Georgian Bay Drift: the Bruce Peninsula

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Day-Tripping Flowerpot Island, the Bruce Trail, The Grotto, and Overhanging Point on southern Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula

The Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario separates the cooler waters of Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron’s “sweetwater sea,” and makes of the Bay an unofficial, sixth Great Lake. It’s the kind of iconic Canadian landscape that drove artists such as Arthur Lismer and the other Group of Seven painters wild.

The rugged, 100-kilometre finger of pine-studded shale and limestone, set amidst the granite and precambrian rock of Shield country, points northward from the rolling hills of southwest Ontario’s farm country, all head-high corn and sulphur-bright canola, through Boreal Shield country and towns with names like Kapuskaping. North north north, to Moosonee and the wetland plains of Hudson Bay and, somewhere way up there, the beluga-backed Arctic Ocean…

Leastways, that’s how it seemed to me some 25 years ago, when my buddy D. and I spent a week on the Bruce Trail, from Tobermory to Lion’s Head. During the day, we hiked the little-used trail, looking down from the rocky limestone escarpment through cold clear water which faded from yellow and emerald to the deep, dark blue of open water. At night we slept wild, pitching our tent in ruts and gullys off-trail, never an open fire and always breaking camp by dawn. Not that there were many people to stumble upon us. We had the rocky beaches and scenic overlooks such as Overhanging Point and the Grotto almost to ourselves. We starved on the thin gruel of freeze-dried “mountain stew.” D. froze at night, wrapped only in a blanket, and stepped on a massasauga rattlesnake.

It was, is, one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I’ve returned to Georgian Bay over the years, mostly in canoe and kayak.

Each time, I love the blue depth of sky and water, the seal-smooth rocky islets, those solitary pines, and the squalls that blow along the horizon.

But things have changed. Overhanging Point and the Grotto are still there, of course, but the trickle of visitors from nearby Cyprus Lake Provincial Park has turned into a flood of families and weekend partiers, city kids blasting their boomboxes on the trail from the camp to the water. Two new national parks, Fathom Five and Bruce Peninsula, have brought improved access and facilities, which in turn has lured a new breed of visitor to the area. Visitors from China and India and the rest of Canada arrive in honeymoon couples, in triads, in nuclear and extended families.

And the natives are restless, though for different reasons. When R. and I visited this summer, “For Sale” signs flagged a gas station, a bakery, and a waterfront home. “This might be a paradise for you,” one local, a student from nearby Owen Sound, told me, but winters are really long. “Things… happen,” she said. Fair enough. As Jim and Doug, owner/operators of Bear Cove B&B explained, a severe winter storm can leave the people around the town of Tobermory, and the peninsula’s tip, snowbound, completely cut off, for a week at a time.

Fair enough. “Been there, wouldn’t want to live there,” as they say.

Still, the Bruce Peninsula a scenic, rugged piece of landscape, as you can tell from the pictures below. But Canada wild and woolly it ain’t, not really. Debriefing back in Tokyo, R. tells me she enjoyed driving the “endless” countryside of southern Ontario on the way to the Peninsula, but wouldn’t put the landscape along the west shore of Georgian Bay in the same category as the Rocky Mountains, say. As for me, I’d love to do some more kayaking, or perhaps sailing, among the pine-studded islets of this sweetwater sea, but as for the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail, that trip best works as a memory of a younger, fitter, more ambitious iteration of me, still at the start of my adventures.

It’s still a scenic, rugged piece of landscape, as you can tell from the pictures below. But Canada wild and woolly it ain’t, not really. Debriefing back in Tokyo, R. tells me she enjoyed driving the “endless” rolling countryside of southern Ontario on the way to the Peninsula, but wouldn’t put the landscape along the west shore of Georgian Bay in the same category as the Rocky Mountains, say. As for me, I’d love to do some more kayaking, or perhaps sailing, among the pine-studded islets of this sweetwater sea, but as for the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail, that trip best works as a memory of a younger, fitter, more ambitious iteration of me, still at the start of my adventures.

Lake Huron

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Lake Huron Shoreline
Lake Huron Shoreline

Flowerpot Island

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Bruce Trail: The Grotto and Overhanging Point

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“The Land of Fire and Ice”… and Trippy Tunes: Ten Music Videos of Iceland

A Music Video Tour of Iceland

Imagine Peace Tower
Imagine Peace Tower

(Read the rewrite of ‘”The land of Fire and Ice”…’ at Exit Booted 2.0 on Medium.com, ‘Iceland: “Land of Fire and Ice…” and Trippy Tunes?!?’)

