|Hall's Harbour Observatory, Hall's Harbour, NS|
Denman Diary: 2009
|24-May-2018, 05:06 ADT||24-May-2018, 08:06 UTC|
The main event this week was obviously Christmas. Not that Wendy and I make a big deal about it, but there wasn't much else going on this week.
For those of you who were wishing for or experiencing a white Christmas, I thought I would include a photo of the greenest, mossiest part of our green Christmas. There is a stretch of forest not far from our house where everything is totally covered in the most lurid green moss. Oh, that reminds me, our last rose blossom of the year still has a couple of pink petals on it.
On Christmas day, we had two couples who also don't observe Christmas over for a non-Christmas dinner. It was a fun evening. We consumed large quantities of excellent food and sat up late chatting until everyone had to go home.
We are not the only ones eating well. With the cold weather (don't laugh - it has been below freezing on occasion), Wendy has been feeding the deer. We have our "regulars" - young deer that we fed last winter - and some of this year's fawns. However, we now have a couple of bucks who hang around for the handouts. With hunting season over, I can show you this picture of the largest buck, a healthy-looking fellow with a magnificent set of antlers.
I have been working on the bookcase I am building for the living room. I have the construction part done. Now I am staining the cases and all the shelves. It is going to take a while. The stain takes longer to dry in the cool weather, and I still have to put several coats of polyurethane over it. Since it is a tall bookcase, I have to do the bottoms of the shelves as well as the tops, so each coat takes twice as long to apply.
Our main recreational activity has been to go for walks, either "around the block", our usual 8-km walk, or over to Central Park, the conservation area a couple of kilometres from here. Here are a couple of scenes from our walks this week: Chickadee Lake and a view across Baynes Sound to the cloud-shrouded Beaufort Mountains.
Happy New Year, everyone!
It is the week before Christmas and there are all kinds of Christmas activities happening.
On Wednesday, Wendy participated in the first of two Christmas bird counts. I had to work that day, so I wasn't able to participate. I wasn't broken-hearted about it, because it rained 37 mm. Wendy arrived home dripping wet, but had a good time anyway. She claims to have seen a pink flamingo, which makes me wonder exactly what those birders drink for refreshments.
On Friday, it was Moonlight Madness, the one night of the year when the shops in "downtown" Denman are open late for Christmas shopping. I suspect that not a lot of actual shopping gets done, but it is a good chance for people to come out of hibernation, meet the merchants, and mingle. The weather was good - no rain or wind - so there were quite a few people out.
This year, Wendy and I volunteered to help set up the "luminaries" - tea-light candles inside paper bags that line the sidewalks. There were over 500 of them, all through the downtown area. It makes quite a nice effect, as you can see.
For a treat, we stopped in for dessert and decaf coffee at the Kaffee Klatsch Bistro, the main downtown eatery, before wandering around the shops. They have some excellent coffee, and at least half their desserts are vegan. It is so nice to live in a place where that is considered mainstream!
It was an unusual treat for the Bistro to be open at supper time. This time of year, they are normally open for breakfast and lunch only. Earlier in the week, we had gone there for lunch. While we were sitting enjoying our curried tomato soup, two riders rode up on horses right outside the windows, the horses dressed in ribbons and Santa Claus hats. It was quite a sight! I've got to start carrying the camera everywhere I go.
Today, Wendy and I participated in another Christmas bird count. Of course, the weather was back to rain again. It was weather that only ducks would appreciate, so it was a good thing that the majority of the birds we saw were ducks. We saw a couple of dozen different species (not all ducks) including gulls, various shorebirds, and quite a few land-based birds.
Part of our assigned territory included a narrow spit of land at the very north tip of Denman Island. The shallow water between there and Tree Island, just offshore, attracts large numbers of water birds. The real birders in the group estimated the ducks alone to number 1800. If you are wondering why the birds haven't all flown south for the winter, the reason is that they have. This is "south" for many of the birds that live in Alaska in the summertime. We didn't see any pink flamingoes this time.
This evening, we attended the annual community Christmas Dinner. Like most things here, it runs on volunteers. The idea is to ensure that the less fortunate members of the community can enjoy a Christmas dinner. However, rather than single them out for attention that is perhaps not wanted, the dinner is open to everyone. And that is just who shows up: everyone. They have tables set up in both halls of the Community Centre, and they are all filled twice in the course of the evening. The organizers provide turkey, potatoes and vegetables, and everyone else brings salads, side dishes and desserts.
Seeing as this is the last Denman Diary before Christmas, a merry Christmas to all!
"It's a dry cold." That's what we always hear from prairie people when they boast about their winter weather. I understand that the prairies have an excess of that dry cold right now, but it is unusual to hear Denman Islanders talk about our winter weather in those terms. Yet that is what we were saying this week.
Well, okay, I admit that the term "cold" is relative, but, hey, it was below freezing! However, the humidity was low enough that we didn't have to scrape frost off the car's windshield. Pickles Road is dry and dusty, enough that the surrounding vegetation is once again sporting a coating of dust, just like in summer.
Some Denman residents are showing Christmas spirit. We saw this tree decorated with Christmas tree baubles when we were out for our walk one day this week.
Our usual walk is "around the block", the block being 8.5 kilometres around. However, today, for a change, we hiked the trail from Pickles Road through "Central Park", a quarter-section of recovering clearcut forest preserved by the Denman Conservancy Association. The Conservancy acquired the parcel of land a few years ago, and paid off the mortgage on it this year, thanks entirely to donations. They have done a wonderful job of developing the old logging roads into hiking trails and maintaining them. Parts of the land where alders are rapidly growing in are already starting to look like forest again, as you can see in the photo.
Our objective today was to look at the new boardwalk and bridge that they have recently built over a marsh in order to connect two of the hiking trails. Apparently, some of the trails have yet to be developed... We knew where to look for the bridge, but couldn't see it or any trails leading to it. We will look for it again the next time we are there, perhaps approaching from the other trail. They say it is a very nice bridge.
The main social event of the week was the annual Fire Department Christmas Dinner, held in the back hall of the Community Centre. The Department has 26 members, plus seven auxilliary members and three junior members, so, with some invited guests and spouses, the hall was quite full. The meal featured turkey and ham supplied by the Department, and enough veggies supplied by pot-luck contributions from the members to keep us vegans happy.
In addition to being the Department's main social event of the year, it is also our awards presentation night. This year, we were all celebrating the significant achievement of having completed the Basic Firefighter course. It is a keen group of volunteers this year, and there were quite a few serious awards handed out.
There was also the humourous (and usually embarassing) award for "Safe Driving". This year, there was a tie among three nominees, which had to be decided by applause from the audience after the citations had been read. The nominees were: crunching someone's car in the parking lot while responding to a call; crunching a flashing light on our brand new tanker truck while responding to a call; and crunching a cabinet and some light fixtures while backing the almost brand-new tanker truck into its bay at the hall. The award was won by ... our Driving Instructor, for the latter incident!
I was awarded the "First Responder of the Year" award, on the strength of my regular response to medical callouts. Most of our callouts are First Responder (i.e. medical) calls, and due to our location less than a kilometre from the Fire Hall, I am usually one of the first members to arrive at the hall, so I get to go on most calls.
The rain has stopped and the temperatures have turned frosty. Our lowest overnight low temperature so far was -0.8°C. Tonight, we are heading into an arctic outflow: already (at 7:00 pm), the temperature is down to -1.7°C and headed lower. According to the forecast, we are not going to see above-zero temperatures now until Friday. On the other hand, we have had no snow, and none is in the forecast.
When there is frost in the forecast, I drape an old towel over the car windshield to keep the frost from building up on it. That way, if there is a Fire Department callout, I can just pull the towel off and go without having to scrape. The towel is held in place by closing the front doors on the top corners and tucking the bottom edge under the windshield wipers.
In spite of the cool weather, we still have one rose blossom hanging on. Not bad for the first week of December!
The major event on Denman Island this week was the Christmas Craft Fair. In contrast to previous years, when we have had torrential rain or deep snow, the weather was perfect for it this year: clear and cool. The two halls "downtown" were packed with both locals and off-islanders. As usual, there was a large selection of top-quality crafts, and a great deal of socializing, since absolutely everyone goes to it.
We toured the exhibits and admired them but restrained ourselves from buying more than a handful of items. It would be very easy to blow a small (or large) fortune at the fair.
Because of the large number of visitors, lunch is catered in both halls for the fair. We had a fine vegan chili cooked up by the staff from the Kaffee Klatsch Bistro, the most popular eatery on the island.
Proceeds form the food sales are being used to support the Denman Community Land Trust, an organization dedicated to providing affordable housing on Denman. Affordable housing is a major issue on all the gulf islands, as rising rents force people to move away, reducing the diversity of the community. By acquiring land on which they will provide affordable housing, they hope to attract and retain younger people who will keep the community viable.
This week's report on the cat war is favourable. Java, the neighbours' cat, has not been in our cats' play area at all this week. We have only seen him around the house a couple of times. Each time, we growl and roar and wave our arms at him and chase him away. That and the electric fence seem to be getting through to him that he is not welcome. Our cats are gradually getting over their fear of the outdoors and are once again venturing outside to play, in spite of the cooler temperatures.
With a couple of dry days this week before the temperatures headed into the frigid zone, I nailed traction strips onto the ramp at the front entrance. I had had to remove the old ones when I stained the wood. Though we could have used them when we were having all the rain last month, I was reluctant to install them when the deck was wet. However, they are now ready for frost and any other white stuff we might get.
For a while last week, it looked like we might break a record for precipitation this month. We still have one more day left in the month, and they are forecasting rain, but it looks like the record is out of reach. However, we did well, especially for a drought year. We have had 451 mm of rain this month, 44% of our total precipitation for the year, making it the third wettest November ever, after 1908 and 2006.
Of course, the weather is getting colder, and it will not be long before some of that wet season precipitation falls in more solid form. Last winter's heavy snow tore off our gutters as it avalanched off the roof. We had the gutters replaced in the spring, a necessity for our rainwater collection system. This week, in order to prevent the same thing happening again and ruining our nice new gutters, we had snow stops installed on the roof.
Apparently, half of Denman Island is installing snow-stops, and the installers are run off their feet. They told us that they have people flagging them down by the side of the road and asking about installation.
Last week, I confidently reported victory in my battle of wits against our neighbours' cat, Java. It seems that my claim was premature.
Earlier this week, Wendy and I were quietly reading when we heard a commotion of yowling and hissing at the cat door, followed by the panicked entrance of our two cats. Java had somehow managed to cross the net barrier and get into our cats' play area. He then went up the ramp and hid in the enclosure on the deck, where he ambushed them. Our cats were totally freaked out, to the point where they are now reluctant to venture outside, even in nice weather.
This means war. The battle has now gone high-tech, with the installation of an electric fence. I would like to say that that will stop him, but he is one resourceful cat. So, we shall see. It is a bit disconcerting to be losing a battle of wits with a cat.
My project for this coming week, when not drafted for war duty, will be to start work on a new shelving unit for the living room.
The Pineapple Express weather system that blew in last Sunday is still with us. In the last week, we have had more than 200 mm of rain. I saw in the news that poor Vancouver is complaining about their above average rainfall of 170 mm for the month. My heart bleeds for them! Our total for the month stands at 390 mm. After months of drought, we are on track to break the record for the wettest November. And the Cowichan Valley has had even more rain than we did.
On Friday, Wendy and I drove down to Vancouver to attend the burial of my mother's ashes. Both my brothers and their respective spouses were there. The rain, fortunately, stopped shortly before the ceremony. It was a short visit, but we did get to spend some time together aside from the ceremony.
We drove back on Saturday evening, just as the next storm was blowing in. The drive from the ferry that arrives in Nanaimo at 4:35 to Buckley Bay for the 6:00 Denman Island ferry can be done if the road is dry and you don't get picked up by radar. But the big highway is dangerous in the rain, so we stopped in Nanaimo for a quick supper and took the old highway, to catch the 7:00 ferry. Between the white-knuckle driving through downtown Vancouver and the drive up the island in the dark in a downpour, I will be quite happy not to drive anywhere for a while!
I promised last week to post a photo of last week's contruction project: the net over the cats' outdoor play area. Doesn't it look like we are keeping exotic birds? The netting does make the pen escape-proof, and has so far prevented Java, the neighbours' cat, from breaking in.
However, it hasn't stopped him from trying. On Friday morning, just as we were getting ready to head out to catch the 8:00 am ferry, we heard meowing coming from the pen. Wendy went out with a flashlight and found Java tangled in the net. He had attempted to break in, climbed the fence and found himself caught in the net. He was suspended in a cone-shaped depression in the net, with his feet stuck through, standing on the rocks below. We managed to rescue him by throwing him a towel on top of the net, which he climbed onto. We are hoping that he found the experience unpleasant enough to deter him from future attempts.
However, with all the stormy weather this week, we feel sorry for Java. He is often out in the rain and meows pitifully to be let in. Now that he is no longer a threat to our cats, there is no harm in helping him out a bit, which brings us to this week's project: a cat hotel. It has a basement with a 40-watt light bulb for warmth, a raised bedroom, and an insulated attic. It is made of cedar remnants and is finished in board-and-batten style to match the house. The good news is that he seems to like it.
This week has been wet and stormy. We had storms on Monday and Friday, with showers in between. Today we have a full-blown Pineapple Express giving us by far the wettest day so far this year. On Friday night, I recorded our first frost of the season, -0.8°C. Other areas of the island have had frosts already, but up on the hill where we are, we tend to be a bit warmer. The mountains across the Sound have snow on them now.
