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.

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