Secrets of the Mist

Shoreline reflections and misty forestWe slipped through the narrow entrance into Bottleneck Inlet one afternoon, when the lowering cloud cover made visibility too poor to continue our journey up Finlayson Channel. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it proved a perfect anchorage: excellent protection, the right depths, good holding and plenty of swinging room.

It rained most of the day and a half we spent anchored there. Still, it was a pretty place to pass the time, with mist drifting in and out of the trees and the haunting song of the Swainson’s thrush spiralling out from the forest.

I felt a sense of profound beauty and mystery in this remote place – as I have felt in so many places along the BC coast during my lifetime of boating. Now, in my new photography show, I’m hoping to share that beauty and mystery with you.

5x7 show card REVISED-web res

Coastal Journeys opens today on Gabriola Island and runs until Oct. 7 .

If you’re on Gabriola between now and then, I hope you’ll stop by for a look.

For more details, including how to get there, click here.



Dawn Departure

Wharf with water, mountains and sunrise in distance

Dawn Departure from Egmont (click to enlarge)

I’m not really a morning person, so it was tempting to turn over and go back to sleep when the alarm sounded at 0530.

But I knew that if we missed the narrow window at Malibu Rapids we’d be in trouble, for there are no decent anchorages anywhere near that part of the long, deep fjord that leads to Princess Louisa Inlet, our destination that day.

Malibu is the narrow, constricted passage into Princess Louisa, and it’s only safe to transit at slack tide – which occurs just briefly, twice a day (and not always at a convenient time). We’d calculated that high-water slack that day would be at 1330, and that we might need six hours or more to get there. That meant we needed to be away from the Egmont dock by 0715 at latest, and we still had some chores before we could leave. So reluctantly, I dragged myself up to greet the day.

Fortunately, the beauty of that dawn made the effort well worthwhile. And in case you’re wondering: yes, we made it to Malibu on time.

On soon: my new photography show, “Coastal Journeys, 2000-2016”. 
Through photographs and words, I’m sharing my passion for the BC coast in this solo show, which opens on Gabriola Island on August 16 (with reception Aug. 18). The images range from southern Vancouver Island all the way up to the North Coast, and most of the older ones have never been printed before. I’m excited about the show and hope you can make it! Details here

Shifting Focus

Clouds shaped like two birds flying

Clouds on the Wing – off Silva Bay (click to enlarge, or twice for even larger)

Each summer when it’s time to re-develop my sealegs, I need to make some shifts in focus and perspective.

All through the spring, growing our food garden at home, I’ve been looking down to check soil moisture, plant health and so on. Now, I need to constantly look up, to the wide expanse of sky which holds the signposts for what might be coming our way – because weather trumps all when we’re out on the water.

Navigational light with bright sun on water and clouds

Light on the Water (Strait of Georgia, off the Flattop Islands – click to enlarge)

My eyes must adjust to a new colour palette and a sudden shift in contrast. Instead of the gentle greens and browns of our usual forest view, we’re surrounded by blue, and on bright days, by intense, dazzling light that reflects off every ripple and wave (as in the photo above, taken without a polarizing filter). Good sunglasses, with polarized lenses, are an absolute must if we’re to keep watch for hazards and stay on the safe side of reefs.

Entrance Island light station with cloud bank over the mountains beyond

Entrance Island, with the BC mainland coast beyond (click to enlarge)

My ears make a shift too: instead of CBC news, we’ll listen to Environment Canada’s weather broadcasts on VHF radio. A big part of the info we need comes from the wind, wave, weather and visibility reports filed by lighthouse keepers like those at Entrance Island.

Tides and currents also require the utmost attention. Boat-eating rocks disappear at high tide, hidden (but lurking) just beneath the surface. Even where there are no dangerous reefs, it’s essential to know whether the tide is rising or falling, and by how much, so that when we anchor we can put out the right amount of line to stay safely in place.

Reef just barely above water

Beware: at high tide they won’t be visible.

That’s why each summer I must renew my acquaintance with all of those columns in the tide book (remembering to add an hour for daylight savings time). I also review how to crunch the numbers, in order to predict the tide’s height or current’s strength at times other than those listed in the book. Mathematics is alive (and hopefully well) on our boat!

