Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer Reading: The Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard is a book about how the author Peter Matthiessen does not see a snow leopard. Yep, you read that right. His traveling companion, zoologist George Schaller, was luckier and did see one near the end of their stay in a remote region of Western Nepal. 

The purpose of their expedition was to study the rare Himalayan blue sheep or more specifically the mating habits of the blue sheep (and they are a little kinky if you ask me) in order to determine if the blue sheep are more closely related to sheep or goats (spoiler alert: they are closer to goats). 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The book is predominantly a travel diary, but a travel diary of the highest calibre since this is a remote and fascinating part of the world and Mattiessen is no ordinary story-teller. He has a wonderful ability to capture the essence of the changing rugged landscape, the animals and birds, the local people he meets, the villages he travels through, and life as it unfolds. Matthiessen has a great way with words and really makes the trip come to life.  

While The Snow Leopard is largely a travel diary, it is also about Matthiessen himself. The trek for Mattiessen is not only to accompany his friend Schaller in studying the blue sheep, but also is a time for him to ponder the recent death of his wife and reflect on their years together and a spiritual quest for him to gain knowledge about Buddhism. The Buddhism sections were complicated and detailed and dealt with many ideas and names I didn't know anything about. Even without being able to absorb the details from these pages, I still found the book an excellent read.

Matthiesen is a tough fellow for taking part in such an adventure. Thankfully, although the trek is long and difficult and dangerous, Matthiessen isn't a whiner. He was only eight years younger than I am now when he did the trek and it was done under very difficult conditions (there was a prolonged monsoon season that year as well as early snows and he had hiking boots didn't fit well and a tent that leaked).  

I doubt I will ever get to such a remote area of the world, but I sure enjoyed reading about it. The Snow Leopard book was written back in 1978 and likely much has changed since then. George Schaller recommended the area become a National Park to protect the wildlife and that indeed has happened. 

Do you like reading travel books?  Personally, I love them so I was pretty sure I would enjoy The Snow Leopard.  It is a classic travel expedition book and one that I would definitely recommend if you like the genre.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Scrumptious Sandwich #1

I have sandwiches on the brain what with school starting up next week.  I wanted to share with you a few of my tried-and-true favourite sandwiches.  Some of them are fairly normal (like today's), but some of them fall in the category of strange, but scrumptious (coming soon).  

Let me introduce you to my one of my favourite sandwiches that I eat a steady diet of at this time of the year - the cream cheese and tomato sandwich. There is only a small window of time when you can get those big meaty flavourful tomatoes and fresh basil and that time is now my friends.  You can see why I had to let you in on my sandwich secrets before it is too late.

It's a pretty easy sandwich. Here's all you need for it:

Is your mouth watering as much as mine?  

I started you off easy with one of my crowd pleaser sandwiches, but my next sandwich is a Swedish bombshell and may scare you (consider yourself forewarned).  

Do you have a favourite sandwich?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Wrap-up

I can't believe it. How did it happen already? Summer is over and school is starting up again next week. I had a different kind of summer this year with no big trips, but instead lots of time spent with the family. Here's how it went down.  

I visited my parent's Haliburton cottage lots - for probably half the summer when you add all the days together.

I made one trip to the family cottage on Georgian Bay.

And went on one trip to Letchworth State Park in New York State (which you can read about here).

We visited Fort York again as we now had two guards (Kate and William) we wanted to see doing their maneuvers.

And the biggest surprise was that I did lots of art for the first time in my life.  I took a Sumi-e (Japanese Brush Painting) course at the Haliburton School of the Arts which you can read about here.

I sketched on several trips.

I spent a fun day with my Aunt discussing art and visiting a waterfall in Haliburton that we sketched and I later painted.

In total I painted five landscapes. 

Given that I have only painted seven paintings in my whole life this has been a very productive summer for me.  

A painting of my parent's Haliburton cottage that I gave to my Dad for his birthday

A couple of weeks ago I bought myself some brushes and five colours of acrylic paints and some canvases.  We also re-arranged the master bedroom so I could have a table by the window and paint in the light.  I'm learning lots about painting and it has me excited for the possibilities for this coming year. 

