Category Archives: Outside

Spring Breaks

If summer is for vacation, then spring is for weekend trips.  Longer days are here and I’ve got the urge for going, but the weather isn’t right for long day in the sun just yet. Luckily, there’s lots of neat little places to explore nearby and we’ve been making the most of the weekends lately. It’s still a bit gloomy out, but a few recent excursions have made taking on the last  of Vancouver’s days of rain more of a pleasure than a burden.

Washington, the Evergreen State, the place who’s unofficial motto – Alki , or “Bye and Bye” – has been especially good at taking some of the sting from my summer yearnings. Recently we visited Blaine – a town where you can ride in historically significant ferry boat and then get coffee from a building shaped like a boat. A little further south, a nice little rainy Sunday found us in Edison – a little town named after an inventor and the former home of Edward R. Murrow – eating some delicious Irish soda bread from the bakery and watching ducks in the sloughs. A little later, we thought about out friends in Ireland as we talked the cliffs at Deception Pass.

Blaine Harbor's The Plover

Blaine Harbor’s The Plover

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

A drive over Deception Pass

A drive over Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

But all travel hasn’t been southerly. In fact, one of the nicest spring days yet was spent east in the Chiliwack Valley where we trekked along the Trans-Canada Trail. Further up the elevation rise outside the Fraser Valley, we got pretty significantly snowed upon for (what I assume will be) the last time this winter.

Snow over the Chiliwack

Snow over the Chiliwack

River in early spring

River in early spring

There have also been some neat in-town events lately too that are occupying the weekends. At the Museum of Anthropology I was happy to visit the dream world of Mexican artist in a dramatic show called The Marvelous Real. Paintings, sculpture, music and more all pointed to observations of this world by some of the most culturally creative artists I’ve seen in a while.

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum...

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum…

I also stocked up on all things animal hair at Fibers West which always makes for a nice way to spend a spring Saturday. Here we heard all about skinning goats and combing fleece and even took home some to spin. Best of all, we got the news of a sheep festival of sorts complete with shearing demos and info on farming coming up in September. My fantasy farm-living self can’t wait.

A display only a knitter could love.

A display only a knitter could love.

So much yarn I'm spinning!

So much yarn I’m spinning!

As the weather warms, I’m still hoping to visit the Gulf Islands and maybe even head out into the Washington rainforest. Does that mean I’m finally coming to like the rain? I’d have said so except for this lovely little Sunday sun shower we got this afternoon. Don’t worry, sunshine. I still like you best.

soon, sunshine.

Soon, sunshine.

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Snow Falling on a Blog Break

February draws to a close and I realize that, without my realizing it, 2014 has started off with a bit of a blog break, but a lovely little snowstorm this  past weekend reminded me of how much I do  miss sharing things with you, dear readers.

This winter has been a cruel one for most of North America – including my home town in Florida – but here in Vancouver things have been thankfully forgiving. Sunshine makes it into at least a few afternoons each week and, while the wind is cold, the irises and witch hazel are already in bloom and the rain hasn’t gripped with the strength it had last year.

That said, last weekend in rolled a wonderful little snow storm that, in true Vancouver fashion, dusted us for a few days then quietly slipped away. Not, however, before letting me take a few little snapshots of a cold, white evening layered with all the eerie loveliness of the woods in winter.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Snow clouds catching city light.

Snow clouds catching city light.

It’s a shame that house things and work  has let two months slip by already with me barely keeping up, but I  hope to see you again more frequently soon. In the meantime, keep warm out there everyone, wherever you are!

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First glimpses of winter

November’s end has brought a smack of winter weather and it’s that time of year when I usually mis-gauge the weather and leave the house dressed inappropriately. It’s raining. It’s really raining. It’s windy. It’s dry and cold, but the ground is wet. We’ll take the bus. The bike. There’s a cold front. The sun is out. How other people seem so comfortable these is beyond me even after living three winters here.

I get it right sometimes, but more often than not that’s because I’m carrying a pile of hats and mittens and extra socks and a different coat, which, if you’re doing much on-foot traveling, is a pain. It’s usually when I’m getting ready for a day like this when I miss the ‘Floridian lifestyle’ – not so much because of the cold, but because things are easier when the only pair of shoes you need are plastic flip flops and a hoodie is your go-to coat.

But to the diligent goes the reward I suppose, and the rewards of winter are already peaking out from behind grey clouds. I’ll be making some trips back upstairs to switch jackets for a while and I’ll probably step in at least one puddle in shoes that I forgot to waterproof spray, but at least I’ll be greeted with beautiful views.

Yesterday, we hung out at Acadia Beach for a while looking at winter’s visiting ducks and spotted some of the first snow on nearby mountains. The thin winter clouds are also here now and make for some really beautiful skyscapes.

A big white monster.

A big white monster on the Sunshine Coast.

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The view from a different kind of beach paradise.

And winter has a way of making us appreciate things familiar in a new way. Take the Bloedel Conservatory where we went for the first time in the dark the other day. You know, because it’s dark at 4:15 now. Good thing we have a secret tropical garden right here in town that happens to look like an alien ship in the right kind of fog.

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Bloedel looking almost alien in a winter sky.

