Monday, December 31, 2012

birds of winter...

bevy of swans

little buddy

winter visitors





wee friend

I couldn't get warm yesterday. A deep chill set into my bones from the moment I got up and wouldn't leave. Even after a hot shower. Ever after I layered myself in a hodgepodge of woolens. My feet warmed up when I put on my new Sorel boots (I think AK was tired of hearing me complain about cold feet), but the rest of me kept shivering. Still, I headed out into the chilly air just the same.

Now is the time for birds. Sure, many of these winged things are here year round, but with the bushes bare and food supplies short, many of them seem more visible. There are the little birds that flit around my house, eagerly snapping up the seed and chattering hello. I lose track of time watching the suet disappear beneath a flock of bushtits, or seeing how close the chickadees will let me get as I climb the stairs outside. And then there are the big migrators, the largest of the bunch the trumpeter swans that infiltrate our valley each winter. The empty farm fields I drive past on my way to work are dotted with their fat white bodies plucking at the last seeds and kernels left after harvest. The skyline is dotted too with their v-shaped journeys, honking as they pass overhead. And there are all manner of in-betweens. The plump Canada geese that suddenly look tiny against the swans. Mallards and mergansers foraging and fishing in the estuary. The massive grey bodies of herons resting on stilt-legs as they do the same. I even spotted the tiny green shape of an Anna's hummingbird, feathers fluffed up to double his size as he sticks out the winter.

And now too, is the time for bald eagles. As we head into the first couple months of the year, their see-all eyes watch from every tree and elevated perch. Conserving energy in this time of little food, they gather in large numbers out along the shores and sometimes do little but sit in a tree all day with 10 of their friends. Yesterday on my beach walk I watched the dark shapes far up each nearby tree. I focused on the nearest bird, halfway up a slope in a ragged, stunted fir, and made my way across the rocks. Suddenly, not 10 feet in front of me, a massive dark shape flew up from the driftwood at the base of the hill and soared off in an arcing circle over my head. A juvenile eagle, blending in to the shore in its mottled brown and white plumage. Still, I shook my head at not noticing this big bird of prey right under my nose. Nearly under foot, too, was the reason for his beach foray - a dead harbour seal, belly already ripped open by those hungry birds. I've witnessed this before, and cursed myself for walking with blinders on and missing another opportunity to watch these majestic birds in action. I found myself a rock a bit down the beach to give them lots of room to return, and hunkered down to wait. The glamourous life of a wannabe wildlife photographer. The clunk of shells hitting the rocks kept me company, seagulls wheeling up to drop oysters and clams and then returning to claim their broke-open meal below. But the eagles sat patiently up in their trees, the deep chill of the rock wasn't helping my already cold bones, and after a good half hour watching a brave gull perch atop the seal I let them be. Maybe another day.

The year is wrapping up tonight, and what a tumultuous one its been. I could use a little quiet in the new year - how 'bout you? I'm not much for resolutions, but I'm attempting to start the year off fresh and clean, eating vegan for the month of January. I don't have any particular beliefs about the whole thing, but think my body could use a reset right now. I did a trial meal last night, a hearty lentil, mushroom & kale shepherd's pie to fight the cold and it was delicious. If you're interested I may share more of my recipes or thoughts on this plan as it goes. But we'll see how I do after a month with no cheese or eggs. Tonight though, there are no rules, and we're heading out for a year end special meal. It'll be a quiet night; dinner, movie, ball drop. And tomorrow I'm sure there will be some fresh air to embrace the new year. Wishing you and yours a happy new year filled with joy and cheer.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

then again...

snow buck

beach snow

little house in the snow

snow reflection


Perhaps Mother Nature took my last post as a bit of a challenge. The snow set in heavy last Sunday night, and we tromped through the blanketed streets of our little town. In the morning the skies had cleared up, but the snow lay thick on the ground. Through the week it mostly rained, but every now and again it shifted into wet snow, never accumulating to much, but keeping the air cold and raw.

It rained through the night on Friday, but as I headed into town on Saturday morning for some last minute Christmas shopping, the rain got thicker and thicker until heavy white flakes dropped soddenly from the sky. Things started to whiten up considerably as I navigated the busy shops to get myself out of the holiday rush as quickly as possible. As I wove the truck back along the estuary road, I had to stop to capture the scene, the quiet welcoming of winter. A walk was definitely in order, winding along the still shore through sloppy white flakes. At home several deer hunkered down in the yard most of the day, leaving behind bare ovals on the grass surrounded by white when they left as darkness came on.

And yesterday, Christmas day. The last remnants of snow on the ground on Christmas Eve got watered down with more heavy rain through the night. The morning woke wet again, grey and green. But as the afternoon wore on, the rain turned white and soon enough the mossy bluffs in front of my parents' home were blanketed. I dragged my mom and AK out for a walk in the last of the day's light, along the slushy road and out to get a misty view across the water. There's some more snow in the forecast to cap off the year and bring us into the new.

Of course if I really want snow around here, I point the truck uphill, up the winding mountain road where the snow piles up on either side high above the vehicles. I took in a little night snowboarding last week, and savoured the morning powder today. We are closing in on a five metre snow base up there, which is ridiculous for December, and the continuing cold temps mean the conditions are wonderfully powdery. My new job this year includes a seasons pass, so fair warning that I might be boring you with snow adventures until April.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday, if you celebrate. And that you're winding up the year with a bit of time for stillness and calm in all this rush. We could all use a little recharge, I think.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

this is winter on the coast

this is winter on the coast

this is winter on the coast

this is winter on the coast

this is winter on the coast

We don't get a lot of snow out here. Sure, it piles up in the mountains above us, often tantalizing close, just a couple hundred feet up. But down here on the coast of Vancouver Island the white stuff rarely falls. A couple of times a year the biting chill of an Arctic outflow comes down out of the mainland inlets, settling in for days with bright, clear blue skies and frozen temperatures. But soon enough the prevailing southeasterly winds find their way back in with their dark clouds dense with moisture, and a heavy snow falls on the frozen landscape. The white blanket lasts a few hours, sometimes even a few days, but eventually, always, it turns to rain. In all my 33 years, I think I could comfortably count on one hand the number of white Christmases I have seen.