On Wednesday, Wendy and I attended the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Seniors' Hall. It was well attended, as it has been for the last few years.
The organizers always invite a representative of the RCMP or the armed forces to attend the ceremony, to "show a uniform". This year, the Air Force base at Comox sent a personable young aircraft maintenance engineer, Capt. Aleem Sajan. At the tea-and-cookies session after the ceremony, we talked to him for a while, and learned a bit about his background and experiences, including a U.N. posting to Darfur in Sudan.
After a while, he inquired about where one could get lunch on Denman Island. We told him where the best place was, but then Wendy suggested that he have lunch with us at our house. He accepted the invitation, and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours chatting over baked beans, biscuits, and pumpkin pie with cashew cream. He impressed us with his sensible outlook on life, the military, and his own career.
On Friday, after the overnight storm had ended, the day turned out to be quite pleasant. We joined in a work bee to pull scotch broom from along the sides of the main road. Scotch broom is an invasive alien plant that rapidly takes over any sunny, open areas it finds. This is a good time of year to eradicate it, since the wet soil makes it easier to pull out by the roots.
The local pesticide-free committee (known as "Bugs 'R' Us") has provided two "broom-pullers" that people can rent for their own use for $5 per day. They are ingenious contraptions that tightly grasp the stem of the plant at ground level and then use leverage to haul it out of the ground. We put them to good use yanking out broom plants, some as tall as eight feet.
There were about a dozen people in the work party, and among us, we managed to completely clear the broom from about half a kilometre of roadside and powerline right-of-way. We brought our pick and shovel, but unfortunately didn't bring a camera.
I mentioned last month about our neighbours' cat Java, who comes over frequently to visit. We had hoped that, once they were home from their trip, he would not hang around here quite so much. However, he seems to have adopted us, and is coming around as much as ever. So, as I had suspected, I had to upgrade our cats' outdoor enclosure to prevent break-ins.
I spent all day yesterday, a cold, blustery day, attaching netting to the top of the wire fence. It is a slow, tedious job, because the edges of the net have to be supported by string woven in and out of the openings in the net. However, as daylight was fading, I got the job completed, and the enclosure is now cat-proof (...he said, hopefully). Now, it looks like some kind of exotic aviary.
It may not be pretty, but it means that we can let our cats outside into the enclosure at night. We had been locking the door at night to prevent Java from coming into the house. Now they can run in and out all night, as they please.
I would have taken photos of the enclosure, but today it was actually too rainy to take a camera outdoors. I will take some for next week. Instead, I have a couple more photos of our feline prowler.
The rainy season is well upon us now. On Thursday, we had 40 mm of rain, making it the wettest day so far this year. Contrary to rumours, it doesn't rain all the time here in the winter. We will have a couple of days of rain and then a couple of days of dry, even sunny, weather.
Amazingly, on Friday, less than 24 hours after our wettest day, the Fire Department was called out to fight a brush fire. Someone's burn pile wasn't fully extinguished a couple of days earlier, and escaped through forest floor vegetation to flare up into a significant fire. The amazing thing is that, in spite of 40 mm of rain, not to mention all the preceding rain we have had in the last month, the soil two inches underground was still as dry as dust. Clearly, it will take a lot more rain to wet the soil again after such a dry summer.
In spite of the fall weather, or perhaps because of it, our rose bush has had a single blossom on it for the last couple of weeks. It put on a major growth spurt a few weeks ago.
I have been cutting a bit of firewood this week. There are a few dead trees out back, and, while we leave some for the woodpeckers, it makes sense to cut some of them for firewood. We have a good stock of firewood in the woodshed, enough for this winter and most of next winter, but we always want to keep the supply a couple of years ahead of the demand. I cut the trees into six-foot lengths in the woods and wheelbarrow the logs to my work area near the house, where I will buck them into stove lengths and eventually split them.
This afternoon, Wendy and I went to an open-house at the Hermitage, our local Buddhist meditation retreat centre. The centre sits on 60 acres of land that is zoned for agricultural use. The organization is in the middle of the lengthy process of getting it rezoned to make their operation legal, so that they can expand and develop the centre. Today's open house was a chance for them to show the community what they have and what they are planning.
We have visited the Hermitage before, but the open house was the first opportunity we have had to see inside their barn. It is a beautiful building, one of the finest barns on the island, and is in excellent condition. Since one of the requirements of their rezoning is that they will have to continue to use the land for agricultural purposes, they are considering installing a cooperative community cider press operation in the barn. This is a natural for Denman Island, since everyone here has a few apple trees. Making cider (non-alcoholic, unclarified apple juice) is one of the best wasy to preserve the crop for winter storage. People could bring in a carload of apples and go home with jugs of cider.
They are also planning to expand their garden and orchard area to make the retreat centre self-sufficient in produce, and it is likely that the fields will eventually be put back into to agricultural use. Already, there is a successful potato-growing co-op using part of the land.
The actual retreat centre only uses a small portion of the land, and will be limited in size by the terms of the rezoning. It has some of the most unusual architecture on the island. The geodesic domes were built in the 1970s, when the land was owned by some of the original founders of Greenpeace.
This week's news is that Wendy is back from visiting her parents on Nova Scotia. I picked her up at the Comox airport last night. She reported that Cinderella and Prince Charming were working at the WestJet desk at the Toronto airport.
The cats were almost as happy to see Wendy as I was.
We have had a mix of weather this week. Friday was the wettest day so far this year, with over 37 milliletres of rain. However, in between rain events, we get beautiful, sunny, autumn days. We were out for a walk today and took these photos of Pickles Marsh and some poplar trees. While most of the trees have lost most of their leaves, there are still quite a few hangers-on.
Water levels everywhere have started to rise. Pickles Marsh, while still below its late winter level, has risen quite a bit from its summer level. Our well is up to its full winter depth of 85 feet, from its summer low of 50 feet.
Last week, our rainwater tanks reached their full capacity of 4500 gallons, destined for watering next year's garden. It may have seemed strange, therefore, that today I dumped 350 gallons out onto the forest floor. However, having learned how much rain it takes to fill them, and having enjoyed the satisfaction of full tanks, I wanted to leave some room in each tank for expansion, in the event that we get another long cold snap that freezes some of the water. Last winter, we had a cold snap that laster over two weeks with temperatures never getting above freezing. I was lucky that none of the rainwater plumbing broke, but I don't want to push my luck again. So, I drained a bit out of each tank to leave some expansion room, and drained all the underground pipes. It will be easy enough to top up the tanks in the spring - it will take just 10 mm of rain to re-fill them.
Work continues on the medical clinic building. They have framed in and enclosed an addition on the left side, and I have heard reports that they have been moving walls inside. The renovated clinic will be much appreciated on the island.
Ths week, the weather has been intermittently rainy and dry.
The fall colours here are subdued compared to those down east. Still, they have their own beauty. By the time the big-leaf maples reach the all-orange colour phase visible in this picture, they have already lost about two thirds of their leaves. WIth the rain and wind storms that we are getting every few days, no doubt the rest of the leaves will be gone soon.
My project this week has been finishing the new door for the main floor bathroom. The cutting and drilling work that I started last week were quite accurate, if I do say so myself. However, the door frame wasn't. (No surprise there!) It turns out that, to fit the frame properly, the two hinge mortises had to be different depths. However, with that adjustment accomplished, the door fit perfectly. It is a big improvement over the plain slab that was there before.
A friend of ours, Velda Parsons, is quite a talented painter. This weekend, she had her first ever public showing of her work at the local Arts Centre. It was quite a successful show, with lots of visitors and quite a lot of sales. Wendy is still in Nova Scotia, but, thanks to email and permission from the artist to photograph some of her work, we decided on a painting to buy.
The community association meeting that I mentioned last week took place on Monday. There were fewer fireworks than I anticipated, but tensions are high and trust is low. No doubt we are in for interesting times.
The cats are not impressed with the cooler, rainier weather. They especially don't like wind. They haven't been using their nice outdoor pen nearly as much as normal. In fact, they spend most of their time sleeping. They are getting quite good at it. They miss their Mum.
Happily for all of us, Wendy will be back on Saturday.
This week, Wendy flew down east to Nova Scotia to visit her parents. She left me well-supplied with food in the fridge, however, the cats and I miss her! No doubt I will have to do some cooking in the next two weeks.
The big story this week is that the rainy season has finally started. We have had 49 mm of rain this week, and more is in the forecast for next week. The cisterns are about 90% full.
In fact, I finally had enough water to test my plumbing for the overflow pipe on the new tank. I discovered that the overflow pipe siphons the water level down a couple of hundred gallons. Effectively, 2000 + 1 = 1800. Not good. Fortunately, the fix required only a minor rebuild of a small section of the pipe to allow air to enter it. I did that, and now it should be ready for any amount of rain.
While I was in plumbing mode, I made a small dust-collection system for the workshop. It has built-in connections from the shop-vac to my various saws and sanders. Rather than making a lot of dust while I work and then having to clean it up afterwards, the system can now vacuum up the dust as I create it, which is much more satisfactory.
Another project was making covers for the rear seat headrests in the car. They may not be much to look at, but the complex shapes, especially of the middle one, required a lot of fiddly sewing. Since the two larger headrests have to be stowed under the front seats any time the rear seat is folded down (which is most of the time), it is important that they have covers to protect them from floor dirt. We plan on keeping this car for 20 years, so protecting the upholstery is important.
My final project this week is to start finishing a new door for the main floor bathroom in the house. The old door is a cheap slab door that is rather the worse for wear. The new one is a rather handsome one made of knotty pine. So far, I have it cut to size, and drilled and mortised for the hardware. With any luck, I might have pictures next week.
This coming week promises to be an interesting one for the community association. The executive have been disregarding the wishes of the membership for a couple of months, and things look like they are ready to hit the fan tomorrow night. I will have to see if the hardware store sells asbestos underwear. No doubt, there will be stuff to report next week.
Denman Diary is a day late this week because we were hosting our annual Thanksgiving dinner last night. It is our favourite holiday, because it is so universal - everyone has a lot to be thankful for.
We had three other couples over for a potluck vegan dinner. It was a fine meal of roast potatoes, squash, beets, walnut-pecan "meat"balls, dressing, cranberry sauce and apple sauce. For dessert, we had a coconut lemon Bundt cake.
We got out the good china and the silverware and it was a fine looking spread. Unfortunately, you will have to use your imagination because, although I had the camera ready, the conversation was so stimulating that I clear forgot to take any pictures!
On Friday evening, we attended a talk by famous eco-activist Starhawk, in the back hall of the Community Hall. A lot of people turned out to hear her, and the hall was filled to capacity. Over capacity, actually, as I am quite sure that there were more people there than fire regulations permitted.
It was a good talk. Starhawk recounted several of her experiences working for various causes, and the lessons she learned from them. She certainly has a broad range of experience and a talent for bringing different groups together.
Our cats are now both using their pen regularly, and without much friction between them. It is quite a relief not to have Owen in particular nagging to go out. He actually still spends a large part of the day sleeping indoors, but, when the mood hits him, he can go outside without asking.
There have been no successful escapes in a while, but we have had some break-ins. Java, our neighbour's cat from across the street, is a frequent visitor to our deck, and our cats know him, though they are not particularly friendly with him. He, however, wants to get to know them better, and he has learned to climb the fence into their pen. A couple of times, Liesl and Owen have come dashing in from outdoors, looking with alarm over their shoulders, with Java hot on their heels. He hasn't actually come into the house through the cat door - it's a bit small for him - but he did come up the ramp into our cats' deck enclosure. Some more enhancements may be in the works.
A few times, we have invited Java into the house because he seemed lonesome and to try some supervised interactions between the cats. Owen and Liesl weren't interested in interacting, but Java was happy to stay and be petted. He is a handsome all-black cat.
The beautiful Indian Summer weather continues, with no end in the forecast. The sky is the clear, haze-less blue that you only see at this time of the year, and temperatures are cool in the mornings, but pleasantly warm in the afternoons. There is no suggestion of any rain in the foreseeable future, of course.
The trees have started to change to their fall colours. The big-leaf maples don't change colour en-masse, as the sugar maples do down east, and they don't turn red at all. Instead, each leaf seems to decide independently when it is going to change colour. One by one, the leaves gradually turn yellow then brown from the edges in towards the centre. An individual leaf can have concentric rings of brown, yellow and green, and an entire tree can be partly green and partly yellow.
Our biggest maple, down at the back of the meadow, is mostly green at the bottom, and mostly yellow on top. Towards the end of Fall, when two-thirds of the leaves have fallen, we may get a few days when the remaining leaves are all yellow, which can be spectacular in the right light.
Other trees starting to change colour are the Virginia creeper, which is bright scarlet right now, and the mountain ash, which is just starting to turn orange.
Most of our cedars are changing colour too. That is not a result of Autumn, but a response to the prolonged drought. About half the needles on all the cedars have turned brown. If the trees can recover over the winter, they will grow replacement needles in the spring. However, this is the second year in a row that this has happened. There is only so much stress that they can take, and, at some point, they will simply not recover.
I have finished building the ramp between the cats' shelter on the deck and the outdoor pen. It includes a cat-door where it joins the shelter on the deck, with a remotely controlled lock. By leaning out the window and pulling on two strings, we can open and close the door and lock and unlock it. The purpose is to prevent the kitties from bringing uninvited reptillian guests into the house. Think of it as going through Security screening before they can enter. For the time being, since it is too cold for snakes to be out and about, we are not implementing the security checks. In the spring, however, we may require them to carry photo ID.
