Thursday, June 30, 2016

Friendly Manitoba Makes Good

The license plates proclaim Friendly Manitoba. Our latest visit with Steven and Elizabeth validated the claim, in spades. Our hosts have no rival when it comes to making decrepit relatives feel welcome. Liz literally jumped for joy at the sight of me, affection I occasionally recall a six-year-old manifesting but never in someone well beyond the age of majority.

Ardent for a ‘lifer’ – some place we’d never seen before – Steve introduced us to Beaudry Provincial Park, an expansively beautiful green space stretched along the broad, splendid Assinniboine River. We had the big park to ourselves, people-wise, but among the tall cottonwoods and aspens we had an abundance of fliers to appreciate, not all of them mosquitoes. Bird song flourished: yellow warblers, red-eyed vireos, wood pewees and least flycatchers. 

The person most of you know as Jan demonstrated the aptness of the moniker I typically apply to her: Hawkeye. She spotted a barred owl in a cottonwood, a freshly killed red squirrel in its talons. The owl cooperated in my effort to get a photograph. I ventured that the squirrel would be delivered to the owl`s downy young as soon as we cleared the scene – and I admit to hoping that young squirrels weren`t awaiting the arrival of a parent that would never return. Do not expect kindness of the wild kingdom.

We spent much of the Sunday at the new, imposing Human Rights Museum at the Forks in downtown Winnipeg. If you prefer your museums to entertain rather than edify, the dinosaur museum at Drumheller might be your better option. After five hours intensively contemplating discrimination, subjugation and genocide I felt hard pressed to agree that human kind has made great progress in bringing about a world in which most of us feel inclined to treat others as we desire to be treated ourselves.

I have occasionally been heard to say that the more I see of people the better I like warblers. The antidote for a day immersed in the subject of man`s inhumanity to man was a different sort of day, one spent among the pelicans, yellow-headed blackbirds and downy young coots at Oak Hammock Marsh. It was a glorious Monday: blue sky, plenty of sunshine and a force 8 gale to keep the mosquitoes away. On a gravel prairie road we looked for bobolinks and admired a handsome male harrier quartering the fields for voles. It wasn`t just birds that staged a fine show: we spotted yellow ladyslippers and red prairie lilies; I ventured into the grass to take pictures. 

Back in the car I pulled a wood tick off my knee, then another, then three off my ankle. Soon enough my tick count reached thirteen, a lifetime high. Steve was unimpressed: a fly fisherman of considerable ability and great determination he is not a stranger to tick counts of 30 or more in the Manitoba wilds. Ticks trouble me only if I find one buried in my armpit three days after I departed the woods, but I understand that other folks are less sanguine about them. I was reminded of the demand once made by Jan’s mother at hearing we’d found a tick on her daughter’s head during a happy ramble in the great outdoors: If you like nature so much, take her to a museum!

Steve has a new smoker-barbecue device, by Traeger, which he understandably holds in high regard.  It turns out that Steve and the Traeger are a happy match: the lad is a backyard master chef. My vegetarian inclinations fell by the wayside. We dined regally on beer can chicken the first night, ribs the second, Arctic char the third. Jan and I awarded highest praise to all three efforts. 

The kids’ neighbourhood is a throwback to a bygone era: neighbours drop by bearing beer and good cheer. They take a seat, join in the feast and launch congenial conversation on a range of au courant  topics: the upcoming Brexit vote, the pros and cons of mosquito fogging, Donald Trump. Liz described Terry, the man next door, as the perfect neighbour: he mows their lawn while he’s at his own, minds Vincent the cat when they’re away for the weekend, and never makes a racket. Liz maintains she likes her neighbours even better than her friends. We sat around the patio firepit on the final night, enjoying fire, food, ambience and conversation. I understand completely why Terry likes to drop in on the folks next door. If we lived down the street we’d be there all the time too.

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