Chapter 2. Ontario
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Wending our way northward, the interstate circumscribes the urban sprawl of Toledo and Detroit. Ambassador Bridge takes us into Canada at Windsor. Turning eastward, the road becomes rural, crossing flat fields of barren soil or stubble from last year's corn. Only a few are green with the fresh growth of recent plantings. We drive the remaining miles to Rondeau Provincial Park, a thumb-shaped peninsula extending southward into Lake Erie. Here we meet our Canadian friends Woody and Gwen and our Washingtonian friends Gene, Sandy and Louise - all fellow travelers on our winter trip to Mexico. When we unhitch our car, the Pathfinder will not start. We must have left on something that drew our power, for the battery is dead. So Woody and Gene push the car off the road into the grass next to R-TENT. Setting our priorities, we forget about the Pathfinder and take other vehicles to the birding sites of Rondeau. Typical of birding spots tied to migration routes, my fellow birders announce, "You should have been here a few days ago when the birds were passing through." Even though mid-May is the historic center of the spring migration, when flocks should be at their peak, this year has been an exception. Spring arrived early. Trees are lemon-lime green with half-grown leaves; usually they are still barren. Daytime temperatures are warm. Favorable weather conditions have allowed migration to pass more quickly and birders have only been seeing remnants in the past couple days. Not deterred, we hike along the peninsula toward Lake Eire, catching sight and sound of lots of Yellow Warblers, but no other warblers. In the early evening, just as the last light dissipates, we walk to a spot where woodcock are known to appear. Standing at the edge of a grassy spot edged in stubby juniper trees, we wait patiently. After a 10-min. hiatus, I see the sudden descent of a plumb bird into the grassy area. Within seconds the woodcock begins its "peent" call, the first act in its mating ritual. It takes several minutes for everyone in our group to locate the woodcock. I saw it land so I describe the location to others, but the twilight darkness, the overshadowing grasses and the camouflaging brown coloring make the woodcock hard to locate. As the bird calls, he remains at the same location, but slowly rotates full-circle. A side profile reveals the long stubby pencil-like bill and the large dark eyes set almost at the back of its head (a woodcock can see almost a complete 360 deg.). After several minutes of "peent" calls, the woodcock suddenly takes flight, traversing a low arc around us. The dim light is just bright enough for us to trace its ascent, a dark blob winding upward against a blue-black sky. Now, 200 ft. above us, the woodcock circles. We can hear the whistling of his wings, then the change in syncopation signaling a drop in speed and height and suddenly the woodcock freefalls in a gliding arc and lands within a few feet of its starting point. Act One is completed. The woodcock immediately begins Act Two, a duplicate performance. We watch and listen to another three performances, but finally the rapidly dropping temperatures induce us to return to our campsite.
(Shari) Following Map 'n' Go and the signs on the interstate we negotiate the way to the bridge to Canada. I expected a bigger deal. Going from Texas to Mexico requires more lanes of traffic and more road signs and certainly more congestion. This seems as easy as paying a toll on a U.S. bridge. One minute we are driving a U.S. interstate and the next we are at the bridge into Canada. I spot an A&P grocery store and a Bank of Montreal. We stop to get Canadian money from the ATM and buy groceries. I have to ask a nice young gentleman where I can find some milk. He directs me to the dairy case where plastic bags holding four individual liter bags of milk are stored. I ask if one is suppose to pour that milk into another container. He says the store sells the containers for the milk inserts. Since that is the only kind of milk that they sell, I decide to buy it and pour the milk in my old gallon container. I will have to do that very carefully because this is just an ordinary plastic bag that is full of milk. As soon as I cut it open, I will not be able to set it down or I will have a mess. Strangest thing I ever did see.
We arrive at Rondeau Park a little after noon and our friends are waiting for us. We unhook the car and the men push it to the side. Yes, you read that right: push it. The car will not start. After getting it off the road, they go off birding: priorities they tell me. Some bird experiences Bert drags me on are real looloos. We go out to dinner at a popular restaurant called Papa Lugis and have to rush back to make it for the performance of the woodcocks. I had seen this once before in Texas and was not impressed with a gray dot against gray clouds that sometimes I saw, but mostly did not. Being a good sport, I go along with the group. For the first 10 minutes nothing happens. I am beginning to think the little bird is not going to show up. All of a sudden Bert says, "There he is." Yah, sure, all I see is grass. Finally after many patient friends show me where to look, and Gene has the little bugger in his scope, I see him. A cute little fellow, sort of brownish striped with a big 6-in. pencil-like peak, is making little peeping noises and turning 90 degrees after each peep. He is looking for a girlfriend. All of a sudden he takes off into the sky and circles the air above us, peeping louder this time. I see no girlfriends around and, he must not either, for he comes back down almost in the same spot, and starts the process all over again. We watch him for a good 30 minutes, until it is too dark to see. I have to feel sorry for the little fellow. Apparently he goes through this exhaustive ritual every night for weeks on end. It seems like a lot of work to catch a girlfriend to me. I hope it is worth it. This was another pretty cool experience, but again don't say a word to Bert. I really do want him to go shopping with me.
