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A hazy Saturday morning in the park

Early this morning, I took The Partners out for some doggy social time at Jack Darling Park. After they tired themselves out goofing around with new friends, I dropped them off at home, picked up my camera and walked over to Sam Smith Park to see what there was to see.

It was a somewhat hazy morning with no wind and mild temperature.

There were quite a few birders out, including one guy dressed up in camo gear, hauling around some heavy duty glass and a monopod. With the warm temperatures there were also lots of people out with their dogs, and as usual, many of them were running around off-leash, which drives the birders crazy. I understand wanting a nice place to let the dogs run free, but Sam Smith is not a leash free park. The leash free area by the filtration plant is very sad indeed, but when I want let The Partners run around off-leash I go to the Etobicoke Creek leash-free area, where they can swim, or alternatively the wonderful Jack Darling dog park.

There were quite a few robins at Sam Smith today.

I saw a mockingbird and some kinglets again, but was unable to get a good photo of either today. The highlight for me was seeing lots of cedar waxwings around.

There is a cherry tree in the park which is still holding lots of fruit and the waxwings were having a good feed. However, I saw some of these birds in other areas of the park today as well.

One thing which disappointed me today was the amount of trash in the park.

Aside from the bits and pieces of unidentifiable plastic to be found on some of the beaches, the predominant litter is Tim Horton’s cups and beer cans.

This really makes me angry. It is so disrespectful to the environment and other park users to leave this trash around.

There is still some Witch Hazel blooming in the park, providing a welcome hit of colour on this grey day. 

I enjoy walking in the park this time of year. Gone is the lush beauty of summer, but there is still plenty to see. It seems each day is different.

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Unearthed (with the subtitle: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden) is a memoir by a writer who lives in Toronto, named Alexandra Risen. Tuffy P recently bought me a copy of this book at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. It interested me right away because the book is centred around a spectacular but abandoned ravine garden, apparently  hidden away in downtown Toronto.

The author and her husband bought this highly unusual huge ravine property and over the next few years, against all odds, managed to completely renovate the house, put in a swimming pool, and clean up and restore a huge overgrown mess of a garden paradise, complete with a two story gazebo she describes as a pagoda.  They must have spent a fortune achieving all this from the descriptions of all the work done and the construction and clean-up difficulties presented by the ravine setting. The point of the whole business though, is obviously to go beyond the story of a well-to-do single-income family, throwing scads of money and sweat at a massive renovation project.

Ms. Risen links the discovery and restoration of this garden to a personal transformation. The narrative swerves back and forth between the garden experience, her childhood, the death of her father, and the decline and death of her mother. This personal transformation culminates in a blessing ceremony in their exquisitely restored pagoda, complete with smoldering smudge stick. Risen even took the trouble to invite her “hero” Gordon Lightfoot to the blessing ceremony, but Gord failed to respond to the invitation.

There is something interesting about each of the streams of this story, Risen’s life with her parents and sister, her life with her friends, her husband and her son. Still, I had a very difficult time buying into the broad metaphor. It is as if during the process of restoring this crazy garden (complete with deer, raccoons, invasive plants, a forest of trees, multiple ponds, a steady stream of arborists and contractors, etc. etc), the author suddenly grew up and was finally able to come to terms with a childhood in which she knew nothing about her parents’ stories, their friends, and their apparently unhappy, smile-less life together.

The chapters have titles like Knotweed, Lily of the Valley, Serviceberries and Irises. At the end of each of the chapters, we are given recipes for something or another that came out of the featured garden. Examples are Sour Cherry Liqueur, Primrose Meringues, Sugared Rose Petals and Mulberry Granita. Each of these refers the reader to page 267 for “information on safety and sourcing of plants”. I suppose the publisher was concerned the book might encourage people to forage foolishly and consume something poisonous. More than anything these recipes were a structural device, and while the author tried to integrate her choices with the rest of the narrative, in my opinion the book would not have been weaker had she dispensed with all of them. I just didn’t think they were compelling enough to earn their keep.

While the garden captured my imagination, by the time Risen was looking up Gordon Lightfoot’s address, I really didn’t feel compelled to learn anything else about this family. I was done and I was beginning to find the narrative somewhat annoying. I might have abandoned ship, had I not been so close to the end. I suspect it would have been more interesting to me (but less interesting to the author) to read a much more detailed narrative about the garden restoration or even a fictionalized story of people much like the author’s parents and their story from the Ukraine during WWII through their migration and adjustment to life in Edmonton.

I think there will be some readers who will respond to this book more enthusiastically than I and who might even think my reservations are cynical and overblown. I can only say that I really wanted to love this book, but for me, it was just an OK read.

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Grey morning in the Park

After 3 seasons of photographing plants and wildlife with a little point and shoot camera, I’ve upgraded a wee bit to a Panasonic Lumix FZ1000, a bridge camera that gives me zoom up to 400mm. I wandered out to the Sam Smith Park this morning to test it out.

There is a mind-bending array of menu items on this camera, some of which leave me scratching my head, but the basic functions are pretty straight-forward.

Towards the end of my walk I saw a fellow with a camera with no zoom. He pointed out a small hawk, perhaps a Cooper’s hawk, not far from where we were standing. At this point I had put my camera back into its bag and was heading back. By the time I got my camera out, the hawk left its perch and swooped down into some meadow for a buffet lunch. I’m hoping next time I’m in there, I see this hawk again and manage to snap a photo.

Click on any photo in the gallery to scroll through larger images.

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Ginseng Blues

Meredith Axelrod with Jerron Paxton and Frank Fairfield do a great job on this old tune.

Ginseng Blues was first recorded (as far as I know) by the Kentucky Ramblers in 1930. Both their version and Meredith Axelrod’s feature yodeling, and we all need more yodeling in our lives, right?