Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Wildflowers

Some of the April wildflowers I have found this year

April showers bring May flowers, so the old rhyme goes. But this year we had little April rain and lots of flowers, many of which do not usually bloom until May.

We walked through the bush this evening and enjoyed the carpet of wildflowers which spread in all directions. This week thousands of trilliums are open and their short-lived beauty is worth seeing. By the end of May mosquitoes will keep me away from here and the trails will be narrowed by leafy shrubs and trees.

Trillium carpet in Steckle Woods

Bird sightings have been slow but wildflower sightings have been exceptional this month. I can identify all the flowers in the collage but I have at least three flower pictures I haven't yet named. (I find flower and tree guides to be somewhat time consuming to navigate through.)

Trillium Grandiflorum surrounded by Wild Ginger

It is nice to be able to take pictures of flowers instead of picking them, which is illegal in our area anyway. And I want to send all this woodland beauty to my mother who had surgery this afternoon in Mexico. She remains in hospital but I pray that she has a full recovery and regains her strength. I love you Mom!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April Birds

Male American Wigeon

Our earliest migrants return in early March and each week a few more birds make an appearance. With an exceptionally warm spring, I would have thought migration would be ahead of schedule. The past couple of weeks places like Point Pelee and Long Point in south-western Ontario have reported that migration has been slow so far this year. The winds have to be favourable for birds flying north and today we have had strong north winds which would keep birds on the south shores of the Great Lakes.

Female Canada Goose

I have been out and about on trails most days and we walked the shores of Lake Ontario at Burlington on the weekend. Cormorants are nesting in colonies, but on the whole, things were very quiet. Canada Geese are nesting and hiss menacingly at anyone who approaches the nest. We have too many geese year round in our area and they produce healthy, large families every season. Walking the sidewalks and lawns in parks and near waterways must be done very carefully in order to avoid all the slimy goose pickles in the way.

Northern Shoveler, Goldeneye and Bufflehead Ducks
(click to enlarge picture)

Migrant ducks are making their way north and a few stop to rest in our local rivers and ponds. The American Wigeon was swimming with two females at Dufferin Islands Natural Area in Niagara Falls Canada. I saw the ducks in the collage above near our home during this month.

On the home front, the female Black-capped Chickadee has confined herself to the nest as she incubates her eggs. The male visits throughout the day and stops at the entrance just long enough to pass food to her before he flies off in search of more. He calls quietly on a branch above the house before he descends with the meal. I watch them with binoculars from the deck and suppress my urge to peek inside the hole. Perhaps I will have a chance to see the baby birds when they hatch.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Two become One...almost

Today is our 35th wedding anniversary and we spent some time on the weekend in the Niagara region together to celebrate. It seems like yesterday that I was 35 years old and today I am trying to account for the 20 years which have really passed by so quickly.

In the lovely historic town of Niagara on the Lake, a large fruit tree stands on the boulevard of King Street on the way down to the lake front. It was covered in pink and white blooms and the contrast was eyecatching.

Years ago someone grafted two trees together and while they now stand as one, the graft is still visible. Once the flowers are finished, a casual observer may not even notice that this tree is unusual.

Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

King and Queen Streets intersect in the centre of town where the Prince of Wales Hotel stands. The signs share one pole but I noticed that Queen Street was the main street. In our city, King Street is the main street one monarch is not really supreme over the other all the time.

Grandma was of staunch Empire Loyalist ancestory, people loyal to Britain who came to Upper Canada from America after the Revolutionary War. Every summer she would take my cousins and I to Queenston Heights for a picnic and we would later drive up to see the falls. A battle in the War of 1812 was fought here and General Brock was killed in the fight against the Americans. This three year war was fought during the time of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and is largely forgotten as neither the Americans or the British colonies lost any territory. Canada was not even a nation at this time, but in Ontario, school children visit the old forts and battlefields and learn that we won this trade and boundary dispute.

Queenston Heights overlooking the Niagara River

This monument to Laura Secord stands near the large Brock Monument at Queenston Heights and overlooks the Niagara River as it divides Canada and United States. Laura Secord is a hero as she crossed the front to warn General Brock of the impending American attack. Since the end of this war, the Canada-USA border has been peaceful line for nearly 200 years.

Flowers of a different colour, king or queen, or a blue river as a defining line, we do not have to be the same to get along and work together as a unit. A good marriage takes effort, trust, commitment and respect for our unique traits. I am thankful for the love of a husband who has helped make our marriage work, a man who is generous and faithful and respects the differences we bring to our relationship.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Flowers: Fanciful Woodland Blooms

Forests have never frightened me even when I wander trails alone. As a child Santa did not need to be real, but fairies, elves and pixies were alive in my imagination. Each toadstool, tree knot, or shiny leaf was a home for my imaginary friends. Bell-shaped flowers played pretty melodies and the wind added a whispered tune in the leaves above.

