Rooftop picnic with my girls and Ceri. The season is changing and one of the ways I can tell is that I'm getting nesty. Summer remains in all its August loveliness, and yet I'm starting to think about making things like soup, and ways to preserve this bounty. But nothing can preserve what it's like to eat fresh Ontario tomatoes, peppers and corn outdoors on a clear summer evening. August – I'm hanging on to you for all I'm worth.
South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island.
Today, attempting to embark on our roadtrip from Michigan to the Manitoulin Island, we encounter a series of unfortunate events, culminating in a giant traffic stoppage due to an accident on the I-75 southbound. It doesn't take us long to come to terms with the fact that we will not get to Tobermory to catch the last ferry to the island. In the meantime, as we sit on the highway in the sweltering sun, the gas tank is dwindling, no highway exit in sight. Trapped, we pull over to sit out the traffic jam on the side of the road with the car off. It's more than an hour into the jam-up and we all get quiet and feeling dejected, wondering how many hours of this are ahead of us.
Within 15 minutes, we're approached by no less than six different cars, offering gas, snacks and water. One lady shares what she'd heard on the traffic report. At one point, we see an older woman walking unsteadily on the side of the road with a wad of tissue in her hand, obviously seeking an gentler route into the ditch where she can relieve herself. A woman who had minutes ago insisted we accept bottles of cold water from her cooler, gets out of her car to help the woman down the side of the ditch and behind some bushes on the other side. She then stands there with her skirt spread to protect the woman's privacy. After ten minutes or so she helps the woman back up to the road and sends her back to her car with a bottle of water and a hug. I've always know Americans are kind people. Today they proved it again.
Everyone's moods are heightened significantly, and our resolve to drive around to the island the long way, back north the other way through Michigan, through Sault Ste Marie toward Espanola and bridge access to the island, doesn't seem so bad. We arrive at the cottage at 1:45 am, after more than 13 hours, bloody tired, but happy to be here.
“It’s still raining.”
I’m walking up to the car rental place on Saturday morning to retrieve the car in which my girls and I will drive down to the much anticipated Shores of Erie wine festival in our home town when Debbie calls. “Bring rubber boots, raincoats, umbrellas, tarps, dinghies – whatever you got. And for heaven’s sake, don’t wear anything white. Or nice.”
I’d been getting updates on the back home weather all week; it started pouring about five days previous and hadn’t stopped; until that moment I’d nicely avoided thinking about the consequences. And call me a reckless avoider, but I don’t even consider taking that freshly ironed white shirt out of my suitcase.
The back home weather report is inconceivable. It’s the most perfect morning of the entire year, and I wish we could move the entire festival four hours up the highway. Luscious September days like this are precious: sunny with a soft breeze – the kind that caresses your skin with the gentlest of kisses. There isn’t an ounce of humidity and the sky is so clear it sparkles.
After collecting the girls we get on the highway, happy in spite of the mucky news. The event is about old friends, wine, food and live music. Last year we had such a good time, seeing so many of my home people dishing out so much love. Add to that memory the gorgeousness of that September and the beautiful setting alongside a familiar river – not going was not an option.
The luscious weather remains perfect for pretty much the whole ride down the highway. When we’re down to a half hour away, we begin to see layers of cloud formations: some thick and cotton-like, seemingly miles deep, others wispy and flying fast underneath them. And then the occasional black one hanging like a lame threat over some farm field.
When we finally pull into the yard at Debbie and Len’s, it’s stopped raining and Deb’s looking disbelievingly at the breaks of blue in the sky. We did our best to bring it along, we say.
The rolling grounds of Fort Malden are a sloppy mess. We’re talking barnyard. It seems no less crowded than last year. Apparently wine lovers are a serious lot, and no one is going to let a little rain and mud diminish any of their fun. Kind of like making lemonade out of life’s lemons, what was once a promenade of cute dresses and sandals has morphed into a parade of audacious wellies.
Thousands of pairs of audacious wellies – beautiful thing number sixty-three.
One doesn’t venture away from one’s table much this year for fear of going topsy turvy in the muck. And yes, I wore that white shirt. At one point Kelsey has to ask a bloke to give her a pull because she gets stuck. She isn’t the only one suffering mucky dilemmas. We witness a number of fall-downs one amusing one by a guy who is gallantly carrying a girl on his back. It is amusing because Princess is NOT pleased and climbs BACK on his slimy back for the rest of the journey to the paved walk about five feet away.
Next day, Sunday, the sun joins the party and by after lunch when we go back to the site, the conditions have improved considerably, and continue to do so until the event closes. Sarah Harmer, who we’d stayed the extra day to hear play charms everybody. With the crowds considerably thinned and the sun shining, it is a most pleasant day.
They say that for a time Fort Malden served as a lunatic asylum. I’m amused by the thought of what those who walked the Fort Malden grounds a couple hundred years ago might be thinking from the vantage point of a netherworld, of these hoards of people in crazy-coloured rubber footwear happily wallowing around in acres of mud and seeming to celebrate that with endless toasting and good cheer.
If I were one of those netherworld beings, I might see that party down there, mud and all as most definitely beautiful thing number sixty-four.