Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Flowers: Over in the Meadow

The river runs below the hospital and in the spring this channel is filled with deep, fast flowing water and large sheets of ice. With all the snow we had this winter, the river overflowed its banks and the trail we walked last year was washed away. The flood plain shown above has turned into a lovely meadow as spring has turned into summer. Pools of trapped water are full of minnows, tadpoles, frogs and dragonflies. Hoof prints of white-tailed deer are seen along the muddy edges.

There is a profusion of wild flowers because of the regular rainfall we have had this month. Most of the flowers above are naturalized aliens, but the variety and colour is most pleasing to the eye. Butterflies and other flying insects move from blossom to blossom and sparrows, swallows and finches fly up as you walk by.

The Ox-eye daisy is the most abundant flower this week. Daisies have such cheerful blooms and I don't mind picking a few for a bouquet as they are so plentiful.

I have not been able to identify the last two flower pictures here. The pink bloom above grew on a low shrub in dry soil and the lovely flower below was on a long stem that grew up from the water's edge. I almost missed it as it stood alone almost inconspicuous among the grasses at the water's edge. I spent too much time tonight looking in flower guides with no success in naming them.

The picture on the left shows the entire plant. (click to enlarge)

The children's counting song "Over in the Meadow" mentions toads, fish, bluebirds, muskrats, honey bees, crows, crickets, lizards, frogs and spiders. I haven't seen lizards in our area (there is only one lizard that is native to Ontario), but all the other creatures would be found in this meadow of flowers and grass along the water's edge. Formal gardens are nice to visit but these wildflowers are just as enjoyable and interesting in my view.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


As a child in grade school I made a silhouette of my likeness more than once. The teacher would sit us near the board, shine the light of an overhead projector on our head and trace our profile on a piece of paper. We cut out the shape, traced it onto black construction paper and then mounted it on another background. The finished projects would then be displayed on the walls around the room. Before cameras were invented, silhouette artists would be hired to create inexpensive portraits of people.

I create silhouettes of objects with my camera quite by accident. Birds do not always perch in convenient places and taking a picture into the light is sure to create results like these. Do you recognize these birds?

This bird was vocalizing loudly and fanning its tail feathers near a pond along the river. A thunderstorm was moving in quickly and the light in the sky was variable.

Here is another bird that was also making a lot of noise as it sang a metallic sounding song.

This bird moved around in the tree tops and was hidden by leaves most of the time. As it came out into the open I snapped this picture. I could identify it with my binoculars, but the camera missed the colour and details.

As interesting as silhouettes are, I prefer to see the full picture. But identifying birds has to be done by sound or shape sometimes...skills I definitely need to practice more often.

Answers: Male Red-winged Blackbird, Grey Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Cedar Waxwing

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New York Street Food

Believe it or not, I have more to write about New York City. This topic is of utmost importance to any tourist, particularly a tourist who may be walking ten miles a day in Manhattan. Many landmarks in NYC have been featured in films and documentaries, including famous eateries. What foods do you think of when someone mentions this city? The Becka and I decided we had to try New York cheesecake and New York bagels. In Guys and Dolls, Mindy's cheesecake is the object of an attempted wager. We walked by a place called Lindy's, but ended up buying our cheesecake around the corner at a deli with an outdoor patio. It was worth every fat-filled, creamy calorie!

My other daughters had been told by friends to visit The Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village to try their delicious cupcakes. There is always a lineup at this place for their desserts which are really just basic recipes that were served at homes and church suppers in the 1950s and 60s. The cupcakes are made with a few ordinary ingredients including lots of real butter. I thought the icing was way too thick, but it was tasty. We tried their cupcake recipe at home and they turned out perfectly. I have posted the recipe here. (We only used half the icing recipe.)

We only passed a couple of McDonald's restaurants in Manhattan. But it was hard not to associate Morgan Spurlock's documentary Supersize Me with these golden arches. It was better to choose some fresh fruit from an outdoor vendor on the next corner! There was a grocery store near our hotel but the food was very expensive. The produce outside was about half the price.

