Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making Rainbows

The past week has been unseasonably warm with record breaking temperatures for the month of May. Last year we never saw 30C on the thermometer all summer but we have reached that more than once this spring. Tomorrow we start with summer time water rationing and can use the hose in the yard for six hours on one day of the week. I planted 12 new tomato plants a few days ago and went out to water them this evening. All but two of them were leafless with bare central stems sticking up from the ground. This is the first time my tomato plants have been eaten. So I watered the ferns and other plants in the wild back corner of the garden and created rainbows in the evening sun.

The rainbow ended behind the flowering Blue Flags or Fleur-de-lis, one of my favourite blooms. I knew for certain that no pot of gold was hidden in between the ferns, hostas and toads which thrive in the shady corner by the fence. The Robins weren't looking for gold but sought out the moisture and grubs in the wet soil.

The Lupins are also blooming a good couple of weeks ahead of schedule. The watering flattened a few of the flowers and bent the stems to the point of breaking. So I have a bouquet of June blooms on the counter at the end of May.

Life is never perfect. It can be too hot or cold, too wet or dry, too tedious or absolutely overwhelming at other times. One thing is eaten and destroyed, and another flourishes and grows. But there is always opportunity for joy, for making rainbows and bouquets, and enjoying the beauty that is present in small things.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


When I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon there was plenty of activity in the yard. All the young Chickadees had fledged and the parents were working harder than ever before keeping track of the youngsters. Instead to delivering food to one address, they were feeding birds in the maple tree, the Saskatoon berry bush, under the shrub in the garden and beside the fence.

One little bird sat on the fence for the longest time lacking the courage to join its siblings in a more protected location. I was able to approach it and while it ruffled its feathers, it couldn't get airborne. The parents would bring it food and it just sat there waiting for them to return.

As well as feeding the fledglings, the parents defended the area aggressively against anything that approached. Crows, squirrels, chipmunks, even a young robin who was also looking for a parent were chased away.

It is remarkable how these birds have developed in twelve days. They are very cute, unlike baby Northern Cardinals who take the prize for awkward and ugly. Their beaks are still wide and yellow and baby feather tufts are still sticking out from the sides of their heads.

The young Chickadee's eyes were often closed as if the world was just too bright and stimulating. They are so vulnurable at this stage and in reality I know it is unlikely that all of them will survive. I stayed out most of the evening watching them and making sure prowling cats in the neighbourhood did not come by. This bird finally flew off the fence and was surprisingly graceful in the end.

They have a lot to learn very quickly and I wonder when they will start visiting the feeder. I usually do not put much out for the birds in the summer but may hang the peanut feeder for part of the day. The adult Chickadees have appreciated the small black sunflower feeder in the garden in the past few weeks.

It is a big world out there!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holiday Monday

Black-capped Chickadees in the nest keeping a low profile

The first long weekend of the summer season was summery indeed. Saturday was very wet and the warm temperatures that followed have made things grow very quickly. My husband is near Algonquin Park, where black flies and mosquitoes are already swarming. I hope he catches his limit of fish to make the discomfort worthwhile. In the meantime, it was quiet in the city, a perfect day to enjoy the garden and deck.

The baby chickadees are 11 days old and look ready to fledge very soon. I will not disturb them any more for fear they will leave the nest prematurely. The parents still work nonstop feeding them and it must take a lot of grubs to make birds grow this fast in a week and a half.

June flowers are blooming early and the rhubarb patch needed to be thinned out. After a bit of gardening it was time to take a lesson from the dog on how to relax and enjoy a holiday.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trail Markers

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.
Psalm 142:3

Thank you for all the encouraging comments on the last post. Mom also appreciated the thoughtful and loving words which were shared. I spent a lot of time this week updating concerned family and friends and experienced the rollercoaster of emotions between despair and hope which all people go through when they receive bad news. Mom is still dealing with the after effects of two big surgeries in a month and decisions about future treament are yet to be made.

I walked along the river on a cloudy morning a few days ago and took a side path from the gravel trail as I looked for the source of a Yellow Warbler song. The narrow foot path wound around large willow trees at the water's edge and soon I was a good distance from the familiar open trail. The path divided and I noticed a white marker on tree trunk which led me on the correct route to where I needed to go. It wasn't important to know where the next marker was because it was sure to show up eventually when I needed direction again.

Change brings challenge and we can resist it or move along in its flow. It is human nature to seek information about our future even if the source is speculative and unreliable. It is harder to live in the moment as if each day could be our last. How different the world could be if we didn't leave the most important things in life... being patient, forgiving, loving, unselfish, expressing appreciation to others... for another day.

