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Archive for the ‘Natural Phenomena’ Category

snowy apparition

In the early morning light, seemingly white glowing forms consult with one another on the front lawn.  Are they extra-terrestrial beings, come to gather information about life here around Flandrum Hill?  Or are they displaced apparitions, caught between dimensions due to an anomaly in the space-time continuum?

snow remnants

Upon closer inspection, their true nature is revealed.  Who would have thought the remains of snow could have appeared so other-worldly?

remains of snow

While most of the snow from last week’s snowstorm has melted, the remnants of a large snow tower built on the front lawn have survived.   Warm temperatures weren’t enough to melt such a large heap of snow, especially one placed in the  shadow of the house for most of the day.  Up close, the snow reveals debris acquired both from the lawn when large snowballs were rolled to create it, and from a windstorm days later.

debris in snow

Haunting silhouettes formed in the negative spaces make these ruins more interesting in their decaying form than they ever were as a tower of snow.

negative silhouette in snow

Once the sun rises on Sunday, the ruins will be covered with a fresh layer of snow along with the rest of the lawn.  They’ll no longer stand out in the landscape.  One of snow’s most magical qualities is that it is so ephemeral.  Except of course when you’re shoveling it!

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

 

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tree shadows on snow

Even in Canada where winter is so much a part of our lives, it seems like we seldom have anything good to say about our cold climate.  Everyone was complaining of record-breaking cold this week, the harshest in recent memory.  Even the squirrel in the yard seemed to be jumping farther and faster than usual in an attempt to spend as little time as possible out on the snow.

red squirrel jumping across snow

Surprisingly, there are actually some benefits to living in a cold climate.  Our air is fresh, and long cold spells prevent too many insects from surviving through to the next summer, benefits we usually don’t consider until our kitchens are bombarded with ants in the middle of a sticky summer heat wave.  Snow’s insulating properties also keep small rodents dreaming beneath the drifts at this time of year, instead of trying to find shelter in our homes.

A cold climate also has a positive impact on our intelligence, especially our ability to delay gratification. The mental functions required to store food, dress warmly and create adequate shelter are crucial to survival in harsh environments.

mint in winter

Inedible, dried brown mint in winter

It’s no wonder the Vikings were the first Europeans to make a settlement on this side of the Atlantic.  Habitually doing hard things in a harsh environment gave these cold climate dwellers an edge over other cultures.  Their ability to shrug off the cold and wholeheartedly embrace winter survives to this day.  Though polar dipping may not be to everyone’s liking, at the very least, cold winters incite us to practice hope and patience as we wait for the warmer days ahead.

Last year's pussywillows

Last year’s pussy willows

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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windshield in winter

Like most Canadians, I dread being faced with an icy windshield to scrape off before heading out to work in the morning.  That’s after clearing the driveway of course.

driveway cleared after snowfallThe longer your driveway, the less excitement you’re likely to feel at the first big dump of snow.   Though you might approach it as a good exercise workout the first time you shovel the driveway, that can wear a little thin after the third time in as many days.  And absolutely nothing is more irritating at this time of year than the sound of the street snowplow driving by and filling the end of your driveway with even more snow after you thought you had lifted your last shovelful.

snow on lichensHowever, there is a bright side to snow.  I especially like the way it trims the trees and lichens in the forest…

snow in woods

… And the way it tastes.  Blended with cream and sugar, fresh fallen snow makes a snow-cream that’s more refreshing than ice-cream.

Fresh snow, cream and sugar make delicious snow-cream.

Fresh snow, cream and sugar make delicious snow-cream.

Note:  it’s not a good idea to use snow from the season’s first snowfall as this may contain too many impurities. Give it a try. You can always burn the calories while shoveling the driveway ;)

Fresh snow-cream

Fresh snow-cream

This blog post was created in response to Views Infinitum’s Assignment 23:  Winter.   Scott has asked participants to show what winter means to us.  The assignment is open to all.  Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 at midnight (your local time).

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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What exactly marks the end of a season and the beginning of the next?  The calendar has little to do with it.  Despite the subtle changes that slowly happen over days and weeks, one day these all accumulate and the transformation from summer to autumn is all too evident.  A lone trembling red leaf sends out the message to all:  summer has ended.

