Monday, July 19, 2010

Pork, peanuts, plunges, and pique

I'd thought about going up to Kettleby and photographing the place on the weekend and sent an email to P-Doug on Thursday to that effect, but P-Doug fired a suggestion off to me at exactly the same moment... it was creepy-weird; his email was waiting for me when I hit the Send button. His suggestion entailed going out to the annual ribfest in Victoria Park in Kitchener, stopping at Piccard's Peanuts, and maybe visiting Otterwa if there was time on the way back. The ribfest is a once-a-year event, and presumably Kettleby will be there for a while, so it was pretty clear to me his suggestion trumped.

He picked me up around 10 and we headed west on the 401. The traffic was moving, but it was busy all the way. I guess there's hardly ever a time now when the 401 isn't busy.

We stopped in Cambridge and looked around a retail outlet that used to be some kind of factory; it was nicely refurbished sometime in the 90s, I guess, and now houses the kind of stores that yuppies are drawn to. In our particular case it was a clothing store that sells brand name items at reduced prices. While I was there, I heard a song on the radio I really wanted to find, but promptly forgot everything about (melody, lyrics, any hint of the name of the band) and was left only with an itch I can't scratch now, unless I happen to stumble across that song again. That's extremely frustrating. It's like one of those zits that's nowhere near the surface and you can't do a thing about it... I seem to get more and more of those as I get older.

Anyway, we got to Kitchener about 12:30 or so. P-Doug had brought folding chairs so we wouldn't have to sit in awkward ways under the trees this year. We also brought several cameras and decided to casually record the event for posterity. Nothing major or important, just one of those "how life was in the 2010s" kind of things. By and large, these consisted of candid shots of People Who Look Faintly Ridiculous. That's said in the full knowledge that we may end up in such a collection ourselves for all the same reasons.

From Dr. Seuss's unreleased manuscript, Pimp a Wimp.

A number of Ontario's microbreweries had set up shop there and for $20 I got a small souvenir glass for the beer samples and eight tokens, which I split with P-Doug. In the course of the afternoon we tried a few things, but about half our tokens went to Nickel Brook's Green Apple Pilsner (in my estimation, probably second only to Innis and Gunn, imported from Scotland as the best beer I've ever had). It's one of the most delightful beers I know of. Naturally, the LCBO has discontinued it, which means driving to Burlington if we ever want to pick any up from now on.

P-Doug picked up a 1/3 rack of ribs from the Boss Hog's exhibition. These guys were up from somewhere waaay down south. They were wearing shirts with "01" on the back (which those of us over 35 will recognize as a reference to the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard), and would occasionally draw attention by sounding a fanfare horn that played the first dozen notes of "Dixie". We had three ribs each and yeah, their sauce was pretty good.

But me, I came for the pulled pork sandwich. When I was my turn, I went to a crew from New York called Fire Island. Now, with a name like that, I would have expected their sauce to have a real kick to it (either that or be gay). It was actually a honey garlic sauce. I also got us their baked beans and mashed potatoes; the former were possibly the best I've ever had, and the latter had chunks of potato skin in it, a real first for me. The sandwiches were satisfying but, unfortunately, not really spicy. Ah, well.

I guess it was about quarter after four when we left. P-Doug wanted to get to Piccard's Peanuts
to pick up some stuff for his missus before it closed, guessing that would be about five-ish. On the way back to the car, I paused to get a shot of a pioneer's house, fretting out loud about whether we could spare the time. The shot took, of course, slightly over two seconds to set up and take, after which we laughed all the way to the car about how disgusted James Salmon would be with how all the art and nuance had been drained from photography by modern technology; two seconds on a whim to do something that probably would have required most of a minute for him to set up and frame, and serious deliberation as to whether the shot was worth the film.

We got to Piccard's Peanuts in plenty of time and for once in my life I didn't spend a cent there. On our way in, some family was gathered on the porch and consoling some little girl while one them, in a surprisingly adult voice, was taunting (a la Eddie Murphy) "you don't have no ice cream..." I whispered to P-Doug on the way in "The Asshole Family's road trip vacation". By the time we left, the girl had been mollified... probably by ice cream.