(Bert) The strong winds off Lake Eire have pushed water up into a marshy area near the entrance to Rondeau Provincial Park. Although normally a wetland area in prior years, the lack of rain and the subsequent lowering of the water table have kept the marsh dry until today. Now Semipalmated Plovers and Dunlins take advantage of the wetland, but we watch only briefly since the stiff cold wind soon chills us to the bone. Instead, we walk through the woods sheltered from the wind and prefer staying in the sections warmed by the rising sun. The birds seem to have followed a similar plan, as they gather in the sunlit branches above us. We find single representatives of Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, American Redstart and a few other migrants. A veteran birder, who has come to Rondeau each spring for 10 years, tells us this is the worst migration he has witnessed. After an hour of standing in the cold, we drive to the Visitor's Center for coffee, hot chocolate and donuts. Behind the building a miniature pond, floral garden and seed feeders attract goldfinch in brilliantly yellow plumage, attractively offset by black. A rarity makes an appearance: an albinistic Chipping Sparrow. Normally drab brown, this odd bird is all white except for its brown wings, pink bill and dark eyes. Warmed by our hot drinks, we hike the Tulip Tree Trail in search of a nesting pair of Prothonotary Warblers, named after the Catholic bishops who wear robes the same shade of yellow. With the lack of birds, my direction turns to the other wildlife along the path. Stalks of red Columbine, clusters of white Trilliums turning pink with age, ground-hugging violets are in bloom. We reach the nesting area for the warbler, but the pair is not in sight, so we wait on the boardwalk. We are in a forest dominated by Sugar Maples, but this particular low spot holds about 5 in. of water and is covered with short grasses, ferns and many rotting logs, making a wooded wetland ideal for the Prothonotary Warbler. We are at the northern extremity of the species and one of only a couple of sites in Canada were the birds can be found. By contrast, I watched this same species near our Texas home only a few weeks ago. That's a wide latitudinal breeding range. After a 45-min. wait we are finally rewarded with good views of the strikingly yellow bird. More hikes along the beach and through the woods fill our day, but none offer sights as beautiful as the Prothonotary.
(Shari) The birders are birding and I am cooking. Tonight I am having everyone over for dinner; Gwen's appetizers, my unstuffed Italian shells and French bread, Sandy's salad, Woody's and Gene's wine, and chocolate cake with Gwen's frozen yogurt rounds out the menu. Sounds like a potluck doesn't it? So this morning I get the casserole ready, make the bread and bake the cake. This afternoon we all go for a walk along the Spicebush Trail, supposedly one of the best bird watching trails in the park. Alas there are no birds to speak of. We again are too late. (This has happened a few times before on trips, as Bert often points out). The early spring brought them through 7-10 days ago. Maybe no birds can be seen, but the scenery along the trail is wonderful. Trilliums are in full bloom and carpet the hardwood floor. Boardwalks meander through the marshes. New leaf growth in abundance shades all in that wonderful fresh green color that one only sees in spring. God is good to me and I revel in His handiwork. At 5:30 PM all enter R-TENT. My original intention was to eat outside on the picnic table, but that was when I was still thinking Texas nighttime temperatures in the 70s. This former Wisconsin girl, turned Texan, forgot how cold it still is in the north. Temperatures hover in the low 40s at night here with a stiff breeze off the lake. So we squeeze into R-TENT and enjoy the evening and the company. Plenty of ears should be ringing as we reminisce about our past Mexican adventure and look forward to the next.
(Bert) Point Pelee lures 80,000 birders each May, and we certainly see a good portion of them today. Even though it's Monday and even though the expectations are poor this year, we barely find a parking spot near the Visitor's Center when we arrive around 8:45 this morning. Shortly behind us come three busloads of birders. As they exit the buses, I am struck by the caricature we birders present. Whether it's khakis or jeans, shirts or jackets, the key feature is the oversized pockets bulging with bird books and notebooks. Backpacks and waist belts hold additional reference guides and optical equipment. Hats are of every design, but characteristically floppy, waterproof and wide brimmed. Pins and patches carry the identifying lettering, logos and colorful birds that announce to everyone else the exotic birding sites visited, the further away the better: Ramsey Canyon, Corkscrew, High Island, Alaska, Costa Rica. Binoculars securely attached with wraparound harnesses are a permanent fixture on each birder. Cameras feature lens so long they could double as cannons and tripods with legs extending and hitting everyone within radius. Spotting scopes are of every design, but certain name brands score higher points and elevate your status as a good birder. We head for one of the many trails winding through Point Pelee, a triangular wedge of land that juts over 10 miles into Lake Eire. Birding today is much better and we tick off Black-throated Blue Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler and Veery. Yellow Warblers are omnipresent and I photograph one building its nest. Baltimore Orioles are also plentiful. Later we visit nearby Hillman Marsh and see a pair of Mute Swans and dozens of nesting Canada Geese. With 66 species for the day, I count it successful, but hardly the migration deluge Point Pelee is known for.
