wilderness

DSC_4543Redwing Blackbird.

Lisa and I are in Calgary taking care of our beautiful grandkids while their Mom and Dad are at a wedding in Mexico.

They are such good kids. We have tried to keep them busy and on schedule to keep them from missing their parents to a minimum. So far we have been successful, but it’s only day 3 of 8. The birdhouse project I planned and expected to take all week was completed in a morning. This had a lot to do with Grandma Lisa who believes once you start a project you finish it. The kids had fun putting roofs on the hollow logs, drilling holes and using screws and nails to complete the project. Of course they got to use all the tools, including the power tools (with assistance) themselves. The houses look great and they are very proud of them.

Each morning before the kids awake I take Willow and Gemma for a walk at Fish Creek Park. It runs for miles in the creek bottom. Mostly large poplar and cottonwood trees and plenty of birds. The entrance to the part of the park we normally access is closed, so we go to another entrance further west.

The path goes down a hill to wetlands with cattails and a few ponds. Signs say the pond is storm runoff and to use caution as the pond will rise quickly during wet weather.

The Redwing Blackbirds chirp and protect their nests, the females in the rushes below. They will hunker and show off their colourful shoulders to the dogs if they feel we are getting too close. Yet they are much less afraid then their rural counterparts. They have become used to humans walking by.

DSC_4542Singing!

This evening, once the kids were in bed I went back to see if I could get some photos. Not having brought my camera I took my daughters oldest Nikon. I had planned it during the afternoon, charging the battery and found a memory card.

The first thing I noticed was the paths were much more busy in the evening. Unlike the morning, when the few people I met responded favourably to my, ‘good morning’. Almost nobody responded to my, ‘good evening’. They looked to the edge of the path.  The ones who did respond looked confused.

Perhaps they had reason. I was wearing an old plaid lumber jacket and had a scruffy Willow dog on a leash (I left Gemma home as she pulls too much for taking photos).

I had about 10 minutes of light, the birds hunkered saving their energy, their shrill song only used sparingly.

I closed my ears to the sound of the city, the hiss of the cars on the roads and the voices, everywhere, all wanting to be heard. The Blackbirds amazed me by their resilience. Would they loose their nests during the next storm when the rainwater was all funnelled through underground corridors to their pond?  I wondered if this part of strong wilderness could sustain Willow and I, both of us on a leash?

Tomorrow morning my Grandchildren will greet me with sleepy eyes, tangled hair and big smiles.

early April

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We’re going in search of birds this weekend. I have been hearing Meadowlarks. It looks like it could rain. I’ve stopped looking at the forecast. It could be good, or bad. Like most things it can go either way regardless. With luck we will see some Meadowlarks. 

****

I looked at one of my old check stubs from the School District. A hundred bucks each cheque went to CUPE 440 – the union. It went to pay and advance apathy, discontent, laziness and sleepy carelessness intent on killing inventive, heartening, truthful labour. 

There are many wonderful people stuck in the union. They toil and deliver regardless of being surrounded by the worst workers in Canada who have landed, finally, a job, after many, they could finally be their thoughtless selves. Nowadays, that’s a union’s purpose.

****  

There is no gold plated pension waiting for Lisa and I. Hopefully the body holds up to keep working. I met a fellow today recently retired. He said he spent the winter sick. I told him that’s what retirement will do for you. He laughed, but neither of us were joking. 

****

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Lisa bought some oil for Willow that is supposed to keep ticks away. It smells like oregano, so much so, I’ve thought about calling Willow ‘Spaghetti’, which would be a good name for a Long Haired Dachshund. The oil must work, because after a day in the bush, there was nary a tick on her while I picked one off my neck. Now I’m wearing the oil and we both smell like pasta sauce.

****

It’s tough to say goodbye to winter. It’s a season you can hide and hang out in. The silence, the early dark, where every star shines bright, Orion and his dog Sirius chasing the sisters Pleiades and Hyades across the frozen sky. To be on earth, watching, is both awful and the most amazing gift given.

birdsong

RCE_2431A White-Winged Crossbill makes a landing.

Willow and I were up into the mountains once work was complete.

The day with bright sunshine reached 10°c. The snow, in the valley bottom, is melting with nowhere to go. Big puddles reflect the blue sky. Soon the frost will come out of the ground and the water will be absorbed where it can do some good.

