The story of Hope Ness

IMG_0186Oh, if only these rocks could talk, what a thousands-of-years-old story they could tell about how they got here as part of the creation and continuing existence of this beautiful promontory of land and forests now called Hope Ness. That’s a name given to it by European newcomers barely 150 years ago. Hope Ness reaches out into, and protects Hope Bay, which is part of much larger Georgian Bay. That in turn is part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. I wonder if those newcomers borrowed from the name the Indigenous people who lived here since “time immemorial” had for Hope Ness. As I understand it, from my limited knowledge of local Ojibwa history, this was a gathering place of hope where First Nation people from throughout the Great Lakes’ area came for healing and rejuvenation. I’ve certainly come to realize that’s why I’m here and why I will never leave. Perhaps in times to come Hope Ness will have another similar name, or a renewed and restored one, expressing that same spirit. Fortunately. these rocks that certainly hold that spirit within them, including the one I touch every day on my walks, are still here to tell a very important part of the Hope Ness story. It’s one I’m often asked about; or, if I’m not, I often tell it anyway when people happen to come down the road, or off the trail, and are curious enough to inquire about the local history.

Hope Ness was almost destroyed about 50 years ago when the Dow Chemical Company wanted to develop a huge quarry to mine the limestone bedrock for its rich magnesium content. The plan included a large shipping facility at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment at nearby Hope Bay. The plan did not proceed. But in the meantime Dow had acquired a large interest in most of the land, which the Ontario government ended up owning, and still does. It now includes the provincial Hope Bay Nature Reserve which surrounds Cathedral Drive Farm on all sides. More details of the story of how that happened, and other aspects of the history and continuing existence of a place regarded as sacred can be found here, in Finding Hope Ness. Welcome.

 

Tracks in the snow

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Buddy woke me up early this morning with barking that tells me he’s picked up on something around or near the farm. My thoughts were of critters from the woods come to feast on the compost pile in the garden closest to the house.

But an hour-or-so later after the ever-so-important, two cups of coffee and the morning feeding of the dogs, the tracks in the fresh snow near the end of the driveway where the road comes to a dead end, told me differently.

I don’t usually refer to the end of “no exit” Cathedral Drive as a “dead end.” But this morning it seems appropriate. Not that anything died right there. The fresh tire tracks showed a vehicle, likely a pick-up truck or SUV, had turned around, backing into the driveway, and headed back down the one-kilometre country road. Happens all the time. People often turn down Cathedral Drive off Hope Ness Road, out of curiosity, or because they made a wrong turn. But not usually at this time of year, on a Monday morning.

At first, I didn’t think of the possibility of a hunter or hunters; not, that is, until I heard what sounded like . . . well, I won’t call it a “crack.” It sounded more like an explosion of a small cannon going off, and fairly close, maybe a half kilometre at the most. Ah, I realized, it must be “black powder,” season.

Sure enough, it was the first day of bow and muzzle-loading, long-gun season (Dec. 3 to Dec. 8) in Ontario’s 83A hunting area, including all of The Municipality of the Northern Bruce Peninsula. What I had heard, presumably, was a muzzle-loading long gun being discharged; otherwise, it was illegal.

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Later, on a leash for safety sake, Buddy was alert to something in the wood ahead

I called Buddy, my big, beautiful German Shepherd who, I confess, was off-leash. He always comes when I call, unlike Sophie the Cockapoo. (That’s a relatively new, registered breed, a cross between Cocker Spaniels and Poodles. She has the intensely sharp sense of smell of a spaniel, though the poodle genes are not so clear. But the “poo” part of her breed-name is certainly appropriate for a little dog who will eat just about anything she finds outside – she’s especially fond of squash bits from the compost pile – if I let her outside off the leash.)

So, to be on the safe side we, the dogs and I, quickly turned around and headed back after hearing that shot. There were no more. Just that one, leading me to think there had been a death in the woods, most likely a local White-Tailed Deer, buck or doe – surely not a fawn.

They’re around, I know. Well into the night during growing seasons I’ve seen evidence of them having nibbled on my peas, beans, and certain other veggies. Once, a friend who turned into the driveway saw a few of them running out of the front garden in the glow of headlights. I take some precautions to keep them away from the peas especially, including a simple, brush wall of tree branches. It works, for a while. I think I’ll build a proper fence spring, using recycled boards from the fallen-down drive shed, and cedar posts.

