Pix from “Halloween at Greenfield Village”, taken at Greenfield Village, Dearborn MI, on October 12, 2013, for your Halloween enjoyment! If you decide to visit next year, though, a word of caution: this event is not friendly for those with mobility issues, and when I complained to the management I received a decidedly unhelpful response.
Halloween — in the mood
This week, with Halloween just around the corner and creepy movies all over the television (just watched Warm Bodies and loved it!), I thought I’d post some themed photos just to get you in the mood:
Nostalgia – Childhood Homes
This Thanksgiving weekend Mike and I did a fall-colours road trip that began out of a desire to see the farm in northern Ontario that my family lived on for a few short years when I was a child.
There’s something about childhood homes, if the memories are largely happy ones, that always seems to draw us back. I think it’s because we’re in them during our formative years, when we create the most powerful memories.
Certainly as a child I loved living ‘up north’, and missed it terribly when we moved down to southern Ontario just in time for my 8th birthday.
We moved to northern Ontario to follow family friends who’d moved there a couple of years previously. My father was a very smart man with a strong entrepreneurial streak but not a great facility for making money. Coming from a European background where hunting was a long-standing tradition, he decided to open a pheasant-hunting farm in the tiny community of Kynoch, at that time about two hours west of Sudbury, where our friends had their own farm.
We drove through miles of wild forested land where the roads snaked through towering cliffs of granite. Once we left the Trans-Canada Highway, though, at the small town of Iron Bridge, we were really in the hinterland, bouncing up and down a steeply rolling dirt and gravel road about half-an-hour to where our farm was located.
Our farm was just around a bend in the road along a creek lined with alder trees. Our property covered both sides of the road – in the summertime my mom and I would go across to the other side to pick wild blueberries. We lived in a 2-story pink-sided farmhouse overlooking another winding creek; we had a barn that my dad painted with the lettering Sandhill Farms (for the sandhill cranes that migrated through the area), 2 large toolsheds (one of which became the brooding house with incubators for the pheasant chicks), an outhouse and a pump house (in those days no one had running water or indoor plumbing), hollyhocks out front and a long curved driveway where I first learned to ride a bike.
Northern Ontario was a spectacular place to be a kid, but I don’t think it was an easy life for my parents. The weather was often lovely – fresh clean air, a dry climate and lots of sunshine – but when it decided to raise a tantrum, the results were dramatic. I remember torrential rain and fog so heavy we couldn’t see past the hood of our truck, snow several feet thick from mid-autumn to late April that blanketed the countryside and sometimes made going to school impossible, winter temperatures that dipped as low as 42oF below zero. There were also a wide variety of biting insects that all loved to eat me, although they didn’t bother my brother very much – so much for equality in genetics!
But there were long twilights when my friends and I would walk barefoot through the dewy fields for miles, breathtaking fall colours lining the winding road that my brother and I walked to school every day, building huge and elaborate snow forts in the winter, the scent of wood smoke in the air, swimming in a clear cold lake for hours after which we all had coffee from a thermos and Spam sandwiches. At dusk the whip-poor-wills would make their eerie calls, and many times we’d spot white-tailed deer bounding away into the woods as we drove along the roads.
I wasn’t sure what I’d still find there on our adventure last weekend. Mike and I have driven up there before, although not for many years, and I knew that our farmhouse had at some point been demolished and a small log home put up in its place.
The old one-room schoolhouse had long since disappeared and a small house erected; the road had been roughly paved and many of the dramatic rises and falls had been smoothed out. When we lived there we had access to only two television stations, but in the intervening years satellite dishes had begun to sprout on the farmhouses.
Mike and I set out before dawn on a very foggy morning, stopping at French River just like my family used to do on our trips to visit our friends after we moved down to the Niagara region. The old picnic tables and roadside rest area have been replaced by a provincial park area that includes quite a trek to get the river, but we spread a plaid blanket on some rocks overlooking the river and had our breakfast baguettes with a thermos of hot tea, followed by some wonderful gluten-free pumpkin whoopee pies.
We ran in to quite a bit of construction the further north we got, but the fall colours were spectacular. We stopped in the town of Blind River, where my family used to go about once a month to get groceries, and I think it’s gotten smaller rather than larger. Certainly the hospital where I had my tonsils out has been replaced by a smallish health centre. The town of Iron Bridge, where we turned off onto RR 554, has so little left that it’s almost non-existent.
But, oh the feeling as we drove along 554 through the brilliantly coloured trees! We stopped at Little White River, where my dad would often take us to swim among the rocks, and the old church and graveyard are still next to it. Our old farm, just down the road, looks very much the same, although all the outbuildings are collapsed – but the views up the hillside where the road swings left are the same, and the small alder trees still line the creek.
Many of the old families are still living in the same farmhouses, judging by the names on the mailboxes at the edges of the road. Across from where the schoolhouse stood, there’s still a hall where our entire school, all 8 rows of us, put on a Christmas concert for our families. Our friends’ farmhouse is still there, if looking a bit creaky.
After taking lots of pictures, we continued onward to the junction with the road to Thessalon, where we turned right to go to Cumming Lake, the chilly source of our summer swimming adventures, and I was able to find the exact same spot where we used to hike in from the road, although the sandy beach has since been inundated; it was already receding when we lived there. I dipped my fingers in the water and remembered happy times paddling around on old inner tubes.
They say you can’t go back, but I did, and because I had no expectations of finding much of anything the same, what I did find was an absolute delight. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and made me recall just why I missed the area so much after we moved. Not sure I could do the long winters again, though, so I’ll just have my photos and memories to enjoy, along with any further trips back in the future.