Canada geese too announce the message in the marsh with their honking call.  The days are getting shorter.  Even the sky and waters at sunrise seem different, less warm and more ominous of the darker, colder mornings ahead.

As if to compensate, the marsh grasses glow with golden hues.  Do herons dread the colder days ahead as much as we humans do?  Warm and wonderful summers are especially difficult to leave behind.

The end of summer means food will soon be difficult to find for many creatures.  In the marsh, the woods, and even the house, spiders can be  seen diligently spinning their webs in the hopes of capturing the last of the season’s flying insects.

Those who haven’t prepared for the colder days ahead will be singing their sad songs in the days to come.

Please let me out so I can sing in the sunshine one last time.

This post was written in response to Scott Thomas’ End of Summer challenge at Views Infinitum.

All text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012.

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Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer need your springtimes to win me over – one of them, ah, even one, is already too much for my blood. Unspeakably, I have belonged to you, from the first.
~  Rainer Maria Rilke

The Earth doesn’t care about age or wrinkles.  What’s a decade or two when you’re a billion years old and a few cracks when you’re scarred regularly by earthquakes? 

And what does the Earth care about how often the floor is swept? It considers last autumn’s litter simply next year’s humus.

And so what does the Earth value?  Could the persistence of grass be a clue?

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
~ Kahlil Gibran

New life amid the forest debris

Where man finds dissatisfaction, the Earth finds promise and the potential for renewal. Fallen trees and fallen leaves are all cherished for what they can offer now, not just the strength and beauty they possessed in days gone by.

Male woodpecker clinging to the underside of a fallen birch tree

Spring is in the air and it’s Earth Day.   Get outdoors and let yourself fall in love.

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testing Atlantic waters in March

Spring sometimes takes one step forward and two steps backwards…

But this spring’s steps forward and backwards seem more extreme than in the past.   How can I be finding refreshment in the waters of the Atlantic one hot day, and soon afterwards be wondering if I should thaw the water in the birdbath?

The vernal pools in the woods are almost dried up. Unless we receive a lot of rain this spring, we’re going to have a very dry summer as there’s no snow left to melt.

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 (left) and late March 2012 (right)

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 at left, and late March 2012 at right

Even the Cow Bay River is looking a bit drier than usual for this time of year.

Under sunny skies on Friday, the waters in the marsh were wild and churning.

On the weekend, they were calm as glass…

So calm, that you can barely tell which of these images is inverted…

March is a time of change, when winter gives way to spring.  The process is never gradual.  But these waters seem more mysterious than ever.

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The day after Saint Patrick’s Day is an excellent one for catching a glimpse of remnants of leprechaun activity the night before.  And what better than enlisting the help of little people in the quest for evidence of Little People? Trodding through the woods this morning, we weren’t disappointed by our findings.

shamrocks or wood sorrel

Shamrocks or wood sorrel coming to life in late winter.

Beneath some dried leaves we found some green wood sorrel, also known as shamrocks.  Surely the leprechauns’ merrymaking coaxed them out of their sleep last night.   They looked a bit limp, but the warmer days ahead should see them coming back to life again.

leprechaun jacket near vernal pool

A leprechaun jacket and prints found near a vernal pool.

Melting snows have created numerous small vernal pools over the past couple of days.  These provide temporary watering holes for wild creatures and excellent spots for leprechauns to catch a quick dip.  One must have done just that by the light of last night’s moon.  Could a surprise visit from a neighborhood cat have prompted him to leave so quickly that he forgot to take his jacket with him?

green moss heart on birch tree

Of course nothing says spring like a bit o’green smiling in the sunshine.  The heart-shaped moss we found on a birch tree was a delightful find, and surely a sign of creative activity by the Little People themselves.  Although many will roll their eyes at the thought of leprechauns still roaming the woods, I find it hard to not believe when  there’s so much evidence to the contrary.  Spring and warmer days are ahead and surely that is something to smile about.

For your smile is a part of the love in your heart,
And it makes even sunshine more bright.
Like the linnet’s sweet song,
Crooning all the day long,
Comes your laughter so tender and light.
For the springtime of life is the best time of all,
With never a pain or regret.
While the springtime is ours,
Through all of life’s hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.

