Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Flowers: Daffodils

Potted miniature daffodils from the grocery store!


I wandered lonely as a cloud:
That floats on high over vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay
in such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

I memorized this classic poem somewhere between 5th and 7th grade, "back in the day" when all students had to recite two hundred lines of poetry each year. I still enjoy the cadence and descriptive words used by the poet and may find myself reciting it in old age when my long term memory is all I have left. The poem has been parodied many times. Agatha Christie's character, Hercule Poirot mocks it in the story Dumb Witness. He accuses the poet of being very depressed and wonders why he didn't write about women or good food. This limerick made me laugh.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

There once was a poet named Will
Who tramped his way over a hill
And was speechless for hours
Over some stupid flowers
This was years before TV, but still.

Tomorrow is St. David's Day, a Welsh celebration that features daffodils prominently. I wrote about it last year in one of my first Friday Flowers posts. (link)

Happy Leap Day and a Jonquil Weekend to all!

Some other bloggers have been seeing daffodils too. Check Rondi's post and Laura's post

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ice Jam on the River

The river runs free below the bridge

On our way to look for the Snowy Owls last weekend, we drove through the hamlet of West Montrose on the Grand River. Ontario's only covered bridge spans the river here and the area draws many tourists, especially as it is in the heart of Old Order Mennonite territory. There is an ice jam above the bridge that has caused some anxiety for home owners on the flood plain as the river has overflowed its banks almost to the road.

I have mentioned before that last year the river froze over quickly once winter came and it stayed that way until the ice broke up in March. This year we have had weekly variations in temperature, from very cold to above freezing every few days. The rivers are flowing higher and faster than usual. Our local newspaper described it this way.

Ice jam above the bridge

" ...conditions are ripe for the development of more ice that could add to a jam already blocking about 80 per cent of the river channel. Cold, flowing water and winds can combine to form what's called frazzle ice, which has a sticky consistency like porridge. The water is cold enough to freeze, but it's moving too quickly to form a sheet of ice."

There are some dams upstream that are being adjusted to decrease the flow of the water to this area. Tonight the temperatures are dropping below -20C, a snowstorm is forecast for Friday, and we may have rain later on the weekend. This brings another dangerous cycle of weather for those watching the ice.

On another note...this freeze/thaw winter has also caused an enormous "pot hole" problem on our roads. A driver has to watch the traffic and the roadway as the big, rim-crunching holes create an obstacle course. Ice is a powerful force in nature, and these small examples show how the large glaciers of the ice age had the ability to sculpt our landscape many years ago.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Marking Time

She doesn't say tick, she doesn't say tack,
she has no bell, she has no beat.
If the sun is shining she works,
and if it's cloudy she stops.

I love sundials. My sundial has been out in the garden this winter but access to it is difficult with the deep snow in the yard. Besides, most days have been cloudy and timeless. If time only passed on sunny days, we would be still be very young.

The sun is now high enough to shine on its face and take its hourly journey around the circle. At least that was the case when we enjoyed three consecutive days of sunshine over the weekend. Today, the clouds have returned and snow is falling once again...

...but the roses will soon climb up the trellis and open in the sunlight. My sundial repeats the first line of this poem.

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here.
Warm southern wind, blow softly here...

And so it shall be.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Snowy Owl and more!

Members of our local birding forum have reported seeing several Snowy Owls in the next county, about a 45 minute drive from our home. Today was beautiful and sunny so my husband suggested we drive over to see if we could find one. I have never seen an owl in the wild. As Snowy Owls are somewhat diurnal, this would be our best chance to see one. The location was very specific and the map led us to a bull ring in the middle of nowhere.

We drove very slowly looking at every fence post (there were lots of them!) and on our second pass, my husband spotted this owl sitting quite a distance from the road. The sky here was overcast and lake effect snow was falling, but I had a very good view with the binoculars and was able to take a few recognizable pictures. While we were there, another member of the birding forum pulled up with a tripod and big lenses, and he took these pictures of the same bird.

We drove around a couple of nearby concessions and noticed a lot of bird activity in a cornfield. The ground was covered in Snow Buntings, hundreds and hundreds of them. They were moving about quickly and noisily. I took a random shot into the cornfield and can see at least half a dozen birds camouflaged in the stalks. Ahead on the road, a large number of Snow Buntings were rummaging through the gravel.

