The Pond Creatures

Animal-like shapes in the ice on a pondSome strange and wondrous beings visited our backyard pond in recent days, taking advantage of the unusually cold weather we’d been experiencing.

They disappeared last night, and I doubt I’ll see them again this year.  After a month of sunshine and extreme (for us) low temperatures, we’re finally getting back to our “normal” west coast winter: grey skies, rain and – mercifully – warmer temperatures.

The daily dose of sunshine was nice while it lasted, and I enjoyed meeting the lovely, dancing pond creatures. But I’m a true west coaster, so I’m happy enough to have the familiar sound of rain on the roof once more.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Secretly Awake and Watching

Closeup of kiwi vine trunks with eye-like knot and peeling bark

Here on the West Coast, the predominant winter colours are green and brown – hues that I find restful and in a way, reassuring. With no foliage or flowers on the deciduous trees and vines, their architecture comes to the fore. Life seems simplified: whittled down to the basics, quiet and less complicated than during the growing season.

In our kiwi patch, there’s no sign left of those luscious yellows of fall – only bare limbs, peeling bark and the deep slumber of winter. Still, I can’t help feeling the vines are secretly awake, watching intently from their corner of the garden for any possible hint of spring.

Light and Shadow Play

Light and shadow over the mountains of Princess Louisa Inlet

Royal Morning (0800 hrs) – click on photos to enlarge

Over the three days we spent in Princess Louisa Inlet last summer, we watched a fascinating play of light and shadow.

This steep-sided, narrow inlet is tucked far into BC’s Coast Mountain Range, so morning light is slow to arrive. When the sun finally makes it over the eastern peaks, it lights the tops of the mountains along the western shore first.

Mountain with sunlight at top, shade over the forest below

Morning Monarchs (0800 hrs)

As the daylight slowly grows, it arcs down to the lower elevation treetops, filling in the rest of the western shore and eventually both sides of the inlet. By mid-afternoon, the process starts to reverse as the sun vanishes behind the giant peaks to the west.

Light and shadow over high elevation mountains, with waterfalls and forest below.

Afternoon Majesty (1600 hours)

To give you a sense of scale, one of the waterfalls in the photo above is James Bruce Falls: at 840 m (2760 ft), the highest measured waterfall in North America and 9th highest in the world, according to Wikipedia. The steepness of this landscape is breathtaking – but down at sea level, it means fewer hours of direct sunlight than you might otherwise expect.

Depending where you moor, you can enjoy morning light or afternoon light. We anchored just west of iconic Chatterbox Falls – the much photographed spot at the head of the Inlet which has been drawing boaters to this regal destination for close to a century.

Sheets of mist from a waterfall in the forest, blasting out over the beach

Chatterbox Reigns (0930 hours)

We’d had heavy rains in the spring, so by the time we got there in late June, Chatterbox was roaring – blasting huge sheets of mist out over the estuary at the head of the Inlet. When the morning sun finally made it over the mountain peaks to the east, the mist was backlit, providing a shimmering light show: perfect for viewing from our cockpit with a late morning coffee in hand.

The Surprise Visitors

On top of the raspberry trellis (click to enlarge)

Owlet on the raspberry trellis (click to enlarge)

When you live on the Gulf Islands, you get used to having summer visitors, usually family members or old friends. But every once in awhile, unexpected characters drop by.

Such was the case one evening last summer when we heard an unusual sound outside: a series of drawn-out whistling hisses, slightly ascending in pitch. It was late, but there was just enough light to make out a pair of Barred owls: one on each end of our raspberry trellis, just 15 feet from the back door.

Trying not to spook them, we slipped out the door as quietly as we could. Rather than mess around with a tripod (which I figured they wouldn’t tolerate), I cranked up my camera’s ISO in the hope of getting at least one steady image before they flew off.

Imagine our surprise when a third, significantly larger owl landed atop a nearby ladder, appeared to hold a brief conversation with the pair on the trellis, then took off again. We figured this was likely their mom, instructing the owlets to stay put while she fit in a bit of hunting. (Perhaps we looked like reasonably safe baby-sitters.)