(Shari) Birding is BIG business at Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada. The whole month of May is devoted to birds. Birding walks, birding talks, birding workshops are held every day. Various seasonal trails open to hordes of visitors that come to observe the multitude of birds migrating through. Hundreds of birders gather around temporary tables laden with donuts, coffee, and bagels outside the visitor center. Later hotdogs and hamburgers replace the breakfast fare. Gwen & Woody, Gene & Sandy and my Bert take off, abandoning me to the gift shop with its plethora of bird-related items for sale. I am alone for the next three hours. Retrieving my bicycle from the back of the car, I ride to the end of the point passing hundreds of people with binoculars turned skyward in all directions. I take a beach route and find myself all alone. Setting up my camera on a tree trunk, I set it for remote and snap a picture of myself next to my bike leaning against a picnic table. My ears tune into the numerous birdsongs in the air. All alone, I wonder if there is a solitary warbler among them. I find a grassy picnic area with no other people nearby and spend a few minutes letting the warm sun wash my face. I peddle on and come to a boardwalk beckoning me to enter the history of the Point. A sign proclaims "Unknown to Canadians, Point Pelee attracts thousands of Americans every summer with its Riviera climate ... A summer mean temperature of 72 degrees, one degree warmer than Los Angeles Here you can raise pecans, oranges and cotton " This sign was written in the 1940s, but still is true today. The remaining exhibit is very well done and depicts an original family of the area in the 1800s. Alone I went but don't tell Bert-I may not lie. We had a good time, the three of us, me myself and I.
(Bert) Using the rationale that if yesterday was good birding, today will be better, we again make the 50-mi. trip to Point Pelee, this time without Shari. We especially return for the purported Connecticut Warbler seen along one trail. They tell us Jon Dunn was the last to see the bird yesterday evening with a flashlight. But none have seen it yet this morning when we arrive at 7:45. We wait at the spot, whiling away time trading bird stories with a Canadian couple who camphost at Bentsen - Rio Grande State Park in Texas. Everywhere around us the air is filled with bird songs, but 90% are Yellow Warblers and Baltimore Orioles, although we listen to one Black-billed Cuckoo. Abandoning our wait, we hike along the trail and find a Canada Warbler but little else. So we take the tram ride to the end of the Point. Standing at the edge of the woods, we can see the sandy tip of Point Pelee another quarter mile beyond. The tip is colored gray with the backs of hundreds of Common Terns and one rare Franklin's Gull. Our long walk back is pleasant, but tiring, and when we reach our car we decide to quit birding after lunch. Woody tells me that in his lifetime, this is the worst he has seen Point Pelee. Well, I enjoyed it anyway. It's been a pretty place to visit and we saw or heard 94 species during the past 5 days, 76 of them at Point Pelee.
(Shari) "PENNY!" I shout, "DON'T DO THAT!" Oh no, now what do I do? I promised Gwen that I would take Penny, her English Springer Spaniel, out for a walk while she went birding today and now the dog is running loose outside like a bee in a bonnet, without a collar or leash. I opened the door to their trailer and Penny was so excited to see me. She wiggled and jumped and wagged her tail to beat the band. I found the chain and the leash right by the door. The chain looked too big for her neck but I connected the leash to the two end rings and put the chain around Penny's neck. Well, Penny took one running leap out the door and her head slipped right through the chain. Now, ecstatically happy, she is running all around the campground. "Here Penny," I beg, "What a good doggie you are." As soon as she sees the leash, she takes off for the bushes again. So much for flattery! "Come here Penny. Don't you want to go for a walk?" That doesn't work either. I go into the trailer and she looks at me with wonderment in her eyes. My "Come here Penny," is met with a doggie stare. I walk deeper into the trailer and pound my hand on the table and finally curiosity overcomes her and in she comes. I make a quick move and hug her around her neck to trap her in my arms. Now, how do I get the leash on while two of my hands are occupied holding her? I release one arm, and out the door she goes, out on the park road, over to our campsite, around the truck, on the road, over to Gene and Sandy's campsite, back to the table, but not inside. I try the pounding-on-the-table trick again but she is on to me. She cocks her head to the side and just looks into the doorway. I rattle a cabinet and now she comes in, I lunge to grab her and while holding her I also close the door. Now let's try that chain again. Finally I get her on the leash and out the door we bound, Penny in the lead. She is so strong that she just pulls me along, as she runs from one side of the path, around me and to the other side. Leash tangled around my feet, I turn in circles to free myself. I find the button to shorten the leash and press it. Finally she starts to settle down and sniff the ground for a good place to use as a bathroom. After she does her duty, I realize that the two little sandwich baggies that I brought along for just this occurrence, will never work. I think to myself that Woody can come back later this afternoon to retrieve the package if he wants to. Penny and I head home. Opening the door of her trailer, I tell her to go inside. She obediently sits down on the grass and does not budge. I walk inside and say, "Come on Penny," but get no response. She just does not want to come in, looking at me with her pleading sad eyes, as if she never in her whole life gets out for a walk. Tugging and coaxing I finally get her inside and go home to take a well deserved nap.
