Spring Light at the Picnic Tree

Spring light, new energy and the “Picnic Tree” (click on any image to enlarge)

What a difference the longer days of spring make!  Our “Picnic Tree” sports a heady canopy of leaves, while the grass beneath it grows visibly denser and the dried brown ferns of last summer rapidly disappear behind fresh green fronds. And judging by the volume and variety of songs I’m hearing, the birds around here are also feeling the spring energy.

The Picnic Tree is actually made up of several shrubs of Indian plum (Oemlaria cerasiformis), growing closely together to look like a multi-trunked tree.

Indian plum, also known as Osoberry, is a charming native species and the first shrub or tree to bloom here each year. Its flowers, which precede the leaves, usually appear in profusion by late February and last through March, a feast for hungry bees as well as for winter-weary human eyes.

Here’s how our Picnic Tree looked on February 25 this year – no visible leaves, just a mass of tiny flowers.

Large Indian plum in bloom

And here’s a closer view of those flowers in mid-March, once the leaves had started to unfold.

Detail of Iindian plum flowers

A couple of months from now, summer light will reveal a copious amount of tiny plums among the foliage. If I’m lucky (and fast), the birds might allow me to indulge in one or two before they begin their annual avian picnic.

Cluster of Indian plum fruit hanging from branch

I’m Lichen the Diversity

Centipede and lichens on branch

On one small branch: an ecosystem within itself (click on images to enlarge)

A silver lining of sticking close to home is having more time to notice and appreciate the beautiful little details that are often right in front of one’s nose.

Such was the case when I picked up the alder branch in these photos, which had fallen across one of our trails. I intended to toss it aside, but instead, I looked more closely, and found it interesting enough to carry to our patio table to photograph.

Varied lichens on part of a branch

Each section of the branch was different and equally fascinating.

Leafy and coral-like lichens on a branch (closeup)

All this diversity on a single small branch!

During a walk in the woods on a later day, I noticed something I’d missed for years: the trunks of the alders are dotted with tiny lichens, resembling miniature butter tarts.

Tiny round tree lichens on alder bark (closeup)

These tiny tree lichens are at most only a couple of millimetres across, so I had to go back to the house to fetch my close-up lenses in order to photograph them. The extra exercise was well worth it.

Worldwide, about 20,000 species of lichens have been identified according to Wikipedia (whose article is well worth reading). Each of these lichen species is actually a composite life form – made up of either a photosynthesizing algae or cyanobacteria, living in a mutually beneficial relationship with some species of fungus.

I’m guessing that the huge number of permutations this communal living arrangement allows means there are more species yet to be identified. What a fascinating, diverse planet we live on!

The Mushrooms Missed the Memo

Mushrooms growing close together (low angle view)

Not socially distanced (click on any photo to enlarge).

Clearly, the mushrooms missed the memo on social distancing. They’ve been popping up everywhere this season in mass tribal gatherings, cheek by jowl (cap by gill?), crammed in like party-goers on a pre-pandemic New Year’s Eve or diehard fans at a Donald Trump rally.

Mushrooms growing close together (from above)

But I can also report seeing many individuals and small families of mushrooms that are keeping a fungi-appropriate social distance from their neighbours, or even standing apart in relative isolation.

Single mushroom, low angle

I can definitely relate to these introverts of the mushroom world, who, like me, are pretty much keeping to themselves these days.

Single gilled mushroom, low angle

At any rate, distanced or massed, the variety and profusion of the mysterious life that rises from its underground world at this time of year makes for interesting walks along our wet forest trails.

Orange musthrooms, fallen over

Otter Delights

Two river otters on shore

Mom and pup enjoying the late afternoon sunlight (click on any photo to enlarge).

Usually when we’re anchored in a quiet spot, an audio cue is what alerts me to the presence of river otters a series of sharp, high-pitched chirps if a whole family is afloat, or more frequently, an unmistakable crunch, crunch, crunch as one of these sharp-toothed hunters chomps through a fish or crab.

But that October afternoon it was a visual cue: the sight of two sleek, dark bodies against the smooth sandstone shore, lit by the low-angle sun of late afternoon.

