14 November 2011

Four Seasons in Québec

 
We've now been here in Quebec City since the last week of January, which means we've seen the city in every season - not every month, but definitely in the depths of snowy winter, budding spring, the peak of summer and the abundance of autumn.  As we prepared our garden for winter last weekend, I was thinking about the differences between a cycle here and a cycle back "home".


We are heading back to Montana to have Thanksgiving (U.S.) with my family, and might get to squeeze in a little bit of hunting.  Given the prices of organic, free-range and/or local meat here, a little airport stress over a cooler of meat seems worth it.  The hunting system here in Québec has proven a bit too complicated for us to tackle this year.  Purchasing permits, etc. isn't that difficult, but it is costly.  The complicated part is the traditional, generational territoriality r.e. hunting areas.  Unless you know someone whose family has "rights" to an area, you pretty much can't find anywhere to hunt.  And, that means paying to gain access, which is out of the question for us.  
Bait apples, perfectly edible, for sale ($6.99/50lbs).
I told Jerod we should just buy them to make cider!
As an example, while paddling up the Rivière Batiscan in October, we were following the boundary between two Z.E.C.s - zone d'exploitation controlé.  Z.E.C.s are public land provincially managed as semi-private hunting areas, in which each hunter tends to already have a "claim" to inherited hunting territory.  Evidently, this is a province-wide tradition on 'public' property, as a 7 Nov. 2012 CBC story pointed out.  

In the case of a Z.E.C., users pay hunting access fees (a couple $100s), a vehicle fee ($10/vehicle), and an annual rental fee (another couple $100s).  As a result of this investment and generational conditioning, folks who have cabins in these Z.E.C.s appear to feel a strong sense of ownership for their areas.  


We encountered this head-on, upon paddling around one lazy corner of the river.  At the far end of an extensive curve sat a small cabin, shaded in larch and hardwood trees slowly turning gold.  A boat was moored at the edge of the river, and we could just make out small figures moving around beneath the trees.  They wore blaze orange, as did everyone else we saw all weekend.  As we worked our way further upstream, we heard a rifle shot from the general direction of the cabin, and thought, "Oh!  Someone must have got something.  Wonder if it was a moose?"  
We thought nothing more of it until we drew alongside the cabin, at which point two men settled into the canoe, threw on a motor we hadn't even noticed, and rumbled towards us.  Upon reaching us, the one steering the canoe began speaking very rapidly, almost nervously, in French.  Eventually, they pushed the motor to life again, paused to ask where we were from, commented that my Anglophone accent was "cute", and turned towards the shore.  We tried to follow the topic of the conversation, and thought we understood it alright.  


