October 10, 2019

Screen shot 2019-10-06 at 4.32.09 PMAwhile ago I wrote about the challenges of our tenant (whom I have called Julien) in the kitchen.

Let the record show that Julien redeemed himself, a week before his return to France, by preparing a cassoulet.

I have eaten cassoulet a few times at Le Select Bistro on Wellington street in Toronto. I don’t remember ever seeing it on a menu in France. This may be because cassoulet comes from Toulouse, as does Julien. We thought Julien to be crazy, to attempt such a dish. The Silver Palate cookbook notes that, “cassoulet is neither quick nor inexpensive to prepare.” Continue reading

Concert at Hazzards Corners

October 6, 2019

churchSometimes a concert is as much about the venue and the audience as it is about the music. I watched a documentary last night about Woodstock and the story focused more on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm and the hippie kid pilgrims than it did on Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone.

The other night my spouse, a friend of ours, and I attended a classical guitar concert in the United Church at Hazzards Corners, Madoc Township, Ontario. The old white wooden church, which opened as a Methodist church in 1857, sits in a field next to a lonely old pioneer cemetery, with a swamp for a neighbour across the Queensborough Road. It has no plumbing. When you walk in you see the entrance is flanked by two wood stoves. (One was lit the other night to take the chill out of the air). Continue reading

The intern

August 31, 2019

Screen shot 2019-08-31 at 1.07.48 PMI came down Saturday morning to find the following note written in pen on a piece of graph paper torn from a notepad, next to a blue plate on which lay five fat quesadilla triangles, one a third eaten:

“Ah et j’etais pas très inspiré ce soir, ce plat est déguelasse… Mais vous pouvez toujours tenter de le manger… Ce qui ne va pas arriver je pense…

Si vous connaissez des oiseaux qui mangent des pâtes, des tortillas, des patates et des oignons (Oui, j’ai vraiment mélangé tout ça) vous pouvez leur donner, c’est cadeaux! Signé, le cuisto français.” On the back he added, “Si vous avez gouté, félicitations. Vous n’avez peur de rien.

Translation: “Oh, and I was not very inspired tonight. This dish is disgusting. But you could always try to eat it…Something that will not happen I think.

“If you know any birds who eat pasta, tortillas, potatoes and onions (Yes, I really did mix all that) you can give it to them; it’s a gift. Signed, the French cook.” And on the back: “If you tasted it, congratulations. You are fearless.”

A young man we’ll call Julien, from Toulouse, France, wrote this note. Julien came into our lives at the beginning of July, just two weeks after our daughter had moved to Montreal. She was a sort of economic refugee; she wanted to leave home, but knew she could never afford to pay rent on an apartment in Toronto. Since she speaks French and loves Montreal, she moved there, to try to make it on her own. This left us with an empty bedroom and washroom in the basement.

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The pencil sharpener at the edge of the universe

July 14, 2019


Screen shot 2019-07-14 at 9.46.11 PMThe Madoc Thrift Store is a place I like. It’s a vast emporium: two stories high, it sits proudly on Durham Street, the main drag in Madoc. Push open the heavy wood-framed, glass front door and you enter a railroad-car shaped shop, that runs way down from the glassware and china at the front, through to the clothing at the back. Upstairs is more stuff. I always check out the cassette section, next to the board games/puzzles section and hard by the book/CD shelves. I’ve found Elton John and Wham! and the soundtrack of Pretty in Pink. Cassettes cost 50¢. I also equipped myself for cross-country skiing, with skis, bindings, poles and boots, for $10. One time a woman named Shirley, who sits sometimes at a desk upstairs, scrawled down my name and phone number on a rumpled piece of paper and promised to call me when a teapot came in. And she did. Continue reading


June 13, 2019

Screen shot 2019-06-13 at 10.48.32 PMI didn’t attend my graduation from McGill, 35 years ago. I had a kind of a bad attitude towards higher education at the time.

This time, as I graduated in June with a Master of Forest Conservation from the University of Toronto, I decided to show up.

Morning broke dark and rainy. I had to get to campus early to pick up my gown and hood. My wife and daughter had tickets to Convocation Hall and would meet me after the ceremony.

