I continued my July road trip up the Ottawa River valley to Mattawa. I went to visit good friends Patti and Leo and to see the new straw bale house that they built and moved into since the last time I was there. It also happened to be Voyageur Days in the town. We had a fantastic few days – music, sunshine & fresh caught fish all weekend long.

I’ve not been at an outdoor festival in the north in years. This setting was stunning – in one visual sweep past the stage you could see the convergence of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers and the forested hills of Quebec rising magestically on the other shore. There was barely a cloud in the sky and it was hot, but not dangerously so. It really doesn’t get better than this for a concert. The town has the logistics down – beer crowd on their feet on one side of the fence, non-drinkers in their chairs on the other, a pretty good view had by most, so very little tension between different parts of the audience.

I think that the performers had the best view, off the stage, over the crowd of several thousand attentive fans to the blue water, green trees and brilliant blue sky. The organizers of this festival cater to an older crowd. There is a night of local talent, a night of new country and then two nights of old rock and rollers – one of my favorite Canadian rockers, Kim Mitchell, Trooper, Brian Howe of Bad Company who was quite charming, Cheap Trick (recent survivors of a stage collapse in Ottawa), Stampeders and Eddie Money. I heard a lot of songs that I had almost forgotten about but turns out they still make me rock – imagine that!

They finished the weekend with one of the best fireworks displays I’ve seen in a couple of
years. Rumour has it that they save all their party pennies for this one night of the summer. Glad I was there to see it, all those ooh-aah explosions reflected in the water and set to a soundtrack featuring the music of the weekend’s performers. I could imagine the old voyageurs paddling their canoes around a bend in the Ottawa River and wondering what in the world they had stumbled upon.

The other great part of the week was being with Patti and Leo and all the family that
came by, some to take part in the music, some to take advantage of the social gatherings in Mattawa on this festive weekend.

Leo’s sisters Tucky and Myrna and their clans came and the guys spent a lot of their time out on the river catching pickerel. What a treat that was, fresh fish out of northern waters.

 

Another local delicacy is the local blueberries. Patti planted three bushes at the entrance to the house and they were all loaded with big plump berries, something that her granddaughter Lillie loves to pick. Anyone who has lived in the north or
anywhere that blueberries grow abundantly knows the pleasure of a bush heavy
with the purple fruit. I used to spend a lot of time in the summer picking les bleuets when I lived in northern Quebec and northern Ontario. Bears, berries and bare-asses – ah, those were the
days.

I originally intended to help Patti with landscaping around the new house, but it turned into a social time instead. We didn’t do much work, besides feeding
people, but we did manage to make a nice little perennial garden before I left.

Instead I got to enjoy the results of the last year of hard work that they put into building their home. Three of the walls are made of straw bale construction – clean bales of straw
stacked and packed tightly making walls that are insulated, about 18” thick. It
was a whole new form of construction to learn but the final result is organic
and efficient, as it holds the heat in the winter and keeps the house cooler in
the summer. Besides the adobe-type feel of the walls, the house has many
details designed by Patti and Leo, diamonds everywhere. Simply beautiful.

At my birthday party a couple of years ago, they met Dawson, who lives down in the Westport area of Ontario, a place I visit regularly and have
written about often. Dawson is both an excellent musician – stand-up bass – and
a talented constructor. He built his own straw bale house and worked on
others, and so he became a consultant for Patti and Leo on their project as well as a
friend of theirs. Patti drove me back to Toronto area (in her brand new
Mitsubishi Eclipse sportscar!) and we went via Westport, so that she could see
Dawson’s home and we could visit with some of those great Westport people. He
has used a different kind of covering on his straw bale walls, incorporating more organic material with the mud. It reminded me of the cob wall sauna that I watched being built in
Monteverde but built to last in the Canadian climate.

The finished effect is the same though – earthy and efficient – and beautiful.

Fortunately we arrived the evening that Dawson and our friends Chuck, Carolyn and Dave – together known as Stringed Tease – had a band practice. About once a year I get to catch up with these folks and they just keep getting better. They play a cool mix of gypsy, classic folk, and oddball Canadiana, with voices that blend well – and they laugh a lot.

