Princess Pepper’s Adventure – Part 3 The Conclusion

We sat at the red light for what seemed like hours, sweltering in the heat, holding our breath and praying that the Little Red Wagon would hang on for just a few minutes longer. Miraculously she did – the temperature gauge needle was still in the red zone, the engine light was still on, but the Little Red Wagon (heretofore referred to as the LRW) kept ticking. The traffic light finally turned green, we pulled through the intersection and started increasing speed – little by little the needle moved back towards normal temperature range. Whew!

We knew this was only a temporary reprieve and we couldn’t continue with the 2 hour drive north to Georgian Bay. A few kilometres up the road, my husband noticed a Napa Autoclinic – on the opposite side of the road of course. Not knowing how far we’d have to go before there would be an exit, he made a U-turn right there on the highway – yeah I know it’s illegal, not to mention dangerous, but desperate times call for desperate measures and luckily there was no oncoming traffic.

While hubby went in to beg the mechanics for a spot in their queue, Pepper and I got out of the car and sought shade under some large canopy trees beside the parking lot. The heat was almost unbearable, even in the shade, especially after having been in the car with the heat blasting. A few minutes later, my husband came out and informed me they were able to look at the car right away. Thankfully the waiting room was air-conditioned. A fellow that looked like Bruce Dern (albeit younger and leaner) was sitting in the waiting room and informed us there was a cold water dispenser in the corner. We retrieved Pepper’s dish from the car and gave her some water, which she drank eagerly……………then promptly started vomiting, all over the carpet runner. “I’m so sorry”, I apologized.

“No worries,” a young mechanic assured me. “I’ll just clean it with the power washer,” and he yanked up the carpet and took it out to the shop.

“Could this day get any worse?” my husband lamented.

I was terrified that Pepper was suffering from heat stroke, knowing that vomiting was one of the early symptoms.  I text-messaged my sister, the vet (also the bride-to-be). Were there any other tell-tale signs, Dr. Pat wanted to know.  I responded that no there weren’t, and she seemed to be settling now that she was out of the heat – lying down, calm but alert. I remembered that in the winter, if she ate snow on an empty stomach, she’d immediately throw up. It occurred to me that the water we’d given her was likely very cold and perhaps the cause of Pepper’s stomach woes. Dr. Pat suspected this was likely the case, but recommended we monitor her closely for the next little while. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Pepper was behaving quite normally again, sniffing at everything in the waiting room, including ‘Bruce Dern’ – luckily he was a dog-lover and didn’t mind.

I too was feeling cooler and calmer, though I was really concerned about the LRW – what had I done to her when I let her roll down a hill and into a big ‘ol rock? Anxiously awaiting word about her condition, we saw one of the mechanics from the shop open the glass door into the reception area. For a second I felt like I was watching a TV show where the surgeon, still clad in his OR scrubs, enters the waiting room and viewers try to determine from his expression whether the news is good or bad. The mechanic nonchalantly got a drink of water, apparently unaware of our expectant stares – when he finally looked our way he said, “Oh, didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell us what?” we asked in unison. The mechanic went on to explain that as a result of the previous day’s impact, the radiator had been pushed back such that it was in contact with the cooling fan wires, and literally fried the wires. The workaround was to replace the wires and re-route them so they were no longer in contact with the radiator. There were several guys in the waiting room at this point and they all nodded enthusiastically, agreeing that yes this explanation and the ensuing fix, made sense. Now all we had to do was wait for the bill – the trip was already costing more than we’d budgeted (it never occurred to us how very expensive gas would get the further we got from Alberta).

Meanwhile ‘Bruce Dern’ kept the mood light with his entertaining stories. The remaining water in Pepper’s bowl had warmed to room temperature and she was able to drink it and keep it all down. A few minutes later we saw the LRW drive out of the shop and into the parking lot. Hubby suggested we offer the staff some of the fresh fruit we’d picked up earlier. While he paid the bill (which was very affordable), I went to the car and retrieved the basket of juicy peaches – remarkably, they were still acceptably cool. So with peaches and smiles all ‘round, the friendly helpful staff at the Autoclinic of Flamborough, in Millgrove Ontario, wished us well, and we were off.

“That was relatively painless,” I thought to myself, as we continued our drive north. We had been lucky………….in so many ways. It seems the ‘road-trip gods’ were smiling upon us – but not without first having a little fun with us. We made good time after that, until we were about 45 minutes from our destination. Road construction had reduced the two lane highway to one lane. Since southbound traffic was much heavier than northbound traffic, we were stopped for ten minutes, maybe more, while oncoming traffic was allowed through – idling in traffic on a scorching hot day, obsessively watching the temperature gauge.  But she held steady, even with the air conditioning on.

