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Gypsy Vanners

I’m off to meet a doc who says he has the secret of aging mastered.

The late spring snow still covers the fields when I pull up to the gates at DeerFields. The journey up into the Hills of the Headwaters on the Oak Ridges Moraine has been through dull brown countryside, but the long driveway to the main buildings is flanked with dark evergreens that defy the last grasp of winter. As always, the “Escapes with Nigel” television crew are ahead of me, shooting slow motion footage of the stable’s noted Gypsy Vanner horses gallivanting in their field, chunks of snow flying from their hooves. The Gypsy Vanners are sturdy beasts, specially bred to haul gypsy caravans, hence the name, pretty to look at in a herd and gentle to ride. But that’s not why we’re here today.

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Gypsy Vanner smooching

In fact, I’m going to have to put aside any thoughts of having a ride on one of these lovely animals for two reasons. The first and practical reason is that the day is very full and there won’t be time. The second is that my beloved has strongly encouraged me not to and clever men obey when they get that sort of an ultimatum. The last time I went riding and the first time Diane came to watch me jump, I had a silly accident, fell off the horse and the horse fell on top of me. Knee problems have plagued me ever since.

If I’m ever going to get fixed up it seems I’ve come to the right place. In addition to being a luxurious country estate for a select group of members, a small inn with three very well appointed suites, a restaurant and bar, and the aforementioned stables, DeerFields is also home to a unique age management clinic. It’s headed by Dr. Randy Knipping (pronounce the “k”) who has a special approach to health and aging. He hands me his card. It reads: “Last year I was 52; this year I am 35. How old do you want to be?” Well, I dream of 52.

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‘Selfie’ with Dr. Randy

We set up to do the interview. Dr. Knipping has intense blue eyes that look at me as if he has x-ray vision. He talks enthusiastically about the state of the art testing facilities he has at his disposal in the clinic. These allow him, he says, to make very accurate diagnoses and look for the early signs of disease and health risk factors that affect aging. Then he and his team create individual programs that are designed to improve quality of life and extend what he calls our “healthspan.” The way I feel, my healthspan needs a lot of stretching. Aging is inevitable, but aging well is a choice, he concludes.

The friendly Isabella Devine, in charge of guest relations, shows us around the rest of the property and it looks like the sort of place we’ll come back to for a luxury weekend when the ice is off the ponds, the grapes are ripening on the newly planted vines and we can stroll along the trails without getting stuck in knee deep mud. I wish we could wait for more clement weather to shoot our story here, but the network is clamouring for the shows.

Isabella leaves me in the dining room where I’m to have lunch. It’s a bit unnerving eating on my own, while a hungry television crew looks on. There’s no menu at DeerFields and Chef Robert Wilson has prepared a series of small plates to surprise me. The offerings change daily, depending on the season, what’s available locally and in his own vegetable and herb garden. He’s a bit fussy about the director knowing what’s coming next too, but she explains the needs of television and that she’s the only person who can’t be surprised if she’s to get the camera set up when and where it’s needed.

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Chef Robert preps duck

Each course arrives with a fanfare, one server carries a silver tray, the other presents the dish with a flourish. I’m not sure how to eat the first offering. It’s a jar full of what looks like hay and pine boughs. I take off the lid and smoke pours out. I’m afraid the hay has caught fire, but there are two soft boiled quail’s eggs resting in a nest, topped with smoked beech tree leaf salt. The meal progresses through rainbow trout tartare, venison tenderloin with black truffles, rolled rabbit leg in a winter cabbage broth and roast duck with woody herbs. I hope craft services is going to feed the crew properly, because the whole meal isn’t more than half a dozen mouthfuls. It’s all part of the healthy regime, I suppose, but it looks like a weekend here could leave one popping out for late night pizza.

After I’ve eaten, Chef shows me how to de-bone a rabbit. I’m truly not sure how this will come across on television. I’ve always thought rabbit looks a bit like skinned cat and after I’ve de-boned one little leg with quite a lot of difficulty, in spite of a very sharp knife, there doesn’t seem much meat left. But he shows me how to roll it — a clever trick using plastic wrap that might find its way into a recipe one day.

There’s no time to hang around and next on the schedule is a massage, or at least as much of a massage as one can enjoy with a six and a half foot cameraman looming over my nearly naked body. It’s all for the camera of course and as soon as he’s got his shots, I’m off the massage table and onto something else.

Finally, I’ve got to memorize and shoot the arrival and departure scenes. I’ve worried more about this aspect of the show than anything else, but at least I’ve written my own words, so they’re easier to stick in my head than if someone else had scripted them. To my amazement, I find practice does make perfect and by the end of the shoot I can keep a minute or more of text in my head. The trick is wiping out all my cares and woes, and yesterday’s script, and just concentrating on delivering the lines. But walking and talking is something I’ve yet to master. In fact, walking in front of the camera proves my worst attribute. My beloved and best critic tells me I walk like a penguin as I try to disguise my limp. Perhaps it’s all part of the aging process and Dr. Knipping can fix that as well.

Please watch “Escape to Palgrave” on Bell Fibe TV1, channels 1, 1001 and 1217.

Location photography by Kathleen Hauschild.
This article was originally posted on April 5, 2014.

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