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Salt River

Here’s a tune called Salt River. I don’t think I had heard this one until I watched Hilarie Burhans teaching it on one of her excellent YouTube videos, and I picked it up from there. I enjoy playing this one. I recorded this video with my iphone. I’m playing my Nechville Atlas banjo in G tuning, using a capo and a handy railroad spike to get up to A.

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A note in our post box today….


How sweet is that? Thank you so much for the kind words, L & C!

This reminds me there are plenty of excellent titles available in the Twenty Seventh Street Book Box. IMG_8864.jpg

These books are FREE. You can take them home to read, or give them away if you like. If you want, feel free to replace them with other books you think the community will enjoy. The book box is located in front of our home at 15 Twenty Seventh St and it’s there for you! Recently we received a donation of a couple bags of good books, which we’ll be adding as there is room.

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Angeline the Baker

I made a little video performing Angeline the Baker for the Tune of the Month on a Facebook group I contribute to, called Clawhammer Rules. Angeline the Baker is an old time tune derived from a Stephen Foster song called Angelina Baker. I learned this tune early on in my clawhammer playing when I was teaching myself to play on an oil can banjo I cobbled together myself. I learned it from somebody’s hand-written banjo tab I found on the internet, but I know at this point I play it quite a bit differently than I did back then.

For those interested, I’m playing my Dogwood banjo in double-C tuning.

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Nature walk with Miles Hearn – Rouge Park

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Little Rouge Creek


Today’s nature walk with Miles Hearn took place in Rouge National Urban Park, a fantastic place loaded with interesting trails as well as the Rouge and Little Rouge rivers.

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St. John’s Wort

I started going on Miles Hearn’s nature walks in early spring and we’ve seen numerous plants as they first emerge in the spring and as they develop and bloom or fruit in summer. I find it challenging to remember all the plants, especially as they look different in different seasons, but there are a number of them I’m now recognizing, such as St. John’s Wort, Maple-leaved viburnum, False spikenard (or False solomon seal), various grasses, a number of trees, rattlesnake root, blood root, chicory and numerous others.

False spikenard or false solomon seal

False spikenard



Others I recall Miles talking about before, but I failed to recognize on sight. One of these is a species of Vibernum known as Wayfaring tree. Perhaps it is called that because it is often found on roadsides. Today, it was very distinctive with colourful berries, but next spring, will I recognize it? I’m not sure.

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Wayfaring Tree

There were a few highlights today for me. One was bottle brush grass. I’ve never noticed this one before.

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Another was Knapweed – hey a weed named after my family!



Here’s some of the other plants Miles noted on the walk. Each of these is captioned.



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The Secret Gardens of Milton

We trundled off to the town of Milton for the afternoon today for the Secret Gardens of Milton garden tour. This tour is organized by the Milton & District Horticultural Society and features 8 gardens. For those not from these parts, Milton is a town just NW of Toronto.

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Sean James created this clever rainwater system in his Milton garden

They published a very professional booklet – each booklet was a ticket. The cost for this tour was $15 per person. It featured 5 gardens in town and 3 in the country, and there was quite a range of garden ideas at work. Some of the proceeds from this tour will go twards a “Serenity Garden” at the Milton District Hospital, as well as supporting other activities of the non-profit Horticultural Society.

Here’s a collage of photos we snapped in the gardens.


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Special Sauce

I posted a photo of this painting back in December, but I just added it to my “Paintings” page, with an improved photo, so I thought I’d feature it again here.

This painting goes back to the early 90s. It’s acrylic on canvas and I think it’s about 54 inches square. I made this painting after a couple weeks fly fishing for trout in Idaho, Wyoming and Yellowstone with my friend East Texas Red. There was a time we traveled to the mountain west pretty much each September in pursuit of trout, and usually I came back refreshed and ready to get back to work in the studio.


After this particular trip I made two good-sized paintings with the intention of working on a new series. I was going to call it West. Something or another – I don’t recall just what – interrupted my continuity after two paintings and that was the end of the series. I didn’t exhibit either painting at the time, but I think it was only because my direction had shifted. Both paintings survived the various purges and iffy storage situations my work has been subjected to over the years, though, and this one hangs in our home. I’m sure any readers who have lived in the mountain west will know what the title refers to.


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The Bottle & Can Concerto

Between October 2015 and March 2017, I wrote a series of very short stories I called the Lazy Allen Stories. I posted them them to a blog site and made them available for anyone who wanted to read them, a small crowd as it turned out. Over the past year, they’ve mostly been gathering dust over there. Still, looking back at the stories as a group, I’m pleased with them. I think some are better than others, and as short as they are, a few would benefit from some tighter editing.

If you’re looking for some fiction to read, I invite you to click over and give them a taste. The site they live on is in a blog format and I posted the stories as I wrote them, so if you’re interested in reading the whole group of them, use the menu at the top. The Bottle & Can is the first of the 17 and Aftermath is the last. For those of you who take the plunge and visit the site, I hope you enjoy my little stories.

