SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Attacked by a Grouse!

Grandma’s garden and grouse lair

It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season.  This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.

At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof.  No structural damage – whew!

As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it.  And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.

It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice  harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…

Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.

Grouse well-camouflaged. Probably ruffed grouse species.

 

The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…

While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?

Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.

OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.

Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.

More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?

“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”

The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage.  You reach it via a trail through the woods.  As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.

“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.

So round the pond we went – a fair distance over  ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.

It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.

After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.

We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….

 

WANDERINGS: Riding in the Plague Year #1

Greetings Readers!

Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.

2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world.  Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year. 

No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially  joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.

What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet.  Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?

My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain. 

My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.

Seen in Rosedale
Crocuses!
More spring flowers

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.

James Dean artist
Green tiger burning bright
New. Condom rocket?
Watching u

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!

Happy croc!
Motivation to pedal harder

I’M IN THE MOVIES: FAB DOCUMENTARY OF THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM

Back LtoR: Rosemary McCracken, Jane Burfield, Lisa De Nikolits, Donna Carrick, Lynne Murphy, Melodie Campbell, Sylvia Warsh Foreground: Marilyn Kay, M. H. Callway

Greetings Readers and Happy New Decade!

In business school, I learned that my job-survivalist strategies in the bureaucracy had a name: NETWORKING. To push through the inertia of the Ministry, I had to call on my friends for help.   And trade favours for favours.

It took years to build my network, to gain friends from shared job successes, catastrophes or bosses from hell. But business profs urged a more active approach: Get out there, meet more people, throw your business card to the winds, attack and build your NET.

So I did – and discovered that gold, when it landed, always came from an unexpected direction.

In 2018, we Mesdames of Mayhem were winding up another great panel at the Beaches Library. A young woman approached the table. She turned out to be Cat Mills, an award-winning documentarian – and she thought we’d make an engaging film.

Me? In the movies? NO WAY! Unlike the Ellen Burstyn character in Requiem for a Dream the last thing in the universe I want is to be on TV. Radio is fine (and I had a fab time as Alison Dore’s guest on Sirius) but the shock seeing of myself as others see me – GACK!!

Cat and my dear friend and author extraordinaire, Lisa De Nikolits, connected right away. They invited me for coffee and I thought, why not? Coffee and company, what’s a better way to spend an hour NOT writing!

The hour turned into three hours of lively and thought-provoking discussion. And after I viewed Cat’s wonderful documentary, Biker Bob’s Posthumous AdventureI knew I had to make the Mesdames film happen.

The first hurdle: money! Cat planned to approach the CBC. Oh, well, I thought. I have several friends and my own daughter, Claire Callway, is in the film biz: the chances of a film ever getting financed are really low. BUT CBC came through.

Over the next several months, Cat and crew filmed miles of footage, interviewing many Mmes individually, including myself. How would Cat distill all this material into a coherent 15-minute film?

We had a lot of fun, including a garden party at my house where the weather cooperated beautifully. The atmospheric picture above is from the footage shot at the wickedly macabre Darling Mansion decorated mostly like a Victorian bordello. Here are some pics: a visit is highly recommended.

Taxidermy
Friend Jane in the “boudoir”
Friend Lynne and a bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my former life as a management consultant, I grew comfortable with chaos. When you walk into a work place experiencing problems, you’re overwhelmed by the trees of a prickly forest: the client’s urgency, too much or too little of the right data, human emotions, office politics. Fortunately, I liked to dive right into the metaphorical shark pool and swim around until patterns emerged. And soon I’d hear a phrase that crystallized those patterns into a solution.

Ironically, for our film, the person who uttered the key phrase was me.  Cat had asked me why I liked writing crime fiction. To me, I said, it’s spiritual comfort food. When I open a mystery novel, I know that no matter how horrific the crime, by the end of the story justice will be done. And we all know life isn’t really like that.

In Cat’s film, The Mesdames of Mayhem, she shows that early life traumas propelled us to create crime fiction. There we can serve up justice to those who so richly deserve it! Cat focused on four of my friends:  Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick and Lisa De Nikolits.  I’m there, too, flitting in and out: I even get to show off our latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

Word was that Cat’s film would make you laugh – and make you cry. On October 25th, I opened up the YouTube link and watched The Mesdames of Mayhem alone in my studio. It was a brilliant, emotionally intense experience, the work of a gifted professional.

I laughed, I cried! And you will, too, dear readers. HERE IT IS:

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

Back on the Trail of Street Art!

Greetings Readers!

I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too,  training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.20170329_115443

Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.

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School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail. 

Kids contribution
Kids contribution

As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.

Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!

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SURREAL TRAPDOOR: The Occult and K2

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

My blog today is a combined Surreal Trap Door and Eat this Book.51pGxMGswNL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Books about outdoor adventure and survival are my great favourite. At Bear Pond Books, Stowe’s wonderful book store, Ghosts of K2   by Mike Conefrey  caught my eye. It reads like a thriller!

K2 is the world’s second highest mountain. Though 800 feet shorter than Everest, it is a far more challenging technical climb. As one injured climber famously said: “K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” 

It has a nasty track record. It has the second highest climber mortality rate for mountains over 8000 feet: 77 deaths for 300 summits or roughly 1 in 4 climbers die. The dubious title of ultimate killer belongs to Annapurna at 61 deaths for 191 summits or 1 in 3. Everest gets more publicity for its deaths but in fact, its fatality rate is relatively low: 54 deaths for 3000 summits.

K2 got its name during the The Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. Thomas Montgomerie, perched on Mt. Haramuhk  200 km south of the Karakoram mountain range,  sketched two prominent peaks and labelled them K1 and K2. K1 had a name, Masherbrum, but K2 didn’t, probably because of its remote and inaccessible location. Local people simply called it “Chogori” or Big Mountain so the name K2 stuck.

