Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fall Calls

Albion Hills Conservation Area is our temporary home. The park is gorgeous and is a popular destination for bikers and hikers with its miles of hilly trails leading through the pine, maple, birch and oak woods; past frog and turtle-filled ponds and flowery meadows. We see squirrels, rabbits, deer, a variety of birds including wild turkey, a range of ducks and geese and hear the coyotes’ howl after dark.

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When we arrived in the park in September, following Labour Day weekend, the weather was quite warm and the weekend campers descended in good numbers. Butterflies and mosquitos and the smells of summer were in the air. Choruses of crickets filled the night’s quiet with an electric buzz that lasted until dawn. We had a few heavy rainfalls and with the winds that followed, poplar and beech leaves began to fall. The nights turned cool and we had to pile on a few more layers and get closer to our evening fires. On our hikes we began to see small signs of autumn with a red or yellow leaf, radiant on the path or caught conspicuously in a clutch of green leaves. Slowly, we were hearing the call of fall. 

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Near the end of September, we had a few days of hot and humid weather and Summer was full-on again! Temperatures plummeted at the beginning of October and out came the jackets and scarves. The local markets offered Mums, pumpkins, squash and gourds for sale and local apples are beginning to fill their crates. The colder nights in the park silenced the crickets and green foliage has begun its transition to yellows, oranges and reds. Less campers are venturing out for a weekend outdoors. The earlier sunsets create longer shadows and the night air descends as a cold shroud.

Fall is my favourite season even though for years, it marked the beginning of a return to work. It’s crisp, pungent  air, its energy, its contrasts, its drama, have all created a spirit of renewal in me, more so than the onset of spring. Some people liken Autumn to New Years, where folks get back into a routine or start new projects or stock their pantries with goods to make soup and stews. I guess we are connected to nature’s cycles in our subconscious at least. There is some comfort in putting on woolen socks and snugging up a favourite sweater. Sinking my teeth into a new apple, hearing it snap and tasting its perfect blend of sweet and tart is my time-honoured tradition of stepping into fall.

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The park has an old pioneer cabin whose hand crafted planks and rustic gardens entice the photographer. The construction vehicles parked nearby created the perfect contrast of technology past and present.

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My cousin Marilyn and husband Mike will arrive from England for a two week dose of fall weather in ten days. Marilyn has just retired as a college professor and her first desire was to head back to Ontario where she grew up and immerse herself in an Ontario Autumn.  We will be celebrating the harvest with a couple of  Thanksgiving feasts and hopefully the full colouring of the leaves will “hang on” until she gets here to enjoy them. We are now having a warm spell that has the crickets singing again and the spring peeper frogs chirping frequently. The weather is ideal for outdoor activity. Fall’s resplendence and bounty is showcased at the many Fall Fairs, Farmers Harvest Markets, Studio Tours and Vineyard Open Houses. I am participating with my best friend Wendy, in The Bay Studio Tour near Midland and Penetang. If you care to venture out for a country drive, please download a brochure and be sure to visit Witz End Studio, location 6 and visit Wendy and I. www.thebaystudiotour.com

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As the leaves begin to fall, so do the many fruit and seeds, searching for places to hide until spring when they will burst firth and multiply.

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It has not been long since the official Fall Equinox began but soon the birds will begin to gather and migrate, a true miracle of nature and milestone of Fall.

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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Sydney Sights

The road to Sydney cut through some interesting country and cliffs. With spring flooding posing threats along the roadways, signs are posted to show the height of the rising water. Wide expanses across deep valleys can produce dangerous winds too. And everywhere in Australia, roadside sights both beautiful and amusing, are abundant.

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We parked near our B&B just an hour outside of Sydney’s downtown. We settled in to our temporary, funky surroundings and headed out to catch a bus to the city centre. I captured my first impressions of Sydney out the bus window….

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We walked in and outside the Queen Victoria Building or QVB, a late Romanesque Revival style building that covers an entire city block. Built from 1893-1998, the structure has been renovated and redecorated over the years. Its multi levels of high-end fashion and gift stores line the open balconies lit from above by gorgeous lamps and a glass and copper dome. Fabulous architectural details inside and out make the building a stellar destination. Art Deco colour schemes and patterns dominate the interior. The stern gaze of Queen Victoria belies the pride she likely had in the naming of such a marvelous building with her namesake.

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We blended in with the Friday shoppers and those in pursuit of bars and restaurants in which to start their weekend. The following shots show a variety of stores and merchandise that we window-shopped before indulging in a spectacular Thai dinner at “Home”. The restaurant is so popular that waiting in line for at least one-half hour is part of the entrance fee. The line moved swiftly and we were soon inside looking down from the balcony of the chefs preparing huge pots of rice, finely chopping an array of herbs and colourful veggies, blending and stirring a myriad of fresh sauces, stirring woks filled with fragrant delights and even whole fish being placed into the steamer. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, the air pungent with ginger, lemongrass, sesame oil and coconut and the food was totally exquisite! Sorry, too busy with all five senses absorbing the experience to take photos!

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Back at our B&B, we sipped tea with our host on the balcony overlooking the sparkle of Sydney in the distance. On Saturday morning we walked through the trendy neighbourhood where we were staying. Strolling is the best way to take in the architectural details, gardens, shops and unique sites in unfamiliar surroundings.

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We had Saturday and Sunday breakfast at “Piccolo’s” a fabulous cafĂ© whose barista is famous in Sydney. After our delightful cappuccino and eggs benedict, we spent an hour wandering about a groovy open air market. Then we bused over to Bondi Beach. You know you are in Australia when you see surfers, joggers and shoppers mingling along the city streets and ocean beach!

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                                     Can you feel the warmth, hear the surf and smell the salt water?

Danielle and Al had tickets for the amazing Cavalia show. I saw the show in Toronto. It is a spectacle that marries music, theatrics,  live horses, costume, acrobatics and magical visual effects. They went off to enjoy the ‘ode to the horse’ and I toured the park and The Australian Museum of  Natural History. The museum building is impressive and houses a large collection of Aboriginal artifacts and crafts; skeletal, preserved and live mammals; reptiles and birds; minerals; dinosaurs as well as artworks related to nature and culture.

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Inspired by my research and viewing of many museum opals, I headed to an opal distributor. Travelling up a rickety elevator, I arrived at a shop with heavily barred windows. I passed through a gated entrance where I engaged in a short history and demonstration of the opal by a sweet Indonesian girl. After I described my opal colour preference, ring style and price point, she presented me with a dozen boxes filled with the natural semi precious gem stones mounted in sterling silver. I have never made such a special purchase on my own but was determined to secure an original memory of Australia that I can wear proudly and use in conversation to regale strangers with stories of  Australia, my daughter’s job and her wonderful new family. There are no pictures; you have to find me in person to see my special keepsake and hear my tales!

Alastair and Danielle met me and we compared our afternoon activities as we strolled about taking in more Sydney:

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We trekked about Chinatown exploring the massive Asian grocery store. The lights and signs along the closed street were intriguing. We had a fantastic sushi dinner at Dani and Al’s favourite Japanese haunt. We finished our day with some Asian fruit gelatin desserts: colourful, wobbly, delicious.

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_MG_4597                                 I will delay the tale of my final day in Sydney, just like I wanted my trip not to end!