We took the backroads across to Bolton where Otterwa is. The last two times we were there we were sharing the place with anglers. The first time was at the end of the summer in 2008; we completely ignored the place in 2009 as we explored other places. A few weeks ago we decided to go back. We made our way through the brush, down the hills, through the mucky swamp at the bottom, crossed the river to the sandy landing, only to spot a fresh cigarette on the shore.  And literally within one minute of our arrival, two guys with fishing rods came out of the field. We milled around for a bit and realized the day was theirs, so we headed back and just hung out on the hilltop over the road for a while before heading off for the consolation prize of beer and burgers.

This time we were arriving very late in the day. I had some misgivings about the hour and our ability to find our way back out as the sunlight faded (Otterwa is not an easy place to get to... unless you have a fishing rod, apparently), and I wondered if Glasgow might not be a more likely choice, given its proximity to the road, but I kept them to myself. Really, Glasgow's a poor excuse for the pocket Eden of Otterwa.

It was about seven or so when we parked the car. Since May last year, I've started occasionally challenging myself on these hikes by leaving my sandals behind in the car and leaving myself no recourse to them at all, and for the first time at Otterwa I decided to do that and go barefoot the whole way in and out. Asphalt and gravel aren't the obstacles they once were; I'm kind of proud of that. We headed down the road and into the trees, and made our way for the umpteenth time to Otterwa. At the swampy base of the hill, P-Doug sank his right leg in almost to the hip. The only way to extricate himself without ruining his clothes was with my help. Immediately afterward, I stepped over a fallen log by the river and sunk in past my knee myself.

I stepped into the river and it was like tea that had been left out to cool for half an hour. There was still a lingering warmth to it; it was very comfortable. Far warmer than Lake Ontario when we were down at Cherry Beach a few weeks ago. We crossed over to the landing and found, yet again, evidence of a recent visitor; deep boot prints in the sand that had to have been made that day. But, it was pretty clear by then that the guy wasn't around, and even if he was, I wasn't overly bothered. We stripped off and got in the water and channeled good old Walt Whitman. :)

Last year P-Doug happened across a couple of watertight camera bags and he picked them up for me. I put one to the test with the G9, and for the first time, I videoed underwater there in the river. It worked spectacularly. The bare, rusty-coloured rocks on the Humber bed reminded me of nothing so much as photos of Mars. I could see minnows darting around, avoiding our feet; the silt bloom out when I stepped or brushed it from the fallen tree trunks. I've been dying since last year to do that. I want to try it again in other places.

My first ever underwater video.

I was also worried the mosquitoes would be a problem but I didn't hear the whine of the first one till we were approaching the swampy lip of the river, and even then it wasn't so bad. And at first, while we were in the water, they left us alone. I was sitting near the bank and they began to pester me so I moved out to the centre. But as the sun sank lower, they got bolder, until at last most of our time in the water was taken up with keeping our shoulders submerged and warning each other off about impending landings. That, and a few other factors (concern with the failing light, hunger after six hours) prodded me to suggest we consider it a short, successful, Apollo 11-style landing and make our way to either Wendy's or The Toby Jug.

With the mosquitoes being what they were, the possibility of lingering on the bank to dry really wasn't one. We carried our clothes out, up the hills, across the little clearings, over the pine needles, keeping ahead of the mosquitoes till we were within sight of the road, when we dressed. We've hiked out naked from Otterwa before – the first time in a rainstorm – this time due to a different set of necessities.

There was nearly no traffic coming or going; the pavement under my feet was still pleasantly warm even after the sun had set. We got to within ten yards of the car when P-Doug cried out like the damned: his keys were in his belt pack, and his belt pack was back on the landing by the river.