When we finally reached the shores of Georgian Bay, I wanted to laugh, cry, jump for joy………..but it was still too damn hot. It was good to be here though, where we would finally stay in one place for more than a day or two. Dad had ordered Chinese food in honour of our arrival. We ate, drank, laughed and had those amazing butter tarts for dessert. Then we recounted our tale – it was the first of many times the tale would be told.

Dad, AKA Dr. Ed, checked out my various scrapes and bumps and marveled that I hadn’t been more seriously hurt. He and his wife were most gracious hosts. They had gone to extraordinary efforts – to host my sister’s wedding, as well as housing numerous out-of-towners. We stayed in one of the spare rooms on the lower level of their walk-out home. The shore was less than 100 feet away and we could hear the sound of the waves and see the moonlit path across the water from our window. I was reminded how much I missed living on the water. Pepper on the other hand was wary of this great big ‘water dish’, but she was happy for the very plush wall-to-wall carpet throughout the house – she settled in so well that at times I forgot she was there.

The stifling heat finally lifted the day before the wedding, making the rehearsal comfortable and uncomplicated. That evening, at the rehearsal dinner, was the first time since arriving in town that I’d seen many of my family members. My brothers and step-brothers and nephews are all big strong guys – delighted as I was to see them, their big bear hugs usually elicited an “ow” from me. I was still pretty sore. The day of the wedding dawned warm and breezy, the blue of the sky matched only by its reflection in the water – a lovely backdrop for a lovely wedding. The only small glitch was when Princess Ellen, the flower girl, didn’t want to walk through the ‘archway’ created by the branches of two birch trees. She stood there shaking her head, lower lip quivering, the way only a 3-yr-old can do.

“I don’t want to be a flower girl” she said softly but matter-of-factly.

“Okay do you want to go this way instead?” I asked gently. She nodded shyly and acquiesced. I led her around the trees and over wobbly rocks in my high(ish) heels.

Later the Best Man remarked “I love how you gave her options, none of which was No!” Yesiree, I haven’t parented a preschooler for many years, but I still know how to do the dance.

Wedding reception and dinner, brunch the next day at my Moms’, family visits in the afternoon, one last dinner with my Dad and Step-mom, and the whirlwind visit to my hometown was over. It had been a great few days, but we were ready to get back on the road again – even Princess Pepper was eager.

The morning of our departure was cold, cloudy and threatening thunderstorms – the princess hates thunderstorms. We said our goodbyes and headed up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory where we would catch a ferry – this route shaves about 6 hours of driving time off the trip and since we were already part way up the peninsula, we could take the back roads up to Wiarton before catching the main highway north. About ten minutes into our journey, it started to rain; just a sprinkle at first and then the heavens let loose a torrential downpour so heavy we couldn’t see. I had forgotten how very heavy the rain can fall here. The road was winding and my memories of driving it in my youth were pretty vague – at least it was paved now. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road so we slowed down to a crawl lest we miss a curve and drive into the bay. There was intense thunder and lightning – a deafening clap of thunder cracked so close overhead that I was sure the car had been hit by lightning. I turned around to check on the dog. She was sitting up, panting, her eyes glazed over. For a while she remained in that near catatonic (dogatonic?) state, but eventually she lay down again and went to sleep. She was handling the storm much better than I’d expected, indeed better than she did at home – I guess the car was refuge for her even in a thunderstorm.

When we reached the docks at Tobermory, the rain had stopped. Despite the drive being slower than anticipated, we were still early enough to be third in line to board – there are times when my husband’s incessant need to be early comes in handy. The ferry wasn’t due in for another hour so we parked the car in line and went into the visitor centre. I desperately had to pee, but when I entered the building the lights were all out, there were people milling about and a sign on the women’s washroom that said ‘Out of Order’. I approached some ‘official-looking’ personnel and asked what the deal was. I was informed that a lighting strike had taken out the power and they had only back-up water, which was almost depleted. I asked if there was somewhere else that might have facilities I could use, but was advised that the whole town was affected. One of the fellows assured me that the washrooms on the ferry would be available because it had its own water supply. “Yeah, I don’t think I can wait that long,” I said to myself. He must have read the panic in my face because he gave in and permitted me to use the washroom – providing it would only be, er, a ‘light flush’. I assured him it would be and thanked him profusely.

With that minor emergency out of the way we went back to the car and got the dog to take her for a stroll along the docks. I gazed wistfully out onto the water, remembering for the umpteenth time how very much I missed living on Georgian Bay. Across the harbour was a marina with a rustic-looking restaurant. The sign read ‘Italian Restaurant and Espresso Bar’. “What a lovely little place to have lunch,” I thought. Pepper too gazed out onto the water – she saw some ducks and thought, “What a lovely little lunch!”


Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A while later, a loud horn blew – the ferry was docking. We headed back to the car in preparation for boarding. Once on board, we settled into some deck chairs near the stern – dogs weren’t allowed inside. Pepper laid down quietly beside us, but started fidgeting when water that had pooled on the deck started flowing towards her – seems we’d chosen the one spot on the ferry where there wasn’t a drainage hole to prevent water from accumulating.  We moved to the other side of the boat where it was drier.  The rest of the ferry ride was uneventful. In fact the rest of the whole trip was without incident – after a short day one, we stayed in Sault Ste. Marie, day two started with several hours of driving through thick soupy fog and ended about 16 hours later getting briefly lost in Winnipeg. But we took it all in stride – we were seasoned ‘road trippers’ now, even the Princess, who was much more relaxed throughout the drive home. The last day of driving seemed to go on forever. It was steaming hot through the prairies again, and we made fewer stops – we just wanted to get home.

Near dusk and still very warm, we pulled into Calgary. Driving up to the bungalow we call home, I noted the garden looked tired and dry – we’d asked our sons to water the pots and the vegetable garden but assumed everything else would be fine. There had been no rain during the whole time we were gone and a few of the shrubs I’d planted earlier in the year were really struggling. We unpacked and fed Pepper – she’d already made herself right at home and flopped down on the floor in one of her favourite spots. Since there was no food in the house we decided we’d have one last ‘road meal’ – while my husband went to pick up ‘Chicken on the Way’ I went outside and gave my thirsty plants a little water.

The next morning I awoke, yawned and stretched luxuriously – it was good to wake up in our own bed. I got up, made coffee and found some granola to have for breakfast. Cup of coffee in hand I headed out to the back yard to survey the gardens. The plants that were so wilted the night before had perked up considerably since watering. I leaned on the fence adjacent to the vegetable garden and inhaled the scent of oregano, basil and arugula, the warmth of the late summer sun allowing them to release their aromatic oils. The oregano was in bloom and abuzz with bumblebees, honeybees and various solitary bees. A Fire-rim Tortoiseshell joined them. True to its kind the butterfly flitted madly about never staying in one place for very long – it reminded me of the road trip we’d just returned from. The butterfly alit on a cluster of oregano blooms, staying put just long enough for me to snap a few photos.

Fire-rim Tortoiseshell. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fire-rim Tortoiseshell. Photo: Sue Gaviller

My husband opened the gate to the garden looking to see if any of his tomatoes were ready for harvest. He found three – three perfectly formed, perfectly ripe Romas. Again it brought to mind the three of us – man, woman and dog, arriving safely home from a long journey. Hubby picked the three tomatoes and we headed back inside. Pepper was basking in the sun on the lawn – as I walked past her she lifted her head and looked at me. “It’s good to be home isn’t it girl?” I said. She laid her head back down and with a deep contented sigh closed her eyes again.

Yes it was very good to be home.

Princess Pepper

Princess Pepper. Photo: Pat Gaviller

~    The End   ~

Happy trails,

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure – Part 2

“What happened?” my husband asked hurrying toward me.

“The car was in neutral and the emergency brake wasn’t on and it rolled and I tried to catch it and stop it but I couldn’t and I fell,” I blurted out as if it were all one word.

“Are you okay?” he asked, putting his arms around me.

“I think so,” I replied, as he quickly surveyed my wounds.

“We need to get these cleaned up. There’s a washroom inside,” he said, motioning me towards the building.

“But the dog,” I protested.

“I’ll go check on the dog,” he assured. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events after that. I was still in shock as I entered the building and found the women’s washroom – hubby had obviously apprised the staff of the situation immediately because a young lady followed me in there with a first aid kit.

“I have this,” she said, handing me something – peroxide maybe, or rubbing alcohol.  “And this,” she added. I read the label – chlorhexidine.

“Yeah that’ll be good,” I said and started spritzing it on my many lacerations – left shoulder, left side of left leg, right side of right leg, right shoulder, between my shoulders, top of both feet. Ouch, ouch, ouch – can you say road rash?

The back of my head was throbbing. I reached behind to touch the spot – only a little blood.  I asked the young woman if she’d mind having a look. “Of course,” she said and examined my head. “There are a few big bumps, one has just slightly broken the skin,” she reported. I dabbed some peroxide on this.

“Thank-you so much for your help,” I said.

“Oh no problem,” she replied.

Another woman, a little older than the first, poked her head in the washroom. “Are you alright?” she inquired. “Can I get you anything?” I think she might have even asked me if I wanted a glass of wine, though perhaps I only imagined that. I mean it is a winery.