So we follow the path chosen for us, not sure of what is around the bend, but knowing the next marker will be there when we need direction.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself...
Matthew 6:34

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My husband was cleaning windows outside on the weekend when a newly fledged Robin fell at his feet. Its awkward attempt to fly had ended up in a crash landing from the retaining wall at the side of the driveway. The anxious parent was hopping about with a worm but it would not come near while we were there. Finally the young bird flew across the road to the neighbour's lawn and was fed its meal by the adult. The adult Robins will continue to feed their young for a while as they teach them how to find their own food.

All the Chickadees have hatched and it appears that there are at least five of them in this bundle. Last evening I peeked in and thought they were all gone as I could see nothing but the mossy edges and bottom of the nest. At first, the baby birds stretched their necks looking for food when I opened the door. Now they flatten themselves completely and are almost indistinguishable from the bottom of the nest when they hear me come.

I am amazed as I observe our birds. How does each species know to make such intricate and unique nests? Who taught them about self-sacrifice, commitment and diligence in caring for their families? After three days, the young know to keep quiet and maintain a low profile except when their parents arrive.

Our lives are so complex in comparison. But the caring instincts are there just the same. My mother has been a nurturer all her life, willing involved in the lives of her family and others. She does not know the meaning of rest and relaxation and is always planning her next activity. After last week's surgery, it appeared very hopeful that her cancer had not spread. But yesterday she received the news from the pathology reports that she has stage four cancer. She is back in hospital and decisions need to be made about future treatment. The most difficult thing for her may be to accept the care and nurture she needs from others at this time. I have purchased my tickets and plan to see her in mid-June or sooner if necessary.

We all take difficult paths in life eventually and it is hard to deny that we are spiritual beings, in need of faith and God as we look for the meaning of suffering and pain. My aunt posted a scripture for the family on Facebook yesterday which says, "Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you." Psalm 9:10

I know that God, who sees my backyard birds, who sees the sparrow fall, will care for Mom as lovingly as he cares for all. Thank you to all who have sent love, prayer and good wishes our way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Beautiful Wings

Red Admiral on Bleeding Heart

The weather last year was cool and wet and butterflies were scarce in our area. The Monarchs in our garden did not eclose until October and by then it seemed impossible that they could journey to Mexico due to autumn storms and cold weather. We went to Monterey, California at the end of October expecting to see wintering Monarchs in the pine groves near the coast, but they were few and far between there as well.

Red Admiral on Forget-me-nots

I have seen more butterflies in the past week than I saw all of last summer. Dozens of Red Admirals and Mourning Cloak butterflies have been in our yard along with several smaller species. I haven't seen any Monarchs yet but we have not pulled out the Milkweed plants which have popped up in the side garden. Mom, who is now recovering at home after last week's surgery, was telling me that she is seeing fewer butterflies in her part of Mexico, perhaps due to agricultural pesticides.

Weather variations do have an influence, but butterflies and other insects do reflect the general health of our environment along with amphibians and other small creatures. Herbicide and pesticide use on lawns is now outlawed here, and while dandelions and other weeds are taking over parks and yards, these insects may benefit from the change. Chemicals are still widely used in agriculture and on golf courses locally and around the world.

I do hope these early butterflies are indicators of a good year ahead for all beautiful wings.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Birth Announcement!

I was in the yard after work when I noticed the Chickadees were removing eggs shells from the bird house. Both parents were flying out and returning quickly with little grubs in their beaks and I could hear the chirping sound of their young.

I thought both adults were out when I opened the back door carefully. The lovely soft nest held at least 5 newly hatched Chickadees and the female. They were looking expectantly toward the round hole where their next meal would be served.

One click of the camera, the little heads popped up and their mouths opened wide.

Mother was getting a little anxious when I took this last picture so I closed the door and left quickly. I replenished the bird feeder and watched as the adults fed the babies soft food and then came to the feeder for some black sunflower seeds. What a busy pair they are!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm,
you'll never enjoy the sunshine.”
Morris West

My friend Cheryl emailed me to tell me about all the birds she had seen on this trail last evening. I went there before work early this morning, before the approaching rain started to fall. Clouds dominated the sky but the sun broke through from time to time.

Birds were very active, singing loudly and moving from tree to tree as they established their nesting territories. We have waited for the May birds to arrive and all of a sudden they are here;- Orioles, Wrens, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Kingbirds, Catbirds, Yellow Warblers and more. It didn't matter that it was raining after work because I had already enjoyed the sunshine and bird song.