As the sun set, we sang and danced out on the large screened-in porch at Chuck and Carolyn’s home that exists completely off the electrical grid. They have their own solar and wind generator and produce more than enough power. Recently the Ontario
government has offered a grant for people to install alternative power systems, guaranteeing that they will buy the excess power at a fixed rate for several years. A lot of friends in that area are taking advantage of this program and installing rooftops full of solar panels. Others are involved in very small-scale hydro-electric plants.  At the same time that there is such a backlash against massive wind-generating farms, this smaller scale seems much more feasible. I am sorry to see “Stop the Wind Machines” signs everywhere I go.I do recognize that there are issues with the large plantations of big wind generators but I haven’t looked at this issue to understand it properly.

In our whirlwind tour of Westport, I managed to see a lot of friends, including my doggie pal Ziggy and Chuck’s 91-year old mother, Lucienne, who moved to the area last summer. She is an inspiration for how to age gracefully, may we all be so lucky and blessed.

After nearly a month of visiting friends in their rural and forest homes, it was finally time to return to southern Ontario. A good transitional point from bush to city is the little historical gathering of cottages known as Naivelte in Brampton. My friends I visit in Guatemala, Treeza and Rick, and others now living in Los Angeles, Terry and Steve, all spend most of their summers here. This camp has a history as a place where non-secular but socialist-leaning Jewish and other Europeans spent their summers and now it is protected as a historical site. That is a really good thing, as the massive expansion of large suburban developments takes over all the farmland around the area.

They do a lot of things as a community including holding many meetings. I had a chance to
sit in on a community meeting as well as a “bagel brunch” featuring an activist involved in the continuing legal challenges brought on by the G20 fiasco last summer in downtown Toronto. Listening to the man talk, it reminded me of how disgusted I was when I arrived back in my northern home last year and saw what had happened in Toronto.

To balance the serious discussions, we did a lot of laughing and played a lot of games. We went through Scattegories, Taboo, Imaginiff, but really found our fame with Hummmzinger where you have to get people to recognize the song you are so terribly humming. I love people who like to play games – not head games, social games, war games – but fun games – and I love these folk.

We cranked out our tunes –hmmm-mm-mmm – try humming White Rabbit!

So much fun we had.

Headed into Toronto to celebrate my pal Jamie’s birthday in the UP house with more laughter, great food, and old friends. Jamie decided to be a really good cook a few years ago and we all benefit! Before he was playing music and we benefited then from his great songs and strong voice, but now he mostly fills our bellies!

A very sad word about the passing of Jamie and Tory’s good friend Mike Moquin in Toronto. Another fun musician, big character, an excitable boy – he made you laugh and sing louder – but he succumbed to a nasty cancer. Rest with peace, but also with joy, Mike. Your friends are missing you.

I spent a peaceful night at the Irie Festival in Toronto – a more laidback venue than the bigger and boisterous Carabana. It wasn’t all reggae, but it was a groovy
island vibe. We saw the Fab 5, a dance band from Jamaica celebrating 40 years
making people jump. Irie!

I got back to the Hammer just in time to turn around and go to the Lake Erie/St. Catherines area and do some cooking at Ecocamp 2011, a retreat and respite for activists organized by my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker. More of that next time. In the meantime, during the evening I was in the city, I went out with my friend Jeff, whose house I stay in. We had a plan to go sailing on his catamaran, but Lake Ontario was rough, the wind was blowing a gale, and this little tropical gal thought it would be cold, that alone a little wild for an inexperienced sailor like myself. Jeff has sailed all his life and didn’t need to work that hard for another sail, so we chose not to go
out. Others in the catamaran club did and the next day we saw some of them had been rescued by the Harbour Police out of the big waves. Thank you Jeff for not taking me out there!

Instead we left and went to see Miss Robin Banks, a very entertaining lady with a big voice who sings the blues just fine. Got in a little dancing, heard a new voice that I like, and stayed dry. Dancing is always the best decision! The cure for all! Never stop the music!

And very Happy 81st Birthday Wolf! May this next year be much kinder to him than the last. I heard he was seen chopping firewood recently – stronger still!

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