“No, this young lady’s been very helpful,” I answered looking towards the younger one. “What’s your name?” I asked her.

“I’m Caitlin,” she said. “And this is Christina,” she added, referring to the woman who’d just arrived on the scene.

“Well thank you both so much,” I said.

Hubby must have seen the party going on in the women’s room and figured it was safe to enter. “How you making out?” he asked.

“Well I think that’s as clean as I’m going to get things for now,” I replied.

“Let’s get you back to the hotel,” he said. On the way back to the car he advised me that Pepper was fine and the car was fine – the damage appeared to be only cosmetic.

A mile or so down the road I realized I didn’t have my keys – I would’ve had them in my hand when I started my sprint towards the rolling car and obviously had dropped them. The keys to everything in my life were on that key ring – I didn’t want to wait and go back later lest they never be found, so we turned around. It didn’t take long for us to conclude that the keys weren’t in the parking lot because it was still empty. It was at this point I realized how very fortunate it was that it had been a slow day at the winery and there weren’t other cars, or God forbid people, in the parking lot to share in my little drama.

I went inside to see if maybe my keys had already been found. From behind the bar in the tasting room Christina looked up and said, “Oh I have your keys.”

“Oh thank you,” I responded, relieved. “Where were they?”

“In the parking lot,” she replied. She reiterated her concern for my wellbeing, asking again if I was okay, or if I needed anything. I assured her I would be fine.

Caitlin and Shane I think his name was, the assistant winemaker, were near the front doors as I was leaving. Both asked if I was okay and if there was anything they could do. “Don’t worry about the rock,” Shane assured me. I assumed he was being facetious because I really hadn’t given any thought to the wall of large boulders my car had hit. All I could think was “It’s a really big rock. I think it’ll be okay.” It occurred to me later that since they’d obviously visited the scene of the accident when they retrieved my car keys, the point of impact had already been assessed – maybe there was in fact damage to the rock. It never occurred to me, that in a fight between a compact wagon and a huge boulder, that the boulder wouldn’t win. Maybe Shane’s absolution was genuine – if so, I was grateful and promised myself I’d make a point of checking into it.

Driving back to the hotel, the magnitude of what I’d just experienced –  indeed the proverbial bullet I’d just dodged – began to sink in. I started to sob; sobs of gratitude that the outcome had not been worse, sobs of foolishness for the dim-witted mistake I’d made. My husband kept saying he was sorry and that he felt so bad. I realized he thought it was his fault – he didn’t know I’d started the car again after he’d parked it, and that I was the one who’d stupidly left it in neutral and didn’t apply the emergency brake. I enlightened him.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” he responded. “Don’t beat yourself up. I’m just happy you’re okay.”

We stopped at a pharmacy and he went in to get Epsom salts and antibiotic ointment. After what seemed like an endless drive, we were finally back at our hotel. I ran a hot bath and dumped the Epsom salts in. Wincing, I lowered myself into the tub. I realized my whole right side hurt – I hadn’t noticed the large abrasion extending from waist to knee on my right side as it had been underneath my tank top and chino capri’s. The fabric wasn’t torn at all on the outside but had scraped against my skin so hard that it tore the skin and there was fabric lodged in the wounds. The bruising would come later.

After soaking for a bit, the stinging subsided and I was able to thoroughly clean my ‘ow-ies’. Hubby helped me put ointment on the wounds I couldn’t reach, and assessed me for concussion. We decided I didn’t have one – I’d be seeing my Dad, a retired GP, the next day so would have him check everything out.

“Do you feel well enough to go out for dinner?” he asked. “Or do you want to order in?” We had reservations at a lovely Italian restaurant – another place we’d been to on our honeymoon many years ago.  I decided we should go out – it was a beautiful evening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I was happy to be alive, and our sweet Peppydawg, around whom this whole trip revolved, was completely fine. Celebration was in order, albeit low-key.

We parked the car near the restaurant and took Dawg for a walk before settling her in the car. Clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clippety-clop; we heard the sound of hoofbeats nearby – a horse-drawn cart showing tourists around the charming historic town made its way down the street. Princess Pepper started prancing, much like she does when she sees another dog. In fact I’m pretty sure she thought the horse was a dog – a really big dog that smelled really good. “No Peppy. It’s not play time,” I said and we continued on with our walk. Then with Peppy curled up in the back seat of the Little Red Wagon, we had a wonderful dinner on the patio – carrot ginger soup, rack of lamb, wild rice and seasonal veggies. And of course wine.