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In the garden with Sophie

Otherwise, why grow peas and beans? But, again, I confess, I’ve grown attached to the critters, deer especially, who come to do a little browsing on my property, in the middle of the Hope Bay Nature Reserve. To the point that I’ve come to think of them, rightly or wrongly, as “my deer.” So, it grieves me to think one of them has just died. That’s in addition to those I know were killed during the early November deer season, possibly by a hunter who baited a likely area with apples the week before. That’s a common practice, and a despicable one; as if hunters don’t have enough advantages.

I’m not a hunter. Once, many years ago as a young man I shot a groundhog that had stuck its head up to have a look around. I still have a memory of its violent death throes. Ever since, I have had no interest in hunting for sport. I can imagine easily enough hunting for food to feed my family and community in certain circumstances, as a younger man of course. Those circumstances would have to include being skilled enough in the use of rifle and/or bow to ensure the animal does not suffer; a proven respect for animals as living creatures, like us, should also be part of the hunter’s code of honourable behaviour.

I will also say here that I think there is something to be said for skill in the use of long guns and ground among a nation’s citizenry. The Canadian experience in two world wars proved that; otherwise, we might not be where we are today, free to enjoy life in a free country, living under the rule of law built on a creative and thoughtful foundation of enlightened due process and respect for life.

But deadly weapons in the hands of people with no respect for anything is a very dangerous thing.

This blog post also appears on the Hope Ness Facebook site

A conversation with the sun

 

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Another cloudy day in late October with the front field to cultivate before it starts to rain, as forecast. I’m out beside Mr. Massey Too, checking his fluid levels before connecting the cultivator, when I get that feeling, you know, like somebody’s looking at me. So, I look up right where that feeling is coming from, just above the treetops of some tall spruce, and there it is, the sun – a faint light in the clouds, so faint that I can look right at it, face to face, as it were.

I get the sense the son wants to tell me something; so, I say, “What? What’s up? What’s on your mind?” Continue reading

Sing out for life

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With the sun now fallen below the equator, the mornings have come later with seeming haste over the past several weeks, as if anxious to move the season along toward winter.
It will come soon enough with all its challenges, I tell the sun, in hopes of seeing spring again. I cannot let go easily of this life. My spirit has not journeyed through the cosmos for God knows how long, and awakened to find myself alive on this little jewel of a planet, to welcome death; or, for that matter the end of the world. It is a gift, and to be alive for this brief moment, to be given the mind and body of a being set free to be joyful on the Earth is a wonderful miracle.

Like the children at the well, I could not contain myself. Maybe I was one of them, dancing around, coming closer, drawn by a certain delight we saw in the holy eyes, and the generous smile, in the empathy that made him one of us. No, he said, don’t chase them away, don’t diminish their joy in any way. Rather, be like them, and you will surely be in Paradise.

No, I am not one to let go of this life easily, or, God forbid, happily, in the name of supposed “end time” prophecy, the big lie of these terrible, lying times. Neither was he who wept in the garden at the imminent prospect of death. He loved life too, though he saw only too well what the future held, and tried to make another miracle to save the world.

And now?

“Oh, my dear friend,” I sometimes feel like crying out to the sky when the rain falls, “what have they done to you?”

Actually, it’s depressing to be alive in the last couple of years and wonder if the creeping madness of an unfolding tyranny can be stopped. Where are the “checks and balances?” How can so many people not tell right from wrong? How can people who should know better, who must have some knowledge of history, surely, continue to enable evil? Haven’t we been here before?

Sometimes, I think I’ll just stop watching the news. Just let it go. What can I do anyway, one small voice? I might be, probably would be, a lot happier. And there is something important to be said about going out into the world with wonderful happiness, like the children at the well.

But then I think that the best thing that could happen now, perhaps the only hope, is that as many voices as possible, millions and millions of them, are raised in unison, singing out another Ode to Joy for the sake of the world and life on Earth.

 

In Praise of Corn

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How well I remember my first sweet corn experience. I was a young boy of the inner city, invited out on a picnic by a country friend and his family. Two fresh-picked, unhusked cobs of sweet corn, were lifted from the embers of an outdoor fire. The husks were carefully and skillfully removed by my friend’s father, spread generously with butter, and presented to me on a plate as we sat at a picnic table. The sun was shining brightly on a midsummer afternoon. The kindly, attentive man showed me how to eat the corn, by picking the cob up at either end and first going down the rows with front teeth like a mower. He made it look like fun.

