Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Well... yeah. :)

Homeschooling. Your bullet train to Oxford.

Forests: home and away...

Last week the forecast led me to believe that the weather on Saturday would be warm and damp, very much like the first time I visited Kirby Road around Labour Day a year and a half ago. I had a really nice hike there that first time. I like overcast weather, the drizzle made the desurfaced road and forest a pleasure to walk on, and the place wasn't crawling with other hikers. For a while it was as though I was the only person in the world, free to "discover" the abandoned bridge there over the Humber.

P-Doug has been there with me before, but never from the heights on the east side, which was the way I approached when Bassmentbeats sent me there that first time. I suggested the trip and, uncharacteristically, he rather willingly agreed to make the hike in what promised to be rainy weather. As it turned out, it made for some extremely moody skies that he hoped would yield good HDR results (stay posted). Personally, I think some of our best hikes have been taken on days with dramatic weather, particularly in terms of photography; and now that he's carrying the S80 around lumographically he might be becoming more amenable to more extreme conditions, at least in the temperate months.

We got a late start, heading out around 10:30 or so, but we made really good time getting there and were climbing out of the car a bit after 11, which was a faster journey than my first trip (I must have taken the back roads that time; this time it was 401-427-Hwy 27). I brought my sandals with me in my backpack but managed not to need them at all the three or so hours we wandered around, which was my intention. I was only disappointed that the weather wasn't as advertised and the ground wasn't as giving and luxurious in textures as I had hoped. But there was still grasses, sand, mud, wildflowers, tilled soil, gravel, pine needles, boulders, cement, steel plates, concrete, water... Plenty to experience while moving along.

One of the first places we came to that really caught his attention, something I had utterly forgotten despite having been there twice before, was the first big curve in Kirby Road where it has to divert north to avoid the relentless plunge to the river. From there, we could see a huge mansion perched high over Huntingdon Road on the far side of the valley. It has had, and will continue to enjoy, an enviable view of the flood plain for the foreseeable future.

Not long after that we started encountering the hillside wrecks I'd noticed in previous trips. I don't know if people were actually in these cars when they went over the side, or if people were just using the cliff to dispose of old junkers, but they certainly make for some interesting kinetic free verse poetry; a kind of three dimensional graffiti sprawled and scrawled across the face of a cliff, where they will likely reside for generations. From the look, they've all been there at least since the 1980s. At one point, P-Doug spotted a cluster that looks like three cars that have been down there probably since the moon landings. Tall trees have since grown up in the path that they would have had to have tumbled through on their way down.

Soon we came to the place I'd been interested in showing him: the landslide that had torn about thirty yards out of the road some years back and caused it to be closed to traffic, if it wasn't already (I have no idea when this stretch of Kirby was actually "stopped up", as it's termed on municipal documents). He hadn't seen it when we'd been there before; we'd never really gotten beyond the wrecked truck at the other end. This time, we were high above the river, leaving the path along the lip and slipping down into the sloping roadway that once brought cars and trucks up and down the valley, like a ramp along a steep shelf. It's been totally torn out, leaving a spectacular view but not much of a drive to speak of anymore. While we were there, we saw a man and two boys approach from the other end of the washout. They lingered for a while and even discussed trying to cross along the ragged edge of the washout, but eventually (and wisely) thought better of it and made the same steep climb up the forested face of the hillside I did the first time I was there. We heard them travel along the crest for a few moments, and then were lost in the fields above us. We doubled back and returned to the path.

P-Doug had the inspiration to leave the path again after a few moments and seek the open space created by the landslide. Doing so had never occurred to me. I followed him and we got some really nice shots of the valley.

It didn't rain that day; not to speak of, anyway; so the path down the trail through the woods, while steep, was nothing like the adventure it was for me that first time I was there. It didn't have the character of making my way down hot fudge topping; it was still fairly dry and not slippery. On the whole, I suppose that's good because it's never fun to slip and fall, or feel constantly in danger of doing so, but at the same time, I missed the sensual experience of it that I was hoping to recapture.

For me, the low point of the journey is always the flood plain at the bottom. There's nothing much to see, and the road gets gravelly. I can handle gravel now, but it's still not my favourite thing to walk on. It's at best a transition from one pleasant surface to another. P-Doug, though, was rather taken by the field at the bottom. It had been freshly turned, and he had noticed tractor tracks along the trail down the hillside (which he had initially mistaken for ATV tracks), and marveled at the effort it must have taken to get the equipment either into or out of the valley up the trail, given that it's barely six feet wide. His assumption was that it was a farmer's field, likely to be sewn with corn or perhaps wheat. He headed out into the field but I didn't follow him for a couple of reasons. One is that I just couldn't muster the interest. More importantly, it was strewn with last year's chunks of cellulose-rich stalk remnants. I've learned to walk on a lot of things but I know that this stuff has edges like razor blades if you step on it the wrong way, and you can carry chunks of it around in your sole for a season if it gets into the skin. So, I left him to the field and undertook exploring the river side of the road.

