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Later this month Danny and I will make a road trip to Winnipeg. It will be the first long trip I've taken in three years and the longest we've ever undertaken together.
We've been talking about it ever since it was announced the fourth festival of Canadian queer choruses would be held there. The Rainbow Chorus of Waterloo-Wellington will attend and perform. They commissioned Mark Sirett to compose a new song, Starlight, based on a poem written by me.
Most of the chorus is flying. I've never seen Northern Ontario or Manitoba, so Danny and I decided to drive.
Some of my happiest childhood memories involve driving places with my parents. Mom was a great planner and would comb the CAA and AAA guides for interesting places to visit along the way to our destination, places like Fort Ticonderoga and Loray Caverns. We took the Algoma Railway from Sault Sainte Marie on a day-long tour to Agawa Canyon to see brilliant fall colour in Ontario's near north. We witnessed an historic reenactment on a battlefield of the Civil War. We found an endangered Blanding turtle in Nova Scotia's Kejimkujik National Park. Every journey we took was an education.
There are a lot of things I need to do before we leave on the 19th, like get the car serviced. It hasn't had an oil change in ages, but I've set funds aside for that purpose, also the check the transmission and brakes. I need to find someone to come in and water plants. Of course there is a lot of housework to do because the place is so untidy, and there's nothing worse than coming home from a trip to find the place in this much disorder. We still have trip planning to do and reservations to make.
The first long trip I ever took without my parents was to Florida in 1984 with my roommates from university. Of course I had driven there before, but only as a passenger in Dad's car. It was a 24 hour trip and we did it in one stretch without a stop. We were supposed to sleep in the car, but I couldn't, then I had to drive again in the morning.
Winnipeg is almost as far as driving to Florida: about 23 hours by way of Northern Ontario. But we only plan to drive about 10 hours in a day.
We leave two weeks from today but have barely started to plan our trip yet. We haven't made reservations for accommodation. Fortunately it will be the off season for tourism. Over the long weekend while we are in Winnipeg we will be staying with Danny's sister. Sarah and Michele have loaned us the binder from their trip to Winnipeg to give us ideas about things to do, but I haven't looked at it yet. There isn't much free time left. Whenever I think about it I start to worry. A vacation shouldn't work this way. It should just be fun.
The last long trip I took was to the Maritimes in 2005 with my daughters. We stopped for a day in Montreal and, on the way back, Quebec City, exploring the old downtown areas. I was amazed at how beautiful the St. Lawrence River Valley is east of Quebec, and pledged to stop there again. The longest drive I made in one day was from a campground in Eastern Ontario to Cape Breton, 16 hours in the car plus an hour for crossing time zones. It seems strange that Toronto to Winnipeg is almost as far as Toronto to Halifax.
Over the years my daughters and I have spent hundreds of hours together in the car listening to music. We have noticed we can often remember what song we were listening to once when we passed a certain stretch of highway.
For our trip to the Maritimes I had purchased several new CDs. One was Rufus Wainwright's self-titled album. The first time I ever heard the song, "Danny Boy", we were driving eastward through the flat land east of Montreal.
"And a ship with eight sails could come round the bend/
Or a herd of bulls charging stoplights red."
In general I don't like driving much, but I
like long road trips, especially through unfamiliar territory. I like feeling of the change in geography from place to place.
The terrain along that morning drive from Montreal was relatively tedious, but the further east we went, the more fascinating it became. Solitary mountains began to emerge from the St. Lawrence lowlands, and the Laurentians began rising in the north. A patchwork of fields lines the sides of the river, and you can see towns and villages from great distances. The steeples of toy churches stand glistening in the sun.
I've been feeling anxious about this trip to Winnipeg because it comes amidst many other significant events and responsibilities. I haven't had time to plan anything or make reservations yet. Danny and I spent one afternoon discussing our route and looking for hotels along the way, but that is as far as we got.
There were a number of other little tasks hanging over my head. Thursday evening I came home from work and made some phone calls to put those matters out of the way. Now with ten days left to departure, I can focus exclusively on the trip.
Last night Danny and I finally sat down over my laptop and started to solidify plans. We perused Sarah and Michele's binder from their trip, and a book about places to see in Canada. We made hotel reservations for most of the nights we will be on the road.
A city like Winnipeg is just a blind spot on the map until you visit it. Danny has visited it before, but to me it is unfamiliar. I've heard of a few things like Portage and Main, one of the most famous intersections in Canada. It sounds like mosquitoes are ubiquitous.
Last night I tied up a couple more loose ends. I finished making the necessary hotel reservations and researched a few more places to visit along our route.
It's coming down to the crunch. I don't have much free time left before the trip, but there are still many things to do. I need to get a spare key set made for my friend, Marion, so she can come in and water the plants. I need to clear the memory cards for my camera, put away all the laundry piled in my bedroom and keep on top of the dishes.