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Impending Gloom

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who creates a problem and then complains about it, the time has arrived where things outside turn, as my favorite Irish buddy would say, ‘a bit grim’.

This will be, I think, our third winter here in Vancouver. I say ‘I think’ because it might actually be our fourth. At this point, Vancouver and I are in that steady phase of a relationship, not yet five years in but longer than two, where time has started to pass in unrecognizable ways. The kind where, when the time is actually counted up, you don’t feel like what’s happened in your life matches the resulting number. It feels a bit like when you are dating someone for longer than you normally do. On most days it’s nice – things have gotten comfortable, you know each other pretty well and can hang around happily without doing much. Then there’s the days when you see that lingering weird thing about the person that you don’t much like. Maybe they have an anger problem. Maybe they have smelly feet.

With me and Vancouver, it’s this:

Impending gloom.

Impending gloom.

Last week you were so nice with your warm sun and views of a mountain. Today you are grey. And I mean one-hundred percent grey. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey piles of soaked leaves all over the sidewalk. Grey.

Here’s the part where I’m complaining about something I caused myself. Who doesn’t understand that this is stuff of which the Pacific Southwest (or Northwest, depending on your perspective) is made? Who doubts the power of a literal rainforest to produce days and days and days of clouds and light rain? Who moves to British Columbia without a rain coat? That’s right, an idiot. From Florida.

This year, I’m determined not to fall victim to the gloomy bubble that is the sky above me and not to spend months complaining about it. How then will a sunbathing, flip-flop wearing, jean-shorts making girl like me combat impending gloom blues? Well, after some number of years, I can tell you it starts with a sunny breakfast.

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Thank goodness for my local grocery store owner who maintains a perpetual supply of grapefruits.

It also takes lots of candles, evenings with cool tunes on CITR or the turntable, puzzles, coffee at any hour, rain boots, fresh flowers, breaking up dark hours after diner with a walk up the street at Delany’s for hot chocolate, knitting, hockey, poutine, a sketchbook.

These will be the core strategies of my plan, but I’m open to additional research, suggestions, and, above all, not complaining. Happy grey days, Vancouver. Happy winter to us all.

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Falling leaves, falling temperatures

For a person who grew up in a place where driving 400 miles north to “see the leaves change” was something we considered tourism, being in a city full of deciduous trees is a sort of treat every October.

The skinny pines of north Florida don’t offer much of  a show any time of year – steadily they live in needle-floored forests usually towering over palmettos that don’t turn for fall either. We did have a single Turkey Oak tree in my yard as a kid with leaves that reddened and then crisped up to to make one little corner of our yard a hard place to sneak around in for the noise of crunching leaves. Other than that, things were pretty green most of the year.

Here in Vancouver, the leaves are turning all around us. Orange, green, and golden showers of leaves pulled down in the wind litter the streets. Bags of yard leaves line the streets during what the city calls and “unlimited leaf collection period.” While others rake, I look up for color, deeper into my closet for  warmth, and on the ground for the found fruits of Autumn.

Green turns to red.

Green turns to red.

Blazes of orange.

Blazes of orange.

Golden and blue.

Golden and blue.

Other fruits of Autumn.

Other fruits of Autumn.

 

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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Looking up

One of the best things about fall in Vancouver is the weird little sunny days that creep up out of the rain. On these days, the grey blanket of October’s sky gets pulled back like a cover too thick for a early fall sleep and we get thin, wisps of clouds that remind us the sky is still blue. Here’s to looking up!

In the day.

In the day.

In the evening.

In the evening.

At sunset.

At sunset.

And, to carry in the night.

And, to carry us into the night.

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The Woods Down Another South – dispatches from Kerrisdale

Vancouver is a funny place in that a five mile difference in your address can feel like another city all together. From here, the south end of the city, we’re halfway to the southern parks we like, but don’t visit as often. The traffic or the early sunsets of winter, which keep us closer to home most times, have temporarily released their hinderance, so we’ve lately been walking in Pacific Spirit, romping in the low tide at Iona Island, and visiting the bottom end of the Fraser.

Pacific Spirit feel like a silent sister across the water to Stanley Park, which I know much better. It’s bigger, lots bigger, so people seem more spread out. The woods have a left-alone feeling and it’s so quiet. The only creatures I’ve seen so far have been slugs taking advantage of the wetter days. There’s a pleasant lack of tourist attractions making the people traffic minimal – we’ve bumped into  the occasional guys on bikes or joggers, but the walking trails are pretty empty.

There was a nice little moment the other day when we came across a guy walking a big black dog. We were walking south and they were both standing for a long time in a path that cut across and out to the west. They didn’t really move as long as it took us to see them from before the crossing, navigate the fencing to keep bikes out, and cross back into the deeper forest on the other side. The sun was coming down through the hole in the trees the path. I don’t know if was the beauty of the orange blaze  of sunset or something else all together, but the way they were both stopped in contemplation, no cell phones, no companion to speak to, made a lovely little scene.

Iona I have visited many times both to look for birds or just to be in a different landscape for a while. A big, flat place, the island has a long beach at low tide and is free of forest for the most part. The muddy flats look almost alien compared to the rocky beaches I’ve come to know. There are also neat little rolling meadows covered in grasses and moss. Interesting ducks or reed-dwelling birds can be found on the lakes and the little alder (I think) thicket at the back end of the park has a feeling like little fairies could be living under the leaves and branches.

