Sunday, November 03, 2013


With the switch to Standard Time last night along with November days which shorten quickly, the opportunities to enjoy sunshine outside of work hours are now limited. This autumn has been very wet and a day like today was a treat indeed. Perhaps this was my last opportunity for a bike ride and the switch to an indoor stationary bike for exercise is almost here.

My life over the past several months has been out of sync in many ways. One year ago today I was on a plane returning to Canada from Mexico. I made two more trips south earlier this year to be with my family. Just over a year ago my work schedule increased from four to five days a week with a weekend rotation every seven weeks. This week I work seven days in a row which is not as easy physically as it might have been twenty years ago. The balance between work, home, leisure, rest and social activities has been hard to find at times. Time has accelerated as days and weeks turn into months at break neck speed. 

Northern Shovelers perform a synchronized swim
I sauntered around the neighbourhood on my bicycle in the sunshine until my hands and feet felt like blocks of ice. The air is cold! There are patches of lingering fall colour but signs of winter are here. I saw my first flock of Juncos although I am sure they have been around for a while now. I enjoyed the balance and synchrony around me today and hope to incorporate more in my life again.

Great Blue Heron roosting high in the trees

Thursday, September 05, 2013

This Market is NOT Destroyed!

A devastating fire early Labour Day morning levelled the main building of the St. Jacobs market just north of Waterloo, Ontario. Sixty vendors occupied the two storey wood building which was packed with local shoppers and tourists on market days. I have visited many markets and very few in North America compare with this one. Tuesday's sensational newspaper headline informed us the market was destroyed and the picture appeared to confirm the announcement.

We moved to Kitchener in December 1970. My mother was a very industrious homemaker and rode her bicycle to the Kitchener Stockyards market near the railway tracks at River Rd and Hwy 7 to buy produce. At that time Kitchener had a thriving downtown outdoor market but in the early 1970s the old city hall was demolished and the market was moved to the basement of a new mall and parking garage. The soul of the Kitchener Market withered and many vendors, including Old Order Mennonites stopped selling their goods at the new market. The Kitchener Stockyard merged with the Waterloo Stockyard near St. Jacobs and a new outdoor market started to grow north of the city. A few years later the main market building was constructed and the market expanded quickly becoming a major tourist attraction.

Hot apple fritters were worth the drive to the market
When our children were young I took them to the Stockyard Market most Thursdays. They loved to walk the catwalk above the livestock pens in the auction building (no longer possible) and we bought apple fritters or mini donuts for a treat. The lineup for apple fritters usually extended far out the doorway in the middle picture.

Inside the building after the fire and before the fire
The open concept two storey market building had food vendors downstairs and craft vendors upstairs. It was a challenge to move through the aisles on Saturday mornings as people crowded around counters waiting for their turn to be served.
Outside the building before and after the fire
Vendors selling food, clothing, and household goods had stalls under the porches of the market building. There is an extensive outdoor market and the auction building houses a flea market, general merchandise and another food court.

Today the market re-opened just three days after the fire and I arrived early before work. Some vendors were still unpacking but I quickly found the fresh apples and tomatoes I wanted.

The heat of the fire damaged a nearby Conestoga wagon and signs at the entrance to the auction building. The firemen did a good job of keeping the fire from spreading to other structures.

Today's market was a celebration of harvest, of life and perseverance. The community came out to support the three hundred remaining vendors. The sixty vendors affected by the fire suffered significant losses but people are rallying to help them through this crisis.

This market is not a building. It is made up of people who sell and buy and meet with friends. Burned posts stand in the background but life goes on in the foreground.

Don't believe the newspaper headline. It was written by someone who does not feel the heartbeat of this community. This market is NOT destroyed! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Three Months

What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, 
for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us. 
Helen Keller

Monday April 22, 2013 
Monday July 22, 2013

Exactly three months ago I sat at the bedside of my mother as she slipped from this life just before dawn. Life goes on as usual in many ways but I still miss our nightly conversations on Skype and her rounds on Facebook. Social media was important as her physical world became smaller and smaller. I see her in the faces of my patients, in books I read and in movies I watch. A friend recommended the classic movie Tokyo Story and I viewed it on a hot evening last week. The  family’s story transcended time and culture and left me in tears at the end in shared loss. Grief does not leave us suddenly. 

