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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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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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New red maple leaves slowly open on a small tree.  Although these red maples are a symbol of Canada, in nature, we usually associate them with the fall season, not the summer.   On a warm morning in July, they stand out in bright contrast to the cool green foliage surrounding them in the forest.

Similarly, red elderberries are easy to see against the backdrop of green.  There are lots of them this year for the birds to enjoy.  It’s unusual to see such a deep red in the woods in the summertime.  Even more unusual to see it in the salt marsh…

In the dawn’s early light, this bright red poppy stands waiting to greet the sun.  Why are poppies growing on this section of the trail between the Bald Eagle and Canada Goose Bridges?  Could this be a clue?

Captain Jefferson Clifford Francis memorial bench

It’s easy to forget what’s important as we go about our busy lives.  Regardless of the season, Nature remembers, even if we don’t.

For more on our connection with poppies see The Earth Remembers.

Captain Jefferson Francis’ memorial page at Military Mom at Home.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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It might look all pretty on the surface, but don’t be deceived.  There’s a fierce and brutal competition going on in local gardens these days.  Many plants depend on insects for cross-pollination in order to ensure the survival of their species.  With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that some are going to be more successful than others at attracting pollinators to their blooms.  Take rhododendrons for example.  Locally, it’s difficult to find a residential street where these showy non-native ornamental shrubs are not in bloom this week.

What does a plant have to do to get some attention from flying insects?  Look bright and beautiful for starters.  And this is something rhododendrons do especially well.  So well in fact that they distract many pollinators from visiting our less showy native species.  Canadian bees probably haven’t heard about the poisonous ‘mad honey’ that’s created with the nectar of rhododendrons.   (See more in Wikipedia’s entry on Grayanotoxin).  They simply target the most spectacular blooms and tuck in.

Many gardeners too likely don’t know that the petals and leaves of common rhododendrons are poisonous and can prove deadly to livestock and children if ingested.

While attracting a good share of pollinators during the daytime, white flowers also catch the attention of night-flying moths with their subtle scent.  What wonderful flying creatures are drawn to these alluring blooms under the moonlight?

In many countries around the globe, common rhododendrons are now considered an invasive species as they’ve taken over the natural understory in some forests.  (See the Wikipedia entry on Rhododendron ponticum).  In the past year, I’ve found two invasive rhododendrons growing in otherwise wild areas on my property.  If they start crowding out the native plants, will I become a rhodi-basher in the years to come?  I hope not, but it can be a jungle out there.

Invasive rhododendrons

June 18th to the 24th 2012 is International Pollinator Week.  Do you know what’s going on in your garden? For more information, see Pollination Canada.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012.

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porcupine quills

We all know about porcupine quills, but what about this creature’s other parts?  Like humans, there’s a lot more to porcupines than first meets the eye.

Their lovely coat for example…  Due to the odd quill embedded with the fur, bristles and hair, it doesn’t necessarily invite petting, but certainly appears quite thick and warm.  Porcupines don’t hibernate, so this heavy coat would make our cold winters more tolerable.

porcupine coat

Look at those shiny black claws.  They’d come in handy for climbing and digging up roots.  And see that soft underbelly?  This is the tender, vulnerable part of porcupines that predators such as coyotes and fishers try to expose by flipping them over.  No wonder they keep it hidden.

porcupine claws

A quick whack of a porcupine’s tail will embed quills into an unwary predator.  The quills are barbed and a likely death sentence to an animal that gets a mouthful of them and becomes unable to eat.  Yikes!

porcupine tail

Though its orange teeth may leave something to be desired by the whitestrips crowd, this is a winning smile if ever there was one.  Like the beaver, a porcupine’s ever-growing rodent teeth are kept sharp and short by constant chewing on trees.

porcupine smile showing orange teeth

Who knew there was so much more to porcupines than just their quills?  This porcupine was more than generous with its willingness to pose before 6 am, especially while doing chin-ups for its early morning exercise routine.  Oops!  Since porcupines are nocturnal, better make that a late night exercise routine.

porcupine doing chin-ups

For more on porcupines, see:
Bark Nibblers
Porcupines in Apple Trees
Porcupines Along the Salt Marsh Trail

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Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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Bobcat Tale

Bobcat in Cow Bay

At first glance, this tawny feline looks like just another neighborhood pussycat visiting the yard.