Recently, while researching scenic locales for my first photo trip to Iceland, I got a real kick outta watching music videos shot locally by some of my favourite bands such as múm, Bjork, and Sigur Rós. All of which happen to be from Iceland. Turns out, not surprisingly, that Iceland’s wild and woolly landscape makes a great backdrop for some inspiring music videos… or maybe it just says something about the kind of music I like. In any case, I thought it would be fun for me, and cool for you, to put together a “Top Ten” list of inspiring music videos. Some of the locales, such as Reykjavik, and the black sand beach near Vik, we did actually get to in March of 2014; others are at the top of my bucket list. Please note that I’m not gonna try and be comprehensive here: these are ten songs and/or videos I happen to like. There’s nothing magical about the number 10: feel free to add your own favourite Iceland-themed music videos in the comments section below!

Bjork

The Sugarcubes, Birthday

 (English)

Reykjavik circa late 1980s – a bird’s eye view (you’ll see what I mean…) and the hinterland. Funky brollies, and a Wonderland-ish dinner party. Hipster before it was hip to be hipster (“Don’t call me ‘hipster'”).

Joga

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindI, 2004) took the refrain “emotional landscapes” to heart when he directed this video. The CG looks a little dated, but the over-all effect works. One of my favourite Bjork songs… and videos.

Sigur Rós

And then there’s Sigur Ros, still my all-time favourite band. More than just minimalist post-rock musicians with roots in punk and classical music, they’re also keen supporters of video art. Don’t believe me? Check out the tour documentary Heima, or especially Valtari Mystery Film Experiment. Better yet, see them live. Meantime, enjoy this small selection of videos from my list of personal faves…

 “Glósóli” (“Glowing Sole”)

Arni & Kinski’s dark, beautiful childhood fairytale set in Iceland’s volcanic desert highlands.

Svefn-G-Englar (“Sleepwalkers”)

Fun fact: this is the first song I ever heard from Sigur Ros, in the climactic scene from Vanilla Sky. In August Jacobsson’s video, Iceland’s elements are interpreted in dance by a troupe of actors from Reykjavik.

Hoppipolla (“Hopping into Puddles”)

How Vikings grow old. Shot in the residential neighbourhoods of Reykjavik. Used in the soundtrack to We Bought a Zoo.

Untitled #1 (aka Vaka)

Floria Sigismondi’s video of childhood as post-apocalyptic (well, post-volcanic) fantasy won the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards for Best Video.

Varúð

This is kinda how I expected Iceland would look in March. It did, and it didn’t…

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Steindór Andersen – Hugann Seiða Svalli Frá (with Sigur Rós)

Iceland in black and white! Traditional rimor (alliterative rhyming) folk song with scenes shot around Breiðafjörður, a wide shallow bay which separates Westfords from southern Iceland. I can’t tell who shot the video, whether this is an “official” Sigur Ros video or fan art, archive footage or current, but the imagery matches the music perfectly.

Beyond Sigur Ros…

múm, Green Grass of Tunnel

Okay, this video is even heavier into graphics than Bjork’s Joga, above, but the scene is inspired by a real-live lighthouse: “Iceland is shaped somewhat like a dragon, and this was on the dragon’s forehead,” according to band member Gunnar Orn Tynes in an article at The Age.

Sólstafir, Fjara

Heavy metal does Iceland.

So there ya go… ten music videos shot in Iceland. I had a heckuva time choosing just ten. Sigur Ros alone has more than ten videos worth watching before taking a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice. So does Bjork. And Iceland is no two-band wonder; maybe it’s the long, dark winters, but for whatever reason Iceland has an outsize music scene. Heck, even the country’s airline is on the act, sponsoring a music festival and producing a stream of music anthologies they play in-flight and that you can buy from those duty-free carts the flight attendants push around. And, I mean, people actually buy them. We did… There’s also a growing list of websites with pages devoted to music connected in one way or another to Iceland _ I won’t insult you by googling that for ya, but now you know the stuff is out there.

These are only ten music videos, and in no particular order. What are your favourite music videos shot in Iceland, by Icelandic acts or others? Add links in the comments so I can check ’em out before I plan my next trip to Iceland…

Southwest Iceland in March Photo Essay

Reykjavik, “Bay of Smokes”

The capital of Iceland has a population of about 120,000 (which is, like around the same number of people jammed onto my suburban commuter train into central Tokyo each morning), more than a third of the country’s entire population. We didn’t spend much time in town, but from what little I did see the spirit of the place reminds me of Kingston, Ontario and other small cities: a core of old but brightly coloured wooden houses with steep-pitched roofsin the city centre mostly occupied by hipster shops, cafes, and restaurants, and the bachelor apartments of making-it artists and artisans, and a couple of minimalist, Scandesign-inspired office towers downtown, surrounded by suburbs.

Reykjavik
Reykjavik

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