I brought home a little devotional book Mom used every morning. She marked a couple of  special pages with bits of tissue in the painful months before she died. One was entitled, “Anticipating a Glorious Future” and the scripture was from Romans 8:18.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing 
with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

There has been a slate of deaths amongst our friends since my mother’s passing, three of them very prematurely and tragically. It is impossible to feel the depth of another’s pain but the acknowledgement of loss by others is comforting. Friends gave us the Hibiscus plant pictured above that is now blooming heavily and beautifully. My co-workers gave me a gift certificate from a local nursery and I am planning a butterfly garden in Mom’s memory. As soon as it is a little cooler I will put in perennials that will bloom next year. 

Like a seed or root in the ground, death gives way to life and hope eternal. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Caught With My Mouth Full

We spend a week at a cottage or cabin most summers. Planning and shopping ahead for all our meals takes time and effort as we never stay close to a grocery store. When our three children were young, food was the biggest consideration when packing. Lately I keep lists of what we take and what we bring home unused but the task still seems daunting. Although my husband is a good fisherman we never count on fish meals just in case he is skunked. The last couple of years we stopped at a discount grocery store in Espanola ON, just an hour from our destination, in order to buy fruit, vegetables and perishable items. That gives me a final chance to go over lists and menus while we are driving. No one wants to be hungry while on vacation.

Last week most of the birds I observed were very busy feeding their young families from dawn to dusk. The insects were plentiful this year due to the wet weather and mosquitoes were a nuisance which is unusual on the shores of the big lake. It was a good year to be a flycatcher or warbler,

or a Bobolink taking food to her nest in the tall meadow grass,

or a Robin looking for grubs in the wet ground,

or a Sandhill Crane foraging in the freshly mown hay field,

or a bumblebee with overfull pollen sacks visiting the many wildflowers along the roadside.

A pair of Eastern Phoebes lived under the little bridge over the creek where the boats were docked. I think this one was just waiting for a mosquito to fly in its mouth.

We all ate well this year but the birds and bees worked longer and harder at getting meals than I did!

Monday, July 08, 2013


The old couple loved the camp on the shores of the big lake. The winterized home where they lived for decades was clean and inviting. She tended the rose bushes at the entrance and hung planters with brightly coloured begonias beside the bridge that crossed the small creek beside the house. Friends dropped by during the long afternoons and sat outside and visited.

The small housekeeping cabins on the other side of the creek sagged with age, tilting toward the lake more after each spring thaw. Every year he inspected them for winter damage and turned on the water and electricity. The rooms were spotlessly cleaned and readied for the succession of guests who came through the summer months. Summer was a busy season, cutting lawns, removing garbage, fixing boat motors, tending to the guests' needs, sharing fishing tips, and being available day and night.

She died suddenly one winter and he went through the motions of running the camp for another season and then another. His broken heart started failing but he pressed on making frequent visits to doctors in the distant city along with his usual chores. His stiffened joints ached but he kept going for the customers. Each year he was reluctant to book for next season but names were recorded on the calendar and the guests returned.

He finally put the camp up for sale and moved to town. The young couple bought it with money they made from their high paying professional careers in another province. They set up a website and wrote about their plans for the future. They bought two big boats and a fancy tractor. They were nice people but they didn't love the camp. It was an investment, a piece of real estate, not a part of their personal history. He flew in now and then to check things out. They came for a month in the summer and stayed in the big cottage down the road. The house by the creek was empty and neglected. Weeds choked out the roses and the flower pots were dried and cracked. Nature gained an upper hand quickly without diligent daily care. The camp had internet now and he was available by cell phone but the grounds needed a caretaker, an overseer, a real person in charge.

It is the peak of the summer season. All the cabins are empty save one and the grounds are silent but for birdsong and the lapping waves on the empty beach. The bridge is crumbling, the new big boats sit unused at the dock. The swings on the lawn are unused and creek is choked with weeds. It is more like a ghost town than a peaceful paradise.

The old couple loved the camp on the shores of the big lake. I am glad they cannot see it now.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

My daughter and I were talking about the French version of our National Anthem. We learned it phonetically at school but I never remember going through a translation of the words from French to English. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to find these words quickly and I like them a lot.

I am proud to be Canadian by birth. I saw many people today in Ottawa who come from nations around the world and now call Canada home. It is easy to find things to complain about but we should always be grateful for our freedom, peace, prosperity, safety, and future.