Bobcat in the Yard

Posing among the spring flowers it almost seems to smile for the camera.  But there’s something a little wilder than usual in its expression and the size of its cheek ruffs and paws.

Bobcat HeadThe facial markings are a bit more pronounced than those of a domestic cat and then there are those black ear tufts and bobbed tail…

Ryan Shaw was surprised early one evening when he realized he had spotted a  bobcat (Felis rufus) in his yard.  Though his first thoughts raced to the whereabouts of his own housecat, he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by this wildcat’s awesome beauty.  He wondered if perhaps he was the one trespassing on the bobcat’s territory.

In January 2010 I spotted two bobcats in the backyard.  Besides this recent spotting on Green Bay Road, they’ve also been seen on Orion Drive.  They seem to be on the prowl throughout Cow Bay and it’s no wonder why.

Bobcats feed on snowshoe hares, squirrels, porcupines and ground birds which are all plentiful here.  They’re also comfortable climbing among the trees blown down in our backwoods by Hurricane Juan in 2003.

Bobcat litters of one to six kittens are born at this time of year.  Since they breed in the first year, it likely won’t be long before there are more of them in our neck of the woods.

Nova Scotia Bobcat

If you see a large tawny cat in your yard, especially one with a bobbed tail, don’t approach it. They may look friendly, but wild animals are best admired from a safe distance.  

Photo credits:  Ryan Shaw

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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Giving your child immunity against loneliness may be as simple as fostering within them a kinship with the natural world.  A love of nature begun in childhood can last a lifetime. 

It is astonishing how little one feels alone when one loves.
~John Bulwer

Playing with doll furniture and worms on the back steps circa 1961

Some of my earliest memories are of playing with worms and doll furniture in my grandparents’ backyard.  I could never understand why the worms didn’t survive the baths I’d give them.  In the springtime, my younger sibings and I spent hours creating dams and controlled waterways with the water from melting snow that would stream in the lane next to our yard. After a long Canadian winter, seeing the sun sparkling on those streams of water gave me such a wonderful feeling. My mother and grandmother both scolded us for getting wet and muddy but it seemed like such a small price to pay for such happiness.

In the summer and fall, we went for picnics in the woods.  We’d enjoy tomato sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper under a big spruce tree while my mom moulded faces in the spruce gum that ran on the tree trunks.  The ‘devil faces’ would harden and we’d see them again the next time we picnicked there.  So began the magical enchantment that’s always been a part of my love for trees.

So much snow

Eventually my grandparents purchased the land where we picnicked most frequently.  Old firefighting hoses were made into swings that my grandfather suspended from the large branches of white pines.  My younger brothers would climb the trees but I was content to swing for hours, daydreaming and singing to myself. 

Climbing a white pine

In the summer we were out in the fields picking berries and flowers or catching grasshoppers and butterflies.  I learned how to drive a tractor in those fields when I was about ten years old, as did my sisters and brothers.  I also had my own little axe with which I was able to trim dead limbs off trees, an activity I still enjoy doing to this day. 

Growing up outdoors

In the winter we’d play in the snow, go sledding or skating at one of many outdoor rinks.  There was always something to do outdoors, either together or on our own. My siblings and I all brought our love for nature with us into adulthood.  Giving children the opportunity to be outdoors, as did my parents and grandparents, truly is a gift that lasts a lifetime. 

Thanks to Gerry at Torch Lake Views for suggesting a post about memories of growing up outdoors

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loup garou

Loup-garou howling under a full moon

Although wolves were made extinct in much of Eastern Canada in the 1800s, there may still be wolf-like creatures prowling our woods at night, especially under the light of a full moon.  When I was a child, my French-Canadian grandmother would warn me about the dangers of staying outside after dark, especially near forested areas.  What was to be feared above all was a creature she called the loup-garou.  I knew that loup meant ‘wolf’ in French, and since the meaning of the word garou was unknown to me, it fueled my imagination by amplifying the cunning, bloodthirstiness of the feared creature.