I'll be spending this weekend helping our youngest two get ready for university with last-minute clothes shopping, haircuts, packing of bags, and hopefully not-too-tearful good-byes.  Then after a couple of trips to the airport, we will be empty-nesters.  I remember sending them off to kindergarten and now the last one is heading for university.  Sigh!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Ride on the South Simcoe Railway

A few weeks ago was my father's 84th birthday and to celebrate we took him for a ride on the South Simcoe steam train and then out for dinner. It was a very fitting expedition as my Dad is quite the train buff. My father's father worked for both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific Railways as a locomotive foreman and was in charge of the engine repairs. The railway was always part of their lives.

This wasn't just any old train ride though. No sir, this was a ride in a vintage coach pulled by a 130-year old steam locomotive. Not only is the engine historic, but it is also famous having appeared in several TV shows and movies including (after adding a different smoke stack and numbers) The National Dream back in 1973.  Anyone else remember watching The National Dream TV series that was narrated by Pierre Berton and dramatized the building of the railway that joined Canada from sea to sea (or am I just showing my age that I remember sitting down as a family to watch it)

Heritage Canada
The South Simcoe Steam Railway is about an hour north of Toronto in Tottenham.  It is well worth the drive as the train is such a lovely way to travel through the countryside. The entire trip lasts about 50 minutes and is narrated by an interesting and informative conductor.  

One of the things that really caught my eye were how many apple trees were growing along the train embankment. They were loaded with huge apples and had me dying to go back and pick a bag or two of them.  

And of course there was cake and of course it was decorated with something train related. Everyone needs a caboose pencil sharpener, right?  Happy birthday Dad!

Summer is winding down (sniff, sniff).  I still have one more trip to the cottage planned for next week and then it is home to help the middle and youngest pack for university and take them to the airport (double sniff, sniff).  I still have a few summer posts planned so I'm going to write them even if school has started, the leaves are starting to turn, and the temperatures are dropping.  Okay? Okay.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Living on the Edge

Well maybe not the actual edge, just a healthy distance from the edge of cliffs, that is. That's what a girlfriend and I did this past few days.  We packed our bags, said goodbye to our families, and rented a cabin in Letchworth State Park in New York State.  I've lived less than a four-hour drive from this gem for almost my whole life and have never heard of it.

We started out making plans to visit Buffalo to see the art gallery and some Frank Lloyd Wright homes, but since the weather was supposed to be three perfect sunny summer days I thought we should take advantage of it and do something outdoorsy.  I began looking at parks in New York state and stumbled onto Letchworth State Park.  What a fantastic treat to find.

The park is long and narrow and follows the Genesee River as it winds through deep canyons, some with cliffs up to 600 feet high, and three waterfalls on its way to Lake Ontario.  

The park was founded in 1910 and there are beautiful historic buildings, including the home of Mr. Letchworth which is now the Glen Iris Inn - a gorgeous wooden hotel decorated with a wrap-around veranda and William Morris wallpaper.

There are miles of stone walls and beautiful bridges and wooden picnic shelters and cabins built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) during the depression in the 1930s.  

We went white water rafting which was lots of fun, but the water was a little low so it took 4 hours to raft down the section of river that usually takes 2 hours as we kept getting stuck on rocks. We had some good runs and it was a beautiful way to see the scenery from the water level. I so wish I could have brought my camera with me, but I couldn't risk damaging it in the rafts.  It was quite the workout and we were mighty hungry by the time we got back to the starting point.

My friend and I also went on some of the hikes and visited many of the lookouts and sketched and painted and took a bazillion photos - oh, wait a sec that was only me taking all the pictures.  

It was a relaxing few days away and I love discovering new places, especially ones as amazing as Letchworth Park.  Have you ever stumbled onto a wonderful place to visit when you were really planning on visiting somewhere else?  It's a great feeling, isn't it?

Linked to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox