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The Snowy

We live in an area with a remarkable amount of bird-life, which is why you can often see bird-watching enthusiasts out in one of our local parks, sporting fancy cameras, tripods and 3-foot long lenses. Early one morning I was out in the park with The Partners and came across two people (who must have been very cold) hunkered down on one of the beaches, wearing full camo gear, squatting, cameras at the ready, waiting for some bird or another to appear.

I appreciate the obsessiveness of the activity. There was a time I was equally obsessive about casting for trout with a fly rod, identifying insects at their various life-stages and creating imitations using bits of feathers and so on. I was up on the Latin names of umpteen different insects, and I’ve waded hip deep in trout streams flowing through out of the way spots in various provinces and states. How many times have I been transfixed by the specter of a rising trout? I’m fascinated by the relationship between the bugs and the trout and the birds and so on, although these days I only get out on a trout stream a few times each season.

I can also be found in various forests through the summer, foraging for mushrooms. I never used to see the mushrooms, because I wasn’t looking for them. Now I see a whole world of fungi, from tasty edibles to deadly poisonous Amanitas and Gallerinas to very difficult to identify “little brown mushrooms”. I do spore prints, smell the mushrooms, even bruise them in the hopes of making an identification and there are usually a couple tattered field guides driving around with me in the car.

I enjoy observing nature in the park on a much more casual basis. Yesterday, though, when I saw the snowy owl, I wished my little point-and-shoot camera had a much more serious zoom.

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Snowy owls have been visiting the park each winter for years. If you didn’t know an owl was around, it is unlikely you would see one. A visiting owl will find a spot to hang out and often stay put for a long time without moving much at all. Some people have been fortunate enough to see one in flight, but I’ve only seen them sitting around, usually a good distance from any human interlopers.

I hadn’t seen an owl all winter, although I looked around for them several times. I had figured they had left by now, flown back to their northern habitat. Early in the week I heard from two or three friends that the snowy was still around, and yesterday afternoon, George the Newf and I went out for a look. Sure enough, there it was.

When I first  heard about the snowy owls visiting our part of the Lakeshore, somebody in the neighbourhood told me they started venturing this far south when the population of lemmings crashed a number of years ago. I nodded my head, actually knowing not a thing about lemmings. In fact I really have no idea how long the owls have been visiting. I’m sure there are some bird experts around here who know all the details. I only know that they are regularly seen around here come wintertime, usually in the same area.

In 2016, we celebrated the coming of the snowy owls by making a couple larger than life snowy owl mosaics, made from a variety of items from tiles to broken crockery to plastic poker chips.



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Possum Hunting

Regular visitors to this oasis in the cyber-swamp know that our Newf Ruby is on restricted duties, awaiting surgery Tuesday for her torn cruciate ligament. That means she stays back while big brother Georgie goes for walks. She isn’t happy about this arrangement. Consider that we call them The Partners. They go everywhere together and they’re pretty much inseparable.

This evening I leashed up George and we headed to the front door. “You stay here, Rubes.” That’s what I said. Ruby followed to the door. Clearly she wanted to come. I explained she had to rest but she wasn’t impressed.

George and I headed down the front steps, down the path and were two houses down the street when Wonder Woman Ruby burst through the front door. “I’m coming George,” and she was. She has trouble going up steps right now but going down them, no problem. I turned George around and we met up with Rubles making her way down the sidewalk  in front of our house.

I walked The Partners back up the path to the house, opened the gate to the back yard, and sent them through. The plan was to have Ruby go up the ramp to the deck and in through the sliding doors. Suddenly I see a cat run by and then I hear Tuffy P from the deck door, “there’s a possum on the deck, there’s a possum on the deck,” and there was. The possum exited the deck over the side, with a cat in chase…..just as Rubiska hobbled into the back yard and came nose to nose with it. I don’t think either of them knew what to do next.

By the time I caught up with Ruby, the possum had exited stage left. Ruby was triumphant, full of beans, even though she was on the limp. I love her spirit. She’s not one to let an injury get her down.

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Fiddle me this

As some of you know, I’ve started to learn fiddle, and I’ve been working hard at it. I’m taking an online course from the “Brainjo” guy, Dr. Josh Turnkett and taught by Adam Hurt. I’ve taken banjo classes from Adam at Midwest Banjo Camp and I’ve had a chance to participate in jams fiddled by Adam. He’s a top drawer player and teacher. The course is taught by ear through a series of sequential videos and is based on neuroscience – how humans learn.

I went into this planning to give it my best shot, but I confess I wasn’t confident I was going to be able to pick it up. Somewhere deep down I suspected fiddle was just too difficult. As I’ve begun learning the basic skills I’m ready to change that assessment. I’m now sure I can learn this thing.

The course started out with some scales and scale fragment exercises and then moved right into tunes. I’m working on the basic version of the third tune now, Wish I had my Time Again. I’ve shared a great version of this tune on this post.

Here’s what I’m finding so far. I’m finding it easy to pick up the tunes, that is finding the right notes and quickly learning the sequences. I’m also finding it easy to do the bowing in the prescribed manner. While the sound of my playing still needs plenty of work, it’s starting to sound a lot more like music than the industrial accident scene I started with.