It was the first day of our final boat trip of the year, and what a great way to start that little journey. The pair – a mom and pup, most likely – went about their business, otterly ignoring their appreciative human audience.

Their agenda included some cuddling and mutual grooming…

Two river otters cuddled together

a bit of exercise and exploration…

Two river otters exploring the shore

and not to forget, several grocery runs.

Mother river otter swims out while pup watches from shore

Each time, Mom swam out to grab the meal while Junior waited on shore. I’m guessing she had been providing innumerable teaching moments by then and so was thinking, as she brought home their dinner, “He otter be doing this himself by now”.

The entertainment lasted for well over half an hour, until the pair swam off to a different shore – and by then it was time to rustle up our own dinner.

A perfect afternoon in a perfect place, and just under three miles from home. Who could ask for more?

Busy Critters, All of Us

Gathering nectar: honeybees on Allium sphaerocephalon (click on any image to enlarge)

Despite the pandemic, it’s been very busy at our place over the past few months – so hectic that I’m way behind on this blog. I’m long past due for a quick catch-up!

It’s a considerable amount of work to grow an organic garden that can feed us for most of the year. But it’s well worth it, for the plentiful supply of healthy food and the exercise and outdoor time involved. It does keep us moving every day.

Like us – and like the honeybees (above) – bumblebees have been racing about in our garden as well. You can see the big sacks of pollen on the legs of this one, as it works on the honeysuckle.

There’s a lot of pollinating to be done at our place, so all bees are welcome!

Bees are certainly not the only critters hard at work. We’ve seen more hummingbirds around our patio, garden and deck this spring and summer than ever before.

Anna’s Hummingbirds live here all year round, so tend to rule the roost in terms of the hummer hierarchy.  The males like to keep tabs on all the other hummingbirds’ comings and goings.

Mr. Anna seems pretty pleased with our DIY tomato cages on the deck – perfect perches to wrap his tiny feet around, and well sited for warning everyone else away from feeder.

The slightly less feisty male Rufous hummers left on their southward migration last month, but their female folk and youngsters are still at work in our garden. This one paused over the Maltese cross just (barely) long enough for one photo.

Unlike the bees and hummers, Pacific chorus frogs are pretty quiet these days. But that doesn’t mean they’re absent. Many, like this little one, are in our garden, doing their best to stay safely invisible to larger creatures – while working hard to keep our pesky bug population down.

I’m glad I took a close look at that Swiss chard plant before I chose which leaves to cut for dinner!

As for our furry four-legged family: three year-old Elgie has been keeping busy too, thanks to the arrival of her first fawn. “Willow”, as we’re calling the little tyke, seems healthy, precocious and totally delightful (at least in the eyes of us two-leggers).

Not everyone here on the homestead is keeping busy, though. Seven year-old QT, the patriarch of our little deer family, seems to make time often for some sunbathing in front of the woodshed.

Over the spring he watched Mr. Man splitting and stacking all that wood. QT knows better than to work up a sweat like that! When it gets too hot, he’ll stroll around the corner to that shady spot behind the woodshed. After all, it’s summer time, and the living is supposed to be easy.

From 100 to Zero

Unopened peony flowers and foliage

Peonies are about to pop (click to enlarge).

Little did we know back in February, when we hung the 24 prints in my latest solo show, that the world as we knew it was about to change so abruptly for people all over the world.

“The 100-Mile Photo Diet” was intended to convey my belief that places relatively close to home can provide beauty, adventure and creative inspiration, with the added value of keeping our carbon footprint low.

But a future show should perhaps be titled “The Zero-Mile Photo Diet”, because – like most people – home is where all my photography (and every other aspect of my life) has been taking place for the past six weeks, and likely for some time to come. That’s not a complaint on my part. Fortunately I love my home and there are plenty of photographic opportunities here, especially when I take the time to really see them.

One of my recent images is shown above, and I’ll get around to posting some others in the not-too-distant future.

To say these pandemic times are worrisome is a gross understatement. But a silver lining has been the explosion of online arts, culture, communication and learning. Each day brings new opportunities for people to engage in experiences they might have missed out on in those “normal” pre-pandemic times due to cost, distance, lack of free time or other barriers.

