Saturday, December 14, 2019


In a couple of weeks, this decade will have ended.  So much has happened in the last ten years, I hardly know where to begin in trying to turn it into a narrative.  First, I had to remember where I lived in 2009.

During Ivaan's final illness, we bought a house that we never intended to live in. We had quite a lot of money lying around, the proceeds of the sale of our much-loved house on Portland Street.
Our house on Portland Street

I never loved another house like I loved Portland.
We lived in a condo near Bay and Bloor, very close to my university classes. While I was at school, Ivaan was at home with caregivers to look after him. He spent a lot of time on the computer, looking at used cameras for sale on eBay. He already had a massive collection of cameras, but as he had no inventory, he could never remember what he already owned. So he'd buy more. The cameras were always a disappointment, and he'd swear he was never buying another used camera off the internet.  By the next day, the thrill of the chase had exorcized the previous day's disappointment.  Packages were always arriving in the mail, followed by his inevitable disappointment.

So I persuaded Ivaan that we should buy a house from the Arts and Crafts era (1920s) and have it restored. It was a fantastic era for houses.  They were very solidly built, often with heavy oak panelling inside. The trick was to find a house that had not been ruined by a renovation.  We found just such a house near Dufferin and St. Clair and we bought it. It had been occupied by an Italian family for 50 years and it looked like they'd cleaned it every single day. But they'd updated nothing, so it was perfect for our purposes. The project kept Ivaan's mind off cameras, and it kept our money tied up in real estate, rather than wasted on....more cameras.

Ivaan persuaded me that we should hire a couple he knew to do the restoration.  The guy was an electrician, and rewiring the house was essential. I should have been more alert: the guy was skilled at his trade, yet this couple was perennially broke.  But Ivaan felt sorry for them and thought that this might help them get on their feet financially.  "No good deed goes unpunished", goes the saying.  By the time we fired them, we'd wasted a lot of time and money.  I still feel really sad that Ivaan went to his grave knowing that Roman and Malgorzata took advantage of his kind heart.

After Ivaan's death, I decided to move into the house once the restoration was completed.  It was a beautiful house, but a few weeks after I moved in, the house was broken into.  A great deal of Ivaan's jewellery was stolen, along with my nephew's handmade violin.  I didn't feel violated, as people often do following a break-in.  I just felt angry and disgusted, even after the thief was caught, convicted and sent to prison for four years.
Our Arts and Crafts House
I miss that animal print sofa.

I put the house up for sale, and when the buyer wanted to take ownership almost immediately, I moved to a new condo in a church conversion, to see how I liked living in the west end of Toronto.  I didn't. It wasn't just the condo, it was everything.  My father was fast approaching the end of his life, one of Ivaan's relatives had gotten herself into a perilous financial state and - probably channelling Ivaan's kind heart - I decided I would do what I could to turn things around for her.  Again, "no good deed goes unpunished".  My lawyer advised me that it was the wiser course to let her reap the consequences of her actions. I chose not to follow his advice.  It's a decision I still regret.  I wasted so much time I would rather have spent with my Dad.  He died on New Year's Day, 2012.

The following month, a tiny commercial/residential building on Dupont Street came up for sale and this time my heart and my head were in complete alignment.  I could think of nothing else but how much I wanted to buy this building.  So I did, and I spent seven mostly happy years there.  In the ensuing years, much of my time was devoted to settling my father's Estate.  I have siblings who were also executors, but it's pretty well accepted that I have the organizational instincts of a border collie, so my siblings largely got out of my way.  Dad had left his Estate in good order, but whenever real estate is involved, there's going to be work.  First there was the summer house, Croydon, which sat on 92 acres of scrub land in eastern Ontario.  My sister and I put our shoulders to the wheel and in five weeks we'd transformed Croydon into a bit of a dream home - at least the interior.  My sister wanted us to try to sell it privately by placing a weekend ad in The Globe and Mail Personals. It turned out to be the right decision: the very first people who came to see the property bought it immediately for our asking price.
The loft, Croydon

The living room, Croydon
Then there was my Dad's family home, known to all as "84".  One of our brothers lived there with his wife and occasionally their young adult sons. One excellent day, an apartment in a handsome heritage building near Casa Loma came up for sale.  I saw it first and emailed my brother.  He and his wife saw the apartment almost immediately and it was exactly the "coup de foudre" I'd experienced when I first saw my building on Dupont.   They loved it and bought it on the spot. It really is a beautiful apartment and they've done an admirable job of making it into a comfortable, stylish home.  I'm extremely envious every time I go there.

But that left 84 empty. My siblings agreed to let me loose in there for five weeks.  Our family had owned that house since 1966 and it was a lot of work turning it into the "blank canvas" that appeals to potential buyers.  A lot of emotion was involved, too, and I spent quite a few hours crying to my sister on the phone.  In the end, almost all the members of the family contributed some brute labour to the project.  Our niece Justine's partner, Lorne, came over just in time to prevent me from sawing through a live electrical wire in the kitchen that would have killed me.  My youngest brother, Dave, transformed the sunroom.  My nephew Ivor painted the basement and he and his friend Omar loaded up several dumpsters with demolition waste.  In doing so, I think all of us put to rest the many conflicting emotions we had about giving up the house that had been our refuge over the years.
No shortage of space at 84.

Walt Whitman dined at this table, though not recently.

As with Croydon, the perfect buyers were the first to see 84.  The Ginsbergs were everything we wanted in new owners.  "They're just like us, only younger, richer and nicer!" I told my siblings.

I now recognize that my decision to leave Dupont Street was made long before I was ready to acknowledge it, but my decision to close my store was made in a split second last November.  I'd been sleeping in the basement on Dupont Street to take advantage of the absolute darkness.  I woke up one Saturday morning and felt a twinge of annoyance that it was Saturday and thus a working day.  That was it.  I decided on the spot to close the store and put the building up for sale.

That left me for the first time absolutely free to make any decision I wanted.  I could either go and live in an even more urban environment, or I could head the other way entirely, and live a rural life.  I am positive that - at least for now - I have made the right decision.  When I wake up on New Year's Day of 2020, I'm going to be so glad to find myself here, in the centre of my universe.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

NEW IN TOWN: Where There's Smoke...

I like fire.

If you've lived in a city all your life, chances are you haven't developed the skills necessary to create a really good bonfire.  So when I say I like fire, I mean in theory.  One of the first things on my agenda when I moved to Wellington County was to learn the art of the bonfire.  I'd read about Burn Permits. They sounded impressive and responsible, and I decided I should acquire one.

