Archive - August 2015

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Liberated Women
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Vancouver Island – Emily Carr

Liberated Women

I boarded The Canadian, Canada’s legendary scenic train, in Vancouver for a three day transit of the Rocky Mountains and high prairies. The mountain vistas beggar description, the cuisine is surprisingly good, the service friendly.  The train personnel enjoy their jobs and take pride in sharing Canada with visitors.  We stopped for a break in beautiful Jasper, ‘Gateway To The Rockies,’ and again in Saskatoon, made famous by an episode in the immortal Rumpole of the Bailey series. Don’t take The Canadian if you’re in a hurry though.  It’s a holiday special, not a commuter train.  Does anyone rush to Istanbul aboard the Orient Express?

From Toronto, I rode the ‘hound to Buffalo where I’d rented a car for my Upstate New York wandering. This region is the cradle of the Women’s Rights Movement and a hotbed of Abolitionist activity before the American Civil War.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, and John Brown all came from the banks of the old Erie Canal.  Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass also called Upstate their home.  Every village its story to tell. (Speaking of which, a must read book for young people is Seneca Falls Inheritance, by Miriam Grace Monfredo, a mystery story rich in important history.)  

Owego, my base for several days, is on the Susquehanna River, a great commercial artery before the railways eclipsed water navigation.  Ms Von B and I visited The Hickories Park on the river bank  and wished we had a kayak to paddle over to Hiawatha Island, named in honor of the legendary Native American lawgiver. Owego was founded shortly after the American Revolutionary War and is still a thriving village.  While there, I dined several times at Las Chicas Taqueria. Homemade tortillas provide the backbone of a menu  where Baja California meets old New York.

Near Owego, I joined a cycling youth group at their campsite.  We shared a mom-cooked Italian meal, then adjourned for a campfire featuring hot popcorn, roast marshmallows, horseplay, and stories.  Two of the group had ridden metric centuries (100 km in a day!) on mountain bikes.  Crazy costumes were the uniform of the evening.

I also took a sentimental tour of Homer, NY, where Amelia Bloomer grew to womanhood.  Bloomer, who popularized the liberating garment which bears her name, was the founding editor of ‘The Lily,’ the first women’s newspaper. She advocated gender equality, abolition of slavery, and temperance.  I don’t know if Bloomer was a cyclist, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Lots of ‘Bloomer Girls’ were.

My final stop in the region was The Groton Rod & Gun Club, affectionately known as ‘Church.’ I broke an unremarkable 29 of 40 clay pigeons in two rounds of trap.  A woman using a shotgun with Barbie-pink stocks broke all 40 of hers, reminding me once again that some of us are more equal than others.  A nearby Walmart offers a pink beginners rifle, size small, to train another generation of girls in the joys of things that go bang.  I blame Amelia.

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Vancouver Island – Emily Carr

Vancouver Island is about 300 miles long and has a population of fewer than 300,000, half of whom live in Victoria, the provincial capital, on its southern tip. Nanaimo, the second largest city, is about 75 miles north of Victoria on the island’s east coast. Most of the population live in or near these two cities. Although they have their charm, each could almost be in California, New York, or Ohio.  I like the smaller places, Ladysmith, Chemainus, and Port Hardy. These villages still have quirks and blemishes; they remain unsullied by lattes, big macs, and  strip malls.

Cycling through a forest, I encountered a doe and fawn.  The fawn, new  and curious, stopped to look at me; so close we could nearly have touched noses. I held my breath, not daring to fumble for a camera. Later, I watched a pair of Bald Eagles, the American national bird, fishing.  An old dock rat told me they feed on small dogs too – one sometimes finds a collection of wee collars near their roosts.  I suppose the odd Jack Russell is a healthy variation to one’s diet, but no one eats the garnish.  Nylon spoils the digestion.

Back in Ladysmith I met a woman who told me my own story.  Seeing Ms Von B, she said ‘Say, that’s a folding bike eh?  There was a guy from Ireland here a couple of weeks ago taking one of those around the world on container ships and trains. …’  I laughed and introduced myself.  Without a daily newspaper, people still talk to each other to keep track of village comings and goings.  I’d made the morning news.

Gale, my Ladysmith host, took me to two rehearsals at their Little Theatre, both excellent entertainment. I saw a first rehearsal of ‘The Departed,’ a dark comedy, and a near-ready presentation of ‘Stones in his Pockets,’ an Irish drama by Marie Jones featuring 15 parts performed by Mort Paul and Torry Clark, two talented, high-energy actors.  In the play they change character more nimbly than politicians lie. Maybe they should enter the presidential primary.

One warm evening we went to an outdoor concert at the Ladysmith Amphitheater on Transfer Beach.  As we were settling in, a power boat traversed the shoreline. From its fore-deck a familiar bikinied blonde waived to her admiring public.  Lady Pamela Anderson (now titled!), Ladysmith’s home-grown celebrity, had made a cameo appearance.  I thought of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, made brave by the award of a medal. 

The soul of Vancouver Island is its deep wilderness. Emily Carr, the island’s celebrated painter, was finely attuned to the voices of the ancient, nameless spirits of the forest. After hiking and cycling through the woods, I found deeper appreciation for her work. The Greater Victoria Museum has a good, representative collections of her paintings.  Not far away is the Carr House, Emily’s home, a small treasure in old Victoria.  Stop in for a cuppa.

As I hiked across the restored Kinsol Trestle, a railway bridge deep within the trees, I thought about Emily Carr, her courage, character, and independence.  She was a new woman living in late-Victorian British Columbia.  Feature that!

Special Thanks:

  • The Probus Club for a  friendly hike in the  forest.       
  • Islands Folk Festival for old folkies boogieing in the rain.
  • Diego the Buggy Horse in Chemainus, the Mural City.
  • Goats on the Roof Emporium.
  • Unsworth Restaurant and Slow Food for a wonderful meal.
  • Lanzville Big Sing for ‘The Song for Mira.’ 
  • Yellow Point Lodge for a peek into elegant vacationing. 

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Copyright Jack Kelleher © 2014.