I can't, I honestly can't, remember an instant where I felt so hopelessly resigned to a disheartening inevitability. P-Doug asked me if I wanted to sit it out by the car. I had to mull it over for two or three seconds. The only reason for accompanying him was, well, to accompany him. Solidarity. That was it, really. But there were myriad reasons not to go. First of all, he was instantly (and understandably) in, shall we say, not the most social of moods, and anyone travelling with him would have been wise to do so in unprovocative silence. Well, sitting by the car, I wasn't likely to say anything to irritate him. Secondly, offering my blood to the mosquitoes again wasn't going to accomplish anything except feeding the mosquitoes. Finally, my sandals were locked in the car. One of the challenges I like about barefoot hiking is choosing my footfalls, but that's enough of a challenge in daylight. I really didn't want to test my skill (luck) in increasing darkness; besides, I would have slowed him down. I estimated a 40-minute round trip. So, feeling cowardly and slightly guilty, I politely begged off.

I settled in the grass beside the car and tried to pass the time reviewing the underwater video I'd shot. Naturally, the battery gave up the ghost after about ten minutes. I settled back, trying to keep out of sight of the passing cars so as not to have to explain my situation to anyone seeking to offer aid (no one did... hmmm...), and watched the telephone pole fade to a silhouette against a darkening pink and azure backdrop. The mosquitoes found me, but I'd liberally coated myself with repellant and it seemed to work. They'd come close, hover around uncertainly, and drift off. But if I didn't provide an appetizing entrée for the mosquitoes, what I did provide was bait for the dragonflies. They were soon on the scene; a dozen or more. The big mammal locked outside the car was a godsend for them. I drew the mosquitoes in; the dragonflies took them out. I felt like an aircraft carrier in the Battle of the Coral Sea or something. Zeroes swarming around me, Mustangs zooming in to pick them off before they could inflict their damage on me. At one point, I watched a mosquito easing its way in toward me, about a foot from my left temple. I reached up slowly, ready to shoot my arm out and try to grab it, when I was suddenly outgunned and outclassed by a dragonfly who flashed through like a Spitfire and did the mosquito in. Not a word of a lie; I actually heard the "gluck" sound of the dragonfly taking the mosquito. I don't care how many thousands or millions of times bigger I was than either of them; it sent a primordial shiver up my spine.

There was no call of my name or sound of footsteps; just a key in the lock of the hatchback. I climbed up; it had been half an hour. P-Doug had shaved about ten minutes off my self-estimated ETA, and I was quietly delighted for him (and in truth, there's little doubt in my mind that my accompanying him perforce barefooted would have tacked at least that extra ten minutes on, if not more, as darkness fell).

Stopping to eat was off the itinerary; he simply wanted to get home. I honestly couldn't blame him; what he'd just gone through was no fun. As he started the car, I noticed a stack of coins by the gear shift. Fearing that the sudden start, fired by frustration, that we were likely about to experience would scatter them under the seats, I gathered them up and handed them to him. He gazed at them like a handful of shirt buttons and promptly hurled them out onto the road... along with them, any legitimate claim to pride in a Scottish heritage, which will always ringing slightly hollow now. I've been mad, I've been frustrated, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a time I've been willing to throw three bucks in change out into the street. It's just not in me to do that.  :) Man, I'm not joking: it fleetingly crossed my mind to get out and claim the salvage rights! Of course, I'd still be standing there, hitching a ride, if I'd done that. :)

His pique didn't last long; he wasn't sore at me, just the situation. By the time we were on Hwy 50 and leaving Bolton behind he was already waxing eloquent on the merits of over-the-counter histamines. Hey, were else am I going to hear these things?

But it all ended in comedy anyway. Typically on our hikes we tend to leave our wallets in the glove compartment. Nothing to buy in the woods and no need for a driver's license; why risk losing them? So as I stepped out of the car at my building, having gathered my things, I gave myself a quick once-over to make sure I'd gotten everything. Felt the hollow place on my thigh where my wallet should be and shouted out just as he began to pull away. He stopped, I pointed to the glove compartment, and he hauled out my wallet with a grin. At least we got a laugh out of it.

Sunday I pretty much just sat around, picking out the photos I wanted for the collection and preparing and tagging them. That and buying $50 in groceries and some of the last sixes of Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner  the Liquor Control Board of Ontario is ever going to offer the people of this province for sale. Yup, their radar for figuring out what I like and then getting rid of it is stellar stealth-proof...

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