The other neat thing nearby is the bottom end of the Fraser River. Over the summer we visited it further north and east, so it’s neat to see where the water ends up. There’s a little park that follows it along the opposite shore from Iona with an old grey-wood board walk and lots of people brining playful dogs down to the beach. While the criss-crossing trails of the other parks in town are lovely, it’s nice here because there’s only the one place to walk along the river. The other evening, we watched the tide pulling out long grasses from the shallow places under the walkway and the sun going down over the water.

We’re also close to VanDussen and we caught the rare plant sale there last week. It was a neat little scene, but I knew precious little about what I was looking at. I did recognize some tropical plants and also the native Gary Oak, but the flats of tiny-leafed berries and succulents were like little black cups of  mystery. I’ve been reading on one seller’s site and hope to better understand the beauty of these specimens by next year’s sale. By then, we’ll be back home in the West End, so will have to make more of a trek. Somethings, it seems from our short stay in a different kind of south, are worth the journey.

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Sunsets, Rainbows and Islands in Lakes

Sunset on the Fraser River

Sunset on the Fraser River

September is a weird time in the Pacific South(North)west because it’s still warm and mostly sunny, but the Fall weather is upon us. It’s creeping in at night and in the occasional rain. There will be more, says each drop, many more.

But there’s still time for Summer adventure as we discovered on a recent drive East toward a place called Harrison. It’s a lake resort and is home to lots of family-oriented motels and playgrounds for kids attending family reunions. There are also hot springs, but we’ll save that for when the winter arrives.

The whole area to the east of Vancouver is shaped by the Fraser River. It starts up in the mountains to the northeast and continues down in a hook shape until it pours out into the Strait near the city. The river valley is incredibly fertile and in the towns around the farms there are corn and berry stands to be found, antiquated gas stations and great little place to eat or take in the scenery.

One of the attractions we’d never yet seen is Mitner Gardens. Started by a family who recognized the hilly spot as a great place for a garden, it’s now in it’s final season as the owners are selling and closing it down next month. We’d wanted to see it for a while so were glad of the reminder in a recent news story about the closing. I assume it’s pretty hard to keep a 30+ acre planted garden in shape, so I assume retirement from it at some point is expected. It is a bit sad to wonder what will happen to the place and I hope someone takes it over.

A garden lady waits.

A garden lady waits.

Flowers in the sun.

Flowers in the sun.

There’s also some interesting lakes and, within those lakes, little islands ripe for exploring after a short swim or paddle on a canoe. Lake visits are a pastime I have yet to understand fully. Growing up near a warm, sandy beach makes me leery of dark water and mushy, rocky bottoms. Harrison Lake is beautiful but it’s cold and I’ve so far been a little too afraid of unfathomable monsters to dive in. The way the mountains rise up out of the water does make for nice scenery though.

A lake with an island.

A lake with an island.

We also hiked the little ways up to Bridal Veil Falls that’s in the same area. Waterfalls are another obviously new-to-me landscape feature. Everything in Florida is flat. The creeks we do have are slow-moving and swampy and trees are able to grow up within the water without being disturbed. Here, the elevation and the melting snow are forces with which you cannot reckon. Bridal Veil comes down over the height of the slope and washes wide down through the forest. It has knocked down huge trees and made pebbles from what I imagine were once boulders. On dry days like this, traces of other nearby falls can be seen even though the water isn’t moving. Bridal Veil continues most of the year and it’s easy to impressive to picture how much more powerful this will become in the spring snowmelt.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

The end of the day caught us looking for a place to climb down to the river. A rainbow had distracted us from our original path – as we drove around we realized it was a full arc worth stopping to gaze at for a bit. Up it went from one side in the mountains down and into the growing corn.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

A few turns later and we arrived at a little beach. The Fraser is a chalky thing of a grey-brown color like potter’s clay. It’s quiet away from towns or boat ramps. Occasionally a fish jumps or a piece of log floats by which makes the strength of the current visible. Carrying  nutrients from the mountains that makes the surrounding farms so productive, it continues sweeping past little islands and lakes that surround this area as it picks up fallen branches and calls shore birds inland following along a wandering path.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

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Touch Wood

In Florida, pines are the predominant trees. Specifically Slash Pine, Sand Pine and Scrub Pine in the place where I grew up. These trees have a lot of strength in what’s called ‘heartwood’. This means their centers are tougher than rot and, often, tougher than fire. You’ll see the heartwood of a fallen pine still strong and silvery years after the bark and inner layers have sunk back into the Earth. It’s prized as firewood because it burns slow and steady. While the trees grow skinny and scraggly, the heartwood bends in the winds off the Gulf shaping the trees near the shore into strange, back-bent shapes that make little hide-a-ways and branches good for sitting.  Grown up in planted lines, the heartwood reaches up straight and high and hosts tuffs of needles only at the very top. Walking in planted pines as a little kid I used to think these were tall, and they are for their landscape. Now I live here and I’ve met the likes of Douglas Fir and Giant Red Cedar and it turns out I don’t know so much about tall.

