St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
This week, I went to New Westminster to visit my mother. She celebrated her 82nd birthday last week, so this was her birthday visit. We had a fine visit, including dinner at an Indian restaurant.
I decided to try out public transportation for this trip, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. There is a bus service on Vancouver Island called Island Link that is scheduled specifically to connect with the ferries. When I stepped off the Denman Island ferry at Buckley Bay, the bus was there waiting for me. It dropped me off right at the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo, in time for the 10:30 sailing. On board the ferry, I boarded the Greyhound bus, which took me to the main downtown bus depot next to the railway station. From there, I took the SkyTrain to New Westminster, and transferred to a city bus to my mother's apartment.
The return trip was exactly the same in reverse. It didn't work out quite as smoothly, because the Nanaimo ferry was half an hour late. The Island Link bus waited for the ferry, but was unable to make it to Buckley Bay in time for the 8:30 pm ferry that I had planned to take. The ferry was just sailing away when I got off the bus, so I got to spend an hour and a half reading in the Buckley Bay waiting room, waiting for the 10:00 ferry.
The entire trip was planned via the Internet: I made the reservations for the Island Link bus online, as well as checking the schedules for the Nanaimo ferry and the the Greyhound bus. The Vancouver transit system has a nifty website where you can enter your point of origin, your destination and the time you wish to travel, and it will give you a choice of routes. For each route, it tells you which buses or trains to take, which stops to get on, off or transfer at, how far you will have to walk, the exact times and the total fare. I even found a nice Indian restaurant with vegetarian food via the Internet. And I used Google Earth to locate the restaurant and to determine how to get from the bus station to the SkyTrain.
Today, we went on the annual hike to Tree Island, an islet just off the north tip of Denman Island. If you go looking for it on a map, you will find it labelled by its "official" name of Sandy Island. Tree Island is a translation of its native name, and is the accepted name here on Denman. Both names are appropriately descriptive.
We had several biologists with us, including a couple of botanists and an ornithologist, so we were well informed about what we were seeing.
It is reached by hiking across a kilometre of mud flats at low tide (first photo). Fortunately, tides in the Georgia Straight tend to follow a 24-hour cycle rather than the 12-hour cycle common in most places, so low tide lasts long enough for a day hike. The entire island is a provincial park, and it is host to some rare plants and animals. One of the most interesting is the yellow sand verbena, which is not yet in flower. It is quite rare, and is the only known host of the yellow sand verbena moth, an endangered species. Although the sand verbena was unimpressive today, many other flowers were out, including sea blush (second photo), larkspur, and the unusual chocolate lily (third photo).
We stopped for lunch at the Tree Island campground, where we discovered that there was an occupied bald eagle nest right next to us (fourth photo). Through binoculars and a spotting scope, we had a good view of one of the parents sitting on the nest and munching on a fish.
The weather was a bit cool and windy, but it was still a pleasant outing.
This has been a quiet week. No concerts or meetings to go to. We did go to a fine photographic exhibit at the Denman Art Gallery, showing images of people and places in Southeast Asia.
Our pear trees are covered in blossoms this year. This is by far the most blossoms that they have had. We also have a lot of bees around already, so with any luck, we might get some pears this year. We had high hopes for them last year, but didn't get a single pear.
The strawberries are flowering now, too. The ever-bearing strawberries started a couple of weeks ago, but now the June-bearing strawberries have joined them. We bought a big bunch of rhubarb from a local farmer and put some of it in the freezer, so in another month, we should be able to have strawberry-rhubarb pie. Yum!
This week's nature walk was on the topic of bird calls. We have been hoping for exactly this topic for a while, since we hear all the bird calls in our woods and usually have no idea what they are. We met at the ungodly hour of 7:00 on Saturday morning, down at the south end of Denman Island. The walk took us through one of the Denman Conservancy Association's newly-acquired parcels of land adjacent to Boyle Point Park. Periodically on the walk, we would stop and listen, and our guides would point out the various calls that were audible. We heard the warbling virio ("deedly-deedly-deedly-deedly-..."), the Townsend warbler ("dee-dee-deedly?"), the chickadee ("chicka-chicka-dee-dee-dee"), the winter wren (a high-pitched trill), the Pacific slope flycatcher ("schlurp-schlurp-pee-ee?"), the red-winged blackbird (many different sounds, the most characteristic of which is a trill that sounds like a phone ringing), and of course, the Canada goose ("honk!"). It was a very interesting and educational walk.
Tomorrow, we are looking forward to a tour of alternative energy homes on Denman Island. There are quite a few places here that are off the power grid, relying on wind and solar power for their electrical needs, as well as some that use solar heat and energy-saving construction methods. It promises to be a fascinating tour.
Of course, no Denman Diary would be complete without some ongoing construction project. This week, I have been building forms for the foundation of the new cottage site. From a distance, it almost looks like I know what I'm doing, doesn't it?
On Sunday, we joined about 40 other Denmanites on a guided tour of four alternative energy homes on the island, organized by the "Inconvenient Truth" group, named after Al Gore's award-winning documentary on global warming.
The first stop was at the farm of Bruce and Leandra, a couple who have lived off the electric grid for many years. They have several panels of photovoltaic cells on their roof and in their front yard, charging a bank of deep-cycle batteries. They are a good example of how efficient technology pays for itself: some of their equipment dates back to 1979 and still works as well now as when it was new.
The next stop was to the home of their friends and neighbours Aaron and Sonia. Aaron is evidently a technological genius. Their home, also off the grid, is powered by a combination of solar and wind power. He built the wind generator himself, carving the turbine blades by hand and winding his own generator coils. The turbine is mounted atop a home-made sixty foot steel tower which pivots at the centre like a teeter-totter to allow the business end to be lowered to gound level for maintenance.
