Are you Ready for the Country?

July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, back after a week in the country.

I grew up in a smallish town, but I’ve lived in cities ever since I moved to Canada in 1981 (apart from a year in Nova Scotia in the mid-nineties when I was in school) . I’m an urban creature, and that line in the Communist Manifesto about the “idiocy of rural life” always spoke to me. So, it was with some trepidation that we rented a cottage for a week in Prince Edward County (population: 25,258).

As we walked around the place we had rented, my son muttered that it would be a “really nice place if it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere.”  And to be fair, Cherry Valley, where we were located, is a bit small. On the main drive, there’s a store called The Store in Cherry Valley. The use of the definite article isn’t much of an exaggeration.  A little farther down the road is a sign for a store called “Fixaco,” but on the store itself is reads Texaco. Maybe you should fixaco that.  But subtle delighted awaited.

We hit a couple of farmer’s markets on the weekend. First Wellington, which, if truth be told, was really an artists market. Sure, sure, there were people selling fresh fruit and veg, but most of the stuff was designer crafts or bottled or baked food stuffs. Bought some cupcakes and some amazing hot sauce. The next day we went to a second market in Picton. Picton is approximately three times the size of Wellington, so you might reasonably expect its market to be larger as well. You’d be wrong. It was tiny, and probably half of the sellers, we had seen the previous day in Wellington. Still, the town itself was nice, small town Ontario:  A limited number of stop lights, confusing right-of-ways, one-of-a-kind stores and a general sense of calm. Even the boy began to relent: “People are friendlier here than in Toronto.”

Monday was the busiest day. We had breakfast at the Drake Devonshire (a branch of the Toronto hotel) in Wellington overlooking Lake Ontario, then headed off to wine country. We stopped at Norman Hardie near Hillier, then went over to Broken Stone Wineries which is owned by the family of a friend of my daughter’s.  As we mentioned the connection between their daughter and ours, I realized we were buying a bottle.  The wine was really good though. A quick look at an alpaca ranch and a lavender farm (filled with aging white people and home.

Tuesday, I made a serious miscalculation. I’ve known I have horse allergies for a few years. A while back, a friend of mine was competing in some kind of horsey thing and we went to support her. After about ten minutes of sitting in the gallery, I realized I could barely breathe. The next time was at an open air event in Ottawa, and I made sure not to touch any of the horses. No problems this time. Ah ha, I thought, I’ve cracked it. So when the family decided to go horseback riding, I assuming as long as I didn’t overly touch the horses, I’d be fine.  Inside the stables, the air was fetid and I had a stab of panic, but when we stepped outside, everything seemed fine. I was pretty pleased when I was easily able to get on the horse with some grace, and I felt like Gary Cooper. But you can’t help patting he horse, can you? Shortly after we left, my skin began to blotch, then itch, and then swell. Within an hour, my arms, legs and neck were swollen, and I could hardly see out of my right eye. Horses are magnificent creatures; however, they seem to want to kill me.

The final days were spent at Sandbanks Provincial Park, which is a beautiful park with some magnificent beaches at the west end of Prince Edward County. We walked some nature trails, although the warning about lyme ticks made us all overly worried about mosquitoes – at one point on our walk, I noticed blood running down my leg, and there was a moment of panic, but it was probably a scratch from a branch. The final day was at the beach. I’m not really a beach person – the sun and I don’t really get along, but smothered in sun block, I’m good for a couple of hours.

But that was really only half our trip. The rest was well, doing nothing. Sitting by East Lake, reading. Just reading. Fiction, essays, philosophy. Just relaxing. I’ve never really understood the appeal of cottage country (and my family doesn’t own a cottage), but I think I get it now. I’ve been back in Toronto for a week, and at times it’s an assault. The cars, the people, the noise.

Of course that’s what makes the city exciting too. A medieval proverb had it, the city air makes you free. Free to reinvent, free to reimagine, and probalby free from the informal tyranny of the countryside where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business.

The countryside can be crushingly monolithic. In culture, in attitudes, in what was acceptable. When I lived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in the nineties, those who lived in the town itself were dismissively labelled “townies,” and if your family had arrived less than a few generations back, you were still an outsider. But that’s going to change in PEC. The multi-million dollar homes are already there, and every town we drove through had some kind of middle income development in progress. Capitalism is coming. OK, it’s already there, but you know what I mean. Within a decade then…

 

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2 Comments

  1. Paul Faulkner said,

    Hilarious account of your PEC Holiday, Neil! I believe Jen and I may have been responsible for your Ottawa open-air horse experience; sorry about that! 🙂

    • fischerzed said,

      Yeah, I was referring the time we saw Jen in some competition, but that was fine. Lulled me into a sense of false security, I guess. The occasion should teach me something, but live and don’t learn s my motto.

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