Owen discovered the ramp immediately, and now happily runs in and out whenever he wants. Liesl is more cautious, and took a while to check out the ramp before using it. She also had to work around Owen's possessiveness. He thought the pen was his, and he initially wouldn't let her use the ramp, blocking the entrance by sitting in front of it. She got around that by waiting until he was asleep indoors before going out. Now they both use it.
This afternoon, we attended a book-launch for our neighbour Des Kennedy's new book, at the Community Hall. His readings are always popular, and the event was standing-room only. Des read a chapter from his book, which is set mostly in Ireland, and then presented a beautiful slide show on great Irish gardens. Because of the Irish theme and the fact that the proceeds of the event were being donated to our new health centre, our three Denman Island doctors opened the proceedings dressed as leprechauns, singing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling". A bit cheesey, but fun nonetheless.
Our Indian Summer weather has continued this week. It has remained warm and dry, though the temperatures have been dropping to a more fall-like range. Thay are forecasting rain for later this coming week, but we will believe that when we see it. Typically, a long-range forecast of rain gets demoted over several days to "periods of rain", then "60% chance of showers", then "30% chance of showers", then it turns out to be totally dry. Not that we're cynical or anything.
We have been harvesting more apples. The Gravensteins are mostly ripe, and the first Spartans are starting to ripen. In spite of the electric fence, a raccoon has managed to find a way into the garden and has been helping himself to some of the harvest. He cleaned us out of the remaining plums, though we did manage to get more than half the crop harvested before that happened. He also has a taste for Gravensteins. We are still getting a good raspberry crop, and we are harvesting carrots and beets as recipes require them. Our winter greens are coming along nicely.
My main project this week was to take advantage of the remaining dry weather to stain the decks at the front entrance and back door. I have been using a cedar-coloured waterproof stain, and I am quite pleased with the results. We have had to use the patio doors as our main entrance for a few days while the stain dries.
Speaking of decks, our main deck will need to be replaced next year. Actually, it needed to be replaced last year, but it will happen next year. In anticipation of that project, we got a good deal on a couple of truckloads of cedar deck boards. I spent a couple of afternoons this week carefully stacking them and covering them with tarps to store them until next year.
In the continuing saga of Owen's play pen, we went the entire week without a successful escape. It wasn't for lack of trying, as the truck delivering the lumber freaked him out and had him trying to get out. So, we think the design of the pen is stable for now.
Now, the problem is that, being a cat, he always wants to be on the other side of any door. When he is indoors, he wants out; when he is outdoors, he wants in. At the moment, he is carried to and from the play pen, which is obviously not a permanent solution. So now, I have started work on a catwalk that will connect the ground-level play pen (out of the picture to the left) with the existing covered pen on the deck. It is basically a wooden ramp, which, when finished, will be covered with chicken wire to form a secure tunnel between the two outdoor areas.
Not only will it allow Owen to come and go as he pleases, but it will allow Liesl to enjoy the play pen too. Right now, we don't take her out to the pen, because she is very skittish about being approached, and would be too difficult to bring indoors.
We have quie a healthy population of tree frogs on our property. These two individuals look quite different, but they are both the same species. There is quite a bit of variation in colour among individuals, and they can change colour in response to changing conditions.
This week started off with a meeting of DIRA, the Denman Island Residents' Association. It was supposed to be the annual budget meeting, where the various tax-funded organizations (such as the Fire Department) present their budgets for the next fiscal year for public comment and approval. However, there is trouble on the executive - two members have resigned over personality conflicts, so there was a need for a by-election to replace them. The meeting got bogged down in procedural wrangling over who was entitled to vote in the elections, and the regular meeting started an hour late. Wendy and I left at 9:30 pm, after only a couple of budget presentations, with the meeting still going fill-tilt. We heard later that they adjourned at 10:00 with most of the agenda unheard. Ah, the joys of small community life!
On a more positive note, there was considerable excitement in the community over the move of the medical clinic building. Though the provincial government pays our doctors' salaries, they do not provide the building from which they work. The clinic was set up a few years ago by the efforts of volunteers, with local fund-raising, and has operated out of that building for a couple of years. Since then, the property has changed hands. The new owner sold the building to the health care society for one dollar on the condition that it be moved elsewhere. A well-located vacant lot was donated. The society has been doing major fundraising for the last year or more, and Wednesday was the date set for the move.
During the preceeding week, volunteer crews had done the preparatory work of dismantling the front deck, shoring up the porch roof and disconnecting the plumbing. On Wednesday, the Nickle Brothers building movers jacked the building up onto big steel beams on wheels. At 8:30 in the evening, a time chosen to avoid conflicts with ferry traffic, they drove the building out of the parking lot, around the corner, through "downtown", to its new location. The Fire Department took care of traffic control, and Telus was on hand to move any low-hanging phone wires.
The clinic now sits up on blocks at its new site. They will have to build a foundation under it, connect the plumbing and electrical services and landscape the lot before it is ready for use again. In the meantime, clinic services are being provided out of a privately-owned building that was the old clinic before the current building was acquired.
The bumper sticker in the photo was seen on a Telus truck that was standing by to assist with the building move. It looked very official - I thought it would say "Frequent Stops" or some such warning. I was surprised when I got close enough to read it!
At home, I have been fine-tuning Owen's new playground. He enjoys being outdoors, and constantly meows to go outside. The first enhancement was a net suspended over the pen to discourage eagles from swooping down. However, most of the changes involved turning it into a maximum security establishment.
We are thinking of renaming Owen "Harry", after Harry Houdini, because it turns out that he is quite an escape artist. The first time he got out, we were eating dinner when he suddenly appeared on the deck outside the dining room window. We aren't sure how he got out that time, but we suspect it was over the fence. He tried digging under the fence, and I was glad I had anticipated the need for chicken wire buried several inches deep. He tried digging under the door, and almost succeeded in making a deep enough hole before we blocked it with a piece of wood. A permanent threshhold is pending. He doesn't like to climb the fence - too shakey - but he finds the door quite climbable. Several of his successful escapes were achieved by climbing the door to fence height and then leaping over the fence. So, I put up netting on either side of the door to prevent that. He then climbed the full seven-foot height of the door and leapt over the top of it. I countered by adding a wooden transom to block the top. The latest addition is a sheet of plastic covering the door to prevent climbing and the netting at the sides to prevent entanglement.
So far, the measures are working. Owen/Harry stayed in his pen today without any successful escapes, nor any attempts that we were aware of. It is a bit disconcerting to be in a battle of wits with a cat and to be unsure of whether or not one is winning!
On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we had a major rainfall, a total of over 30 mm. Combined with the 20 mm we got on the long weekend, it made a significant contribution to the garden. In terms of our rainwater storage, it amounted to an additional 1500 gallons, enough to see us through the rest of the growing season even if we do not get any more rain.
The grass is noticeably greener this week. The raspberries have put on a ripening spurt, and we are now harvesting them daily. Our grapes are now ripe, and we can snack on them any time we are in the garden. This is the first year that we have been able to enjoy them in any quantity. The electric fence is working better this year, keeping the raccoons from stealing them.
Other harvests this week include plums and apples, both of which are starting to ripen.
The tree frogs seem to appreciate the moisture, too. Any time we were outdoors this week, we could hear them croaking in the forest. They have several different calls. The one we hear most commonly right now is a single croak. Often, this is doubled up into a classic "ribbet" sound. Then, in the spring and early summer, there is their mating chorus, which is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a movie with a night-time scene. The standard Hollywood frog chorus sound track is a recording of our Pacific tree frog.
Today, Wendy and I joined in an all-day seed-saving workshop. Seed-saving is a grassroots movement to re-establish a tradition of saving one's own seeds for gardening. Commercially available seeds are limited in the varieties that are available. Often, the varieties are chosen by the "manufacturer" for specific characteristics that have nothing to do with taste or nutrition. Many traditional crop varieties are in danger of extinction because so few people save their own seeds any more.
There are several advantages to saving one's own seeds. You can do your own selection and specialize in what works for your own area and circumstances. You can choose to breed for diversity. It costs nothing. Many heritage varieties have better taste and nutrient content than commercial seeds. A community of seed-savers preserves genetic diversity that is in danger of being lost.
The workshop was taught by Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds, and consisted of a tour of four large Denman vegetable gardens. Dan taught us the principles of collecting and storing seeds, and specific techniques for collecting seeds from different types of vegetables.
He also gave us a demonstration of grain harvesting techniques suitable for the scale of household gardens. Threshing can be done by hand (well, by foot, actually) using nothing more exotic than a specially built wooden box. Cleaning the seeds can be done using screens or sieves, by winnowing, or using compressed air.
There was a great deal of interest in the workshop from people on both Denman and Hornby Islands. More than 40 people from both islands attended. The recent economic downturn and the uncertain future seem to have motivated a lot of people to investigate food self-sufficiency. Here, this is taking the form of a renewed interest in small-scale agriculture. The group that sponsored the seed-saving workshop is planning more events on this theme in the future.
Owen is enjoying his new outdoor playground. He can track down smells and chase critters to his heart's content. He is fascinated by deer, and the deer, in turn are equally fascinated by him. We often see our resident deer standing near his enclosure peering at him as though trying to figure out exactly what he is.
Ah, Labour Day! Summer is over.
Well, technically, we still have a couple of weeks of summer left, but the weather has definitely changed to a more fall-like pattern. The warm, very dry conditions we have experienced for the last three months have given way to a couple of days of cooler, rainy weather. The total quantity of rain wasn't much to write home about (Well, okay, it was enough to write a blog entry about...), about 22 millimetres over the last three days, but we will happily take it.
Our cisterns for watering the garden were down to the bottom of the barrels as of last week, with only a few days' water left. We gladly accept the several hundred gallons of rain water that we collected, which will see us through to the end of the season's gardening.
The only thing is, the weatherman needs to work on his timing. Today was the annual Blackberry Faire, Denman Island's fall fair. It didn't actually rain on the parade, but it rained both before and after. Attendance, understandably, was well down from previous years.
The day starts with an 8.5 kilometre walk/run "around the block". The route starts and ends at the Community Hall, and follows our normal walking route around the square of Denman, Pickles, Lake and Northwest Roads. Because it uses part of Denman Road, the main tourist route to and from Hornby Island, the Fire Department provides traffic control for the first part of the route, and I was on the traffic crew. When I looked out the window before leaving the house, the weather looked not too bad. "I probably won't need rain pants," I thought. By the time I got to the Fire Hall, it was pouring rain.
After directing traffic, and stopping at home to put on dry clothes and pick up my rain pants, I spent most of the rest of the day at the Fire Department's tent at the fair, flipping veggie burgers. Every year, the Fire Department cooks burgers for the fair. That is the source of the smoke in the first picture. As the token vegan on the Department, I am the official veggie burger cook. I wasn't exactly over-worked. Apparently vegetarians are less likely to go out in the rain than meat eaters.
At 11:45 (the odd time chosen to avoid ferry traffic), the official Blackberry Faire parade began. At about 11:55, it ended, after travelling the entire length of both blocks of downtown Denman. Parade entries consisted of horses (the Denman Equestrian Society), floats (the Free Store and the Marine Stewardship Committee), antique cars (a Vancouver Island club that comes over here every year), the ambulance, and two fire trucks.
Meanwhile, Wendy was visiting the various craft booths and exhibits. Inside the Community Hall, they had the various contests for pies, wines, vegetable decorating, knitting, etc. She promised to bring me a piece of blackberry pie, but apparently none of the entries was vegan this year. (It must have been the rain again.)
Earlier in the week, before all the rain, Wendy and I just about finished building our new cat enclosure. The perimeter consists of one wall of the house, and about 120 feet of fencing. We dug a trench around the fence line and buried a few inches of chicken wire. Above that is four feet of steel mesh fencing, supported by metal posts. We will be putting some nylon netting, supported on wooden posts, over top of it to discourage avian predators. Access is via a door, conveniently attached to the pergola on our front entrance walk. We should have it finished tomorrow, and then we can let Owen outside when he starts to nag. An additional benefit of the enclosure is that I was able to remove the deer cage from around two vines and a rose, since they are now within the enclosure, which will make tending the plants considerably easier.
Last week's Denman Diary was full enough that I didn't mention the 100th anniversary of the Piercy barn here on Denman Island. The Piercys were among the first settlers on the island, back in the 19th century. The land is still in the Piercy family, and the barn is 100 years old this year. In honour of the occasion, they held an open house, which was well-attended, since the Denman school was also holding a reunion the same day. The barn is full of old farm equipment and machinery, some of which has seen better days, and some of which is clearly still in use.
The photo inside the barn and the photo below of the starfish were two of my three entries in the Photography Club's second annual gallery show, this weekend. (My third entry was another starfish.) Once again this year, the quality of the photos from all members was excellent. We had 111 visitors, which is very good attendance for a two-day show here, and we had a lot of favourable comments. Two of the photos in the show sold (though none of mine).
Owen, our orange boy cat, has been getting bored lately, so Wendy decided to take him outside on a leash. He really enjoys his walks, and sniffs all around the meadow. He is quite intrigued by the deer, who are equally curious about him. (I can just imagine them thinking, "Boy, that is the smallest cougar I have ever seen.") The walks cure his boredom problem - until he comes back indoors. Now, he meows constantly, wanting to go back outdoors.
Idyllic though it is, Denman is still a dangerous place for an outdoor kitty. Even our little street gets quite a bit of traffic, especially in the summer. There are not only full-sized cougars to watch out for, but bald eagles and some quite large owls, not to mention raccoons. We really don't want to let him wander around at will. So, what to do...?
...Another project! I have started building a large cat enclosure. It is an area of about 2000 square feet that is a fairly un-ornamental rock garden, beside our front entrance pathway. It will be fenced, including buried chicken wire to protect against crittiers digging either in or out. Over top of it will be a large net, supported on poles, to protect against avian predators. Eventually, when we rebuild the deck (next year's project), I will make an enclosed ramp to connect the cats' outdoor room on the deck to this new enclosure. These are spoiled-rotten kitties.
So, anyway, today I was pounding in stakes to support the fence around the enclosure.
Though I try to keep these diary entries light-hearted, I have some sad news to report this time. Last week, my mother passed away at the age of 84 from cancer. She lived in New Westminster, and stayed independently in her own apartment until her final week.
Those of you who followed the seemingly never-ending saga of our cottage renovation may have wondered why, after all the fuss of the construction, I haven't yet posted photos of the completed, furnished interior. The reason is that we wanted to have an official opening, and in particular that we wanted to have the original builders of the cottage perform the ribbon cutting. We wanted them to see it for the first time with their own eyes, rather than on website photos.
On Friday, weather and schedules combined fortuitously, and we finally held our grand opening ceremony. We invited several of our neighbours, who no doubt had to put up with much sawing and hammering over the last two years, but the guests of honour were Harold and Marit Birkeland.
The cottage was originally built by the Birkelands back in 1981 as a summer getaway here on Denman. Eventually, they built a beautiful home on the same lot and sold the cottage to the former owner of our house, who hauled it up the big hill to use as his wife's reiki studio. When we bought this place, the cottage came with it, of course. We then moved it across the yard to its current and, we trust, final location, a story that is no doubt familiar by now.
Every guest cottage needs a name, and we named it after the Birkelands. If you are wondering about the pigeon on the sign, read Harold's blog for August 16, 2009.
Harold and Marit performed the ceremonial ribbon cutting, and then we took them and our other guests on the guided tour. They seemed to like it, especially the fact that it now has an indoor bathroom! Harold did point out two deficiencies. One is that, having named it "The Birkeland", we now need to plant some birch trees. The other is that we have unwittingly painted the exterior of the cottage in the national colours of Sweden, instead of Norway, where the Birkelands come from. Oops.
We had a good afternoon, chatting over pieces of Wendy's famous lemon tart.
One of the topics we chatted about was a meeting held on Thursday by B.C. Ferries to discuss their new proposal that would replace our standard ferry with a cable ferry. The meeting was more notable for its entertainment value than for its informational value, though not in a way that reflected well on our community. Many residents used the opportunity to vent their pent-up frustration with B.C. Ferries, and others wanted to play amateur engineer, second-guessing the design decisions of the professionals. This was not always done politely. Still, the staff members from the company handled it well, and we did learn some useful information. For example, we were interested to learn that there are other cable ferries in Canada that run on on salt, tidal water, and which seem to have no particular issues with this kind of environment.
They are still early in the feasibility study, so many design details have not yet been worked out. It is clear that a cable ferry would dramatically cut operating costs because hauling on a cable is much more efficient than churning water with a propeller. However, it is not clear if the savings in operating costs will justify the capital investment required to change the system. We won't know for another year whether the change will happen.
In the open-house display that preceded the meeting, I had fun pointing out to one of the Ferries staff members that all existing cable ferries in B.C. are free, with an implied expectation. Not that there is the remotest chance that that will happen here, of course, but we "minor route" islanders like to point out the double standard of fresh-water vs. salt-water ferries whenever we can. The staff member had the decency to smile sheepishly when he acknowledged my point.
With the cool weather this week, I finally finished my cistern project. I was able to dig the last 12 feet of trench and lay the pipe in it. The fittings are all connected and the trench is back-filled. The best thing is that nothing leaks! I transferred 160 gallons to the new tank just to test it out, and then pumped some of that water onto the garden. It all works! So now, if it ever rains, we will be able to store 4500 gallons of it. We have been using an average of 45 gallons a day on the garden, so that works out to being able to survive 100 rain-free days next summer.
My other garden project has been to clean out the old beds that held the lettuce, spinach and chard that has finished for the season, and to prepare them for winter greens. I dug in some compost and planted kale and chard seeds. Probably not a great idea from the point of view of crop rotation (or lack thereof), but that is just the way it worked out. We are gradually getting more organized about gardening, so hopefully next year we will do a better job of bed allocation.
Our raspberries are starting to show some colour, and not a moment too soon. It looks like they are going to be a late crop this year. We probably got over-zealous with pruning them last winter.
My next project will be to stain the decks. Though our new decks are made with pressure-treated wood, they still need to be stained from time to time after the green stuff wears off. (And, as for the old deck, well, the less said about it the better!) There is a wasps' nest under the cottage deck, which I am not looking forward to working around. We may have to take some action to deal with it.
There are three yearling deer that have been hanging around our place all year. We think that they were orphaned as babies last fall, and they just barely made it through the winter with generous handouts. Of course, now they think of our place as home. In the spring, they were clearly infested with parasites - they lost almost all of their fur, and one in particular developed a nasty cough. They are looking much better now - their fur is coming back nicely.
Still, they are small for their age, and we wanted to give them a bit of a hand before the winter. So we went to the vet and got some anti-worm medication. The problem is trying to get them to take it. Wendy hid one pellet of the medication inside a plum. Now, these are deer, known to eat anything and everything that originates in the plant kingdom with the exception of daffodils. Plums are among their favourite foods, and the medicine is allegedly alfalfa-flavoured. So you'd think they'd just chomp it down, wouldn't you? No such luck. This remains a work in progress. Our next attempt will be peanut butter-coated apples.
Still, they are cute. This picture is of the one who was the sickest in the spring. Aside from the goofy look on his face, he is looking pretty good.
Another cute fellow we are seeing frequently is the aligator lizard. We have some good lizard habitat around our property. This one has taken up residence in the woodshed and likes to sun himself on one of the concrete pier blocks.
The extreme heat of last week has abated considerably. Temperatures this week have continued to be seasonably warm, but in the twenties, rather than the thirties. We have still not had a drop of rain. There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow - we'll see if it materializes.
Now that I am keeping track of our water usage, I can tell you that we used 240 gallons of water on the garden this week.
We have started harvesting the Transparent (August) apples. This seems to be a particularly good year for them. The Gravensteins and Spartans are coming along nicely. With the warm weather, they may even be ahead of schedule. The raspberries, if they ripen, will be a bumper crop, but they look like they will be late this year.
With the cooler weather, I am back to digging the trench for the pipe for the new cistern. It is slow digging, and I can only work on it in the mornings, before the sun gets too high. The ground is bone dry, which makes for hard digging. It is mostly clay, which hardens when it dries. I have to chip it away a couple of inches at a time. The trench is now between two of the strawberry beds. I have about 12 feet left to dig before I can connect the pipe.
I also finished sewing the seat covers for the car. They turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. These are the rear seats in the photo, which I made from scratch. For the front seats, I modified standard off-the-shelf seat covers so that they do not cover the airbags. I was so inspired by the results that I washed and vacuumed the car. Wendy is still wondering if I am feeling all right.
A former work colleague of Wendy's has a U-pick organic blueberry farm at Royston, near Courtenay. We spent a couple of hours there this week, picking a great big pile of blueberries. It was a perfect day for it, not too hot. We have had several fresh blueberry desserts since then, but Wendy is going to freeze most of them for winter baking projects.
Denman Island was in the news this week, as the story broke about BC Ferries' plan to replace our conventionally-powered ferry with a cable ferry. We like to make fun of BC Ferries, but it actually seems like a practical idea. The idea is to save money, of course. Apparently, a cable ferry is much more fuel efficient than a propeller-driven one. People are concerned that the service wil be contracted out, and that the new ferry will require substantially less crew. Both of those facts are bad news for those islanders who work on the ferry. There is a community meeting later this month at which BC Ferries will be explaining exactly what the plan is.
Hot! What else can you say about this week?
I was going to continue digging the trench for the new water line in the garden. I couldn't. It was too hot.
We were going to go to the Fillberg Festival in Comox, an annual festival of music and crafts. Last year, the temperature was just in the twenties, and it was uncomfortably hot. This year, the forecast was for temperatures in the thirties, so we cancelled our plans. Too hot.
How hot was it? It has been in the thirties all week. Our maximum, on Tuesday, was 37.4, a new record for July. Overnight lows have been in the low to mid twenties most of the week. It is a challenge trying to keep the house cool. We have sheets of plywood over some of the east-facing windows to keep the morning sun from getting an early start on heating up the house. We've tried shutting the windows when the outdoor temperature gets warmer than the indoor temperature. It works a little bit: the house trails behind the outdoor temperature by a few degrees through the day. By supper time, it's just as hot inside as out.
So, what have we been up to? As little as possible! We have been reading, and doing indoor chores that do not require a lot of movement. I am sewing custom seat covers for the car. You can't buy off-the shelf seat covers because of the assymetrical split rear seat and the airbags in the front seat. Since we want the car (and its seats) to last 20 years, they need covers, so it's a DIY project.
The air is full of forest fire smoke from fires on the mainland. Today, the Fire Department was called out to investigate several reports of a smell of smoke. We found no fires on Denman Island, just the general haze. We are glad that people are alert enough to report any suspicious smells, though. A fire now would be a disaster.
The garden, of course, needs quite a bit of water in this heat. We are careful to water only in the evening, so as not to waste water with daytime evaporation. We have 1600 gallons left, enough to last until the first week of September. We are hoping we get some rain before then, or else the garden will be toast, literally. It has been nearly a month since our last rain.
Our Spartan apples are starting to show a bit of a blush. The August apples are actually ready to pick - they have started dropping on their own. The grapes are fattening up, although they are far from ready. I hope you like the picture of the grapes, because it cost me a wasp sting.
It's been a warm week. The temperature has been in the upper twenties and low thirties all week, and is forecast to stay in the thirties all next week, too.
Outdoor work is pretty limited in this heat. I have been digging a trench for an underground water pipe to connect the new rainwater cistern to the garden. In this weather, I can only work for a short time in the morning. Once the sun comes around to the garden, it is too hot for manual labour. This week, I have extended the trench about 20 feet, with another 20 to go before I can attach the pipe to the main garden irrigation connection.
The ground is as dry as dust down to 15 inches. It is so dry that it is hard to dig - the earth just sloughs off the blade of the mattock. Clay, on the other hand, is as hard as rock and needs a pick to break it up.
Just how dry it is was brought home to us on Friday. The Fire Department was called out to investigate a report of a smell of smoke at the old school, the original schoolhouse on the island, now used as offices and work space for several community organizations. When we showed up, the smell of smoke was strong, though there was none visible. After a few minutes searching, we located the source. A cigarette butt carelessly tossed into a flower bed had ignited vegetation debris, which was smoldering. A bucket of water and some shovel work made quick work of it.
It was a lucky save: someone was at the building to notice the smell. When we think of how many cigarette butts are carelessly tossed out of car windows onto the pine needles along the shoulders of the roads, it makes us shudder...
The garden is producing well. The lettuce and spinach are finished, bolting to seed in the heat. The carrots, turnips and parsnips are looking good, and the garlic is just about ready to harvest. Summer flowers are looking good, and the berries on the mountain ash trees are starting to turn red.
This weekend, Denman Island is hosting a major soccer tournament. On Thursday evening, the Fire Department's weekly practice consisted of watering the soccer field in preparation for the tournament. Yesterday, Wendy and I were in the General Store, and it was crammed with young athletic-looking types. We suspect that there will be a shortage of chips and pop at the store for the next few days.
This week has consisted almost entirely of activities surrounding the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival.
With our guest cottage now completed and furnished, we volunteered to host one of the writers. Since there are no hotels on Denman, visiting artists for concerts and festivals are normally billeted with families on the island.
Our guest writer was Eden Robinson, a novelist from the Haisla village of Kitamaat on B.C.'s north coast. Like an idiot, I forgot entirely about taking pictures, so her publicity photo will have to do. She is a charming person with a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh. The festival organizers provided her and all the authors with lunch and supper, while we provided her breakfast each day. Since she was here from Wednesday until Monday, this meant that we had lots of time to visit and chat with her. It was a treat to host such a nice and interesting person.
Wendy and I didn't attend the workshop sessions, which are intended for budding writers, but we attended most of the other sessions. Some are solo sessions, in which one writer will read from or talk about their work and then take questions from the audience. Others are panel discussions, in which several authors will address a particular theme, each from their own perspective, illustrated with examples from their own work. Each day of the festival started with local Denman Island writers reading from their work, a requirement being that it be new and unpublished.
The festival seems to have reached success this year. The solo sessions were well attended, and the evening panel discussions were standing-room-only. The unofficial word is that they made a profit this year. A large number of audience members came from off-island, and, most telling of all, writers are now asking to be invited to next year's festival.
The festival ran from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, but, including social events for the volunteers and authors, we were busy from Thursday evening to late Sunday evening.
Since the festival occupied most of the week (the rest being at work and puttering in the garden), there is not a lot else to report. For photos, I have included some more from our trip to Gold River and Yuquot last week. The caption on the stained glass window (from the chuirch at Yuquot) reads, "Reunion de los Capitanes Bodega-Quadra y Vancouver, 28 Agosta de 1792. Nootka Convention Conference. Donated by the Government of Spain, 1957."
I have started tracking our water consumption for the garden. Starting with full tanks from the storm two weeks ago, at our present consumption rate, we have enough to last until mid September. There is no rain in the forecast, but we hope there will be some to top up the tanks between now and then. Otherwise, the garden will have a dry few weeks until the rainy season starts, usually in October. By then, I will have the new tank connected, almost doubling our storage capacity.
This week started with a bang - literally. We almost never get thunderstorms here. On the rare occasion when there is a single clap of thunder, it is a source of conversation at the general store. So, when we had lightning flashing and thunder rolling continuously for hours and hours in the wee hours of Monday morning, it was something quite unusual.
Many of the lightning strikes were on Denman Island, and, with the dry forests and the rain not starting until the storm had been under way for several hours, it was inevitable that there would be fires started. Sure enough, shortly after breakfast, the Fire Department was paged to put out a burning tree. It was a big old cedar, a couple of hundred yards from the nearest road. Make that a couple of hundred yards of deadfall and swampland from the nearest road. We lugged our hoses and equipment into the woods and got it (mostly) put out. It was split and dangerous and leaning at a precarious angle, so we called in a local logger and had him cut it down and split it open, at which point we could finish the job of putting out all the embers.
As we were packing up our equipment, we got a report of two more trees burning, this time in Fillongly Provincial Park. One of them went out by itself, but the other one was another hollow old cedar, burning inside. We sprayed hundreds of gallons of water up into the hollow and got it cooled down. Unfortunately, since it was in a Provincial Park, we were not allowed to cut it down, the only way to be sure it was fully out.
Sure enough, by Thursday morning, the forest was dry enough again that we had to go and put it out again. But this time, it had fallen down on its own, so we were able to finish the job.
Luckily, the storm did dump a lot of rain on us. We got more rain in three hours on Monday morning than we did in all of June: 29.4 mm, making it the second wettest day of 2009. That was undoubtedly a factor in the fires not being any worse than they were. At the height of the storm, the rain was coming down at a rate of 2.5 mm in 5 minutes, which is a monsoon-like deluge. Our rainwater cisterns are now full up again.
This weekend, Wendy and I took a drive out to Gold River, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there a couple of years ago and particularly enjoyed the cruise on the MV Uchuck III, a converted WWII minesweeper, so we decided to do it again. The weather on the water is always cooler and damper than inland, so we thought it would be fun to do the cruise on a hot midsummer day. Though you have to book the trip weeks in advance, we got lucky and had exactly the kind of weather we had hoped for.
Gold River is a former pulp-mill town trying hard not to become a ghost town now that the mill has closed down. The main industry is a log-sorting yard, with recreational fishing coming a close second. The Uchuck cruise is the main tourist draw besides fishing. Though it is a port town, the port is actually 10 km down the road from the town, at the head of Muchalat Inlet.
On board the Uchuck, we were treated to a demonstration of carving by Native carver Eugene Amos. He was working on a carving of a wolf, and he showed us how he works the knife to ensure that he gets a controlled cut across the grain of the wood. He posed for a picture with Wendy.
The cruise took us two and a half hours down the inlet to Nootka Sound, around Bligh Island, through Cook Channel to historic Yuquot, on Nootka Island. Yuquot, a.k.a. Friendly Cove, is the site of Capt. James Cook's 1778 contact with the Native people of the west coast. Some years later, Nootka Island was claimed by Spain. Yuquot was the place where Capts. George Vancouver of Britain and Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra of Spain met in 1792 to negotiate the agreement that eventually became the Second Nootka Convention, which determined the extent of Spanish and British influence on the west coast.
Yuquot today consists of a lighthouse, a church, a Native carver's home and workshop, and half a dozen cabins that are rented out to tourists in the summer. The village sits on a peninsula; its outer coast is a magnificent pebbly beach that stretches for several kilometres northwards.
Wendy and I spent most of our time there (the boat stops for three hours) strolling along the beach and observing the tidal pool life. The beach is strewn with kelp, and there are sea anemones and orange and purple starfish in the tidal pools.
As we were returning along the beach towards the harbour to re-board the Uchuck, we noticed a truly special sight: a gray whale rubbing itself on the rocks, no more than 20 feet off the beach. As it rolled on the bottom, we could clearly see its flippers and flukes raise out of the water, and as it surfaced for air, we coul hear its breath and see its huge back emerge from the water. Wow!
Back on board the Uchuck, we returned by way of Resolution Cove, on Bligh Island (named after the famous William Bligh of the Bounty), who was a junior officer serving under Cook in 1778), where Capt. Cook's expedition stopped to remast their ships.
This was a week of mostly puttering around the place. For much of the week, it was too hot to do any serious work. Several afternoons, Wendy sat on the deck reading, while I lay in the hammock with a cold beer. Life is good.
The strawberry harvest is starting to slow down, not a moment too soon. We have been eating strawberries in every form imaginable, from shortcake to pie to smoothies, and we have a freezer stuffed with frozen berries, enough to last all winter.
The spinach is finished for the summer, but our lettuce is making for delicious home-grown salads (with strawberries). The beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips are looking promising for late summer or fall.
On Monday evening, we attended a public meeting on a development proposal for the northern 1/3 of Denman Island. If this sounds like a rerun of a couple of years ago, you are right. Same land, same developer, new proposal. This one actually looks a lot better than the previous proposals. In an agreement with the provincial government, the developer plans to donate a large portion of the parcel to become a Provincial Park, and to add most of the current crown land to the park. It remains to be seen what the province would do with that park land, and what other wrinkles will emerge from this proposal.
As always, the meeting was lively. The highlight occurred early, when the facilitator introduced himself by saying, "I have never facilitated a meeting like this before, but I do have relevant experience: I managed a zoo for 20 years." Before retirement, he was the director of the Calgary Zoo.
On Saturday, we caught a ride with our neighbours over to Hornby Island, where five of our Denman artists were having a group art show. It was a good show, well worth the trip. We visited another art gallery and did a little sightseeing before heading back. The photo shows Ford's Cove, on Hornby Island.
This morning, we went out for brunch at the "Rockin' Cafe", run by Lee-Andra, a well-known island personality. She hosts these brunches several times a year, and thoughtfully provides a vegan option. The kitchen is a tent, and all the seating is al fresco. We were joined by our friends Anne and Glenn. Glenn is on vacation from England, where he is jumping through the bureaucratic hoops required to immigrate to Canada.
All spring and summer, we have had three resident deer living on our property. They are all yearlings from last year. However, this week, we have had some others show up. There is a beautiful buck, with his antlers just starting to look good, and yesterday evening, for the first time this season, we saw a mother with a new bambi.
The main event this week (some would say the main event of the year) was today's Fire Department Pancake Breakfast. It is certainly the largest event of the year on Denman Island, attracting nearly half the island's population. There were cars parked along the road for half a mile in each direction, and the lineup for tickets stretched right around the parking lot.
The entire Fire Department and Auxilliary served pancakes, bacon for those so inclined, vegetarian sausages for the rest, strawberries, whipped cream, juice and coffee to over 500 attendees. I was at my regular station cooking up the veggie sausages. There was a big list of raffle prizes. "Sparky" the fire dog mascot entertained the kids, and there was a fire engine pedal car for them to drive, and a "chopper"-style bike that was even more popular with the firemen than with the kids.
The weather was ideal for an outdoor event: sunny but not hot. We had been a little concerned beforehand, since we actually had some significant rain this week, about 16 millimetres. That equated to 650 gallons collected in our cisterns, a welcome addition. By the middle of June, we had already been down to a little more than half our total supply, with at least two hot dry months of summer still to go. With this week's rain, we ought to be able to keep the garden watered all summer.
We are thinking that this shift in the weather pattern the last couple of years is likely to be permanent. With that in mind, we just got delivery this week of a third cistern, with a capacity of 2000 gallons. It is a great big honker of a tank, standing nine feet tall, and it brings our total water storage capacity to 4500 gallons. That should be enough to carry a larger garden through a rainless summer. Filling water tanks is easy, even in the drier climate. A week of moderate rain will do it. The new tank sits down at the back of the garden. It will be filled from the tanks we already have, via the existing irrigation piping. Now, all I have to do is complete the trenching to run the pipe that will connect it to the existing system.
The other big news this week is that the cottage renovation is finished. Yippee!! I completed the exterior painting, and Wendy has been decorating the interior, hanging pictures and placing ornaments. Today, we hung the last pictures. We will be organizing the grand opening celebration shortly, at which time I will post pictures. Believe me, after all the work that has gone into it, a celebration is in order!
Summer officially began at 10:45 pm last night. Unofficially, it began here more than a month ago. We had a little bit of rain last week, a whole 4 mm, hardly enough to keep the dust down. That is the only rain we have had in the last month.
Though keeping the garden watered is a challenge, the strawberries are loving the warm dry weather. Okay, I know - it's not fair showing strawberries two weeks in a row, but I couldn't resist photographing this batch, which was just one day's harvest. As I predicted a few weeks back, we did enjoy a rhubarb-strawberry pie this week, since our rhubarb is still producing well too. We also have some nice lettuce which is ready for the salad bowl.
There is a good crop of little baby apples and plums growing on the fruit trees. We haven't seen any pears this year, though.
My main activities this week have been Fire Department-related. We recently were issued with our station uniforms, and, with a full complement of volunteers at the moment, most of whom show up regularly for our weekly practice meetings, we decided the time was right for a new group photo. Mine is not the "official" photo, but we were invited to set up our own cameras beside the official one. I am fourth from the right.
We won't actually be wearing the uniforms a lot. They are for official functions, and to give us a more professional appearance when we go on training courses hosted by other departments. For our regular practices, jeans and T-shirts are still more appropriate.
This weekend, I was on a course to upgrade my First Responder skills. Several of us were being certified to use an Automatic External Defibrillator (Yes, you really do shout "Clear!" just like on TV.) and to perform spinal stabilization on patients who need it. Since we are seeing a rise in motor vehicle accidents on Denman Island, this is an important skill to have.
On the cottage renovation front, I did some more exterior painting (second coat of trim colour), made an insect screen for one of the windows and installed weather stripping on the front door.
Ten years ago yesterday, Wendy and I met for the first time on top of Mt. Yamnuska, west of Calgary. It was particularly fitting, therefore, that we celebrated that anniversary by going hiking again.
We decided to go for a day hike on the western end of the Juan de Fuca trail. You may remember that, back in March, we went for a hike on the east end of the same trail. We have now hiked the seven kilometres at each end of the trail, leaving only 33 km in the middle unexplored.
We began the trip on Friday by driving down the big island to Duncan and the Cowichan Valley. Having plenty of time, we drove around Lake Cowichan to Youbou, a little cottage village on the shore of the lake. It has very little to distinguish it, other than a cool name. Many of the cottages are being replaced by huge modern McMansions.
From Lake Cowichan, we drove over the newly "completed" road to Port Renfrew. It is an upgraded logging road with no guard rails, no centreline, and numerous one-lane bridges. The "newly-completed" section has an oiled gravel surface that is more gravel than oil. In my opinion, it still needs a bit of work. As a logging road, it provides scenic views of huge clearcuts. If you are trying to get from Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew, it is the way to go, but, other than that, it has little to recommend it other than the possibility of making a circle drive to Port Renfrew.
Port Renfrew is a little village of about 280 permanent residents. Formerly a logging and fishing community, it now serves mainly as a reclusive retirement community and as the south-eastern terminus of the West Coast Trail and the north-western terminus of the Juan de Fuca Trail. The main industry appears to be catering to hikers on their way to or from the two trails. We stopped in at the Visitor Information Centre, where we had the various sights of the village pointed out to us on the map, and viewed a display ofr historical photographs of the area. After a quick tour of the village, we checked into the Soule Creek Lodge, a B&B located high up on a ridge. Though the Lodge offers gourmet dining facilities, they couldn't provide a vegan meal, so we had "hippy burgers" at the Coastal Kitchen in the village.
On Saturday morning, we headed out on the trail for our day of hiking. The trail starts out as a tourist loop to Botannical Beach. The beach is a rocky shelf which retains a lot of tidal pools when the tide is low. We stopped to check it out, and saw your basic tidal pools: seaweed, little crabs, little fish, etc.
From Botannical Beach, the Juan de Fuca trail branches off and more-or-less follows the coastline. It tends to stay in the forest, a few hundred metres from the sea, with frequent branch trails to provide beach access. The trail is rugged, with numerous stairs, bridges, and boardwalks over wet sections. The trees are large, though not old-growth, consisting of sitka spruce, western red cedar, and douglas fir.
The weather was cool and cloudy, with occasional foggy patches - ideal hiking weather. By lunchtime, we were at our intended turn-around point, where we found a nice sheltered viewpoint looking out over an inlet to sit and eat our lunches. We got back to the Lodge in time for a shower before going out for a supper that included some fine apple pie.
This morning, we returned home via Sooke and Langford. There is a point between Port Renfrew and Sooke where the "outer coast" becomes the "inner coast". Abruptly, the weather changes from cool and overcast to sunny and warm.
When we returned home, we found that our rose bush is blooming. It has one blossom fully open, and several buds just starting to show colour.
We also found our first strawberries ready to harvest. (Wendy thought that every Denman Diary needs a cat, hence the kitty in the picture.) Supper this evening consisted of fresh strawberries and bread from the Cowichan Bay bakery. Yum!
Our strawberry crop is looking good. Beginning last summer, we started using a straw mulch around them. They seem to like it! Not only does it keep the weeds down and retain moisture, but it also gradually breaks down to compost and feeds the berries. The plants are big, tall and bushy, with lots of little green berries and a few great big green berries. It won't be long before we are picking them!
It is also coming into rose season. The wild roses are blooming all around Denman Island. Albertans may not be aware of it, claiming all wild roses as their own, but there are actually several varieties of wild rose. The most common one here is the Nootka rose, Rosa nutkana. We see them all along the roadsides, where they give off a delicious scent. We have several taking over one corner of the garden. (The Alberta wild rose is a different species, Rosa acicularis.)
We also have one cultivated rose, "Bantry Bay", which we planted last fall. Although it was not happy being buried in snow over the winter, it has revived nicely and is sending up a very healthy new main stem. It also has several fat buds that should be opening in a week or so. The flower will be a warm pink, and have a moderately strong scent.
Yesterday morning, just as we were getting up, we had a power failure. I was just turning on a light switch, and was surprised that the room got darker instead of lighter, so my reaction was, "What the heck?" Wendy's reaction was more prophetic: "Your pager is going to go off." She was right. She isn't psychic, just smart - in summer, the most common cause of power failures is people smashing vehicles into power poles.
Sure enough, the Fire Department was called out a few minutes later to deal with a vehicle accident and downed power lines. The line in question feeds half of Denman and all of Hornby Island. Although, logically, the downed line should only have knocked out half of our island, it is pretty much a random draw as to which circuit breaker trips first. In this case, the main breaker that feeds the whole island tripped first and everyone lost their power.
The vehicle involved in the accident was rather spectacularly suspended from the telephone wires with its front end about six feet off the ground. The driver had exited the car by his own effort by the time we gor there. We had very little to do except secure the scene, since we are not trained or equipped to handle power lines. So, we blocked the road and then hung around for several hours waiting for the RCMP to come over and inspect the scene, then for BC Hydro to come and repair the lines. Shortly after I got home from the call, our power came back on, and around mid-afternoon, we saw the BC Hydro trucks leaving.
I spent the better part of the last two days installing a new storm door on the cottage. The box didn't say "Some assembly required", but it should have! In addition to the door frame having to be modified to specific dimensions, none of the screw holes required for attaching the hinges, latch, handle or closing mechanism came pre-drilled. The instructions included an inventory of screws allegedly supplied that didn't match the screws required by the instructions, and neither set of screws matched the ones actually supplied in the packet! However, after some detective work and several hours of tinkering, it all came together, and we now have a shiny new storm door that doesn't squeak.
The side of the cottage in the picture hasn't been painted yet. Finishing the painting is my work for this week, along with repairing the electric fence that should keep marauding raccoons out of the garden.
"Make hay while the sun shines" is the old saying. Well, the sun was shining this week, and at least a couple of farmers were cutting their first hay crop. The temperature soared to 29.7 on Friday, setting a new record for May.
With the long run of warm sunny weather in the forecast, I have been working hard on the exterior of the cottage. One morning this week, before it got too hot, I went up on the roof and removed the old chimney, which served no purpose. I used a salvaged sheet of roofing metal to patch the hole. We have no plans to install a wood stove. Even if we did, the chimney was not in a good location, so it was of no use.
Mostly, I have been painting. I have the first coat of trim on three sides, and the first coat of main colour on two sides. It is going to look good! Here is a sneak peek through the trees. For a clearer view, you will have to wait for the grand opening.
To furnish the interior of the cottage, we needed an easy chair that would be comfortable but that wouldn't take up a lot of space. On Thursday, we made a trip down to Duncan to a wicker store, where, back in March, we had seen a chair with potential. On the way to Duncan, we stopped at a large antique store in Ladysmith. You never know, you might find the perfect piece at a good price. Or not.
After a detour to the bakery in Cowichan Bay, where we loaded up with fresh bread and chocolate chip buns, we went to the wicker store. We were in luck, because they still had the chair we wanted! Before we actually bought it, though, we looked around the rest of the store. You never know, you might find the perfect piece at a good price. (Is there an echo in here?) In this case, we did find it: a small drop-leaf table with two folding chairs, something we had also been on the lookout for. And then, for good measure, we found a small quilt to use as a wall hanging. A very successful shopping trip. Believe it or not, with the back seat of the car folded down, the easy chair, table and two chairs all fit in the back with room to spare. It helped that the drop-leaf table and chair set is very compact when folded up, but cargo space is one reason we liked the Honda Fit.
We still find "little treasures" from the previous owner on the property from time to time. One item we found was a bottle of mercury. I can't imagine what he wanted it for, but disposing of it is an issue, since it is very toxic waste. There is no toxic waste disposal in the Comox Valley, so, on the way to Duncan, we dropped it off at the recycling centre in Nanaimo.
Wendy, too, has been painting. She refinished the small picnic table that we have on the deck, as well as an Adirondack chair. In a totally separate venture, she also made some delicious rhubarb oatmeal squares.
The garden is coming along nicely. The climbing rose that we planted last fall has grown a new main stem, and has several flower buds on it. All our veggies are up now, and keeping them weeded and watered will require frequent attention.
I have mentioned before that we are planning to install another cistern for garden irrigation. Yesterday, we had 3000 lbs of sand delivered. We will have to wheelbarrow it all down the hill to the site at the back of the garden, where it will fill the square wood frame that will form the base for the cistern. Once that is done, we can order the tank itself.
Yesterday, I was wondering when the Swainson's thrushes wer going to show up. Its song is one of the highlights of early summer, and glancing back through diary entrries from previous years, it usually shows up in late May. Well, no sooner had I wondered than Wendy and I both heard its distinctive song.
The final picture this week is of our Japanese maple tree.
The weather is starting to feel summery. The tree frogs are singing, and the air smells of blossoms. Everything is a lush green. We had a bit of rain earlier this month, and, combined with the warmer temperatures, everything is growing like crazy.
The major flower type in the garden right now is columbines. We have several varieties blooming, including red, pink and purple in this picture.
Of course, it is not only flowers that are growing well. Weeds, too, are growing fast. Compared to Alberta, where the gardening challenge was to try to get plants to survive, here the challenge is to beat back the jungle. Wendy and I spent several hours this week weeding the strawberries. They were suffering from an invasion of buttercups. Buttercups have very similar growing habits to strawberries, so anything you do for the berries helps them grow too. The only way to get rid of them is by hand weeding.
The strawberry beds look much better for it. They are flowering en masse now, so we are hoping for a bumper crop in a few weeks. Next task: the raspberries.
The lettuce and spinach are coming along nicely. We will soon be able to pick some spinach leaves for salads.
All the trees have their new growth, easily recognizable by its pale green colour, which contrasts with the darker green of the old foliage. I found one little fir tree that was only three inches tall, two inches of which was new growth.
The grass in the meadow is starting to get long, and the grapevines, always among the last to show signs of life in the spring, are starting to leaf out.
In the cottage, I have installed the towel rail and mirror in the bathroom. The baseboards are completed, and I have most of the window screens installed, as well as a blind on the bathroom window that faces the driveway. Windows in Denman houses are traditionally unencumbered by coverings of any kind, but that particular window was just a bit too unprivate! We are starting to move in lamps and furnishings, and have a trip planned down to Duncan to pick up an easy chair.
We are planning a grand opening ceremony, once everything is ready. There will, of course, be pictures at that time, which will be some time in June.
Liesl celebrates her fourth birthday tomorrow. Happy birthday, Liesl. She looks thrilled, doesn't she?
Though we didn't get much in the way of April showers last month, we are getting the May flowers anyway. Our clematis vine at the front entrance is putting on a good show.
In the garden, the strawberries are starting to flower. We have spent a couple of mornings weeding them, and have one more appointment to finish the job. The rhubarb is getting set to take over the world (Apparently it loves seaweed!), and Wendy has already made a rhubarb pie from some of the harvest.
We have lettuce, spinach, carrots and turnips growing, and have seeded more of the same, as well as some chard, and beets. Our brand new asparagus bed has quite a few shoots growing.
On Friday, we gave some friends a guided tour of our rainwater irrigation system. With our climate having shifted to a drier mode, people are starting to get interested in irrigation systems. Our friends were particularly interested in seeing the solar-powered pump and in learning the statistics - how much capacity we need and how much rain it takes to fill the tanks.
On Friday evening, we were invited to a birthday party that we heard described as "the party of the year." The description did not seem to be an exaggeration, as just about everyone who participates in the public life of Denman was there. The entertainment consisted of a live three-piece jazz band, which was really good. With nice weather apparently here to stay, the party spilled out into the garden.
We have been to a couple of events like this recently - the other one was the wrap-up party after the Home and Garden Tour last week - and they really emphasized for us what an interesting and dynamic community we live in.
Speaking of tours, this weekend was the annual Pottery Tour. Denman Island has a large number of potters, and although most of their studios are open every day, once a year they put on the tour as an "event", complete with a route map showing tourists how to get from one studio to the next.
We didn't go to all the studios this year. Rather, we picked a selection of potters whose work we hadn't seen before, or whose work we especially like to see again and again. We were very good, and limited our purchases to a few modestly-priced items. The talent and variety displayed by the local potters is such that we could easily break the bank and buy enough pottery to fill a couple of houses. The hardest part of the tour is resisting temptation!
In between gardening, touring, and attending social events, I have been continuing to work on the cottage. The posts that have been extravagantly supporting the side deck for over a year finally reveal their true purpose. I am installing the rafters that make it into a covered walkway. We are considering whether to make it into an open arbour or to glaze it to make a rain shelter of it. That decision will wait until next year. The exterior work is now essentially finished except for the painting. It will be blue with yellow trim. Interior photos will be available once the decorating is completed.
[Good luck, Glen!]
This week's big event was the Home and Garden Tour. It is held every two years as a fundraiser for the Denman Conservancy Association, one of the largest and most widely-supported organizations on the island. The Conservancy does a lot of work to protect natural areas on Denman. They own or manage a substantial amount of land on the island, including some parcels that are the only known Canadian habitat of the critically endangeered Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly. They also hold conservation covenants on private land that the landowners wish to see preserved in perpetuity. Definitely a worthwhile cause.
The Home and Garden Tour is their largest fundraiser. Formerly held every year, it was putting too much of a strain on the organizers, homeowners and gardeners, so now it is held every other year. Ten island residents offer to make their homes and/or gardens open to the public for a day. Some are repeats from previous years, and others are new places on tour for the first time. For $15, you can snoop on your neighbours, gather good renovation and decorating ideas, or marvel at what a weed-free garden looks like. It is a popular event for tourists as well as residents.
In past years, it was held in June, but this year, they decided to feature spring gardens by holding it in May. I suspect they were also hoping to get a bit of the "take mother out for a drive" Mother's Day traffic.
Some of the gardens were amazing. Tulips, of course, were prominent in many of them, but we were surprised at the variety of flowers. A great deal of effort had clearly gone into weeding. Dozens of volunteers help the gardeners prepare for the tour with weeding and clean-up chores.
The houses, too, were fabulous to see - beautifully designed, decoraded and furnished. After having seen many of the Tour houses this year and in previous years, we are starting to recognize the work of individual Denman house designers. Many of the most gorgeous houses are the work of one man.
One house on the tour, a century-old farm house has recently been renovated. While keeping many of the historical elements of the building, such as the tongue-and-groove ceilings and the panelled doors, they have brightened the space with big windows and verandahs.
One of the places on the Tour this year was the Denman Island Chocolate Factory (photo at right). Though it is neither a home nor a garden, everyone wanted to see inside it. (They had free samples, but only for mothers.) One of the requirements of their rezoning approval was that the building had to resemble a residential structure from the outside. The owner has actually made it resemble a residence on the inside too, using the finest materials, including a beautiful wooden staircase. Part of the Chocolate Factory's land is under a conservation covenant to preserve the natural arbutus ecosystem of the ridge on which it sits. The Conservancy had someone in attendance to explain for the benefit of other landowners how the covenant process worked and what its goals were.
Today, we went dragon shopping. One of Denman's best-known potters is famous for his sculpted dragons. He is retiring this year, so his work will soon be in limited supply. We have wanted one of his dragons for years, so, as we went around on the tour, we dropped in at his studio and purchased this beauty. He now sits on the top of our entrance pergola beside a raven by the same artist.
This has been the week for gerdening. Aside from the usual chores of weeding, watering, and tending the new asparagus bed, I spend quite a bit of time repairing the strawberry room.
The winter snow accumulated on the plastic mesh of the berry room's roof and tore it down. I was never happy with the plastic mesh. It is practically invisible, to the point that I actually had to install "caution" tape around the berry house to keep from walking into the net, and it is stiff and snags on everything.
Since it needed replacing, I ordered a flexible nylon garden net. Such things used to be sold in all garden supply stores, but now they are considered a high-end specialty item, available by mail order only. Anyway, the net arrived this week, and I spent a couple of afternoons installing it. It is not a lot easier to work with than the plastic mesh, but I think it will be more satisfactory in the end. It is more flexible and has wider openings, so it is less likely to be brought down by heavy snow. And, it is much more visible, so there is less danger of getting tangled up in it.
Lots of vegetables are coming up now. Everything I started from seed has sprouted, with the exception of one row of lettuce. The asparagus is sending up new spears. Unfortunately, it will be a couple of years before we will be able to eat it. The king of the garden right now, though, is the rhubarb. I top-dressed it with a bit of seaweed, and it just took off. It definitely likes to be fed! I can see a rhubarb pie in our near future!
The strawberries are doing well in their repaired bird-proof room and should start flowering soon. Maybe a strawberry-rhubarb pie later...?
All of a sudden, this week, the dogwoods are flowering. At the bottom of the "big hill", there are several huge old dogwood trees just covered with blossoms.
On Friday evening, Wendy and I were walking downtown to meet the Green Party candidate. Halfway there, my Fire Department pager went off - a propane leak behind the general store. Since I was on foot, I flagged down another firefighter on his way to the firehall and hitched a ride with him. We blocked off the entire downtown area (cancelling the meeting that we had been headed to) and then connected the Fire Department's big "tiger" torch to the leaky tank to burn off the remaining gas. For the next four hours, we sat there watching a propane torch. Trust me, it is about as exciting as watching paint dry. However, it was one of the more interesting callouts we have had.
