Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Flowers: Yellow Wildflowers

Driving down a rural road a few weeks ago, I came across two young Mennonite girls, barefooted, picking wildflowers in a meadow. Wearing bonnets and print dresses, their arms full of bright flowers, they made a lovely picture in the late afternoon sun.

Sometimes you cannot stop a take a picture as it is intrusive and destroys the innocence of the moment. Many Old Order Mennonites do not appreciate having their pictures taken and a stranger approaching young children to ask for a picture could be taken in the wrong way.

But the picture remains in my mind, a vision of childhood summers, a simple way of life and the beauty of a meadow.

I have no qualms about taking pictures of the wildflowers themselves. These pretty blooms grow in marginal soil, and flower if it is wet or dry or cold or hot.

Bloom where you are planted!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Fishing Show

My husband likes to watch fishing shows on TV, the ones which feature big boats, fly in lodges, expensive lures and hosts who endorse a lot of products. They always catch a dream fish or two which they either release or serve as a shore lunch with a must-buy coating mix and a pint of cooking oil.

I watched a fishing show at a small reservoir in the city on a drizzy morning last week. Four Great Blue Herons on one bank...

...and four patient fishers on the other bank. (only two pictured here) I watched for thirty minutes or more and saw only one fish caught.

No lure, no boat, no big trip. But a good shore lunch just the same.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A View from the Ark

Male Baltimore Oriole

I saw the sun briefly yesterday morning, just before a thunderstorm darkened the sky to predawn levels of grey. Our normally hot, humid days of summer have been replaced by a wet, "maritime" weather pattern with frequent rain and moderate temperatures. The sun has been hidden for days on end making this the coolest July on record in this area. There are pros and cons to a cool wet summer. The lawn is lush and green, but butterflies and bees have been scarce. My tomatoes have flowers, but the fruit has been very slow to develop. Nights are great for sleeping and air conditioners are not needed, but summer campers and beach goers find it too chilly and wet.

Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow Warbler
Common Yellow Throat, American Redstart

Our summer birds are finding plenty of insects to eat and the colourful ones brighten the dullest days. These pictures were taken on Manitoulin Island this month. All the birds shown here are also found locally, but I had more time to seek them out while on vacation. Birds like the Indigo Bunting do not show their best colour unless they are in sunlight;- others like the Baltimore Oriole flash their bright feathers on any day.

Sometimes I think I should count and see if we have had forty days and nights of rain yet this season. What difference would it make? Let the weather experts count and analyze as I enjoy the view from the ark.

Another blogger from Southwestern Ontario, Elaine Dale, made reference to Noah in this post on Sunday. Her picture taken in Hamilton Ontario gives some idea of the amount of rain we have had.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Through the Eyes of a Child

Do you still gaze in wonder at the stars in the sky?
Do you still dream of soaring as you watch the eagle fly?
Can you still see the world for all the good it has to give?
When you look at life through the eyes of a child,
that’s when you truly live.

Through the Eyes of a Child (excerpt)
Mark Burrows & Greg Gilpin

I spend a lot of time with adults who are anxious, depressed, fearful, critical, inert, hopeless.
Some have dementia, others do not...
Many are patients, some are friends and acquaintances and others are family.

I spend a little time with children who are inquisitive, creative, joyful, accepting, energetic, optimistic.
Some will stay this way, others will not...
When do we leave our inner child behind and put on the cynicism of adulthood?

Why do we need to be with children in order to make crazy glasses out of paper, coloured cellophane, pipe cleaners and lots and lots of sticky tape?

I think each staff meeting at work should start with an activity like this. We could all wear our funny glasses as we review the agenda which includes finding ways to trim ten million dollars from the hospital budget in the next fiscal year. Perhaps we would laugh instead of feeling angry and anxious about inevitable changes down the road.

There are children who have faced hardship and death out of season and in many instances they have inspired others with their faith and optimism. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a collection of poems and drawings done by Jewish children who spent time in the Terezin Concentration Camp during World War 2. Very few of them survived, and while many of the selections speak of the horror of the place, there is courage and resilience in the words and images.


My heart still beats inside my breast
While friends depart for other worlds.
Perhaps it’s better – who can say? –
Than watching this, to die today?

No, no, my God, we want to live!
Not watch our numbers melt away.
We want to have a better world,
We want to work – we must not die!

Eva Pickova ~12 years old

We can be overwhelmed by real or perceived evil and misfortune around us, or we can look through eyes that see beauty, joy and hope in the future. In Matthew 18, Jesus' disciples asked him this question;-

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

(Jesus) called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said:
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me..."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Southern Ontario Sandhill Cranes

I have several bird books, from a 1947 edition of Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds" to a 2006 edition of "Sibley Guide to the Birds". The distribution of a number of bird species has changed significantly in the sixty years between the publishing of these two books. In a few more years, changes will have to be made again.