Bagels are unsweetened donuts with rigor mortis according to a classic definition from the New York Times (1960). We bought bagels at the nearby H&H Bagel plant at 46th Street and 12th Avenue near the Hudson River docks. This company is mentioned in the movie You've Got Mail. They were tasty but I was hoping to find some more authentic bagels which are chewier and smaller. Our hotel had a fridge and microwave and we only went out for one meal a day. We ate all but one restaurant meal outdoors watching the people and traffic passing by as we rested our tired feet.

There are people who go to New York to visit fancy restaurants and clubs. I would rather save my money for something more lasting than an expensive meal. I was sorry that we did not have time to explore Little Italy or Chinatown where inexpensive but unique restaurants are found. I was impressed by the number of authentic looking ethnic foods that were available. Trying something new is always on the menu for me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Haibun for Summer

Summer arrives at last. Storms darken the skies and lightning streaks through the grey clouds. The sun shines again and the river reflects lush greens and blues above its banks. Clouds of insects buzz in the still, moist air as a Kingbird performs aerial maneuvers from a high perch. Families gather in the park for a picnic and watch their children run and play.

Summer solstice comes
bringing light that erases
memory of winter

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

by Ralph Carmichael

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind.

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in my quiet hour
With Him my cares are left behind.

Whether a garden small,
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find.

And then from that quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind.

This post is dedicated to some friends who are dealing with
difficult situations in their lives right now.

(Here is a guitar rendition of the hymn on YouTube.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Flowers: Wild Iris

Wild Blue Flags in my garden

June is the month for Irises and they have been quite spectacular this season. Last year I bought some Wild Blue Flags from an Old Order Mennonite vendor at the market. I was delighted to see how well they established themselves in my garden this spring. They are smaller in size than bearded Irises and have withstood the heavy rainstorms we have experienced in the past couple of weeks. Blue Flag Iris (iris versicolor) is native to Ontario. In the swamp near our home, large clumps of them are in bloom in the shallow water.

Wild Blue Flags in local swamp

Another Iris species is non-native and considered to be invasive in much of Canada and the USA. Last year I wrote about Yellow Flag Iris but in all my walks I found only a small group growing along the river. This year we have had more rain and the water is higher. I have seen more Yellow Flags than ever before.

Yellow Flag Iris in Hospital Courtyard

Yellow Flags are often sold as ornamentals for gardens and ponds. Around this part of the river, old orchards stand and plants from deserted farm gardens have naturalized in the flood plain. In the hospital courtyard, these flowers are blooming in a man made pond. Once they escape a cultivated setting, they become invasive, crowding out native flora.

Yellow Flag Iris (invasive) along the Grand River

The website for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington Ontario has a number of interesting pages in invasive plants. Links to the pages are found here. I am harbouring a number of invasive aliens in my garden and should make an effort to remove them soon. My husband is redoing the garden borders and it would be a good time to do some "weeding". I have to be careful how I dispose of them, making sure they do not re-establish themselves in our natural areas.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Enjoying the Ordinary Life

There are lots of rabbits in our neighbourhood

I could write several more posts on New York City and will likely do a couple more eventually. Back at home we are finding a new normal for a few weeks before our next vacation in July. I took the picture below this week in Toronto at Yonge and Chatsworth. This is the highest gas price I have seen in Southern Ontario this year and it is well over five dollars a US gallon. I have really noticed that people are changing their habits because of high gas prices.

June 16, 2008- Toronto ON- Price per litre

Last week my daughter wanted to visit our locally famous farmers' market before she returned to Mexico. We went around midday on Thursday which is usually a very busy time to arrive. I was shocked at how few people were there compared to normal. There was not one single person in the apple fritter line! The line up for this treat is usually twenty minutes even on a slower day. We have two malls close to our home and on the weekends, the local traffic is very busy as people go out to shop. Lately the weekend traffic has been sparse. People are driving less for pleasure, shopping less for extras and I am in that group as well. We will be driving to Manitoulin Island in July and there will be few unnecessary trips before that.