Denman Diary is late this week, since I just got back from visiting my mother in New Westminster. While I went across in my own last week, Wendy and I went together this week, in honour of her (my mother's) birthday. She is in good spirits, and we had a good visit. The weather was beautiful, the trees were mostly leafed out, and the cherries and magnolias were flowering, all perfect for a short walk in the park across the street from her apartment.
The routine coming back from Vancouver is to catch the 3:00 ferry from Horseshoe Bay and then the 6:00 ferry to Denman Island. It can be done if you don't drive below the speed limit from Nanaimo to Buckley Bay! We made it with a couple of minutes to spare.
This was the weekend of the Fire Department auction in support of the new medical clinic. Between the trip to the lower mainland, and some monthly maintenance work at my job, work that can only be done on weekends, I was not able to participate in it. No doubt it was efficient and profitable, as always.
I did participate in a brush fire callout on Saturday. A fire near the beach on the west side of the island was burning into a thick patch of brambles. We were able to access it from the beach, though it was a rough ride in the trucks along several hundred metres of rocky shoreline. We had a good response, and were able to put a couple of thousand gallons of water on it in short order, which did the job quickly. A good thing, too, as the tide was coming in.
Sorry, I have no pictures this week. You'll just have to take my word for it that the rhubarb is doing well, and we have lettuce, spinach and carrot plants starting to show themselves and grow. The strawberries are doing well, and the raspberries are growing nicely. We are busily eating the last of last year's frozen berry crop to make room in the freezer for a new crop.
It has been an uneventful week, compared to last week.
I completed the railings on the cottage deck. Meanwhile, Wendy has finished painting the walls and has started on the floor.
With the weather being a bit warmer now, I have been working in the garden more. A friend gave us a big bag of asparagus crowns. I know next to nothing about growing asparagus, except that the effort is apparently worth it, so we went to the Internet and quickly learned all about bed preparation. Asparagus are finicky - they like sandy soil and lots of compost, and they have to be planted deep enough. And you have to do it right right when you prepare the bed, because they are supposed to last for 20 years.
We made a trip down to the beach for sand and seaweed, and I spent the better part of a day rototilling a bed and then digging out a planting trench in it. Then, I added layers of sand, seaweed, and earth, planted the asparagus, and partly filled in the trench. Now I have to watch for signs of growth and gradually backfill the trench a couple of inches at a time as the spears grow. We won't be able to enjoy fresh asparagus for the first two years. I know that fresh asparagus beats store-bought easily, but this had better be worth the effort!
I have prepared several other beds, and have planted more lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips and parnips. I have ordered a new net to cover the strawberries. The one we had last year was nearly invisible, and was collapsed over the winter by the weight of snow. We need something stronger, more flexible, and more visible. Nowadays, good garden netting is hard to find. The stores only sell cheap plastic crap. Fortunately, you can still get decent nylon netting by mail order.
The rototiller I used for the garden work is a small lightweight model. It weighs only 20 pounds, and I can carry it in one hand. It has enough power to dig 12 inches deep, if you don't rush it, and it is easy to control. It is just the thing for digging in compost and preparing asparagus beds. Since I had it out anyway, Wendy had me dig a new bed beside the woodshed for some sunflowers.
This year, we have noticed a pair of Canada geese living on Pickles Marsh. While it is not surprising to see them there, we have not seen them there in past years. We presume that they are nesting there, and that, before long, we will see a family of little goslings on the marsh.
We are now well into daffodil season. In sunnier areas around the island, there are some impressive displays, including this one at the entrance to kid's camp run by the Elks' Lodge. Most of our daffys are still waiting for a really nice, warm spring day to open.
We have had a few days with temperatures in the upper teens, but we could use a few more. We had a little bit of rain today, but, again, we could use a bit more.
On Tuesday, we went to a presentation of a documentary film about seed saving. It featured Dan Jason of the Seed and Plant Sanctuary on Salt Spring Island. You may have heard of seed banks before: there was one in the news not long ago in Norway, where they are storing frozen seed varieties under the permafrost as insurance against major disasters.
The seed sanctuary on Salt Spring is different in that they "store" their seeds in the form of living plants. They feel it is important to maintain the viability of the seeds and the diversity of the varieties by subjecting them to real-world growing conditions, which will force them to adapt to changing climate conditions. The difference between a heritage seed variety that adapts and one that is frozen is like the difference between an antique piece of furniture that is restored and one that is in "original" condition.
The presentation, at the community school library, was very well attended. There is a lot of interest here in sustainability and food self-sufficiency. At one time, Denman Island was a food exporter, supplying food to cities on Vancouver Island, and even the lower mainland. Though the island's population has grown since then, we should still be able to grow most of our own food.
Our other educational experience this week was a presentation by the Conservancy Association on bats. Denman has up to ten different species of bats (no one is quite sure exactly how many), including significant colonies of a red-listed (endangered) and a blue-listed (threatened) species. In fact, one of the largest colonies of the endangered bat was right over our heads, in the attic of the old school building. When the building was rehabilitated a few years ago as meeting space for several community organizations, a decision was made not to repair the soffits in order to preserve the bat colony's access to the attic. Conservancy members climb up to the attic annually to make the necessary clean-up for sanitary reasons.
We learned that a bat can consume about 600 insects per hour, and that they need warmth and humidity. We were shown several examples of bat houses that local people have built, and were given plans for building our own. Our yard is not plagued by huge numbers of insects, but we are thinking of building a couple of bat houses to attract our own resident bats.
Denman has a reputation of being a police-free area. This is because we have a low crime rate, but it sometimes attracts people for the wrong reasons. On Friday, there was a rave at the community hall featuring a big-name (apparently) hip-hop band. I can assure you that Wendy and I did not attend, but several hundred kids from Courtenay did. Fortunately, the RCMP had advance knowledge of it and made a rare appearance on the island. As a result, things were kept more or less under control, but downtown Denman was littered with thousands of beer cans and pieces of trash. And someone had driven right through a hydro pole, leaving the remains of the pole and the guy wires all over the road.
I think the committee that looks after booking the community hall is going to hear from quite a few concerned citizens. Events like this contribute nothing to our community.
The Fire Department was paged out of bed at 3:30 on Saturday morning to deal with the smashed hydro pole. Later that day, in an unrelated incident, we were paged out again to deal with the first brush fire of the season. Someone's burn pile had got out of control and spread to a nearby pile of wood waste. As first on the scene, I was the Incident Commander (IC), my first time being IC at a fire. Normally, I would have turned over command to a more senior officer once one arrived on the scene, but the Chief thought it would be a good training experience for me to remain in command for the entire incident. And it was. We had a good response, so there were lots of firefighters to handle the hoses and shovels. I was basically in charge of logistics, looking after crew assignments, pumper placement, tanker operations and so on. In less than two hours, we had the fire out.
I completed my renovation project for this week: the bench on the cottage deck. It looks pretty good, even if I do say so myself..
Wendy and I do not observe April Fools' Day, but apparently the weatherman does!
Everyone here is thoroughly fed up with the weather this spring. It has just refused to get warm for the longest time. On Wednesday, we looked out the window and saw ... SNOW! Okay, we know that some parts of Canada are afflicted with snow at inconvenient times, and that, in some places it can snow in any month of the year. But, this isn't one of them!! Okay?
Luckily, April Fools' Day is officially over at noon, and the snow had melted by then. If he knows what's good for him, the weatherman won't try that again!
Finally, this weekend, the weather warmed up enough that we could work outdoors in shirt sleeves. Today, it hit 14.7, the warmest it has been so far this year.
In the garden, I have planted some lettuce, spinach and carrots, and have started digging some of the other beds in preparation for more planting. We have shallots and rhubarb coming up, and our earliest daffodils are blooming.
There are hundreds more daffodils all around the yard, just waiting for one or two more warm days to burst open. Daffodils are popular here, as they are the one flower that deer won't eat. Almost everyone has daffodils at the end of their driveway. There are daffodils at random places along the roadways and beside mailboxes, too, the work of an old-time Denman resident who went around the island planting them, years ago.
On Friday, we attended the final concert in this season's series: an a capella quartet called the Euphorics. All four members are experienced singers, having individually sung backup vocals for recordings by many top-name singers. They have been together for 26 years, and it showed in their performance. It was an excellent concert with tight harmonies and perfect rhythms. The community hall was packed.
With the interior of the cottage nearing completion, I am back outside working on the deck. Though the deck surface has been in place for a long time, it still needs railings. One side is going to have a cedar bench instead of a railing. I installed the frame for the bench today. I will finish the boards for the seat and back next week. The bench faces across the meadow to the garden and the forest down the hill.
Spring is sprung, the grass is riz...
This week, Wendy put out a hummingbird feeder, since it is around now that we expect the first hummingbirds to show up from their winter in Mexico. Today, about half an hour after I took this picture of the feeder, I saw a flash of colour zipping around the deck. Sure enough, it was the first hummer of the season, still jet-lagged from his trip here from the sunny south. He only took one drink and hasn't been back to the feeder since, that we have seen, so no pictures, unfortunately. However, soon there will likely be enough of them that we will need to keep several feeders filled.
Another sign of spring: the Pacific tree frogs are singing. During the winter, on warm days, we will sometimes hear them croaking in the trees: a single "croak" or a "ribbet". But the true song, the sound-track from every Hollywood movie with a night-time outdoor scene, is only heard in spring and summer. Well, on Thursday, we heard them between here and "downtown" Denman, and again out in our own wetlands at the back of the property.
I promised a reno picture, and here it is. Okay, the bathroom is not technically "finished", as I suggested last week it might be, but it is nearly there. Note the painted floor. Building the corner cupboard was my main project this month. The piece of wood on the wall is a decorative cover over the electric panel.
I weeded three beds in the garden today, in preparation for seeding some lettuce, spinach, and carrots later this week.
I also did some more digging for the new rainwater cistern. It needs a trench for the underground pipe that will connect it to the garden and the existing piping system. To save wear and tear on my back, I am doing the trenching in small increments. Eight feet done, 50 feet to go... We have a solution to moving the sand we will require for the base of the cistern. A neighbour has agreed to haul it in his trailer, something we can't do with our car.
Spring is officially here and, with it, longer days. It is still colder than normal, but more crocuses are coming up every day. The daffodils were set back severely by all the cold weather, but are starting to show flower buds now. They take their time, but by April, they will be putting on a good show.
With precipitation being so much below normal for the second year in a row, we are going to put in another rainwater cistern for garden irrigation. I was out behind the garden this week preparing a site for it. I have the sod cleared and the ground levelled. Now I have to figure out how to transport the one cubic yard of sand required for the footing. I will likely have to borrow someone's truck or trailer.
I also need to arrange to get the gutters on the house replaced, after the snows this winter brought them down. We have hardly needed them since then. However, to take advantage of the increased rain storage capacity when we get the new cistern, we will need our collection system up and running again.
The irrigation system survived the winter with only some minor frost damage. I have to rebuild part of the pump plumbing after a couple of connectors cracked. It is a good opportunity to make some design changes I had been planning to make anyway.
I worked on a small instant-gratification project this week: the tile backsplash in the upstairs bathroom that I told you about last week. It turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself. As with the door I replaced last month, it is a treat to be able to bring a project from start to finish in a day or two.
The gratification on the bigger project, the cottage renovation, is very far from instant, but it, too, is nearing completion. Wendy is painting the floor, the last big task in the bathroom remodel. By next week, I may be able to show you a finished room!!
Denman Island is a great place for concerts, and this week, we attended another one. The performer was Ian Tamblyn, one of our favourite folk music singer-songwriters. His songs are beautifully poetic, evoking scenes from the Antarctic to the Arctic (his other job is as a cruise ship tour guide), but especially of the natural beauty of Canada. One of his encore pieces was an instrumental, played on a recorder, that was a blend of the melody of "Wayfaring Stranger" and the songs of the humpback whale.
At the intermission, I went to buy a CD. There was one particular song I wanted, and, since Ian was standing right there, I asked him which CD had it. When it turned out that the CD with the song was not among those for sale, he asked me to give him my name and very generously said he'd send me one. He did better than that: he called the next day as he was preparing to leave Denman and said he had one that I could pick up at his host's house. I managed to catch him in the ferry lineup and give him a couple of Denman Island Chocolate bars as thanks.
The weather is officially nuts! Here it is the middle of March and, as I write this, it is snowing yet again. By this time, people are supposed to be out in their gardens digging and planting. This year's House and Garden Tour is a month early - May instead of June - and we are having a late spring. The poor gardeners on the tour must be pulling their hair out wondering if they will be ready in time.
All is not lost, however. The bulbs are coming up. The daffodils have revived after the last bout of snow, and are growing again. The snowdrops have been and gone, except for a few stragglers. A few crocuses that didn't get nibbled by the deer last year are about to flower. And the tulips are showing signs of life.
The climbing rose we planted last fall has some snow damage - one whole stem is broken off - but the remaining stems have small buds on them.
If only this incessant cold weather would move out and allow normal spring weather to move in!
I finished building the cupboard in the cottage bathroom, and spent today doing trim and preparing baseboards. Tomorrow, I will get started on painting the floor. Meanwhile, Wendy has started painting the ceiling in the front room.
I also started installing a tile backsplash in the bathroom in the house. It is going to look good! Next week, I should have some good reno pictures to show you.
Last night, we attended a concert held as a fundraiser for the Hermitage, our local Buddhist retreat centre. The concert consisted of various popular, traditional and operatic songs, sung by Mari Hahn, with piano accompaniment, interspersed with poetry readings. I could have lived without the poetry readings, and, when the poetry reader joined Ms. Hahn in singing a song or two, I thought he should probably keep his day job. However, her singing was good, as was the piano accompaniment.
