After a summer medley of work, leisure and adventure I am back to report on my travels with new photos and features. July was dedicated to work. August was a month of leisure and a sprinkle of adventure here and there spiced the entire season up; some of which I will share and some I won’t!
As some of you may know my life took a dramatic turn in 2012 and it has been a while since emotionally, mentally and physically I have had a vacation in any meaningful sense. I have to say having the opportunity to take all of August to live like a kid on summer vacation was just what the doctor ordered. Being able to define my own schedule and pursue my passions without any interference or demands is a luxury few of us ever get, but of course one can’t really live that way forever.
Seasons change and with them come different demands. New responsibilities, new goals and plans. Autumn 2015 is here and the leaves are starting to turn. My eldest nephew has started University. In my mind it wasn’t so long ago I was reading him stories and building sand castles on the beach. Strangely he now lives a few blocks from where I lived in Ottawa and I now live a few blocks from where he lived in Owen Sound. I didn’t see that coming.
Life goes on and it takes strange turns. I’ve always been open to change and exploration and when I finally settled down the earth and heavens shook and that life came tumbling down around me. But as the story goes the Phoenix rises from the ashes. If 2012 was the year of Fire (both literally and figuratively), then 2013-2014 were the years of Ashes and Embers. 2015 was the Incubation and in 2016 the Phoenix rises.
A creature that first appears in Egyptian mythology as the Bennu and later as the “Phoenix (Crimson)”in Greek mythology, the phoenix was said to have brilliant plumage and would live for hundreds of years. It’s death would come in a burst of flames and from the ashes of the pyre a new phoenix would be born. Accordingly the phoenix is a symbol of renewal.
And so as the turning leaves of autumn, in brilliant yellow, orange and red, evoke the image of the fiery phoenix set to soar into the blue sky again, so to go I.
When I was a child there was an abandoned farm house across the road from my Uncle’s farm. The house looked angry in it’s dilapidated state. The overgrown weeds that throttled the yard, the weather-worn boards that clung to the deranged frame, the shards of glass from broken windows all said “Beware: Keep Out”, but they also said “I Dare You!” I was too young and too afraid to go inside, but I was curious. My older more daring cousins would go in and explore. I waited anxiously outside, listening to the cracking boards and rustling pigeons as the older kids rooted and probed intruding through the innards of the corpse-like house. Ultimately the stillness would be interrupted by a yell or cry followed by hysterical laughter and a torrent of footsteps as kids made a mad dash out the doorway. Then the stories were told, of strange shadows and glimpses of faces in dark corners, of whispering voices and sounds from the basement. We would all run back across the road to my Uncle’s farm looking from safety at the dead house grey and wizened under the same sun that shone on us.
This is a series I did of three abandoned places inspired by my fascination with forlorn buildings.
He lost his family to Belgian colonial enforcers, was put on exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair and lived in the Bronx Zoo. This is the story of Ota Benga a Mbuti (Bambuti) Pygmy born in the Congo in the 1880s and died by his own hand at the age of 32 in the United States of America.
At the turn of the 19th century it was a white man’s world. 1 It was the age of empire and the pinnacle of colonial expansion. Queen Victoria sat on her throne and ruled over an Empire so vast it was commonly referred to as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” 2” Pax Britannica straddled the globe reaching from Canada to Hong Kong, from India to Ireland, from Egypt to Australia, from South Africa to Jamaica. Britain was not alone in the colonial exercise as the French, Dutch, Belgians and Germans, along with the fledgling United States of America competed in dominating overseas properties.
