Our Quiet Festival of Light

Kiwi vines in autumn colour

October Festival of Light (kiwis) – click to enlarge

Look up “Festival of Lights” online and you’ll find a long list of organized events and religious celebrations around the world, involving candles, electric lights, lanterns, fireworks and all manner of human-made illumination.

By contrast, the Festival of Light that occurs annually at our place is a quieter affair, with no artificial illumination involved.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of light, in a delightful palette of yellow hues – but it’s all provided by Mother Nature.

From our dining room window, the hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta) light up our east lawn through most of October (in photo to right).

Upstairs, I can feel my spirit lift each time I look out a window: on the north of the house, the Bigleaf maple shines as bright as any fireworks display, while on the south, the area around the pond glows with its gold and amber mosaic.

This beautiful, quiet little Festival of Light comes free of charge to us each year, and celebrating it requires no travel or excessive consumption. Unlike many human celebrations, it produces no toxic impacts and causes no waste for the planet.

Best of all, it comes at a time when the dark is closing in and my spirit can use a bit of a lift. No wonder it’s one of my favorite events of the year.

Hummy on Watch

Hummy on watch (click on image to enlarge)

Anna’s hummingbirds are year round residents at our home on Gabriola Island, providing us with daily entertainment.

For months now, “Hummy”, an ever-feisty male, has been making good use of his favorite perch on a tiny branch of the Indian plum tree. He starts his watch around sunrise each day, keeping up a steady barrage of raspy chatter that seems to go on until dark. (Alas, hummers are not exactly the most melodic of singers in the bird world.)

His perch is high enough to give him a good view of the airspace around our garden and deck, where he can keep watch on the antics of his extended family. It’s also close enough to “his” feeder to enable him to zoom over and scare away any interlopers that dare to attempt a raid – including his own mate and offspring.

Earlier this summer he had to keep up a relentless pace, but now that the Rufous hummingbirds have gone south, the airspace is a lot less crowded. He can take life a bit easier these days, needing only to keep other Anna’s in line.

“Even so”, he says, “one must remain vigilant!”

A Little Treasure Close to Home

Evening light on an island shore

The Little Treasure (click on this or the other images to enlarge).

We’ve dropped our hook in bays, coves and inlets all over the coast of BC, but one of the prettiest overnight anchorages we’ve found is just a stones-throw away from home. (In fact, that’s our home island, Gabriola, on the left in the background of the photo above.)

The shoreline of this long, narrow, unnamed bay has been undercut by erosion to form a series of little galleries, with ceilings arched over them like a row of cresting waves.

Eroded sandstone shoreline

A little higher up there’s an intriguing layer cake of textures and colours: the smooth grain of the weathered sandstone overhung with a delicate fringe of flowering stonecrop, topped with spiky dry grasses and a tangle of bright red and green arbutus.

Detail of upper shoreline

The little island is privately owned so we can’t go ashore, but that’s fine with us. It’s perfectly lovely to watch from our boat, witnessing the play of light on the shoreline and seeing the textures and colours unfold as the evening comes on. And all within a couple of miles of home!

Detail of eroded shoreline with evening light

That’s “Captain” to You, Matey!

Closeup of house sparrow on a sailboatOn a recent boating trip we had a memorable encounter with Captain Sparrow, when we pulled into a marina for an overnight stay.

This wasn’t the fictional Hollywood pirate, but his rakish charm, clowning antics, colourful plumage and confident swagger certainly spoke of that (in)famous character.

Our true-life Captain was a loud, energetic bird – a House sparrow, I believe (hopefully a reader will correct me if I’m wrong).

From the moment we arrived there in the afternoon until we left the next morning, he blasted us with song, at least during daylight hours.

House sparrow emerging from a sailboat's boomIt turned out that Captain Sparrow’s nest was inside the aluminum boom of the sailboat tied next to us – a vessel that clearly hadn’t left the dock for awhile. Every now and then he’d climb back into the boom, then emerge a few moments later, hopping all around the boat, singing louder than ever.

His lifestyle seemed secure enough, at least for awhile, since that sailboat clearly wasn’t going anywhere soon. So – kind of like me I guess – Captain Sparrow had one wing on land and one on the sea, living a sort-of-seafaring lifestyle.  But unlike me, he could really belt out a tune.

Taking Action for Bees

Closeup of four bees on a pink poppy

Pollinators at Work (click to enlarge and see details)

Today, May 20, is World Bee Day, which is why I’m sharing an image of some of these industrious pollinators hard at work in my garden. The flower is Papaver somniferum, a poppy species which self-sows freely each summer, thanks to the effort of the many bees that visit our garden throughout the growing season.

World Bee Day was first proposed on the international stage by Slovenia, and after three years of work by that nation and the world’s beekeepers, it was proclaimed unanimously by the United Nations – giving bees and other pollinators the recognition they deserve. You can learn more about the initiative here.

Bees are essential to our agriculture and food security – in short, to human survival – yet they’re increasingly endangered. I’ve written before about neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that have had particularly nasty impacts on bees.

