Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Flowers: Carved in Stone

I like walking through cemeteries, particularly old cemeteries. A few years ago we visited an old graveyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia and looked at the stones marking the graves of victims of the Titanic tragedy. Small family cemeteries are also interesting. Old headstones are very plain in local Mennonite graveyards, but the Lutherans, Catholics and others who settled in this area from Europe memorialized their dead with more elaborate stone statues. The statues and headstones pictured here are found in Mount Hope Cemetery, Kitchener Ontario. This large graveyard is full of interesting history and untold stories.

Some of Halloween's origins were based on superstition as people tried to understand disease, death, and the harshness and cycles of nature. We all want an answer to the question "why"? I work with patients and families who seek a diagnosis and explanation of their symptoms. Modern medicine and science have given us many answers but in times past this was not the case.

My father-in-law complied a detailed family tree and history which my sister-in-law typed up so it could be bound in a large book. It is interesting to read the causes of death from the past 200 years or more. One of the more common conditions was dropsy, a term that refers to abnormal swelling. Others died of inflammation, congestion, consumption, paralysis, and other conditions that described various symptoms. The cause and cure of these illness was often unknown. Death frightens, fascinates, compels and repulses us. Yet we desire to immortalize those who have been dear to us.

Flowers are symbolic of love and sympathy and also of eternity and immortality. The life of flowers is fleeting and remind us of the transitory life of man. There is spiritual symbolism in the very fact that flowers do not last forever but the seed contained in the flower will grow again when buried in the earth.

Canada Gen Web Cemetery Project has a goal to find and list all Canadian cemeteries. Volunteers are invited to take pictures of headstones and record the names of the deceased. The information will be indexed for reference and research. I am going to offer to take pictures of all the stones in two pioneer cemeteries in the county. My husband's family cemetery is over 200 years old and is quite small. Another small cemetery stands near the hospital overlooking the river.

But I will not be out taking graveyard pictures tonight...

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
Proverbs 10:7

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Creepy Crawly

The town of Elora, Ontario has been decorated elaborately for Halloween. Gauze covered fabric mache and wire figures have been placed on buildings and along the street. The large spider web is adjacent to the visitor's centre. I was there in the afternoon but after dark the creations are lighted which adds greatly to their ghostly effect.

I haven't taken many pictures of creeping things. I would rather look for birds, butterflies and above ground mammals and leave rock flipping, swamp exploration and dark corners to others. But knowledge does displace fear. I have learned a lot from other bloggers about various insects, spiders and reptiles and my disgust for some things has decreased with an increased understanding of their place in nature.

People can have fun with their fears and phobias at this time of year. So here are two creepy pictures I took this summer. If you notice the pine needles beside the snake you will realize how small it really was. And I will leave the size of the spider to your imagination...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn Skies

October skies are the battleground of weather fronts.
Cold wars with Warm for seasonal supremacy.
Frosty night air settles over the summer-warmed earth and water.

Dawn mists rise over river valleys and lakes.
Morning stillness gives way to afternoon winds.
Billowing clouds rise from the Great Lakes
racing west to east across the sky.

In one moment grey clouds cover the sky,
then the sun breaks through brightly.
Rain and snow showers drop quickly and leave hurriedly
as they are pushed along by gusty winds.

Beauty, power, changing seasons...

Read more Skywatch posts here on Oct 31st

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seen on a Black Walnut Tree

I mentioned in the last post that black walnut trees are among the first deciduous trees to lose their leaves in the fall. The leaf canopy has thinned greatly and it is much easier to see birds in the tree tops. The migrating songbirds have left and our winter crowd is far more visible these days. I walked below the hospital at noon one day last week and watched as a red-tailed hawk flew up from the ground into a nearby walnut tree. The thick shaggy bark makes it easy to identify the tree even without leaves.

This hawk is a regular and I have taken many pictures of it, but this day it posed most obligingly, showing me every side of its body. This is his (or her) territory and it is not easily intimidated.