In 1947 Northern Cardinals and House Finches were rarely seen in Southern Ontario. They are now very common year round residents. Sandhill Cranes were found in the Canadian Prairies and east as far as Michigan. My current Sibley guide indicates they now migrate and breed in northern Ontario as well. They are seen in Southern Ontario as they pass by in the spring and fall.

In the past couple of years, there have been reports of breeding Sandhill Cranes in our region within a thirty minute drive from our home. My husband and I found a pair earlier this month and I returned today to check them out again. We have seen many Sandhill Cranes on Manitoulin Island but it is difficult to approach them so most of my photos have been taken from quite a distance.

This pair stood close to the country road as they were feeding in a farmer's field. I don't know why they were engaging in mating behaviour as nesting season should be over. The eggs need a month to incubate and the young birds or colts do not fledge until they are 65 to 75 days old. I was able to watch these two birds dance together, something I expected to see only if I travelled to Manitoulin Island in April or early May.

The Sandhill Crane does not breed until it is two to seven years old. Mated pairs stay together year round, and migrate as a group with their offspring. If these birds find this area satisfactory for breeding, their numbers will undoubtedly increase each year if their offspring return with them. And the bird guides will be re-written...

Here is a link with more information on Sandhill Cranes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Manitoulin Art

I first heard of porcupine quill boxes a couple of years ago on Bev Wigney's blog, Burning Silo. Quills are embroidered into boxes made of tree bark, and sweetgrass is often used to finish the edges. Native Americans have done quill art for thousands of years but there are few left who are proficient in the technique. Manitoulin Island has a handful of quill box artists and their work is sold in local stores for a handsome price. I looked for the boxes after reading Bev's post and was surprised to find prices starting at over $100 and going into the $1000s of dollars for larger pieces. Many have very intricate designs including animals, birds and landscapes. Porcupines were hunted for food and the quills were used for clothing and crafts. Today, their quills are obtained by throwing a blanket over a porcupine;- the quills stick in the blanket, and the artist literally has a sheet of quills with which to work. (source)

We went to a store on the nearby reserve to look for a warmer shirt for me to wear on our "summer" holiday. It was raining outside so we browsed through the shop looking at the wide selection of native arts and crafts. The owner opened the case of quill boxes and started telling me about the five quill box artists whose work was featured there. I mentioned that buying a quill box was something like investing in a Royal Doulton figurine.

He said, "In another generation there will still be new Royal Doulton, but there will be no more quill box artists."

I don't know if his prediction will be accurate, but his sales pitch was excellent and my husband encouraged me to buy one I liked. I chose a more traditional design that featured plenty of porcupine quills and a the flower of a trillium, the provincial flower of Ontario. I should have asked the name of the lady who made this particular quill box and plan to inquire the next time I am there.

There are other small shops on the island which sell the work of local artists on consignment. Bruno Henry is a native artist who works with many different mediums. I bought this hand painted water colour greeting card in Manitowaning. Other non-native artists make their home in this remote spot and are inspired by the natural beauty and history of the region.

The proprieter of the shop told me he has customers who return and buy a quill box each year for a collection. I am not convinced that I need to collect them, but am glad to have one as a unique keepsake.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Twice Frightened!

I like to think I am fairly rational, calm, and not easily frightened. It is important to be alert and observant when out on trails, or anywhere for that matter. I have tried to overcome my two main phobias, those being my fear of snakes and heights, but doubt that will ever happen. I came across a large northern water snake this month and actually took a couple of pictures from a respectful distance as it slithered toward Bass Creek, but looking at the images makes me cringe.

The owner of the camp where we stayed owns an abandoned farm across the road from his lakeside property. He rents it to a farmer and about fifteen cattle graze there in the summer. I have often walked through the fields and have not been bothered by the cows at all. One morning I opened the gate and walked quietly to the back of a field where a pair of Sandhill Cranes were calling noisily. I took a few pictures as they moved away and finally flew over the fence. The cows, who were a good 300 metres away from where I stood, suddenly started moving toward me at a good pace. I took a picture of their approach just before they broke into a full run.

It seemed that I was being charged! There was no way I could out run the herd to the gate and my heart started pounding as I envisioned myself being trampled. I saw a clump of Dogwood bushes which stood a bit taller than myself and hid behind them. The cattle stopped on the other side of the bushes and I listened to their heavy breathing through the branches. After a very long ten minute period, they turned around and walked back to their previous grazing spot. I walked back quietly and slowly keeping an eye open for another hiding spot.