The lands, resources and people of the world were seen to be the white man’s to be surveyed, managed and exploited, but it was also considered “the white man’s burden” to bring the perceived benefits of the light of Christianity, scientific knowledge and civilization to what were regarded as the ignorant and savage, primitive classes of humanity. 3
In 1884 a leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry stated : “The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior”. 4 In that time this was considered a perfectly rational and acceptable statement to make regarding the relationship between the white Euro-centric world and those who were not white. Evolutionary science of the time supported the notion that white people were at the top of a biological hierarchy and anthropology, the study of humanity, grew out of the requirements of colonial expansionism to observe, record and manage the ‘exotic’ people the colonials encountered 5
Ota Benga lived in what was then the Belgian Congo. His wife and children were slaughtered by Force Publique enforcers while he was out hunting. Congolese villages were required to meet rubber and ivory quotas or face extermination. Over decades an estimated 10,000,000 Congolese were slaughtered in the pursuit of rubber. 6
Ota Benga was himself captured by slavers and in 1904 was traded for “a pound of salt and a bolt of cloth” 7 to Samuel Phillips Verner who was assembling individuals for an exhibit to be displayed at the St Louis Worlds Fair. The intent was to illustrate contemporary notions of cultural evolution “representatives of all the world’s peoples, ranging from smallest pygmies to the most gigantic peoples, from the darkest blacks to the dominant whites” to show what was commonly thought then to be a sort of cultural evolution8
Ota (along with his fairground neighbour Apache leader Geronimo) proved to be a popular attraction at the World’s Fair. His sharp filed teeth and tiny stature made him a national representative of the ” savage African cannibal” to the throngs who saw him at the fair. When the fair ended he returned for a time to Africa but found he no longer fit in and he returned to the States.
For a time he lived at the American Museum of Natural History where he functioned as a living exhibit acting as a “primitive” in front of a “civilized” audience. In 1906 he was taken to live at the Bronx Zoo where he was encouraged to befriend apes and monkeys. A sign was made for him:
The African Pigmy, “Ota Benga.”
Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the
Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Cen-
tral Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Ex-
hibited each afternoon during September. 9
Initially Ota roamed freely but was eventually made to display himself along with the apes. not everyone found this acceptable and public pressure eventually drove the Bronx Zoo to turn Ota Benga loose. This was not an easy transition for Benga. For a time he was placed in an orphanage and later with the McCray family of Lynchburg Virginia. At this time his sharpened teeth were capped as attempts were made to assimilate him into society. He went to school and worked in a tobacco plant. never feeling at home Ota wanted to return to Africa but in 1914 World War I broke out ending the likelihood of travel. “On March 20, 1916, at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth, and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.” 10
Have you ever met your doppelganger? If you have you may wish that you hadn’t. Abraham Lincoln met his and we all know how things ended for him. Seeing your doppelganger was traditionally understood as a bad omen, but commonly the word, which comes from the German for double-goer or double-walker, is used to refer to any twin or look-alike, the sinister implications being generally set aside.
According to Merriam-Webster “doppelganger” first appeared in print as an English borrowed word in 1851 1 However the concept was popularized by Catherine Crowes best selling compendium of supernatural phenomena The Nightside of Nature which was published in 1848. The idea of the ghostly double of a living person goes back at least to Ancient Egypt with the concept of the ka. The ka was an aspect of the multiple soul constituents that the Egyptians believed made up the individual. The ka was understood to be the intangible double of an individual which followed the body like a shadow in life but survived after mortal death; in other words a ghost.
The doppleganger is found in Norse legends as the vardøger 2 a phantom double who could be seen undertaking the actions of a living person before they happened. Described as déjà vu in in reverse, “where a spirit with the subject’s footsteps, voice, scent, or appearance and overall demeanor precedes them in a location or activity, resulting in witnesses believing they’ve seen or heard the actual person before the person physically arrives 3” A similar idea appears in Finnish mythology, with the etiäinen or “firstcomer”. In Breton, Cornish and Norman French folklore, the doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a personification of death (Grim Reaper). In Ireland there is the fetch, ghost or spirit of a still living person identical to the German doppelganger.
The idea of the doppelganger also appears throughout literature as in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound” (1820) where a double is described as a counterpart to the self. In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “William Wilson” (1849) a man encounters his sinister double (which was inspired by a Washington Irving story wherein a man kills his double. In “The Double” (1846), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky a clerk encounters his double who succeeds in everything at which he has failed. The clerk’s double eventually replaces the original. The 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” also plays with the notion of the evil double who replaces a person, but in this case the doubles are the products of an alien invasion, and grown in pods like plants.