However, when our buddy, at whose cabin we were staying that weekend, relayed the details, we realized we were way off!  He told us that those guys had fired that shot to intimidate us!  They came out to push us off, thinking we were hunters trying to elbow in on their hunting territory!  Georges took it in stride, but that was a bit much for Jerod and I.  Perhaps our shocked response means we are "spoiled" by the wide open West, and associated notions of public access.  Regardless, this is certainly a distinctly different approach to public land and wildlife management.
Another thing that's fairly different is the lack of "free" fruit.  I looked hard this fall, but didn't find any gleaning options for the standard fruity goodies like apples, pears or apricots.  Perhaps that is due to the fact that we live in a much larger city (than Missoula, MT), perhaps because folks in the region still enjoy a viable market for their produce, or...?  We did find U-pick farms all around the city, though, and hit them hard for raspberries, blueberries and apples.  The blueberries were a delightful first for us, along with wild blueberries discovered out in the woods.  
We enjoyed one isolated moment of gleaning success, under the cover of a drizzly weekend afternoon.  We managed to glean a LOT of crab apples from a cluster of trees next to the soccer fields at a school down the street.  Another first, we made some pretty tasty crabapple-aid and applesauce from them.  But, as if to disabuse me of any romantic notions, the city reminded me this week that food-producing plants are far from sacred.  Two nights ago, walking home from work, I stopped hard in my tracks as I realized...they paved over the apple trees!  No kidding!  In the place of three picturesque late-autumn fruit trees, drooping with yellowed leaves and withering crab apples, there is now . . . fresh pavement enough to park two more cars.
Winter was overwhelmingly more snowy than Montana (or Arizona), and there were people on ice skates in every park.  Other than the custom-combine approach to snow removal, the weather was fairly similar to what we are used to.  We spent a hefty portion of it on snowshoes and cross-country skis.  Spring, with its literal thousands of tulips and other spring bulbs, felt like a vibrant colorful nod to my Dutch heritage.  May marked my first live lobsters, and that is a seasonal experience I look forward to repeating.  The start of the growing season was more or less in line with what we are used to, as was its progression.  It was lovely, in a lazy summer way, to take advantage of well over 30 inches of rain between May and October.  Certainly, the weeds loved it, too, but thanks to our co-operative approach (and the dedication of our friend Ann), even des mauvaises herbes were manageable.  We harvested and preserved as usual, canning pickles, tomatoes, apples and more.  Finally, apple butter was on the list of projects, as were pickled hot peppers.  We can't seem to stop eating both, and it is clear we should have made more.  As always, the beauty of a growing season is that there is always next year.
Having been here in all 4 seasons now, we would say late summer is the season to visit the city, and the surrounding still-rural villages.  You can stroll through Vieux Québec in the evening, under the soft glow of streetlights, and overhear the clink of wine glasses and soft live music coming from the countless terraces of des petits bistros et cafés.  You can stagger home from the farmers market or the garden laden with basil, tomatoes and nasturtiums, just about giddy with ideas for how to eat the abundance.  A short drive beyond the city yields small vergers (orchards), fermes (farms) and countless grandes églises (elaborate churches).  If you are going to sample the local specialty, poutin (french fries with cheese curds and a thin gravy), you should at least purchase it here, from a road-side stand along a country road.  We have a difference of opinions r.e. the merits of poutin.  In my opinion, you'll have a memory, at least.
Back in the city, the parks are alive with people and bursting with flowers, and the river is thick with sail boats, kayaks and windsurfers.  I know, Canadians are a winter-lovin' people, but summer here made me actually like living here.  Before summer, I felt like a visitor, and not just because we hadn't been here very long.  Something about the cold makes you feel insular, seul, with everyone bundled up and rushing past without a glance.  During this summer, we settled in and made the transition to habitants.
For the most part, we are enjoying Québec.  There are days when the language boundaries are really frustrating, but they aren't as intimidating as they were 10 months ago.  We've made solid progress in French, and that makes a world of difference.  Basic, and even mid-level complexity conversations are possible.  We have a "map" in our heads of the city - our favorite spots to go for local produce or on a run, and where we like to get a pint with friends.  We have found local nonprofit organizations that operate in English, and have started reading some of the news in French.  By this time next year, it is reasonable to expect we'll be capable of any communication necessary to facilitate a great vacation here.  Between the language, the history oozing from the stones, and the French-influenced habit of wine, cheese and bread, what are you waiting for?  Come visit sometime in August, eh?

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8 comments:

Ivy said...

Lovely Blog as usual! Thanks for sharing B!

Bertille said...

You write a lot eh ! But I like it ;)
Very interesting to know your point of view about life here, thanks for sharing it.
Et tes photos sont toujours aussi belles !
See you soon

Heather said...

Really enjoyed the update Bethann - miss sharing a pint and a harvest meal with you guys, but glad to know that you are having an incredible adventure. Now that we are in the Southwest, we aren't far from AZ. Let us know if you are down this way and have some time to play outside :)

Olga H. said...

I love love love this!!!

SarahP said...

The 4 seasons blog post totally makes me want to come visit! Will you still be there spring 2013? my cousin's getting married!!!!!!!!!!!! (i'm super happy for her) and i'm assuming it'll be in TO, so hopefully i'd be able to pop over to Quebec too.

Brent said...

Hey, nice update Bethann, great descriptions. . .The rival hunters must have been quite shocked to see you guys so cool under fire ;) Hope to see you soon.

fruit.root.leaf. - a blog about living life to the fullest said...

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

JAG said...

Nice write-up on f.r.l.  Beautiful pictures, the wedge of cheese on the bottom one made me drool!

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