Tag Archives: nature

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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Bathtub Scholar

Ever notice how our facination with hobbies tends to move and circulate? You take up a new hobby and spend loads of time exploring whatever new  thing you’re interested in, but then you circle back around to something you knew from before. Something that used to take up your Sunday evenings. Something you and your oldest friends have in common because that’s what bound you up all that long ago. With me the thing that I come back to always seems to be digesting books.

Newer distractions took up most of last year, but since Christmas I’m back to an old habit – reading. Last year I knit a dozen hats, made dinner almost every night, started to play the ukulele, tried to learn computer programming language, painted, and hung around in a park. This year, my hands have been full of paper including that of Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” which is a curious recounting of man’s history with the natural landscape.

His argument seems to be that we need to understand how much of our consciousness is based in the landscape around us and that we need to interact with the land in order to understand our culture. Beyond something to anchor ourselves, the landscape makes us who we are. He starts in the forests of Poland recounting the various tribes and villages that used to run wild – and manage the wild – in the woods. Then it was on to the discussion of the great English oak and the tree’s impact of what it means to “be English”. But the forest’s natural state is doomed to the greed of man, just as it is in in America and in Germany, and the book chronicles all those who have tried to possess and control it. I’ve only finished the chapter on the woods, but will be spending a good bit of tub time with the other subjects to come including stone and, fittingly, water.

Reading in the water.

Going to read about the water in the water.

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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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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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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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Insta-bog

For plenty of reasons, Vancouver is a pretty green city: composting, greenways, community gardens, and Stanley Park (which is the subject of one of a couple of 2013 pet projects) to name a few. A green place that people don’t talk about so much is Camosun Bog located off, you guessed it, Camosun Drive in Point Grey.

It’s one of those places that was meant to disappear like the rest of the undevelop-able parts of the city. A piece of what was once a much larger bog habitat, it remains because a group of people stood up, volunteered to care for the place, and made sure (in work that still goes on every weekend and in writing on this bog blog) that at least this one little part wouldn’t be drained or disturbed.

Bogs are neat because they feel old. Ice age old. Remember that guy they found from thousands of years ago who pretty well looked as is if he’d just gone to sleep in freezer? That was the work of Sphagnum Moss, which has amazing qualities of preservation. It’s thick across the ground, but is easily disturbed. Like almost all little systems in nature, once the moss is uprooted, trees and shrubs move in and the place changes.

There’s also bog blueberries and huckleberries growing within the undulating carpet of green that rolls over rotting log and leftover stump. If you arrive in the morning or the evening thrushes, towhees and warblers can be seen flitting around in the nearby pines. They were mostly asleep in the heat of the July afternoon when I was there last. That emptiness worked to enhance the sort of eerie quality of the place. I’d (once again) forgotten my camera, but I did snap a few  photos on the phone and managed to find a few Instagram settings that seemed to give the appropriate sense of drama.

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Explore(r)

This afternoon the weather is perfect; a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sun are wrapped around the city and it feels like the forecast might just have enough teeth for it to stay like this a while. I walked a while this afternoon and contemplated how it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere else.  In the early spring I had a excellent trip up the West Coast but since then we’ve been city bound.

In thinking about where I haven’t gone lately, I return to the notion that travel defines us. A trip can shape our outlook on the year and keeps us looking forward to something in the months leading up to the departure. We decorate our spaces ‘here’ with our best pictures from ‘there’ and we repeat stories from places other than home because those are the stories that become our favorites.

I also thought about how it’s almost our third anniversary with Canada. I certainly define myself as a person “who travels” and hope to see more and do more with each passing year. But what does it mean to stay put? To move and stay and live in a place that’s foreign? How long do you have to be there before you stop being a tourist? Is it when you know how to get around? When you accumulate all the spices you’ll ever need in your new house? When you can know that this is going to be one of the best days of summer because you’ve seen a few now and you can tell?

What I landed is the idea that maybe the thing I want to be isn’t ‘traveler’ so much as it is ‘explorer’. Not so much about racking up miles or ticking off lists, but to come to know a place through time, through experiences. To choose your path home by finding the one last street you haven’t yet walked. To learn the names of native trees and the animals who live in the woods. To get to know the guy who runs the market and how to find a quiet place even downtown.

This is a different type of travel. It’s slower. It happens more in your head than in your feet or on your passport. It’s not the kind of thing that works really well for stories. You can’t really get by telling an acquaintance about that time you learned which color slug was the native species without making a weirdo of yourself. A few years gone, I know the slug and I have a few sunny days to remember. I can tell Canada that I know it a little. I think it will listen to me in a way it couldn’t if I were only here a week or even a month. I’m an explorer, I will say, and I will come to know at least this one little peninsula here at the edge of the world.

Little roads, close to home.

Little roads, close to home.

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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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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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Bathtub Scholar: Natural Navigation

Five or so years ago I decided to dedicate my reading life to two areas: books I’d be happy to remember years on (you know, the classics, poetry, works written by people living under an oppressive government, &c.) and to the pursuit of learning new things. This second tenant, I’ve found, is best attained in the tub. Quiet and undisturbed, this is my favorite place for scholarly endeavors. It might have something to do with my curiosity’s relationship to water; I’m more likely to check out non-fiction when it’s raining out, I’ve read more books having to do with the sea than almost any other subject, and I like to do my learning while submerged.

Right now I’m reading Tristan Gooley’s “The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer’s Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill.” The idea is that with the development of  navigational tools (and I don’t just mean SatNavs, this started ages ago with the precursors to sextants and compasses) people have lost their ability to “read” the land and sea. I’m just at the  introductory chapters, but reading about a ship’s captain that saved his boat by waking suddenly in the night because he could feel the difference in the play of the water denoting a nearby reef and the details of “primitive” people who could find their way through snow that stretched to all horizons has my interest. It seem to be mostly about awareness.

Right now, on the sidewalk nearby my apartment, there are probably ten people walking around. It’s safe to say that at least four, maybe even six of them, are looking at or talking on a phone. Several of the others are probably busy thinking about a conversation with their boss earlier today or what they are going to get at the grocery store. I’m willing to bet that none of them are smelling for the stench of seaweed denoting a low tide (the sun’s effect on seaweed is quick so if you smell it, I learned, you’re probably near a beach at low tide) or remembering the slope of the hill so they will know how to get back. Granted, most of them probably live around here so none of that matters, but the idea with this book is that you can train yourself to pick up on these kinds of things so you can quickly orientate yourself in an area you don’t know.

Already the other day I observed a mossy tree and noticed that all the greenery was growing on one side. Sure enough, it was the side that faces North.  This is because moss is most happy when it’s away from the sun so it doesn’t usually reach around to the warmer side of it’s home. Didn’t know that until I read it the other day but now I’m noticing the pattern on trees and rocks all around.

There’s also information on reading star patterns and, my favorite, the sea so I’ll update this post after I learn more. I just need to get back to the tub…

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