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A winter wildlife bonanza

Last week was a nature bonanza around here! It started with the northern lights.

A girl friend and I went for a walk about 7:30 pm one evening as we haven’t seen one another in quite some time and needed a good catch-up. We walked and walked out of the town site and up onto the main park road where there are no street lights. The sun went down and we turned back for home. At some point she said, “Are those clouds?”

We stopped walking and both stared straight up at which point the formation exploded in spikes like fireworks. Northern lights!! Bright green. They continued to dance and swirl and at another point, created a long arcing S across the night sky. They were some of the most fabulous northern lights I’ve seen.

The next day after work, five of us women went to snowshoe a trail in the park but discovered the snow had melted so much that we could simply hike it. Beautiful day and three Canada geese just returned from a winter down south were hanging out on the ice along the edge of the river that is now running swiftly. As we grabbed our abandoned snowshoes and prepared to head home, I said to one of the gals, “I’m surprised we haven’t seen any eagles yet. They should be back about now.”

Well, queue the bald eagle. Not ten minutes later, I hollered, “THERE!!!!” and we all ducked to look up through the van windows to the sky where a bald eagle was flying towards us and over our heads towards the river from where we’d just come. So exciting!

That night, I woke up at about 3:50 am – still having bizarre dreams. This time I woke up in the middle of Steve Earl singing My Old Friend the Blues as if real music was playing only to realize it had been part of the dream that woke me.

Anyway, I decided to head outside for a quick look. The northern lights are never the same twice. That night, the entire sky was pulsing and popping in all directions. There were more green splotches of light than there was dark sky. It felt like being in a 1970s disco with the volume turned off on the music.

Move ahead to the next day when I packed up my three dogs and drove out to another area of the park where I know there is open water this early in the spring. It was late in the day, about 6 pm. I left the dogs in the car at the Narrows and quietly walked out on the shoreline with binoculars.

With the naked eye I could already see possibly the biggest bald eagle I’ve ever seen. From that distance of about 100 m across the water and ice, then up another 30 ft to the top of a large pine tree, there sat an eagle. I could make out it’s yellow beak and everything. I took a look through my binos and it was incredible. I bet the bird’s chest was as broad as my Great Dane’s. Its body was facing me but its head was turned looking out over the lake. Then suddenly it turned and looked right at me, which I fully admit was unnerving. I let go of the binos with my right hand, waved and said in a nervous voice, “Hiiiiiihahahaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

It eventually got antsy and launched out of the tree. It was such a large bird that I could hear the wings moving air like it was right beside me. Later on I saw it on the lake ice stealing some dead animal tissue from a couple of ravens and flying off with its prize while the ravens squawked over the left-overs.

I also spotted movement across the Narrows along the sandy shore. An otter was playing and digging and rolling around in the snow. When it finally noticed me it dove under the ice and after a few moments I could hear it swimming back and forth under the ice in front of me along the shoreline.

On the drive back home I slowed down near Mud Creek and watched a beaver working away, sitting on top of the ice. They never look that big in the water because I only ever see their heads and tails, but gosh, on shore they’re quite a hefty critter!

Then, every elk in the park seemed to be in town the next morning and there was that full moon, equinox, solar eclipse trifecta thingy going on (that we didn’t get to see here in Canada) so overall, the whole week was just hopping with natural wonders.

I love it.

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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in PonderQs

 

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Sometimes

Sometimes what makes this place so special can make it feel a bit creepy.

Today after work I had to make my way between four large bull elk that had stretched out across the road. The rut is well over but they’re still a bit sketchy to maneuver around.

Then, walking the two big dogs about 20 mins later, I learned that the coyotes had killed a deer on the next street up and growled at the neighbour and his dogs. Totally normal for them to protect their food source but now we have coyotes running around the houses between the woods and their feast site.

I walked the two then put them back in the house and hooked up the husky to take her for a faster jog / walk. We had to get by two deer, the elk and then about halfway through the walk I noticed her sniffing towards the shadows in the trees. By this time the sun had set. I focused in and saw that what could have passed as a stump in the snow or a large rock was actually a fox who then proceeded to follow us. I know they’re fluffy but it was about her exact size and I would think more highly skilled in a street fight. I’m sure it was just curious and not aggressive, but with no one around, I didn’t feel like waiting to find out.

