Sunday, June 28, 2009

ARTIST IN THE PARK

June 28, 2009

Strolling by the river on Saturday afternoon, enjoying the somewhat milder weather and lovely breeze, my friend who does amazing water-colours, spotted a fellow artist who had set up at a picnic table to paint the scene before her.

We had not seen an artist at work on the Avon before, although paintings of the river and our swans are quite common. What really intrigued my friend was the portable easel/paintbox combination that the artist was using.

We stopped to admire her work and to find out more about the easel. Laughing, she told us about the two white geese that frequent the river who had come up to her and stood there as if posing. She didn't really want to paint them, but they “insisted” and wouldn't leave until she had captured them for posterity. I know our wild fowl often act as if they think they are human, but this seemed to be taking vanity a little too far! As we chatted further I discovered that Tamara was a singer as well as a painter and studies singing with Anita Ruthig, who was my vocal teacher when my children were young. What a small world! She told us she would be performing Mozart's 'Ave Verum' at the evening mass at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in St. Mary's. I decided to drive over to listen. It was quite lovely and brought back memories of singing it myself.

Yes, my Stratford is brimming with unique opportunities to meet interesting people. And sometimes, like on Saturday, our lives just happen to intersect in the most unexpected ways.

Friday, June 26, 2009

ICE CREAM

June 26, 2009


The blistering heat of summer has descended upon Stratford, with temperatures hovering between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius. With the high humidity, we are definitely feeling the change from our long cool springtime.

A favorite spot on a summer evening is Scoopers. There you can find unimaginable flavours of ice cream, frozen yogourt, floats, smoothies, shakes, sundaes, and any other frozen treat you could dream of. You can even create your own delicacy by adding from a wide assortment of fruit or other more decadent toppings.

A few nights ago we headed there around 8:45. We were outside enjoying our cone on the benches provided, admiring the evening sky, when a group hurried up to the door. Sorry, closed! In all, while we savored our treat, at least 14 people arrived, some rushing to beat the deadline, some unaware of the closing time.

So, be warned. If you want a tasty treat on a hot summer evening, plan ahead, avoid the disappointment and aim to arrive at Scoopers before 9:00 o'clock!

Monday, June 22, 2009

MORNING MEMORIES




June 22, 2009

After delivering my youngest, now in his late 20's, to the train station at 6:00 a m, I took my coffee down to the river. The reflections were serene as the river came to life with waterfowl diving for their morning treats and early morning runners making their way around the lake before the promised heat of the day. I traveled at a leisurely pace down memory lane.

When the boys were young, we would often get up before the sun and head to the island for a picnic breakfast. My husband loved the serenity of the early morning before the tourist crowds arrived. Those times remain etched in my mind. Feet soaked from the morning dew, we would play 'Mouse and Eagle', our version of Hide and Seek. I often wondered if anyone saw us hiding, squeaking like little mice, or watched us rushing around the island with 'wings' flapping, making great whirring noises to imitate the sound of the bird of prey swooping down to grasp a tasty morsel. In those days, we really didn't care. We were just having fun with our boys in the early hours of the dawn, stimulating the imagination of future writers.

Once more today, I walked with dew drenched feet, capturing memories. The sound of family laughter echoed through the years. Places where once we hid were now overgrown, but still magical beneath the morning sun.
My Stratford is a place of memories, a jewel caught in time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

LIFE LESSON

June 21, 2009
A crowd gathered to watch, coaching from the sidelines, cheering them on, heaving a collective sigh of disappointment when once again they failed. The cygnets were facing their greatest challenge since leaving the nest.
The two oldest had already been out for their inaugural swim with the cob (male) while the pen (female) had continued to incubate the remaining blue-gray eggs in the clutch. These early arrivals had developed enough strength to climb the bank and join their parents, following their instinct to preen, using the serrated bill that functions like a comb in caring for the approximately 25,000 feathers that they will develop.

The parents had chosen a place to emerge from the water that offered a bit of a ramp. The four youngest, now on their first excursion into their new world, had been left in the water as Mom and Dad and the elder ones groomed themselves beneath the low-lying sun. It was at this point that I joined the crowd who had gathered to observe this lesson in nature.


Left behind at the river's edge, the remaining four repeatedly attempted to climb the bank. As they struggled valiantly to attain the shore, the crowd who watched were clearly intrigued. I found myself muttering, “Why doesn't she help them?”, wondering if they would die from exhaustion before being able to get out of the water. At one point Mom moved a little closer to the edge, as if to encourage them. I thought she would reach in and help them up, but no, she returned to attending to her feathers.

