Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, is the protector of those who don’t belong to conventional society. He symbolizes danger, chaos, unpredictability–everything that escapes human reason and can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.
In the above photo, taken last Sunday, a few of my friends worship before the altar of Prince Edward County wines, inadvertently honouring Dionysus. I was behind the lens and the table, feeling safe under his watchful eye. Each of us tasting on that day, in my little party, has our own spectacular degree of unconventionality. We managed to escape human reason and gloried in its crisp, pungent replacement.
One of the wineries we tasted at was Chadsey’s Cairns, operated in the county by Richard Johnson, former NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Scarborough West. Seems he also escaped human reason about ten years ago. Johnson was charmed by the legacy of Ira Chadsey (circa 1828) and his wistful cairns, or stone markers, dotting the landscape around what soon became vineyards.
According to Johnson, if Chadsey had not been inspired by madness or artistry to build a fence from stones lugged off his farm field, or to justify his labour with a playful prediction about his afterlife, no doubt the story of his existence would have slipped away from local memory.
“Shooting himself in his maple syrup shack probably clinched his place in local legend,” he wrote.
People have always erected piles of stones to mark a place, an event or a life on the earth. They are called cairns, from the Gaelic meaning a stone marker or monument.
“They stand about six feet high, five feet wide and are built every 20 rods. Some are still intact, shadowy grand forms in the overgrown fence line; others are crumbling, soon to be stone pile remnants. Interspersed between the stone structures are metal fence posts graced with a lovely finial top, now rusty and tottering.”
Death as a backdrop to wine tastings. After we savoured an hour of sunlight and perpetually replenishing glasses we strolled among the tombstones in the Chadsey family plot, scratching away moss to read inscriptions. Dionysus stood over our shoulder, toasting to our renegade lives tucked into all this splendid Ontario history.