So in that spirit, I’m offering The 100-Mile Photo Diet in virtual form. I invite you to have a look, and welcome your comments and feedback. And please – continue to stay home as much as possible, be safe, and be healthy…so that when this is all over, we can start building a better world together.

Never the Same Twice

Coast Mountains from the water

Jervis Inlet guardians: the Coast Mountains (click image to enlarge)

Most of my travels over the years have been by boat, with the bulk of them here on BC’s south coast – relatively close to home. Yet even though I’ve been to some places over and over again, they’ve had something different to offer every time.

Take, for example, the view in the photo above, looking up Prince of Wales Reach, the first of three long reaches that make up Jervis Inlet, which extends deep into the Pacific Ranges of BC’s Coast Mountains.

We had cruised past this spot before – numerous times, in various sorts of weather. But somehow on that particular summer evening, the low angle sun was magical, bathing the peaks in intense warm light while throwing the lower slopes and river valleys into the cool of shadows. Our sea level vantage point revealed the sheer immensity of these mountains, rising almost straight up from the water to altitudes of 1400 metres and more.

Places on or close to our doorsteps may seem “familiar”, but they’re never the same twice. Light and shadows dance across the landscape, new textures and colours unfold by the hour, and along the coast, shorelines change with the rise and fall of the tide. As a result, the “old” becomes new again, right in front of our eyes.

Journeys close to home can reward us with beauty, wild spaces, adventure and creative inspiration. What they don’t require are passports, airports, or much in the way of carbon emissions – and for that, I’m thankful, especially in the face of our planet’s grave climate emergency.

“The 100-Mile Photo Diet” is the title of my new solo show, with two dozen mounted prints (including the photo above), all made within a 100-mile radius of my home. The show runs from Feb. 21 through April 8 on Gabriola Island – click here for the details.

It’s Been Ruff Out There

Fawn closeup in snow

Ruff, looking rather rough (click on any of the images to enlarge)

Most mornings our six-member deer family gathers on the lawn outside our kitchen window for an hour or so, browsing, ruminating, grooming and relaxing in our dog-free zone (one of very few in our neighbourhood).

But for several days this week, something was decidedly wrong. Reddy the fawn was there with his mom, Scarlet, but his twin brother Ruff was missing.

Winter is tough on fawns and only about half survive their first year. All of Scarlet’s three fawns from 2015, ’16 and ’18 died before their first birthday. Her only offspring to survive thus far have been twins LB and LG, now two and a half. We’ve been keeping our fingers crossed that Ruff and Reddy, born last summer, will survive. Ruff’s absence was therefore worrisome, especially with a heavy snowfall, low temperatures and strong winds in the forecast.

For the next two days the family arrived on schedule each morning, but still no Ruff. So when he finally appeared outside our window on the third afternoon, we were relieved – though no less worried.  It had snowed heavily by then and it must have been bewildering for the poor little tyke, all alone in a landscape that was no longer recognizable.

Fawn struggling to walk through snow

He looked cold and confused, and was shaking all over, likely with the cold. All we could offer was a bowl of barley, apples and sympathy, which seemed appreciated. He hung out for a long time, watching us through the window as if seeking reassurance. His family didn’t appear – perhaps they were huddled under a cedar tree, keeping each other warm. I wished I could lead Ruff into the shelter of our woodshed, but of course that was impossible.

Fawn in heavy snow, eating an apple

For another two days, the pattern was repeated. The rest of the family came in the morning, while Ruff arrived in the afternoon, still alone. It seemed he might perish before they could find each other. The weather was worsening and while he seemed to gain some strength from our food and company, we could see what he really needed was his own family. Without his daily grooming from Scarlet and Reddy, Ruff’s fur was unkempt – not a good sign in a fawn, especially with more snow and 40-knot winds in the forecast.

So you can imagine how happy we were yesterday afternoon when we looked out the window and spotted Ruff, looking freshly groomed, healthy and – best of all – accompanied by his mom, brother and big sister. Finally, the family was back together! It was cause for relief and celebration – and an apple for everyone.

Doe and two fawns eating apples in the snow

Ruff between Reddy and Scarlet – a sweet reunion.