I learned there were rules that must be followed.  I studied those rules so hard, I could have written a doctoral dissertation on the subject.  I drove to nearby Hillsburgh with the application and the fee.  They took my money, stamped the form, and did not ask me one single question about the responsibilities of a Burn Permit holder.  They did point out that the rules were printed on the reverse side of the Permit, in case I forgot any of them. What the rules didn't say was how to build a fire.  I wanted to become adept at fire starting before any of my city friends came to visit, so I picked up a few handfuls of dry twigs on my property, put them on the outdoor fire pit, lit a wooden match and held it up to a twig.  Nothing happened.  I tried again.  Same result.

I tried lighting two matches at once. Nothing.  I began to worry that there was something wrong with the twigs, so I looked around for other things to burn.  Pine cones?  Surely they'd burn well.  I quickly realized I was going through wooden matches at an alarming rate, trying to light pine cones.  It just wasn't working.  I tried crumpled newspaper, but the wooden matches extinguished themselves before the paper ignited.  I was getting desperate.  I remembered my butane torch.  I'd once used it to great effect, toasting the tops of crème brûlée desserts at a city dinner party.  My friends still speak of that dinner party with awe.

I went inside and came out with the torch.  It's the deluxe model, the self-lighting kind.  I should have that fire going in no time, I reasoned.  I unscrewed the butane release, pressed the ignition button, and - nothing.  It seems I had used up all the fuel showing off my crème brûlée skills.  I confess I contemplated throwing some gasoline and a full box of wooden matches on the fire.  But it would mean siphoning gas out of my motorcycle's fuel tank, and that seemed to go against the noble traditions of the Burn Permit.  I reviewed the rules.  

You may not light an outdoor fire if the wind is faster than 10 km/hr. How do you determine wind speed? I couldn't even tell in which direction it was blowing. It seemed like random little gusts from all sides. I recalled having seen a disposable cigarette lighter in the garden shed. I've often seen smokers hunched over, trying to shield the tip of their cigarette long enough to light it. I tried to act as a human shield as I applied the cigarette lighter to a sheet of crumpled newsprint, and to my surprise it caught fire. I fed the flame with more paper. First the pinecones and then the twigs caught fire. A twig, paper and pinecone fire burns hot, but it does not burn for long. I was throwing pinecones on as fast as I could collect them. Each flared brightly as the fire began to consume it, and with every pinecone I felt more and more like an expert fire starter. I ran around collecting more twigs. I knew it was against the rules to leave a fire unattended, so I kept my eye on the fire at all times. By the time I had a small armload of twigs, I was out of breath and smoke was stinging my eyes. I decided to drop the bundle of twigs on the fire from above. I positioned myself close to the fire pit, leaned over and released the bunch of twigs directly onto the dwindling flames. At that precise moment, the wind shifted direction.

I smelled at first. If you've ever smelled burning hair, you don't forget it. I couldn't go inside to look in the mirror because the rules said never to leave a bonfire unattended.

I went to my hairdresser. She looked at the blackened frizzy patch on top of my head. "What happened?" she asked.

"I was making crème brûlée", I replied.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

NEW IN TOWN: Leave It To Beavers

No one told me about the beavers.

I bought my beautiful rural abode in the dead of winter, and moved in on April Fools’ Day.  Well, wouldn’t you pick a day like that if you knew nothing about life beyond the big city?  I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea where my property ended until a month after I’d bought it and moved in.

Whenever I described my new home to my city friends, I’d regale them with its finest features:  five acres, four bedrooms, three ponds, two basements, one swimming pool.  Most people were green with envy.  The smarter ones - those who had ever lived outside Toronto - eyed me with something between amusement and disbelief.

They shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’d been living on a main street in a busy metropolis, and I was beginning to develop what I can only describe as “land hunger”. Last year, I’d bought myself a splitting axe.  Every time I heard of a felled tree in my downtown Toronto neighbourhood, I was out there with my Ochsenkopf (it’s a German axe, and it means oxhead) practising becoming a proficient splitter of wood.  I took up beekeeping on the flat roof of my tiny commercial building.  Once the bees were established, I started growing vegetables in containers:  potatoes, leeks, peas, ginger, garlic, basil, green onions, tomatoes, rhubarb.

I was quite proud of my agricultural prowess.  Raccoons and squirrels were unable to scale the walls of my building to raid the garden, and the honeybees were only interested in the pots of lavender I’d planted.  My urban rooftop farm had an impressive advantage over my neighbours’ backyard gardens:  no known predators.  It was fun to brag about growing my own food, and my pride was only slightly wounded when a out-of-town acquaintance with on-the-ground gardening credentials tartly pointed out: “ You know, potatoes are essentially the cockroaches of the vegetable patch.”

But the beavers. 

Between Ponds 2 and 3, there’s an island.  Soon after I moved in, my brother and sister-in-law came to visit.  We decided to explore the island.  None of us had ever owned an island before and because it was unfamiliar territory, my brother decided to bring the axe, in case anything needed chopping.  

He needn’t have bothered.  Clearly, we were not the first creatures who had ever walked on this island. It looked like a giant had dropped by and whittled all the trees to pencil-like points with his penknife.  We forged ahead, trying not to impale ourselves on all the sharpened stumps.   At the north end of the island, we discovered a lovely two-seater wooden bench set on some flagstones overlooking one of the ponds.  My brother and his wife sat down on the bench in the sun, and my sister-in-law enthused about what a wonderful reading nook it would be on a warm summer day. 

“Look at all that firewood beside you”, I chimed in, pointing to an enormous heap of logs with no bark left on them.  “We didn’t need the axe after all. It’s a shame they’re so far from the firepit.”  My brother glanced over his shoulder at the log pile.  He looked at the axe.  And back at the pile of logs with their sharp pointy ends.  I could hear him thinking.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’ve lived in Wellington County for a while, you can stop reading right now, because you know exactly where this story is going.   But I’m new here, and I’m going to be repeating this story to every single city slicker who comes to visit this year.  

You know how we Canadians think of the beaver as the quintessentially Canadian mammal?  It’s our mascot.  We have them on our nickel.  We regard them as industrious, shoulder-to-the-wheel type of creatures.  I confess that I was quite enthusiastic about the beavers on my island at first.  I even tweeted about them a couple of days later to Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks.