I read Enid Blyton stories about these woodland characters who assisted humans in distress. I loved my Brownie troop and still have my badges and elf pin. After all, Brownies are helpful Fairies dedicated to a household or family. I thought dust particles in streams of sunlight were little magical creatures. (that explains my aversion to dusting)

Jack sits in the pulpit and there is room for more members of his congregation to share the canopied shelter. Dainty miniature flowers bloom at the bases of stumps and logs and their colourful petals are perfect for a gown or hat.

The woods are not lonely and many eyes watch from secret hiding places as my feet rustle through the dead leaves and pine needles on the forest floor. You may never know who is close by, motionless and quietly blending in with the textures and colours of nature.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Week 2010

This is Earth Week, a celebration which aims to increase awareness of the natural world around us. This year, the biggest event is ongoing and is staged by the earth itself. The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano has disrupted the lives of millions of people and will undoubtedly have an ongoing effect on weather and the economy this year. We have friends stranded in Switzerland and a co-worker is having to extend her vacation in Paris until at least this weekend. While we concern ourselves with mankind's carbon footprint, the power unleashed by storms, earthquakes and volcanoes can change our environment in a few minutes.

Buying local goods at our farmers' market

Since the inception of Earth Week and Earth Day in 1970, progress has been made in preserving some of earth's treasures. But in third world countries, survival usually takes precedence over conservation. North America is a throw-away consumer society and thoughtless excesses are detrimental to our health and the health of our environment. Living a simpler life takes time and requires that we step out of the pace society now accepts as normal.

Composting kitchen waste

Our community is hosting a number of events this week, from roadside garbage cleanups to nature walks and presentations. This is the most beautiful spring season I ever remember and it is not hard to stop and enjoy the flowers and sunshine after the winter. Ongoing changes to our lifestyle are much more challenging to sustain.

Here are some ways we are trying to change our habits and thinking;-
  • reducing use of plastics in general and for food preparation specifically
  • buying animal products locally and avoiding packaged meats from factory farms
  • reducing the use of animal products substantially
  • making use of our composter and green bin for all kitchen and garden waste
  • buying local foods and goods as much as possible even if they are more expensive
  • avoiding mass-made, inexpensive items i.e. "Made in China"
  • eliminating processed foods and eating more meals at home
  • contributing to reputable charities who assist people in third world countries to go to school and to run sustainable businesses
Have you any ideas to add to the list?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Squirrel Corn

In a new subdivision of identical tall houses on small lots, a pathway leads back to a bit of forest and swamp. Big forests and swamps once covered the area but they were gradually turned to farmland which was eventually sold to developers.

Black Cohosh

A pathway leads into the bush and wild flowers are poking up through the carpet of dead leaves on the ground. Bloodroot, Hepatica, Spring Beauties, Trilliums, Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Ginger, Black Cohosh and Trout Lilies are growing quickly and blooming before the trees high above come into full leaf.

Squirrel Corn

I look for Dutchmen's Britches and think I have found a patch, but no, this is something different. The flower is the same shape as the Bleeding Heart in my garden and the leaf shape is similar too. This is the first time I have seen Wild Bleeding Heart, or Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis). It is very closely related to Dutchman's Britches (Dicentra cucullaria) in the Fumewort family of flowers.

Tubers of Squirrel Corn

The tubers of this native wild flower resemble corn and the next day I remove a single stalk from the ground to positively identify the plant.

I have taken many pictures of wild flowers in the past week and have posted some on my Flickr page. They are old favourites but a new discovery is always welcome. I would love to find some wild orchids this year if anyone knows of an area on southwestern Ontario where they grow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Back on Track: Part Four

The trail I walked after work yesterday

It has been almost a year and a half since my knee locked and I had surgery to try and get some more mileage out of the joint before a knee replacement would be required. Arthritic joints do not let a day go by without reminding the owner that they are there. I have been able to work steadily for the past 12 months at my job which is active and requires heavy lifting at times. This spring I have enjoyed being out on trails and have worked in the garden again. I use my walking poles for longer walks but they look pretty sporty, not therapeutic. I have learned that if I do my knee exercises faithfully, I have less pain. I know that professionally, but exercises are not easier to do yourself just because you are a physiotherapist. I rarely take any anti-inflammatory medication.

