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.

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.