Gord didn’t mince words. You remember that phrase to which I attributed the success of my rooftop garden?  No known predators?  Gord pointed out that Canada sent 20 Manitoba beavers to Tierra Del Fuego in 1947, hoping to jumpstart an Argentinian beaver fur industry. They thrived because they had no known predators.  Today, the Argentinian beaver population is out of control.  Yes, the beaver is taking over the Americas, one small island at a time. 

Starting with mine.


NEW IN TOWN: An Introduction

"Where are you from?"

It's a question I'm learning to anticipate, though when I arrived here eight months ago, it took me by surprise. How did they know that I'm new in town? I'm from Toronto.  I had lived in downtown Toronto for over 50 years when I suddenly decided to pull up stakes and move to rural climes.  The tiny commercial building I owned, on a 640 sq. ft. lot on a main street in the capital city of Ontario, was apparently worth more on the bloated real estate market than a spacious house on 5.63 acres of beautiful waterfront land in Wellington County.  You do the math.  Who wouldn't want to live here?  I breathe clean air, drink delicious well water, work harder than I have ever worked in my life - and I sleep like a log, every single night.  In Toronto, everyone complains about insomnia.  In rural Ontario, people complain about invasive plants on their property.  Perhaps Dog-Strangling Vine keeps them up at night.  I'd never heard of this alarming-sounding weed before I arrived here last April.  But it likely doesn't thrive in concrete, eh?

In no particular order, here are five things I've had to get used to in my new locale:

1. Driving a car. Everywhere. In Toronto, I hadn’t owned a car since 1988. I walked, used public transit, took taxis, rode a motorcycle in good weather, and had a carshare membership if I needed to transport heavy things.

2. Strangers speaking to me. Back in the city, if a man I didn’t know walked up to me on the street and made a personal remark, he’d probably earn himself an earful, or a fat lip, depending on the comment. On the main street in Erin, when a local guy commented appreciatively on my jeans (okay, they were red jeans, but still…) I just laughed and replied I’d think over his offer to go dancing.

3. Propane. It never occurred to me that I would have to phone in a request for a fuel delivery. I’m used to an unlimited supply of natural gas, and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know where my propane tanks were on the cold day I ran out of fuel. But the propane company is on my permanent Christmas card list from now on, thanks to the same-day humanitarian delivery that warmed more than my heart. I now know where my tanks are, and how to read the fuel gauge.

4. Rubber boots. I hadn’t owned any since I was five. Nowadays, I’m worried that my well pedicured city feet, more used to elegant footwear with heels, are going to take on the size and shape of my rubber boots from Budson’s Feed Store. These boots are excellent, and I wear them all the time.

5. Neighbours who come right over to talk to you. I love this. In Toronto, if someone knocks on your door without a formal invitation to do so, it probably means your building is on fire. Here, your neighbours know when you’re home. How do they know? Because your car is in the driveway. And if you don’t answer the door right away, they just assume you’re out on your property somewhere and they go and look for you.

Aren’t you going to feel isolated?” That’s what all my Toronto friends asked when I told them of my decision to move away from what I’d always believed was the centre of the universe. “I’m hoping so”, I’d quip, but in fact I’ve only been here a month and I already have a social life. My immediate neighbours have been generous and welcoming, and I’ve met several other neighbours while selling surplus items on Kijiji. Last week my motorcycle broke down while I was putting air in the tires at a service station on Main Street. While I was waiting for CAA to come to my rescue, a very nice couple showed up and offered to help me get the bike started. Five minutes later, my bike was revving nicely and I’d learned a valuable lesson from Scott and Sandy: “We look out for each other here”.

Did I mention I got another essential item of clothing for my new life? Yes, I bought myself a blue plaid flannel shirt at Budson’s. It’s the perfect fit and I love it….but to be honest, my red jeans look absolutely terrible with it. I won’t be going dancing in that outfit.

Thursday, November 28, 2019


On November 4th, I dropped by the house of Ivaan's sister Nadia and brother-in-law, Nick, to drop something off. Nadia has been chronically ill for several years with a complex variety of medical conditions.  Nonetheless, she's far outlived her parents and her brother.  That's because of her secret weapon: her husband Nick.

Nick - or Kolya, as she calls him - was Nadia's first and only boyfriend. Legend has it that he used to see her every Sunday in church. Nadia was 14, and she sang in the cathedral choir. Nick was a newer immigrant to Canada, about three years older than Nadia, and he used to say to himself, "That's the girl I'm going to marry one day".
This is the girl he wanted to marry one day.
Fast forward a few years. Nick was already working, and Nadia was still in high school. On Sunday afternoons, Nick was allowed to take Nadia out for a drive, if she was accompanied by a chaperone:  her younger brother Ivaan. Years later, Ivaan used to joke that Nick was his first employer.  They'd all go out for a drive to Sunnyside Pavilion for example, and Nick would pay Ivaan two bucks to take a walk and come back in an hour or two.

Nick used his time wisely, persuading Nadia to marry him, and by the time she graduated from high school the families had come to an understanding that she'd work for a year or so, then they'd get engaged and get married when she was 20. Nick was, and still is, a persuasive guy, so he turned on the charm and eventually Nadia's parents agreed to move up the wedding date by a few months, so the newlyweds could get a start on their lives together.

Nadia absolutely adored Nick, and the feeling was mutual. She was the biggest supporter of his career and he worked incredibly hard, so determined was he that Nadia should want for nothing.  Within a few years, they had bought their first, and only, home in the west end of Toronto.  Soon Nadia was expecting their first child, and two years later, their second child.  Martha and Anna. In Ukrainian it was MAPTA i AHHA, and nobody ever said the name of one child without immediately saying the name of the other child.  They were treated exactly the same and, despite the fact that they had totally different personalities, they were essentially one unit when they were growing up.

Nadia was in her glory.  She had her girls, she had her own home, and best of all, she had her beloved Kolya. Nick was the dream son-in-law. He called Nadia's mother, "Okay, boss" and he did everything he could to make her life easier.

The years went by.  Martha and Anna finished their education, got married and had children of their own.  Nick and Nadia gloried in their three grandchildren.  Nadia loved her brother, Ivaan, dearly and was at the hospital with him when he drew his last breath. They had an unbreakable bond.
Ivaan and Nadia, 2008: an unbreakable bond
After Ivaan's death, Nadia's health, never robust, started to fail.  Luckily, she had Nick by her side every step of the way. Whatever she needed, Nick got it done. This went from the small things (lifting a bag of potatoes when they went shopping) to the big things: driving her absolutely everywhere because Nadia had once tried to learn to drive a car, hated it and never tried it again.