I heard about Celedrin, a natural remedy for joint inflammation on a radio talk show. I wrote the name down but did not look for it at the store. A while ago, Costco had Celedrin capsules and cream packaged together at a special price so I picked some up. I started using the Celedrin cream on my knee twice a day and noted significant improvement in the chronic swelling and pain in the joint after a few days. I have tried a number of OTC anti-inflammatories as well as two different prescriptions and none worked as well as this cream. The Journal of Rheumatology published The effects of a cetylated fatty acid topical cream on functional mobility and quality of life of patients with osteoarthritis in 2004. The study concluded that "use of a CFA topical cream is an effective treatment for improving knee ROM, ability to ascend/descend stairs, ability to rise from sitting, walk and sit down, and unilateral balance."

I know better than to call this a cure, but anything that is safe to use and gives more mileage to my damaged joint is worth the price in my opinion. (It is no more expensive than over the counter medications). I ordered more cream from (free, fast shipping in Canada) and received a sample of Memory FX in my package. Talk about targeting a demographic group! :-)

The Becka had some fun with this product on her blog today. Here is the link to her post.

Please note: I am receiving no compensation for mentioning Celadrin, Costco or in this post. I will always promote my daughters though!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ahhh...The Country Life

I always enjoyed the story of the town mouse and the country mouse which is based on a fable by Aesop. Many people who enjoy the convenience of city life romanticize the resourcefulness and peace of country living.

There once was a mouse who liked his country house until his cousin came for a visit.

"In the city where I live," his cousin said, "we dine on cheese and fish and bread. Each night my dinner is brought to me. I eat whatever I choose. While you, country cousin, work your paws to the bone for humble crumbs in this humble home. I'm used to finery. To each his own, I see!"

(Read more here)

We took a trip to Luther Marsh which is near the headwaters of the Grand River. The river runs wide through our city but is just a trickle in a farm field a few kilometres north of the marsh. Luther Marsh is a nature sanctuary and no canoes are allowed on the water until after August 31st so the many birds which nest here are not disturbed.

Yellow accents were provided by pussy willow flowers rather than the forsythia bush in my yard. The trails were beautiful and very soggy but biting insects which will swarm the marsh in a few weeks were not around yet.

In a dead stump near the water's edge, a pair of country Chickadees worked furiously making a cavity for a nest. Their skill at creating sawdust was surprising seeing they are not woodpeckers. I never realized until this year that Chickadees are cavity nesters.

Apparently the female selects the nesting site and both birds work diligently to build a softly lined nest. In yesterday's comments, Laura mentioned the lovely moss-lined nests that Chickadees make. I peeked quickly in the "back door" of the box in our yard when the birds were out and sure enough, they have imported a lot of moss.

Our backyard Chickadees have the convenience of a ready-made home but these country birds will be working for several more days before their nest is ready for eggs. I wouldn't be prepared to say that the marsh birds will have a better life than the city birds as we saw plenty of racoon tracks and snake holes in the area. I hope this pair will be secure in their little place.

I found lots of interesting information about Black-capped Chickadees at this site.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Tenants

The forsythia bush is in full boom in the garden and green perennials shoots grow visibly each day. A mountain ash tree stands and the back of the yard and soft green-grey buds are almost ready to open.

Last year I added a small room to our property. I selected one with a reinforced door which would make it difficult for red squirrels to chew their way into the enclosure. The room was never occupied and over the winter the paint cracked and peeled.

This spring an inspection was undertaken by a pair of Black-capped Chickadees and...

I am happy to say they have moved in. We have had several Robins nest in our shrubs and Northern Cardinals built a flimsy nest in the top of the lilac bush, but I have never had a bird house tenant.

I watch their comings and goings from a distance. These Chickadees would eat out of my hand in the winter, but now they are secretive and stay away if I am too close to their room. I do hope they find it safe and comfortable and perhaps I will have a chance to see their babies before long.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Let me Grow Lovely

Thanks to all who commented on yesterday's post. Mom sent me this poem by Texas poet Karle Wilson Baker (1878-1960). It does not appear to be copyrighted so here it is.

Let me grow lovely, growing old—
So many fine things do:
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks need not be new;
And there is healing in old trees,
Old streets a glamour hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?

And what could be lovelier in the spring than these fine old willows which are coming into flower in a park this week in our city?

Friday, April 09, 2010


Think not I am what I appear.
Lord Byron

She is in her tenth decade of life, closer to 100 than to 90. Her body has aged more than her mind and she fights to overcome the illness that landed her in the hospital. She heard that two friends from the Polish Legion were on another unit and asked if I will take her over for a visit. I pushed her wheelchair and she whispered, "Do I look OK?" I saw an old lady with a lined face and shrinking body but there was nothing amiss so I told her she looked just fine.