These true west coast giants don’t compare to the trees back home aside from their both having bark and needles and roots. Almost nothing else is recognizable. Standing under a Sequoia is like being invited to look behind the curtain of time and remember the ghosts of the forrest as they were hundreds, even thousands of years ago. They almost breathe they are so large. Around them, the woods are often quiet. The woods are big here and animals are spread out.  No packs of Blue Jays or Cardinals to cheep cheep and, if there are little birds, they flit and fly two hundred feet up above you.

The other difference is that many of the trees here aren’t supported by their heartwood, which is why you can walk into the bellies some of them.  Stanley Park is famous for a photo of Victorian-era people standing on the big old shell of a tree that’s left near Prospect Point. It’s got a triangular opening, like the slit of a a tight skirt, and you can walk right into the tree’s empty innards. The heartwood dies here and rots back into the earth in piles of red sawdust gathered by the outside bark layers holding up giants.

Some of this is grandness is visible at the current sculpture exhibition at VanDusen Botanical Gardens which lasts through the end of September. The exhibit, called Touch Wood, is a collection of wood sculptures by a dozen or so B.C. artists placed in obvious and not-so-obvious places through the garden. Here where the woods are so different from the kind I know and where the trees have had such an important role in the lives of the people here, it’s really a beautiful way to get to know these trees better.

We’ve been to the Garden a few times since this exhibit opened, but the other night we arrived just in time to catch that lovely twilight hour just before they closed. Summer’s end is near, visible not only in the cooling of the air around us each evening, but also in the reduced hours many of Vancouver’s attractions are about to envoke. In these few snapshots of carvings made from big, empty trees taken on one of the last late evenings for VanDusen this year will be one of a few different ways I’ll say farewell to another summer in a land of empty trees.

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber. In this sculpture, you can stand where the heartwood should be.

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

close up of the Nine Sentinels

close up of the Nine Sentinels

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The Vegetables of my Labo(u)r

June this year has been kinder than last. I’ve only had to wear rain boots two or three times so far and have switched to my lighter jackets successfully. That said, there’s still a chill in the air and we’ve been spooked out of camping twice so far with temperatures dropping to the single digits (Celsius, people… I’m trying!) still.

That said, one part of summer has already arrived – the happy results of early spring planting.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

This wonderful little concoction of greens includes some kind of choy vegetable I forgot the specifics of, red and green leaf lettuces and a few pieces of arugula. Having grown up successfully (in spite of a north-facing lack of sun and squirrel who ate quite a few of their seedling brethren) these little greens will keep me from having to buy lettuces for a while.

But not everyone is an enemy!

Garden's friend.

Garden’s friend.

I still have sugar snap peas on the way and fingers crossed for red tomatoes (last year’s were mostly green).  I also have some wonderful flowers starting to come up so come on Summer and bring my little green balcony some sunny days, warmer nights!

Greening.

Greening.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

 

 

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Picture Memory

At my grandfather’s house there are dusty cardboard boxes of photographs and trays full of haphazardly stacked slides. My mother keeps shelves of heavy albums with clear plastic covers in a cabinet in the room that used to be mine. I have SD cards full of digital backups wrapped in paper or in little plastic baggies scattered about my desk.

What do we have in common?

Those precious times when, while cleaning or reorganizing, we stumble across an image we’d entirely forgotten about.

photo

This morning I found this shot taken on Black Creek back home in Walton County at a spot where Turkey Vultures come to roost. The sunset was calling them back to skinny pine resting spots where they then squabbled over who would sit where for an hour or so into the darkness. The slow movement of black water mirrored their decent from sky soaring all of the hot afternoon.

The beauty of scavengers is sometimes hard to see. Those who feast on what’s left behind can leave the impression of desperation and depravity or remind us of images we’d just as soon turn away from. This particular evening, the happenstance of my being there when the group returned left me with none of those sad feelings. I’m happy to see this image again to be reminded of the peaceful smallness I did feel that night.

Later I learned that the similarity of vulture species found in the New World to those from the Old World is the result of what’s called convergent evolution. This means that these birds aren’t genetically linked to the older scavenger bird species that exist on other continents; they did not decent from birds that look like they would be their ancestors. The “daily life” similarities of the two groups (what they eat, how they look) arose entirely separately and, you might say, coincidentally. Speaking as a person transplanted, this offers the comfortable contemplation that certain things need doing (and certain animals will fill the holes) no matter our place in this world.

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Balcony Gardening

Seed packets bundles of opportunity. They have almost the same likelihood to "dud" as to grow making the ones that do thrive all the sweeter.

Seed packets bundles of opportunity. They have almost the same likelihood to “dud” as to grow making the ones that do thrive all the sweeter.

It’s been about a month since I planted my balcony garden and the seeds are sprouting! We’ve had a few sunshiny weeks in a row starting what will, I hope, become a phenomenal growing season. I mainly planted veggies but this time I’m trying nasturtiums, delphiniums, and the lovely complementary wildflower packet we were given at West Coast Seeds in Delta, BC.  These will live alongside the lettuces, watercress, artichokes and garlic that’s taking up most of the real estate out there.