The expert photographers who belong to the birding forum have some excellent pictures of the Snowy Owls. (Check here, and here and here). I enjoy their pictures even more knowing that I have seen the bird myself. Southwestern Ontario is hardly a birding destination in February, but I was able to add two more birds to my life list today. And that may keep me content until the snow starts to melt.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Flowers: Flowers in Winter

Flowers in Winter

How strange to greet, this frosty morn,
In graceful counterfeit of flower,
These children of the meadows, born

Of sunshine and of showers!

How well the conscious wood retains
The pictures of its flower-sown home,
The lights and shades, the purple stains,
And golden hues of bloom!

It was a happy thought to bring
To the dark season's frost and rime
This painted memory of spring,
This dream of summertime.

And she, when spring comes round again,
By greening slope and singing flood
Shall wander, seeking, not in vain
Her darlings of the wood.

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse

While I am thawing out, here are some images from the total lunar eclipse that is still visible in the sky as I write. The temperature is very cold (-15C) but that has given us clear skies so I am not complaining.

I am glad to have these grainy pictures, but the eclipse was extraordinarily beautiful to watch without a scope. The red moon, the planet Saturn, and the star Regulus from the constellation of Leo were spectacular.

This was the most difficult phase to capture on camera as the contrast between the bright moon light and the partially eclipsed orb made focusing a challenge. Becka got the best picture of the night. It is posted here in Flickr and needs to viewed in large to see the detail. I hope to see some other pictures taken of this event and to learn how to get better images of a darkening moon. The next total lunar eclipse is in 2010!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Birthday DH!

Today is my husband's birthday. He is not a computer person, other than the essential use of it at his workplace. He checks his email at work only and has never really understood the blogging world or the use of a computer for pleasure! I do hope he checks this post though.

We share a love of the outdoors, his pleasure being fishing, but he also enjoys going for walks with me. I don't really fish, but enjoy being out in a boat. He has a very good eye for wildlife and birds.

There is no kinder man anywhere. If you lived on our street and needed help with your snow or grass, he would be the first to offer assistance. The older people at our church all love him as he seeks them out to speak to them and ask how they are doing. He picks up dozens of eggs near his workplace and delivers them to friends every other week at farm prices. He does the same with fresh chickens and turkeys when he hears they are available from local farmers.

His biggest passion is hockey and he plays goal three times a week in the Old Timers league and is an avid fan of our local Junior A team. He works hard outdoors at our home and I never have to clear snow or cut the grass. He will spend an evening pulling weeds by hand from the lawn. My mother once commented that the front yard looked like him, and the backyard looked like three children and a dog. Yes, the fence does hide a contrasting view. (The girls no longer have a sandbox or swing set in the back but the dog still is hard on the lawn)

We were young when we were married and have developed into different people than we were in our 20's. Men of my husband's generation have had to adjust to wives who lead very different lives than their mothers did. He has supported my career but when the children were young, I was able to stay at home with them except for casual part time work.

So Happy Birthday with lots of love! Here's hoping we have many happy and healthy years ahead.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Glurge and other Internet Hoaxes

A few years ago I showed a group of 10 to 12 year olds in my Sunday School class a number of pictures I had received by email. I asked them to decide which pictures depicted truth and which were false or misleading. The pictures above were part of the group. The children were generally unsuccessful at picking out the fraudulent images. Virtually everything we hear comes with some sort of bias, whether it is a friend recounting an event or an anchor reporting the network news. Sometimes we choose to believe stories that are outrageously sentimental because they have an emotional effect on us. We want to believe something that is heart warming. Television shows such as Touched by an Angel were successful because people do enjoy this genre. (yes, I watched the show too and cried through the episode where the little boy died of cystic fibrosis and Wynonna Judd sang Testify to Love)

Glurge is a new word coined to describe those inspirational stories that come to your email inbox offering a strong moral lesson, distorted or untrue facts along with the threat of misfortune if you do not forward them to all your friends. Facebook has also become a vehicle for these sappy offerings. Here are some definitions of glurge…

Glurge is another name for extremely sickly-sweet, religious/inspirational or otherwise emotional blindsiding via chain mail. Glurge is intended to switch off the brain and turn on the tear ducts.