My first few bites were a revelation: I had never tasted anything so delicious. I looked up from the cob with wide-eyed, childish excitement. “This is GOOD!” I exclaimed, with all my heart. My friend’s father smiled broadly, as I also often do now myself these many years later, when someone bites into a cob of sweet corn I have proudly grown, just picked, and love to serve to others. To this day freshly-picked sweet corn, cooked just enough, remains my favourite food.

Back in those days, many decades ago, it was by far mostly yellow corn. Before that, white was the sweet corn of choice. Some years after my first corn experience the Ontario Seed Company (OSC) came up with a bicolour corn they called “peaches and cream.” Bicolour sweet corn soon took over the market. In my market-garden experience buyers often referred to all of it as “peaches and cream,” but there’s really only one by that name, still sold by OSC, while the many other varieties of bicolour corn go by other names. I started growing corn about 25 years ago. My favourite bicolour variety was Seneca Appaloosa. It helped me get a lot of rave reviews for my corn. Lots of people said it was the best they ever had. But Seneca Appaloosa suddenly became unavailable about 10 years ago. I’ve tried other varieties, but to my taste nothing was as good. The last few years I’ve gone back to the original peaches and cream, the old stand-by, I guess you might say.

The 2018 growing season was a challenging one for growing corn, and most other things. Spring came late, and the soil temperature was slow to warm up when it finally did arrive. Corn wants at least 21 Celsius. I took a chance and planted toward the end of May. But it got unseasonably cool for a while again and, because I use corn seed not treated with fungicide, the germination rate was poor. I planted again a week into June. But by that time a prolonged drought had set in, from the end of May to mid-August. I hand-watered the emerging corn from two, old dug wells, but still it struggled. There’s nothing like rain. An even later – second week of June — planting of a few rows of peaches and cream benefitted the most when the rains finally returned. And now, in mid-September a few more days of sun and heat are just what those rows needed to fully ripen.

Three rows of beautiful, sweet, corn-on-the-cob isn’t a bountiful crop. But it’s enough to share with friends and family, to satisfy my seasonal hunger for my favourite food, and to bring back fond memories. So, I rejoice.

Food for the soul as well as the body, that’s corn, for the boy in this old man.

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A classic moment

Thanks to my son-in-law Scott for catching this classic, picking-corn-for-dinner moment at Cathedral Drive Farm, Hope Ness this past Sunday. Rembrandt would have known too what to do.

That’s my daughter Kathy, my youngest grandson Jacob, and my good friend, the most beautiful dog in the world, Buddy. And me too, looking for the best cobs of ripening corn.

Yes, the long spring-summer drought kept the corn down. But the rains came and in the end it was sweet.

See how lucky I am.

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Onward and upward

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Jorden and great grandpa in the beans

The second-floor window of my office in this old farm house at the end of a no-exit road overlooks a vegetable garden that’s proved to be way too big this season for this old guy. A prolonged drought that began in late May and only just ended didn’t help. Continue reading

Among my friends in the buckwheat, and the milkweed too

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Listen, and you might just hear the bees

In the morning I take some time to stand amid the buckwheat, fully in bloom now, and listen to the murmur of countless bees and other insect pollinators. The bumblebees seem to be most prevalent, certainly most visible. Where they go when they’re not hear gathering nectar from dense proliferation of white, buckwheat flowers, I don’t know. I let them be, no pun intended, but I think a lot about the great danger posed to them and their buzzing friends by the widespread use of the most recent type of human-made pesticides, neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. Continue reading

Conservative politicians in Canada are playing a dangerous game pushing the populist anti-migrant hot button

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To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.

-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s twitter message, January, 2017

There it is. That’s what the fuss is all about, the entire reason why, according to Conservative politicians in Toronto and Ottawa, Canada is in the midst of a “migrant crisis,” or more succinctly, in a “mess.”

Words are important, especially hyperactive words like that, with hateful, anti-migrant, populist/political movements coming to power in the U.S. and Europe while millions of displaced people are risking their lives to find a safe haven, or barely surviving in squalid refugee camps. Continue reading