Our balcony faces north so it’s a bit tricky to grow sun-loving plants. Last year, my tomato adventure yielded poor results (except for the fact that I got to make fried green tomatoes). Two years ago at the old, east-facing  apartment, I grew a heap of delicious and ripe tomatoes from seed. This year I think I’ll  try for a head-start and buy an already-blooming plant.

Phase 1 - Planted

Phase 1 – Planted

That’s the crow’s nest in the pine tree on the right of this photo, by the way.

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Phase 2 – The first to arrive!

More to come once the seeds get going. For now, I’ll just be battling squirrels who, apparently, love getting their paws into newly turned dirt. The weather and the soil here make for easy growing so as long as I can keep them safe now delicious salads and beautiful flowers should be on the way. Till then, hooray for balcony gardens and BC’s incredible potential for planting even in small spaces.

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Filtered Victoria

On last weekend’s spontaneous trip to Victoria I forgot to pack the camera. Luckily, the 21st century leaves us with options.

A snapshot of BC’s capital from the viewfinder on my cell phone (with the help of Instagram… not that such a lovely place even needs it!) will have to do as a recap for this trip. Super easy to get to from Vancouver, Victoria is a nice little plae to spend a few days; it’s a little like England with tea and gardens and a little like beach destinations back home littered with postcard and tee shirt shops. This place is growing on me every time we go.

We weren't the only couple enjoying the double-decker bus ride.

We weren’t the only couple enjoying the double-decker bus ride.

Tea.

Tea.

Vancouver has a serious lack of meadows.

Vancouver has a serious lack of meadows.

Ms. V herself at The James Bay Tea Room (one of my favorite places ever).

Ms. V herself at The James Bay Tea Room (one of my favorite places ever).

Who needs wings when you can catch a ride?

Who needs wings when you can catch a ride?

Now here's an idea I can get behind.

Now here’s an idea I can get behind.

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Crow Neighbors

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It’s almost ready on Day 3 of nest building. 

We have new neighbors.

The pine tree outside our house (which, coincidently, looks the most like a Florida tree of all the trees on our block so I love it already) has some new tenants. Actually, I think it’s the same crows that nested near here last year, but this spring they are building their nest higher up. It’s actually just about the same height as our apartment. This means I can spy on them a little as they build the nest and then as bird-parenthood plays out through summer.

Crows aren’t many people’s favorite birds, but their intelligence and otherworldliness intrigues me. Jet black like a witch’s cat, a crow reminds us of dark things. There are all sorts of mysticisms linked to crows. Here locally, the crow frequents stories of people who have lived on this coast for centuries. A trickster, a thief, a harbinger of bad news.

Here in the city the population of crows works against those ideas; there just can’t be that many bad omens in a place with a crime rate as low as Vancouver’s. I think they are demonized because they remind us of ourselves. A crow will eat almost anything. It will outsmart the other, dumber birds. They take what they need. Crows aren’t timid and will confront bigger and smaller animals. They are known for driving out other species. Sounds like I’m describing people, right?

And people don’t usually like someone hanging around that reminds us of our worst qualities.

Since they are my new neighbors, I’m going to spend a little time getting to know these ones better. So far they’ve finished the nest (which took five or six days) and then they left it sit for a while. I assume that was to check to see what might come to investigate the site. Maybe this was some kind of basic security surveillance. They began hanging around in the nest again three days ago. As of yesterday, one of them is sitting on the nest while the other goes to get food. The nested bird makes a low, dull call almost constantly when its partner is away. When the two are together there is what looks to me like cuddling. They talk to each other with lower voices.

I recently checked out a book on crows and ravens from the library so I’m hoping to answer a few questions. I don’t which bird is sitting on what I presume to be eggs. I don’t know how long eggs take to hatch. I do know that crows often spend quite a bit of time with their hatchlings before the family separates. It’s this behavior that allows for some of their intelligence. They teach their offspring and then stay with them so skills can be mastered.

Sounds, again, like people to me.

Day 2

A sunny Day 2.

Day 1

The proud future-parents on Day 1 of nest building.

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North, South, West, West.

I don’t think I’ll ever get too old for a road trip. There’s something that just feels American (or, as I’m learning, North American) about renting a car, buying a map, bringing a camera and hauling yourself and the best possible company along some roads you’ve never been down.

Some of the roads I just traveled with my sister I will probably never visit again. Today, the day she packed up and flew to her home back in Florida, this feels a bit tragic. That one thing we saw just doesn’t look as cool as it was in the photo. What was the name of that place we stopped for ice cream? Did we turn there, or here after that one city? Why do we wish so much to try and preserve these adventures in the first place? When will we get to do this again?

Looking through photos this afternoon, I want only to preserve the idea of the West. We drove through about 1,400 miles of it and spent the better part hugging the coastal roads of the Pacific. From that, what’s sticking with me are the images of the coast. The edge of the world. The fault line from Monterey, CA to Tofino, BC. The Pacific is lovely and big and cold and beautiful. One guy on a boat we rode on called it “majestic.” I’m hopeful my memories (and possibly the snapshots) can continue to be called that so as well.

Here are some of my favorite views of the sea from our trip.

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Purple mountains of another sort.

Purple mountains of another sort.

A giant's reflection.

A giant’s reflection.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

A sea of glass.