Song Sparrow

Many evenings after dinner I would drive to enjoy my favourite trails that may be 10 km or so from our house. Now I walk near the river at work at lunch time and walk near home with the dog in the evening. These very familiar areas are changing daily. Last year we had a drought and this year we have had plenty of rain. The rivers and streams are high, the vegetation is thick and green, and the mosquitoes are abundant! The little seed eating and mosquito eating birds are having a great season.

Savannah Sparrow

The meadow are full of sparrows and finches who balance on the stems of grass to pick off seeds. I can identify more little brown birds than I could last year. Song Sparrows are most common and the least afraid of my approach. Savannah Sparrows are also plentiful this year. (They may have been plentiful last year too when all sparrows looked the same to me.)

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds are busy with their young. The female above waited patiently as I looked at the tadpoles in a pool near her nest. When I left, she took the insect in the bill to her babies.

Not your typical Mallard family

Near the hospital there are a number of odd Mallards who obviously have had some breeding history with domestic ducks. The black and white males mate with the standard Mallard females. This brood is growing quickly and there are a couple more black and white ducks in the new generation.

I enjoy new trails and finding new birds, but it is still relaxing be out and about enjoying the ordinary life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is Art?

Nina from Nature Remains wrote a post this week called "What is the Nature of Art?". The answer was a quote by L.A. Seneca that says, "All art is an imitation of nature."

While in New York City The Becka and I visited the Museum of Modern Art which is in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Centre. My father's parents were artists and Grandad T. had an art shop north of Toronto. Many beautiful framed oil paintings of landscapes, still life and portraits filled the floor space. For me, art was humanly created, recognizable beauty. The MoMA stretched the definition of art to the beyond the limit for me. Even my artistic daughter found many of the displays difficult to comprehend.

Light was the medium for many exhibits. In the first picture, yellow light absorbed all other colours leaving everything below appearing black and white.

The light on the left shone in a mirror and the reflection made a perfect circle. Amazing!! In the same room a Kodak slide projector clicked through blank frames automatically shining white rectangles across the room. Astounding!! The rotating prism was more interesting as the colours on the wall changed with the progression of the colour spectrum. There would be no need to paint the walls if you owned this nifty unit.

Many everyday objects such as dishes, kitchen tools and a helicopter were there to be admired. Some artist redefined the ceiling fan. In a large room, a regular fan was suspended by a chain from the ceiling and it swung in a large arc in the space above viewer's heads. You can see the couple gazing in admiration at the work of the creative genius whose work we know must be art because it is on display in New York.

Another room had displays of crocheted and knitted objects. My sister-in law Shirley as well as Ruthie from Nature Knitter have created many fine pieces that should be in the MoMA . And I do think handwork like this is art. Other exhibits seemed to be creations of seriously disturbed and/or perverted individuals while others looked like nursery school art or the doodles I draw when I am in boring meetings.

We had just completed a tour of Radio City Music Hall with its classy Art Deco interior and spectacular stage before coming to this museum. Perhaps I was tired or somewhat out of tune that I did not really appreciate much of what I saw in this art museum. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Going back to Nina's quote, I can see art in nature all the time. This Osprey nest is as intricate and useful as the crocheted blankets in the MoMA. And it was made with only a beak and dried sticks.

And the combination of light, air and movement made the clouds of an approaching thunderstorm look stunning in the sky yesterday.

We also went through the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is on the east side of Central Park. This was a more traditional art museum and the displays were far easier for me to understand and enjoy. I do enjoy the effects of light, shape and colour and admire those who can paint and sculpt and weave. My camera is the only tool I can use to create my own art...something of beauty and meaning to me.

How do you define art? Perhaps you have an idea that will make you famous...something worthy of a space in the MoMA. My niece Melissa commented on one of the pictures I posted on Facebook from this museum...

...apparently I've only been one shot away from artistic fame my entire life....I've got a nice pink fan in my room; think it's too late for me to become an artist?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bird Parents and Me

I know you are faking!