Glurge is the body of inspirational tales which conceal much darker meanings than the uplifting moral lessons they purport to offer, and which undermine their messages by fabricating and distorting historical fact in the guise of offering "true stories."

The word was coined by Patricia Chapin, a member of the Urban Legends team at Snopes. At a loss for words to describe the retching sensation this then unnamed category of stories subjected her to, she fashioned a word that simultaneously named the genre and described its effect.

I have been deceived myself by some of these stories which may have some truth in them. I received an email about the origins of the hymn “Precious Lord Take My Hand” by Tommy Dorsey. It told of a tragedy in the life of the famous trombonist and dance band leader that led him to write this beautiful song. But the truth is that it was written by Thomas A. Dorsey, a Negro musician who wrote gospel music, not Tommy Dorsey the famous white musician.

It is unfortunate that stories like these are told by preachers and inspirational speakers, leaving us at risk for emotional duping. Becka and I were doubled over in laughter last night reading examples of glurge on the internet. Some people have taken to writing their own glurge as a creative exercise. Some glurge is true, but the truth is frequently embellished and slanted.

In my opinion, the best website for checking the truth of any story or picture is Snopes urban legends reference pages. I check any email forwards I receive, (if I haven’t trashed them immediately) here. If you have some time to put in, Snopes has lots of entertaining reading. It features a number of categories including a Glurge Gallery and a section called Fauxtography!

History has proved that it is very easy to deceive large groups of people. The internet has the capability of spreading information, true or false at rapid speed.

By the way, which picture of the four above is true? They are all found on Snopes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ginger asked...

...but what, exactly, is the purpose of Family Day? To encourage families to spend time together? Or to encourage folk to get married (or not) and have families? I saw it on our calendar at home, and it's quite mysterious to me.

Good questions! I don't think it is national procreation day though...

Graeme MacKay illustrated it this way for the Hamilton Spectator. (family "togetherness" is often like this) The link describes more of the history and controversy around this holiday.

In the words of our Premier Dalton McGuinty,

"This is a small thing, but it's an important and, I think, a powerful recognition of our priorities. There is nothing more valuable to families than time together."

February Long Weekend

Today we "celebrate" a new Ontario statutory holiday called Family Day, a "gift" from our current provincial premier, Dalton McGuinty. There has been plenty of controversy about the new public holiday. Some workplaces have removed the Civic Holiday Monday at the beginning of August (which is not mandatory) to make way for today's work holiday. Most people would rather have a day off in the summer rather than on a bleak, stormy late winter weekend. Unless you are a skier, there is not a lot to do as even the malls are closed. We had freezing rain and rain yesterday and walking remains treacherous. So for many of us this is a day for household chores and other mundane tasks.

Saturday was sunny and beautiful and my husband and I walked about 5 km along the river. I wanted him to see the eagles, but none were about. We did see the usual winter ducks and birds like chickadees, tree sparrows, juncos and cardinals. The Grand River is open in the region unlike last year when this area was completely frozen. Even the shallow section near the hospital is running fast. Winter did not arrive until mid-January in 2007, but it was cold when it came. This winter has been marked by many storms, but each week we get a day or two with temperatures above freezing. These fluctuations have kept water levels high and the river free of ice midstream. The muskrats and opussums we watched frequently last year are not around in their usual places either. I wonder if the big thaw disrupted their winter homes as the river flooded in January. But there are signs of creatures around the river.

What rested here? Click to enlarge

This set of prints really intrigued us. Something came out of the river, rested on its side, got up again and proceeded into the bush. I don't think it was a dog, as we would have seen tracks too and from the river. The snow is deep, so it is difficult to see the footprints of heavier animals.

This lightweight creature left little tracks going down to the river. Overall, things were pretty quiet though. One of the members of our local birding forum wrote yesterday, "I think the only reason that it's so quiet in there is because it's winter, and the native food supply is running low. Any bird that is able has probably moved to hang out at somebody's feeder!"