A sea of glass.

At dusk.

At dusk.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

Best animal ever?

Best animal ever?

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

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The Desert. California. Oregon. A Train. My Sister.

A recent quiet around this place is due entirely to the most awesome thing that will probably happen all year: my sister is here! After a nutty trip up that started with me meeting her in the desert and picking up a rented Honda Civic, we drove up the coast of California and landed on a train ride in from Portland. She is staying here for a while in a land where it’s still forty degrees so we’ve put away our flip flops once again. For a brief moment, we wore tee shirts and our toes were free to feel the sun. Back in Vancouver, we are making the most of snowy mountains and the sunny days that are here this week.

More to come from here, but I thought I’d share a few photos from our drive. California is as beautiful as people say. The rocky coasts and hugeness of the landscape took us both by surprise mostly because we didn’t think much on what to expect beforehand. The wine is better than we thought (both of us pretty dedicated to all things French in that area). The oranges and the tacos, the lovely people and the incredible wildlife left us wanting to return soon.

Holy Sheep!

Holy Sheep!

Farm roads

Farm roads in the Central Valley. 

Like little sun globes

Like little sun globes. 

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

If you ever can't find me you should check to see if I'm here.

If you ever can’t find me you should check to see if I’m here.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Happy cows do live in California.

Happy cows do live in California.

Wine country.

Wine country.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

First real train ride ever was a success.

First real train ride ever was a success.

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A Sunny Day in Delta and a Rant about Bird Photography

With spring migrations on the way and the promise of Saw Whet owls residing at the bird sanctuary, a trip to south was in order for yesterday’s amazingly sunny weather. Delta and Ladner are smaller towns built around vibrant farming communities and proximity to the river. In the summer, you can pick or purchase the best berries I’ve ever eaten. In the late winter, you can track Arctic waterfowl and pick up some seeds for a garden soon to grow on your big city balcony.

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Delta, complete with a seagrass T.

At Riefel, a bird sanctuary you arrive at only after crossing a charming, one-hundred-year-old bridge to Westham Island, we looked for regular residents and some stunning visitors that make their flight over this area. I was happy to get a glimpse of the Saw Whet, the smallest of North American owls, that have been living at the sanctuary recently. Unfortunately, the moment was tainted by my disappointment in fellow bird watchers who thought it acceptable to hoot and whistle at sleeping owls. I hate to sound critical, but I think those of us who think ourselves “Nature Photographers” should to take a moment to realize sticking camera lenses in the faces of nocturnal birds might not be worth your capturing of an image that, frankly, is already all over the internet.

I stood behind ten or so people who were testing the limits of the sawhorse fence newly built to keep bird watchers away from the tree where the Saw Whets have been roosting. On this particular afternoon, one of the owls picked a pretty low branch to sleep. Since it was so close, I figured people would look at the bird, maybe take a snapshot and then be on their way. Instead, they all squished together, talked to each other rather loudly, and reached closer and closer to the bird. As if that weren’t enough, several “photographers” then started making noises directly at the bird I assume in the hope it would opened its eyes. That’s the way you do nature photography, right? Following the huddle of people with fancy lenses who appear at popular city nature parks with free parking lots on busy Saturday afternoons? Get a tip from the lady in the office or an email rather than happening on an animal naturally or by your own tracking instincts?

Needless to say, I didn’t feel right photographing the Saw Whets this particular afternoon. They are the cutest little things and I would have loved a photo, but last time I checked, nocturnal animals need to rest during the day so they can hunt all night. We took a good look at him with binoculars from about twenty feet away and found that to be enough for us. I will say that the Saw Whet is worth a trip to see, even if you have to rely on a tip from someone else. You, however, just do an image search for them and get the idea and perhaps that’s preferable to some of what I saw going on today. I’m going to trust that at least some of these photos weren’t taken by people harassing wild birds while they slept.

Thankfully there was plenty else to see including a visit to West Coast Seeds and lunch at Sharkeys back in Ladner. We also happened  upon a flock of snow geese making the most tremendous racket. As we watched, a single Tundra Swan flew over us thinking he’d found his friends. Circling over the noisy group for a hesitant moment, he discovered his mistake and quickly turned away to the south. A few Douglas Squirrels took advantage of little piles of seeds left along the path. A guy in plastic boots and long white hair took advantage of a Vancouver riot to add some depth to his truck bed.

The green gates to Westham Island.

The green gates to Westham Island.

My future garden - complete with free "thank you" seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

My future garden – complete with free “thank you” seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows... and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows… and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What's that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What’s that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

We didn't get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey's is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

We didn’t get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey’s is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

Farm Life.

Farm Life.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

Douglas Squirrel.

Douglas Squirrel.

Winter woods.

Winter woods.

 

 

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Bare Trees and Spring at Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Bare trees in the garden's center lawn.

Bare trees in the garden’s center lawn.