Winter on the coast is a lot more like yesterday. Waking in the wee hours all snug in my bed, the wind careens past the house like a freight train. I roll over and tuck back in, but the rush of wind and driving rain on the window keep sleep away. All morning the puddle fills up where the driveway meets the road, and little birds puff up and try to keep warm in the wind, flitting through the bare honeysuckle branches by the hanging suet. I keep expecting to see an old woman riding a bicycle fly past the window. Finally, into the afternoon, the rain lightens, just a little. Bundled up, I head out to explore. Here on the coast we don't often get the frozen winter temps so many other see. But there is a persistent dampness to the air that helps the gale howling up the strait cut through to the bone. In the forest the trees sway and shudder, the creek rushes its way to the sea; the outside world disappears in the wind. A couple brave souls pass me on the beach and we exchange frozen smiles before tucking our heads against the wind again.

This is winter on the coast. We hunted for a Christmas tree for my parents this afternoon in between the rain drops, winding our way through dripping branches. The tree brought home, lit up and covered in decorations, a holiday contrast to the grey and brown world outside. We ate æbleskiver and celebrated the third Sunday of advent as another storm came in. The seas rolled underneath the ferry as we crossed the water again to get home.

And if to make an exception, prove me wrong...on the drive home the rain looked distinctly thick on the windshield in the dark. As we turned inland there was no denying the snow, piling up on the road in front of us and flying toward the car in a hypnotizing swirl. Back at home closer to the ocean, the ground was still mostly mud, but the white stuff continued to fall heavily. Now it has piled up quickly and we're considering a night walk around the block. Because around here, you never know how long it is going to last...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

and the rain came down down down...

waiting out the rain

this photo doesn't have much to do with today, as it is from our kayaking trip last August. yet something about staying dry with a mug of tea while watching the rain come down made me think of it.

Today started in the dark, as AK rolled over to hit the snooze button time and again before finally rising to head to work. The eagles must have heard the alarm too, sounding some morning vocals from the tree outside the window. I lay snuggled in bed, not quite ready to give up the warmth of the duvet and start the day. But I was up before long, trying to warm my bones under the shower's stream and watching rain fill up the puddles in the driveway. The woods were calling but the steady downpour keeps me inside, ever so slightly shifting to something a bit thicker, a bit slushier now and then. I find myself more sensitive to the cold this year, feeling a chill more quickly, and the damp rawness of today is no different. I make myself a giant cup filled with hot water, grated ginger and lemon zest, stirring in a spoonful of golden honey.

December is racing by already, and Christmas is fast approaching without much ready for giving. The same old story. Slowly (the keyword of my now despite the rush of the world) I pull out some ornaments, try to add a bit of holiday cheer to the house. This week maybe there will be a tree. A bit of woolen gifting takes shape in my stiff fingers. The house fills up with the smell of peanut butter cookies. Tonight there is a holiday party, for the man's work, and I must decide what to wear, to make myself presentable. Again and again I pause at the windows, to watch the birds flitting about outside, between the suet and seeds and the shelter of the hedges.

Hmmm, this post is beginning to sound very much like last weekend's... The sun never made an appearance today and already the little light that showed up is fading. These darkest days are hard on the spirit. Instead I do my best to fill the house with light - candles, and now little twinkly bits of seasonal cheer. Do you do the same?


>> I'd love to add these twinkly constellation lamps to my darkness-fighting arsenal. Same goes for these snowflake lights
>> This amazing work by Anna Slezak has me thinking of getting back to weaving.
>> A wooden reindeer like this is the sort of holiday decoration I'd want to keep out year round.
>> And if you need a sweet treat to cap off your weekend, these peanut butter brownies sound both delicious and surprisingly healthy.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

today, in puddles.

over the creek



December blew in on the ragged teeth of a southeaster. Not particularly cold. No. Yet there is a persistent dampness now, a west coast specialty that seeps into the bones with its chill and settles there for the winter if you're not paying attention. The skies looked both promising and threatening as I stepped out for a morning walk, after crawling reluctantly from the warm bed. I soon learned the latter was the truest, gentle drops spreading out in the puddles turning into a deluge in the blink of an eye. Beware the sucker hole. I slipped through the woods, pausing for a reprieve under a big tree, the small roof of a park sign, the lee side of a tall hedge. My usual loop was curtailed by the surge high tide, driftwood knocking together gently in the remains of storm swells, at the very edge of the forest. I backtracked in the downpour, along the creek that was swelling its banks. All the wild beasts seemed hunkered down too; only one doe and her fawn lingered in the park, and the little chickadees seemed the only birds braving the rain to say hello. I decided my own lingering was through and headed back home to get dry.

Back at home there was puttering to be done. An adventskrans of sorts to prepare for tomorrow's first lighting. The contemplation of the other holiday ornaments, and where they might fit in our new house. All that cleaning that gets neglected during the busy weekdays. Dishes. Starfish stitching. Finally completing and hanging the pinecone garland I've been thinking about for weeks. Watching the wee birds that flit to the suet outside the kitchen window. All while the rain fell steadily outside. You know, a whole lot of nothing that seems like something at the time.

How was your Saturday?