This used to be my playground/This used to be my childhood dream…

I have always loved November. I love all the months of change, really; but there is something about November – the wind and the wild and the wet – that makes rising to the challenge of living a particularly gallant endeavour.

That said…I will concede that sometimes, after an especially tactless battle, there’s no shame in just sitting indoors and watching the challenge swirl past your window for awhile. After all, even the Knights of the Round Table must’ve paused on occasion to rest the horses.

So thusly here I sit. Cuddled contentedly into a living room that is mine-all-mine at last after last weekend’s switchover – Shoemom having finally decided, in the face of six more weeks of Monday Night Football, that retreating to a TV-less space is worth putting up with my stuffies scattered around the public areas. Computer desk over here, cable TV over there, books on the far wall, cats gamboling on the futon; I feel rather like a spoiled yuppie offspring in her playpen, it’s all about stimulating the growing mind.
(Meanwhile, I hasten to add, Shoemom is enjoying her own new, determinedly un-stimulating space hugely. For one thing, she hates the colour I chose for the walls, so this is Blank Slate Central for her, design-wise.)

In short, things are so cozy – and my ego purring so loudly – the only thing on my mind is sharing the photos from our last bliss-centric day. Return with me now to the much more tactful beguilements of an October Saturday in Niagara. Yes…we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. But we didn’t, y’know, die or anything.
Which is a good time to mention that the last batch of pics didn’t exactly provide conclusive proof of our blooming health. So I’m actually just gonna kick things off here with one last vacation snap, taken on the beach at Liverpool NS:

Blending in with the natives is trickier than we figured.

So there.

Moving along to our feature presentation…as we all know, Niagara is famous for its lush vineyards and award-winning wineries. So naturally, I couldn’t think of a better way to symbolise the area than to take a picture of a horse farm:

"Are you SURE this is how Black Beauty got his start?"

But wait! There’s more iconic imagery just down the road*. Meet the Comfort Maple, official elder statesman among trees whose leaves adorn our national flag. Were this the USA, there would be an entire national park built around this concept, complete with soft-serve and pressed-leaf keychains. Here, well, Shoemom knows the guy across the road**, so, why not?

#1 attraction in Conde Nast Canine. The world's least cynical plaque.

*Pelham being one of those places where everything is ‘just down the road’, even if the road technically terminates in the next county over.

**See *.

Seriously, I think this particular stretch ends up somewhere in Maine. Shoemom has fond memories of playing tag all over this neighbor's yard. Jealous yet?

Nominal tourist duties over – except for the traditional big argument where I want to go home by the main tourist Parkway, and Shoemom rants about how they used to take a picnic to the Falls every Sunday and just try doing that now – we pay homage to a much more intimate landmark.

Yes, it really does babble. Cheerfully. It was  about here that the guy showed up with the big honkin' professional camera. So yes, these pictures are important, damnit!

I don’t know if this particular little brook ever had a name, or anything; Shoemom just calls it ‘her crick’ and immediately launches into the story of how they used to drink from it on the way home from school. Frankly I’d rather hear the one about how she and her brother once ‘lost’ obnoxious cousin Dennis by marooning him on the opposite bank…but this far down the road, you just don’t mess with Shoemom’s nostalgia.

This road? Oh, Pittsburgh, I think.

It only gets richer from here, folks. I’m not sure how well-known the St John’s Conservatory area is among the general populace, but…well…it used to be Shoemom’s backyard. Across the road from the family farm, y’know; just head down into the paradise and don’t come home till dinner. There are a lot of losing-cousin-Dennis stories, and they are varied and original, believe you me.

We begin at the Pool, haven extraordinaire for innumerable geese, frogs and…fishermen, also their net-and-bucket-wielding sons. I dunno how the fish (mostly stocked rainbow trout) make out exactly, but on average it must be pretty exciting to be a minnow here at St John’s.

Geese and minnows and frogs, oh my! The ironic thing about this pic is you can't hear the almighty ruckus the geese are kicking up.

From there we head down into the conservatory proper. Then, we head up. Then down. Then…did I mention this area is Officially Special due to hyperactive ancient glaciers? At times hiking through it feels like trying to negotiate a giant’s unmade bed, only with more woodpeckers. Oh, and Shoemom, who is now leveraging her nostalgia into hauling me up the longest, highest trail available. She’s looking for her old property line, which is currently covered by a…farm field…of some description. Possibly runner beans. But if I plan on eating for the next few weeks I better damn well coo appreciatively or else.

Dvelopers of 'ravine lots', eat your heart out. "Awww, they took out the swingset!"

I love how they just casually drop a random bridge in there. And so, as the sun sets slowly over Rainbow Valley...

Of course, the place is lousy with avian life of every description, also chipmunks, squirrels, deer, foxes, the occasional black bear according to the official signage, which may be a case of Yellowstone envy but somehow I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Niagara, as you may have noticed by now, is a place where stuff just grows, in riotous abandon – sticky mud in spring and wild roses in summer and leaf showers in autumn and snow turning the ‘bush’ to Belgian lace in winter. The inhabitants of the Golden Horseshoe, city or country, coexist with their ecosystem rather as if it were a great shaggy dog who doesn’t know he can’t fit in their laps; the result is a kind of waking daydream, throwaway moments of unbelievable beauty:

What I'm supposed to be snapping here are the water bugs on the surface. Humour Shoemom and pretend you can see 'em, OK? There is a fungus among us.

We conclude, as we always do, with my winning the argument re: the route home. Luckily there’s just enough light left to rip off a couple shots of the Gorge at the cable-car route, aka Shoemom’s Official Worst Nightmare Ever Except That One With the Flying Spiders:

I dunno what she's on about. It's only like a 100-foot drop or so. Rock of Ages, cleft for me...and about 597,894 other tourists...

And so…the old women got home that night.

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