On Saturday evening my husband and I walked at Snyder's Flats where ponds and meadows as well as the river attract interesting birds and wildlife. On the way back to the vehicle a couple of noisy Kildeer did the broken wing performance as they attempted to divert our attention from something. I wasn't expecting them to have a nest so close to the roadway and really couldn't see much because of the bright setting sun. After we were in the truck, we noticed three birds together. There, "hidden" behind a clump of grass, was a juvenile Kildeer who was at least as big as its parents. It amused me to think that this large youngster was still so closely guarded by the adults who obviously still cared for it. I am sure it still has some life lessons to learn this season.

Juvenile Kildeer on the left

Our daughter is returning to Mexico today where she plans to continue to live and work. As her mother, I would love to do a broken wing routine and keep her close to home. Her father and sisters feel the same way and we are sad to see her six week visit come to an end. She left the nest a couple of years ago and has been under our surveillance from a distance, so to speak. But like this young Kildeer who has been exploring away from its birthplace, she must learn to defend and care for herself without her parents around.

Is that me in the foreground?

Isn't it funny how nature teaches us more about ourselves?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cities and Thrones and Powers

Wall Inscription in Central Park Zoo, New York

Cities and Thrones and Powers

Cities and Thrones and Powers,
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again.

This season's Daffodil,
She never hears,
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's;
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance,
To be perpetual.

So Time that is o'er -kind,
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
"See how our works endure!"

Rudyard Kipling

I was intrigued by the poem of the Mexican poet-king, Nezahualcoyotl that was engraved on a wall in the rain forest area of the Central Park Zoo. In the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art, many artifacts from past great cultures were on display;- China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome...

Rudyard Kipling's poem speaks of the rise and fall of empires and of the fleeting nature of our time. KGMom has been writing about her recent trip to Greece and has posted many interesting pictures of historical sites and ruins in that country. Film makers frequently release movies about the end of our civilization as we know it. I am Legend is a post-apocalyptic science fiction story based in Manhattan. I watched it recently and wrote it off as wildly improbable. But we know instinctively that as the world continues, civilizations rise and fall, world powers shift and our personal lifespan is very insignificant.

It is good to contemplate our mortality and the meaning of our lives.

As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children—

with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103:15-18

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Flowers: In Manhattan

Roses in Bryant Park, NYC
Reading Room in Bryant Park below

Our hotel was in easy walking distance of Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. After pounding several blocks on concrete and surrounded by buildings, I looked forward to seeing the stands of mature sycamore trees, green lawns and many chairs in this urban park.

There has been a park here since 1847, but by the 1970s it had been nicknamed "Needle Park" due to the number of heroin dealers and users who frequented the area. A restoration of the park was started in 1988 and in 1992 it reopened to much acclaim and instant popularity with New Yorkers and visitors. It has been compared to Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris and has a French flair and atmosphere.

The main building of the New York Public library stands at one corner. There was an outdoor Reading Room where books can be borrowed for children or adults to read in the park. Roses were blooming along the walkways and annual flowers were in planters near the tables and chairs.

Peonies at the Rockefeller Center

Another area that boasted lovely flowers and fountains was the plaza at the Rockefeller Center. As we walked down towards the main fountain and bronze statue of Prometheus, fragrant peonies bloomed along the smaller fountains that led to the front of the building. This was another lovely spot to sit and watch people.

Of course, the most famous green space in Manhattan is Central Park. We walked through it from the south end, through the small zoo and up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After walking through the huge museum we were too tired to go up to the Harlem Meer. I wish I hadn't left this park until our last day! Some areas are landscaped and others are more natural. These wildflowers grew along bridle trail and track around the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir.

I would have loved to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, especially with the roses at their peak. Admission was included with our NYC passes. Another time I would choose the gardens over the trip to the top of the Empire State building with all of its security lines. But there was just so much one could see in three full days...

...maybe next time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who is in the driver's seat?

I drove to Geneva NY on the first leg of our trip. That night I awoke with a start and realized I had left my Ontario driver's license on my dresser at home. I had taken it out of my bag when I added my passport and forgot to put it back in. I am sure the State troopers are very nice, but driving without a license is an offense. I lay awake wondering whether to keep this a secret or to give up control of my vehicle to my daughters.

