Building the Wall – improvising a garden fence

Today, I loaded up my German axe, Canadian pry bar (pictured later), Swede saw and Japanese pull saw and headed down the road to cut some fence posts. Who says we can’t travel during these pandemic days, at least, in our imaginations?


My neighbours said I could take some trees from their large wooded property, so I cut three 30′ spruce and bucked them into 7′ sections before I had to go home for a snack and a nap.
Though we had snow last week, spring has now come for real and the exotic trilliums are all starting to open in the forest. And everyone knows, the black flies come at the same time as the flowers, so I was working in a dense fog of bug dope and hopeful bugs.


Before the journey into the forest, the day started with an expert delivery of the second load of alpaca poo top soil, paid for in the local currency of cookies.
Neighbour Doug carefully places top soil on the pyramid…
 yesterday, I added some branches to hold things in place until the pile sinks more and the soon-to-be-planted vegetables develop roots
Back to the forest…
I found some 30′ spruce with small butts of about 14″ circumference (4-5″ across).
I used the double-bitted axe to start the cut, then the swede or japanese pull saw to finish.
I think it would be faster to do it all with the axe but sometimes the access point
is a bit awkward for the axe (or axe person).
I feel a mixture of gratitude and remorse every time I take a tree,
so I leave the site as clean as possible,
distribute the branches,
and I say thank you.
I found this one back from the road


it fell easily, clearing the other trees… then I limbed it and bucked it into three 7′ sections.
Next tree was up on a hill, which proved to be a bit windier than ideal
I limb as many branches as I can reach before making the first cut in the direction I want the tree to fall
Tree looks bigger than it was… the wind blew it slightly off course and it got briefly hung up
in a crux of other branches and trees
I needed to use the pry bar to pop it off the stump


I could imagine my father laughing quietly as I huffed and puffed and pulled the tree out.
As I stopped to swat blackflies (futile), I spotted this neon orange fungus
My neighbours told me to fall any that were close to the road since they need to keep
the sides clear, so I did!
Glad that traffic was light today (non existent)


My aim is improving!


A decent load of fence poles to get me started.
I am covered in sap, bug bites and bug dope but otherwise unscarred.
I learned tonight that rubbing alcohol will clean sticky sap off of the axe and saw blades… wonder if that will work on my jeans too?


Unloaded the poles and then thoroughly watered the soil.
The hose leaks, so that is a mist of water, not steam, arising from the Hugel pile.
And the gopher who lives beside my garage decided it was time to build his own Hugel pile.
Tomorrow, peel the logs (well, poles) and my garden wall starts to go up!
Take good care of yourselves and thank you for reading
about my quiet adventures
beyond yet nonetheless including
the world of



Hugelkultur Garden – building on the past

When I decided to sell my one-of-a-kind church/concert hall in 2018 and move up north to the last log house that my father built, many of my friends and colleagues said it was a mistake since I would be far away from the hustle and musical bustle of the Canadian metropolis of Toronto. They were sure it would lead to fewer concerts and opportunities for me. Now that Covid19 has taken charge, that equation has changed.

I’m still practicing, still getting ready to publish my new bassoon tech book, still working on the rest of the renovations and helping relaunch the Council of Canadian Bassoonists, but because I am no longer driving 4000 per month, I am using that time in new ways. And going outside and working on digging and moving logs through pivoting, prying and different types of leverage seemed like just another great idea.

There was a pile of logs in the field behind our house, good timbers that had been left over from the building of the house. They had rotted from being exposed to the elements, and I didn’t know what to do with them. It made me sad to see them so neglected and awry.

Then my accountant suggested I create a Hugelkultur garden.

The principle is to make a tall layer cake of rotting wood, branches and other organic material, cover it all with dirt and build a garden, preferably by digging into the ground and then stacking up to six feet. Anything that is non-toxic (so no cedar, walnut, or painted woods and no seed-bearing silage). Over time, it becomes a nitrogen-rich biomass that doesn’t require much watering because the rotting wood acts as a sponge.
I jumped at the idea because it would allow me to process the orphaned logs in a positive way. I started at the beginning of April, and was delayed by snow and by awaiting delivery of my peavey and pry bar, but I should be able to plant my seedlings by May 24 at the latest.
Here is a picture journal of some of the many steps that it took to get to the point where I think I will be able to plant the seedlings this week.

The logs were piled in a jumble along with boards and firewood behind the house, the remains of parts of the house that were re-designed along with the construction stairs and other artifacts,
including rotted planks
and stair stringers.
Kinda makes my heart clutch to see the fine work of my
old Dad before gently laying these into the trenches alongside the sections of logs.
Even though it was still a bit cold at the beginning of April, I started the first trenches.
I hit hard clay at about 14 inches…. after hammering at it for a while, decided that 14-18″ was deep enough.
Specialized footgear!
Though the running shoes are more comfortable, I had to switch to
rubber bogs so that I could actually walk!