O Canada!
Terre de nos aieux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits

translates as:

O Canada!
Land of our forefathers,
Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
So also is it ready to carry the cross.
Thy history is an epic of the most brilliant exploits.
Thy valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights
Will protect our homes and our rights.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Lark's Father's Day

A male Horned Lark stood alert and vigilant on the city curb, horns raised and tail spread, his beak holding a tasty insect or two for his rapidly growing and hungry offspring.

He and his mate chose this unlikely road island on a dead-end street for their ground nest. I drove by and noticed nothing interesting until I saw the adult birds nearby. I have never seen a Horned Lark here in the summer months as they usually move through on their way north in late winter.

So seeing the two birds, the female on the left and the male on the right was eye-catching. Their nest is right in the middle of the picture.

I pulled off the road and watched from my car. In a few minutes, Mother Lark hopped discreetly to the nest with a mouthful of insects for her young hatchlings. Dad watched from the curb looking at crows, cyclists, joggers, a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds and me.

He didn't flinch when a horse-drawn buggy clacked by or when regular traffic zoomed through unaware of his presence.

I took a quick look at the nest when the parents flew off together in search of more food. The four young birds huddled close together under a dandelion plant extremely well camouflaged amongst the pebbles and plants on the ground.

Both birds returned with full beaks but I noticed Mom fed the babies far more often than Dad. After Dad had patrolled the curb, distracting others from the nest, he often ate the food he found himself.

I spent an enjoyable hour watching the birds. It is a good day when I find something new and learn the habits of a bird I seldom see around here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Making Time for Roses

What a lovely thing a rose is...

She weighs no more than a 10 year old child, her body wasted by disease, yet she clings to life exceeding prognostications made many weeks ago. I watched her when my mother was far away and ill with a similar condition and tried to compare their rate of decline. My mother died almost two months ago. This lady barely exists. Most of her days are spent in bed with the oxygen concentrator humming at her side. 

The rain let up today and I asked her if she wanted to see the roses. She is like me, longing to be outdoors rather than surrounded by walls and artificial light. I lifted her into a wheelchair and wrapped her frail body in covers before we stepped out into the bright sunshine. She raised her face to the warmth and smiled as we sat in the rose garden. A wrinkled hand reached down and embraced a bright red blossom. The outing exhausted her but she remarked that this was just the second time she had been outdoors this spring. 

My mother was the biggest fan of my blog. She looked everyday to see if there was something new and what I wrote became the topic of our next conversation. Her computer was the connection to the outside world when she could no longer travel. It has been hard to think about blogging and inspiration has lagged since she has gone. 

Life goes on with laughter and joy as well as poignant memories. It is easy to get caught in the grind of daily routines that drain the spirit. I am looking to rekindle the spontaneity that sparked wonder and discovery. The world is more than a sad and serious place plagued with natural and man-made ills. Beauty is there if I make time to notice the roses, peonies, bird songs and the people who add joy and meaning to my life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers' Day 2013

The weather today matched my mood...sun, rain, blustery winds, snow showers, even hail.

I visited Ruthven Park the past two years on Mothers' Day to help with spring migration bird banding because I prefer this activity to dinners and gifts. Mist nets cannot be used in rain and wind so that outing was impossible today. We drove out to a marshy lake in the afternoon to do a little birding. Just as we arrived a heavy snow shower rolled in on strong winds. The Osprey's nest was destroyed by the wind and futile efforts at rebuilding were underway.

I stepped out of the car for these photos but the wind made it hard to hold my camera steady. I haven't seen snow on Mothers' Day for at least 25 years. This area is one of few in our area where Bobolinks can be found. They sit on the fence posts and belt out their crazy metallic songs throughout the day. Five large communication towers stand on the land here so the meadow is untouched by pesticides and herbicides. Thousands upon thousands of acres of corn have destroyed the habitat for meadow dwelling birds like Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, Savannah Sparrows, Killdeer and Bobolinks to name a few. (And that corn is grown to raise cattle but that is a subject for another day)

The winds kept the Bobolinks in the grass more than on the fence wires but they sang in spite of the weather. This marsh is also home to a few nesting Sandhill Cranes and we were fortunate to see two of them grazing in the shallow water.