~  When Irish Eyes are Smiling

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stone beach

Finding the ideal love is like trying to find a perfectly symmetrical stone on the beach.  It’s not easy.  Even with so many possibilities, the task is more difficult than one would imagine.  And the longer you look, the slimmer the odds of finding that perfect specimen may seem.  Though some might appear somewhat perfect at a distance, upon closer inspection, it soon becomes apparent that they are not quite so.

That’s not to say that it’s downright impossible to find perfect specimens. They are indeed out there, but be forewarned that many years may pass between one discovery and the next.

circular stones

Whether or not we realize it, we also search for physical symmetry in other human beings. Characteristic of good genes and general good health in nature, perfect symmetry in a mate would likely increase one’s chances of creating healthy offspring.  No wonder we’re so drawn to people with beautifully symmetrical faces.

And yet, there is a certain charm and character attributable to the not-so-symmetrical. With perhaps an even stronger  magnetism, especially where romantic love is concerned, we are drawn towards the imperfect.  Why? One theory suggests that while our minds are pleasantly calmed by symmetry, they also quickly become bored with it.  Intrigued by complexity, when faced with marginally flawed symmetry, our minds are perked and subconsciously go to work to try and figure out what’s causing the disparity.

Although the human body is symmetrical in so many ways, the shape of the human heart is not.   Could that be a clue that perfection in matters of the heart was created to be elusive?   If we are to achieve any semblance of perfection in love, like the rare round stones found sometimes on the beach, it’s only due to years of surviving the pounding waves and stormy seas.  Now there’s something to ponder as we approach Valentine’s Day.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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What on earth would you liken love to?  Ever since King Solomon compared his beloved to a garden of delights, poets and writers of prose have made use of elements in nature to describe their feelings of  love in terms that others can understand.  

In the 1700s, ‘The Ploughman’s Poet’ Robert Burns wrote:

My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June…

These wild roses found growing behind Rainbow Haven beach last summer are more pink than red, but the effect is similar.  Their petals look so soft and tender, and the buds seem especially full of promise. 

Anyone who thinks love is only for the young might be surprised to learn that Pulitzer prize winner Carl Sandburg was in his eighties when he wrote these lines from Offering and Rebuff:

I could love you, as dry roots love rain.
I could hold you, as branches in the wind brandish petals.
Forgive me for speaking so soon.

 

‘The Poet for the Planet,’ John Denver, frequently found inspiration in nature… 

You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest
Like a mountain in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like the sleepy blue ocean…

Later in life, Denver also wrote

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict, full of change…

If love is anything, it’s never that way for long.  Like so much in nature, it keeps transforming itself as well as those who are touched by it.  

Matt Groening, creator of the comic strip ‘Life in Hell’ and ‘The Simpsons’ wrote:

Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath.  At night, the ice weasels come.

Though ice weasels (ermines), like this one I found last winter in the salt marsh, are pretty cute creatures, they tend to go right for the jugular when attacking.  Love can be like that too.

In good times and bad, there is no denying the power love has over our lives.  Perhaps Solomon, the wisest man who ever walked the planet, said it best…

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
~ Song of Solomon 8.7

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you’re in the mood to read more about love, here are some previous posts on the topic:

The Deepest Secret

Love at the Beach

Transformations

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And part of the soil is called to wash away
In storms and streams shave close and gnaw the rocks.
Besides, whatever the earth feeds and grows
Is restored to earth. And since she surely is
The womb of all things and their common grave,
Earth must dwindle, you see and take on growth again.
~ Titus Lucretius – On the Nature of Things (1st century BC)

When Captain James Cook charted Cole Harbour on a map of Nova Scotia in the mid-1700s, it was wide and deep enough for tall ships to sail in and out.  Though not as large as Halifax Harbour, it still saw its share of commercial vessels and privateers.

But over the centuries, shifting sands have narrowed the entrance to Cole Harbour.  The harbour seems more like a marsh these days, leaving many residents to wonder about the exact whereabouts of Cole Harbour.  Passage through the entrance is seldom undertaken by vessels of any size due to the strong currents.  Though we might bemoan the recent evidence of erosion along Rainbow Haven Beach,  in Cook’s time, this spit of land didn’t even exist.

