September with Squirrelly

Red squirrel looking at the viewer

An afternoon visit with Squirrelly (click on photos to enlarge)

Squirrelly and I had a nice visit the other afternoon – a welcome break during a very busy season.

We’re really quite alike, the two of us. Sure, he/she’s a North American Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), and I’m a human (Homo sapiens), so at first you might not spot the resemblance – until September. That’s when you’ll find us both scurrying about, hard at work to bring in the harvest and store it away for the winter.

Squirrelly’s haul is mostly Douglas fir cones, efficiently stripped off the trees, dropped to the ground and hidden in caches in the forest. Mine includes a seemingly endless stream of zucchini, grapes, and soon (once I get the grapes out of the way), hardy kiwis, stashed in the freezer and pantry instead of the forest.

Whether squirrel or human, all this rushing about is tiring for any animal. So it’s good to take little break with a friend now and then (even if that friend is sometimes a bit preoccupied by an itch).

Red squirrel scrathing its back

I enjoyed our time together, and Squirrelly seemed to as well. But eventually, he/she let me know that it was time to go – that we both needed to get back to work. After all, September is almost over!

Red squirrel on branch, looking back over shoulder

Foraging Time

Harvesting seaweed from a kayak

Gathering fresh greens (click to enlarge)

Grocery stores are noticeably absent when we’re cruising in remote areas of the BC coast. So when we run short of fresh veggies, it’s time to go shopping by kayak or dinghy.

Handful of greens

Goose-tongue greens (Plantago maritima), which grow in little crevices in the upper intertidal area of rocky shores, are one of my favourite edibles.

They’re simple to prepare – just wash and briefly steam or stir fry – and they readily take the place of green beans in any dinner menu.

Another tasty and nutritious intertidal veggie is Sea asparagus, AKA Pacific samphire or American glasswort (Salicornia pacifica), found along more protected shorelines with tidal mudflats. It’s often submerged when we spot it, but at lower tides it’s usually exposed or at least reachable.

Goose tongue greens and Sea asparagus

Occasionally we get lucky enough to find Goose-tongue greens and Sea asparagus growing together on an accessible beach!

Last summer both were in short supply in the areas we cruised, so we focused on what was plentiful instead – seaweed.

Green string lettuce on a rocky shoreline at low tide

The steep, rocky shores at the mouth of Kingcome Inlet were richly hung with Green string lettuce (Enteromorpha). I loved how its bright green hues contrasted with the rich golden brown tones of the Rock weed (Fucus) that grew just above it.

At the right tide, the string lettuce was easy to pick without having to step out of our kayaks, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post.

Bowl of washed seaweed

We’d never eaten it before, but inspired by the seaweed salads we’d been buying from our local deli back at home – and reassured by a reference book I keep on board – we gave it a try. I washed it well and turned it into a salad, adding a bit of onion and a few other items we had on board. It was delicious!

Surprises at Kumealon

“Foam bergs” on water

An Arctic illusion (click on images to enlarge)

Some years back, during a long run up Grenville Channel on BC’s North Coast, we pulled into Kumealon Inlet to anchor overnight. It was the first time we’d been there and we weren’t sure what to expect – certainly neither of the big surprises that came the next morning.

The more welcome of the two occurred when we were leaving, and is shown in the photo above.

At first we wondered if we could be hallucinating. In the still water ahead, dozens of icebergs seemed to be blocking the channel out of the Inlet.

But as we drew closer we realized they weren’t made of ice, of course, just whipped up air and water – beautiful and delightfully harmless.

Their source was the huge lagoon at the head of Kumealon Inlet, which connects to the inlet by a narrow, rock-strewn passage and tidal falls. At low tide, water from the lagoon cascades over the falls and is forced out though the narrows. The resulting turbulence creates large, bright white natural “foam bergs” that can, at least on large tide cycles, extend almost to the Inlet’s mouth, a mile away.

The other, less pleasant surprise had come earlier when we had awakened and looked out the wheelhouse window.

Directly ahead of us, awash in all its jagged, boat-eating glory, was the reef that we’d seen on our chart the previous evening on entering Kumealon at high tide – but whose exact location we’d been unable to pinpoint. As you can see in the photo below, we’d dodged a bullet, but only just.

Jagged reef at morning low tide

Kumealon Inlet was indeed full of surprises.

Low Tide Charms

View across long sandstone beach

Low tide at Drumbeg Park (click on images to enlarge and see detail)

With summer finally approaching many of us have our eyes on distant shores. But if truth be told, no matter how lovely those shores might be, some of the ones close to home are just as beautiful.

Over the past few months we didn’t go far in terms of recreational outings – only about 2 km, actually – all the way to Drumbeg Park, one of our favorite walking spots here on Gabriola Island.

One of those trips coincided with a significantly low tide, allowing a view of the tidepools formed by erosion along the broad stretch of sandstone shore.

View across tide pools in sandstone shore

Graceful curving lines of bladderwrack, exposed by the tide, added panache to the tableau that day.

Seaweed and sandstone at low tide

It’s a lovely place to walk, to be sure, and especially at low tide. But if you happen to be there at high tide instead, no worries – a walk through the forest at Drumbeg can be every bit as charming.

Trail alongside mixed forest and Garry oak meadow