I went to gather the mail this afternoon, and bumped into this “male” lying on the wall surrounding my garden. We exchanged a curious glance, and then sensing a Kodak moment, I ran in the house to fetch my camera. What a pretty boy, I’ve never seen one just lying in the garden as this buck did, and we have a lot of the wild creatures sharing our world where we live.
The first year we were here two dogs killed a doe in our front yard. It was the middle of a bitterly cold winter night. The sounds of the attack pried us out from under the warmth of our down comforter. The dogs, domestic, and belonging to neighbors, brought her down in our driveway and left her barely breathing. Our yelling and waving a shovel forced them to reluctantly abandon their kill. Life flowed quickly out of her, and what to do at that time of the morning escaped us, so we sat with her in our pajamas and coats until she didn’t notice our presence any longer. Reality, in the animal world, and perhaps in ours is a vivid reminder of how fragile the line between life and death.
As a child, both my mother’s extended family as well as my father’s spanned Canada from Nova Scotia on the east coast to Victoria on the west. Over the years we visited often and they returned the favor, coming to Halifax to stay with us.
On one such trip, when I was about four, my mother and her younger sister, Barbara decided to motor, as my grandmother would have said, to Montreal from Halifax for a holiday trip. Plans were made to stay with friends of the family and while there get in a little sightseeing and shopping. For those reading who have visited Montreal, there’s no season where it’s not worth the trip, the food, the sights, but winter really puts on a dazzling display in that part of the world.
The women in my family loved to shop. This trait was also reflected in my wardrobe. My mother, whom I’ve never seen even slightly disheveled, dressed me well. Smocking was handstiched on my dresses, my closet boasted lined winter coats with matching hats, and pint-sized boots were purchased for my pint-sized feet. For highland fling recitals I was resplendent in Nova Scotia tartan from my Balmoral hat, to my wee kilt, sporran, hose and flashes. For me I would have been happiest in a pair of worn jeans and a flannel shirt, but when you’re small those decisions are not left to you to make.
In our household only my grandfather and my mother got behind the wheel. My grandmother never had any need or desire to learn to drive so was piloted to the places she needed to go around town or rang for a cab all of her life. Every second year the Buick in our driveway was traded in for a newer model. It would seem that since Buicks had always served him well, my grandfather saw no reason to look further to other makes or models.
The week prior to our trip, a heavy snowstorm had blanketed the province, depositing enough snow to have it piled just below the window sills on the side of the house, twigs sticking out here and there hinting at the hedges buried beneath it. Snow can be so beautiful, especially when you’re warm and cozy inside looking out at it. Driving in it, and shoveling it are other matters altogether.
On the day of our departure, luggage loaded in the car, we waved goodbye. No car seats, or seat belts back then, I sat in the middle of the Buick’s bench seat chatting animatedly between my mother, at the wheel, and my aunt riding shotgun. The trip in good weather took about twelve and a half hours, so, not being in a hurry, there was a planned stop, possibly two, along the way.
Snow began to fall on the windshield as we stepped outside the boundaries of the city, and the scenery outside the window began to take on a more rural look. After being on the road for several hours, we stopped for dinner and with the day turning towards night, the adults discussed how much farther we had to go before reaching our first night’s lodging. Being a youngster with a big day under my belt as well as a hearty sandwich and bowl of soup, I soon drifted off to sleep my head cradled on my mother’s lap and my feet resting across my aunt’s.
Mother tells the story often, so I will remember through her eyes. Soon after I dozed off, my aunt’s head began to nod as well. About an hour away from the inn, we found ourselves driving down a sparsely populated country road, with only the lights from an occasional farmhouse visible now and then tucked back in the clearings. Signs of recent plowing were evident in the mountains of snow pushed off to the shoulders, which were guarded on both sides by densely forested areas. Snow, having earlier tapered off, now resumed falling more aggressively then before. Ahead of us the Buick’s headlights provided the only relief from the darkness. To keep herself awake and alert, mother turned on the radio and lit a cigarette. Feeling an urgency to get out of the storm and settled into a warm bath, her foot rested a little heavier on the gas pedal. Rounding a blind curve the figure of a huge moose appeared in the headlights as he stepped onto the road directly in our path. Reacting, mother’s foot slammed on the brakes yanking the car sideways on the ice and into a skid. I was thrown to the floor and began crying. Hushed by my aunt, the car became eerily still as the skid propelled us smoothly across the icy surface toward the 2,000 pound animal. As we moved closer, my mother swears she could see the car lights reflected in his eyes. Holding me and saying a prayer, just before we would surely impact, he moved suddenly forward and ambled clumsily off the road disappearing in night. Had moose and Buick met, in all probably we would have been killed. I believe the Indians say,”It was not a good day to die.”
Shaken, but unhurt, we drifted to a stop. We sat for a moment until my mother gathered herself, and then made our way to the safety of the inn and on to Montreal without further incident. Mother, however, has never forgotten that moose.
Potato Flan with Caramelized Onions
8-10 large russet potatoes, sliced thin
6 large onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 lb. gruyere cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and onions. Cook slowly for 20-25 mins. until onions are caramelized and golden brown. Remove from heat.
Mix together dry seasonings and divide. Grease 9 x 13″ casserole dish. Slice potatoes very thin and place half the slices in bottom of pan shingle style. Pour 1/2 cup of broth over top. Place half the onion mixture on top of potatoes and sprinkle with half of the seasoning mix. Place half the cheese on top of all. Repeat layers ending with cheese.
Cover with tin foil and cook for 40 mins. Remove foil and continue cooking another 20 mins. until lightly browned on top and potatoes are tender.
Serve with sour cream. I also like this with pork roast and chunky applesauce. Enjoy.