Later that night, lying in bed, sleep eluded me – I couldn’t lie on my left side because my left leg and shoulder hurt. I couldn’t lie on my right side because my right hip hurt. I couldn’t lie on my back because the back of my head hurt, even against the soft pillow. How on earth did I manage to get banged up on both sides of my body and the back of my head – maybe I rolled while being dragged, or when I let go? I thanked God that I wasn’t hurt any worse, and that my dog was okay and my Little Red Wagon was mostly okay. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking, “It’s gonna really hurt squeezing into my Spanx on Saturday.”

The next morning I awoke feeling not-too-bad – tender still, but functional. After breakfast in the hotel (taking turns of course so Pepper wouldn’t be left alone) we packed up to head North to my hometown. We had a few stops to make on the way – most important was those butter tarts! Pulling into the parking lot of the little marketplace, I noticed a beautiful hedge of Hibiscus edging the pavement. I suspect from the size of the huge blooms, that it was likely H. moscheutos – I believe it’s actually a woody perennial, which unfortunately isn’t hardy in Alberta.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The blooms on this plant are described as ‘dinner plate’ sized which is no exaggeration  they are indeed strikingly large, and range in colour from white to pink to red. Gorgeous aren’t they?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Anyway, we bought a dozen butter tarts, scrumptious looking things that were purported to be the best in the country – I would reserve judgement until I sunk my teeth into one. I am a connoisseur of several things, butter tarts being one of them.  We also picked up fresh Niagara peaches, nectarines and corn-on-the-cob.

Since our vineyard visits had been cut short the day before, we stopped at a couple of wineries too. Thirty Bench Winery was our first stop – again too hot to leave doggie, but given how sore I was, I was happy to stay put in the car…………until I heard a very loud blam. I was sure it was gunfire. Maybe the winery was being robbed at gunpoint. I heard another gunshot, this time further afield, then another in a yet a different spot. There were other people in the parking lot, some obviously worked there. None of them seemed alarmed. Maybe it’s just a car backfiring, I thought. But I kept hearing it – sometimes deafeningly close and sometimes much further off. The dog was starting to freak out. I didn’t want her to associate the car with anything fearful (the car was our last bastion of freedom), so I decided to take her for a short walk. I checked to make sure I had put the emergency brake on, then I checked again…………and again. I took a few photos – a very pretty place, though more rustic than the wineries we’d visited the day before.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few minutes later we met Hubby back at the car and I told him about the gunshot noise that had Princess Pepper quite unsettled. “Those are bird cannons,” he informed me. “They use them to scare the birds away so they don’t eat all the fruit.” Okay that makes more sense than a vineyard robbery.

Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Just down the road a bit was Hidden Bench Vineyard – it was the last winery we’d be able to visit in Niagara wine country, at least on this trip.

We parked in the shade right beside the vines – close enough that without even leaving the car, I could get some macro shots of the clusters of Pinot Noir grapes in various stages of Véraison (this is a fancy word viticulturists use for ‘beginning to ripen’).

At this point we weren’t too far from Peninsula Ridge – I wanted to pop in to say thank-you again for the help and concern the staff had shown me the day before.  Christina was busy in the tasting room but as soon as she saw me she stopped what she was doing. “Hello my dear,” she said. “How are you feeling today? We’ve all been thinking about you and hoping you’re okay,” she continued. I told her I was a little battered and bruised but all in all felt pretty lucky it hadn’t been any worse. The staff I’d met the day before weren’t there so I asked Christina to please pass along my thanks to them as well.

As I walked to the car, I looked around and noted how beautiful the grounds and vineyards looked under the very blue sky. I took a few pictures, remembering that it was photographing these very things that got me into trouble in the first place – the irony of it wasn’t lost on me.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heading east back to Hamilton before turning to head north, we made a few stops in the city. Somewhere along a main thoroughfare in Hamilton, we noticed the air conditioning had stopped working. Hubby looked at the temperature gauge. “The car is over-heating,” he exclaimed, turning the AC off and the heat on. “This will help dissipate the heat from the engine,” he explained. Okay great, it’s a zillion degrees out and we have the heat on, we’re in stop-and-go traffic so even with the windows wide open there’s no breeze. Now I won’t say my husband was perfectly calm at this point but I will say this: he excels in crisis management of this sort – indeed it saved our life on at least one occasion, so I’ve learned not to argue with him.

“We have to get out of here and onto the highway,” he said. Of course we hit every possible red light and the temperature needle was inching dangerously close to the red zone. Thankfully we made it to the highway and with faster speeds the temperature began to normalize. We hoped maybe this overheating thing was just an anomaly – it was blistering hot out and the car had been idling off and on in city traffic. It could happen right?