I set out with two transit tokens in my pocket, intending, I thought, to ride the streetcar. But then as I walked along College Street, heading east, I just started to enjoy the rain. Fitting, I thought, that I sheltered myself with a National Post umbrella; the National Post buyout helped pay for my graduate degree. Continue reading


June 10, 2019

Screen shot 2019-06-10 at 8.03.56 PMThe other day I had to rent a car. I work a bit these days with Forests Ontario. We organized a series of tree planting events. I volunteered to go help people plant trees in Waterloo on Saturday, June 8, in partnership with the Grand River Conservation Authority.

I asked for the smallest possible car, and so they rented me a bright-red Chevrolet Spark with, randomly, Quebec plates. Friday evening I had to pick up the car in the P3 basement of Simcoe Place, an office tower near Union Station. Everything went fine until I got behind the wheel, turned on the ignition and attempted to depart the parking garage.

I wound my way up to p1, and then I stopped. Several times I just shut of the ignition, because the line of cars stood parked.

I only figured out the cause of the holdup when I finally inched onto Front Street. Fans streamed eastward toward the hockey/basketball arena. They planned to gather in a makeshift paved holding pen known as “Jurassic Park,” to cheer on the Raptors. The Raptors were not even in town. The game would start several hours later, in Oakland, Calif. Continue reading


May 12, 2019

Screen shot 2019-05-12 at 2.02.12 PMIn season, during the morning rush hour, a clump of bicycles tends to form on the west side of Bathurst St., in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in what’s known as Portugal Square. The cyclists wait for the light to change on Bathurst so they can jump onto the west end of the separated bike path, heading east into downtown.

That’s where I bumped into Gus. Gus and I coached our sons in soccer with the Toronto Soccer Club a few years ago. After an undefeated season we lost a heartbreaker 1-0 in the final.

Gus is a tough, compact guy who grew up in Little Portugal, a place where the kids often graduate from a low-slung Honda Civic with tinted windows to a Ford F150 pickup truck. I never expected to see Gus on a bicycle.

The bike path isn’t a great place for conversation. It’s actually incredibly competitive; it feels a bit like the 401 for cyclists. We chatted as best we could. The World According to Gus ended up helping me to look at my cycling self in the mirror, and admit to myself that I am not always the most thoughtful cyclist. Gus, you see, is a bit of self-loathing cycist. Continue reading

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

May 5, 2019


IMG_0429-1024x768The University of Toronto is in the final stages of a plan to get rid of its Faculty of Forestry and move forestry staff, faculty, students and programs into the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of July this year. A news release from the university says that, “The proposal would go through the governance process beginning on May 9.”

The abolition of the Faculty of Forestry as a standalone faculty is one of the worst ideas in the long history of the University of Toronto. In an era of climate change, forests are the key to sustaining life on earth. Forests sequester carbon, emit oxygen, filter precipitation, absorb rain and protect ecosystems from erosion. We need forests. The U of T should show pride in its Faculty of Forestry, and invest in it.

The Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto has a proud history. The faculty opened its doors in 1907, making it the oldest forestry faculty in Canada. Plaques displayed in the Earth Sciences Centre attest to the men of the faculty who gave their lives in World War I and World War II. Continue reading

Sayonara, ES4001

April 5, 2019

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 8.13.11 AMIt’s 4:25 p.m. on a sunny Thursday and I am listening to Julien talk about altitudinal tree line shifts. I can see the sun on the university rooftops, out the big circular windows  that look south. I see the top of the Earth Sciences library and beyond it, the CN Tower.

I am in the last half-hour of my 20 month stint as a candidate for a Master of Forest Conservation. Will I miss this? Young women in front of me discussed, at the break, the relative merits of Uggs and Blundstones ( in Forestry, all the women, and most of the men, wear Blundstones). I have spent a lot of time on the hard blue plastic chairs with stainless steel tube frames in Earth Sciences room 4001. I have wondered over time why we can’t have wooden chairs and wooden tables in the frickin’ Faculty of Forestry. Is that too much to ask? Continue reading

Ode to spring in Canada (Vive le printemps)

March 25, 2019

Screen shot 2019-03-25 at 8.31.17 AMWill spring ever come?

I am not sure that spring is late this year, actually. It’s probably right on time. Perhaps with global warming we’ve become conditioned to the arrival of spring earlier than it should. Anyway, we’ve had a crisp month of March.

Probably I am just impatient because I am slightly obsessed with my primitive yet enthusiastic effort to boil some maple syrup at our little sugar bush near Madoc, Ont., about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa.

Is it too much to ask to just have a week or so of cold nights and warm days, so that, when I arrive at my sugar bush the buckets are brimming with sap? Apparently, yes.

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