On another walnut tree I was treated to the sight of three (!) different woodpeckers working the bark simultaneously. A Downy, Hairy and the seldom seen Red-bellied woodpecker were easy to see with binoculars. I have never taken a good picture of a Red-bellied woodpecker and this day was no different.

Male Hairy Woodpecker

The other two woodpeckers are less shy and eventually flew into camera range. I have no difficulty distinguishing a Hairy woodpecker from a Downy woodpecker in the field. However I sometimes get confused when looking at pictures I have taken as the size difference is not always apparent in a photograph. Both are common here and they are often seen side by side. Not every picture has a good view of the bill or tail.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Other birds seen in the walnut grove this day included a White-breasted Nuthatch, Cardinal, Blue Jay, White-throated sparrow, ever present cheerful Chickadees and Juncos. The black walnut may be a good sign for farmers, but is also a refuge and food source for many other creatures.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Black Walnut Trail

Black walnut trees grow in a row along the hospital lawn. They are the last trees to get their leaves in the spring and the first to lose them in the autumn. The grounds keepers are busy this month cleaning up the leaves and fallen walnuts which litter the grass and driveway. At the turn of the 20th century this was a farm on the edge of the Grand River. In 1911 the Berlin Sanatorium Association purchased about 15 acres of land including a large stone house from Benjamin Shantz and work began on a new TB sanatorium.

It is no surprise that many black walnut trees are on this property. I walk down the south edge of the property toward the river during my lunch break and pass a large decaying building that is no longer used by the hospital. Walnut trees grow in the flood plain to a certain point and then I find willows closer to the river's edge.

After the American Revolution and into the 19th century, many people moved north to Upper Canada. Some were Empire Loyalists and other groups like the German Mennonites also came to settle in this region. They were not British loyalists but as pacifists, felt they would be less likely to be conscripted for military service in the British colony. Some came just for new land and improved economic possibilities.

The long journey from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was undertaken by horse-drawn Conestoga wagon. The settlers travelled along the Susquehanna River, over the Allegheny Mountains, crossing into Canada at the Niagara River, traversing the large Beverly Swamp above the escarpment and journeying north along the Grand River valley to the area now known as Waterloo Region.

Historian G. Elmore Reamon chronicled this migration and settlement of Upper Canada in his book The Trail of the Black Walnut. Here is a quote from this book.

"It has been said that the Germans in selecting their land in Upper Canada followed the trail of the black walnut. Because this tree grows best in limestone soil and because this was the kind of soil the Germans preferred, the black walnut tree made the selection easy...the land that grew the tallest trees must be the best land."

Of course the land had to be cleared of trees before crops could be planted. The abundance of black walnut trees in this area also provided for the establishment of lucrative furniture businesses. The large trees are all gone but younger trees are still plentiful.

Long ago the Shantz family chose this property for their farm because the trees promised good soil. And each black walnut tree growing now is a reminder of the natural and social heritage of our community.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Red Squirrel Workout

I collected a bag of black walnuts from the hospital grounds this week. Unlike Nina, who actually works to break open these almost inpenetratable nuts, I put them out as October "trick or treats" on my back deck. Each day I would place one on the picnic table and watch for a taker. There was never any visible action, but within two minutes of my leaving the doorway, the walnut would be gone. What could whisk them away so quickly?

This morning started out dull and rainy but I put two walnuts in the table and stood back from the door with my camera pointed out the window. We have a red squirrel who lives under a neglected woodpile in the yard behind our deck. It scampered up the privacy fence and waited for an opportunity to move. This squirrel is usually not afraid to approach me when I am out, but he was far more cautious today. The next events happened quickly and my pictures are blurry because of the speed of the squirrel and the poor light.

(Click to enlarge)

The 225 gram American red squirrel approached the 150 gram walnut and moved it to the edge of the table. It strained as it held the fruit between its teeth and dropped it on the bench. This action was repeated from the bench to the deck floor. It then climbed the fence holding the fresh walnut in its mouth and took it to the nest. This was a Herculean effort for a small rodent and it was more vulnerable to predators during the exercise. We have had a Coopers Hawk as well as a Red-tailed Hawk near the yard recently.