And that's how I came to be over at Nick and Nadia's house on November 4th. I was dropping off the spare set of keys to Nick's car.

As I turned to leave, I was seized by a sudden, very unsettling thought: "This could be the last time you see her alive". I still don't know why I had that disturbing thought at that precise moment, but it was alarming enough that I turned around and said to her, "I love you lots." "I love you too", she replied, and I drove away.

At eight-thirty on the morning of November 23rd,  my phone rang.  It was Nick. He sounded breathless, hesitant, and then he summoned his courage and blurted it out: "Nadia passed away this morning".  She'd felt ill during the night, Nick called the paramedics who took her to hospital.  She was admitted to Intensive Care, and in the early morning hours, with Nick beside her, she drew her last breath.

This afternoon, I attended the visitation for her.  I almost never cry in front of other people, but I cried this afternoon.  Tomorrow morning is her funeral. She'll have her girls around her, her beautiful grandchildren, and she'll have the man she adored - her beloved Kolya - with her every step of the way.

In Ukrainian, they say "Vichnaya Pam'yat", which means "memory eternal", when someone special dies.  As the years have passed, I've gotten used to the fact that Ivaan is deceased.  I often laugh, still, at the funny things he used to say.  I have known Nadia for 36 years, and somehow I can't imagine ever getting used to the idea of my life without Nadia in it.  We've been through thick and thin.  She had lots to look forward to, and I have lots to be grateful for.  One thing she did was teach me how to make really good borshch. I used to say I made the second best borshch in the world, because hers was the best.

Now I'll have to put on the crown every time I make it.  Thanks to Nadia, I'm the Queen of Borshch.  I'll think of her with gratitude every single time.

Vichnaya Pam'yat.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


One of the goals I set myself when I moved here was to become as self-reliant as possible.  My unofficial motto was:  "If you're only going to hire a guy to do it, you might as well have stayed in Toronto".  Truth be told, many of the things that we do to keep a property in good repair are things we can do ourselves.  We might decide to hire someone else to do something for us, but what we are actually doing is spending money to avoid learning something new or doing something unpleasant.

If it involves plumbing or rerouting electrical cable, I call a professional.  Apart from that, it's my job.  And sometimes my job entails roofing. In the entrance to my property, there's a small grey wooden shed, about 10 by 10 feet, with a cement floor.
This shed, honestly, looks like it's tired of living.  But it houses the well, and the snowblower too,  so it's very useful.  It's dark and spidery inside.
I suspect a tree branch had crashed through the roof and one wall at some point.  Luckily I had some plywood in another shed, so I decided I'd first replace the broken section of wall.
That went very easily.  On closer examination, I noted the roof had pretty much rotted through, so I decided to remove the entire roof and replace it.
A professional would have had that old roof removed in half a day, but I decided to work at it more slowly.  Removing layers of asphalt shingles is harder than it looks, especially when you realize there are multiple layers of them in places.
It took me two and a half days to get that roof off.  One of the ribs supporting the peaked roof was missing, but I had some two-by-fours and I was impressed how quickly I managed to replace it. Once the roof was off, the entire shed was flooded with light and looked far less spidery.  My neighbour Liz snapped this photo of me, which she entitled Local Roofer In Action.
As there's no electricity in the shed, I realized that if I installed a transparent roof instead of a plywood and shingle roof, I wouldn't have to light it.  Because it was about to rain, I got out my roll of transparent vapour barrier and covered the roof with two layers of vapour barrier which I attached with a staple gun.
I found I liked being in the shed with the rain beating down on the vapour barrier.   But I noticed I was doing everything possible to delay putting the new roof on.  I knew what the problem is:  I don't like doing hard work in the cold.  So I've started painting the exterior of the shed.  I chose a colour called Gossamer Blue, which looks really different depending on the light. Sometimes it's dove grey, sometimes it's robin's egg blue.  But it looks fresh and somehow that sad little shed is beginning to show some spirit.  Of course, as soon as the painting is done, I'll have to start putting on the new roof, so I'm dragging my paintbrush as slowly as I can.

I was feeling quite proud of myself, and we all know what happens when you start to feel proud.  I had left my eight foot A-frame ladder inside the shed, and I wanted to move it to a more auspicious location, so I grabbed hold of it and started to drag it.  That's when a hammer I'd inadvertently left on top of the ladder fell off.  The business end of the hammer hit me on top of my head, flipped over, and the claw end of the hammer hit me on the forehead just before knocking my eye protection off.  I could feel blood streaming out of my forehead and into my right eye, down my clothes and onto the ground. Honestly, I looked worse than the shed.

I'd better go to the hospital, I thought.  Then I realized:  I can't go to the hospital.  I have no idea where a hospital is, I don't want to get blood in my new car and anyway, I can't even see.  So I went inside, found a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, cleaned up my head wound, then had a bath and a long nap on the sofa before the fire.   And, since my other unofficial motto is, "You can do as good a job as a professional if you want, but it's going to take you a lot longer", here is a photo of my progress to date. Luckily the next couple of weeks are going to be mild and dry, so I'll have no excuses not to finish my roofing project.  Stand by.

Friday, September 6, 2019


One Monday morning in late June, I saw what appeared to be a moss-covered dome-shaped boulder moving at the base of a hill just south of the main gates to my property.  I'm not saying that boulders never move on hilly terrain such as this; it's just that I've never seen one move uphill of its own accord. So I paid attention.

Quickly I realized this was no ordinary boulder.  I watched in fascination as a head, arms and legs and a tail came into view. I began to suspect this was a snapping turtle.
Is this the way to Mt. Everest?

There are lots of signs warning of TURTLE CROSSING in the neighbourhood, so I wasn't totally surprised, but I couldn't understand why it was trying to walk up a steep hill.  It could have come up the driveway if it wanted an easy route.  This was at the same time an enormous influx of people were trying to scale Mount Everest, so I was tempted to name the turtle Sir Edmund Hillary. I thought the better of it when my neighbours pointed out that this snapping turtle was digging a hole in which to lay her eggs.

Early the following Saturday morning, my neighbours emailed to say the turtle was now in the very middle of the entrance to my driveway.  They were watching it dig a hole.  They explained that snapping turtle eggs need to be protected from predators until they hatch.  They lent me a dog crate to tide me over until I had time to build a screened cage as recommended by Credit Valley Conservation.