A few shifts are also needed on the photographic front: a tripod isn’t practical on the boat, so I crank up the ISO and steady myself as best I can as we bounce about. If the day is bright enough, I’ll add a polarizer to cut glare. Motion is always present, so I  forgo any long exposures (unless I’m aiming for total abstract). Trying to find a single focal point among all that beautiful water and sky can be daunting – but it’s a challenge I’m happy to accept.

UPCOMING:  I’ve been behind in my blog posts lately because I’ve been busy preparing new prints for my solo show on Gabriola Island. “Coastal Journeys” will include about 35 mounted prints from our boating trips along the BC coast over the past 15 years. If you are on Gabriola I hope you’ll visit the show, which runs from Aug. 16 to Oct. 7 at The Centre Gallery.  Opening reception: Aug. 18, 6-8 pm.  See you there!

Red-Legged Days

Red-legged frog floating at edge of pondThe water level in our pond is going down rapidly as summer approaches, but so far there’s still enough to support a healthy colony of northern red-legged frogs (Rana aurora).

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing these reclusive amphibians all around the banks of the pond, wherever a patch of sunshine can be found. But it requires some serious searching. Even though the adults can be up to 3 inches long, they’re hard to spot, as they blend in so well with the vegetation.

Frog partly hidden among grasses

They’re understandably skittish – after all, they’re a popular food for some birds, mammals and snakes. Their powerful back legs (which are red on the undersides) are great for jumping and for kicking their way quickly to the pond’s muddy bottom, where they can hide from dangers (including pesky human observers).

Red-legged frog among grasses

Red-legged frogs need the still waters of ponds or marshes to breed. Once that deed is done, the adults can enjoy the sunshine on the banks or leave the pond if they prefer. But it’s a different story for their young, who hatch about 40 days later. These tadpoles must then remain immersed for another 80 days as they grow their legs and morph into frogs. That means that unless breeding has occurred earlier than usual, they need water in the pond through most of June.

Our pond usually dwindles to a small puddle by early July, so it’s always a close call for the tadpoles. These days, as climate change brings drier springs and summers to our region, it’s more than ever a race against time for the new generation. Fingers crossed.

You can click on the photos to enlarge them and see the details – click twice if you’d like to see them extra large!

Hard at Work in the Forest

Pileated woodpecker at a suet feeder

Five species of woodpeckers inhabit the woods around our place. The largest, most colourful one is the Pileated woodpecker, who clearly resembles that crazy cartoon character we knew and loved as children. On rare occasions like the one in the photo above, Woody stops by our house for a treat of suet

More often though, I only hear his maniacal cry or catch a brief glimpse of his pointy red head as he swoops wildly through the forest. But lately, I can hear him at work during daylight hours, producing a steady tapping sound in the forest. And any day  of the week, year-round, I can see the results of his work: deep, rectangular holes in the trees.

A closer view of Woody's work

Despite the fact that we have many trees on offer, Woody seems focused on one particular Western red cedar (Thuga plicata), as you can see in the photo below. To date we’ve counted 19 woodpecker holes in this tree, which grows in a tight linear clump, flanked by two Douglas firs and a smaller red cedar. The other three trees almost never get pecked.

Tall conifers with line of deep woodpecker holes in one of them

I’m guessing that Woody’s favorite tree must be full of tasty carpenter ants, which form the main portion of a Pileated woodpecker’s diet. Since we live in a wooden house in the midst of a forest, I’m grateful for his steady work, as it may help prevent a future catastrophe for us.

In the meantime, I’ll need to keep my eye on this tree, as it could soon be a happening place for other animals as well. Woodpecker holes are used as nesting sites by a huge variety of birds and mammals including many songbirds, owls, bats and squirrels. A study by a UBC researcher found that in Canada, some woodpecker tree holes were used as many as 17 times in 13 years, by up to five different species.

Sounds like efficient use of real estate to me – well done, Woody!