Three logs were buried by April 12, then I had to figure out how
to cut the 18′ log into three… I still didn’t have my peavey (log rolling tool)
So I began chopping with my fine throwing axe, but needed to turn the log…
So I tried hammering in a wedge and using a piece of angle iron to roll it, and it worked a little, but also felt unsafe with the angle iron bowing  a lot, so I stopped.
You can see two thirds of the long log on the far right…
Went into the crown land forest and gathered a couple of bags of dried maple and oak leaves.
I kept chopping…
And finally my peavey arrived! it had been held up by the slower mail during Cootie 19.
I had to assemble the hook and happened to have a 5/8ths wrench handy.
And I was able to roll the log and easily finish chopping on the other side.
Here is the long log in 2 pieces, and now that I had the peavey, I chopped it into three pieces
and rolled all three into the Hugel bed on top of the 4 buried logs
Then I had to get the log that was around the back and roll it to the side
and make a ramp with two old planks on top of the pile of dirt that I had dug out from the trenches
I rolled with one hand, then jammed the pry bar in the dirt to hold the log and put old pieces of firewood under the log at each turn to hold it in position so that I could remove the peavey and take another grip.
Rolled it over the top and into the last trench
Now back to the south side and figuring out how to move this log straight ahead from its position.
My brand new, 18 pound “Cougar” (hahahaha) pry bar is a thing of total joy.
Moving towards the dirt pile, realizing that I will get jammed unless I put a piece of old plywood under it as a skid
Close up of my Dad’s numbering system for identifying all the logs when dissassembling log hoses for a move… these are the lids for canning preserves, held on with a galvanized nail
Using the pry bar to straighten out the log (pivot points are an amazing thing)
Setting the log on the plywood skid, then I just pried and pushed it until it was in position
Had to add planks to get it across the grass
and kept using pieces of old firewood to keep the log in position and headed straight
made it! now to roll into position
Just before rolling into the Hugel bed
And in position, with my beautiful cadmium red pry bar contrasting beautifully with the rotten wood.
Even though the wood is rotten, the heart of these white pine logs is sound and they are heavy!
Now to pry the last log into it’s new spot… flattened on both sides, this will be a useful low table for the garden
The last of the 13 log sections is half buried in the soil of the field, but the red pry bar and a couple of strategically placed planks make movement simple.
Walked it over, wriggling each end with pry bar
Making a skid surface with plywood and plank
and in position
Here are all the tools that really helped me so much… the small shovel with the really long handle, the 4′ antique pry bar that Peter McEwen loaned to me, my brand new 4′ Keystone peavey sent to me by Maurice Gardy and the 5′, 18 lb Cougar pry bar that can move and lever and lift stones, logs and more
Time to clean up the long-standing fire pile… there had been a complete fire ban in the township so I moved all the branches over to the garden
stacked the branches
then went through them all and broke them into straight pieces so the pile will stay stable and not bounce when I add more logs to top
sawed up a piece of deadfall beside the road and loaded into truck

added to pile

went down the forest section of the road and filled truck with rotted deadfall… when I perceive the value of the rotted wood, then it feel like I am finding treasure! the rotted wood is quite light.
My dear neighbour Doug arriving with a bucket load of nicely rotted alpaca manure
The fields have dried up beautifully with the winds so the heavy tractor can safely cross
terrified salamander had ridden over in the tractor bucket … he quickly found a safe hiding spot in the garden pile
little garter snake inspects the garden pile, asks what I’m doing there since he decided it was a good snake castle
told the snake I’m here to stay
dug four fence post holes, trying to plan what kind of summer fence I will install.
The black flies are out now that the snow is finally gone (swat, sweat, spray bug dope)
From the base of the buried logs to the crown of the topsoil will be at least 5′, which is very respectable. It will sink into the ground in the coming months and can support a garden for years to come.
I added another layer of field dirt and some terracing, awaiting the next load of alpaca poop that is coming tomorrow.
To be continued!
And once the bugs are gone in August, I just might play a concert by the garden.


This time of restricted contact and cancelled concerts feels very familiar to me, accustomed as I am to solitude, yet clearly it is different.  I have stayed home for most 60 days, which is an all-time record. I am not bored, and  I have so much to do… painting basement rooms and building a garden and proofing my book, rebuilding the Council of Canadian Bassoonists with our new Board (lotsa Zoom meetings) and practicing…

For fun,  I responded when my neighbours started a daily drawing group on March 20 via FaceBook. They are low key, welcoming and unfailingly cheerfully positive. and I have participated about 50 times. For some reason,  I use recycled cardstock or paper from packaging with a very limited palette (black felt pen, HB2 pencil, white pencil crayon). The paper is gray or brown, and the texture ranges from coarse to just heavy and the pieces are very small.The drawings are all in response to themes, but per usual, I often drift away from the original intention.