My father likes to be in control, and I guess I am a little like that too! He is as tense as can be when I drive his car as I rediscovered when I shared the driving on a long road trip in Mexico a couple of years ago. In my job I see how hard it is for my patients to gradually give control of their lives to their children as their abilities decline. Could I trust my responsible daughters with my life?

Daughters #1 and #2 (twins) looked at me in shock the next morning at breakfast when I confessed my forgetfulness. And they took up the driving challenge with pleasure. I sat in the backseat and was NOT relaxed even though the driving was well done. My brother had loaned us his GPS unit and it was invaluable! (Thanks again Mark) With high gas prices and fast, new roads, it was well worth while. Driving the New Jersey Turnpike was frightening, but not nearly as bad as the Lincoln Tunnel. What a narrow, dark tunnel. I was cowering in the back praying that we would get out in one piece as large vehicles zoomed by in the opposite direction just inches from us. And we had to pay $8 for this short ride.

Daughter #2 took this short video as we exited the tunnel. I had to laugh when I saw it. On the way home we left via the George Washington Bridge which is toll free and so much airier. On the way home I SLEPT part of the way in the back seat.

Maybe I will be able to relinquish control of my life to my children if I need to...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is the city but the people?

9/11 Firefighter memorial, doorman, dog walker, tour bus employee

Grandma always wanted to take her three granddaughters (two cousins and myself) to New York City but in the 1960s and 70s she felt it was an unsafe place to visit. She and Grandad travelled there from the Toronto area several times to celebrate their wedding anniversaries in the 1930s and 40s and she found the city fascinating. I was not really interested in going there when my daughter started planning the trip this year, but then decided to go for Grandma's sake. If she were alive, she would have insisted we travel there together.

I could post pictures of the famous landmarks we visited but that would not really define the character of the city. Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy Coriolanus, "What is a city but the people?" I would have been happy to sit on a bench anywhere in New York and watch the people. Desmond Morris wrote in his book, The Human Zoo, "...the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo." Well, I would not be as harsh in my judgement of the people we saw last week but the analogy has some truth. We were there when two crazy people climbed the outside of the New York Times building to the top. (ref) My daughter took a video of the second climber! (see it here)

Ellis Island Museum

We took the ferry to Ellis Island and I found the history of this landing place of thousands of people who arrived by ship to America so interesting. The great piles of luggage spoke volumes as did the long lists of names of people engraved in stone around the outside the museum.

Buskers at Battery Park, Pier 17, Central Park
and a fruit vendor on W42nd Street

The streets were full of performers and vendors. In Times Square a family group, mom, dad and five young children sang acappella harmonies under the night sky. They were nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowds and traffic. Where ever there were lineups buskers were present with instruments or boom boxes. And busy corners were sure to have a fruit, bagel or hot dog vendor nearby.

When I was 14 years old, my parents drove us through New York City on the way home from Atlantic City NJ. I remember sticking my head out the car window and looking up at the sky scrapers, but we did not stop at all. The crime rate in much of the city has dropped significantly in the past ten to fifteen years. What has made the difference? We walked by Ground Zero on the way from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. You could sense that this was a giant cemetery and people stood around silently looking at the great hole that remains in the ground. Nearby a small fire hall had pictures of six of its firemen who had died on that day. The police and firefighters are respected here, a respect that was well earned. Did 9/11 make the people of NYC different than they were before?

The service industry is huge. People are hired to care for the rich, the poor, the elderly, the young, the animals, and the many tourists who visit. I saw very few panhandlers but the occasional disabled person sat quietly on the sidewalk willing to accept some cash. Every city has its unpleasant side including people we would rather avoid. But they are part of the fabric of society too.

School girls in Central Park

There were many groups of children, some visiting in school groups and others who live here and already are confident in their big city. Central Park was a child's paradise with many playgrounds, a zoo and plenty of room to run and play.

The people were the city for me. I did not need to go to Broadway to experience New York. This show is free and plays day and night all year long.