The house, a geodesic dome, is not by any means spartan. They have a washing machine, a normal complement of electric lights, television, stereo and computer. Internet access, since they are more than half a mile from the nearest phone or cable TV line, is via a radio-frequency dish on the roof, which connects them to a friend on Hornby Island who has high-speed Internet access. Their garden is irrigated by means of a standalone solar-powered pump, supplying pond water to soaker hoses.
After a break for lunch (and to grab my camera), the third stop of the tour was to the farm of Bob and Velda, growers of organic produce. While their house is connected to the electric grid, Bob has home-engineered a wind-powered irrigation system for the market garden (photo 1). The turbine blade for the windmill was hand-carved from a single 12-foot piece of clear-grained cedar. Via a couple of belts and pulleys, it drives a crank which operates a pump salvaged from an old fire extinguisher. This pumps water from a large marsh uphill to a holding pond. From the pond, water is fed by gravity to the drip-irrigation pipes in the fields. Goldfish in the pond keep the mosquitoes under control.
He also engineered a solar-powered hot water heater which is the essence of simplicty. Fifty feet of large-diameter black water hose lies on black shingles on the south-facing roof of the barn. No pumps are required. The pressure of cold water entering the heating pipes forces the hot water out. On a sunny day, the water gets close to boiling point and has to be mixed with cold water to provide a comfortable temperature for showering. There is enough hot water in the pipe for two showers. The shower is outdoors, in the garden (photo 2); outdoor showers are a common feature on Denman Island.
The final stop on the tour was the home of local entrepreneurs Tom and Klaus. Their off-grid house is powered by several solar panels. Since their house site is located at the top of a cliff and has no water, their household water is obtained from rainwater, collected off their metal roof and stored in two large cisterns behind the house.
One of the most intriguing aspects of their home is their garden. They practise zero-tillage gardening. Their site had no soil when they first moved there, so they have built it up using straw, wood chips and other organic material. These materials are applied as a top-dressing or mulch rather than being dug into the soil. Everything is grown in greenhouses. This technique allows them to grow extremely healthy-looking crops with very little water.
Our cultural event this week was a Flamenco concert, complete with dancers. It was well attended and well enjoyed.
Today, we went on the annual Denman Island Pottery Tour. Local potters open their studios to the public in a two-day-long event that is popular with both islanders and tourists. Some of the pieces go beyond mere pottery into the world of fine art, particularly those of Gordon Hutchens (photo 3). His work uses exotic rare-earth glazes and special slow cooling techniques that produce amazing depth of colour and intricate random crystal structures in the finished glazed pieces. We didn't go on the whole tour, having picked out our favourites from last year. We showed admirable restraint and only came home with a few pieces (photo 4).
This has been a fairly quiet week, with no concerts or special events to go to. We have spent most of our time puttering around the house and yard on various projects. I am still working on the foundation for the new cottage location. With all the utility lines in the trench, I have been back-filling it by hand. It is hard work: lots of rocks!
The weekly summertime farmers' market has been operating for a couple of weeks now. It is set up on the lawn behind the old school, and coincides with the Saturday hours of the recycling centre, which is also located at the old school. Everyone comes to drop off their recycling (an important social event) and then stays to check out the market stalls. The market operates from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving. We try to buy as many of our vegetables as we can there, since we know the growers and can be sure that the produce is organic and locally-grown. Fresh asparagus is in season right now.
The other day, we were sitting down to lunch, and, since it was a warm day, we had the dining room window open. There is usually a steady parade of hummingbirds to the feeder just outside the window, so we are used to hearing their buzzing. However, this time, the buzzing sounded like the Battle of Britain. When we looked outside, the picture was complete, because it looked like it, too. There were whole squadrons of the little birds, zooming, dashing and dogfighting around the feeder, and shrieking at each other. Their flight is so fast that you actually hear a doppler shift as they zoom by.
The feeder is "owned" by one male hummingbird. He lets his girlfriends use it, but no one else, especially other males, is allowed to approach it. Any interlopers are chased off in a high-speed pursuit, accompanied by much angry squeaking. At one point, there were eight hummingbirds near the feeder: four perched on the feeder drinking, and four others either approaching or being driven off.
The action lasted long enough for me to get my camera and shoot about 50 pictures, the only way to have a chance of catching some of the high-speed action. While I was not able to capture the height of the action with eight birds there at once, I did get some reasonable action images.
Some other airborne wildlife is creating quite a stir on Denman Island. The Taylor's checkerspot butterfly is an endangered species that is listed on the federal government's Schedule 1. The last known colony of them in Canada, on nearby Hornby Island, was declared extirpated in 2000. The excitement here is that, this spring, it has been discovered to be living here on Denman.
The checkerspot's normal habitat was thought to be coastal garry oak meadows, which are an endangered ecosystem, being taken over by development and invasive species. As it turns out, the butterfly is also quite happy in forest clearcuts, something we have an excess of on our island. Larvae of them were first spotted a couple of months ago, only a kilometre or so from our house. In the last two or three weeks, the adult butterflies have emerged, and have been seen over a surprisingly large area of central Denman Island. Wendy and I have both seen them on our walks. Although we have not seen any in our yard, we are on the lookout for it, since our property is within its area.
With an endangered species in our midst, off-island biologists have been coming here to see it. Our local resident biologists have printed up "wanted" posters and cards so that people know what to look for. Ironically, the Denman Conservancy Association may be required to preserve its habitat: a clearcut!
The following links have more information about the Taylor's checkerspot. The picture on this page is the best one for showing our subspecies.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013