(Bert) We drive eastward along a country road (Hwy. 3) that follows the coastline of Lake Eire, but several miles inland. For over a hundred miles, farmlands stretch on either side of us: flat fertile land and patches of remnant forests. Farmhouses have a characteristic style: built on a square foundation, two stories high, like a cube but higher than wider. Some have wood siding, but many are completely red brick. Spruce trees must be over a hundred years, for they are often twice the height as the farmhouse they surround. Red Maple, Weeping Willow and White Birch are also popular yard trees. Acres of neatly trimmed lawns look like soft, bright green blankets. Every few miles we encounter a small village and slow to 60 km/hr as we pass a cluster of homes and shops stretching two or three blocks along the road, but rarely with additional side streets. We reach the industrial city of Hamilton where we spent a week for a crystallography conference more than a dozen years ago. Beyond Hamilton is the Niagara area and its many fruit farms and vineyards. This arm is about 25 mi. wide, north to south, and reaches between Lake Eire to the south and Lake Ontario to the north. Point Pelee is just south of the 42nd parallel and about even with Rome and Barcelona. The Niagara area is north of this, but like Point Pelee, it enjoys the temperate climate stabilized by its proximity to the Great Lakes. After we park R-TENT at Fifty Point Campground on the shores of Lake Ontario, we drive the Pathfinder along the Winery Tour road. Shari wants to stop at a factory shop where they make jellies and jams. E. D. Smith has been in business since 1882 and while Shari shops I take note of the building we are in. Built in the 1830s as a home, it features 2-ft. walls and windows that distort my view outside, because of the old way glass was made. Later we stop at the Kittling Ridge Winery, sample a few wines and select several to purchase. Shari especially enjoys the "Oh Canada" Maple Cream Whisky, a liquor, and she can't resist buying some in a bottle shaped as a little brown jug.
(Shari) You won't believe this even when I tell you. You will think the picture we took is a fake. But believe me, those four brown and white eggs must have nine lives. The tires of R-TENT missed them by inches. My feet, when directing Bert into the campsite, missed them by inches and our electrical, water and sewer connections missed them by inches. Bert only noticed the nest after we had connected, leveled and put out the slide. The mother Killdeer, having a royal fit, attracted Bert and he then looked for the nest. Bert called me out. Wow! That nest is now under our slide. Poor little things! Fifty Point Conservation area, now with only 7 of its 47 campsites occupied, will be full on Friday, the start of the long Queen's Birthday Weekend. Whatever will those birds do? We intend to tell the ranger station in hopes that they will rope off the area when we leave. The campground is just wonderful, in the midst of wineries, fruit orchards and farms. I suspect it was once a farm that the government landscaped with trees, lilac bushes and grassy birms between the full hook-up sites. A short walk away, a pond teems with stocked trout and bass, free for the catching. The marina has space for 312 fancy sailboats and yachts and the New Landing Restaurant offers fine dining in a casual atmosphere. We checked out the menu on our walk around the park and decided to eat there tomorrow. Tonight is chicken breasts and corn on the cob.
(Shari) "Do you still want to go?" Bert asks. "If you look out your window, the sky seems to be breaking up," I respond hopefully. If we wait for good weather to see something, we may have to miss it or get off schedule and miss something else farther into the summer. So rain or not, we are driving the 40 miles to see Niagara Falls. Traffic and trucks, construction and congestion follow us along Queen's Expressway to The Falls. I thank my lucky stars we choose to stay at a campground further out and leave R-TENT there. The closer we get, the worse the rain. From a drizzle at our stop at Andre's Winery, where we purchase a bottle of champagne, to sheets of water at the Falls, the rain is relentless. Parking near the Table Rock Complex, our walk is short since few people are nuts enough to come out in weather like this. We may be close, but the parking charge is the first thing to take our breath away, $9.75. Nearing noon, we decide to eat at the restaurant above The Falls. In spite of the rain, we enjoy a fantastic view, as well as the buffet for Bert and a cold salmon plate for me. Every time I look out the window, it looks fake, like some movie is playing in the background behind me. Unbelievable beauty and power emanates behind all that water rushing past the window. From the rapids above to the towering falls below, the scene is spectacular even if I've been here at least twice before. This is the first time I have eaten at the restaurant, having such a bird's eye view of The Falls in a comfortable atmosphere. Other times we have taken the Journey Behind the Falls or walked the many paths alongside the rapids above The Falls. All are worth doing. Had the weather been cooperative, we would have taken our bikes and pedaled part of the paved 35-mi. Niagara River Recreation Trail. I guess we can leave that for another visit sometime. I do not think you could ever get sick of seeing this wonder. God did good on this one.