Mom had surgery this afternoon, an abdominal exploration to see if the carcino-sarcoma tumour of the uterus found two weeks ago had spread to other tissues. Family members, separated by thousands of miles, waited under clouds of uncertainty for an update and prognosis. A few minutes ago the sun broke through the clouds when my brother called to say Mom was back in her hospital room and no further cancer spread had been found. Tissue samples have been sent for testing but things look good according to the surgeon.

It would be nice to go to Mexico to see her and hopefully that will be possible. But in the meantime we all wish her a sunny convalescence.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Camouflaged or Not

Very flashy Caspian Terns at Columbia Lake, Waterloo

With a personality type INFJ, I am a very expressed introvert, a moderately expressed intuitive, a slightly expressed feeling, and a moderately expressed judging personality. I haven't figured out what bird matches me best, but I assure you I am not a bright red Cardinal, a flashy Indigo Bunting or the Red-breasted Grosbeak I saw singing on a tree top today. The brightly coloured Caspian Terns in the first picture are not me either, but I am not as introverted as the next two birds which I was very fortunate to see this spring.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking along a swampy path looking for wildflowers. I bent over to take a closer look at flowering moss and a strange bird moved not 2 metres away from me. It was the first time I had seen an American Woodcock and it was the most camouflaged bird I had ever seen. My camera could not even focus on it quickly as it was indistinguishable from its surroundings. The picture on the left is not my own but is from This is one bird that would benefit from a name change considering the evolution of English language usage and meaning.

Last week I read that a Pied-billed Grebe was frequenting a local pond. I have seen this very plain, small bird a few times from a distance during migration periods. I scanned every part of the pond with binoculars for 15 minutes and could not see the bird at all. It was very windy and the water was rough. I heard its call, which is at least ten times larger than the bird itself and still could not locate it. Finally I spotted a slight irregularity in the middle of some lily pads and if you squint at the picture below, you can see that the resting grebe looked just like an wind-blown lily pad.

Pied-billed Grebe, Greenbrook Water Pumping Station

Even when it lifted its head, it looked unremarkable. Another birder mentioned that he watched as a large snapping turtle grabbed another Pied-billed Grebe in this pond. There were four of them and now there is only one. Perhaps one pair have flown off and this one is still calling for its mate. Its ability to blend into the environment is not enough to protect it from all predators.

There are a number of other secretive birds in our area which I have yet to see. They are apt to be missed when my attention is on some noisy, colourful, extroverted bird instead. And that is exactly where the plain, introverted birds want my attention to be focused.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day...I have your keys

Our eldest daughter made me a lovely breakfast this morning. When I got up I found this note scrawled on a piece of paper beside a tray of goodies. She had been up for a while and had gone out to practice driving her car before going home. On Friday I went with her to pick up a brand new Honda Civic with a manual transmission. Her dad and I worked over the weekend teaching her how to coordinate a clutch and gas pedal. She went out early this morning to practice on hills before the traffic was heavy and had quickly grabbed my keys so she could get back in the house. While there was no hidden intent in the note today, I had to laugh because the day will surely come when one or more of our children will take control of our car, our house and our lives.

Mother's Day is a highly commercialized holiday in North America. One of my co-workers was asked by her children last week what she wanted for Mother's Day and she replied, "Respect!" She has teen/tween daughters who often argue and challenge her authority. It is impossible to find respect packaged at a store or on a restaurant menu.

Yesterday I went to Toronto to visit the mother of a long time friend who is in a convalescent hospital following surgery. The patient is in her mid-80's and relies on my friend for most of her care. My friend arrived later with her great-nephew with whom she had spent the day at the Ontario Science Centre. She never had children of her own and has been very successful in her chosen career. But she is a nurturer for her mom and the children in her extended family.

It takes more than one day a year to build and maintain important family relationships, to support one another and earn love and respect. Those who give freely to others, who value family and respect the contribution of each member deserve a special day of recognition. They are the people who create ripples of love which move across present and future generations.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Great Blue Herons are among the earliest birds to return to our region in the spring and they are usually busy with their nests by the end of March. We went to a nearby heronry in early April and discovered that the trees in the woodlot which held the nests had been removed. This lot is private property and last year many thoughtless people trespassed on the land to see the birds. I would not be surprised if the birds themselves left and chose a more secluded spot to raise their young.

As it turned out this strange spring season, I found a migrating Great Egret before I found a Great Blue Heron. (I found the GBH five minutes after the egret) Great Egrets stage here in the spring and fall between their winter and summer destinations. I enjoy watching this elegant bird.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Birthday Blessings Mom!

