On the second day of my mini-break, after dropping my friend off at her course, held in the urban industrial sprawl, I headed out into the hinterland to take a look at the past. For the first hour or so, there was nothing much to see except the road in front of me, on account of a thick fog. Just as well, actually, since the alternative would have been to look at the fungal explosion of development.
Eventually I got out into the country, where the grey blanket lightened somewhat, revealing fields and copses transformed into an impressionist landscape; softened edges, muted yet saturated tones, very harmonious. I forced myself to stop and take some photos this time.
I was heading to the final resting place of some of the ancestors. Around nine o'clock, I headed into Carp (here, they call it Cairp, in that distinctive, Irish-influenced Ottawa Valley drawl) to see if the library was open. I'd consulted some histories there on a previous visit a decade or two ago, and had forgotten to get a reference. But the library didn't open for another hour, so I went straight to the cemetery. Or almost.
I headed out of the village looking for the Panmure Road on the left. Things seemed to be taking longer than they should to appear, and when I got to the turn to Kinburn, I realized I'd somehow gone too far. So, I thought I'd go round the square and work back. I soon discovered that the road, at this end had been renamed for a local politician. This made me grumpy; another piece of history down the drain.
Back in 1825, my fifth great grandfather and his family arrived in Ontario, part of the wave of migration from County Down, Northern Ireland. The Lowrys were a colourful bunch, and legends and stories of them abound. There's the one about the proud Lowry man who refused to sell a fine black horse to Lord Hamilton but gave it to him as a gift. Soon after that he received a grant of land. Captain Hamilton Lowry, a retired sea captain, was said to have left his fortune at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River when a shipwreck gave him the choice of sinking or swimming. He and his family of strong sons made it to Canada and he commenced his second career as a farmer and log house hotelier. Apparently, no guest was ever turned away for lack of money, and what money did change hands was thrown into a bushel basket. When the basket was full it was taken to the attic. These guys had a fine disregard for money, it seemed. Fittingly romantic for an Irishman.
As I came down the Diamondview Road, over the creek that had cut through their farms, I could see nothing of all they'd striven for. Thick tangled woods covered the valley on the one side, and an unimpressive vinyl sided bungalow stood where once the log hotel had been.
When I arrived at the cemetery, I was pleased to see that behind the iron railings all was in good order still. In fact, the cemetery is still active. They're still burying Lowry folk there. I went over to the large red granite and limestone monument where Hamilton and his son, Savage, are commemorated. I felt moved to give the old guy's tombstone a hug.
Overhead, a raven and crow were having a cawing/croaking contest. I tried to get a shot of the raven, but he was preternaturally canny, and would fly to another tree each time I got close to getting him in focus.
On the edge of the ravine on which the graveyard is perched, I noticed a pile of discarded silk and plastic grave decorations; more throwaway history.
I thought about all those ticky tacky boxes I'd been spared the sight of this morning by the fog, and hoped that when they were gone, these stones would remain to remind us of the fact that the men and women who came before us and opened up this country were giants, clearing and building at a human pace, living and dying in community. You can't create that with a backhoe and a plan of subdivision.
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