Here are 29 of the small drawings, a couple of them made up from 2 or 3 pieces of paper, moments from the cool spring days, moments where I returned to the fun of being a kid and making some drawings. All are done with in a short time and might become the basis for a bigger drawing. Somehow, time is my own when making these marks on paper. The one of the little blue bassoon was in response to the challenge to close my eyes and draw something.
Take good care, everyone. See you in the future at a concert or an art show in the new world that will come out of all of this. Don’t be scared but look after yourselves.



Jump Into Bed


Mother’s Day


And the Shadow Passed


Old Stone House by the Sea


A Goat and a Boat and a Bridge to the Moat






Hey Diddle Diddle
My Favourite Instrument


Catch Up






Crane 1






Fox in the Field




About Time




Hare and Egg






Wake UP!


Blue Bassoon


Multi-tufted Symphony Bird (extinct?)




Body of Work

There has been a slight hitch in my plans and I am forced to cancel my upcoming March 8 appearance in Halifax for Cecilia Concerts with Ophelia Rises. The concert will go on under a different title with the super tango group, Payadora. I encourage my supporters to attend because they are a fantastic and life-affirming group.

I had day surgery on February 27 at Humber River Hospital to remove three malignant melanomas from the backs of my arms. While we originally thought that the surgery wouldn’t prevent me from traveling and playing, when it came to the actual surgery, my wonderful operating surgeon,  Dr Romy, said that because of the depth of the excisions, position (one was near elbow) and the large number of multi-level stitches, I must not lift anything over 5 pounds and that air travel with a heavy bassoon backpack case (25 lbs) and gear was out of the question. I suggested that I drive instead of fly, but he categorically forbade travel.

Booking concerts is a huge moral and financial responsibility. My presenter, Jules Chamberlain of Cecilia Concerts, is the soul of understanding and efficient professionalism when it came to understanding this crisis.  He quickly rebooked the concert with Payadora since they form the core of my string ensemble and are an incredible group. My string colleagues responded to this unexpected turn of events with real grace (Joe Phillips, Rebekah Wolkstein, Drew Jurecka and Charlotte Paradis).

Even though I cannot be paid for this concert, I had already bought all the plane tickets and guaranteed a fee to each musician which must be honoured. And my beloved audience will be given a choice of attending the replacement concert (which I keenly hope they will) or having a refund. One concert goer has already offered her ticket refund to help pay for the costs of this last minute change.

Back to the health stuff, I will say one last thing… I went to a Bloor Street dermatologist over a year ago and he dismissed me, saying I worried too much. He brought in another doctor from the same private dermatology practice where they both worked, and she said that fair skinned, blue-eyed people often have weird freckles or spots that are not a concern. Neither of these doctors suggested biopsies or even a real second opinion from more qualified doctors. I knew something was wrong, but my life was insanely busy and I allowed myself to trust these preoccupied and dismissive people.

After recently returning to my excellent family doctor and being instantly recommended to Womens’ College Hospital, it turns out that my particular melanomas are utterly atypical, and thus prone to misdiagnosis. Yet I always knew something was wrong because of how they felt and their proximity to the first melanoma that I had when I was 31 years old. When my current outstanding dermatologist at Women’s College Hospital, Dr Vincent Piguet, delivered the news on Feb 5, he said that there is a huge amount of current research that will help me get through this if the surgery is not enough. He also said that fair-skinned, blue-eyed women (!) are 20% more likely to develop melanomas.

Moral of story: trust your instincts and take time to follow up with good doctors who listen with respect, understanding and genuine expertise. Don’t allow people to wave you away.  Each of my current superstar doctors has the ability to listen, understand and educate.  They are patient and efficient. Having said that, the single best step I made was to return to my family doctor to ask for a proper new recommendation. She burst into action, and so have all of the other doctors. Thank you.

Here is the 12 point update.

1. Melanoma is super scary (if you look it up, go to a reputable site)
2. I’ve had it before in same place and surgery kept it away for 30 years
3. I had 3 melanomas removed from my arms this week
4. I have about 70 stitches (guessing) and deep wounds (for sure) but after three days, no pain and I only took one pain killer on the first night
5. I have great doctors from three kickass hospitals (Women’s College, Humber River and Princess Margaret)
6. Stitches will come out in mid March
7. I start playing again in March and the Ophelia Rises show will happen again in the future
8. Tests will be finalized in March
9. I have amazing friends and neighbours and colleagues who are standing guard to help me
10. Everything will be fine and I will always update you
11. I feel great, aside from canceling concert.
12. Please don’t worry. I really am amazingly resilient. My adversity-training and ass-kicking credentials are completely up-to-date.