My family bought me a brand new pair of Nikon binoculars for Mothers' Day and they were useful in watching this drama. A Sandhill Crane was approaching the nesting area of a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds. The male performed aerial attacks on the crane repeatedly, and as it came closer to the nest, the female joined in as well.

Here is the full frontal and rear attack on the Sandhill Crane and it is not even flinching. We couldn't tell if it ravaged the Red-winged Blackbird nest or not.

Fresh air and birding make me happy even in unpleasant weather. As a true introvert, I recharge best wandering about on my own or with a quiet companion. Life can be tough and you might lose your nest or someone special. The wind may batter you about today but there is a tomorrow when the sun will shine and all will be well in your world.

This is my Father's world, 
and to my listening ears 
all nature sings, and round me rings 
the music of the spheres...

This is my Father's world. 
O let me ne'er forget 
that though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
God is the ruler yet. 
This is my Father's world: 
why should my heart be sad? 
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! 
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a significant Mexican holiday and we even had events in our city this weekend to mark it for our local Mexican and Latino community. 

Today is also the 81st anniversary of Mom's birth and it was two weeks ago tonight she left us for a better place. There were several May birthdays in our family and we celebrated them with outdoor picnics when flowers were bursting forth on the trees, in the garden and in the woods. I walked in the woods on Friday and found many beautiful spring ephemerals pushing up through the dead leaves of autumn and winter. They made me think of the a song based on Isaiah 61:3 that we used to sing a few decades ago when scripture songs were popular.

He gave me beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,

The garment of praise
for the spirit of heaviness;

That we might be trees of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD,

That he might be glorified.

Our earthly stay is also ephemeral, but like these spring flowers our lives can be beautiful and productive in the time we are given.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Spring Birding Here and There

Rufous-backed Robin-MX
I had my first good look at the Rufous-backed Robins found in Mexico this April. I heard their song early in the morning, a chirping very similar to our Robins in Canada but with a trill sounding like a rolled "R" and sung in a different key. These Robins were more wary than the ones that hop on our lawns at home. The orange-red breast colour extends over the wings and upper back of the birds. The American Robin below was in a tree today in a nearby wood lot here in Canada.

American Robin- Ontario
I didn't see any Great-tailed Grackles in January in Mexico but they were around in great numbers in April. The males displayed noisily throughout the day. They liked the bird bath and would clean out fallen leaves before splashing about. The bird below was the "alpha" of the flock and would not share the water with other Grackles.

Great-tailed Grackle- MX
There were many Orioles on the property in Mexico last month. They are very shy and the picture below was taken through the window in the morning. This is a Black-cowled Oriole and it was a life bird for me. The Altamira and Hooded Orioles are more commonly seen. Along with Hummingbirds, they like the nectar in the Bottle Brush blooms by the house.

Black-cowled Oriole- MX
I meandered around local trails in Ontario this morning for several hours looking for wildflowers and birds. Many long distance migrants have not arrived yet but some birds are already in their active nesting period. I walked by one tree and saw a female Pileated Woodpecker at the base looking in the ground litter for insects. She and her mate were actively calling and feeding in the area.

Female Pileated Woodpecker- Ontario
Forty feet above the woodpecker in the same tree, a female Wood Duck perched above her nest hole. It amazes me to think that the young ducklings will be pushed out of this high nest and led to water before they can fly. It would make more sense to see the duck at the bottom of the tree and the woodpecker at the top.

Female Wood Duck- Ontario
Mom always looked forward to the return of the Barn Swallows who nested in the car port of their home in Mexico. This is one bird that is common in throughout North America and their nesting period is similar in the north and south. The Swallows returned later than usual this year but their noisy chatter as they prepared their nest was heard throughout the day. The picture below was taken shortly after the sun rose over the mountain behind the house in the morning.

Barn Swallows- Nayarit, MX
There was one more bird which was heard and not seen in Mexico. After she was bed-ridden, Mom told me about a bird which called out all night long. She finally identified it as a Mockingbird who was looking for a mate. Apparently they do their courting after dark. Sure enough, as soon as the sun went down, the Mockingbirds started calling. They are great mimics and the calls sometimes sounded like a car alarm. I looked for them in the morning but never found a single one during daylight hours. I recorded the call with my camera and it is uploaded below.

I haven't kept a bird count this year but observing bird behaviour is more interesting to me than tallying a list of sightings.

Mockingbird night call