How true! When we pulled into our driveway in the late afternoon this immature Coopers (or Sharp-shinned) Hawk was sitting in our backyard with a view of our feeders. I have seen this bird swooping by a few times, but have never seen it up close. Unlike the hawk in Jayne's yard, this one had not made a kill. Needless to say, there were no little birds or squirrels at the feeders.
I am cooking some venison right now, a gift from a friend who had a successful fall hunting trip. If it turns out well, I will post the recipe on my recipe blog. It does smell good! My dinner will be far more accessible than dinner will be for this hungry raptor!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Well-trodden Path

I have the privilege of working with people of various ages, from co-workers the age of my children to patients who are nearly centenarians. Young parents sometimes bring their babies and preschoolers in for a visit and their energy and curiosity is enjoyed by all.

Too often our society segregates people by age and as the family unit shrinks or is fragmented, some young people may not have contact with the elderly at all. My grandmother was one of the most influential people in my growing up years and I spent a lot of time with her. She took me to visit her "ancient" friends and "made me" help her volunteer at a local nursing home serving ice cream at the tuck shop. How lucky I was! I learned to enjoy being with people outside my peer group. One summer when I was 17, she took me on a bus trip to the Gaspé Peninsula in the Province of Quebec. I was younger than the average person on the tour by at least two generations, but we had a great time.

I know now that age is only a number, that some people are ageless as they never lose their desire to learn and listen and love. They choose to walk away from the cynicism and criticism that some older people have of the world in general and younger generations in particular.

I have had the recent pleasure of meeting a lady in her nineties who started university in her mid-fifties after her children were grown. She graduated with her degree and continued with creative writing classes at the local college. She has written many stories, both personal and devotional, that are so interesting to read. Her family published two books from of her collection of notes in honour of her ninetieth birthday. She has a middle-aged handicapped child who will always need special care and her prayer below speaks of this situation. She is far ahead of me on the path of life and the wisdom from her vantage point is well worth sharing with those who follow her footsteps.

The Prayer

I asked God to take away my pride...
and God said no...
God said it wasn't up to him to take but for me to give up...

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole...
and God said no...
God said her spirit is whole...her body is only temporary...

I asked God to grant me patience...
and God said no...
God said patience is a by-product of tribulation. It isn't granted. It is earned...

I asked God to give me happiness...
and God said no...
God said he gives blessings. Happiness is up to me...

I asked God to make my spirit grow...
and God said no...
God said I must grow on my own.
But I will be in heaven someday because I believe...

I asked God to spare me any pain...
and God said no...
God said suffering draws you apart from worldly care and brings you closer to him...

I asked God to help me love others as much as God loves me...
and God said,
"Ah, at last. You finally have the idea...!!!"

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Flowers: At the Tea Room

I am going to turn this week's Friday Flowers post into a discussion about one of my favourite pleasures. The picture today is of the Prince of Wales Hotel (circa 1864) in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario. This lovely town is full of blooms from spring to fall and is a very popular tourist destination on the Niagara Peninsula. I like it far better than The Falls. Tea Rooms are a magnet for me and this hotel serves the finest afternoon tea in the Drawing Room. I have this picture on my desk at work as my chair faces a dull wall. It is easy to mentally transport myself inside this sun room with a view of the flowers.

One of the Facebook groups I have joined is called "A Cup of Tea Solves Everything". This is a very active and enthusiastic group of 131, 844 people from around the world who share a passion for their beverage of choice. The group description reads...

When you are upset... have a cup of tea.
When life seems too complicated... have a cup of tea.
When you wake up in the morning, and can't be bothered to do anything... have a cup of tea.
It is scientifically proven (maybe) to make you feel better.

I have been tagged a couple of times recently to list some interesting facts about myself. I struggle to think of something personal to share that has not already been covered elsewhere in this blog. So I will share a few random facts about my relationship with tea.