Once the turtle had laid her eggs, I presume she headed up the driveway towards one of my ponds.  I didn't see her again, as I went to Toronto for the day, while my neighbours kept a close eye on events in my driveway.

I read up on snapping turtle eggs and learned that my driveway would be the site of a turtle maternity hospital for basically the entire summer.  I'm conflicted: half of me is proud to be the birthplace of an endangered species.  The other half of me is extremely irritated that I have to drive around the screened cage.  And this latter half of me is indignant that any parent would be so careless as to effectively dump her kids by the side of the road and leave them for someone else to raise.  I'm expecting the eggs to hatch any day now, and I'll be very eager to get rid of the turtle cage blocking the entrance to my driveway.
Who leaves their kids by the side of the road?
Now, every time I drive past that screened cage, I instinctively burst into song, and now the title of that song has become the name of the mother snapping turtle.  I call her You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me, Lucille.

Canada Vignettes: Log Driver's Waltz (performed without hip waders)


All summer long, I've been telling myself that I need hip waders.

With three ponds, none of them too clean, I often find myself needing to climb into the water and retrieve a waterlogged tree trunk, or glide the Good Ship Louise through the particularly shallow narrows between Ponds Two and Three, or to saw off an overhanging branch.  You understand that none of the aforementioned was in my skill set when I moved here five months ago.

Even without hip waders, I often climbed into the pond, hoping to find the water level below the tops of my rubber boots.  Often it was, so I took another step, and found myself up to my thighs in pond water.  Once, my nephew Angus chivalrously offered to help me glide the boat between Pond Two and Pond One.  I stepped out, he promptly gave Louise one mighty shove in the right direction, and the flat bottom of the boat ended up on the tops of both my feet, throwing me (and my phone) off balance.  We fell backwards into the mud.   My language at that precise moment pretty much peeled the paint off the boat. Angus likely will not make that mistake again.   

But even hip waders would not have helped me in that situation.  Emptying frogs from my boots, a hot shower, a lot of soap, a cup of hot tea and a generous application of home made laundry detergent on my clothing restored my composure to a degree.  Angus still helps me whenever he's here, but I notice he gives the Good Ship Louise a wide berth.

Still, I've been pining for hip waders.  Two weeks ago, I was en route to my brother's place in Toronto when I realized I was close to Al Flaherty's Outdoor Store on Dufferin Street.  I had about fifteen minutes to spare, so I decided to pop in and look at hip waders.  Not only did they have hip waders, they had a pair in my size.  I didn't try them on, I just grabbed them, paid, and headed out the door.

Thirteen days later, I still haven't even tried them out once.  I don't know what the trouble is.  Perhaps there are so many other things to keep me busy at Five Acres this time of year, but somehow I've never gotten up the nerve to pull them on and attach them to my belt.  I think a bit of it may be that to get out of them is a hassle.  When I'm out working on the property, I can kick off my wellington boots at the screen door, come in for a drink of water, and be outside again in a minute.  Not so with hip waders.  You have to take off your belt, and pulling them off is probably an ordeal.  Maybe a smart move is to keep a large tub of clean water by the screen door so I can step in that, rinse off the foot part, and just come in with the hip waders on.

Be that as it may, today is the day I'm going out in my hip waders.  My work jeans are the right degree of grimy, it's not so hot outside that I'll need a drink of water every hour, and the water level on the ponds has never been so low as it is this week.

Stand by, readers.  I'm going in.

Monday, July 8, 2019


This is my sanctuary.

I love waking up at first light, hearing only the sound of birds chirping, and going to sleep when it gets dark, hearing the sound of peeper frogs and the occasional encounter between a coyote and a goose or two.  I often get irritated with Canada Geese, who leave cigar-shaped  reminders of previous dinners all over my lawn, so I'm no longer unnerved by evening coyote visits. Coyotes are like my own personal mafia; if I have a score to settle, coyotes have my back.  I know there will eventually be a day of reckoning, but it hasn't happened yet.

So yes, this is my sanctuary. I just didn't realize that it's also a turtle sanctuary.

Twice now, I've seen a large snapping turtle out where my driveway meets the road.  The first time was a Monday; it was  trying to lay its eggs on a steep hill beside my gate.  It didn't seem like a brilliant location, but who am I to judge? I took some photos and left it to mind its own business.

The second time,  the following Saturday, I received an early morning email from my neighbours to say a snapping turtle was laying her eggs smack in the middle of the entrance to my driveway.  I ran out the door.  It was the same turtle.  I recognized her by a rectangular indentation on her moss-covered shell.  You could have put your business cards in it.

Once the eggs were laid and the turtle had left (because turtles' parenting skills are neglectful in the extreme), my neighbours put a wire crate over top of the eggs to protect them from predators.  A few days later, my nephew Angus and I built a proper screen to cover the nest, complete with an access door so the babies could escape as soon as they hatched. We're going to be looking at that screen for a long time. Snapping turtle eggs can take months to hatch.

Another snapping turtle appeared beside my vegetable garden a few days later. She seemed a bit younger, with less moss on her back. Coincidence?  I thought so.

Yesterday morning, I went to check the swimming pool and found a very large snapping turtle in the shallow end, coming up for air.  I didn't even run for a camera.  I just got my largest net and, with some difficulty, fished it out.  It took off, as fast as it could, the minute it was on dry land.

With some trepidation, I went down to the pool this morning, and there was yesterday's snapping turtle, coming up for air in the shallow end again.
This time, I ran back for a camera.  When I returned, it had wedged itself between the ladder and the wall of the pool.  I took a photo, then fished it out with my net.

This time,  it just sat in the net, making no effort to leave.  Eventually, I carried it down to one of the ponds and tried to coax it out of the net. A word to the wise: snapping turtles do not appear to enjoy being coaxed. They don't seem to like much of anything, actually.  Its claws were tearing my nice new net and it was hissing up a storm.  Meanwhile I was getting bitten by mosquitoes by the dozen.

It took some doing to dislodge The Snapper from my net.  As soon as it was free, it made a beeline for the pond. Frankly,  I hope it stays there. And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and add a extra dose of disinfectant to my swimming pool.  A friend has sent me a photo of a wire shark, which is apparently a scarecrow for turtles.  I want one for the pool.