I started a swift jog to get ahead of it and as we turned up our street the coyotes started their yelp-screeching which made the dog run even faster. They haven’t stopped all evening. Every time I let the dogs into the yard the coyotes are filling the air with that high-pitched vocalizing that creeps me out and the dogs too. They can’t relax enough to pee. Hopefully it calms down before bedtime so they can go!

Ahhhhh nature … I love you most of the time.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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Just When You Think You Know Someone – Mosquito Hawk

I’d mowed the lawn. I’d played with the dogs using the garden hose and paddling pool. It was hotter than Hades so I parked myself in a lawn chair to enjoy a few minutes of rest when I noticed a some things going on in the domesticity of my backyard.

Charlie in the pool  Piper chillaxing  

True and Charlie

The lawn was iridescent. Smallish dragonflies – bigger than the wee skinny blue ones but half the size of the giant blue helicopters. Half of them were tangerine in colour and the other half ruby red and they were covering the grass. Their wings made the yard shimmer and they seem to only fly about a foot or two off of the ground. Really beautiful. I was able to photograph a few when they rested on the broad leaves of the raspberry bushes.

Tangerine Dragonfly Ruby Red Dragonfly

 

I’ve been lamenting that we’ve had very few dragonflies this summer and those that have arrived seem late. I know different species hatch at different times of the summer but there was a distinct absence of all of them until just recently.

I should say that I had the incredible opportunity last summer to tag along with several international enthusiasts from the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. I learned so many interesting things about dragonflies from them in the couple of hours I spent watching them net dragons out of the air like they had apprenticed under master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I was even able to pass along a couple of bits of information I’d learned from them to a young “learn to camp” girl who is a recent immigrant to Canada and had caught one in her pond dipping net quite by accident. She ran off excitedly with the dragon clasped gently between her fingers to show her parents and so the passion for mosquito hawks goes on!

Anyway, back in my yard … The mosquitoes are torrential again this year and so I love dragonflies and was so happy to see my lawn covered in them. And then, just when you think you know someone …

MURDER! Murder and carnage in my peaceful oasis!

A giant blue dragon came out of nowhere and smashed into a smaller one on the grass. At first I laughed and was like OMG, interbreeding. What is THAT going to look like next year?

Kind of like my poor Charlie who has the full sized body of a golden retriever and short little basset hound legs – sigh! Cute but not great for him overall.

Charlies Day 2014-06-14 034

Would this dragonfly concoction have a gigantic ruby body with stunted wings?

But then something seemed kind of odd so I got up to go and take a closer look and HOLY TOLEDO! It was on top of a mating orange and red pair and had eaten the head off of the orange one.

Is that the definition of #Frienamies? I mean, I suppose there’s some competition for prey and I know dragonflies are carnivores but REALLY?! A dragonfly eating a cohort? I was having trouble stomaching the sight. I even felt some anger toward Big Blue like, c’mon man! That’s two less dragonflies in the War on Mozzies! What’s your deal?

Such is life in Nature. I reminded myself that that’s how things roll in the great wide wilderness and I went back to my lawn chair while Big Blue gathered up what was left of the mating pair and flew onto my neighbour’s shed to finish its feast. Rub-a-dub-dub. Thanks for the grub. YAYYYYYYY Mother Nature!

Now, gory image aside, I carried on with my relaxing afternoon but twice more in less than an hour I was witness to a similar act of violence, er, suppertime carried out by a Big Blue preying on Ruby or Tangerine. Yes, I’m naming them which screams anthropomorphism of critters but at least I am aware that I’m doing it.

There are very few Big Blues around and tons of Rubys and Tangerines but still. To be 41 years old and never have seen this behaviour before and then see it THREE times in a row was a bit stunning. So you know I got photos.

The third time I had to do it. The Big Blue was like a hawk picking off an unsuspecting mouse in a field. BAM! Big Blue dive bombed out of the sky and plucked Tangerine off the lawn and flew straight into a tree with its prize. I ran under the tree and realized I could reach up and pull down the branch just far enough that I was able to blindly hold up my smartphone and take photos. (click on the images to enlarge)

Carnage  Big Blue eats Tangerine

And that’s life and death in the Dragonfly world. A harsh reality and creepy but awesome in a strange way too. I’ve loved dragonflies since I can remember and that hasn’t changed in spite of learning about this gruesome detail. I still rescued two Tangerines from the dog pool later that day and set them on a fence post in the sun to dry off. Hopefully they didn’t get picked off by the Big Blue that I rescued from the roadway earlier before their wings had a chance to dry and they could fly away.

