Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The End of the Ice Age

Maybe I should just change the name of this blog to "My Nature Journal", since almost always it is nature which supplies me with the amazing sight of the day, even though most of what I notice is completely predictable. These things happen every day, every month, every year. What makes them special is when they happen to me, personally. Every year the ice goes out; every year I wait for it, but every year when I see that telltale glitter on the horizon, I think "Oh boy, the lake is clear!" and today was that day. The dog and I ambled down through the woods to take a look. I took the lower trail today, the one that threads its way along behind a mossy granite ridge that we call The Dragon's Back, down to the little point, or the first point as we call it, to distinguish it from The Point, which is our most usual destination. I wanted to take a look at Coyote Rock. When the ice is on the lake the coyotes who live in the 600 acre plot of land that borders the lake use this as their rendezvous on cold moonlit nights. We like to go down there and see how many sets of individual tracks we can identify. Casey prefers the more accurate smell count. Today we saw no coyotes (we never do), but we encountered four geese who, instead of fleeing from Casey's inept hunting technique of plunging through the reeds after them, actually came closer after that. It was nice to lean up against the boulder at the shore and do nothing.

On the way home, I was looking up at the spent seedheads on the lilacs which line the track, thinking how the weathered bronze of the branching pods reminded me of some French Empire chandelier, when I noticed with a shock that there were green buds showing! When did that happen?

The third amazing natural wonder of the day (first chronologically) was a flock of fifty, count'em, fifty wild turkeys in a field between here and Sydenham. Youngest Son, who was a trifle sleep challenged last night, asked me to drive him to school. Those are some really BIG birds. Alas, there is no picture. No camera on board. Darn.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Imaginary Landscapes

The two most striking images of today are in my mind's eye. They come from stories told to me by my friend, Marlene. We were out on the morning dogwalk, feeling sad about the trees the township cut down along our road for no apparent reason. (Rest assured, I have asked for one).
She told me two stories, one of which made me sad, and one of which filled me with joy and nostalgia. The first was about how hot it has become in her home country of Costa Rica. She was raised on the slope of a volcano high in the mountains near San Jose. Her mother recently sent her some pictures of kids playing outside in shorts and spaghetti strap tee shirts. Mom!, are they crazy? asked Marlene... her memories of what she wore while growing up were rubber boots, sweaters and woolen caps. When she was a girl, it was always cool and misty. Her mother told her that since the lumber companies deforested the volcano, the climate has changed a lot. The climate in San Jose, where her mother lives now, is also changing. Because it is on a high plateau fairly close to the equator, the climate has always been steady within a few degrees of 20 C, summer and winter. Last week, it was 35C.

The happier story was also from Mar's childhood. Her grandfather had a finca, a farm in the countryside. Down the laneway was a row of large conifers which had grown so tightly together that they almost formed a hedge. Marlene was lucky to grow up near her cousins, arranged in three groups of four age-mates each, and they loved to play in these trees until they were teenagers. They created their own world in the tree tops , each having a house, with dishes and special belongings. They could move from tree to tree, like squirrels, never having to climb down to go visiting each others houses. Like the Swiss Family Robinson, or the Lost Boys. How idyllic! Life is definitely better with cousins.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Six year olds,

driving full sized ATV's,

on the public road,

in packs.

I ask you!

Where is this going?

Where are their parents?

What are they thinking?

What idiot(s) thought that this was a good idea?

Oh, wait, it was the local council! Good one, boys.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Day the Geese Came Back