Later that day, I took a golf cart up the dirt road toward a swampy area that is good for birding. In the distance I saw a lone animal walking my direction with a distinct wolf-like gait. I stopped and decided to make a prompt U-turn back to the cottage. Looking at my pictures later, I realized the "wolf" was a particularly aggressive farm dog named Duke. The previous day he had chased me on the golf cart before his owner had called him off. I am fond of dogs, but this one had a menacing eye and snarl that made me think back to the inservices I had attended as a Home Care therapist which dealt with recognizing dangerous canines.

I am sure there is a reason the cows rushed to me and it may be as simple as them thinking I had some tasty corn for them. On the other hand, I was wearing a shirt I had bought the day before at Sheguiandah, the nearby Indian reserve. I did not have enough warm clothes packed and selected a warm red pullover with drawings of primitive hunters on the front and back.

Who knows what goes through an animal's mind?

Have you had a frightening animal encounter, wild or domestic?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Evening and Morning

Lake Manitou, 10:00 PM in the evening

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Genesis 1:5

The Jewish day begins at sunset, or somewhere between sunset and the appearance of the first three stars. Depending on your proximity to the earth's poles, this would create quite a variance in the beginning of each new day throughout the year. Manitoulin Island is about a five or six hour drive north of our home as the crow flies and the days were notably longer with twilight lasting to just past 10:00 PM.

Evening Moon Rise

We experienced a lot of rain, but the evenings were often calm and beautiful with lovely sunsets and great light for taking pictures. Early morning tended to be calm and sunny too before the rain clouds moved in. The birds would start singing a little past 4:00 AM which is enjoyable or annoying, depending on your body clock. Night time was little more than 6 hours long.

Mother Common Merganser taking her young
to the shallows to feed in the early morning

Evening and morning are my favourite times of day. My family used to leave for road trips in the predawn hours and I liked the empty roads and the emerging light of the new day. I have always wanted to travel to the far north in the summer where the sun never sets. But then, I may never go to bed and sleep is a good thing. These near north days were about perfect and I will remember them during the long nights of winter.

Male Yellow Warbler greeting the day with song

Follow this link for more Skywatch posts from around the world.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time, Temperature and Turtles

Summers used to be long and leisurely but it seems they rush by faster every year. July is almost half over, today being Sandland Brother's birthday.

We had a relaxing time earlier this month on Manitoulin Island with no internet, television, newspapers or radio. Our cabin has always had a clock radio in the past but it was missing this year. I have not experienced this level of media disconnect for a long time. I called home the first couple of days and asked if the world was still around. After that, it didn't seem to matter if it was or not. I started looking at the thermometer and sky to judge the weather rather than depending on a news report. When I reviewed the stack of newspapers on our return home there was nothing missed of any importance or lasting significance.

The weather was unseasonably cool and wet with temperatures around 15C or 60F during the day and much colder at night. On the fifth day the thermometer broke 20C for the first time under sunny skies and children were in bathing suits swimming in the lake (Brrrrrrrrr!!) But the weather did not spoil our vacation and there was an abundance of birds and wildlife to see as well as many fish to catch. I would love to spend an entire summer on this island.

One evening as I explored the road that led to the camp, I came across an unusual turtle crossing the gravel throughfare from the swamp. It's neck was a beautiful yellow and it seemed to be smiling for my camera as I inspected it closely. The Blanding's turtle is considered to be threatened in Ontario and nationally. Its shell is roughly the size and shape of a bike helmet and the turtle lives to an age of 60 to 70+ years. It takes 15 to 18 years to reach maturity.

That sounds very human in development and lifespan...

The females lay their eggs in early summer and the young turtles hatch in late August or September. It is very likely that this was a female turtle looking for an ideal place to lay her eggs. The road was not a safe place crossing point at the speed the turtle moved and I would have picked it up if a car had been coming.

These turtles are now endangered due to habitat loss, road hazards and predation of their nests by racoons and skunks. Humans have degraded their wetlands, created roads and enabled the success of their predators.

These reptiles live out a human lifespan (if they are lucky) at a very slow pace. Taking time to slow the sometimes hectic pace of modern living is important in enjoying our lives in a healthy and fulfilled way. I am still operating at a post vacation turtle pace and have been slow to jump back into blogging. I still want to feel the disconnection from what others think is important for me to hear, to operate on my own body's time schedule, to be able to just sit, enjoying doing nothing in particular.

It won't last long, I am sure of that.