Let’s part with a hopeful image. I also managed to get a courting flight of a Tangerine and Ruby.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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The Soloist Sojourner

Elbow River Alberta 2014-06-29

I am the Soloist Sojourner. I am not journeying alone because I’ve lost love, but because I’ve never discovered it. Lovers and bubblehead boyfriends don’t count!

I was walking along the Elbow River on Sunday when a stone caught my eye. It was unlike any of the others. Instead of black or blue or slate gray, it was a myriad of greens and yellows. In fact, at first glance I thought it was petrified wood because of the layers and striations but it was a rock. I picked it up and walked for a long time working it through my fingers and then stopped to look at it again.

It had a face blurred into it on one side and when I flipped it over it had a perfect yellow heart on the other side. An omen! I thought maybe I should take it home and add it to my stone collection.

But you know what? I’m sick of omens and palm readers and messages from relatives who have passed over telling me there’s hope on the horizon. In case no one else ever noticed, the horizon always stays just out of reach as does, apparently, the guy who I’m supposed to meet and spend the journey with.

I chucked that F’ing rock as far as I could down the shoreline, just mad all of the sudden.

Elbow River above falls

It would seem that I have to remind myself every now and again that my life is full and fulfilling regardless of whether or not I ever meet someone to share it with. There’s something so sneaky and cruel about television and movies and pop music that make a person think they’re “less than” if they don’t have some sort of earth-shattering love affair going at all times and if they haven’t found THE ONE!!!

Anyway, after I threw the rock I felt a bit silly and went in search of a better attitude, which I found quickly and enjoyed the rest of my day with Piper exploring the Elbow post-2013 flood havoc.

Start of the falls

It was unnerving how different everything still looks one year on and yet Nature is never wrong so it was equally as impressive and beautiful. It will be interesting to see how Alberta parks decides to set up the picnic sites again with the new shape of the river and shorelines.

Allen Bill Pond is now simply Allen Bill [giant white box placed over top of the word “pond”] because the river has changed course entirely.

 IMG_20140629_165134  Allen Bill [pond]

I tried hard to get an “USie” with Piper to capture our lovely day but

1. she was NOT co-operating and

2. my arm is NOT long enough to get both of our faces in the shot properly.

I started to get frustrated and then it got silly and THEN I realized she had spotted a woodpecker on a tree in front of her and she kept ducking her head from the camera this way and that NOT because she was purposefully being obstinate but because she was intensely intrigued by the bird. And then it was hilarious just trying to get the photo at all!

The USie The USie try again The irritated USie

Ohhhh it's a woodpecker  Interesting woodpecker

Back to the USie No I'm not punching her Ridiculous i give up

We topped off the afternoon by stopping in at an off-leash hill near my parents’ house. They have all of these urban wildland corridors in Calgary that are worth their weight in gold. Even though there were police sirens and traffic on Stoney Trail and houses all around, it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

On Saturday, I walked Piper there and there were bucks with velvet antlers munching grass in the valley and the hill was covered in wildflowers, too many varieties to count! Then the rain stopped, the clouds began to burn off and one of the brightest rainbows I’ve ever seen stretched across the entire community. Magical! So I went back to take some photos of the flowers even though it wasn’t quite as magnificent as it had been on Saturday.

IMG_20140629_175200  IMG_20140629_174701

   IMG_20140629_175116

I even captured some daisies dancing in the wind.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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Enjoying the Dog Days of Summer

I took my own advice from the blog poem I wrote on Friday and I spent the better part of yesterday outdoors. My work life is a bit wild these days and yesterday was my one chance to kick back until about July 8.

Paignton Beach 2014

My old dog Charlie had to get sutures taken out in the morning at the vet’s and then I got called out for an emergency water rescue but everyone was pulled out by a good Samaritan before we got there so I was home again from that in an hour.

