Seeing Red

Deer with bright red raw looking areas where antlers had been

Seeing red: QT, the morning after losing his antlers (click to enlarge & see details)

“Yikes! That looks painful,” I thought, when QT, our oldest resident buck, came for his regular morning visit one day earlier this month.

We’d seen him the previous afternoon, but since then he’d shed his antlers – revealing ruby-red, raw-looking mounting points (pedicles), each the size of an old-fashioned silver dollar. (I have not added any saturation to the photo, which I took through our window.)

Columbian black-tailed bucks shed their antlers every winter, so I’m used to seeing “our boys” sans headgear for a few months each year. But I’d never seen such freshly exposed pedicles before.

Thankfully, within a couple of days the mounting points lost their redness and seemed to harden up, looking like painless brown scabs rather than open wounds. Now, three weeks later, you can hardly notice them at all.

Once spring arrives, I’ll be watching with interest as QT starts the whole antler-growing process all over again.

The Prize at the End of the Trail

Large arbutus trunks arching over a seaside trail

At the end of the trail (click on images to enlarge)

In my previous post I described the trail at Francis Point Provincial Park, and how we were encouraged to carry on by a hiker who assured us we’d reach the end soon. “You’ll know you’re there when you get to the arbutus trees,” he said casually.

It was a hot day, and we’ve seen innumerable Arbutus menziesii over the years – they are, like my husband and me, native to our region – so it was tempting to give it a miss and head back to our boat for a cool drink.

But I’m glad we carried on, because what greeted us at the end of the trail was no “ordinary” arbutus grove (if there is such a thing). This was a unique and expansive forest of brilliant orange trunks and limbs…

reaching out toward the sun…

twisting, twining…

and dancing to their own unique rhythm, on a bluff above the sea.

The Trail to Francis Point

Mossy bluff with large island in background

On the trail to Francis Point (click on photos to enlarge)

On a dry day, Francis Point Provincial Park on BC’s Sunshine Coast provides a good opportunity for boaters whose legs are itching for exercise – as ours were this past summer, when we set out to walk there from our anchorage in Gerrans Bay, about a mile away in Pender Harbour.

The day was hot, the skies were clear, and once we reached the shoreline portion of the trail, the views across to Texada Island (photo above) and north up Malaspina Strait (below) were glorious.

Arbutus tree and view up Malaspina Strait

But despite the vista on offer to me as a photographer, I found myself looking straight down more often than through my viewfinder. I was glad we’d worn decent footwear, as this was definitely not a time for sandals or flip flops.

Tree roots, soil and stone

Staying on the trail wasn’t easy. It wound in and out of the woods, creating a mosaic of eye-challenging light and shade that complicated our maneuvers over areas of loose stone. In numerous places the path seemed to diverge or vanish, and the rocky bluff we walked along was steep at times.

Seaside trail of stones along a bluff

After stumbling along for about 45 minutes we stopped to ask a younger, more energetic hiker how much further it was to Francis Point. He said it would only take us a few more minutes, and that we should persist – that what we’d find at the end of the trail would make the walk worthwhile.

He was right, it turned out – as I’ll show you in my next post.

Worth a Closer Look

Upside down mushroom in the fall forest

Overturned (click image to enlarge – twice if you want to see all the details)

Fungi are flourishing here this fall. Each day brings unexpected appearances in places I don’t remember any having been the day before. Some new arrivals stick around for a few weeks while others are more ethereal, disappearing after only a day or two.

I find myself constantly looking down as I walk our forest trails, to spot the latest pop-ups and check out the shape, size and colour variations of these mysterious life forms that are neither plant nor animal. The mushrooms are so profuse and ubiquitous that I can’t help but imagine vast, branching underground mycelia spanning the length and breadth or our property and beyond, spreading their filaments through the entire neighbourhood.

I try to tread carefully so as not to step on any mushrooms, but with all the fallen leaves and forest litter, they’re not always easy to spot. Luckily – especially for someone who carries a camera – the underside of a freshly overturned gilled mushroom can be well worth a closer look.