I put the rest of the walnuts in a safer and more convenient location for the hard-working squirrel. We have much larger black and grey squirrels in the neighbourhood too but they are more interested in food that is easier to obtain. (like the bird feeders!) The little red squirrel has a LOT more work to do before it actually can eat the walnut. But he has all winter for that.

...more walnut tales coming

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Flowers: Autumn Gold

I am rich today with autumn's gold,
All that my covetous hands can hold...

Gladys Harp

Now that we have had some frost and wind and rain, autumn's reds have faded into gold and bronze hues. A hard freeze may not come for days or weeks so hardy plants still bloom and push out new shoots. I will likely have fresh sage, arugula, and oregano until December and the chrysanthemums close to the house may flower into November.

Marigolds are also frost hardy and add rich colour to the raised flower beds at the hospital. They are protected by the building and also by the height of the beds and can be seen through the windows of our office and treatment rooms.

I passed a fall display of flowers, pumpkins and a whimsical stuffed doll in a town north of the city. Her smile is buttoned permanently upwards in the sun, rain, wind and cold. And in the next town, this old car (younger than me!) was parked by another autumn display waiting to transport a wedding party to a reception. There are those who will like this car better than any fall flowers.

Wishing everyone a golden day and a bright fall weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Late October

Frost gilded mornings

Barren trees and leaf strewn earth

Birds are on the move.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just for Fun

In an old album somewhere around the house is a photo of our two year old twins and their cousin riding this merry go round at a children's amusement park. We walked by it this past weekend and I wondered what happened to the last twenty years or so. Play comes naturally to a child as they explore their world with all of their senses. There is an interesting post up at Rambling Woods about "nature deficit disorder" in children. Children are given less freedom and time to explore and connect with nature in our busy world and pay a price for it in their mental and physical health.

I like watching children in parks and on trails. The little girl in pink was trying to get the attention of the white goose on the river. (an escaped domestic goose). She was not afraid of the large Canada Geese crowding her to see if she had any food for them. Her enthusiasm was fun to watch as the white goose finally approached her.

The family above was also out enjoying the beautiful fall day together. The girl was wearing a dress with bright autumn colours and it was obvious she loved her outfit as she twirled and fussed with the satin skirt. Perhaps she was a princess for a day or a heroine in some story book. She stopped frequently to pick up acorns and look for pretty leaves.

Who says only children have fun? Here are a group of my patients today at the hospital playing baseball on the Nintendo Wii video game console. The man in the brown shirt is the batter and the lady to his right is the pitcher. Another patient was quick to share that he had been a good baseball player in his youth as he tried out the hand-held pointing device. The Wii has become hugely popular and is being integrated into some physical therapy programs as a fun way to work on balance and coordination. Young adults in our family love to get together to play Guitar Hero and Rock Band. And I believe Sandland Brother, who is only a wee bit younger than me, has a Wii with the fitness module. But that's OK...

We all need to do something... just for fun!

(Isn't English a fun language...we, wee, wii !!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fear and Faith

The Grand River meanders through our city at a lazy pace. I have taken a two hour canoe trip along a stretch of it and encountered only a few areas of slightly fast flowing water. But 40 minutes upstream by car from our home, the river plunges through the Elora Gorge. Limestone cliffs 22 metres (70 feet) high tower above the river bed. The Canadian Falls at Niagara are about 55 metres for a height comparison.

I have never liked heights. I wouldn't look at pictures of waterfalls when I was younger and high flying rides do not amuse me at all. I have wanted to walk the trails at the Elora Gorge and visited on a beautiful afternoon this weekend. Over the years a number of people have fallen over the cliffs and a fence now runs about 3 or 4 metres from the edge for safety.

These men were standing on the unsafe side of the fence. One Axe Pursuits has set up a zip line across the gorge and I stopped to watch young adventurous people jump off the cliff and dangle over the river. Some came back on the high line and others were lowered into the river and climbed back up the long stone stairway.

