Doug and I spent the last two Saturdays helping out on a 2-km section of trail just east of Walton. When we traveled this way on foot a year ago June, we had a fair bit of bushwhacking to do through the dense brush and some careful maneuvering around groundhog holes. Now this has become a gentle, open and welcoming part of the Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail, as lovely as any section of the Kissing Bridge or the GART! Unbelievable what can be accomplished in a very short time by a few dedicated individuals. We all contributed what we could, and for me that meant getting out of the way, watching from the sidelines, and going for coffee and butter tarts. (Click on the slideshow below.)
I had my first interview on Daytime with Susan Cook-Scheerer last Wednesday, October 14 (it aired Friday)! Doug came with me, not only to keep me calm and breathing, but to talk about our experience on the Guelph to Goodrich Rail Trail and why, really, someone would want to walk 127 km. We had to follow a golden retriever puppy named Teddy Bear, which wasn't entirely fair (how to you follow something like that?!), but Susan was a wonderful, kind, patient host and we are so thankful to have had the opportunity to spread the news about Walking Home and the G2G Rail Trail!
A few months ago, my dear friend, Gerard Brender à Brandis, a world-renowned wood engraver based in Stratford, Ontario, came out to the Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail with me for a few peaceful hours. We were just west of tiny Wallenstein and strolled about a kilometre down the trail on a cloudy, humid spring day. Gerard, an expert in anything plant-related, named every bit of colour along the path and regaled me with entertaining stories about each plant -- what they were known for, if they were edible, their medicinal uses, etc. (In contrast, I believe I was able to come up with only two or three plant names along the entire 127-km path in my book...)
About a half an hour down the trail, he turned and quietly started back the way we had come. I was as silent as I could be, knowing something important was happening in his creative process. He stopped suddenly in the middle of the path, took another careful look around and said, "This will do nicely." He pulled a sketchbook out of his small knapsack, and with pencil in hand, perched himself comfortably on the flip-up seat of his walking stick. I carried on down the path the opposite way, trying very hard to be respectful, though I had a thousand questions for him. I took the photo below.
This, of course, was the genesis of what became the exquisite image at the start of my book. Entitled "Walking Home" the wood engraving is mesmerizing -- it pulls you in. Gerard was one of the first to read my manuscript and honoured me by finding this particular spot along the path that represented, to him, the essence of my story. It was an overwhelming experience to witness this modern-day master at work, and I am forever grateful for the enormity of his gift. The image is for sale in his gallery, "An Artist's Cottage," in downtown Stratford. If you have a chance to visit, he is as unique and layered as his remarkable engravings.
Doug and I took a drive out to the G2G last week. A beautiful summer evening – humid, a warm breeze. We were just outside of West Montrose and set our much-loved Osprey knapsack carefully beside the trail. I had it in my head I would have my model of the Starship Enterprise coming out of the top of the sack. Doug was game, but I don't think he ever really believed it would come off too well.
I had spent the day trying to get the damn decals to stick in the right places (something I had attempted unsuccessfully a few years back when I got the model for Christmas), but I had a horrible time. I must be especially clumsy – I can't imagine anyone anywhere applying one of those things and getting it right. You soak them in water and then, with tweezers, pull off the little plastic bits; but if you don't do it quickly enough, they start to lose their important parts – like their colour – and you're left with a flimsy piece of useless, clear plastic. They're also somewhat like Saran wrap – they fold in on themselves when you least expect it and you find yourself hopelessly tangled until they rip into pieces like toilet paper. I honestly don't get it. With folds and missing parts of numbers, I had managed to get the top decal sort of in place and then completely butchered one of the decals for an engine before giving up entirely.
Anyway, about half an hour into our photo session that evening and after moving the sack from one side of the trail to the other, positioning and repositioning the Enterprise, two Mennonite children came riding towards us. Doug discretely took a few shots knowing we couldn't use the images because their faces would be in the photo and Mennonites are not overly fond of having their pictures taken. He was staring down the trail after them, a wistful look on his face, and then he suddenly brightened. They were headed back! He had only a few seconds to get the camera ready and then noticed my shadow was across the path. He nearly sent me into the bushes with a shove and a scream to get out of the way and then he took his remarkable cover shot.
I'm so used to being lightly abused when he has his camera in hand that it doesn't really phase me anymore. I've been stepped on, kneed, pushed, and elbowed so many times it almost feels natural to find myself face down in the dirt. But these are the shots I get a little excited about. In our day-to-day life, Doug would never put his foot on my ass and send me flying, so I always know the image is going to be worth the humiliation. And, man, was it worth it!