Now for the opening of the surreal trapdoor! The first serious attempt on K2 was a 1902 British expedition led by the infamous occult leader, Aleister Crowley! At the time Crowley was a mop-headed, British gentleman of independent means, channelling his inner Alan Quartermain. Despite being hampered by lack of roads, modern equipment and an understanding of the devastating effects of high altitude on human physiology, his team managed to reach 21,407 feet. Miraculously no one died in the attempt despite the frigid temperatures and gale force winds.

Aleister Crowley - 1st bath in 85 days
Aleister Crowley – 1st bath in 85 days

The team suffered considerable hardships. Crowley went 85 days without bathing and was plagued by malaria, lice and snow blindness. He was too ill to attempt the summit, which probably saved his life. 

Unlike his friend, Oscar Eckenstein, who was a careful, methodical climber, Crowley attacked mountains the way he approached sex, drugs and other pleasures in his life – with wild, mad intensity

He attempted one more big climb, Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world and third worst killer of mountaineers: about 22% die summiting its peak. After three of his team died in an avalanche, he gave up  climbing over 8000 feet for good.

Crowley’s interest in the occult and “magick” began in 1898 when he joined the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. The occult and mysticism became the focus of his life. In 1905, he founded his own religion, Thelema. Throughout his life, he remained controversial because of his multitude of male and female lovers and his appetites for opium, heroin and cocaine. Some biographers believe that his libertine ways covered up the fact that he worked as a spy for British intelligence throughout his life.

K2 was finally summited by an Italian team on July 31, 1954, a little more than a year after Hillary and Tenzing topped Everest on May 29, 1953.  More understanding of the dangers of high altitude and bottled oxygen made these ascents possible.

Mike Conefrey, the author of The Ghosts of K2, is a documentarian who has worked mostly with the BBC. His passions are mountaineering and exploration. He approaches writing non-fiction as a dramatist, which makes Ghosts of K2, a page-turner that stays with you.

So, dear readers, EAT THIS BOOK!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marihuana in Legoland

Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!

ce3489971f4d58cd34e8614f532a7312In Windigo Fire, my villain, Santa is the owner of a seedy roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. Of course, he has a large crop of marihuana plants flourishing in the “service area”. 

I got the idea after we visited  Santa’s Village  in Bracebridge, Ontario with our then 4 year old  daughter. She absolutely loved Santa’s Village, but as a mom chasing after an active kid, well, my thoughts turned dastardly.  As I tell aspiring writers: ask the “What if” question. What if this clean, family-friendly attraction masked a grow-op?

Thus the seeds of Santa’s Fish Camp were planted so to speak. But now Legoland UK has followed suite! th2

2861129_2PgBfsPCZrJOlDrPa-M4Q3NzNHABmxp15VDg2rgUaG4Recently, a grow-op was discovered at Legoland UK. Two enterprising b*stards planted 50 thriving marihuana plants inside a cottage at the boundary of the theme park. Even cheekier, the ambitious  herbalists accessed the cottage through Crown Estate lands –  at Windsor Castle where the Queen lives!

Read the full story in the Huffington Post here. As they say, man, Legolize It!

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SURREAL TRAPDOOR: What’s Under Niagara Falls?

Greetings, Readers!

I’ve been offline for much of January doing what writers do: writing! Finished up two short projects and now I’m re-attacking Danny Bluestone’s next adventure, Windigo Ice.

130926-Scary-Cat
13 Claws coming soon!

Lots to look forward to in 2017: the launch of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws; Left Coast Crime in Hawaii; Limestone Expo in Kingston; Word on the Street; and Bouchercon right here in Toronto!

But of course my fingers strayed over to the internet from the time to time and I came across this retro gem though: what happened when engineers stopped Niagara Falls in 1969?

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The American Falls before…
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American Falls after

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid in school, my science teachers were preoccupied with the demise of Niagara Falls. If Something Wasn’t Done, the Falls would deteriorate post-haste into a series of rapids and precious tourist dollars would evaporate. Rock slides in 1931 and 1958 had dumped a sh*tload of rubble at the base of the American Falls.  The Niagara Falls Gazette created a fervour by predicting the Death of the Falls and the cause was taken up by a zealous senator and congressman.

And so on June 12, 1969, the US Corps of Engineers did the unthinkable: they stopped Niagara Falls for the first time in 12,000 years. (Well, not exactly. A half a dozen ice jams have blocked the flow over BOTH sets of falls, most significantly in 1848, but only for a few days each time.)

Once the water dried up, what a desolate and unattractive site it became!

article-1338793-0C7DB7DE000005DC-707_634x417

To dry up The Falls, the US army dumped 27,800 tons of rock upstream across the Niagara River, creating a 600 ft cofferdam that diverted the water away to flow over the (to my mind) far more beautiful Canadian Horseshoe Falls.  Over the next six months, army engineers mechanically bolted faults and drilled holes in the riverbed in hopes of delaying further erosion. 

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As a crime writer, I was curious to know what workers found UNDER the falls once the water dried up. Well, at first, lost coins drew a ton of fortune seekers. Eventually tourists stayed away in droves, because the falls had become, quite frankly, ugly.

Sadly, two bodies were recovered: the first a man, a recent suicide. The other, the skeletal remains of a woman wearing a red and white striped dress and a narrow gold wedding band with the inscription “Forget Me Not”. There’s a story there certainly.

Experts soon realized the enormous cost of removing all the rubble from the base of the Falls. On November 24, 1969, the workers dispatched the coffer dam in front of 2500+ spectators, restoring the flow of water, the Falls’ beauty – and collective sanity all at once.

For more details about this engineering oddity, follow this link.