(Bert) As much rain falls from the sky as is pitched over the edge of Niagara Falls. Not an optimum day to visit The Falls, but it sure keeps the crowds away. This is the fourth time we've seen Niagara Falls (is it a sign of old age that Shari only recalls two other times or is it my memory that is faulty?). We park our car and have lunch at Table Rock Restaurant overlooking Horseshoe Falls, sometimes visible through the mist and rain. My all-you-can-eat buffet choice fills me so much I doubt we will make that dinner restaurant we talked about. I don't think you can see Niagara Falls too many times. Its grandeur is awesome. As we walked in the rain along the Canadian side of the river we stopped every dozen feet to look at The Falls from a new perspective. I had forgotten that Niagara Falls connects Lake Ontario with Lake Eire. The enormous plummet and the concomitant erosion have carved a deep cavern through the shale and limestone rock. In fact, I read that Horseshoe Falls eroded 3-ft. of rock each year until they started diverting water in the 50s and reduced the erosion to 1-ft. per decade. I also read that gulls favor this location and as many as a dozen species have been seen here. But today all I see is Ring-billed Gulls; perhaps a thousand circle the falls and rest on the rocky cliffs. We walk for a mile or more along the edge, then cross to the U.S. on Rainbow Bridge. We had two letters to mail and since we had U.S. postage with us, we thought we'd mail them across the border. What we didn't count on is that it costs us $1 to walk across the bridge and there wasn't a nearby mailbox on the other side. Fortunately, a custom's agent took the mail and the walk across the bridge gave us a new perspective of both the American and Horseshoe Falls.
(Shari) If yesterday was bad, today is worse. Wind accompanies the cold rain. The thermometer reads 39 deg. We almost decide to call Woody and Gwen to tell them we are not coming. I check the weather channel and notice no rain appears on the map where they live, so we head out. The day clears as we move northward. It takes us forever to navigate around Toronto but finally around 1:30 PM we are through the congested roads and I take my turn to drive. The landscape reminds me of northern Wisconsin, near Tomahawk, where my Dad lives. In fact, as we go through one little town, I remark to Bert that it is Tomahawk. We stop in Minden for an ice cream cone at a creamery there. Two lines are open and each with a perpetually refilling line 6-7 people deep. These people literally are coming out of the woods. We get a little lost at the Eagle Lake junction and cannot find the IGA store where Woody told us to call him. I call him from the cell phone in my car, and we are not far off. Soon he comes to meet us to lead us into the road to his cottage. The 3-mi. road is dirt and gravel, one lane narrow and full of ruts, steep inclines and turns. We take the car first, and as I get out I ask Bert if he is going to take R-TENT down that path. He tells me, "Of course." Woody says that this is a man's job and pushes me down the wooded path toward the cottage. As I round the bend in the path, the view takes my breath away. Woody and Gwen built their cottage on a huge rock and it sits perched high above the lake, like a princess on a throne. Since the road was only built 2 years ago, all the materials for the cottage were floated across the lake and lifted up the rock on a rail. The result is spectacular. Made of preserved cedar logs and lovingly decorated, the modified A-frame cottage (the ends of the roof don't touch the ground as in a true A-frame) is a dream and I can see why Woody and Gwen want to be nowhere else but here in the summertime. I still cannot believe they built this by themselves without a road in. Maybe we'll stay the summer. Ha, Ha!