Anecdotes concerning encounters with doppelgangers can be found throughout history: John Donne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Goethe, Catherine The Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, and Guy de Maupassant all were said to have had encounters met their ghostly doubles 4
In psychiatry and neurology, heautoscopy 5 is described as for the hallucination of “seeing one’s own body at a distance” and can occur as a symptom in schizophrenia and epilepsy.
The idea that we have a double out their somewhere in the world continues to intrigue people as evidenced by the current the Twin Stranger project which uses social media to connect people with their look-a-likes. “Devon born journalist Sophie Robehmed was fascinated by the idea that there might be someone out there in the world who looked exactly like her and – a few years ago – began searching for her Twin Stranger or doppleganger. What began as an experiment using social media quickly grew into a mission and gained Sophie plenty of attention and interest, but in the end it was actually through a friend that she found her closest match.” 6
Should you encounter your doppelganger would you be shocked, thrilled or disturbed? Has a stranger ever mistaken you for someone else? Maybe you are born with a twin? Share your thoughts and experiences of doubles in the comments section below.
Occasionally there are things in your backyard waiting for you to discover if you would only turn around, take a step forward and look. Yesterday I turned around.
Wiarton (the home of Wiarton Willie the prognosticating albino rodent) is 35 minutes from where I live and is the gateway to the Tobermorey peninsula, that long finger of land that seems to point to the outer limits of the world as you drive north. Just beyond this small city on Georgian Bay is the Spirit Rock which conveniently is located in the Spirit Rock Conservation Area. Along with this scenic outpost are found the ruins of a manor known as The Corran. This appropriately is said to be Gaelic for ‘land running into the sea’ as well as the name of the Irish county the owner Alexander McNeill came from. Yesterday my friend Ray and I drove up to explore
Construction on the home began in 1882 by Hester McNeill and her husband Canadian Member of Parliament Alexander McNeill. The 17 room manor was filled with luxury and opulence, oriental carpets, bearskin rugs, a marble bath and an extensive library. All of this was surrounded by 3 acres of gardens including 500 rose bushes among which were the black roses of McNeill’s home Ireland. There was also a stable for the horses, a barn for the Durham Shorthorns that McNeill bred, an ice house, a power generator and two cottages for the McNeill’s dear friend and estate manager Alfred Lewis, who had come with his wife and daughters from England to help McNeill after Hester passed on in 1890, the manor still not complete. Lewis himself died in 1931 the victim of the first auto accident in the region. Alexander McNeill passed on himself the following year a month short of 90.
The McNeill’s only had one child, Malcolm and Malcolm never married or had children. He lived in the home with the housekeeper Sally Simmons and when Malcolm passed on in 1952 the home went to her. Malcolm had left debts and Simmons could not afford the upkeep of the home and property. She sold it in 1960 to a man from Willowdale Ontario. Soon after the home was vacated forever. Over the next 16 years it endured youthful vandalism ending it’s days in fire. The property now belongs to Grey Sauble Conservation. The gardens and orchards are gone now overgrown with trees and weeds. All that remains are some of the two story stone walls and the steps to the front entrance where the porch once was.
This song has a lot of personal meaning. In April 2012 things came tumbling down for me and I found myself facing a crisis unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was in shock for a long time after, but as the song says you have to pick up and get back in the race. Of course the final stanza of the song ends on an ominous note in which the narrator/singer states if nothing happens for him by July he’s going to give up. I prefer to interpret it in a more positive light. We all face challenges. We all get knocked down at times and even when we do get back up there is no guarentee we won’t get hit again, and more than likely we will get hit again. So things are cyclical. The persona here is ready to get hit and go through it all again and he knows it will feel like death. He also knows he survived and will survive again whatever comes his way.
That’s life, that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune,
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
I said, that’s life, and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race
That’s life, I tell ya, I can’t deny it,
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try,
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
That’s life, that’s life
And I can’t deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shakin’ come here this July
I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die