Transformed by the Rain

Raindrops along edges of leaves of plantEarly each spring, when I begin cleaning up and weeding our garden beds, I tell myself that as soon as the sodden clay soil in the perennial bed dries out just a bit, I should dig up most of the Lady’s Mantle.

For despite its genteel name, in our garden this muscular plant is highly invasive. Its roots take hold with superglue strength, its foliage spreads like wildfire, and it readily self-sows if its flower heads aren’t cut off quickly. No matter how hard I’ve tried to keep it in check, Lady’s Mantle has had the nasty habit of crowding out other, more delicate flower species that I’d hoped would flourish.

So each spring I say to myself, “Enough!”

But then it rains – and I can’t help but notice the sheer beauty that emerges when water droplets shine like strings of pearls along the edges of the Lady Mantle’s water-repellent leaves. Apparently I’m not the only one who has appreciated this: according to Wikipedia, alchemists used these beads of water, which they considered to be totally pure, in their efforts to turn base metals into gold (thus giving rise to the plant’s Latin name, Alchemilla mollis).

It rained the other night. So once again, the Lady’s Mantle has won a reprieve.

Let’s Make this Right a Reality

Clouds over a high ridge with houses and forestWater takes many shapes, and it’s in constant motion around our earth: evaporating from the ocean, rising up to form clouds, falling as precipitation, seeping down through the earth to feed our wells, or remaining on the surface to form snow and ice and fill our wetlands, lakes and rivers.

Whether as groundwater or surface water, it eventually it makes it back to the ocean, and the whole cycle begins again.

Today is World Water Day: a reminder to be grateful for such an elegant – and absolutely essential – transport system, provided to us free of charge by Mother Nature.

Since 1993, World Water Day has been marked annually to focus on the need for everyone to have an adequate supply of safe fresh water. Sadly, at least 10% of our world’s population currently lacks what should be such a basic human right, and even those of us with easy access to water considered “safe” are too often finding it isn’t anywhere near as clean as we had assumed.

Here at home and right around the globe, we all deserve safe, healthy water: free from pesticides, fossil fuels, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and radioactivity. World Water Day provides a good opportunity for each of us to think about what we can do to help turn this right into a reality.

Raindrops on Lady's mantle plants.

Making a Living on the Waterfront

raccoon on shoreline

“What do you want, lady? Can’t you see I’m busy?” (click to enlarge)

Almost everywhere we went last summer on our boating holiday in the Gulf Islands, raccoons were hard at work.

We watched them paw through the kelp at low tide, crunching on shore crabs and other tasty treats. If you look closely, you can see a bit of shell hanging from his/her mouth in the photo above. (A reminder, you can click twice on any of these photos to enlarge them and see all the details).

Raccoon swimming

We often saw raccoons standing in the shallows, gazing upward in a deep meditation while reaching deftly about underwater to locate and snag any edibles.

Raccoon standing in shallows, gazing upward

Raccoons have an amazing sense of touch in their front paws, and this tactile ability is their most important sense in terms of survival. Even more impressive, they can stand in cold water for hours without any loss of that delicate touch – in my books, that has to rank as a superpower. (Here’s an interesting article on raccoons’ tactile sense.)

One afternoon we watched a mother teaching her two kits the moves involved in foraging along the shoreline – then abruptly ushering them into the forest when she spotted our kayaks.

Another day I watched from my dinghy as a solo raccoon took a lengthy swim from one island to another, ignoring me despite the fact I was only a couple of oars-lengths away.


The oddest sighting among our frequent encounters took place one sunny morning at Wallace Island, close behind our anchored boat. It was low tide, and two raccoons inched along the steep shore, noses down all the while. They seemed to be licking the algae-encrusted rocks, though we weren’t sure why.

Raccoons appearing to eat seaweed

Plant foods make up a third of a raccoon’s diet, so maybe the seaweed was especially tasty that day – or perhaps they needed the minerals that this rocky salt lick offered. At any rate, they were there for a long time, diligently cleaning the shoreline with their tongues.

We were honoured and charmed to watch all of these masked bandits, so at home and at ease in their natural habitat – going skillfully about their daily business without any conflict over gardens, bird feeders, fish ponds or other mundane human concerns.