Friday, June 14, 2019


One of the best features of this magnificent property I'm responsible for (because I don't feel I own it, despite having paid for it; I have become its steward - a responsibility I take very seriously) is that there are three ponds.  The first is quite small, perhaps 50 feet across. I still call it Pond One, because I haven't come up with a better name for it yet.  The second pond, Pond Two, is about four times the size, and right now it is covered in lily pads but the water is surprisingly clear.

Ponds One and Two are connected by an underwater pipe made of corrugated metal, so that theoretically there is some flow of water.  Pond Three is the largest of all.  It is connected to Pond Two by a narrows.  If I am alone in the boat and it has been raining heavily, I can row through the narrows with some effort.  If I have a passenger in the boat, I climb out at the narrows, into the pond, (horrifying my passenger) and slide the boat through to Pond Three.

Pond Three has a name.  I've called it Group of Seven Pond, because it looks exactly like a painting by one of the Group of Seven.  My nephew, Ivor, who has a dry sense of humour, cautions me to be careful when I'm sailing on Pond Three, saying "remember what happened to Tom Thomson".

Pond One flooded its banks this spring, due to the very heavy rains, so it is in my estimation about 30% bigger than it was last year.  The screened-in porch of the boathouse next to it is also flooded, though the interior of the boathouse, which is slightly elevated, is reasonably dry.  But unless we have a long, hot, dry summer, I doubt Pond One is going to shrink to its regular size.

Now that I'm responsible for some beautiful land, I am doing my utmost to keep it, and the ponds, in good condition.  This means encouraging the flow of water from Pond One into Pond Two, and from there into  Group of Seven Pond.  I've observed that any branches which have fallen into the ponds impede the flow of water generally, but especially so at the narrows between the ponds.  Every time I remove a branch, there's a great deal of bubbling from the bottom of the pond and then a little rush of current in the right direction, so I know I'm doing the right thing.

If you want to feel incredibly strong, just pick up a gigantic log floating in water.  It's easy, because the water is supporting the part of the log that you're not lifting.  Thus, I've been able to pull out tree trunks nearly a foot in diameter and 12 feet long.  I pull them onto the shore as far as I'm able, let them dry out for a few days, and saw them up for the fire pit.  I will never run out of firewood if I live to be two hundred.

All this coaxing logs out of ponds can't be done from shore, so mostly I'm out in my trusty boat, the Good Ship Louise,  using a loose paddle to nudge the bigger branches toward the shore so they're easy to haul out.  Sometimes I'll move a large piece of tree trunk under the bridge leading to the island, intending to float it into  Group of Seven Pond, and find that the next day it has returned to the position it occupied before I moved it.  But as I remove more and more branches from the ponds, I can see the ponds are appearing healthier.  Progress is glacial, though, and I expect to be working on this for years.  Additionally, sometimes I'll see a branch fall off a tree while I'm out rearranging logs, so things are getting better and worse at the same time.

All of this reminds me of a Québecois song I love, entitled The Log Drivers' Waltz.  I often sing it to myself as I'm out on the Good Ship Louise, rearranging the flotsam on my ponds.  Here are some photos from Group of Seven Pond.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


I knew before I moved here that I'd be encountering many creatures that I'd never seen up close in my life.  I'd heard tales of coyotes and rabbits, beavers and even deer.  I've always had a profound dislike for zoos, and I long ago made the decision never to visit one, so I've probably seen fewer species than the average 7 year old.  I knew I'd be on a steep learning curve.

The first animal I saw on my property was a muskrat.  At first I thought it was a beaver - until I realized how big a beaver actually is.  When you see something swimming in your pond, if you can see its head and back, and it's less than the size of a football, that's likely a muskrat.  A muskrat looks like a very small beaver with a rat-like tail.  By contrast, a beaver weighs about 50 pounds.

I've seen a few chipmunks, and twice I've seen rabbits.  So far my vegetable garden hasn't been raided by any rabbits but I've been told to expect that to happen if I don't put chicken wire around  it soon.

I've smelled a skunk once.  I went out to the carport one morning and found some of my beekeeping equipment scattered on the ground.  I went to pick up a bee brush and noticed it smelled strongly of skunk.  Not too sure how happy the bees will be about that.

About 10 days ago, I was taking my wheelbarrow down to the decommissioned playground to load it up with gravel, as I was regravelling the driveway.  It was still daylight, perhaps around dinnertime. I looked up and saw a mid-brown animal that looked a bit dog-like heading from my north property line to Pond One.  It stood there, looking at the pond, while I stood there wondering what it was and what it was doing.  It seemed to be surveilling the pond for something. I stood still, watching it.  Its face was not at all dog-like. Suddenly, it looked directly at me. We locked eyes and I realized:  that's not a dog, it's a coyote.

I knew that the way to avoid problems with coyotes is not to turn your back on them or run, so we basically had a staring contest.  I tried to look as big and imposing as I could.  Suddenly, the coyote wheeled around and ran for the trees along my north fence line.  I dropped the wheelbarrow and went into the house to Google "coyote" to confirm that's what I had seen.  It was.  I watched out the window for a while, surmised that it had come to scoop up a nice muskrat from the pond for dinner, and finally got my courage up enough to go and retrieve the wheelbarrow.

Since then, I've seen many muskrats coming out of the pond to forage in the lawn for a snack. I always warn them to be on the lookout for coyotes.

Twice recently, I've gone for a hike to my island and encountered a deer.  The first one looked quite small.  It jumped off the island into Pond Two and I lost sight of it.  The second sighting was the very next day.  Friends were visiting from Toronto.  Two of us decided to hike over to the island. Half way there, we heard a rustling among the trees and suddenly there was a  larger doe with white spots,  jumping off the island into the pond, heading for the fence line. We traversed the island, and I noticed something red and white on the ground, up against a clump of yew bushes.  It looked like a plastic toy of some kind.  I've been very diligent about cleaning up plastic and garbage from the property, and it was definitely not there before.  I went up to have a closer look.

I realized it was a small animal lying on its side, and it was clearly newly deceased.  The red and white was the bones of its rib cage and the tissue underneath, as a large patch of its fur was missing.  I was dumbstruck; was it shot by a hunter?  Or attacked by a coyote?  Had it been abandoned by its mother or been injured during birth?  We stood there for a few minutes.  I asked my friend if it was a fawn or a hare, perhaps, because it had long ears. She confirmed it was a fawn.

I had my phone with me so I took a few pictures.  Please don't look if you are squeamish.