Letting fear rule your life
There’s been quite a kerfuffle in the Niagara Region over the past few days. A number of elementary schools have announced that they’re no longer letting their students dress up in Halloween costumes. The students will be allowed to dress in orange and black and celebrate what’s being called a Spirit Day.
Officially the premise is that Spirit Day is a more ‘inclusive’ celebration, and to a certain extent I can understand the desirability for inclusion, but when it comes to Halloween, in my experience there’s always someone’s hidden agenda when celebrations of this much-loved holiday are quashed. In other words, someone has religious objections.
Everyone has the right to practice their own religion, but they don’t have the right to impose their own restrictions on other people. For those who aren’t comfortable with the concept of Halloween, it’s easy for them to abstain from the celebrations. Destroying the fun for others is mean-spirited.
Let me state categorically that those of us who love Halloween do it for fun and to let our hair down. We are not going to hell, we aren’t witches or devil-worshipers, nor are we necessarily pagan – I’m Catholic, as it happens.
We enjoy the chill in the air, brightly-lit pumpkins, the sense of the mysterious, and a good ghost story. Halloween provides a lovely vicarious thrill – we enjoy the feeling of danger without actually being in any.
My hubby and I have had some great Halloween parties, and we love it when guests get really creative with their characters and costumes. My favourite to date was when one of our buddies dressed up as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and spent 10 minutes moaning while he tried to open the bar fridge door – it was hilarious.
Halloween is a chance to step outside our ordinary lives, to be anyone or anything, to indulge in a little healthy spookiness and some shivers. I love decorating my house with gargoyles, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, spider web table cloths, flickering candles – I have an entire Halloween village in my office that lives there all year round.
I can understand that some of the more extreme celebrations can be disturbing to some – I don’t like goriness and many of the more sleazy/suggestive costumes either, but everyone has different tastes and I can choose to avoid places and events that include them.
One of my former occasional co-workers was a bit distressed by a tombstone with a couple of mild skulls and the words “Happy Halloween” that I put on my desk. We had a friendly discussion about it, but what she told me was a bit disturbing: her religious background had raised her to believe that even looking at something like a Halloween skull would invite eternal damnation.
Fear is a powerful way to influence someone – it’s our most potent emotion, and organizations have used it for centuries to control people. You only have to look at most of the marketing in today’s media to see how fear is used to manipulate: are your teeth white enough, do you have bodily odour, are your shoes/clothing not cool enough, do you have incredibly bad bacteria contaminating every corner of your lives…
Many of our fears are self-imposed as well. Some are healthy fears – avoiding things are known to be harmful, like poison ivy – but I continually run into people who fear all kinds of nebulous things, like change, or stepping outside their comfort zone.
Our fears limit us. They put chains around us that can take over our lives. I felt awful for that co-worker, who essentially lives in in a prison of fear that the devil’s influence lurks around every corner waiting to trap her. Surely a strong sense of faith should preclude living in such fear. All of us should take the time to examine our fears and decide whether that’s the way we want to live, or if we can reason through them and break free.
To those who want to ruin Halloween for the rest of us, I say Boo Humbug!
Cracks that turn into chasms
I had the good fortune to be able to visit Kenya a couple of years ago. Given the recent tragic events at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, you might wonder if I’d go back, and yes, I would. Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries that I’ve ever seen, and the people are wonderful.
The game reserves are superb, although they’re reduced to pockets of land surrounded by urbanization and reachable by drives of several hours over incredibly pockmarked roads that are an adventure in themselves. I have photos of vehicles driving all over the roads and shoulders in every direction to dodge the worst potholes – it’s quite entertaining when you’re in the middle of it, like being in a live pinball game.
My favourite reserve was Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya, which is an area that official travel warnings advise that you avoid, but the reserve is just on the southern fringe of the region, and the big issues are more along the Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia border area.
Crossing to northern Kenya did require driving through a government road-block, but as part of an official safari tour we had no hassles getting past, and it was well worth it. Samburu has a spectacularly beautiful landscape, amazing rare animals that you won’t see in many other parts of the continent, and great cultural opportunities to visit authentic Samburu villages. Not many people go to this reserve, so you often feel like you have this corner of heaven to yourself. If you go in the dry season, as we did in late February, the photography is wonderful – the animals really stand out against the drier
However, even before we left Nairobi we could see the cracks that exist in this wonderful country. The disparity between rich and poor was huge, one of the biggest I’ve seen in a country with a supposedly healthy GNP. In addition, corruption in the government is a widespread and well-known problem. I took a photo of a sign posted at the university in Nairobi stating that it was a “corruption-free zone” – clearly the university was making a statement.
Yet out in the bush, surrounded by rolling hills that disappear into the hazy blue sky, flat-topped acacias hung with weaver-bird nests, blood-red termite mounds, antelope that stand on their hind legs to graze, cheetahs stalking dinner in the golden afternoon light, it’s easy to forget all the troubles of the world. In Kenya, you gaze off into the seemingly infinite wild landscape and feel like you’ve gone back in time to the beginnings of the world.
Politics in most parts of Africa are convoluted, and when religions get involved it makes matters much worse. The question of how much the corruption in Kenya’s government influenced the attack on the Westgate Mall may never be fully known, but by all accounts it certainly allowed the terrorists a foothold inside the building. I think governments around the world should take note of how murky politics can widen cracks into gaping fissures that allow terrible events such as these to take place. Certainly tourism in Kenya is likely to suffer because of this attack, and it will be a shame for this magnificent country.
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