Ophelia Gets Mad in Toronto

Yesterday afternoon, I presented the first version of my new show, Ophelia Gets Mad.  It is part of the Ophelia Project, which is a concert of great bassoon music interspersed with a reworking of the story of the youngest character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

While not a scholar, I have always enjoyed reading plays. But not Hamlet. Four hours of generally tedious mellifluous self-centred tirades from many characters but mostly Hamlet. Though the language is spectacular, and I learn a new word every time that I plow into it, I find it to be an utterly tedious and depressing play and I would never have read it unless I wanted to understand the context of Ophelia’s short life.

The triggers for action in the play seem to stem from such sordid and improbable causes, and the only wholesome characters in the play appear to be Ophelia and Hamlet’s beloved friend, Horatio. Maybe I need to work Horatio into a future version of the story, but for the moment, I am not worried about him as he is one of the rare survivors in this medieval snuff play.

Anyway, I conceived this notion of doing an Ophelia-centred concert years ago, and in the meantime, many other people have done exactly the same thing better in movies, books and probably more. So while my idea is hardly original, this presentation is unique.

Despite my antipathy towards Hamlet, I think the play is a necessary evil because, despite the outlandish series of events, there is so much metaphorical truth in the exposé of human selfishness.

In this show, we review the general trajectory of Ophelia’s story, and at pivotal junctures, have her turn away from the abuse, confusion and violence. Instead of sinking into despair as Hamlet rants and insults her, she shakes it off and walks away. Goes out for a coffee or a flagon of mead or a jog around the park. Instead of drowning in a pond of sorrow, pushed by some unseen hand, she is either pulled from the water by the only other truly good person in the play, or she snaps awake when she hits the cold waves and struggles her way to a long and full life.

While both Hamlet and Ophelia end up as orphans who die too young, somehow it is Ophelia who ignites my empathy. I really want to see what she could have done with her life.
I have a great group of string players, building up from incredible bassist and guitarist, Joe Phillips, to Symphony Nova Scotia’s principal cellist, Rachel Desoer, to magical violist Charlotte Paradis and two wildly talented violinists, Rebekah Wolkstein and Drew Jurecka.
I gave the group my final script the day before the show, and they launched right in. While we all have to get used to delivering a story while playing a concert, we got through it and the audience understood our message. Instead of being a generic #metoo bleat, I want it to be a message to encourage all of us to allow people, particularly idealistic young women,  a chance to live a full life and fulfill their promise. And it is amazing how deftly the music illustrated the ideas.
And I definitely wanted to challenge the concept of Ophelia’s madness. SO much more satisfying to imagine her GETTING mad instead of going mad. I don’t put too many words in her mouth… I want to show that people can muster the necessary rage to change even while being very very quiet.
Come to our show in Halifax. It is so very rare to hear me perform, and this is because of the expense. Until I can fundraise for bigger tours, I have to wait until popular demand encourages more big presenters to hire me. I am super grateful to my Toronto fan base for buying tickets to yesterday’s concert. The show cost me over $4000 so that was your Christmas present, like, forever.
For those who didn’t make it, we are presenting a slightly evolved version called Ophelia Rises in the  beautiful Lilian Piercey Hall in Halifax on March 8 at 2 pm for Cecilia Concerts. See you there. 
Ophelia Gets Mad
Vivaldi G Minor RV 495 – Presto
Garfield Soliloquy
Vivaldi G Minor RV 495 – Allegro
Vivaldi F Major RV 491 – Allegro Molto
Vivaldi F Major RV 491 – Allegro
Vivaldi C Minor RV 480 – Andante
Jurecka On The Roof (vln & bn)
Scarlatti/Sweeney C Major  K501 exposition (bn alone)
R-Korsakov Flight of the Bumble Bee
Lussier Song of Love & Sorrow
Vivaldi G MinorRV 495 – Largo Spirituoso
Lussier Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie
Marc Mellits Dark Matter (bn with electronics)
Vivaldi C MinorRV 480 – Allegro
Brahms Five Ophelia Songs – bn & quartet
Joni Mitchell/arr. Fraser Jackson Both Sides Now
Zamba para Olividar – Daniel Toro (voice, guitar, vln)
Vivaldi E flat Major – Presto
Rebekah Wolkstein – violin
Drew Jurecka – violin
Charlotte Paradis – viola
Rachel Desoer – cello
Joe Phillips – bass and guitar
Nadina Mackie Jackson – bassoon