We headed back to the bridge, but I felt deeply distressed.  Next day, I felt I should do something to mark its short life.  I went to the basket where I keep fabric remnants and cut a long strip of pure white linen.  Then I took a large bag of dried lavender flowers that my friend Crystal had given me for my last birthday and headed back to the island.  I walked the entire island very carefully but could not find the fawn.  I compared the photos on my phone to the places on the island where there were yew bushes and established where I believed the fawn had been.  I tied the strip of linen around a young tree, and sprinkled handfuls of dried lavender on the ground to mark where it had lain.  I felt like the only mourner at a funeral.

I suddenly heard a voice, singing, and was surprised to find that it was my voice, singing the Italian love song O Sole Mio in Neapolitan dialect.  Then I heard myself singing the Paul McCartney love song, I Will.  These are the songs I sing when I visit the cemetery where my beloved guys are buried.  I often bring dried lavender to their grave.  I sometimes bring pebbles from my travels, and I always bring fresh bread for the birds and squirrels.

I don't know what happened to the fawn - how it got there, how it died, where it is now - but I feel that though I could do so little in that moment, I could at least honour its short life with this brief, heartfelt ceremony.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


It's seven weeks now since I moved out of Toronto and I can hardly begin to count the things I've learned.

When I look back, I can see signs as far back as two years ago that change was looming.  One day, I was lunching with friends at Colette Grand Cafe, very close to our old house on Portland Street. We were appropriately dressed for a genteel urban lunch.  Leaving the restaurant with one of my friends, I asked if she'd mind a detour to Lee Valley Tools, conveniently located five minutes away.

If there's anyone on earth who objects to a detour to Lee Valley Tools, I don't want to meet them because there's no way that person and I could ever be friends.   If you're a friend of mine and you want to break up with me in the cleanest, most surgical way, just say "I don't want to go to Lee Valley with you".  You'll never see or hear from me again.

But on this occasion two years ago, my particular reason for visiting Lee Valley was because I'd been wanting an axe of my own.  A splitting axe, in particular. Also known as a maul.  One of the things I wanted to learn was to become a proficient, nay, elegant splitter of wood.

And that's when I bought my Ochsenkopf.  It's a German word, meaning oxen head, and that's generally the shape of a maul.  Its purpose is to drive a thick wedge along the grain of dry wood so it splits in two for easy burning.  Strictly speaking, I don't have the arms for such a heavy axe.  I'm really strong, but my elbow joints and wrists are the weak links in the chain.  I should have bought a lighter weight axe, but I loathe things that are specifically designed for women's use.  And somehow that Ochsenkopf really spoke to me.

When I got it home, I immediately started looking for things to chop, which led to the discovery that my Ochsenkopf did not actually come pre-sharpened.  There was a hardware store across the street from Atelier Ivaan, so I went across to buy a sharpening stone.  

If you're female, you've probably been mansplained a few thousand times in your life.  Usually the predominantly male sales staff at New Canadians Lumber, the hardware store, know not to make assumptions about me, but this day I happened across a newer staff member who decided to give me a lecture on  sharpening axes. I'm pretty sure he'd never sharpened anything in his life, because when he got to the "No, no, no, you don't want that to be sharp.  That's dangerous, eh?" stage, my patience ran right out.  I looked at him hard, and shot back, "When it's not sharp, we call it a"

Once the Ochsenkopf was good and sharp, there was no stopping me.  Last May - May 5, 2018 to be precise - there was a huge windstorm in Toronto which felled a gigantic old tree and the fence of a local schoolyard.  The minute news went out of a downed tree in the neighbourhood, the Ochsenkopf and I were on the scene, practising our moves.  You can't do this for too long, though, because even a grey-haired woman of a certain age looks mighty suspicious wielding an axe in downtown Toronto.  And let's face it:  splitting wood is more exhausting than watching YouTube videos of people splitting wood.

I learned some pretty good skills, the best among them being:  don't bother trying to split wood that is still damp.  You'll be resharpening the old Ochsenkopf every five minutes.  Plus you'll look like you don't know what you're doing.

But out here in the back of beyond, I have infinite scope for my need to chop things.  Just this morning, I felled two deceased cedar trees.  I was kind of hoping someone would come along and watch, but I chopped in solitude.  I'll throw those cedars on the fire pit once they've dried out a bit more.

Then people can come by and be impressed by my fire building skills, which are next on the agenda.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


When I announced that I was moving to a rural community, the second thing people said to me (after the bit about needing to buy a lot of furniture) was, "Aren't you going to feel isolated?"

I'd usually laugh and reply, "I'm hoping so", because I love solitude, but I wondered if I actually had any neighbours and if I was going to meet them and like them.  Even before I officially moved into my new home, I was here once dropping things off when I saw a little car pulling out of the long driveway across the street.  The driver looked at me for a few seconds and I realized she was probably wondering who the stranger was, loitering around, so I waved and ran across the street to introduce myself.

She was very friendly and helpful about answering a couple of questions I had. And that's how I met Liz.

I later learned that Liz and Linda have lived in their house since about 1987, and between them, they know everybody.  They know the former owners of my house, and they knew the owners before that.

A couple of weeks later, there was a knock on my door.  It was Liz and Linda, who had arrived with a housewarming present of muffins, chocolate and flowers.  I gave them a tour of the house and we chatted away like we'd known each other for years.  They invited me to the Erin Eco Film Festival, about which I'd been reading.  The day of the first screening, Liz dropped by to remind me (as if I'd forget!) and I learned that it's unnecessary to run right away to answer the door, because if your car is in the driveway, people know you're home, and if they don't get an answer at the door, they just look around the property to see if you're outside.  In Toronto, if someone comes to your door without a formal invitation, either your building is on fire or they'll just tap timidly on your door and leave if you don't answer immediately.

At the second screening of the Erin Eco Film Festival, Liz introduced me to Phil, who owns a small brewery called GoodLot, not far away. Chatting away with Phil, I learned he's an admirer of my friend Dave Bidini, knows the West End Phoenix,  and loves Dave's band The Rheostatics.  I told him about our upcoming West End Phoenix Retreat and promised to have GoodLot beer in the fridge for the occasion.

So I was starting to feel like part of a community.  I've been making a point of being extra friendly to strangers, saying hello to people and taking extra care to thank sales staff in stores for their help.  Sometimes people's friendliness takes me by surprise.  Once, walking down the main street, I was very taken aback when a man walked up to me and delivered a friendly vote of appreciation for the look of my jeans.  Okay, they're red jeans, but still....