They remained on the trellis, checking us out, swaying back and forth, bobbing their heads and whistle-hissing all the while. Soon it grew too dark for human eyes, so we went back inside, hearing their sibilant calls through our open window for a while longer. I imagine that around the time we went to bed, their mom returned, bringing a tasty breakfast of mouse or songbird for the youngsters, whose day was just beginning as ours was ending.

Running the Gauntlet

Approaching Malibu Rapids with mountains in distance

Entering Malibu: hoping our timing is right (click on photos to enlarge)

The crown jewel of our Marine Parks, Princess Louisa Inlet, is tucked far into BC’s Coast Mountain Range. To get there you have to run a gauntlet of challenges.

First, there’s the lengthy cruise (about five hours in our case) up the long reaches of Jervis Inlet, which I described in an earlier post. Snaking your way up this deep fjord system, you’re surrounded by massive peaks and glaciers. It was stunningly beautiful the day we did it, but I imagine it could be a tedious journey on a wet, windy or cloudy day.

Next, there’s the issue of timing: to get into Princess Louisa you have to transit Malibu Rapids, where the current can run 9 knots with dangerous overfalls. The only safe time is “slack tide”, the short window when the current stops flowing in one direction and starts moving the other way. Daylight slack tides occur at most twice a day (sometimes only once), and if you miss slack, you’ve got a problem – especially since there’s no safe anchorage sites in the deep fjord outside the Inlet.

Malibu’s currents aren’t listed in the Canadian Tide and Current Tables. So the best you can do is follow Canadian Hydrographic Service advice: refer to the tide table for Point Atkinson (about 100 km south), then add 35 minutes to the time of its low tide or 25 to its high, to estimate slack tide at Malibu.

At least one online site uses another (undefined) method, and comes up with very different times than the Point Atkinson calculations. This provokes ongoing debate among boaters at the dock in Egmont, who are trying to determine what time they need to set out on the 32 mile journey, to transit Malibu at slack and get anchored or docked in Princess Louisa before dark. We stuck with the CHS advice, and were glad we did, because…

Third, there’s Malibu itself: even at slack tide with little current, the passage can be stressful. For one thing, there’s a dogleg turn that makes it impossible to see what traffic might be coming in your direction. (It’s wise, before entering, to broadcast a message on the VHF radio to let any approaching boaters know you’re coming their way.)

Looking back at the dogleg pass through Malibu.

Looking back at the dogleg pass through Malibu. Whew – we made it!

And finally, if you’re self-conscious there’s an additional challenge: passing close by the large youth camp on shore, you just know that hundreds of eyes are watching the show and finding cause for hilarity!

A gauntlet, for sure, but one well worth running. Once through Malibu, we took a deep breath and turned our attention to the beauty that lay around and above us – which turned out to be spectacular. More about that in a future post.

Princess Louisa's Welcome

Beckoning us into Princess Louisa…

Watching My Step

Mushrooms unturned

Upended – but not by me! (click on images to enlarge & see the details)

Every time I go for a walk these days, I need to tread carefully – because everywhere I look, there are mushrooms underfoot.

It’s been a wet fall (even by west coast standards), so our mushroom population is booming. On our property, I’m finding all kinds of specimens: large and small, smooth and wrinkled, colourful and dull, odd and ordinary, solitary and tribal. Many, like the ones in these photos, sport a dusting of fir needles, for it’s been windy as well as wet here in the Gulf Islands.

I have no competence in mushroom ID, so I don’t dare harvest any. I just look, admire, and from time to time – the weather and my aging knees permitting – I photograph them. (My garden kneeling pad and flexible-legged tiny tripod are helpful at those times, as is the judicious use of a bit of fill-flash.)

The group below sprang up last week, at the forest’s edge beside our pond – about the same spot where I saw them last year. That time, they stuck around for about two weeks, and I expect their visit will be equally brief this year.

trio of large, wet mushroomsI know, of course, they never really went anywhere when they disappeared last year – they were simply underground, where fungi like this spend most of the year. It’s only in the fall that they become visible to us, emerging to send up the fruiting bodies that we call “mushrooms”.  That stage doesn’t last long – but while it does, it’s a photographer’s delight.

If you’re on Gabriola Island this Sunday, Nov. 20: don’t miss Gabriola Photography Club’s fall show  at the Rollo Centre, noon to 4 pm. See you there!

