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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

crossbill

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This is a a not so great picture of a Red Crossbill, taken from a long way away in bad light.

Still I was happy to get it. It was taken hell-and-gone behind Swansea, up the creek.

I always wondered about crossbills. Were their beaks a mistake of nature. Did God screw up after a night of drinking with the Devil both of them trying to gain insight into each others character?

Why else would they have that look. Beaks crossed in some kind of awkward grin.

Red Crossbills are found at the top of spruce using their perfectly shaped mandibles separating cones from the tender seed which they eat.

Spruce, fir, tamarack and pine produce more cones than needed. Plenty of squirrels take care of the excess along with other animals.

What they don’t get, the ones high on the trees, the Crossbill take care of.

I don’t care who’s in charge. It’s nice to know there ain’t any mistakes.

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

Turkey Soup

RCE_1698Willow surveys the sticks on shore, carefully picking one to fetch. 

It is a long standing tradition of rotating hosting Christmas dinner among our family. This year it was Lisa’s brother Brent’s family’s turn. There was plenty of great food and wine and lots of good conversation and laughs.

RCE_1679Grey December beside the Columbia.

Brent generously gives me the turkey carcass as he knows I like to make broth from the bones. He always leaves some meat on the bones so I can add it to the soup the next day. Even at this late hour the soup is boiling. I will wait as long as I can before straining the broth. It will be put outside to cool.

Tomorrow I will sauté onions, carrots and onions, add the broth, the left over turkey and a handful of barley. That’s it, supper taken care of.  The kids always loved that soup. Sometimes they would argue over whether I should add barley or pasta noodles. Barley usually won out.

RCE_1689An American Dipper holds down the ice beside the river.

My Mom and Dad used to make the same soup, from turkeys, but also wild chickens we shot. They called it mulligan. It was thick and gamey. They said it was soup that stuck to your ribs. I used to wonder what that saying meant. I thought, maybe the barley acted as glue and stuck to your insides. Later, when I understood a person could go hungry, I realized it could keep hunger away longer than many other foods, some much more expensive.

We are lucky to have so much.

RCE_1660My old path to the fish holes.

ghosts

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There are ghosts everywhere. In the trees and clouds, between mountains, deep in the holler, along the coolies beside the creek, overgrown tangled in willow, littered with deadfalls: each and every overhead cliff, an ancient snag ready and able to hang the guilty.

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Not that I believe in them. Ghosts I mean.

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Most are wondering around. Possibly lost. They don’t say much. Nor me back to them. A courteous nod is about it. Most of the times they are surprised, as I, to have run into each other.

Long ago they’d nudge me awake. My mother used to want to know what they were wearing. I used to be afraid at first. I’d listen to the radio until I was asleep. She would ask, was he wearing an army uniform, a plaid shirt, a tam? Don’t be afraid she’d say. They’re not here to hurt you.

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They’re here to tell you something, she’d say.

I didn’t believe.

The ghosts kept appearing, in the creek bottoms. At night they were among the stars. I’d feel them go through me, in a rush, taking my breath into the sky above the crags.

We got used to each other. They don’t talk, but sometimes I will. I tell them I don’t believe. Then tell them the creek is low, the snow will be early, there is a moose in the upper basin that comes out in the morning to walk the slough, it better keep it’s head down until the end of hunting season.

Animals curve where they shouldn’t. Same as people. Ghosts blend in. Once you see them you will always see them. 

If you believe in that stuff.

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postcard

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We always saved something for cold harvest. We chipped carrots out of frozen ground. Chewed on seeds come winter. He thought the dill ones could hide whiskey breath from his mother. This on account the birds wouldn’t eat them. He tried to explain it one day, I didn’t get it. He was wrong; about dill masking the smell of whiskey though. We saw his mother chase him out of the house after he’d eaten a bushel of them. He was mostly wrong most of the time. But sometimes he could be dead on. Thats why we liked him, I guess.