(Bert) In the chill of 37 deg. and hard cold rain, the Killdeer is still sitting on her four eggs when I go outside to disconnect our utilities and prepare for our departure. She scurries along the ground, feigns a broken wing and cries in despair while I hurry to complete my tasks within inches of her nest. The first hour of our drive north is in constant rain, clogged freeways and heavy construction. Then as we get further from Lake Ontario, the rain dissipates and the sky clears to a cloudless powder blue. Our drive reminds me of northern Wisconsin, with many small lakes surrounded by forests sprinkled with White Birch. But unlike the sandy Wisconsin soils, here granite outcroppings add to the picturesque landscape. We stop for a mid-afternoon ice cream cone at Kawartha Dairy, recommended by Woody. I choose "Death by Chocolate," two scopes in a waffle cone, and the taste lives up to the name. When we reach Eagle Lake, a sign welcomes us to the "Rhubarb Capital of Ontario." The town is so small that we pass it by and then travel another 3 miles before we can find another road where we can detach the Pathfinder and make a Y-turn with R-TENT. Back to Eagle Lake, Shari calls Woody on the cell phone and he meets us at the grocery store and leads us to his cottage. I park R-TENT at the turnoff and ride in Woody's truck as we survey the private road to his cottage. Although the road has never been attempted by a motor home, I decide it will be possible. Winding between the overhanging trees, traversing large potholes, crossing beneath low hanging telephone lines and climbing and descending steep hills, I complete the 3.3 mi. trek in 25 min., faster than I anticipated. Woody and Gwen's cottage is everyone's dream of a log cabin on a northern lake. Over a period of 10 years, Woody spent every weekend in its construction. The road had not yet been completed, so Woody floated the logs - cut from other property he owned - across the lake and then, using a train track type arrangement, he hoisted the logs up the steep rock embankment on which the cabin is constructed. The finished product is a marvel of design and landscaping and features a panoramic view of the lake below.
(Bert) R-TENT is shivering cold when I awake: 49 deg. inside, 35 deg outside. When we walk down to the cottage, the activity centers on the dock. Woody and his grandson are hard at work assembling the pier. I help, but they do most of the work, including the numbing task of attaching bolts and nuts to the pier sections below the water level. Most of the rest of the day is spent watching Redstone Lake. Although the lake is fairly long, its width is not and we can easily see the thick forest sloping up the opposite shore. Two dime-sized islands are covered with trees; with binoculars I can barely see a cottage hidden in the center of each. A pair of loons feed in the deep water; Evening Grosbeaks and Purple Finch eat from feeders next to us. The temperature rises quickly and I have to shed a layer of clothes twice. Every few hours more guests arrive: relatives and friends anxious to spend the weekend holiday at this northern delight. Later, all the computer experts gather around Woody's new notebook computer, giving advice faster than neophyte Woody can absorb. But he learns quickly and is soon sending e-mail and exploring the web.
(Shari) The cottage is a hub of activity around here with everyone coming and going and doing his or her own thing. I think I was with 7 different people doing 7 different things during the day. Everyone is very friendly and just accepts us Americans as part of their group. Grandchildren, friends, and friends of friends just drop in for a meal or a night or a hello. The pier goes up, Tanya and I go to town to get some groceries, lasagna is made and eaten, a new computer is opened and the learning begins. Conversation, book reading, laughter and naps are part or this scene as well. After the dinner meal I feel as mellow as the three glasses of wine I had, and even a dip in the hot tub does not entice me to stick around. I will leave that for another day.
(Shari) After Gwen and I plant geraniums in the two planters hanging off the deck and four flats of impatiens around the yard, we sneak into the "Bunkie" house where the computer is kept, before the men get at it and monopolize it all day. We get through computer lessons 101, 102, 103, 104, 105 and 106 before Bert comes in and causes grief. Gwen learns fast and after one computer solitaire, knows how to use the mouse. Next we get into Netscape and surf the web. We just get started on writing e-mails before Bert says, "That is not how it is done." Oh brother, now he will be sticking his nose into it for the rest of the time. I ask him if he wants to do it with Gwen and he says, "No, you can." But no sooner do we continue than he is butting in again. There are numerous ways of getting into a program, maneuvering around and closing it and I do it one way in one particular order and he does it another. None is right or wrong. BUT he thinks his is the only way. After 34 years of marriage I know I cannot win, so I pack up and leave and let Bert and Gwen to themselves. MEN! Gwen is a fast learner and she will survive, I expect. Time goes so fast and soon we are eating dinner of salmon with garlic lemon sauce. For those readers who know Gwen, she may not like to cook, but she does a wonderful job at it anyway. After dinner Gwen and I play Upwards, a 3-D game of Scrabble. To me it is more fun than Scrabble. We have many kibitzers looking behind our shoulders, and Gwen wins, but only on the last hand and not by much. Without the kibitzers, I may have been left in the dust very early on. Tonight we try out the 6-person hot tub. The warm water feels really good in the cool night air and we luxuriate in it until we start to turn into prunes. So ends another relaxing day at the cottage.