Part of a Nova Scotia map by James Cook showing Cole Harbour at far right

In A Tale Of Two Dykes – the Story of Cole Harbour (1979), Margaret Kuhn Campbell explained:

A coast line so irregular seems to fling a challenge to the great energy of the ocean.  It hurls itself at the indentations to remove them – tearing down headlands, filling in bays.  Hartlen Point west of Cow Bay and Osborne Head on its east are two drumlins presently being eroded by the sea.  At the mouth of a bay, it seeks to build a fishhook shaped spit anchored on the curved shore with its point reaching toward the other, constantly growing, until in time it may close the gap.  Then the bay becomes a protected lagoon which catches silt from streams, grows grasses, and thus traps more silt to eventually become marshy to dry land.  Through centuries of toil, the powerful waves compounded such a barrier part way across the mouth of Cole Harbour.

Erosion at Rainbow Haven Beach

The increased frequency of severe storms in our area means we will see more rapid changes to our shorelines in the years ahead.  While some beaches will suffer erosion, others will widen.  The extent to which man can halt or alter these transformations is questionable.  What is inevitable is that these changes will surely affect wildlife as well as residential, recreational and business developments along our coast.

On February 17th, HRM will be hosting a Climate Change Workshop for Eastern Passage and Cow Bay residents.  Details of the event can be found at Eastern Passage Online. 

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Mid-January can feel so bare.  The warmth and sparkle of the holidays are already a distant memory.  The days are still short and the nights long and cold.  New Year’s resolutions made just a couple of weeks ago seem more difficult to keep with every passing day.  It seems that winter has a frozen grip around not just the landscape but our souls as well.

I wonder about the animals hibernating in their cosy holes beneath the ground.  Why don’t we possess the same instinct to withdraw at this time of year?  In centuries past, northern folk refrained from activities after the harvest, huddled together to conserve warmth and waited out the darker days by sleeping more and eating less. 

In contrast we seem to expect more of ourselves at this time of year.  January is a productive time in homes, schools and workplaces as we attempt to meet the challenges we’ve set for ourselves.   If we feel tired and find it difficult to start the day or week, perhaps it should come as no surprise. 

In the winter forest, lichens take advantage of the sunlight that’s blocked by the canopy of leaves during the other seasons.  They cover tree trunks and hang from the bare branches.  Despite seasonal interruptions in light, they carry on, eventually covering entire trees with their delicate ornament.  Their growth may seem slow to us, but it is growth nonetheless.   

In January, instead of expecting amazing strides in growth like leaves in springtime, we might be wiser to adjust our expectations.  Renewed patience for our tasks and our ability to do them might be just what we need.  The year is still new, and there’s plenty of time ahead to make fresh beginnings.

In our journey through life it does not matter whether we achieve all the goals we have set ourselves, but that we should show patience when we do not succeed in something and then make a new start.
~ Ambrose Tinsley OSB

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A fresh cover of snow on the ground usually reveals where snowshoe hares have been travelling.  Their numerous tracks often overlap in the woods where ‘bunny trails’ lead to and from favorite resting and feeding areas.  But not this year.  There isn’t a snowshoe hare track to be found. 

Snowshoe Hares

It’s been several months since I’ve caught sight of a single hare in the yard or along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Up until this past summer, it seemed like their numbers were growing.  They were visible on lawns and in the woods and parks.  However, snowshoe hare populations are known to rise and fall, usually every ten years or so.  This phenomenon takes place all across Canada.  In northern regions, their cycle coincides with that of the lynx.

Over the past year, bobcats have been sighted in Cow Bay.  Like the lynx,  they too prey on snowshoe hares, as do coyotes, foxes and eagles.  With so many predators in the area, as well as loss of habitat due to deforestation, it’s no wonder that hare numbers are low.  

Another factor that may have affected hare populations is that we didn’t have snow until recently, making any hares sporting winter coats easy targets for predators.  Hare coloring becomes whiter as daylight hours decrease in number.  

Next month, February 3rd will mark the first day of the Chinese New Year.  The 12 year cycle of animal years makes this coming year one of the rabbit.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing many bunnies this year.   At least not in Cow Bay.

Each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle.
~  Marcus Aurelius

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