Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Highlights of the Decade

I can hardly believe that it's the start of a new decade tomorrow.  Of course it's entirely a human construction, just another day like any other as the natural world unfurls.  But still, being human and spending lots of time looking through old photos these days, I thought it would be interesting to find some of the highlights of the decade just past.  When I was finished I was surprised to find that all but two of the highlights in my own brain are our big trips, so here are some highlights from our biggest five trips - lots of pictures!

The biggest highlight was of course simply retiring and moving to our home in the valley.  It started a whole new wonderful chapter in our lives.

Our first stop was the famous Chelsea Flower Show, the top bucket list item for Mrs. F.G.  That year all the garden designers had to include a small shelter in their garden designs.  This one was totally over the top, a room that had to be lifted up by a huge crane so you could relax in the sky overlooking your garden - garden design gone mad!
Luckily the dates fell into place to enable us to leave London and join an adventure cruise around the outer islands of Scotland.  One of our first stops was to visit Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona, where Saint Columba established the first outpost of Christianity on the British Isles, now a popular pilgrimage destination.  That story alone deserves an entire book!

A couple of stops later we disembarked on St. Kilda, a now uninhabited island 40 miles out in the Atlantic west of the Outer Hebrides, voluntarily evacuated in the '30s.  Another fascinating story.

Later we toured the sea caves on Papa Stour, one of the Shetland Islands.  The water was just a little rough.  When we got back to the ship and timed our jump to avoid the 6 foot up and down swell, Mrs. F.G. grinned and said "Next time let's go to Antarctica!"

Only one picture to highlight our short camping trip to the Great Smokies, and this photo could be taken anywhere.  In fact it was my first experience of 'combat photography, at an overlook on the highway up to Clingmans Dome, photographers lined up shoulder to shoulder to get sunset shots.  Luckily we were there early.

In 2013 we took a tour of Italy, where Mrs. F.G. had been born.  She had never been back.  One of our big memories is all the fresh fruit, especially the lemons which were as big as small footballs.  (I had never believed my father-in-law!)

Florence was the historical highlight of that trip, where we saw both Brunelleschi's famous dome on the cathedral, and Michelangelo's 'David', this model of it in it's appropriate place making a political statement outside the local town hall.

It's hard to get an iconic picture of Venice tat doesn't feature gondolas, St. Mark's Square or canals, but we wandered the back streets and saw parts of Venice most tourists (who have to be back to their cruise ships by 4 o'clock) never see.  This is at the fish market.

And these are the famous painted homes on the fishing island of Burano.

Our next trip was a river cruise down the Rhine, but we managed to stop for a few days in London first for a family wedding.  On our one spare day we rode out to Kew Gardens, where I got to explore the child-sized Badger sett, which we had missed on our previous visit.  It was great fun crawling through the tunnels!

A fun sculpture in Basel where our credit cards got scammed, and an evening passage through a lock on the Rhine.

Finally we went to England again, but started off with a few days in Paris.  We enjoyed the city, but were there for two gardens!

The first was Versailles, the opulent palace and gardens of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, until the French Revolution.  Looking at how the king lived you can understand the revolution!

The second was Monet's amazing garden where he grew colourful flowers including waterlilies, which he could paint.  His paintings of his waterlilies are some of the most famous paintings in the world.

Then we stopped back in England to revisit some of the gardens we saw on our fist trip, the photos of which I lost in our house fire.  These are Hestercombe and Hidcote, two of the best known of those gardens.

We managed to squeeze in a bit of history too; this is the knot garden at Sudeley Castle, where four of England's queens stayed at one time or another.  the design of the knot is based on the embroidery of one of Queen Elizabeth I's dresses.

A lavender farm we discovered by accident, and the old abbey in Shrewsbury where Ellis Peters set her 13th century Cadfael mystery series.

 And our final big adventure of the decade, our new lie with me in a wheelchair!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Two-Year Old Adventure

I got a great book for Christmas, Beyond the Trees, by Adam Shoalts, the story of his epic paddle/treck across the Arctic beyond the treeline, from the Dempster Highway to Hudson Bay.  I'm already nearing the end of it, and really enjoying it.  It's got me thinking about my own adventures, which has taken me back to one of the last hikes before I ended up paralyzed.