(Bert) While Gwen and Shari plant flowers around the cottage, Woody and I walk along the gravel road by which we entered a couple days ago. The tall trees have recently leafed out and still show more yellow than green; ash trees are barely beyond the budding stage. Warblers, vireos, flycatchers and woodpeckers are plentiful by ear, but few can be seen through the veil of leaves. Even the squeaking Eastern Chipmunks are hard to locate. But we do get a good view of Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers, all of which nest in these woods. We hear the loud drumming of a woodpecker nearby and suspect a tall dead tree as the source of the sound. But we can't find the suspected Pileated Woodpecker. Instead, Woody spots a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker pounding away on a wooden sign, loud enough to be a drummer in a rock band. Back at Pen Y Craig (the name for the cottage), we find Shari teaching Lesson One in Computers 101 to Gwen. I take advantage of a land-based telephone line and the faster baud rate to update my web site with more pictures of our previous Mexico trip and to transfer the first set of journals for this Newfoundland trip. Late in the evening the four of us luxuriate in the hot tub beneath the stars of a clear sky and the sounds of the dark forest.
(Bert) On this morning's walk with Woody, we see a few birds, hear many more and feel a thousand black flies. This little piece of Heaven has one reminder that we are still on Earth. A seasonal phenomenon, the black flies follow us in a cloud around our heads. When we keep moving, they are only a minor annoyance, but if we stop to follow a bird song to its source, the flies send buzzing signals to their friends, bringing in legions to surround us. Woody shows me a trick to fool the flies: he raises his arms above him and closes his hands to form an archway. Curiously, the flies move up to the top of the arch and away from his face. I try it and find it works and my hands double as a sun visor as well. The only penalty for this trick is that eventually the flies starting biting my hands. On today's walk I take more notice of the trees, especially the unfamiliar ones. Woody points out a Yellow Birch with very shaggy dark bark, quite different from the papery white bark of the familiar Paper Birch. The tree trunks on the Striped Maples are smooth and lined vertically, giving them the appearance of giant weeds, and their leaves are tulip silhouettes much like the Tulip Poplar. Hemlocks, Red Oak, Ironwood and White Ash are others we notice in this mixed hardwood forest. We hear and see a male Black-throated Blue Warbler in the same area we saw the female yesterday. Other pairs of birds seem to be claiming their nesting territories - Least Flycatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - but we find no nests. Eventually, we declare the black flies as victors and we hike back to the cottage. In early afternoon, Ed and Dale leave, the last of the weekend visitors, so now it's just the four of us. The activity on the lake has died down as well and the sounds of the forest and the lake are all we hear. At night in the hot tub, we are serenaded by loons and can hear a waterfall at the far edge of Redstone Lake, at least ¾-mi distant.
(Shari) The paddles dip silently into the water as we glide along in the canoe, traversing the sides of the lake. Until I get my canoe legs, Woody and I are hugging the shoreline. Further from shore, the 600-ft. depth and 50-deg. water, keeps me cautious. Except for the biting black flies, it is a perfectly calm day for canoeing. Reflected in the silver water, the clouds pass under the boat. Mosquitoes flying so close to the mirror-like surface create a small wake of their own. Paddling around the point, I get a view of the cottage above me. A new meaning to "rock foundation" springs to my mind as I gaze up at the deck. I do not think a better property exists to place a home. We continue on past other cottages, some still having occupants, others empty after the long weekend. I see only a few structures from the lakeside, and Woody explains to me that Canadian law requires 60 feet of easement and most cottages are well hidden in the trees. Each type of tree has new spring growth and numerous shades of green meet my eye. It will be difficult to say good-bye to this Canadian paradise tomorrow. All the other guests have already headed home and just Woody, Gwen, Bert and I remain to see the hummingbirds around the feeder and hear the mournful call of the loons across the lake. We close the night in the hot tub, enjoying the silence of the woods around us.
(Bert) Navigator Shari is bewildered, Map 'N' Go is confused, few road signs are posted and those are in French. Gatineau Park is 128 sq. mi. of forested hills; so finding the park after we crossed the border between Ontario and Quebec was fairly easy. But locating the campground is more difficult. The parkway through Gatineau glides between the Sugar Maple forests like a long driveway edged in a wide shoulder of neatly trimmed lawns. Bicyclists exercise on rolling hills. A woodchuck or two explore for food along the shoulder. We drive for miles without a hint of where the campground is hiding and then find a sign pointing to the Visitor's Center. Twelve kilometers later we find the place and get directions to the campground. But on our way to the campground we stop at an unsigned "T" and turn left when we should have turned right. Our mistake costs us another 20 min. of driving until we can turn R-TENT around and make the right-hand turn. Finally at the campground, our site is without facilities. To take on fresh water, I park R-TENT next to a water spigot and attach a hose. Frustratingly, the spigot has a spring handle that snaps back, requiring one of us to hold the handle to keep the water flowing. And, even then, the water flows at a trickle. Compounded with the swarm of mosquitoes protecting the water source, we decide to make do with what water we already have in our tank. Pulling into the narrow campsite is a minor problem and fortunately we finish the task before the rain begins to fall. What should have been an easy day of driving turned out to be quite an ordeal. And I thought pulling out of Woody and Gwen's long driveway was going to be my most difficult challenge today!