Here’s a sample of the stories – the 7th in the series – called The Bottle & Can Concerto.

From the first day I walked into the Bottle & Can I became fascinated by the rhythm of production.  I suppose all those years playing music for a living, I was extra-sensitive to the relationships sounds have with one another, but I know to most people it was just factory noise.

That first day I was taken prisoner by the rattling, banging, chugging, sucking, clanging, dripping and popping – so many rhythms and exotic melodies dancing across the expanse of the plant. These sounds, by-products of the work-a-day task of producing sugary beverages, took on their own life in my imagination.

Chook chika chooka cheeka chook chika chooka cheeka
Chookita chika chooka cheekita chookita chika chooka cheekita
Chook chika chooka cheekita chook chika chooka cheekita
Chookita chikita chooka cheeka chookita chikita chooka cheeka
Chickita chookita chookita chookita cheekita chookita chookita chook.

This became the basic background track for my years at the Bottle & Can.

Different areas of the plant added in different sound colours to the main bottling rhythm – the silo in-feed, bottle discharger, filling, cleaning & recycling, the air transfer conveyer. Add the cascades over at rotary rinse, the vacuum whir at blow-moulding, not to mention the rolling and tumbling un-scrambler and the satisfying thumpa-thump of cardboard boxes over in packaging.

At times I became lost in that symphony of sound. Most of the men and women working the line blocked it out or simply stopped hearing it after a while, but I never did. When I wasn’t shooting the shit with my buddy Staashu across from me on the line, I made up dozens of melodies in my head over the complex and incessant soda-pop rhythms.

And then, when we least expected it, the line would stop and the rhythm would disintegrate into a groan punctuated by discordant industrial spasms, and then silence. Total silence. Even those who had long ago stopped hearing the magic rhythms of the line were taken aback by the intensity of the silence when it all shut down.

A stoppage on the line meant a break for everyone, save the mechanics crawling around the system to jimmy belts into place or clear bottle-jams, but it left us restless. It just didn’t feel right not being surrounded by the pulse, the heartbeat of the operation.

Late at night, long after Ruby’s Public House shut its doors, I’d go down to the basement of my bungalow, down to the music room I created long ago out of what was once my parents’ rec room and home bar, and I’d sit amongst my accordions and concertinas and button boxes, my Vox Continental electric organ, my battered old drum kit, stacks of old tube amps, and assorted other instruments I’d accumulated back in my past life. I’d pull the big accordion onto my shoulders and I’d try to imitate the rhythms of the plant with my left hand, and when I got it right, when I could feel the pulse, I’d try to remember those melodies I made up while working the line.

I’m an old polka-man but these weren’t polkas. They weren’t pop tunes either. They weren’t jazz exactly. What the hell were they? Work songs? Factory music? I didn’t think much about it. I just tried to play them the way I imagined them.

I finally saved up a little dough and in 1980 I bought myself one of those 4-track cassette porta-studios and enough egg cartons to staple over the plywood panel walls. I started thinking of my basement retreat as the studio instead of the music room. I began recording The Bottle & Can Concerto, and until today I haven’t told a soul.

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Nature Walk in High Park

I signed up for more nature walks with Miles Hearn – this time a series of 4 July walks, the first one being in that Toronto treasure, High Park. Although spring is the best time for birds, we were fortunate to see, or in some cases hear, 22 species as identified by Miles. You can see his nature walk report for all his walks on his excellent website. The highlights for me were the black-crowned night herons in flight and the mute swans with cygnets.


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When I started going on these walks in early spring, some of the wildflowers and other plants were just beginning to emerge. Now summer is hear and and it’s a whole different story. By the way if you go to High Park and walk the trails, be careful to avoid the poison ivy. There is a lot in there.

The most striking plant we saw had to have been the Michigan lilies, also known as Turk’s cap lilies.

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Another highlight was an insect we often hear but only occasionally see, the cicada.


I have learned a lot on these walks. When Miles identifies a plant or bird for us, I take a photo and write down the name and sometimes a note or two in my notebook. Later, I match the photos to the names, and I look up ones that particularly interest me and try to learn a little more about them. Taking the trouble to do this has really helped me get the most out of these walks.


I hadn’t realized there was so much sassafras in High Park. If you break a stem on a sassafras it it remarkably aromatic. Us humans have various culinary and medicinal uses for this tree. Traditionally, it’s the main ingredient in root beer. As well, the ground leaves are dried for file powder, used for thickening and flavouring gumbo. There were some studies in the 60s suggesting sassafras was a carcinogen, and as an ingredient in food it was banned for decades.

Here are a few other highlights from today’s walk…

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butterfly weed

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Dawn redwood

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Hairy woodpecker



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St. John’s wort

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Wood duck