As a kid, trips to visit family in  St. Louis helped shape our year. Often, we’d arrive in the dead of December in time for Christmas. Usually it took place at several venues across town and there was much driving around and eating multiple dinners. As the Floridian cousins, we’d wait for snow and the chance to borrow the gear of our relatives to attempt sledding or making a wonky snowman. On winter trips we usually didn’t venture too far from the warmth of an aunt’s house or the confines of an indoor museum. Occasionally, the trip would be made in the summer and a place we always visited was Shaw’s Garden (also known as the Missouri Botanical Garden). My parents would fawn over the plants they could no longer grow in their sandy Floridian yard. My sister and I would gawk at the big trees with leaves that we were told fell off in the winter leaving the tree bare and naked. This, being from a land of skinny pines, fascinated me and, frankly, left me feeling a little saddened.

Well, it seems that not much has changed. My intrigue into the lives of trees in the deciduous sort is as well as strong as my subtle apprehension to them. What to do? Visit the Botanical Garden, I thought, and do so especially in the winter.

We didn’t go at all in January, but took advantage of a sunny day recently to walk among strange trees and remark on those bare branches that have come to be more familiar. Thankfully, the markings of Spring were peeking out under a sun that was strong enough to show us our nearly forgotten shadows.

The new entry and visitor's center has a neat art gallery space and a great place for coffee and snacks.

The new entry and visitor’s center has a neat art gallery space and a nice little place for coffee and snacks.

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Highlights from the garden this season include the Japanese White Pine.

The leavings of winter.

The leavings of Winter.

The glories of Spring.

The reaching of Spring.

Right now the Witch Hazel blooms in a canopy over the walks near the back of the garden.

Right now the Witch Hazel blooms in a canopy over the walks near the back of the garden.

A carpet of Persian Violets.

A carpet of Persian Violets.

An unfamiliar sight these days.

An unfamiliar sight these days.

That Japanese Pine from the highlights at the entrance. It's from another part of the world, but then, after all, so am I.

That Japanese Pine from the highlights at the entrance. It’s from another part of the world, but then, after all, so am I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where are you, Sun?

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Happily, these photos are not from today.

Today it’s cold, but the sun is out in full force and might stay that way for at least the rest of the afternoon which means I can actually try some of the things I learned recently in the bathtub. Hooray!

Until today I haven’t until been able to practice them because it’s been looking more like these photos outside lately. This afternoon, I’ll be able to find due south from a shadow, calculate the angle of the sunset and determine approximately how long the equinox. Could I just look this stuff up online? Sure. But what’s the fun in that? Today I’ll indulge in some sun worship by practicing natural navigation.

 

 

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Snowy River

February has opened with hectic switching between warm sun, bleak rain, cold air and thick fog. Last week we rode up to Squamish to try and take advantage of one of the sunny days but were met with a thick blanket cloud that set over most of Howe Sound like some kind of magic carpet linked to the water. The air gets cold pretty quickly after heading north. The elevation change seems slight from the car, but when we turned up the valley to visit one of our favorite spots, Anderson Beach, the difference was clear.

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Snow on the banks at Anderson Beach. Judging by how far my leg fell in (wrong shoes entirely) it must have been at least two-feet thick in some places.

The last time we were here it was warm and we sat next to the river examining and trying to stack pebbles and rocks rounded down by the water. The little island just in front of this park access makes for interesting patterns in water currents. We’ve seen salmon coming up to spawn here and decided it would be a great place to camp once we have our bear-aware knowledge and gear ready. On this visit we barely made it to the river’s edge on account of deep snow and were surprised to find a strange irony residue left on an almost empty river bed. The naked trees lining the river’s edge created a ghostly feeling heightened by trying to step into the footprints of the last person who passed here before us. Also we discovered the tracks of a large and mysterious beast.

Look at the size of that hoof!

Look at the size of that hoof!

Being Florida kids, at first we tried to justify there being abnormally massive deer in the area, but we later read that there had been a heard of elk released here not too long ago that are known for cruising around this area. Good luck to them this winter. Their feet are much better than mine at navigating this kind of landscape.

There’s a neat look at a glacier (the name of which I don’t know) on the ride down the valley. It’s majestic and arresting even in a whitened world. We got nice views of it just as the sun settled behind the mountain. Something like Rembrandt lighting shone from behind the snow and cast a lovely little glowing haze (unfortunately that effect doesn’t show up so well in drive-by photos).

Glacier.

The majestic peak of a sunlight glacier. 

As much as I try to pretend otherwise, it is still winter and the sun went down behind the mountains on us quickly. REluctantly we headed back out through the maze of mossy trees and banked snow and then through the thick forest back to the highway. A sometimes-forgotten element of beauty here, the drive home along Howe Sound was beautiful bathed in a winter sunset. The changing light reflected on the water, some still hidden by fog, and the islands’ moving shadows made for stunning glimpses of rocky coasts and a winter-leaning sun.

Sunset over the Sound.

Sunset over the Sound.