It was this sign, and the accompanying description in the trail guide referring to "those hikers who might be claustrophobic..." that led me to choose this section of trail, and given the apparent risk, I asked a friend to come with me.  I've explored many crevices without any warning signs so this one should be an interesting challenge.

The trail started off innocently enough, a clear path through the woods in a land covered in a thin layer of white stuff.

We saw lots of ferns and mosses which obviously didn't mind the damp cold conditions, if anything looking greener than ever.

Eventually we came to the crevice, a path through the moss-covered rocks that didn't look too difficult to me.

The crevices were about 15-20 feet deep, and pretty easy walking.  At least there was only a little climbing over boulders.  It certainly was narrow in places.

But my fellow hiker mentioned that he had a touch of claustrophobia and was actually finding this a little difficult.  He found a place where he could climb out and take the bypass trail, while I met him at the end.

It made me think of how I feel more 'claustrophobic in a crowd of people; this adventurous hike off by ourselves was just fine for me!


The snow is pretty well gone now as we've had a remarkable mild spell for over a week.  But it's about to end with a 'Texas Low' sweeping up from the gulf bringing lots of rain starting tomorrow afternoon.  The trouble is that Arctic air is sweeping down at the same time, so the forecast is for a serious (the Weather Network says 'treacherous') episode of freezing rain with dangerous roads and power outages.  We'll see what tomorrow brings!  We're just outside the danger zone, so hopefully we'll escape the worst of it.

Friday, December 27, 2019

More Packing Up the Harbour

It's not just the boats that have to be dealt with when packing up the harbour here in Meaford for the winter.  The docks are the other big issue to be dealt with.  Some are in the sheltered marina, but those in the river mouth have to come out.

Most of the docks are wooden decks built on sealed culvert pipes.  As you can see by the stairs, they float several feet below the harbourside level.

Stairway to heaven.

The heavy weights they use to anchor the docks have to come out too.

The sailing school docks are a little different, made up of square plastic blocks that lock together.   They're much lighter weight, so much easier to lift out.

The marins docks are much more sheltered and are left in for the winter just for the Canada Geese to enjoy lounging on!

Just so you know what I'm talking about, this is Meaford's harbour.  The Bighead River drains in from the lower left and out into the bay on the upper left.  With the northwest winds blowing, ice from the bay can get pushed right into the river mouth; in comparison the marina on the right is almost completely sheltered from those winds and the ice.  So it's the docks on the centre left that have to come out.  Ice does very little damage simply by freezing; it's the pack ice being blown toward shore that does the damage, with the force of the wind behind it.  Of course the big outer breakwall is the main protection against the ice.  Without it there would be be no harbour here at all.

If I haven't told you already, Meaford has a Big Red Chair Tour that takes you to interesting places around the municipality.  We discovered that the Harbour Pavilion is used as a handy place to store the big red chairs for the winter.


The temperature actually rose in the night, to nearly 10°C, and almost all our snow vanished in the twinkling of an eye.  This view was mostly white still yesterday.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Packing up the Harbour for Winter

We were down around the harbour in the days before Christmas and I was reminded again just how much work is involved in packing up the harbour for winter here in this relatively northern latitude.  Sailboats, Coast Guard ships and working tugs all get lifted out of the water, as do most of the floating docks.  Even the giant red chairs are stored down in the habour pavilion.

They have to bring in a large crane to lift the boats out of the water.  They're placed on high cradles, since they all have deep keels underneath the hull.  You would not believe the power of the ice here in northern latitudes!  Ice floes are just like giant bulldozers when the wind pushed them onshore.

The most common sound in the harbour at this time of year is the 'flap, flap, flap' of the lines knocking against the masts as they blow in the wind.  Some boats get tarped up while others are left to fend for themselves.

There are certainly a lot of sailboats that end up stored in the harbour parking ares, but storage (as well as dockage) is expensive, so many owners take their boats away for the winter.  It's a pretty expensive hobby!

It's not just the sailboats that come out of the water for the winter.  Two of the Coast Guard's Great Lakes ships are stored here for the season in the fenced off Coast Guard compound.

And the local dredging company lifts its own heavy duty tug out too.

I like their Jolly Roger flag, now somewhat tattered.