He asked if I planned to go dancing with him.  I was quite startled.  In Toronto, an unsought-after opinion about my fashion choices or physique, loudly expressed by a stranger, would have earned him a fat lip.  But I'm not in Toronto, so I laughed and let it go right over my head.

Yesterday, I noticed that the tire pressure on Clyde, my beloved motorcycle, had dropped quite low.  I wasn't totally comfortable driving into town to the nearest gas station with low tires, because the road I live on has a posted speed of 80 km/hr, so I picked a time when traffic was likely to be minimal, packed my mobile phone, CAA membership and a wallet full of cash, and headed into town.  Clyde and I got there just fine.  I filled up the front tire, no problem, but when I got to the back tire, it was next to impossible to get the nozzle of the air pump into position to pump up the tire.  One dollar, two dollars, three dollars in the machine.  I felt my irritation rising. I saw a guy in a pick-up truck pull in to the service station to fill up his tank.  When he returned to his truck, I asked if he could help me.  No problem, he said, and he pumped up that tire in no time at all. I thanked him, sincerely, and went to start up Clyde for the ride home.  Hit the ignition....nothing.  Tried two or three times and the battery seemed dead.

I rolled Clyde out of the way, called CAA and was waiting for a boost when a guy came over.  "We were watching you out our window", he said, by way of introduction.  "Looks like you're having trouble.  Do you need a boost?"  I told him I was waiting for CAA.  He said, "We'll give you a boost", pulled out his phone and called his wife.  "Bring the car.  She needs a boost", he said. One minute later, she rolled up in an old Pontiac.

Together we put the booster cables on my battery, Scott hit the ignition and Clyde roared into action.  Immediately, my phone started to ring.  I had my motorcycle helmet on, so I passed the phone to Sandy and asked her to answer it for me.  It was CAA.  "Thanks, we've got it started", she told them.   I went for my wallet to give Scott and Sandy some money by way of thanks, and in unison they firmly declined.  I offered again.  "People in Erin look out for each other", they said, so again I thanked them sincerely and shook their hands.

Clyde and I roared home without further incident, and I have added Liz, Linda, Phil, Scott and Sandy to the list of good neighbours who have made me feel welcome.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


Today is the one-month anniversary of my having 'bought the farm'.

So far, it's been brilliant.  I could blather on forever about the fresh air, the delicious, clean well water, the silence and the utter darkness at night.
But frankly, I'm too busy learning the many new things I'll need to know, not merely to survive here, but to thrive.

I vowed before I came here that I'd approach this new chapter of my life with humility.  I'm not aware of having much big city attitude, but after half a century in downtown Toronto, I've probably got my share.  So, rule #1:  none of the baggage I came with will necessarily serve me well. This includes all my beautiful leather boots. Rule #2:  ask, nicely, for advice or recommendations, and if it's not immediately forthcoming, let it go.  No one owes you anything. Rule #3: if you come here looking to pay other people to do stuff you ought to know how to do yourself, you might as well have stayed in Toronto.

The first night here, I almost froze to death.  I arrived the day before my furniture arrived, but I had brought a chaise longue from my roof garden, and several wool blankets.  I didn't know how to operate the propane fireplace, so I slept in my clothes in front of the fireplace, just in case it took pity on me and magically started working during the night.  I had no phone and no internet, and boy, was it dark, but I survived and the hot shower I took the next morning made me feel human again.

Two of my nephews pretty much saved me on Day One.  Ivor, from his nice warm townhouse in Ottawa, hacked into my email for me (we're close that way) contacted the former owner, and between them, they figured out how to get my landline up and running. Angus and his partner, Sara, drove up from Toronto and while Angus installed some new phone jacks, Sara started wiping out the kitchen cupboards so I could unpack my dishes.  When the movers arrived, I was delighted to see how good my furniture looked and fit here.  It was as though I had chosen it precisely for this house.  See what I mean?

One of the oddities of this house is that there are two basements: the "old" basement and the "new" basement.  The old basement is the finished basement, and the new basement is the one with the concrete floor.  It also has the steepest staircase in the world.  It's like descending a cliff. Angus took one look at it and installed a landline at the bottom of the stairs, on the assumption that I'd eventually fall down those stairs, break a leg and need to call 911 for help.

Everyone who knew I was moving to a large house told me the same thing:  you need to buy a lot more furniture. I'm pleased to say, I didn't. Yes, I bought a huge green leather sofa before I moved here, and it has turned out to be very useful.  Although I inherited some furniture and art with the house, I've opted to sell most of it, so the net furniture I've acquired is a gate leg table, two small armchairs, two nesting coffee tables, an architect's desk, some bookcases and a twin bed frame.

My good friend Natalka Husar gave me my choice of one of her sketches, framed, for my dining room.

Sketch for "Bite" by Natalka Husar

Some paintings came with the house and I have come to like all of them, one very much indeed.
Lady Birds by Jillson Evans Rolland

Perhaps the best thing that came with the house is a rowboat.  I've named her the good ship Louise.  She totally looks like a Louise.  I've been out sailing on the ponds twice, and I love it, though family members have pointed out that a black leather motorcycle jacket is not a life preserver.

Clothing-wise, I've acquired a  pair of work jeans, work gloves, a plaid flannel shirt, and some knee length rubber boots.  I am a bit worried that my feet are going to take on the size and shape of those rubber boots, because they're all I've worn since I bought them.  I'm hoping to find an Amish men's straw hat.  Yesterday in the tool department of a hardware store in Georgetown, one of the older guys who works there called me "Sir". I took it as a compliment.  So...none of those finky women's straw hats for me.

Three days ago, I had my first bonfire in the fire pit.  Before you can have bonfires, you have to get a Burn Permit from the municipality.  There are rules to follow, including that you cannot burn things when the winds are over 10 km/hr.   I have a Burn Permit.  And I had a mountain of twigs.  So my bonfire was burning nicely and I leaned over to add some twigs to the top of the pile.  The breeze suddenly shifted, and just as suddenly I smelled that distinctive odour of burning hair.  If you've ever smelled it, it's not something you forget.  My hair is generally short, with a long lock on top.   At least it was.  I clapped my hands on my head but the damage was already done.  I didn't bother going inside to look in a mirror.    That night, I had a long, hot shower, applied an entire vat of conditioner, and I have to say, my accidental hairstyle looks pretty good.  Especially that black streak where the long lock used to be.

As I say, I came here to learn.