We turned the heat off, but didn’t dare turn the AC back on. As we approached Clappison’s Corners we noticed that traffic had slowed despite the green light. No, please no, not now. Yes sir, somebody up ahead was moving a house and the sign read ‘Wide Load. Do not pass’. As traffic slowed to a crawl, the car rapidly began heating up again. We turned the heat on again and groaned, as all around us big semi-trucks were congregating, creating a mammoth heat sink. I was starting to worry about the dog – she doesn’t do well in the heat and it was ridiculously hot in the car. She was panting and obviously stressed.

Finally the wide load cleared the intersection…………..just as the traffic light turned red. As if in answer to the red light, the temperature gauge jumped into the red zone, past the red zone, right off the charts. The engine light came on.

“That’s it,” my husband declared. “We’re toast.”

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure

On the morning of August 16th 1993, my sister and I and my two boys, then aged 2 and 8, boarded our Olds Cutlass station wagon (affectionately known as the Gutless Cutlass), to make the long journey from Calgary to Southern Ontario. Fitting then, that exactly 20 years later, August 16th 2013, I hopped aboard our Ford Focus station wagon (AKA the Little Red Wagon), this time with my husband and our old dog Pepper, and set out on that same road trip.

What on earth were we thinking you may ask, making the 6500 km round trip with a geriatric dog? Well here’s the thing: Pepper is – how can I say this – ‘special’. Leaving her with friends, or boarding her at a kennel so hubby and I could fly back to my sister’s wedding, would be the easiest option for most dogs………but not Princess Pepper. In her old age she has developed severe separation anxiety and wouldn’t be happy away from us for so long (and this is understating things considerably).

Oh the things we do for our dogs.

In the weeks leading up to our road trip, I began to feel increasing trepidation about it: how was our sweet and very sensitive old pooch going to manage the long, long, long days in the car? She loves car rides but this was going to be the ‘Mother of all Car Rides’. One of my boys expressed similar concern: “Mom, I’m worried about Pepper,” he said. “I think she might die on your trip.” Now before you fret that there’s a sad ending here, let me just say – we all lived to tell the tale…………

I’ve always loved this particular drive, gruelling as it is – it’s a fascinating affirmation of how vast and variable our huge country is. And with my husband doing the lion’s share of the driving, I am free to gaze out the window and appreciate the spectacular scenery – even through the rugged plains of Saskatchewan, which contrary to popular opinion, I actually find quite beautiful in its austereness. I think knowing how many mouths are fed by the endless fields of grain, adds to its beauty.

I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest. And the Canadian Shield displays intriguing variation in rock colour and texture – sometimes rusty-brown with vertical striations, sometimes smooth and pink and sometimes grey and jagged. As gardeners, landscape designers and horticulturists, we can take many lessons from the natural rock formations and forestation that Mother Nature presents – the way she mass plants her trees and understory, the large areas of perceived monoculture masking the plant diversity that lies therein. Indeed this should be our template. Of course you don’t have to make a long sojourn to find this inspiration – just go visit the closest natural area. For example, here in Calgary, we have Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park right within the city limits.

As we drive on, occasionally we get a whiff of some pungent odour – we assume if we’re driving through farmland that it’s likely cow manure, or maybe rotting vegetation if we’re passing through boggy areas. We close the windows, only to find the odour gets stronger. Somewhere in Northern Ontario we figure out that the smell isn’t coming from outside – it’s coming from inside the car. Turns out what we’re smelling is dog breath – when Pepper starts panting, she has doggie halitosis. Seems the princess is in need of a dental, or at least a really good teeth-brushing. We soon learn that when we smell that smell, it means she is hot, or thirsty, or agitated………or awake. Mostly she just hunkers down in the back seat and sleeps – when she wakes up she seems confused as to why we’re still in the car. Frequent stops allow for her to stretch her legs, have a drink and a pee – us too, though I’m the only one who actually requires ‘facilities’.

For three days we drive – we make it to Winnipeg the first night after a 14 hour drive, and to Sault Ste. Marie the second night after a ridiculous 17 hours of driving. The third day is easy by comparison – we actually have time to have breakfast in the hotel dining room and I even have a few minutes to take some photos of the beautiful hotel gardens; a lovely courtyard with mammoth Hostas, delicate ferns and crisp white Hydrangeas.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ostrich Fern and Hosta ‘Frances Williams’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely pairing – Large white flowerheads of Annabelle Hydrangea echo the bright white variegations of Hosta sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Then it’s off to Hamilton. Coming down the 400 we get stuck in weekend traffic, and it is smokin’ hot out. In fact it was sweltering hot throughout the entire drive across four provinces – thankfully the Little Red Wagon has very efficient air conditioning.