Nothing centres me more quickly than being outside and eliminating all distractions. I have the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful places on earth so I took advantage of the possibilities, packed up my gear and told the girls that they had to stay home.

The desperate face

There was great “woe-is-us-ing” from them but I was determined for him to have his day in the spotlight. Charlie never demands attention like the girls do so I have to make a point of making him feel special.

An old dog deserves to be spoiled now and again and I find that each of my dogs shines in a unique way when I’m with them one on one that reminds me why I chose each of them. So I packed up all the stuff a gal and her retriever could possibly need and we headed off into the woods!

Charlie's Day Out

We hit pretty well every beach in the park and hiked all over and he swam at every spot and fetched sticks. The colder the water the better! So while earlier in the day the guys who dumped their canoe nearly lost their lives, my dog with his double coat is happier than a duck in the icy lake.

Charlie at Point View 2014

We were out and about from 3 pm until 9 pm. We saw a woodchuck, a small black bear, two female elk fighting (one must have had a new calf close by), a deer with a new spotted fawn, a fox and its kit in the evening sunshine just outside the den. The kit was pouncing on her head and biting her and doing somersaults and then attacking her tail and she just sat there, eyes half closed, totally relaxed as if nothing was going on.

We also got a bit too close to a loon nest apparently. The adult pair came within about 10 feet of us and Charlie wanted to swim after them but of course I did not let him. Have you ever looked closely at a loon? They have swords on the ends of their faces!!!

Charlie spies the loons

Click on the images and they enlarge.You can see the detail of their feathers!

 Loon pair at Point View  Charlies Day 2014-06-14 068

You know when you experience that perfect stillness in the centre of your being? And how good it feels; like there’s not one other person on the planet and that’s just fine with you? I had that level of contentment most of the day and it was lovely.

Waskesiu Lake

The wind picked up so we spent more of the evening inland where it was warmer and spring is still so new that I cannot get over how green everything is. Man, I appreciate springtime this year!

Charlies Day 2014-06-14 042  New life growing from old life

I climbed the Height of Land tower for a look. It’s been about two weeks since I did it last when there was just a hint of green appearing in the trees – the promise that spring was on its way. Here’s what I saw yesterday.

Charlies Day 2014-06-14 121   Height of Land Tower

Charlies Day 2014-06-14 127   Charlies Day 2014-06-14 124

GREEN GREEN GREEN GREEN EVERYWHERE!!!!!!

Now, I suppose I’ve been spoiled in my life because camping for me always meant canoe trips in the wilderness, pulling over when you found a nice point and spending one night. We’d depart the next morning taking great care to leave no trace of the fact that any human had been there. Here, it’s all about campgrounds and they were mostly full and I couldn’t stomach having to share. Is that terrible? I like my neighbours at home but the idea of neighbours while camping … sigh.

So we went home and set the tent up in the back yard. HA!

That was my first dog day of summer and I spent it with a real gentleman. Charlie makes a fine companion. He lacks in the romance department … but that’s not his fault. Wrong species and all.

He wasn’t choosy about where we went. He let me drive. He may have farted a few times but we had the windows open all day so it worked. And he watched my back for bears while I took photos. If anyone can find me the human male equivalent, I may be convinced to give up the single life.

Charlie 11 years old

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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In Pursuit of Change

Be patient

while in pursuit of change.

 

Nature is never in a hurry and everything unfolds as it will.

Nature doesn’t agonize over the ifs and buts, the should’ves and could’ves

Because they don’t exist.

Acceptance is the only way through life.

Adaptation the greatest tool for survival.

 

Be patient

while in pursuit of change.

 

Your frenetic ways won’t change the outcome.

Your willing answers to appear out of thin air a waste of energy.

Control isn’t always in your hands.

Go outside. Look farther than the end of your nose to the horizon and beyond.

Go outside. Breathe deeply and appreciate the quiet spaces that offer rest between actions.

 

There.

In the soft lull where wildflowers bloom in the decaying body of a winter-killed animal

Is where the birth of innovation occurs.

There.

In certain uncertainty is where calm and clarity reside.

 

You will find the way through only when at last you surrender to the ebb and flow

The ebb and flow

You will renew the chapters of your life just as the ocean rolls and recedes across the land

Through lows and highs of the tides

Live your life.