_LME0075Sun halo. Caused by ice crystals in the air.

Willow and I walked a frozen snowmobile path into the mountains. The birds, numerous, chirped in unison, but most refused to be seen. It’s hard to consider yourself a smart animal in their company, under the spruce, rock and snow while they rule from above, laughing at our plight nature inflicted.

CRW_0012A Pine Siskin, responsible for the trees going ‘zzzweeeet’!

Once off the path I sunk up to my knee. I remembered being young, setting off in the morning in the cold, before the sun cleared the mountains, walking easy on top of the snow, only to find the same snow soft once the afternoon took over, and having to slog back slowly home, taking twice the time for the same distance.

RCE_2442.jpgColour among the buds.

I kept the windows open on the ride home listening for song.

CRW_0015A couple of Crossbills commission last years’ copious cone crop.

Very fine morning.

early march

_LME9788A meteor pierces Orion.

Willow and I set out to try and spot zodiacal light. False dusk as it is sometimes referred to. We sat on an eastern ridge. Unfortunately, the light from the valley bottom interfered. We did the only logical thing, headed higher and around, trying to put a range of mountains between us and the light of town. It can be tricky in the snow. Willow was happy with our new perch looking towards Orion. She caught a whiff or sound earlier that made her uneasy, started her barking and tighten the perimeter. In a world that shifts it is lucky to have such a trustworthy companion. Perhaps she was only barking at Orion’s dog Sirius, warning, ‘You are not so big.’

CRW_0023Female Red Crossbill

Earlier in the day I took some lovely pictures of a Hairy Woodpecker beating on a rotten birch. It was pounding the bark off and getting at the frozen bugs hiding in the punky wood. I would have posted a picture or two here if I hadn’t forgot to put a memory card in the camera.

CRW_0025Winter Starlings ducking the chill

The last week we have had snow, cold temperatures and also brilliant days that stay cold but feel warm from the sun higher in the sky. It feels good to be getting some shovelling and plowing in. I took a selfie of myself (strange indeed) with my cell phone. From sweating and breathing deep my hair and beard was covered in frost and my nose had a perfect icicle hanging off it. I thought it was hilarious! Lisa and my daughters said it was gross. Still it seemed only proper that I share it, so I sent it to my grandson Cooper via his mom’s phone. He thought it was very funny and asks his Mom regularly to see the photo over and over again.

CRW_0011Facing skyward

March brings spring. The other day I saw my first spider of the year and it was a dandy! I got home from work after a long shift of shovelling and sweating and headed for the shower. I shed my toque, glasses, boots and clothes. Before I stepped into the soothing shower, there on the bathroom floor was a spider at least an inch across. Luckily it wasn’t moving fast, probably from having just woken up, but it was moving, each leg stretching, it was only a matter of time before it regained it’s strength and ran down the drain or up my leg! Naked, and feeling it, I grabbed my glasses and a boot to protect myself. Once my glasses were on and I could see clearly I realized the spider was only a ball of black lint, it’s movement caused from a draft under the door. I felt doubly foolish coming to the realization the lint that looked like a giant spider had fallen from my belly button while undressing.

It seems like the entire winter was packed into February. March brings spring.

_LME9793Fir, Spruce, Tamarack, Cancer and the Beehive

a rainy start to summer

_LME7756smWillow’s smile.

Very fine day to wrap up the long weekend. Most of it was spent in the shop/studio wrapping up loose ends. Because it’s a holiday there wasn’t many texts coming in. Nowadays, everybody expects texts to be answered right away. I try my best to oblige, but it takes me away from actual work. Today I made some progress.

It rained most of the day. I kept the door open, so Willow and I could enjoy it. With luck it will help minimize the forest fire danger. It was especially welcome this weekend when the bush is filled with revellers lighting large camp fires and setting off fireworks. Not that they are the biggest threat, the only forest fires this year have been started by loggers.

***

_LME7730Babies Breath above the graves.

In the evening Willow and I set off for the bush. There is a special calm after a raucous long weekend. First we went to Windermere to the old graveyard. I promised I would say  hi to Mom and Dad.