As I trucked the recycling out to the curb, I was thinking about what today's most amazing thing might be. I considered, briefly, the last patch of gravelly ice lying in the driveway, its amazing longevity aided by the shade of the big spruce tree. I looked up into the sky and saw a pair of jets arcing overhead. Today's atmospheric conditions don't favour long streaming jet trails, because each of them had only that little lenticular exhaust that I associate with rockets from 50's comic strips. Its pretty amazing that we can get up in those things and just fly across to Europe or Asia or Toronto anytime we have the time and money. (Let's not get into the morality of it just now.)
After the recycling and a cup of coffee, it was time for the obligatory dogwalk. I decided to go down to the point today. Its one of my favourite walks, but takes a good hour, especially if you stop to take pictures, or to sit on the rocks by the shore when you get there. At this time of year, its good to get out earlyish, when the sun has warmed the air, but has not yet turned the track into a sea of slippery mud. Today, I'd timed it just right. The footing was not iron-hard, and not gooey. It had the consistency of still warm fudge, nice and soft to walk on, but stable.
I heard them before I saw them. Honk doesn't really cover the range of noises that come out of a skein of three hundred or so Canada Geese on the move. There's prattling, gargling, squawking, squealing, creaking. Its an incredible noise. This group was so large that the V had branches, and there was a stealthy little secondary vee inside the big vee, catching a draft on the wake of three hundred pairs of wings. I wondered what all that noise is about. Are they callling out directions to one another? Arguing about place? "Hey Buddy, I was here first, get in line!" Maybe each squawk is necessary to make the most out of a wing beat. Geese are pretty big. Maybe they need a kiyup like a tai kwan do fighter just to stay airborne? Or maybe they're shouting encouragement to one another. "C'mon guys, only 3ooo more clicks to Happy Valley/Goose Bay!" Or maybe its just gossip, cause that's a pretty long trip. Maybe they need something to do to pass the time. I just looked up the etymology of "gossip" to see if maybe it was related to geese, but sadly, it doesn't seem to be.
Seeing all those geese was another harbinger of spring, but to see them followed in wave after wave of skeins of a similar size was really thrilling. Talk about a wall of sound! Mind you, I think the small skeins are almost as noisy. Incongrously, I thought about how glad I was that they weren't squadrons of enemy aircraft. Paranoid? Possibly. I tried to take their picture but failed miserably. It reminded me of my friend John, a landscape painter who once, for a joke, painted a pair of webbed feet in the sky at the top edge of a failed painting, and exhibited it, entitled "You've got to be fast to paint ducks". He sold it for several hundred dollars, presumably to someone with a sense of humour!
When we got down to the point, there was a welcome flash of blue at the shoreline, where really thin ice, that would be water by noon, was reflecting the sky. The thicker rotten ice beyond was dull grey, riddled with tiny holes at the surface that took away its ability to be anything but dingy. Here I heard another noise I associate with the coming of spring, the challenging calls of redwing blackbirds (called affectionately in our family "Ge-bleees"). For me, even more than the first robin, this is the marker that spring is REALLY here. Robins are always pushing the envelope, and they've been known to be wrong before, but redwing blackbirds always get it right.
On the way home, I took some shots of beautiful ice formations in the puddles. I figured it might be one of the last chances for this spring. Amen to that!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


An unfamiliar tree on the horizon caught my eye. As I drew nearer it resolved into a huge flock of birds, flying sufficiently close together to create a form of the same size and density as the crown of a tree. As I watched, the shape dispersed into a plume,and moved across the sky as if the tree were being blown away by the wind. It was all over in seconds.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Series of Little Things

A four year old chasing cars down the length of his yard, while he waited with his dad for the schoolbus.

A pair of jeans tucked into the tongues of neon edged hightops. A new fashion for twelve year old girls? Or an iconoclast in the making? Shades of the Eighties.

Three horses rolling in the arena at the same time; all those legs and mighty bellies in the air.

Twitterpated drivers, drunk with spring, not paying attention. Amazing, but not so wonderful.

Signs of Spring

The onions know.....
The dog took her first swim of the season in a little stream. She came out fairly quickly, but she even did her lie down and get the belly wet move.

Is this slime mold? Algae? Whatever it is, its green! You can't keep chlorophyll down once there's some sun on it!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Return of Colour

Like the slow spread of a blush, life is returning to the world. The telltale sign is colour leaching into things. The goldfinches on the feeder are now beginning to be olive rather than drab. The willows by the highway are yellowing up as if their branches had been dipped in chrome yellow. There's the faintest hint of pink in the stands of maple covering the stone outcrops in the farmers' fields. The pond ice is taking on designer tints; aquamarine and pistachio muddied just enough to be sophisticated. It's inevitable and inexorable.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Corvids and Canids

Two of my favourite animal groups have afforded me lots of laughs over the last three days. First there was the backyard fox who we watched hanging out for a good ten minutes. The dog needed to go out, so we let her. We wanted to see what the fox would do. The dog went down the steps, entirely oblivious, and started her ritual of rolling in the snow. She can carry this on, with sound effects for several minutes. I kept expecting her to catch the scent of the fox, but she never ever realized he was there. He stood at the far end of the yard, by the cliff edge, watching her. I wish I could have read his expression. Was he puzzled, amused, disdainful of her domesticity? One thing he was not was perturbed.

While driving down Sir John A. the other day, I saw a charcoal coloured toy poodle in a blaze orange winter coat (um, who could mistake him for prey, I ask you, especially downtown...maybe they just liked that colour?) cock first one leg against a snowbank, then the other so that he was standing on his front legs as he let fly with a stream of yellow. Quite a feat...look Ma, no feet!

Today on the way back from my riding lesson I had to look twice to be sure of what I was seeing. It was a crow in the centre of an open field, rolling, just like my dog, in the snow. He'd dig his beak in, slide, turn over, and then sit up and fluff his feathers. Then he'd repeat, as needed.