As I pondered this lack of assistance, I realized that I was observing a life lesson in progress. The ability to make it to shore was a skill they needed to learn. In my humanity I wanted Mom to help, to intervene, to make it easier for them. In the long run perhaps she, with nature's wisdom, knew that such assistance would actually deprive them of the opportunity to develop the strength they needed to survive.

We watched as long as we could, and still they remained at river's edge; she watching, they struggling.

I was away for the week-end. Tonight I will walk down to the river to find them. I hope there will still be six little ones. If so, no doubt they will be stronger. If not... I will need to submit to the truth that nature is not always kind.

Much of my information was obtained from Ivory, A. 2002. "Cygnus olor" http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cygnus_olor.html.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

WRITER'S CONFERENCE

June 18, 2009

Just a short note today to tell you that I will be away for a few days at Write! Canada, an amazing conference for Christian writers. I should be back to the blog by Monday.

Take care, and enjoy the place where you live!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

GARDENS AND GARDENERS


June 16, 2009

My Stratford is a place of exquisite beauty, with gardens to touch the soul.

A short piece down the road from my home is a garden that I have admired from afar. In my imagination it has become “the Secret Garden”. Lofty spruce with branches sweeping down to touch the earth create a natural privacy fence. Through the holes in the branches, last year I spied the most amazing blossom tree I had never seen, a tree totally covered with brilliant rosy hues. On a clear day, with the sun bathing the garden, one senses a myriad of colours beyond the low slung boughs. Everything I have been able to see looked so delightful, so enticing, with a wonderful blend of blossom,grass and ornamental leaves to perk up dreary corners. This year they had even added small beds under the spruce, with rocks, hostas, and a few choice blossom plants.

Today as I walked by, I noticed a sign stating that there were plants for sale. On my way home I noticed the pots up towards the house, and stopped by to take a look. As I was reading the signs, I heard a voice asking if there was anything she could do to help. There on the porch the owner was sitting relaxing. I told her how much I admired her garden, and becoming very brave, asked if I could see it. “Yes, by all means. Go on in. Take your time.”

Words can barely describe the array of perennials woven with artistry among the winding grassy paths. When I thought I'd reached the end, a corner appeared with yet another path leading beyond a pergola to a cosy garden shed. A jeweled peach iris, delicate columbines, grasses, and a few well-placed statues and crockery created a rare and pleasing natural gem.

When I returned to the entry point, the gardener and I exchanged pleasantries. I discovered they had moved here ten years ago, and aside from the first three beds which a professional had created for them, everything else they had done themselves. It has definitely been a labour of love. We left with a promise to do some sharing of plants.

As I walked home I realized that it is not only our gardens that are beautiful. It is our gardeners too!



The pictures I am attaching today are of city gardens. Perhaps another day I will get permission to share this special garden with you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

BULLYING

June 15, 2009

It is with great sadness that I am writing to tell you that yesterday I was witness to a display of bullying such as I have not seen before. It happened here in my delightful Stratford, as I was out for a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll around Lake Victoria. (That, by the way, is the rather elaborate name for a widening of our Avon River.)

I was taking photos of the duck situation which I mentioned on my first post (a group of 15 or so ducks, only 2 of which were female), when suddenly I heard an uproarious commotion behind me. One of our cobs (male swans) was on the war path! With wings spread wide and flapping furiously he changed another cob. The battle was on. He is a very strong swan, and quickly overtook the other, biting him on the tail end. I was relieved when the victim made his getaway. Head low to the ground in a menacing posture, with anger apparently unabated, the cob tackled the next living thing to cross his path, another swan who, fortunately being more agile than he, quickly fled the scene.



His vexation spent, he huffed and puffed and fluffed his wings, taking some time to regain his composure. When I passed by later, all was peaceful. It reminded me a little of the bard's famous quote.

“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” William Shakespeare Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5



My Stratford is indeed a place of unfolding drama.

Friday, June 12, 2009

DOGS, CATS AND CHINA



June 12

Strolling along Ontario Street, one of Stratford's main streets in the downtown core, my eye was caught by the beautiful hanging baskets by Watson's Bazaar. I paused to take a picture, thinking how fortunate we are to live in a town that values natural beauty to such an extent. The gardens here are phenomenal, as anyone who has traveled this way will know.