Windermere is a strange town now. It was one of the first communities in the Valley. The few historical sites that remain are surrounded by huge second homes (cabins they are called by their owners) that are occupied only six weeks a year. The town is 80% populated by second home owners. The school has remained open only by offering special programs that appeal to families throughout the valley. Otherwise it would have been closed long ago.

This is one of the weekends the second homes are occupied. I got some dirty looks driving toward the graveyard. My pick up didn’t fit in with the Cadillac SUV’s and Beamers. Plus my licence plate was the wrong colour. For all they knew I could have been casing the place.

Walking the rows between the old names. There was the Fishers, Crooks, Tegarts, Kimptons, Youngs and plenty others dating back to the 1800’s. There was also Bingo, the Best Darn Dog in the Land. Dug recently.

My Grandfather once owned a strip of land from the highway all the way down to the graveyard. It didn’t have a drop of water. The land wasn’t worth spit.  They had a ditch from Windermere Creek they got their water and  irrigated the gardens. It must have only been a trickle during summer. They raised turkeys and chickens and sold vegetables. It wasn’t easy. Long after my Grandfather sold, the land was bought and subdivided by a developer. It is now covered in large houses overlooking Lake Windermere. People that never have a thought of what came before.

***

_LME7743Indian Paintbrush.

After that Willow and I headed for the hills. The looks we got leaving were not as bad.

Once in the bush, the rain falling, we finally felt ourselves.

_LME7761Wood Lily.

mountain lady’s slipper

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Willow and I made time after supper for a run behind Swansea. She ran rampant, smelling rabbits on her tongue. I poked around looked for blossoms and signs to confirm it was indeed the middle of June.

Work is good and plenty of it at this time of year. Lisa and I were side by side today hammering the computers. It feels good to be back in business for ourselves again.

There was a time I could put in 16 hour days, even longer sometimes, sometimes even with a couple beer under my belt, but not now. Occasionally, I wish I still possessed that focus, most of the time I’m glad I don’t, it can catch up to you.

It feels good to be making practical things, not art or anything magnificent, but products that make peoples lives easier or happier. That’s what we are good at, working, putting our noses to the grindstone. Nothing more, but more than enough.

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Was up early this morning. Mars was blazing over the lake. Right now Mars is close to Earth in our respective orbits around the sun. How close is Mars? It is so close, Willow stood up and barked at Rover.

Boooooo!

stripped down

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Willow has now been properly stripped. Lisa and I held her in place and pulled out all the loose hair. Now she looks like a smooth Dachshund with furry paws and a terriers face.

Willow doesn’t like getting stripped or having her nails cut. It is a bit of a wrestling match and it is important she knows she is going to have it done even if she doesn’t like it. It is usually me who is the bad guy in these situations. It’s funny, because she seems to forget any hostilities right after, and we go back to being the best of friends.

Willow does enjoy a bath though. I am sure she would jump in Lisa’s bath at the first hint of an invitation. I tell Willow not to feel bad, Lisa banned me from her bath a long time ago when I started displacing too much water.

***

The garden is coming along. It’s been chilly the last week. Rain on and off. The tomatoes look stunted. The lettuce and mustard greens are chugging along and we can’t eat them or give them away fast enough. Mid winter, I often think, I’d die for a spring salad. Now they are so plentiful. I’m thinking to save time, I might just go out to the garden and get down on my hands and knees and munch the leaves right down to the soil. It would save time picking, washing and putting on dressing. I could always chug some olive oil and lemon juice later if I was left wanting.

The garlic scapes are coming ready and we have been enjoying quite a few. They are humdingers – hot and spicy! Delicious raw! While I lay in bed last night I thought, shit, I’ve overdone it on the garlic.

***

While driving over the overpass today I saw an old guy on the sidewalk. He was walking slow, shuffling like he was on a patch of ice. He had a hundred yards of sidewalk in either direction before he could rest. Cars whizzing by. He was on his own.

I figure somebody, maybe even a doctor, told him to get out and get some exercise. He figured he walked the overpass plenty of times before, so he set out. He was dressed nice. He looked like a tourist or second home owner.

I worried for him. Not because he looked shaky, but because he looked like he didn’t have a purpose. Going for a walk is never enough. It’s better to be out checking the height of the river, the progress of bulldozers building a dyke or the next condominiums, or the species of birds landing on the wetlands, all the while contemplating a desire to walk the liquor store isles, pushing the need to collect bottles and cans to pay for another snort. And then another walk in the spring sun admiring the girls wearing less.

