and if I can find sufficient shelter from today’s harrowingly bitter wind, I plan to sit out and enjoy what may well be my last picnic of the year.

Yes it is icy-cold, yes the wind is howling, but the sun is shining cheerily and the embankment plus the trees provide just enough relief from the wind that my picnic is a go. True confession: There is no picnic bag today, there is no fresh avocado, there is no fruit and there is no canteen of water. What there is is a take-out packet from Timmy’s and an extra-large coffee (so much for good intentions and resolutions, non?). Mind you, I am indeed very grateful for the hot coffee on this blustery day – caffeine and sugar be damned.

On the south side of my lagoon (I’m a possessive bitch, non?), and separating it from the main body of the lake is a very narrow spit, dense with foliage and home to numerous birds, waterfowl and butterflies. At the end of the spit, at a ninety-degree angle and protruding directly into the lagoon, is a tiny strip formed by some rocks, a fallen tree and a whole lot of sandy sediment deposited over time by the lake’s movement. It is a stopping off/resting point for many of the birds and fowl but today it is nearly deserted; only one swan and one tern are there, seemingly in communion.

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I wander around the lagoon, looking in vain for interesting photographic subjects, and eventually arrive back at my car. Before leaving (and by now I’m very late for dialysis and I’ve miles to travel before I reach PRHC), I collect my picnic refuse and head to the trash bin to dispose of it. The trash container, a state-of-the-art, enormously complicated, futuristic gizmo, is off to the edge of the clearing beside the sign that describes the area’s features for tourists and adjacent to the flora that forms the spit. To open the trash lid, one has to insert one’s hand into a square metal box atop the lid and engage the mechanism that releases the lid. In theory a grand idea – no trash can be blown out of the container, the bin is way too heavy to be kicked over by vandals and it is raccoon-proof. Damn-near human-proof too, in my opinion! But today… Ew! Gross! Some kind soul has hidden a piece of gum and something that has congealed into a sticky, greasy mess inside the housing and my hand is now a disgusting mess. Urgh! I do manage to unlatch the lid despite being freaked out (yes, yes, I know – it doesn’t take much – did I mention I’m a germaphobe?), I get rid of my garbage, drop the lid and consider the possibilities for cleaning my hand.

Just through the bushes is the outer shore of the lagoon where there is water and sand. Without other options I decide that I will clean my hand in the lake using, dry it on my pants and then use some sanitizer. Intent on purpose, I am particularly unobservant. I break through the bushes onto the shoreline, squat, grab a handful of wet sand from the lake, begin rubbing my hands together and… And am utterly astounded! There, less than three feet away, is a bevy of more than twenty swans, bobbing on the waves, fishing, grooming themselves and clearly amused by my hand-washing antics and me. They are cautiously and gradually getting closer and closer. I am both mystified and thrilled. Feeding the birds, animals, and waterfowl of Presqu’ile is prohibited and in truth, I’ve never seen anyone ignore this rule so they can’t be looking for food. What on earth is making them venture this close and, need I admit the obvious – me without my camera. I enjoy watching their capering for a few more minutes and then decide to risk frightening them off by crashing back through the undergrowth to retrieve my camera. Returning to the shore I am ecstatic to find my gorgeous friends exactly where I left them, seemingly even keener for an up-close and personal human encounter. Two in particular seem fascinated by the clicking and whirring of the camera’s shutter release.

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I’ve never seen so many swans together at one time and wonder if they are gathering ready for winter… Winter what? Do they go south, do they hibernate, or are they taken away Stratford-styles? What happens to swans in winter?

Note to self: Stop at gatehouse and ask Evan what does happen to them.

My attention is caught and held fast by a family of three swans, keeping themselves slightly apart from the rest of the bevy. They seem to be a mum, a dad and an adolescent cygnet. The child immediately calls to mind the H.C. Andersen fairy tale about the “ugly duckling” that, against all expectations, becomes a beautiful swan.

Swantastic Stories 2

This kid is, to be kind, still in the transitional stage but is full of piss and vinegar and needing to be constantly corrected by her parents. Sound familiar yet?   I’m already thinking of her as Pamie and eagerly watching for her next screw-up, knowing it will surely follow. George (the dominant swan who I am assuming is the dad) is never far from her side, offering nudges of encouragement and nips of reproach. It is truly quite comical. I’ve no idea what constitutes appropriate swan behaviour, but I am witnessing all manner of things that are clearly not to be tolerated – Pamie seems to know and try each of them.

All the while, the rest of the swans are dipping their heads and necks below the surface to, I presume, fish for lunch. Their behinds are adorably cute stuck way up in the air.

Swantastic Stories 3

Fish caught, perhaps even running out of air, they all quickly bob back upright again. All, of course, except for Pamie who despite the odds, does a complete underwater summersault and comes back up for air looking completely disoriented. Alone, thankfully because by now I am giggling out loud, I have a moment of self-awareness: Gone is the mantle of sadness I’ve been wearing. I am not merely happy, I am euphoric. I give thanks – for the feeling of joy, for my park, for my trip today, for L’Oeuf which made this trip possible, for Cam who made L’Oeuf possible, and for the swan family who has brought such pleasure and merriment to my day, alleviating the stress and distress of yet another hospital visit. I am privileged.

Presqu’ile has delivered in spades. Again.

Back to my swan Stories… So many similarities between my family and theirs! In the minutes that follow I snap more than 200 shots of the brave and curious swans.  Young Pamie is truly adorable, I’ve thoroughly loved “meeting” and watching her and I’m quite sure that next time we ‘meet’ she will be unrecognizable to me with her mature white plumage and stately adult behavior. Today’s Pamie though, I’ll never forget.

Swantastic Stories Pamie

Knowing that I am in for a sound ticking-off for tardiness when I finally do reach my hospital, I drag myself away, stow my camera and begin the dreaded drive to PRHC… Sporting a wide grin.

Fun facts:

Within the Genus Cygnus nomenclature, swans, depending upon their activity at the time, have two correct names:

When in flight, swans are correctly referred to as a “Wedge”.  At all other times, swans are correctly referred to as a “Bevy”.

Evan advises that all Presqu’ile swans (Trumpeter, Tundra and Mute) are migratory birds.

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