But this morning, as I lined up my photo, I became aware of the hanging sign, something I had never really noticed before. “Kids and dogs welcome”. That might not be so unusual if it were a pet supply store, but Watson's Bazaar specializes in fine china and other home d├ęcor. “Kids and dogs welcome!”
That is true Stratford hospitality in a nutshell. If you enter the store, you will discover three or four large cats lounging among the store displays, or wandering by to greet the shop visitors before going for another snooze. Obviously they must be pretty tolerant since their owner welcomes dogs and children into their presence.

Dave Bradshaw, the original owner of the store, passed away this January. If you dropped into the store in his latter years, you would often find him sitting in one of the carved wooden chairs near the front of the store, ready to greet his clients as he rested with his dog. Having been active in Stratford politics, and well known for his often humourous and sometimes sardonic letters to the editor, he was one of Stratford's flamboyant characters, almost an icon, one could say.

My Stratford! It is a place that welcomes cats and dogs amidst the china, a place that breathes originality, and adopts with pride those who march to their own drummer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

REFLECTIONS















June 11, 2009

My Stratford is a place of reflection and peace. This morning as I went for an early stroll by the river, I was captured by the perfect reflections of the houses on the north side, stunningly beautiful and far beyond the capabilities of my camera to reproduce. Nevertheless, it offered a time of reflection as I tried.

My memory wandered back to days of my childhood, going for walks along the river with my mother on a hot summer's day. The Shakespearean gardens were a place of enchantment then, and are still one of Stratford's often unnoticed havens of peace. Approaching them from the north side under the Huron Street Bridge I discovered a patch of exquisite greenery, hostas of all kinds, tucked where only a walker could view them.

This summer I am determined to walk along new pathways to see what other treasures Stratford holds. Camera in hand I will capture them as best I can and each day that I write on this blog, will share with you another brush stroke on the canvass that is “My Stratford”.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stratford in the Sp0tlight!



This past week-end, Sp0tlight Festival brought a weekend of free Arts activities to Stratford. I discovered it quite by accident, as a friend and I sauntered along the Avon and thought we heard music.

Ascending the hill to the band shell in Upper Queens Park, we came upon a concert in process. La La La Latin was a bit of a hidden jewel, having drawn only a small crowd. Herencia Latina, a salsa band from London, ON, entertained us with a variety of instrumental and vocal sound, presented with a driving energy and a sense of underlying joy and celebration. To our surprise the pavement in front of the stage suddenly became the venue for a couple of Latin dancers. Later on I surmised that this was part of the act, but what a sense of fun these two dancers brought to the event. Saucy, sexy, and flamboyant in style, they certainly had the moves to interpret the sound! Before the end of their show they had several members of the audience, (and even a dog!) up learning the moves of a Latin line dance. All too soon, the music came to an end, but what a beginning to the weekend events!

Having been well entertained on Friday evening, I set my sights on taking advantage of some opportunities to learn. On Saturday I attended “Writing from the Core”, a workshop presented by Charles Mountford, Poet-in-Residence for the Stratford Public Library. It was a hands-on event, which challenged the dozen or so participants to think about our writing in a new way. Sunday afternoon brought “Where do Songs Come From?” presented by Kate Ashby-Craft at the Church Restaurant. Practical chat about songwriting, interspersed with some of her original work, lent itself to an enjoyable afternoon. Treating myself to a coffee on the way home, I was delighted to find a troupe of Morris Dancers performing on the street outside the Queens Inn.

The brochure states, “ The Sp0tlight pilot project celebrates the artists who enrich our lives and make out cities vibrant places to live. Most of all it offers you the chance to witness the creative process and participate in the arts.” There were only a few taking advantage of this marvelous opportunity this year. Hopefully it is a festival that will grow and see more of our citizens enjoying the fun in the years to come.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 5, 2009 - Where are the Ducks?




The call of a beautiful spring evening compelled us to walk by the river in search of the new cygnets, that the Beacon Herald had proudly displayed on the front page this week. The river walk seemed strangely deserted...not of people, but of ducks. Normally at this time of year, we would see many families of young ducklings following in their mother's wake. Eventually we saw one little one, and further along a mother with 6 or 7 young ones. Also noted was a predominance of the beautiful male mallards displaying their vermilion feathered caps; pretty, but certainly not conducive to a healthy ongoing community. Apparently we are experiencing a rise in the population of predators, who not only destroy eggs and go after the young, but also have been attacking and killing the females.

Looking at the cute fuzzy little ducklings one feels saddened at this increase in the death toll, and yet, without enough predators, the community also suffers. It's nature's laws at work, the law of supply and demand. When the fowl decrease sufficiently in numbers, the predators will move on, and once again the river will surge with renewed paddling of ducks each spring. We can only hope.