Or something like that.

***

Willow seems small without her wire hair. She better get her shit together and grow it back in a hurry. . . at least before winter.

wild orchid

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While on the mountain last weekend I noticed the Yellow Orchids were close to opening. They appear quickly and disappear just as quickly. Willow and I made a quick trip this evening and there they were, near a spring on a slope.

Willow dipped her paws in the soft ground.

The Yellow Orchid is rare around here. We used to run pictures of them in the newspaper, but never disclosed the location they were found. Once they are picked they disappear.

The flower nurtures the roots, the pods spread seeds, the seeds have to land on the right kind of moss, the moisture and decay has to be just right, sometimes they take several years to germinate. It is a miracle the wild orchid exists at all.

That’s the thing about life. Regardless of the obstacles, it not only endures, but flourishes.

When Willow got back in the truck, after tramping through the creek bottom, she smelled like fishy mud. And she still does.

late April

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Got the garden tilled. It raised to 20° today. It is freezing tonight. This is the part of spring that feels good. The backroads are melting and drying. It will go on for awhile.

Somehow I got a sliver stuck in my finger. It’s a good sliver. In deep. Much bigger than the hole it left going in. Maddy says she is going to come out and extract it. It should be infected by then and will come scooting out. She says she wants to put it on youtube. People love that stuff, she says.

My finger is swelling. I’ll give her till Saturday then, if she hasn’t come, I’ll cut my finger open.

I feel behind watching spring. The birds chatter. I try to see them. Sometimes they reveal themselves and sometimes they don’t.

Somebody looking in would say it’s all by rote, but they would be wrong.

The garlic is up. It’s clear as a bell. The rain is coming. It’s still early enough to turn to snow.

Nothing lasts in spring. Nor does it look the same way twice.

fort

RCE_9396smLow clouds cast shadows on the ice.

The ice on the lake is hanging on. It will take either wind or rain to get rid of it. The ice wasn’t as thick this year as the year before. It snowed on the weekend and I was glad to see it. I like winter. There is something about fresh snow and spring clouds.

Spring is coming. I’ve always liked late snows.The birds are making lots of noise. The rhubarb is breaking through the ground. Soon the garlic and last year’s lettuce seeds will be showing. I should dig the garden early this year. Get the spuds, carrots, beets and peas in early. As usual, I started a few tomatoes and weed plants inside. Black Cherry and Early Girl for the tomatoes and a Sativa for weed. They will be ready to transplant by the end of May.

The backroads are mud, ice and snow; in that order. I have been keeping to the valley bottom for Willow’s walks.

A few winters ago I spotted what looked like a treehouse from a distant hillside perch. It is a spot I only walk in the winter. In spring, fall and summer it would be well hidden with foliage. I have always intended to check it out, but deep snow always deterred me.

On the weekend I found myself again looking at it across a mile wide coolie. Still hard to see, it kept starring back. Since there was little snow I thought I would finally check it out.

RCE_9384Three windows, aesthetically placed.

It was a bit of a scramble, through thicket and deadfall, the route I choose, but other than carefully crossing a small patch of thin ice over moving water, it was a nice walk. The treehouse had been there awhile and had been abandoned for just about as long. There was no way into it, not for me anyway. The ladder was long gone. There was a thin rope hanging. Too old and thin for me. I stayed looking up, where I belong

It wasn’t the work of kids. It had two sunning decks, a locking door and three framed windows facing east. Not a bad set up. My guess it was built by young adults for a place to squat during summer while working trades, though the trade wouldn’t have been carpentry.

Packrats had shredded a bed or mattress and stuffing lay below the fort. Willow enjoyed going through it. She loves chasing rats when given the opportunity.

RCE_9389Watch that first step.

A roll of poly lay covered in forest debris. Old beer cans scattered. Those beers must have tasted good on a summer day watching the sun leave the eastern mountain tops from such a vantage point. Most of the trees used for support were dead or dying. The firs would survive. They will be stunted but standing long after the fort disappears entirely.

It was a steep haul back to the trail that the here and there snow made double difficult. Should be a quick melt from here on in.