Entering the Wet Season

Two large mushrooms on a mossy tree trunk with fallen leaves and ferns

Wet Season Collage (click to enlarge)

After a long, welcome stretch of sunny October days, our all-too-familiar autumn rains have arrived – a signal of that dark, wet time of year here on the west coast which lasts until sometime in February. Yet even with our mostly-brown season closing in, there are fascinating things happening outdoors.

Right now, for instance, leaves are dropping and taking on odd colour patterns as they decay, fern fronds are browning up, and our ubiquitous moss is, almost audibly, slurping up all that tasty new life-affirming moisture. And everywhere I look, mushrooms are popping up – granted, not all as large or colourful as the ones in the photo above, but no less interesting.

Appreciation from a Distance

Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia

Texada Island looms large (click on image to enlarge)

Thirty mile-long Texada Island, the largest of BC’s Gulf Islands, lies in the middle of the Strait of Georgia. With a high elevation, it’s a dominant landmark for boaters crossing the Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast.

The island has a colourful history that includes whaling, mining, farming and at least a couple of significant shipwrecks. It had an opera house at the turn of the 20th century and during prohibition, produced and supplied illegal hootch to the US black market. Today it’s quieter and more focused on outdoor tourism, but no less interesting, I expect.

I say “expect”, because Texada remains a bit of a mystery to me. Though I’ve passed by it more times than I can remember and I’ve lived in southwestern BC my entire life, I’ve only been on the island a couple of times. The reason is not lack of curiosity, but the island’s mid-Strait location.

Crossing the Strait in a small boat (or “crossing the Gulf”, as old-timers call it) can be a challenge. When a strong southeast or northwest wind is blowing, it builds strength as it sweeps along the 135 mile-long waterway. The resulting steep waves come at you broadside if you’re trying to get across the Strait – giving you the choice of rolling for the three or four hours needed to reach the other side via the shortest route, or taking a longer course to avoid the worst of the roll. Neither option is much fun.

But lest I scare anyone off, it’s worth noting that there are also plenty of days when the Strait is a gentle delight to cross, as it was earlier this summer when I took the photo above. We’ve had many calm crossings over the years, a result of choosing our timing carefully (along with some luck).

Even on a calm day, though, we know that weather conditions can change rapidly – which is why, instead of stopping to explore Texada, we always push on to complete our crossing. Perhaps some day we’ll make the island our destination, but for now, caution prevails over curiosity – so I’ll continue to appreciate Texada from a distance.

The Misnamed Beauty

Yellow evening primrose flower, closeup

Early morning light: Oenothera (click to enlarge)

I think whoever gave the name “Evening primrose” to the Oenothera genus of plants made a bit of a blooper. If the ones that volunteer in our garden are any indication, they neither look like a primrose, nor bloom in the evening.

The flowers on these large, upright plants open first thing in the morning (the photo above was taken at 5:38 am). Although each individual flower lasts only a day, the plants bloom all summer, bringing so much light and colour that we welcome them, despite the space they take up among the fruit and veggies.

By afternoon, though, their beautiful yellow flowers are limp and droopy, and by evening they’re completely done in.

Kind of like me, come to think of it.

Mysterious Worlds at Hand

Floating moon jellies

Moon jelly metropolis (click and zoom to see details)

On a magical morning a few weeks ago, I watched in awe from our boat as a virtual metropolis of luminous moon jellies and other planktonic creatures drifted through our anchorage.

As the long, waving curtain of strange and wonderful life forms pulsated alongside and past me, the effect was like watching an underwater aurora – an extraordinary moving light show in slow motion.

Like all living creatures, human beings are utterly dependent upon the ocean, for the air we breathe, temperature regulation, sustenance, inspiration and so much more. The ocean covers almost three quarters of our planet’s surface, yet despite our big brains, our species has only explored about 5% of it. We have barely a nodding acquaintance with our very lifeblood.

Our beautiful, watery blue planet holds amazing worlds within it – worlds that seem to me more mysterious and awesome than anything in science fiction or outer space. It’s always baffled me why some humans would want to go the moon or Mars, when there’s so much mystery, so much still unknown right here on our very own planet Earth – as the moon jellies reminded me that magical morning.