  • I had made first cup of tea in 7th grade in our Home Economics class. We never had tea at home but the ritual of making a proper pot of steeped tea appealed to me greatly.
  • I prefer black tea with milk and my favourite brands are Tetley and King Cole. I have tried loose teas too but generally stay with the convenience of a tea bag. I drink herbal and green tea occasionally.
  • Travelling to the USA takes some planning because it is very difficult to get a good cuppa hot tea in a restaurant there. So I pack a water filter, kettle, teabags and a pot in my bag when I go south of the border. Mexico has no tea culture at all!
  • The first thing I do in the morning is boil the kettle for a pot of tea.
  • The first thing I do when I come home from work is boil the kettle for a pot of tea.
  • I introduced my daughters to milky tea early...perhaps at three years of age. They each have a Royal Doulton Bunnykins mug and are tea-lovers. When we are all at home we drink from a very large tea pot called "Big Blue". ( husband drinks coffee)
  • I drink hot tea every day, but on a warm day, iced tea is very refreshing. I make this recipe by the gallon in the summer months.
  • Because I drink tea, I am less likely to break my hip. Doc of Ages says so here!
  • Tea cannot be served in a styrofoam cup. It cannot be made with warm water. It cannot be stored in a carafe that has had coffee in it at any time.
This pansy tea set is also Royal Doulton and belonged to my grandmother. Mom gave it to me a few years ago. Tea drinkers must love flowers and gardens and leisurely afternoon tea parties.

Happy Friday! I must turn on the kettle...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

It is nice to have an excuse to post a photograph I took of this beautiful bloom in the hospital's rose garden. I see the evidence of love every day at work.

My co-worker Holly is getting married next weekend and we share in her excitement as she prepares for the big day.

Another co-worker, Bonnie, has a new baby and her love for little Joshua grows day by day.

Becky's father has dementia and she answers his repetitive questions and his attempts to orient himself patiently and quietly. He has word finding difficulties and can't remember her name but once in a while blurts out, "See her? I love her!" It brings tears to our eyes to see this love.

We often see couples who have been married for decades who still demonstrate their love with tenderness and dedication even though one of them has suffered a significant illness.

Some staff members have a special gift of showing love to the most difficult people, treating them with respect and dignity.

I found a page of love quotes by children and found the following ones filled with profound wisdom and expressed in simple, honest words.

When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.

Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don't yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.

Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.

If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you don't like to play with.

Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.

When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.

The last quote is my favourite!

Romantic love may not be on everyone's agenda, but we all need to give love and be loved. Valentine's Day is not about chocolates and jewelry and special dinners and cards, but a day to think about true love and commitment no matter what our circumstances are.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trail Detective

It has been a week since I was able to go for a good outdoor walk. The weather has been stormy and the last two days have been bitterly cold. The dog usually likes to sit our on the deck for a while when he goes out, but his trips to the backyard are completed hastily right now.

The bird feeders have been busy. On the weekend, a Downy Woodpecker sat huddled on the deck. The suet basket had been downed by the squirrels (when do they hibernate??) and the woodpecker was wondering where his food had gone. He barely moved as I retrieved the suet and hung it back up again.

When I walked in the Huron Natural Area last week, there were few other people about and it was eerily quiet. Other than a few crows, I saw no birds or other wildlife. The beaver pond was covered with slushy ice and a sign warned people to keep off the surface. Around the beaver lodge the water was open as the water rushed under the bridge and the creek continued free of the barrier of logs that had slowed its flow.

On the ice surface, sets of track were seen, left by invisible creatures who could not read signs. I recognize a few animal and bird tracks now, but these were unfamiliar.

In another area, a set of small tracks appeared from nowhere and ended suddenly. My large Yaktrak covered boot prints go from right to left and the small prints go from the bottom of the picture upwards. (click photo to enlarge)

All winter I have been looking for different woodpeckers. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are very commonplace but Red-bellied, Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers are far more elusive. They have been seen occasionally by other local birders. I came across this tree, running with sap and freshly excavated. What a large set of holes! I would guess that a Pileated Woodpecker did the carving. I stood quietly for quite a while, listening and watching, but all was silent. This particular nature area has not been good for bird watching. I find the river trails far more productive. However, there were signs of life, of birds and mammals hiding and watching me play hide and seek with them.

