Buck up

When I learned back in January that Carsie Blanton, who seldom comes to Canada, would be performing at a winery not too far from where my partner and I live, I bought tickets as quickly as my fingers could move across the keyboard. Carsie’s music, which I discovered in the early months of the pandemic, inspired and comforted me through those difficult times. Her online performances made me sing along and dance in front of the TV. Her irreverence made me laugh, her politics energized me and her hope and love made me weep.

I decided that my partner and I should use the concert as an excuse for a mini-road trip. We would start, I thought, with a visit to a new outdoor Zimbabwean sculpture walk just north of Kingston. After that, we’d meander east towards our accommodation: a small inn with guest suites looking directly onto the St. Lawrence River. We would forego the speed offered by Highway 401 in favour of the beauty of the 1000 Islands Parkway and other small roads, stopping to check out a craft brewery or two along the way, and perhaps taking a short detour up to Merrickville.

Down in the streets

So much for well-laid plans. Saturday morning presented us with grey skies accompanied by chilly temperatures and a steady downpour of rain, with no break in sight. Even though this put an end to our planned first stop, it was hard to feel too grouchy about it, given the destruction being wreaked by wildfires in the west and north. I took a deep breath and accepted that spontaneity – not my strongest suit — would have to be the order of the day. Peter and I decided we’d replace the sculptures in the woods wander with a jaunt to Almonte, a beautiful town I had wanted to go back to since being there in December to speak at a community event.

Our first stop was the Hummingbird chocolate factory, store and cafe, whose chocolate I have enjoyed for years, never realizing it was made so close to home. Founded by two former international aid workers, its commitment to “do the right thing from bean to bar” is framed by four principles: connect directly with the cacao farmers, pay them better than fair trade prices, buy only cacao that is grown sustainably, and insist on ethical and humane farming practices (including no use of child labour). The result: chocolate you can feel good about eating and that tastes delicious.

When we left the store — full to the brim with amazing hot chocolate and with only a relatively small bag of chocolate treats — the rain, which had been relentless for much of our drive, had slowed to a light drizzle. We decided to wander along the main street of town, the setting for many Hallmark movies. We checked out the sculpture honouring Almonte’s most famous citizen, James Naismith, credited with inventing basketball; spent time looking at the beautiful creations of artists and craftspeople from the region, and made a few purchases at a small old-style Lee Valley Store.

Finding the mother tree

Our next stop was the textile museum, and here we found the best surprise of our day: an exhibit entitled “Woven Woods: A Journey through the Forest Floor,” by artist Lorraine Roy. The project was inspired by the work of Dr. Suzanne Simard, who is best known for her book “Finding the Mother Tree,” and consists of “a collection of twelve round fabric wall hangings composed of fabrics of all kinds . . . [that] interprets the fascinating system of tree root communication facilitated by forest fungi.”

Neither my words nor this photo can do justice to the beauty and power of this exhibit, so you will have to make the trip to Almonte to see if for yourself. It runs until July 22 in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, for the cost of whatever donation you want to make.

Love all the people

After a rainy and chilly Saturday, the Sunday morning sky was blue, and the forecast was for temperatures in the low 20s: perfect for an outdoor concert at a winery.

And what a concert it was! Accompanied by her Handsome Band – Joe Plowman and Patrick Firth —  Carsie sang almost every song that I wanted her to, peppering her performance with comments both political and ribald. When she mentioned that she needed a nail clipper, a fan was only too happy to provide her with one. Another offered her a jacket when the evening chill had the rest of us wrapping ourselves up in blankets.  Her laugh was even more infectious in person than it was during all those pandemic online performances of hers I watched.

She sings that she is a revolutionary, and she is: her critiques of mainstream politics, the American war machine, capitalism and the rich are powerful and unflinching. But she also has a wicked sense of humour and doesn’t take herself too seriously. The songs she performed ranged from the angry (“Shit List”) through the sexy (“Jacket”) to the angry (“Dealing with the Devil,”) but also included moments of tenderness (“Harbor”), love (“Be Good”), and inspiration:

“So all my friends in the streets tonight/We go singin’/All my friends who’re down and out/We’re gonna fight/For all our friends in the up above/With all our rage and all our love/Addin’ fuel to the fire/Down in the streets tonight.”

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