Pulling Away from the Pump

Our total at the pumpLate last week we filled up our car’s gas tank.

“So what?” you might ask.

Well, here’s the thing: it was the first gas we’d bought in a whole year – and after driving 6269 km (3895 miles).

Inspired partly by my father-in-law’s electric trike, we purchased our plug-in hybrid (a Chevy Volt) in the first week of November 2015.  Before we took it home the dealer filled the gas tank, but until a few weeks ago we’d barely touched it – running solely on electricity about 98% of the time.

(In case you’re wondering about the gas getting stale: our car switches automatically to an engine-powered mode when its gas is close to a year old, in order to use it up. Once you replace it with fresh gas, you’re back on electric.)

Closeup of electric vehicle plug-inWe charge the car at home, plugging into an ordinary outdoor plug which feeds off our province’s hydro-powered electric grid.

Depending on the season, a full charge gives us a range of about 90 to 100 km (55-62 miles), with another 600+ km (372 mi) available if we choose to run on gas. But we seldom do.

If we were commuting we’d likely install a 240-volt charging station, but so far we’ve had no need. The 110-volt plug provides ample power for our driving needs, and according to our electricity bills, the car has added less than 50 cents per day to our energy costs over the past year.

Our fill-up last week took 31 litres (8.34 US gal) at a total cost of $36.90 for the year. In terms of gas mileage, that works out to 467 mpg – not bad at all, especially considering most of our driving was on short trips.

We’re not fully unplugged from the fossil fuel economy, I admit. But I’m happy knowing that we’re a lot further from it than we were a year ago.

This post was not solicited by GM or any of its dealers.

When Life Hands You Kiwis

closeup of Hardy kiwis

Fall Bounty (click on this or other photos to enlarge)

Fifteen years ago, one of the selling features of our new home was its extensive food garden. From artichokes all the way to zucchini, there was an abundance of veggies and a diversity of berries, vine and tree fruits. Pure bliss for two mostly-vegetarian foodies with itchy green thumbs!

But sometimes you should be careful what you wish for – our Hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta) being a case in point.

Ripe hardy kiwis on the vine

When our first harvest arrived, we were overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of fruit from our little vineyard.

From just five kiwi plants, the haul included copious amounts of the standard variety (shown above and left) as well as the smaller, green Issai hybrid (below).

Kiwi Harvest Time


Both types were delicious, but we’d been warned not to eat many at once, as these little taste bombs can be ultra hard on the system.

So what could we do with an extra 50 pounds of kiwifruit?

Kiwi wine turned out to be a big part of the answer – and we’ve been making it ever since.

Juiscing kiwisUnlike commercial kiwis, these little fruit need no peeling. So after picking, sorting, de-stemming and washing them, we run them through our trusty old Champion juicer.

The result is a silky smooth concentrate that’s free of skins and seeds, perfect for making wine. It’s also delicious in yogurt for breakfast, so we always freeze some extra for eating as well as larger tubs for later batches of wine.

The “by-product” from the juicer is a thick, seedy pulp that works well in muffins or loaves. (Use judiciously though: it’s high fibre).

Siphoning wine from primary fermenter to carboyTo make the wine, we mix the kiwi concentrate with sugar, yeast, water and other ingredients in a plastic tub. Then we move it to a heated closet for its first stage, “primary fermentation”.

After a week or 10 days, we lower the temperature and “rack” (siphon) the wine to a glass carboy for its next stage, “secondary fermentation”.

Over the next couple of months we rack three or four more times, moving the wine from one carboy to another, and adding a fining agent at the appropriate time.

Yellow opaque liquid in carboy


Each time we rack, some of the dregs are left behind.

The wine gets progressively clearer, slowly turning from a dense, yellow concoction…




Clear wine in carboy


…to a transparent, sparkling amber.

It’s still not ready, though.

It needs to sit in the wine room (AKA our understairs broom closet) for another month, aging, before it’s ready for the next step.


Rows of bottled wine
On Bottling Day we see the fruits of our labour culminate in 30+ bottles of lovely wine.

We still need patience, though. It will be another five months before the wine is ready to drink.

But the wait is well worth it: kiwi wine is delicious. And the fact that it came out of our own organic backyard makes it all the sweeter.