One young woman waiting to be harnessed up was asked if she wanted to jump feet first or face first. The harness could be put on to provide either option. She answered,

"Well, I will never do this again, so I might as well go face first."

I had my camera focused on her as she prepared to jump and waited and waited. It must take time to gather courage for the leap. Off she went, flying face first into the air... and what a smile! She almost convinced me that this was a lot of fun.

This adventure was hardly risky with safety lines and harnesses and operators controlling all aspects of the jump. But leaping off cliffs goes against every human instinct and the natural fear that safeguards us from danger is hard to overcome.

Would I trust that zip line? I don't know.

All of us face fear in our lives, real or imagined. Conquering fear requires good support, just as these harnesses and ropes are designed to provide support.

Do I have support I can trust for what life may bring? I know I do, if I have the courage and faith to accept it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Getting from here to there...

Yesterday was another beautiful fall day. We have had some rain and wind in the last few days and the leaves are falling quickly. Autumn colours are past their peak already. But the sun makes the remaining leaves and landscape look their best. The only covered bridge in Ontario crosses the Grand River at West Montrose. It is common to see a Mennonite horse and buggy coming out of the opening, but the vehicles today were a little different.

Smart cars are not uncommon here, but I always take a second look at their small profile. Gas has recently dropped to just below $1.00 a litre but a car like this is still ideal at the pumps.

Fred and Wilma Flintstone were also at West Montrose and having a great time in their stone age vehicle. It doesn't even take gas, although I did not see their feet pedalling beneath the frame. I think this may be a retiree who wants to add some distraction to his golf game. He sure got some curious looks from the people around the bridge.

The town of Elora is on the Grand River as well, a few miles upstream from West Montrose. It is a quaint community with old homes and shops which cater to tourists. My friends and I used to visit it frequently in times B.C. (Before Children) and browse in the antique and craft stores. We would sip Earl Grey tea and eat crepes in one of the little cafes. This caleche was available for one horse power rides.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's Superman. This was the view when I looked upwards from a trail I walked in Elora. Yes, he is in the treetops and the next post will explain this mode of transportation in more detail.

I don't have to go far from home to see the most interesting things!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Flowers: End of the Season

Sedum blooms in my garden

The sundial in my garden marks time as the growing season comes to a close. There have been a couple of light frosts outside the city, but no killing frost has come to my garden this autumn. This weekend may bring an overnight freeze if the forecasters are correct. I took some pictures of late flowers around town this week.

Pink Hues at Rockway Garden

The public gardens at the entrance to the city still boast many blooms. It was surprising to see grasses and flowers with pink hues in October. The rose garden at the hospital has been pruned back to the ground and will soon be covered for winter. But the roses here are still forming new buds and flowers. Fall crocuses have fallen over on their slender stalks and are beginning to die back into the ground.

Primary colours at Rockway Garden

Zinnias and tuberous begonias provide a splash of strong colour above the rock garden and water features at this park. I have never bothered with tuberous begonias but know gardeners who keep the tubers indoors in the winter year after year, treating the plants like family members.

Late Monarch on asters

I was surprised to see a few Monarch butterflies around this week after seeing none for a fortnight. The wild asters are almost done blooming but attracted this butterfly one warm afternoon. These stragglers will have to hurry to beat the north winds that will soon blow across the Great Lakes.

The weather this summer was too cool and wet for beach goers, but it has been a good season for gardens. These last late blooms are a special treat before the cold and barren winter arrives.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


October is a feast for the eyes with extravagant rich colours, bountiful harvests and big fall skies. I have taken many pictures this month and in reviewing them noticed a few which portrayed a simple, peaceful beauty. I have matched them with some quotations about simplicity.

The best things in life are nearest:
Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes,
flowers at your feet, duties at your hand,
the path of right just before you.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault

If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need.


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Leonardo da Vinci

You can't force simplicity;
but you can invite it in by finding as
much richness as possible in the few things at hand.
Simplicity doesn't mean meagerness
but rather a certain kind of richness,
the fullness that appears when
we stop stuffing the world with things.

Thomas Moore