I wanted to see how close the river was to the road on the north side. There's a little band of trees on that side and a bit of a drop, and at the bottom it was a little marshy. I skirted the outside of the pool and made my way into the field, but it was hard for me to tell just how far the river was from me, and I didn't want to get separated from P-Doug for too long, so I meandered a bit, never made it to the river, and started back. I ended up face to face with a much wider stretch of the pool at the base of a steeper climb. But, I was dressed for it, so I decided to take it on. The water was cool, its floor was firm, and while it was nearly knee-deep by the time I crossed it, it was never really treacherous. I stopped to take an AEB spread of it on the other side to generate an HDR shot of the striking reflections later.
I climbed up the slope and got back to the road, didn't see P-Doug right handy, so I started heading for the bridge. He met me coming back from it, having already been there and to the river. We went to the bridge, passing the spot where the wrecked truck used to be, and I noticed that from there, I could see the bridge this time. When I was there the first time, the overgrowth was such that the bridge was still obscured from my view. Early in spring, you see more.

The bridge seems to have deteriorated, especially in the guard rails on the west side. I might be wrong, but it seems more broken down than I remember. I still haven't looked through my old shots to see if I'm right. I went under the bridge, stepped into the Humber, which was abruptly deep and quite cold, and noticed that the graffiti this year is quite a bit less interesting than last year. We didn't stay too long at the bridge before heading back. Around the time we reached the old truck spot, I heard voices, and behind us, the man and the two boys emerged from the woods, crossed the bridge, and headed up to Huntingdon Road. They'd done the trip in reverse to us.

When we got to the base of Kirby's course up the hillside, P-Doug was interested in taking it, but I remembered it being a walk of several minutes that takes you only about 2/3 of the way up. He wanted to see the washout from the west side, and while I was okay with doing that, I had to let him know that at that point, you have two choices: climbing all the way back down to where we were standing already, or else climbing into the woods, something that literally requires going on all fours... it's that steep. I wasn't keen on either, having already done that twice, and since he'd already seen the washout from the other side, he decided to forgo the view. We headed up the trail the way we'd come down.

At the top, we veered left and followed another trail along the lip of the valley. It carried us past stands of pines planted in rows long ago... P-Doug reckoned about 35 years ago. He pointed out a massive lone pine, and I might have overlooked it on my own, but having it pointed out to me made it somehow worth shooting. I think it was probably one of my best shots of the day.

We followed the path along through a muddy spot where the road turned to the east along the top of the grove. I love walking on fallen pine needles... you'd think they'd be sharp, but lying flat, they're as soft as a carpet. We made our way in to where some of the pines had failed and left a glade. I noticed the ground was furrowed, just like in the field in the flood plain, and I remembered I'd noticed new pines planted across the river in the hellish field I'd spent a couple of joyless hours in during my second visit. I put it all together and decided that that's probably what they intended for the flood plain. Thirty-five years from now, that open field will probably be a thick, linear grove of pines, holding the line on the river. I sat down on one of the raised sections and relaxed, lying back on a bedding of soft pine needles. The air was perfect. The temperature was ideal: it wasn't cool or warm; it neither chilled me nor made me sweat. The sky was moody and the air was stirring, but it was in the tree tops. It barely seemed to brush over my skin. We were there for about half an hour and I was so plugged into it, I think I may have dozed off at one point. It was really special. That kind of communing is the reason I love to get out in the bush, and I'm so grateful there's still so much of it around here, even these days.

Time was wasting and I didn't want to leaving P-Doug sitting around too long, since we both wanted to get back to The Crow's Nest. About twenty after two we got moving again, and made our way back to the car fairly directly. At The Crow's Nest, a guy pulled up in a strange three-wheeled motorcycle. From the front, it made me think, "ah, so this is what Crow T. Robot's been up to since MST3K wrapped up..." We had a couple of pints and P-Doug paid for lunch (shaved beef on bread stick and a side salad for me; perogies for him) since I was to do his bidding on the morrow...

Tomorrow Never Mows

So that was Saturday. Sunday was about yard work at his place. As agreed, he called me about quarter after ten on his way out to Home Depot, and I arrived at his place about an hour later, at which point we started bagging the leaves from his front yard and the side of the house. It was the back yard that was going to be the big task. G, P-Doug's missus, had lunch on her mind so we all headed off around one or so to Boston Pizza. G had some sort of meat sandwich, and P-Doug and I ended up having the same thing, chicken cannelloni, and they were pretty good. Again, he paid.

Then came the hard part. All the saplings in the back yard! P-Doug came out with two saws, and also what looked like a huge pair of hand trimmers that you'd use to trim bushes. This thing turned out to be our salvation. In about four hours, we cut down fifty or sixty saplings, cut them up, and filled up between fifteen and twenty bags with the refuse. And never once did we resort to the saws. It was cutting through 2" green wood with almost no effort at all; I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it, even done it. I'd say it was about the best thirty bucks he's spent all year, and he'd probably agree. I didn't bring my camera; I didn't think there'd be much reason to; but I wish I had and could show you a before and after view. This tool quickly rendered that back yard very different.

Sunday was capped with Satay On the Road, where we had golden baskets (a first for me), curried chicken with potatoes, and a spicy beef dish, all over rice. After that, a quick zip to Dairy Queen for cones. I dropped off a movie for them on my way home, and that was the weekend. Felt like three or four days, but in a good way. Very full. I didn't sit around wasting my time. I like weekends like that.