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.

A Quiet that Resonates

Terraced cliffs reflected in the water

Click on images to enlarge and see details.

Last summer we anchored in a little bay that I’ve considered writing about for a  long time. But where to begin?  The moss-topped terraces on the cliffs that rise over one side of the bay? Their brilliant reflections in the water below?

The deep green of the firs, cedars and salal along the shoreline, dipped in saltwater at high tides?

Forested shoreline

Perhaps the sounds are what I find compelling: the soft, steady splash of the waterfall, invisible through the trees…the sweet birdsong from the forest, the piercing chirps of an osprey overhead…the rain that falls gently, nourishing it all.

Or maybe it’s the absence of sounds – or at least, of human-made ones, other than our own voices. We use those sparingly while we’re here, out of reverence for this quiet, unhurried place.

The first time I visited was more than 50 summers ago, when my family happened upon it one evening, looking for an anchorage along an unfamiliar waterway. We stayed a couple of nights, and although it was in many ways an unremarkable place, offering none of the usual attractions for a teenager, it struck a chord in my heart that has resonated for a lifetime.

Forested shoreline, reflected in the water

I’ve been here a half dozen times since then – once even in the dead of winter, in an open skiff.  I shiver, remembering that trip.

Most of the places I know along our coast have changed considerably over the last half century, and not for the better. But in this little bay, change is almost imperceptible. Admittedly, there are now a few signs of human habitation – four or five properties with small docks (though seldom anyone in residence). But the terraced cliffs are just as impressive as ever, the green of the forest and water is as deep, and the quiet is every bit as satisfying.

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.