Yesterday I went to Canadian Tire and had the keys made.
I wonder how that machine works. After each new key is finished, the clerk sticks it in another slot with an in-and-out motion to clean off rough edges.
At home I checked all the keys (I made an extra spare set for myself), put one pair on a ring and gave it to Marion during our library shift. If I remember next week before I leave, I'll also give her my mailbox key.
Most pressing things are done. I am beginning to look forward to the trip.
Last night I had my last rehearsal with the Rainbow Chorus before we attend Unison GLBT Canadian Choral Festival in Winnipeg (next Wednesday I will already be on the road). We are taking "Starlight", the newly commissioned work--with text written by me--to perform at the festival. A camera man was there last night to take still photos and a video performance of the piece for our website. The audio had already been recorded a couple weeks ago. We had to lip synch to hear the recording. At times it was difficult to keep pace with our own performance.
Last time I took the car for regular maintenance was before Mom died in February 2008. Work slowed down about the same time. I began to neglect the Sunfire. I topped up the oil on one occasion and the tires had to be replaced last year, but other than that, nothing. It's a wonder the car kept running as well as it did.
Yesterday morning I took it to Michael's Automotive for a spring checkup. He changed the oil, flushed the transmission and replaced the front brake rotors.
The car is happier now, ready for a 4,000 km trip.
I was waiting at the doctor's office when Sarah Brown from the Rainbow Chorus came in. We started to talk about the upcoming trip. I told her Danny and I will be driving to Winnipeg.
She said, "People always complain about that drive, but it's beautiful: rocks and trees!"
I've heard those complaints. Now I'm looking forward to it even more. I begin to feel the rhythm of the trip even now, whenever I drive anywhere: highway slipping under the tires, countryside passing. Last night on the way to my friends' place in Stouffville I passed under a dramatic cloudscape.
Serious news in my inbox this morning. My younger daughter tells me she is seriously considering coming to live with me. She is unhappy at home, and I have offered this as an alternative.
But what a huge challenge it will be, giving up a big chunk of my personal space and privacy, establishing a living relationship with someone who has had (quite honestly) a bad upbringing.
Life is a journey. We never know what to expect. We need to make the most of every opportunity. This trip may be my last taste of a carefree life for a while.
Tonight, one more night at home before I leave. I have many things to do and not much time: clean the car, put together a trip binder with maps and things to do, tidy my bedroom, pack, shop for groceries and pack the coolers, make necessary phone calls, pick up my new prescription, transfer money I don't need to my savings account, make sure all the dishes are washed and the plants are watered. I could go on. There is more. I have it written down somewhere. Tuesday after work I have my library shift, then I leave for Toronto.
Today is going to be a stressful day. Yesterday afternoon my boss got me started on a new task. I don't think I'll be able to finish it today, so pulling away will be awkward.
Last night I didn't get as much accomplished as hoped. I picked up my new prescription and went grocery shopping, but the bedroom is still a shambles and will have to stay that way. Everything else I must finish before my library shift at 5:00. I will probably end up going in late.
One way or another, I'll leave for Toronto at 10:00.
Yesterday was utter madness. I got home at 3 and tidied the car. I got upstairs around 4, and I knew their was no chance I would make it to my library shift. Fortunately Iris agreed to cover it for me. I spent the next four hours packing and getting ready and barely made it to the library by 8 in time for Writers' Circle.
But at 10 I got on the road with excitement. Unusual cloud patterns marched across the dark sky. The highway was open and I couldn't resist a sneak preview of the Prelude to
We stopped for picnic lunch at a marina near French River. The summery air was fragrant with blossoms. The hot rocks smelt of lichen.
On approach to Sudbury, smokestacks loomed like obelisks. A thundershower approached. Silver gulls circled in sunlight before a dark veil. With sudden rain, an odour of hot, wet pavement filled the car.
My first encounter with Lake Superior: as the car crested a hill, water lay shimmering in the distance. The air was uncommonly still, the trees full of butterflies. The Trans-Canada followed rocky shoreline, one of the prettiest stretches of highway I have driven.
As soon as we left Wawa yesterday morning we drove into boreal forest: spindly spruces, birches and tamaracks. I had slept poorly and it was hard going. Along the five-hour drive from Wawa to Thunder Bay, the road sometimes curves past precipitous drops. The barriers are the old-fashioned kind: posts and wire, no concrete. So you can see the edge of the drop-off. I got vertigo on several occasions and wanted to quit. It helped to take short stops.
Northwest of Thunder Bay the highway became surprisingly straight and flat, monotonous perhaps, but monotony I could handle.
After a pleasant drive from Dryden and my first glimpse of Canadian Prairies, we arrived in Winnipeg, went to the Delta Hotel to register for Unison Festival, parked underground, took the elevator upstairs, and right in front of us were Leah, Nancy and Brenda. It was nice to see friendly faces in a new city.
The Rainbow Harmony Project gave all the delegates a warm welcoming concert to Winnipeg last night, beginning with “Willkommen” from
. The program included guest appearances from movers and shakers in the queer community here, like Heather Bishop. We sat with our friends from Guelph.
Yesterday Rainbow Chorus of Waterloo-Wellington performed my song “Starlight” for queer choristers from across Canada. I could see and hear the audience liked it. They loved our rendition of “Oh Shenandoah”. We've worked hard on
technique, and it was appreciated.
Outstanding vocal performance was given by Tone Cluster from Ottawa. Dance numbers by Extravaganza from Montreal were awesome.
We ended the evening at Gio’s. It was the first time Danny and I had been in a gay bar since September. I find it harder to meet people than I used to. We didn’t stay late.
Yesterday afternoon we heard the final block of performances from attending choruses. The Women Next Door from Nova Scotia moved me to tears with a song about those who died in the Montreal Massacre. We went for a pint with a few friends, then got ready for the banquet. It was another enjoyable evening, with a rousing talk and brief performance by Heather Bishop. As soon as dance music started, the entire company gravitated to the floor. I couldn’t get Danny to dance, but my friends were there. Finally “The Time Warp” came on, and he couldn’t resist.
The final choral performances Monday morning were assembled solely for the festival with choristers from across Canada. We were amazed at what they achieved with a few hours' rehearsal. The women’s chorus sounded amazing. The mixed chorus stood at all corners of the church and sang about listening to voices from the Earth.
Unison has decided to form a national organization, rather than passing the torch entirely from one city to the next every four years. In 2014 it will take place in Ottawa.
Winnipeg’s Rainbow Harmony Project performed one last song of farewell. It was about unity.
Every city has a flavour. You can only learn so much about a place by reading or hearing. To begin to understand you need to taste for yourself–see, hear and feel.
Winnipeg is known for wind and mosquitoes. It lived up to its windiness yesterday while Danny and I strolled around. At times we had to lean into long gusts to stay upright. We visited Portage and Main, one of Canada’s most famous intersections, where pedestrians are not permitted to cross, partly because they are prone to getting blown of their feet. You must use an underground concourse.
Oak Hammock Marsh, 45 minutes north of Winnipeg, is a hotspot for breeding water birds. We got up early and arrived at 8. The intense wind did not prevent many species--unusual for me and unknown for Danny--from appearing for our viewing pleasure. The clay-coloured sparrow and Wilson's phalarope (and perhaps some the others) were life birds for me. It was delightful to see yellow-headed blackbirds and black terns in numbers.
We were ready for some quiet time when we arrived in Kenora at the Best Western Lakeshore Inn. This morning I slept in until 9:15.
The owner of the Greek restaurant where we ate dinner in Kenora told us about a trail, which we followed yesterday morning. It wound around the edge of a small lake to a railroad tunnel through the grey granite. The weather was fine. I explored the world of small with my camera: mosses and lichens,
in bloom, ferns, rock textures, a dragonfly perched on a plant stem.
There were numerous warblers singing in the trees and squabbling over breeding territory. A Blackburnian warbler perched on a wire so I could point out to Danny its brilliant orange breast.
It was a day of spectacles. At Sleeping Giant Provincial Park we stopped at Thunder Bay Lookout, with a viewing platform some 100 metres above the boulder beach and waves below.
We were utterly alone. At Pounsford Lake we stopped for a picnic, then had sex in the sun by the peaceful lake. Loons called in the distance.
At Ouimet Canyon we had to cross a bridge that made my sphinctre clench. Two more viewing platforms extended from the edge of the cliff, suspended over the 100 metre canyon where subarctic fauna blooms. I couldn't get too near the railing.
Friday we returned to High Falls Cottages in Wawa, the same place we spent the first night of our trip. In the morning we took our time packing then drove down to Michipicoten River Village. We wandered a while around Silver Falls before turning homeward.
In the car we talked about the best and worst of the trip, mostly highlights; there was little to criticize. At Danny's, Mike and Bryon were waiting with cheese, crackers and wine.
My car still has red dust behind the doors, a memento from the steep road to the lookout in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
I spent 12 days with Danny. It might be a long while before we are able to spend that quality of time together again. Parting was hard.
I came home to a hot, stuffy apartment. Marion had been in. The plants were all fine, but the Boston fern is shedding. Moving it out of the tub, I got leaves all over the floor.
Now I have to shift back to a routine of getting up early, knitting and writing, preparing for work. I wish I could take the attitude of positivity and pleasure and apply it to my daily living.
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