Intonation is something which I know will improve with time. Since fiddle is a fretless instrument, you need to be pretty accurate in fingering the notes. In the context of a tune, it’s easy for me to hear when my intonation is off and I’m trying to correct myself on the fly, although sometimes this is difficult when I’m also concentrating on learning the melody.  Eventually my fingers will find the right spots all the time.

Drones have been my biggest struggle so far. I can now find the right planes to play two strings at once consistently. I find it easier to drone the string lower in pitch than the melody than the one higher in pitch than the melody. This is because it’s easier to get my fingers out of the way of the drone string when they’re closer to my hand. However, I’m getting there and I’m doing some drone practice every session.

I’ve been practicing in short sessions, 15-25 minutes and I try to do 3 or 4 sessions each day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to neglect my banjo playing so I’m finding a little banjo practice time each day as well. I’m pretty sure playing fiddle is going to improve my banjo playing too.

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Smooth Operator

I should be in bed but instead I find myself up checking out the latest NPR Tiny Desk concerts. It’s a great way to learn about all kinds of music, and for me that’s important for me because I’ve been listening to so much old time material. It’s easy to forget, to quote Sun Ra, “there are worlds they have not told you of.”

Here’s Big Daddy Kane. I love his laid back groove.

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Hippy Old Time

This morning I was playing the banjo before Ruby’s vet appointment. The tune I was playing is called Nixon’s Farewell. I first heard this tune at the Rockbridge festival down in Virginia last September. I was wandering around the park listening to jams with a new friend I made at the festival. When we heard this tune, he said, “oh yeah, this one is a hippy old time tune. I had never heard that expression before. Some old time tunes go way back to the American Civil War, but in the last 3 or 4 decades of the the 20th Century quite a few new old time tunes were written and that’s what my friend was referring to when he called Nixon’s Farewell a hippy old time tune.

Nixon’s Farewell came up 2 or 3 times at the festival. I got to jam along with it some, and when I got home I learned it a little better. It’s written by scholar, musician and instrument maker Curt Bouterse. He had this to say about the tune:

Some time ago on the Banjo Hangout I gave some historical background on the origins of Nixon’s Farewell. Right after the resignation in 1974 I figured something that monumental ought to be recognized in music. My initial reaction was the situation resembled the old “Somebody on the Gallows” or “What’s-his-name’s Farewell,” and I played around with various Lonesome and Lone melodies without success. Then I imagined a song with the refrain, “And you won’t have Old Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” [Those too young to get the reference will have to ask their elders.] It was played so much in the late 1970s some tired of it and I was afraid it might better be called Nixon’s Revenge, but it’s still popular with contra-dancers.

Here’s a nice stringband version of Nixon’s Farewell by Amanda Morrison, fiddle Stephen Rapp, banjo Paul Kirk & Bill Braun, guitar.

And here’s me having a go at it on clawhammer banjo a few months ago.

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Real Estate Rant

Today I received a phone call from a guy from ReMax – as a courtesy he said (how thoughtful is that?) – to tell me in a nicely written script what the house next door sold for quite some time ago. Yesterday, another real estate guy came to my door. I asked these guys how they would feel if real estate people kept calling them at home. The guy who just called said, “pestered and disturbed?” Bingo. The guy yesterday rang the bell while I was practicing fiddle. I confess he got me going in a full blown enough is enough already type rant, which must have been pretty loud because one of the neighbours from across the street walked over to check out the action.

I get that Long Branch has been the Klondike Gold Rush over the past couple years, with lots of people chasing after the greasy buck. However the odds we are going to cash out and sell our home to some bottom-feeding, lot-splitting builder are less than zero. So please stop calling. Now. Take me off your list.


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Buck Fever Rag

I’ve been listening to a heaping helping of fiddle music lately, as I’ve been hunkering down to learn to fiddle. For a guy beginning to fiddle, working hard at just making a decent tone and finding a few notes, hearing players like this is simply awe-inspiring.

Today I was surfing around The YouTube and came across one of Canada’s great fiddlers, Patti Kusturok playing Reg Hill’s Buck Fever Rag as part of her 365 days of fiddle tunes. This is an Ottawa Valley fiddle tune and I love it!

Here’s another version performed by Charlie Walden – fiddle and Patt Plunkett – piano.

Reg Hill was the fiddle player in that fantastic group, Mac Beattie and his Ottawa Valley Melodiers. Here he is playing his own composition. Hang onto your hat!

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Our 17 month old Landseer Newf Ruby, or Rubiska as we often call her (the black and white dog in the picture) has been having a problem with her back leg(s) for about a month. We had some x-rays taken and our vet suggested we have a specialist look at them. We attended the specialist’s clinic today.

Ruby has torn both cruciate ligaments in her back legs. This is a problem Newfs are genetically predisposed to. Memphis had the same problem which we had corrected by surgery. The plan is to do the same for Ruby. We have pet insurance and we’ve asked for a pre-approval. For Memphis, they covered 90% of the costs, which was a relief because dog surgery is expensive.

I have to take Rubes for blood-work tomorrow morning and then on Tuesday she’s scheduled to get the left joint fixed. This kind of surgery for dogs is very successful and generally they are able to run around normally once they heal up. We will likely have to get the right one done at some point in the future, but one step at a time. She will be restricted to very short leash walks for two weeks after which walks will increase to 3 twenty minute walks each day to strengthen things up.