Arriving in Hamilton early evening we have time to freshen up at the hotel and take Pepper for a walk around the very funky neighbourhood where our hotel is located. Later, when it’s finally cool enough that we can leave Dawg in the car (the one place she’s quite comfortable without us), we are able to have a proper dinner at a real restaurant – ‘road food’ when one is trying to eat healthy means not eating much at all.

Hubby wants to take me to a place he’d discovered when in town several weeks prior – a great little restaurant called Earth to Table Bread Bar. If you’re ever in Hamilton I highly recommend this popular spot – the food is awesome and their philosophy and practice of sourcing the best ingredients from local producers, as well as their own farm, means everything is fresh and flavourful. Our meal is made all the more entertaining by our flirtatious young waiter.

Next day is a flurry of whirlwind visits – first stop is the Royal Botanical Gardens, which allows dogs on the grounds providing they are leashed.  We have some time to tour the gardens before our scheduled lunch, though not enough to really take in all that is there – this would require at least a full day, which sadly we didn’t have. I snap a few photos. The sun is strong and the lighting harsh. I’m hot, Pepper is bored and looking for trouble, and though hubby is being extraordinarily patient, I don’t have the patience to fuss with camera settings to adjust for lighting conditions. I’m all too happy to abort my photo mission and head to the cool of the Gardens’ Café where we meet for a lovely lunch with my husband’s sisters. The visit is of course too short, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is indeed a whirlwind trip.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are featured in the sculpture gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent bloom of Echinacea ‘White Swan’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Scented Garden flaunts a magnificent tiered fountain. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Container on pillar 2

A fluted container brimming with yellow million bells sits atop a stone pillar in the Scented Garden.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Trumpet vine on the Pergola Walk. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next it’s off to my sister’s in Dundas to see her handsome new home and get a feel for the property so I can design her gardens. Princess Pepper is delighted to cavort with her dog and roll around in the grass. Princess Ellen my adorable 3-year-old niece, is delighted to show off her many talents; like ‘cooking’ plastic hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob, swinging on her swing (“Auntie Sue, look what I can do”), or telling outrageous stories – her mother looks at her sideways and says, “Honey are you sure that really happened?” Soooo cute. The visit is again way too short, but we’ll see them again in a few days – we’re here for a wedding and there are numerous family gatherings still to come.

Finally we’re off to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake where we plan to decompress for a few days before family festivities begin. Passing through several small towns along the way, we start imagining where we might settle should we decide to move to this part of the country. It isn’t the first time we’ve fantasized about this – it’s beautiful country here. It’s wine country here – and garden country extraordinaire. Why wouldn’t we want to live here? We pass by a covered produce stand – the sign outside boasts fresh Niagara fruit and vegetables as well as ‘Canada’s Best Butter Tart’. Mmmm, butter tarts – we decide we’ll definitely stop by here on our way back out of town.

Arriving in Niagara-on-the-Lake we check into our hotel, a block from the shores of Lake Ontario, and let the serene stillness of our cool room wash over us, shedding the stress of the long hot drive. The hotel staff are impeccably professional, yet casually unpretentious. And they love Pepper – when we walk through the lobby we are greeted warmly and cordially, but Princess Pepper is effused and gushed over.

We walk down to the beach. Pepper ventures to the water’s edge intending to drink, but a small wave laps up against the shore and startles her. Again she goes to drink. Another small wave and………..well, she’s a skittish thing and gives up – clearly this big ‘water bowl’ isn’t a safe place to drink from. She’s happy to walk alongside us though as we stroll beside the water.

It’s very warm here, even with the moderating influence of the lake. We wait until sundown before we head out for dinner – it should be cool enough then for Pepper to stay in the car. The back seat of the Little Red Wagon has become her safe haven during the trip – indeed it is her home away from home.  We park the car close by and she obligingly curls up in the back seat (or the front passenger seat, or even the driver’s seat) and lets us dine. We choose a place that seems oddly familiar – my husband remembers that in fact we had dined at this exact restaurant when we honeymooned here 24 years ago. How romantic.

The following day I head to the shopping district (I needed to purchase another dress or two since I’d packed only what I’d wear to the wedding and a bunch of schlub wear for travelling in, completely overlooking that there would be a few other events I might want to dress up for). The walk from the hotel takes me through a residential area with many pretty gardens, a beautiful park with various mixed shrub, perennial and annual plantings, and of course the streets are all beautifully planted with stunning displays of annuals. I’m on a shopping mission, but I knew I’d want to snap some photos, so made sure I slipped my camera ‘round my neck before setting out.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rose of Sharon is a common sight in the Niagara region, and much of Southern Ontario, at this time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta Hillside – two types of Hosta adorn a sloped boulevard. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Much of what grows here is also hardy in Alberta, but I also see numerous trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that we can’t grow – some I recognize from growing up in Southern Ontario, some I feel like I should know but can’t quite put my finger on, and others I really don’t know at all.