Her children arise and call her blessed...
Proverbs 31

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
and give you peace.

Numbers 6

It is hard to be so far from Mom today. She will enjoy a birthday meal with some of the family and then a doctor will share information about further surgery which will be taking place very shortly. She has always been "a rock" and will continue to be so through this new challenge.
Happy Birthday Mom. You are loved!

The collage has pictures of all five of her children and some grandchildren, but I did not have pictures readily available of her with all 14 grandchildren, 3 great-grands and her "children-in-laws".

Monday, May 03, 2010

Fresh from the Garden

The weekend was muggy and warm with showers, grey skies, big clouds and sunshine. Spring usually comes gradually, but with the beautiful weather we had in April, it is progressing rapidly. I was shocked to see my lilacs in bloom yesterday morning. The flowers were just starting to develop last week. Lilacs are an end of May flower and here they are, fragrancing the yard on the third of May.

I was waiting to pick fiddleheads from the ostrich ferns in the back corner of the garden. Last week there were none, but today, most of the ferns were six inches high, far too advanced to pick and eat. But there were a few fern heads in the shade of the fence, just enough for a serving or two.

I usually buy fiddleheads at the grocery store once a year and an exorbitant price of $5 a pound. This year I was a gatherer of the tender green shoots. While I was in the garden, I picked my first bouquet of the year. Forget-me-nots provide a ground cover in the flower beds right now and come up every year even when I pull them all out later in the month. One of my elderly patients calls them "Forgotten-not" in the English translation from her native language. I like that.

My "Forgotten-nots", Pulmonaria, Violets, and big yellow blooms with no name (the roots given to me by another patient) make another free gift from the garden.

I ate my plate of fiddleheads (and the violet) outdoors on the deck. The Becka enjoyed them too and they were much tastier and tender than the ones we buy at the store. With the warm weather in the forecast, they will be the only ones we eat from the garden this year. There is early lettuce and chives plus lots of rhubarb for dessert, but we are far from self sufficient. My husband is bringing home his limit of Lake Trout from Manitoulin Island tomorrow so hunters and gatherers we are for a day or two.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Song Sparrow doing what he does best

Today I am 2,883 weeks old according to this age calculator. I was born on a Sunday, attended church the next Sunday and most Sundays thereafter. Today I am heading to church shortly and will be teaching another Sunday School class. I have seen a lot of changes in the Christian church in my thousands of weeks, but change is nothing new and will continue to occur.

There has been considerable debate about what constitutes worship. Changing music styles have polarized generations and some elders want nothing to do with new songs. Some churches have liturgical services and others say that liturgy is meaningless. Denominations and churches split over countless things and congregations can quickly become like social clubs where members have similar "worship" tastes, political views, social values and status. Outsiders are easily identified and may not feel welcome if they do not adhere to the group's norms. People like "the old days" and yearn for something in their memory, not for something new in their future.

I walked along the river yesterday and listened to all the different sounds coming from the birds and creatures who live there. Each sound was unique, from the enthusiastic Song Sparrow to the cheeping of the Tree Swallows as they hunted for insects in the air. No one demands that a Robin would sing the same song as a Cardinal nor that a frog would keep time with a Goldfinch.

Psalm 98:4 says, "Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." And that is what I heard as I walked along outdoors.

I have been thinking much about what worship means to me. It is not the performance so many churches put on at the beginning of their services. In fact, I do not think our worship is confined to the walls of a building at all. I read the first chapter of Isaiah this week and while the prophet was speaking of Israel in the passage, the same principles are true today of the Christian church. I am not skilled in theology, but these words have given me much to think about in the way I worship God.

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Isaiah 1:13-18

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The First of May

White-throated Sparrow

I awakened this morning to the sweet sound of a White-throated Sparrow song outside my window. It is raining and birds are grounded around the lilac bush beside the deck. They sing back and forth and then scritch scratch in the garden mulch looking for food. White-throated Sparrows usually return a couple of weeks before White-crowned Sparrows, but they arrived together to our neighbourhood yesterday. A Chipping Sparrow trills from the pine tree and drops into the yard from time to time for some millet. Blue Jays have called loudly for peanuts a few times but their presence upsets the Chickadees who aggressively chase them away from the vicinity of their nest. It is a David and Goliath contest but the jays do leave.

...time for another cup of tea and some more lazy Saturday morning lounging.

White-crowned Sparrow

p.s. Thanks for the good wishes for my mother's recovery. She is out of hospital, resting at home and waiting for a pathology report. I wish we were not separated by so many miles.