This trail will be accessible only with skis or snowshoes after our recent snows, but because of some steep and icy sections, I will not be back for a while. Life is hard for the residents of this bush at this time of winter and finding food or conserving energy is a full day's work. The Indians called February's full moon the "Full Hunger Moon" and it spoke of the lack of food for humans and animals alike. The next full moon is on February 20th and then we begin the journey to the "Full Sap Moon" as the sun's warmth is felt by the trees and winter starts its retreat.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sun Day Post

We had one day of gorgeous winter sun last week. Sunny days are a golden treasure in the midst of snow and ice storms, cloud and wind. As harsh as winter is right now, the sun is higher and stronger even when we don't see it and speaks that spring is near. I left late for work on Thursday morning as our street was impassable due to the unplowed, deep snow from the storm that ended the night before. As I cleaned my vehicle off, I heard the unmistakable spring song of the White-throated Sparrow...

dear sweet Canada Canada Canada

This is their northern edge of their winter range and most of these sparrows will not return until about April. There were other birds singing spring songs on this bright morning as they responded to the sunrise.

The pictures above were all taken that day. A group of us went out for lunch and sat in a sunny room. No one asked for the blinds to be closed. The sun cast long tree shadows on the white snow outside the hospital and a Goldfinch basked in the warmth outside the window. The nearby ski club has built a tubing park and youngsters slid down the hill and then rode to the top on a lift.

"Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the Spring when it is gone."

Roy R. Gibson

Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday Flowers: Spring Crocus

My husband gave these crocuses along with some good dark chocolate for my birthday last week. He knows I prefer potted plants to cut flowers and will put the bulbs in the garden in the spring. It was exactly one year ago that I wrote my first Friday Flowers post. I must have been experiencing midwinter doldrums at the time. I found a piece of paper in my hospital day timer from last February outlining some ideas for flower posts. (They were written during our weekly team meeting...ho hum!)

Other bloggers have been featuring some lovely flower posts lately, knowing we are all craving warmth and colour in the north. Share Lynne at Hasty Brook's visit to the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mary at Mary's Corner of the World from San Jose, California posted pictures of her December garden and another recent flower post here! Melissa of Empress of Dirt, an avid gardener, is a blogger from my area. Her January post called Faces in the Garden is most inviting. Nature Woman has featured an interesting flower closeup this week. And Mary of Mary's View has forsythia blooming in her area already!

I haven't tired of flower posts yet and know that spring will soon bring more inspiration and beauty.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Colour of Winter

Winter colour

I went for a walk one noon hour this week at a nearby natural area. It was a grey, misty and damp day like many we have had this winter. I sloshed through ankle deep slush and was soaked to my knees by the time I returned to my vehicle. There was little evidence of wildlife around except for the occasional caw of a crow flying overhead. I did notice some colour other than white snow, brown branches and leaden skies. A man-made blue sign marked the path to natural red, green and yellow patches in the woods.

Winter white

The woods were beautiful compared to the roads yesterday. I will post this group of pictures for my Ontario relatives who are in Arizona right now. Look what you are missing! Icy roads, heavy snow, traffic woes and plenty of heavy scraping and digging. Becka took these pictures while we drove home after work yesterday. We have received a foot of snow in this storm! I cannot complain when I hear the news of the deaths and damage from the winter tornadoes in the USA south.

Time to start my early morning adventure called "The Drive to Work"! Have a good day.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fat Tuesday and the Lenten Fast

Yesterday was a big day with plenty of big names....Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and coincidentally, Super Tuesday. I won't confess whether I spent more time pondering the results of the US primaries or preparing pancakes.

Last year I wrote about the Polish Fat Tuesday treat called Paczki. These rich yeast donuts were made before Lent to use up the fat, eggs, sugar and fruit in the house.

There is a wonderful European bakery near our home that is famous for Paczki. We went early to pick out a few of each flavour. They are very large and a half is equivalent to an average donut. (I cut them in half after I took the picture below.)

I hardly know anyone who does not enjoy an excuse to overindulge from time to time. On the other hand, I hardly know anyone who takes the Lenten fast seriously. When I was in school, some of my Roman Catholic friends would talk about what they were giving up for Lent. I thought it was an absurd notion. Who would want to be like the devout village mayor, Compe Paul de Reynaud in the movie Chocolat?

I went to the local Lutheran bookstore yesterday and purchased a small book of Lenten devotions. While Lent has no Biblical precedence, forty days of self-denial was practiced by Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Spiritual disciplines are hardly recognized in our society. Our self-sufficiency and abundance has the potential to dull our senses to anything beyond our pursuit of comfort and pleasure. Self-denial can produce self-centred, self-righteous actions that are not pleasing to God. Isaiah describes the result to true fasting, a look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. It is time to move away from Fat Tuesday.