My horticulture and landscape design training has taken place entirely in Alberta, so I feel somewhat out of my element here. Evidently, if moving to this part of the country is in my future, I’ll have to expand my mental horticultural database and upgrade my plant ID skills.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lime green Coleus and wax begonia provide a colourful underplanting for weeping cypress and variegated Brugmansia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer palmatum, Hosta sp. and Bergenia cordifolia make a lovely trio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

foliage planting

Another lovely combo – fountain grass, coleus and sweet potato vine present great color and texture contrast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brightly variegated Canna lily foliage is a stunning backdrop for the bright coral-red flowers and shiny foliage of this wax begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the afternoon, we head out to visit some wineries – my husband has been charged with the duty of choosing and purchasing wine for the wedding. The first vineyard we visit is Tawse – voted Canadian Winery of the Year 3 years in a row by the now defunct Wine Access magazine. It’s blistering hot out, too hot for puppydawg to stay in the car, so hubby heads into the winery and Pepper and I take a walk around the stunningly landscaped grounds – truly they’ve spared no expense here.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated ornamental grass pairs beautifully with Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A sunny border of Echinacea, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Calamagrostis and other ornamental grasses.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As I photograph the beautiful gardens, I hear ‘Baaaah’ from down the hill and over the fence – a small flock of sheep canters up to a covered enclosure, likely seeking shade. Princess Pepper is utterly enchanted – she trots back and forth at the end of her long lead, tail up, ears perked and looking as exuberant and energetic as she did in her puppyhood. I don’t know if her response was predatory or playful, but she really wanted to get to those sheep. Eventually the tugging at the end of her leash makes it difficult to take photos so I reel her in, “Peppy down” I command gently. “Peppy down” I say, a little less gently. She does so, begrudgingly, and I manage to snap a few more shots.

Tawse plantings 2

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room, Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next stop is Peninsula Ridge – makers of some of the finest Chardonnay in the country. We find a shady spot beneath a beautiful multistem birch, but it’s still too hot to leave Pepper for any longer than a few minutes. While Hubby buys wine, I stay with the dog. Even in the shade with the windows wide open it’s really hot – worried that pooch might overheat, I start the car, put it in neutral and let the air conditioning run for a minute or two. With the car cooled off a bit, I decide I can leave Peppy long enough to take a few photos. I stroll around the empty parking lot and snap some shots of the gardens and vineyards.

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Su Gaviller

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The next few minutes are a blur, but it goes something like this: I saw a red station wagon on the move heading down the hill, about 50 feet away from me. It took me a few seconds to a) realize the car was mine b) realize why it was moving (I’d thoughtlessly left it in neutral, apparently on an imperceptible slope) and c) determine that its trajectory appeared to be down the sloped driveway potentially into the path of oncoming cars. My only thought was, “My dog is in that car!” and I took off after it. I haven’t sprinted like that since I ran the 50 yard dash in high school – in fact I didn’t think I still had it in me, but I caught up to that car and grabbed the post between the front and back windows, hoping to reach in and pull the emergency brake. Alas the car was moving too fast and I lost my footing. I was dragged for several feet before realizing I had to let go. I remember distinctly the sensation of my left shoulder scraping along the pavement and thinking it odd that when the back of my head hit the ground, it bounced a few times, rather like a basket ball.

Now I don’t know if perhaps I put sufficient drag (pardon the pun) on one side of the car so as to actually affect its trajectory, or if some divine intervention had just occurred, but as I pulled myself up, I saw the car change course, slowing its movement slightly and head towards a low wall of large rocks. It came to rest with a thud – no, a very loud crunch.

This photo was taken seconds before my little 'mishap'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This was the last photo I took before my ‘little mishap’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I start running towards the car, fearing the worst – my sandal has broken and my feet are bleeding so I can only hobble. Oddly my first thought is “There goes my pretty pink pedicure.” When I reach the car I’m barely able to open the driver seat door due to the damage the impact has caused the front end. Pepper is still lying quietly in the back seat, but sits up when she hears the loud noise the car door makes as I force it open. She looks at me quizzically as if to ask “Mom, what was that?” She appears to be unharmed. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about myself. Shaking, hyperventilating and still in shock I try to reach my husband on his cell phone. No answer. I begin limping up the hill towards the winery just as he exits the building. He looks at me, puzzled.

“We have a problem,”  I announce.

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.