Would you venture into these dark woods alone at night?

Reluctant to come indoors at the end of the day, I discounted my grandmother’s stories as nonsense.  After all, she was in the habit of telling other far-fetched tales, ones of horses acting strangely around men of questionable character or of ghostly hands pulling on your hair at night while you were asleep.  It wasn’t until I read about the loup-garou in my French reader in elementary school that I realized there might be more to her tales than I had previously thought.

That account of the loup-garou was far more detailed than anything my grandmother had told me.  It explained how the transformation from human to wolf took place when a person missed Easter Sunday communion for seven years in a row.  The only way such a wretched soul could be ‘saved’ was to go to confession and ask forgiveness from the priest.  Once they then took communion on Easter Sunday, they would no longer be doomed to transform each night into a ravenous wild animal.  So much for the silver bullets used to destroy werewolves in English stories.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there were numerous convictions and executions of loup-garous among the French during the 16th century.  I wonder if any loup-garous came to Canada back then to escape such persecution.

A full moon is expected for tomorrow night.  If you’re out walking near woods after sunset, do consider taking an extra look over your shoulder.  If you’re a loup-garou reading this, and have grown tired of having to be on the prowl at night when others are tucked in their cozy beds, you might want to find out this weekend if there’s any truth to the Easter Sunday remedy.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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dawn sunrise march 21 2012

It’s getting warmer.  And despite Canadians’ delight at enjoying higher temperatures than normal this week, some of us can’t help but wonder about the dark cloud that’s presently revealing this silver lining.  Regardless of what’s causing climate change, its progress seems a lot faster than anticipated only a few years ago.

red backed salamanders

Surely it’s the smaller creatures that will be affected the most by climate change.  We’ve had less precipitation than normal this winter.  If a long, dry summer is to follow, amphibians like the red-backed salamanders shown above will not find the moisture they need to stay healthy.  If spring vernal pools dry up too quickly, they and their kin will have difficulty finding a good moist place to lay their eggs.

spring fly

This past winter likely didn’t kill off as many insects as a colder winter would have.  Yesterday I saw numerous ants active in the flower beds, as well as this fly on the siding.  If there are so many more insects than usual in March, what will their numbers be like in mid-summer?  Will we be overrun by ants?  At least the baby birds will have lots to eat once they are born.

spring robins

These bright and perky robins were singing cheerfully in the woods this morning.  Were they checking out nesting options in the neighborhood or just passing through on their way farther north?  I wonder if they sense a change in the weather.  Like them, we should be out enjoying the blue skies while we have them.  It may feel like summer this week, but we’re bound to see snow again before long.

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The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
~ William Blake

It may be the way of  humans to want development to cease once their home is built on the edge of the wilderness  but I still shudder every time I see tracts of land cleared.  I realize that before my home was built on this spot, many wild creatures made this acreage their home. Trees once stood where my driveway now covers the ground with gravel.

Yesterday I went looking for amphibian eggs in a spot where I had seen them in a waterway near the bog years before. Chainsaws tore through trees in the vicinity throughout the afternoon.

I also looked for Boreal Felt Lichen, an endangered species that seems like it would thrive in this neck of the woods. Though none was found yesterday, I did find a cluster of foliate lichen that I had seen earlier this year. Unfortunately, this time, the tree was on the ground, freshly sawed into pieces, a casualty of the surveyor’s line.

These lands are likely slated to be developed soon.  yet, fresh evidence of porcupine, hare and deer activity was everywhere to be found.  It’s a shame that so many animals will be displaced and that all these lichen-covered trees will eventually be covered with weedless green lawns and paved driveways.

Bogs are often considered wastelands by developers who want to fill them up.  That saddens me just as much as the demise of the trees.  New trees can be planted on cleared land but a bog can’t resurface once it’s been filled with rubble.

Throughout  the walk, my friend Sybil who accompanied me kept repeating lines from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi…

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.

Her singing was barely audible over the roar of the chainsaws.

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