The European Union has banned the use of three of the worst neonics and is considering further restrictions. But here in Canada, while our government has said it will ban them, it won’t do so for another three to five years – perhaps too late for many of our bees. Ironically, Canada is a co-sponsor of World Bee Day. Go figure!

If you’d like to speak out, here’s a simple tool for sending a message to Prime Minister Trudeau that bees can’t wait another three to five years for Canada to take action.

The Little Tug that Could – Again!

Tugboats moving a large log boom

Pull & push: exiting Gabriola Passage into the Strait of Georgia (click on images to enlarge)

When I photographed the Samantha J in Gabriola Passage in 2012, I had no idea that this hard-working tugboat was soon to become part of local maritime history – twice!

But first, a bit of background.

Log booms are normally pulled by a single tug, but you’ll note there are two tugs in the photo above. Navigating Gabriola Pass demands tight reins, especially at the narrow east end, where a sharp turn is needed. So while one tug pulls, a second one often pushes from behind, to prevent the boom from swinging onto the rocks or into oncoming boat traffic. Extra control like the Samantha J provided that day is essential in a tight situation like this, where a tidal current often adds to the challenge.

It’s a slow process to move a large log boom, and it would be foolhardy for any vessel to attempt to go around a tug and boom in a narrow channel. So patience was required when, arriving at the pass on our way home, we saw the two tugs and boom ahead of us. My husband, at our helm, was frustrated by the pace. On the other hand, I was delighted to have a lengthy opportunity to photograph the operation up close. I’ve always found tugboats fascinating.

Fast forward to two and a half years later: in October 2014, Samantha J made local headlines when it sank in nearby Northumberland Channel after being run over by the barge it was towing. The two men on board managed to climb onto the barge and were rescued from there.

Samantha J was in the news once again in early March 2019, this time for being successfully raised from 220 feet of water – quite the engineering feat!

If, like me, you’re a fan of the late, great singer-songwriter, Stan Rogers, you may be inspired to think of the Mary Ellen Carter. But the raising of the Samantha J was not driven by a passion for the beautiful lines or nautical history of the vessel. It was simply that the sunken tug’s resting place was blocking one of the government-approved anchorages for the seemingly endless line of huge freighters and bulk carriers waiting to dock in the Port of Vancouver. No longer could the Samantha J rest in peace – the spot was needed by industry.

Time to Get Moving

chickadee taking a drink from a pond

“Hurry up!” says the chickadee (click to enlarge)

“Hurry up, hurry up! The ice has melted and time’s a-wasting!”

That’s what the little Chestnut-backed Chickadee seemed to say, as it ever-so briefly touched down on a low branch over the pond, directly in front of me.

The little bird was in rapid motion – it leaned over and grabbed a quick drink, then was airborne again before I could even attempt a second photograph. I’m sure it was fully focused on its spring to-do list: find good grubs; identify nest site; court mate; gather building materials; construct nest…

A good reminder to me, now that it’s finally warming up, that I need to pull myself out of the lethargy I’ve been in, and get moving on my own spring to-do list. Let’s see now: weed and prepare the first couple of garden beds; sow broad beans; start broccoli and tomato seeds; sow peas and spinach….

The Antler’s Fingerprint

Deer antler on white background

QT’s offering (click on any image to enlarge & see details)

A couple of days after our oldest resident buck, QT, showed up missing his antlers, we found his right one beside our greenhouse. (We know it’s the right, because his left antler lacked the little pointed tine part way up from the base.)

I thought it very considerate of him to drop the antler where we’d so easily find it. It’s the second time one of our bucks has done this: QT’s older brother Nibblet left one of his on our front lawn three years ago. Both occasions have given me a good chance to study and appreciate this simple yet complex headgear that is much more than just adornment.

closeup of the area of antler that attached to the buck

The photo above (taken with a macro lens attachment) shows the antler “burr”, the part that was attached to QT’s pedicle (one of the red spots you saw in my last post). It’s about 4 cm across at its widest point.

Each pedicle is unique, and remains the same throughout a buck’s life – akin to fingerprints on humans – so the rough white part of the burr shows what is essentially QT’s unique “right fingerprint”. If he leaves us next year’s shed right antler, it should have exactly the same fingerprint. If we find his left antler, the fingerprint will be different.

closeup of rough part of antler

The area between the burr and the little short tine is covered with bony ridges, as you can see above…

closeup of smooth part of antler with black background

while higher up the antler, where the top tines branch out, the surface is smooth and gently curved.

closeup of smooth antler surface with black background

To give you a sense of scale, the entire antler is about 25 cm (just under a foot) high, with the top points 15 centimeters apart. This may seem small for a five year-old buck, but we live on a relatively small island and deer size seems to have adapted accordingly. We grow ’em small!

Regardless of antler size, humans have made use of these bony appendages for weapons and tools, and when you get up close to one, it’s obvious how effective an antler could be for various purposes. In fact, I’m tempted to use the one Nibblet left us, a shaft with a single point, as a dibber when I plant garlic this spring.

Smooth and rough, strong, sharply pointed, finely honed yet sturdy, an antler is a thing of both beauty and utility – form and function in a single package.


In addition to this and my previous post, QT has featured in some of my other past posts. If you’re interested in seeing more of him: