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.

Hummingbird’s Choice

A hummingbird sitting on a next on a wind spinner

Mrs. Hummy awaits the next generation (click on image to enlarge & zoom to see details)

Although both Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds frequent our place, their nests have been elusive over the years. Two or three times we’ve found one on a Western redcedar bough, but otherwise, nothing. Seems these tiny birds are masters in the art of camouflage when it comes to nesting.

Until now. To our surprise, a female Rufous has built her nest on one of the metal wind spinners hanging from the eaves along the north wall of our house, allowing us a clear, almost eye-level view (keeping a respectful distance, of course).

It seems an odd location: just ten feet from our carport, the front porch and a very popular hummingbird feeder. So despite the care we’re taking not to disturb her, there’s still a fair number of comings and goings – especially when multiple male hummers are speeding about, jostling noisily for control of the feeder. It’s as if Mrs. Hummy was afraid of being bored, so chose the busiest spot she could find.

But it has some advantages. The house and eaves offer shelter for the future nestlings, protecting them from sun, rain and wind, and the spinner’s movements are gentle in this protected spot. She can keep an eye on the nectar feeder and get to it easily when those pesky males aren’t around. And I expect that fresh insects – her favorite food – are regularly caught in the copious spider webs on the spinner, so a nutritious bite is just a quick hover away.

Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Perhaps she was drawn by the big metal hummingbird at the centre of the wind spinner: a perfect talisman to protect her from harm and get the new generation off to a healthy, successful start in life.

Hummingbird on nest, built on wind spinner with metal hummingbird

A Legacy in Bloom

blue rhododendron blossoms

Bob’s Blue – leading the way in our Gabriola garden (click on photo to see details)

Nestled between two large, bright pink-flowering rhododendron shrubs, our blue rhododendron isn’t flashy, at least from a distance. Its leaves and blossoms are small, so you have to get up close to appreciate it. But what “Bob’s Blue” lacks in stature or audacity, it makes up for in reliability – it’s always the first of our three varieties to bloom each April.

“Bob’s Blue” is an award-winning rhododendron variety in North America, and popular enough nowadays that you’ll find it in many garden centres, as we did when we purchased our plant. It was developed here in British Columbia by the late Dr. Bob Rhodes, a highly respected name in the rhododendron world. But for me, there’s an even more local connection to this story.

Bob, a medical doctor by day, was – like his wife Jean – passionate about growing, propagating and hybridizing rhododendrons. Their garden in Maple Ridge eventually had 1000 of them. As they prepared for their full-time move to Gabriola Island, they took cuttings from about half of the plants (their favorites), grew these in small pots and carried a few to the island each time they visited their property. Over time, they created another amazing rhododendron garden here on Gabriola.

I was fortunate to tour that garden once with three members of my family, when Bob was still alive. He and Jean welcomed us warmly and showed us what they had lovingly created on their steep, forested property: a winding, terraced paradise of rhododendrons of every size, shape and colour – a shady, restful and inspiring place where I could have wandered happily for days.

By contrast, our own rhododendron garden is tiny at just three plants. But I love the fact that the one in the middle represents a little bit of the decades-long passion of two of my fellow islanders for these beautiful flowering shrubs.

photography show posterLast Call – Gabriola!

There’s just one week left for my solo show, Intimate Landscapes. If you’re on Gabriola Island and you haven’t already seen it I hope you’ll drop by –  Mon. through Fri., downstairs at the Church St. medical clinic (Lifelabs). 

And coming up on Sunday, May 6, don’t miss the Gabriola Photography Club’s Spring Show & Sale (noon to 4 pm, Rollo Centre on North Road). See you there!

Poster photo by Diane Green


Drawn to the Intimate

Eroded sandstone closeup

The Art of Erosion (a sandstone beach, Gabriola Island) – click to enlarge

Much as I love magnificent scenery, I don’t focus my camera lens on it very often. Instead, I tend to be drawn to the more “intimate landscapes” to be found in nature – smaller, quieter scenes contained within the larger vistas.

The allure of small tableaux may be subtler than that of grand landscapes, but subtlety is part of their attraction for me. To really see them, I need to look closely and clear my mind of the usual distractions. Taking the time and quiet space to do this is good medicine for me.

As I observe their unique features, colours, textures, shapes and patterns – along with the way so many of these little scenes change over the seasons and years – these intimate landscapes work their magic on me…slowly, quietly, simply.

Seeking out, seeing and photographing intimate landscapes is a process that strengthens my appreciation of the natural world and renews my passion for its rhythms, life cycles, beauty and diversity – and of course, its fragility.

photography show posterIntimate Landscapes is the title of my new solo show, on now on Gabriola Island. It features about two dozen mounted photographs from numerous islands and other locations along BC’s west coast.

The show runs through May 8. If you’re on Gabriola between now and then, I hope you’ll drop by to check it out.

Emerging, Slowly

Purple crocuses emerging among dead grass and weeds

Ever so brightly emerging (click on image to enlarge)

Spring has been slow to arrive this year, but I think it’s finally here. Which means it’s time for me, like the crocuses, to emerge from my lengthy slumber.

There’s much that needs to be done in our garden, a fact which seems daunting right now considering how sedentary I was over the fall and winter.

I’ll pay for that indulgence in aches and pains galore, I know – but the aesthetic and edible rewards that lie ahead should make it all worthwhile.

My new solo photography show, “Intimate Landscapes”, opens March 28 and runs to May 9, at the Gabriola Community Health Centre, 691 Church St. (downstairs, Monday – Friday). If you’re on the island I hope you’ll stop by to see it. While you’re there, head upstairs as well, for a new show by fellow Gabriola photographer, Dirk Huysman. 

A Rare December Day

Scenic view of snowy mountains, islands and ferries

Garibaldi towers over the Strait (click on photo to enlarge & see details).

On a clear winter day the view can be spectacular, looking across the Strait of Georgia to Mount Garibaldi and its neighbouring peaks in the Coast Range.

Below them are the islands of Howe Sound: Keats, Gambier, Anvil (aptly named with its sharp, conical peak) and Bowen. Mountains, snow, islands and sea – a beautiful blue/white tapestry rolling out on BC’s south coast.

I took this photo from our boat, just off Gabriola Island, on the single occasion that we managed to get out on the water this winter. It was a lovely day, but since then, our winter has been far too nasty for boating (at least by my standards).

Nevertheless, some ships must sail in virtually any weather. The prominent vessel in this photo is the Seaspan Reliant, a new freight ferry that travels back and forth between Nanaimo and the Lower Mainland multiple times each day.

More than half of Vancouver Island’s consumer goods are brought by this ferry and the Seaspan Swift, her sister ship. (Worth noting: both are hybrid vessels, powered partly by electric battery – a first for ferries in North America and a hopeful sign for future developments in marine transport.)

Beyond, in the distance, is a vessel (conventionally powered) that’s likely more familiar to blog readers: one of the iconic BC Ferries ships, carrying passengers to and from Vancouver Island, also multiple times each day.

Workhorses, all! I do hope their crews were able to savour that gentle December day –  a rare and well-deserved treat compared to most of their crossings this winter, I expect.

This image, along with many of my others, is available for purchase as a print or digital download from my stock photography from Alamy.

Snoozing in Safety

Three sea lions sleeping on a floating navigational buoy

In Dreamland, on a waterbed (click on photos to enlarge)

Even sea lions need their beauty sleep. And since they’re a favourite meal for killer whales, they need to be careful about where they haul out for a snooze.

So it wasn’t a surprise last summer to see three large sea lions catching some z’s on East Cardinal Buoy PB, off Cape Lazo – the extremely shallow depth at that spot likely keeps killer whales at a safe distance. (More on this buoy, below.) 

Despite the constant rocking and din of boat motors passing by, PB seems like a decent enough bed. It’s well situated for safety, and it even sports handy posts to keep sleepers from falling overboard.

Still, it doesn’t look exactly comfortable, especially for the lion on the left. My neck aches in sympathy!

East cardinal buoy PB with sleeping sea lions aboard

This important navigational aid is one of several that mark safe passage for mariners crossing the treacherously shallow “Comox Bar” between Denman Island and Cape Lazo, to enter or exit the Strait of Georgia.

PB is an “east cardinal buoy”, indicating that safe passage lies to the east of the marker. Cardinal buoys are yellow and black, with conical top marks configured in one of four specific ways, depending on whether safe passage lies to the north, south, east or west.

At night, mariners must determine the direction of safe passage by the speed/duration of the buoy’s flashing light, since the top marks aren’t visible.

A Lot to Bite Off

Small fish with jellyfish that has a chunk missing

A lot to bite off (click to enlarge).

At a marina near Desolation Sound last summer, a school of small fish were busily swarming a jellyfish, biting off and eating bits of it, right beside the dock. I’d never seen a fish (or any animal, for that matter) eating a jellyfish, and nor had the other people who stopped to watch.

Murphy’s Law prevailed, so by the time I’d fetched my camera from our boat, the fish had darted off, leaving one lone individual whose resolve seemed to have vanished along with his buddies. So you’ll have to take my word for it: the large chunk missing from the jellyfish in the photo above was removed by a school of fish that included this little guy.

Since then I have learned that very few creatures eat jellyfish: the Leatherback turtle (a reptile), the Northern fulmar (a bird) and the Ocean sunfish (a fish, but a large one) are among the only known “medusivores”. I’ve been unable to find any mention of small fish in the Pacific Ocean eating jellyfish.

However, several articles in 2010 discussed the exciting (at least to marine biologists) news that jellyfish had been discovered to comprise up to a third of the diet of the Bearded goby, a small fish in the South Atlantic. This suggests that Bearded gobies are successfully adapting to some of the impacts of climate change, including the increasing number of jellyfish in the world’s oceans. (Here’s an interesting article about the findings and their significance.)

There are over 2000 species of gobies worldwide, and though I can’t be certain (and am happy to be corrected by more knowledgeable readers), I think my little fish last summer were likely Black-eye goby, one of our region’s three native species.

If so, could I have been witnessing some of the first evidence, here in the Pacific Northwest, that gobies are adapting to some of the impacts of climate change?

Now that would be exciting news, even if it is a lot to digest.