(Shari) This day can be described as a day of wrong turns. After writing my journal and then hearing Bert read his to me, I decide he told the "wrong turn" story more succinctly. So I delete mine and will jump right to my version of the end of the story. Turning left under the covered bridge and stopping at the unattended gate, no person or sign indicates where the campground is located: nothing to do, but to go forward. Ah, ha! There is the entrance and a gate with an attendant. I check in and find this campground has no electricity and no water at the sites, but a dump station exists with water spigots located in each campground circle. After dumping, we try to fill with water. The water pressure is a slow trickle, but the mosquitoes attack at a fast flow. I put on the bug jacket that Gwen gave me, and hold the water faucet open to fill the tanks. After 15 minutes of swatting the bugs, stamping my feet and changing hands to hold the faucet, I give up and declare we have enough water to last us our stay, which we might just cut short.
(Shari) After spending about an hour with my computer and Map 'N' Go, I have worked out a plan for us today. We jump in the Pathfinder and are soon blessed with two serendipities: as I take the garbage to the recycling center, I spot a nest on the ledge of the paper bin and, inside, three baby robin beaks stick up, awaiting food. Then we see a deer grazing along the side of the park road. Reaching Ottawa, we intend to explore Confederation Boulevard on foot, visiting the free National Gallery and Parliament Buildings. We find that we are too early for most attractions. Everything starts in June: from the changing of the guard, to the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill and the musical ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But The National Gallery of Canada provides more enjoyment than is usual for me in an art museum, especially with the aid of the taped commentary from the available audio CD. One section is devoted to Canadian artists and another to American and European ones. Many famous names are represented, from Rubins to Picasso and van Gogh. My favorite piece is Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge: the Sun in a Fog, 1903. Looking closely at it, all I see is fog and a patch of sun with its reflection on the water. Standing back a bit, I can see the arches of the bridge and two fishing boats. When we leave the gallery it is already almost 2 PM. The drizzle of the morning has stopped and the sun peeks warmly through the scattered clouds. We eat our lunch at one of the many restaurants with an outdoor sitting area, so common in the east. We continue our sightseeing tour and pass the U.S. Embassy on our way to Parliament Hill. On the banks of the Ottawa River, Ottawa is a beautiful city. With its European flavor it joins the ranks as one of my favorite cities. Colorful banners hang from posts on the street, tulips wave their heads in numerous planters along the way and manicured lawns look like green plush carpets this time of year. We visit the Peace Tower and travel over 300 feet up for a panoramic view of the city. On our way back to our car, it starts to drizzle again. Bert facetiously says, "It is a good thing we brought our raincoats." NOT! We left them in the car. Running from one kind of shelter to another, Bert acts as if he will melt in the rain. Deciding to enjoy the walk, I let my hair get limp and my jacket wet. Upon catching up with Bert, I find he is not much drier than I am.
(Bert) On a pre-breakfast walk I find a Blackburnian Warbler. This sighting holds special meaning to me since it was here in this same Gatineau Park on August 16, 1981 that I saw my first Blackburnian Warbler. Mid-morning, we head to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada. I love visiting art museums and the National Gallery of Canada is an impressive building with an equally impressive collection. We each put on a headset attached to an interactive CD and by pushing a 3-digit number on the device we can hear details about many of the paintings. We sample the vast collection of works by Canadian artists and then explore the evolving history of art from the Renaissance forward. I especially appreciate the French impressionists and here the collection includes paintings from Millet, Courbet, Cezanne, Degas and Pissarro. In the next room, I find what is perhaps my favorite painting in the museum: Iris 1889 by Vincent van Gogh. While recovering in the asylum in Saint-Rémy, van Gogh's soothing and colorful flowers seem in stark contrast to the chaotic turmoil going on in his mind. Leaving the museum, we enjoy lunch at The Black Thorn Cafe, an open-air restaurant. Then it's off to see the parliament buildings. From high atop the Peace Tower we have a panoramic view of the city: modern to the south and east, historic to the west with the Confederation & Justice Buildings in the foreground, Chaudiére Falls on the Ottawa River in the background and the city of Hull, Quebec, on the opposite side of the river. To the north, we can see the tower spire of the Library of Parliament, the Alexandra Bridge and the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge, which we traveled earlier. In the distance are the Gatineau Hills where we are camping. Rain catches us on our walk (Shari) and run (Bert) back to the parking garage. It dissipates about the time we enter Gatineau Park and get close-up views of Bobolinks in the grassy areas near the covered bridge. These colorful blackbirds are icing on the cake of a beautiful day.
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