 

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Old Growth

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from cathedralgrove.eu

From what I know of Vancouver history, this place boomed big a hundred years ago alongside a massive tree cutting of the whole area. Visiting the local history section of the library or touring some of the historic buildings left in town will reveal images of men in thick boots and tough pants standing up against the fallen trunks of colossal trees. Their expressions are of both amazement and satisfaction; their work was hard but we can assume the payoff made at least some of them rich. The logging continued through the area that now makes up backyards, parks and highways until the trees had to be sought further away. By the middle of the century, Vancouver was a proper city with many residents not connected to the forestry industry. The new trees had begun to remake forests inside the city limits and people sought the city parks as as safe escape into the wildness they associate with their province.

from enfor.com

from enfor.com

The same thing happened in Florida where the changed to the landscape and ecosystems is perhaps more obvious. We don’t have mountains and canyons to hide the view there and the twisted streets of gated communities look like rubber stamp prints over the flat land if viewed from the sky. Only once in my life have I been to untouched forest in Florida. We learned about from a park ranger in the Everglades who explained how to get to a boardwalk that would take us through some of the only remaining old growth in the whole of the Southeast. It was set too far from the navigable road that snaked through the swamp and was simply ignored.

This week, we happened upon a little piece of green on the map that we’d never seen before and it turned out to be one of (if not the) only piece of unlogged forest left in the city limits of West Vancouver. Called Cypress Falls Park, this little spot offered a view of the forest as the rugged men of the last century would have seen. Yesterday, my shoulder carrying not an ax but my camera, I thought deeply about the men who entered nearby forests a generation ago.

Met this dog on the path into the park.

Met these dogs on the rocky path into the park.

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A ghostly trunk coated in mosses and ferns.

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The river is lined with impressive rock faces.

Rainforest, untroubled.

Rainforest, untroubled.

A view of the high falls. I especially loved the rounded out rocks at the pool below.

A view of the high falls. I especially loved the rounded out rocks at the pool below.

A close-up of the rotten car found at the high falls. Someone forgot the parking break?

An unfortunately blurry close-up of the rotten car found at the high falls. Someone forgot the parking brake?

Douglas Fir, the mighty.

Douglas Fir, the mighty.

It’s not often that we are able to commune with living things hundreds of years old and so much larger than ourselves. Technically it’s a pretty difficult “easy” hike but it offers the most stunning picture of wild B.C. that I’ve yet seen. Misty and serene, the forest here is haphazardly planned in the way only nature and time can manage. Thinking about the trees from a 21st century perspective, I don’t know why these weren’t taken. From what I have read about this park, no one else really does either. Like the little patch left in the Everglades I sat in years ago, this was perhaps just too slopped a hill or possibly it was just forgotten one outright. Lucky for us, I’d say. It’s good to be small in a wild place. For a moment,  I was made insignificant in the lifetime of something older and wiser. I am left thankful for the oversight of ax-wielding men in suspenders with noting to lose and a country to gain.

Freezing Fog, Sunshine Eagle

So previously I was writing about rain when it rained and writing about snow when it snowed. Today, a thick fog lay over the city in freezing temperatures. I also ran across this lovely image when I was drinking a cup of tea and organizing photos. Today, instead of lamenting on fog, I’ll take a moment to reflect on the sunshine.

This is a lovely Vancouver spot called Prospect Point. Its proximity to the shore and the presumed updraft against the cliff at the point means you can often catch glimpses of bald eagles soaring or fishing. I took this photo just before the cold weather set in and when we were there for a particularly lovely sunset. Three eagles were swooping around above us amidst a passing seaplane or two and a sky turning pinker by the minute. Something about the whole episode gave me that quiet feeling you get when you are having a really peaceful moment. The flag, the eagles, the beauty of nearby mountains. (Ah, yes. This is better to think about than a weather forecast warning against “freezing fog”)

Bald Eagle over Prospect Point

Bald Eagle over Prospect Point

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snow day

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Stillness at Bunzen Lake

Woke up to flurries the other morning and the news of a rare bird visiting our neck of the woods. Not sure which of these was most efficient at dragging us right out of the house despite the cold but out we were. The flurries didn’t last long, but they were thicker in New Westminster (where the Red-Flanked Bluetail , normally a resident of Russia and Eastern Europe, has mis-migrated this winter). My snowman-making skills have improved since last year and it was nice to see everything bathed in white. The bird, obviously a foreigner in his unrecognized flitting motions and silhouette, had attracted a gaggle of onlookers. While I appreciate the feathered, I try to refrain from joining the bird papparazzi on these kinds of things so I have no Bluetail photo. For me, snow makes a better subject. It moves less and I don’t have to bother it while it’s already lost. Well, at least I think I didn’t bother it.

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Snowy streets in East Van make it look even more like the 70s over there.

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Like a little spilled powdered sugar landed here at Queen’s Park.

If only it were warm enough to want a snowcone.

If only it were warm enough to want a snowcone.

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two worlds

So the sunny skies that have graced us here lately are wonderful. A break from the famous Vancouver grey and a chance to wear shoes that aren’t made of plastic is certainly nice. The clouds work like a blanket though, so when they leave, the temperature drops. Yesterday we took a moment to check out the frost in the best possible place to do so – Queen Elizabeth Park. Why is it the best? Because it’s really two worlds in one.

 

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The first, rhubarb melted into a frozen puddle (still amazing looking… this is such a cool plant!) I can’t stop being fascinated by the way the water expands as it freezes. It’s like the plants are all wearing a little wig of crystals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013-01-12 12.35.22And then there’s the Bloedel Conservatory. At the top of Little Mountain (where the park sits) the conservatory makes a great little respite on cold days. The Christmas lights were still up last weekend so it really did feel like two worlds!

 

 

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