I pushed her into the ward where two old men, also in their nineties sat in wheelchairs by the window. She patted her hair, smoothed her top, and I saw the same thing in her eyes as I see in the eyes of a teenager who is trying to impress someone of the opposite sex. I looked at these three friends as they were half a century or more ago and observed the remnants of youthful beauty. I could not understand their mother tongue but watched them reminisce, interact and even flirt with each other just like men and women who were half their age.

Another lady sits in a wheelchair crippled by arthritis and missing a limb. She has beaten back her latest physical demon and is regaining her independence. Her costume jewelery is on a stand beside her bed and she selects a piece to wear each day with her carefully chosen outfit. She worries that the hair on the back of her head may be flattened by resting in bed and I fluff up the section she cannot reach. She is only in her 80's and appearances are still very important.

I remember a lecture given by a professor/ physician when I was a student. When he noticed a woman put on lipstick after surgery, he thought she was well on her way to recovery.

One of my stroke patients appeared in the common area with lipstick smeared unevenly on the affected side of her mouth. She did not notice the uneven application due to neglect and decreased sensation on her stroke side. One of our male staff members asked me to help her fix her face without embarrassing her. I remembered the words of the professor and saw my patient's attempt to enhance her appearance as a sign that she was getting better.

We all judge by appearance and know we are judged by others according to our looks. I would say this never changes. Some will philosophize and dismiss this attititude as superficial and wrong, but we will cannot alter our social human behaviour.

Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.
Samuel Butler

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Remember Whensday: Happy Birthday Aunt Ruth

Ruth (me) and Aunt Ruth circa 1958

I had the same first initial, given name and maiden name as my father's youngest sister for over 20 years and people would sometimes be confused when I appeared instead of Aunt Ruth. She was (and is) as outgoing and vivacious as I was shy and retiring. A child prodigy, she was in piano competitions long before her feet touched the pedals. She has perfect pitch and Dad told us she first played "God Save the Queen" on the piano by ear at the age of three. She spent many valiant years teaching me the piano for which I am grateful as I enjoy playing to this day. But it is far more enjoyable to hear her music and she still performs on a regular basis. Aunt Ruth has a wonderful sense of humour and a faith which has seen her through the hills and valleys of life.

I featured pictures from her sister's wedding when I said Happy Birthday to Aunt Lois back in March. I found this slide which shows the colours of the dresses better than in the outdoor pictures. Aunt Ruth is in the green dress in this picture which was also taken in 1958. She played the organ or piano at countless weddings including Mom and Dad's when she was 13 and at mine 22 years later.

Today is her birthday and she is just as youthful as ever. You will be sure to see her hanging out with the kids at a family gathering. She loves Nascar and drives her own car like she is in a race for money. She figures our city is about 50 minutes from Toronto while the rest of us know it is a good 75 minute drive away. (She has many police stories to share and is also gifted at getting out of tickets now and then). No one at the party below drove a four-wheeler as well as Aunt Ruth!

Aunt Ruth is well loved, makes friends easily and keeps the friends she has made over the years. She is a wonderful mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. I wish her many, many more happy, healthy years ahead.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Willie was Wrong

Easter Weekend Daffodils

By the beginning of February most Canadians think winter will never end. Groundhog Day is a silly attempt to wish away snow and cold temperatures and by the time spring does arrive, most of us have forgotten what the groundhog predicted. I think spring is often a non-season in this part of the world. Some years we have snow and cold through the month of April and into early May, and then we get hit with a heat wave that lasts through the summer months.

But this year Wiarton Willie, our local rodent prognosticator was wrong!

He apparently saw his shadow and therefore predicted six more weeks of winter. Quite frankly, I believe his handlers had it wrong because the day was overcast and any shadow from the sun on February 2nd was 10% real and 90% imagination.

Guelph Lake near the end of last week

Spring came early and stayed on. We had no snow in March which is very unusual, and April arrived with summer-like temperatures. Forsythia is blooming in my garden a good three weeks ahead of usual and spring bulbs are coming up everywhere. This is somewhat alarming because we are sure to have frosts in April and May which could damage early blooming fruit trees. Our mosquito and black fly season is going to have a head start and the ground is exceptionally dry. Vernal ponds in fields and meadows are very small or non-existent so there will be fewer frog choruses heard during their mating season. My husband is concerned about an early start and end for spring lake trout fishing and lakes are rapidly becoming ice-free.

Forsythia in our garden today

Some people will preach global warming and win converts to their theory in this "El NiƱo" year. But weather norms are averages and our last two winters were exceptionally cold, snowy and long. Last summer was cool and wet and we never needed our garden hose. My niece in Spokane WA is experiencing snow and sleet this long weekend. I like to consider all sides in the climate change dialogue.

Weather is a favourite conversational topic for Canadians, and why not? I plan to enjoy each day as it comes.