Through lows and highs

Such is life.

 

To end this post, one of my favourite quotes and personal practices:

Solvitur ambulando. “It is solved by walking.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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The Architecture & Culture of Nature

I’ve been thinking about silence and nature and art lately.

The Narrows  Late Fall 2012 087

About how it started with cancelling my television subscription more than a year ago and though I miss easily getting live news and I do still watch lots of DVDs, I love that there is often no background noise in my life.

I remember climbing the walls that first weekend of going cold turkey without TV. It surprised me! So many summers throughout my life, when I headed north or to where ever it was that I was going to be canoe guiding for a few months of the year, I never missed TV once. Never thought about it the second I got outside, but here in my home that first weekend with no distractions … it was physically uncomfortable.

Squirrely

But then I adapted. I’ve spent more time listening to music and searching out new music. I’m sure I spend my time better and I’m positive my psyche is better for not being inundated with ads and violence and “reality.”

Then, two days ago I read a blog post by Irish travel writer Pol O’Conghaile about Fogo Island that is here in Canada. I’d read about Fogo before and been quite enamoured by the landscape and the architecture of the artists residences and his article inspired me to look some of it up again. Stunning!

Then I read an article yesterday about depression and children with ADHD and how those things can be alleviated by spending more time in nature. It spoke about the theory that humans are hardwired to be in natural environments and if we are deprived of that opportunity we suffer mentally for it, which I also believe.

December 15 085

So as someone who lives essentially in the woods and in a remote location, where between September 15 and May 15 of each year I can go for days without seeing more than a handful of people and spend countless hours out of doors, I should be the healthiest woman on earth.

CurlyQ

Yet, I am beginning to desperately miss culture and cool architecture and art and theatre and dance and beautiful fashion (not because I know how to wear it but simply because it’s another form of art work to appreciate).

I left those ideas to settle inside my head and work their way around each other as I walk and snowshoe and stargaze. While walking home yesterday in a freezing wind chill, the sun on my face and deer and elk about, it dawned on me that humankind would not have ever been able to conceive and construct beautiful works of art in any medium if they didn’t first have Nature as their mentor and model.

Sunset 2013-05-23  Endless

How could anyone imagine constructing a safe skyscraper or an appealing, innovative building if they’d never appreciated geography- layered cliffs, sand dunes, fjords, mountains, rushing rivers, meandering rivers, grasslands, tree roots, icebergs – to begin with?

Ice  Birch in Autumn February Melt

How could a symphony, with all of its delicate and intricately woven layers and sounds, be written if the composer had not first trained their ear so well in the “silence” of Nature that they could pick up the lyrical uncurling of a flower bloom or the light flutter of a butterfly landing beside them even as the wind was creating drama in the branches all around them?

Boreal Chorus Frog Compressed 2013  Phyllis Diller Flower  A Sunday Drive 023   Dragonfly Beaver Pond Trail

How could a designer ever fathom intricate stitch work and appreciate textures if humans had not first hunted and trapped for furs and learned to work with hides and dye grasses or use quills and the patterns in the night sky to adorn their clothing with geometric shapes?

Lynx Edited Elk Island National Park 2014-01-15 Coyote Little Reds  Elk Youngster Head Shot 2014  Bull Elk Late Autumn

Where did dance come from but First Peoples who used their bodies to imitate and understand the world they perceived around them; connecting emotion and memory with their surroundings and then expressing those ideas and desires through movement? First story tellers of our communities through the ages.

 Amisk Wuche Trail   Lakeshore GrassGrass in the wind   

Movement before language.

Melody before lyrics.

We were tactile, sensory beings before concept and visionary thought evolved.

Elk Island Bison Rutt 2013 052   Elk Island Bison Rutt 2013 050 Leaves of a colour

It dawned on me yesterday that I am bestowed with the great gift of being able to live, work and play surrounded by the very foundational elements from which creativity likely evolved. And this gives me great hope that I am not turning into a “backwoods” weirdo and that perhaps I have not fully discovered the depth of my own creative well. And, when I do get to visit big urban centres, I will have a deeper appreciation for the thought and care, whimsy and abandon that artists have bravely invested in their work.

Snowshoeing at Kingsmere 040

The Sound of Silence Weekly Writing Challenge

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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