Isaiah 58:6-8

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Winter Trails

This winter has been a roller coaster ride of weather systems. Each week in the past month we have had a good snowfall, a day or two of rain and fog, then a flash freeze as temperatures plummet again bringing yet another snowstorm. The sun may peek through for a couple of hours a week at best. Today is a day of freezing drizzle, rain, heavy fog and black ice as temperatures hover around the freezing mark. And we are under a winter storm watch.

I say this to explain that winter trail walking has been very difficult with not enough good quality snow for snowshoeing, and treacherously icy conditions and muddy, flooded trails on other days. I have managed to get out a few times though.

Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail

The Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail System.

"It was opened in 1994 and was one of the first Ontario abandoned rail lines to be converted to recreational trail use. The Lake Erie and Northern Railway was one of the last electric railways to be built in Ontario. The electric cars were similar to streetcars, although running along their own right of way and hauling both freight and passengers between urban

I found the section of trail I walked near Glen Morris to be well groomed and easy to walk with lovely views of the river. A mature Bald Eagle soared right above my head and Chickadees, Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers and other common winter birds were seen in some sheltered areas. I am always hopeful of finding some less common woodpeckers or owls, but have not been successful yet.

Juvenile Bald Eagle along the Linear Trail

The Becka and I took the dog along the Linear Trail near our home on the weekend. The snow was deep and soggy and sheets of ice were beneath the surface. There are usually many ducks here at the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers but the river was very quiet in the early afternoon. We then saw two juvenile Bald Eagles patrolling the waterway. My camera was not ready, but we had a close view of one above our heads. For such a large bird, they can blend into the branches of the leafless willow trees very effectively.

Sheave Tower, Blair ON

I have written about the Sheave Tower in Blair ON a couple of times and have featured pictures of it in the summer and fall. Here it is in the wintertime near the place where the Blair Creek empties into the Grand River. The trails around here are very accessible for a short walk and the scenery is lovely after a fresh snowfall.

For now, I am reading trail guides and making plans to visit some familiar and new places once the weather improves.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Groundhog Day

The storm we received yesterday was a bad as promised for those who had to drive on the roads or do any shovelling. We didn't finish off with freezing rain, but received 20 cm of wet, heavy snow. Schools and universities were closed, but the hospital had to be staffed, no matter how bad the conditions were. I got stuck three times on the way home and had to back up and try other routes to our street but was thankful to arrive to light and warmth indoors.

As I looked out the windows at the hospital feeders, the sight was very lovely, with fresh snow on the trees and plenty of bird activity. The feeders have never been so busy and the usually skittish and difficult to photograph Northern Cardinal posed several times for me. The White-breasted Nuthatch below also showed its best colours.

Today is Groundhog Day. Check out Winterwoman's post for a bit of history about this midwinter celebration. I didn't know that February 2nd is half way between winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Wiarton is a small community on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. Wiarton Willie is its most famous resident and this pampered groundhog did not see his shadow today indicating an early spring is on the way. Never mind that Willie has only been accurate in his predictions 37% of the time. Pennsylvania's groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow and this indicates six more weeks of winter.

Mardi Gras is this Tuesday and Lent starts on Wednesday marking the start of the Easter season which comes early this year. The next six weeks will belong to winter, but spring will strengthen and tease us with increasing sunlight and warmth. Six weeks is not forever!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Friday Flowers: Fairyland

Original water colour and ink painting by The Becka

My youngest daughter, The Becka, painted this whimsical picture for my birthday. She remembered the post I did last May called Friday Flowers: Fairy Bells and knew I was pining for spring. So she came up with this lovely fairy sitting in front of a Jack in the Pulpit. But you must notice that this fairy has a bit of an attitude. Becka called it "Boredom" just to purposely annoy me (in her own words) because she knows I always told our girls there is no such thing as boredom. In fact, if they ever said the "B" word, they were immediately engaged in some activity of my choosing, most likely a household chore. The fairy bears a striking resemblance to The Becka even though she strongly denies it is a self portrait.

I love my birthday present...