The event also included a silent auction of artwork and crafts donated by local artists. Wendy and I bid on a couple of items, but the bidding heated up as the evening progressed, and it got a bit too rich for us. All the seats in the hall were taken for the performance, and the auction bidding was quite lively, so we are hopeful that the Hermitage did well out of the evening.
This weekend, Wendy and I took a trip to the south-west coast of Vancouver Island to hike on the Juan de Fuca Trail.
As the ferry was leaving Denman Island, the captain came on the P.A. systam and announced that there was a pod of orcas out in Baynes Sound. Clearly, there was a school of herring out there, because the sky and the water were filled with gulls and a few eagles. And, as advertised, a pod of orcas. The ferry slowed down, possibly due to regulations governing operating a vessel near orcas, but also giving the passengers a fantastic view. Everyone got out of their cars and went to the front of the ferry to watch them.
In the photo, the orca on the left is not showing its dorsal fin. It is lunging its head out of the water.
We stopped in to Victoria for supper at our favourite vegan Chinese restaurant, then went on to Sooke, where we stayed at the very nice Whiffen Spit Lodge bed and breakfast.
On Sunday, the weather was clear and sunny, but cold. On the way to the trailhead, we stopped at Jordan River (a village about the size of a postage stamp) to watch a large group of youngsters surfing. I sure hope that their wetsuits were effective, because we got cold just watching them! It looked like they were having fun, though.
Everyone has heard of the famous West Coast Trail. The Juan de Fuca Trail is like the West Coast Trail - "Lite". Like its more famous sibling, it is a rescue trail for shipwrecked mariners. It is quite rugged, although the part we were on was not especially difficult.
You can tell that you are in a rain forest when the trail crosses a stream every 100 metres. Each creek crossing involved a steep descent into a gully, often involving stairs, the crossing itself, on bridges, logs, or rocks, and a steep climb back up out of the gully again.
The trail follows the coastline, usually within earshot of the surf, but not always in sight of it. At one point, it came out onto a very scenic beach. At another spot, it traversed above a cliff where the pounding waves were resonating with sub-bass sounds like cannon shots and thunder. The pitch of the sound was so low that you could actually feel the vibrations in the air and ground.
The near end of the trail, where we were, is on the Juan de Fuca Strait, so it is protected by Washington's Olympic Peninsula. However, the far end of the trail (well beyond where we hiked) is fully exposed to the Pacific Ocean. The farther along the trail we went, the more the vegetation resembled the classic west-coast cedar rain forest. The cedars got more plentiful and much, much bigger. We saw one giant (bigger than the one in the picture) which had a diameter of 12 feet across the root buttresses. Had it still had its top, it would have been over two hundred feet tall. The true giant trees are ones which survived logging many years ago, and are therefore much larger than the younger trees around them. Since they stand up taller than the rest of the forest, they tend to lose their tops in storms.
We returned to Sooke on Sunday evening, for dinner at a Thai restaurant, and an evening with friends who live there.
This morning, we arose bright and early for the trip home only to find it snowing. By the time we had had breakfast and packed the car, it was snowing heavily and it was starting to stick on the pavement. The road out of Sooke was clogged with stuck traffic - cars spinning their wheels and unable to get up the hills. Luckily, I still had my tire chains in the trunk (the signs do warn drivers that they are required, not that anyone else was paying attention to them), so I pulled over and put them on. I was very glad that I did, as we passed numerous accidents and vehicles in the ditches. I kept them on all the way to Langford (a suburb of Victoria), where city traffic and salt made them unnecessary.
In Victoria, we heard reports that the Malahat Highway (the route north out of Victoria) was closed. Rather than taking a chance on waiting for it to be passable or to have to drive the whole route with the chains on, we drove up the Saanich Peninsula to Brentwood Bay, where we caught a small ferry across Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay, bypassing the entire Malahat route. It was still snowing at Mill Bay, so I was very glad we had taken the alternate route.
The snow eased up as we drove north, and the rest of the trip was uneventful.
Denman Diary will be a bit late this week.
Last week, I was talking about how all the snow in the meadow was finally melting. Well, blame me, then, because earlier this week, we had a couple more centimetres of the white stuff.
Today, however, we made up for it with a good soaking of rain: nearly 30 cm of it so far. We haven't had a rain like this since December. It is definitely welcome. Needless to say, the snow has all melted again.
At Fillongly Park this weekend, we came across a whole field of snowdrops in flower.
While working outdoors the other day, I overheard an interesting owl conversation. Barred owls have a distinctive four-syllable call that sounds like "who cooks for you". It is not uncommon to hear two owls calling back and forth to each other. There is one barred owl in our neighbourhood who has either a learning disability or a speech impediment: his call is only three syllables, though it is still recognizable as a barred owl's call.
The three-syllable owl was talking to a more normal owl, and it sounded just like a speech lesson: "Who cooks for you?" "Who for you?" No, no, "Who COOKS for you?" "Who for you?" After it had gone on like that for several minutes, a third voice joined in. Not another owl, but a raven. Probably wanting to show that it was easy even for another species, he said, "Awk awk awk awk", clearly imitating the "teacher" owl!
In other bird activity this week, we participated in the annual eagle count. Bald eagles are common here, but at this time of year, the annual herring spawn around Denman Island attracts an even larger number from all over south coastal BC. The local birders do a regular count to monitor their numbers from year to year. Wendy and I were assigned the north-east shore of Denman Island.
The trail starts with a descent, with the aid of a fixed rope, down a steep trail to the beach. From there, we hiked six kilometres along the driftwood-strewn rocky beach, looking for eagles as we went. As you can see, when I say "driftwood", I am talking about some serious chunks of wood! Much of the driftwood has floated ashore either from storm-downed trees or as escapees from logging industry booms.
More of it has fallen from the same steep cliffs down which we climbed to reach the beach. The cliffs are made of sand, in consistency roughly halfway between sandstone and loose sand. They are eroded by waves in winter storms, and, as the sand slides down, the trees growing at the top of the cliffs eventually fall to the beach.
Between climbing over or under the driftwood logs and trying to walk over slimey cobble beach stones, it was tough walking and took us most of the day. We did see a dozen bald eagles, though. It was a disappointing total for the effort, but apparently typical for the day. Most other groups reported similar numbers. I don't know how that compares to previous years' counts, but we have, in past Februarys, seen 14 eagles soaring in ridge lift all in one spot.
We went to a couple of cultural events this week. This month's "concert" was a comedy show by fringe festival performer T.J. Dawe. He did a one-man play about working as a bartender at Butlin's, a British holiday resort. Though some of the language was a bit off-colour, the show was hilarious, and he effortlessly switched back and forth between different flavours of British accents.
Our other event was a screening of a new documentary about a woman who goes back to Mongolia for a visit 30 years after having been a student medical worker during Mao's Cultural Revolution. As she visits with the Mongolian nomad friends she knew back then, we learned about how they lived 30 years ago and how their lifestyle has changed in the intervening years. The film was made by one of our talented Denman residents.
There was the strangest phenomenon today: water, falling out of the sky! That hasn't happened in quite a while. It made quick work of the remaining snow in our meadow.
However, it is still going to be a dry year, from the looks of things. Looking at my climate page, you can see from the first graph that we are rapidly heading towards drought conditions.
This week, we attended a special event. John Kirk, who has been the Denman Island Fire Chief for the last 21 years stepped down last month. On Saturday, the community held a public ceremony in the Seniors' Hall to honour his years on the Fire Department. Under his leadership, the Department grew from a small band of willing but almost untrained volunteers with practically no equipment to the well-equipped, well-trained, competent crew that it is today. Thanks to him, we have a capital reserve fund that ensures that we are able to replace and upgrade our vehicles and equipment as needed without having to borrow money.
As is fitting for someone who has contributed so much to the community, there was a good turnout in the hall for John, including Chiefs and representatives from Fire Departments in surrounding communities on Vancouver Island, and many community members. There were numerous presentations of mementoes and gifts. The photo shows John receiving a chef's hat to ensure that he retains his place of honour at the annual Fire Department Pancake Breakfast.
This week, I finished the database work I was doing for the Fire Department, including entering all the training data back to January 1st. We now have computerized training records, making it much simpler to find out who has what qualifications and who needs more training. Next, a Wi-Fi setup for the firehall.
I actually completed a renovation project this week! No, not the cottage - that will take a bit longer yet. I replaced the door to our office. All the interior doors in the house were cheap hollow-core slab doors, rather the worse for wear. There was a sale on interior glass doors last month, so I picked one up and have been finishing it this week. Replacing an existing door required some precision chisel work to ensure that the hinge mortises and latch mechanism matched the frame from the old door. Yesterday, I hung it in place, and everything fit perfectly. This door is highly visible from the living room, so it is a huge improvement over what was there before.
We plan to replace the other doors eventually, as well.
Another week gone by and still no weather! It continues to be sunny, cold and dry. We have only had 10% of our normal rainfall for the first half of the month, 22% of normal for this date of the year. Our well, so far, is still full, but all the cedar trees around Denman Island, already stressed from a near record dry year last year, are drooping and off-colour. We have quite a few cedars on our property because the previous owner spared them when he cleared the land, but I am thinking that we are going to lose most of them. Unless we get an exceptionally wet spring, this summer promises to be a bad one for fires.
Yesterday was Valentine's day, and we observed it with the requisite hearts and chocolate desserts. Denman Island Chocolate makes chocolate hearts wrapped in red foil for the season. I can vouch for their quality, as well as the quality of Wendy's chocolate pie!
I spent quite a bit of my spare time this week working on a database for the Fire Department in my new role as Assistant Training Officer. As of today, I finally have a database installed on the Department's computer ready to record all the members' training activities.
I also helped the Training Officer plan a schedule to get all our members through the Basic Firefighter course this year. Although we do a lot of training, we have never been able to earn any kind of certificate to show that we know what we are doing. The "standard" course required so many hours of work that a member of a volunteer department could not reasonably complete it in less than four or five years. Last year, the powers that be recognized this and came out with a new course, "Basic Firefighter", that can reasonably be completed in one year. Our new chief wants everyone to do it this year, so now we have a schedule to work from. By next October, we should all be certified (or certifiable).
I finished painting the bathroom walls in the cottage. With that task done, I was able to assemble and install the shower doors. I am working on staining various trim pieces for installation in the near future. The last big job is building a storage cupboard, which I will be tackling in the next couple of weeks.
Our main source of entertainment this week was attending the monthly meeting of the Residents' Association. It is a great way to keep up to date on what is happening in the community, but it also gives us an opportunity to see some of the more eccentric Island personalities in action.
It has been another slow week for pictures, as you can tell.
Last month, the Fire Department's long-serving Fire Chief retired after 21 years in the position. As the new chief was taking over, he asked if anyone had any suggestions for improvements in the Department. I had recently had some thoughts about how we keep our training records, so I emailed my idea to him. Well, no good suggestion goes unpunished, so, this week, I was appointed Assistant Training Officer in charge of Record Keeping.
Actually, it is not so bad. They will be sending me on a Fire Instructors course in the spring, and I will likely teach some of the lessons and conduct practices when the regular Training Officer is away. I might even get to use some of the instructional techniques I learned back in my Air Force days. As long as I can stay one lesson ahead of the students...
On Friday and Saturday, Wendy and I attended the World Community Film Festival in Courtenay. We saw documentaries about:
As always, we could only watch a fraction of the films being shown. Fortunately, the World Community organization makes all the festival documentaries available to its members for free rental, so we can borrow the ones we missed.
In renovation news, I have started painting the finish colour in the cottage bathroom. It is going to be very colourful!
This week, Wendy and I went over to New Westminster for a few days to visit my mother. Though she is in poor health, she has been feeling considerably better in the last couple of weeks. We had several short but very pleasant visits over the course of the three days we were there. We also visited my brother and his partner in Vancouver, spending an evening chatting with them over pizza.
In between visiting, we had time to walk around some of the more pedestrian-friendly areas of Vancouver, in particular West Broadway and Commercial Drive. We had fun window shopping, and bought a few non-essentials. One item that was a fun find was a string of LED Christmas lights shaped in the form of peace symbols. The peace sign has been trendy in the past year, because it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008. Of course, in these parts, it has always been trendy.
We also took advantage of the big city to eat at some good vegetarian and vegan restaurants: Greens and Gourmet, Dharma Kitchen, and Sweet Cherubim. Though Greens and Gourmet was a bit pricey, we can recommend the food at all of them. The vegan chocolate cheesecake at Sweet Cherubim was outrageously good.
On her walks around the "block", Wendy always looks for the trumpeter swans on the marsh. Earlier this week, she found one of them partly eaten, with racoon tracks all around it. We don't know if the racoons did the deed, or if they were merely scavenging, but, between them, the eagles and the turkey vultures, within a couple of days, there was nothing left.
I finished painting the primer in the cottage bathroom. The ghastly shade of pink is, in fact, the tinted primer. The final wall colour will be the orange that is visible around the vanity. Because the orange is so intense, it requires a tinted undercoat, which happens to be pink. The table-like object in the foreground is one of the storage shelves from above the water heater, temporarily removed for painting. The new door is visible at the left, slouching against the wall beyond the doorway.
The weather continues to be cold and foggy. In fact, you could hardly call this weather at all: it never changes. All the weather systems coming in off the Pacific Ocean head north to Alaska or south to Oregon, leaving us with the same old lack of weather.
My poor rain gauge has taken a dislike to these conditions. I presume there must be some condensation or frost inside the electronics because it has been giving me crazy readings, such as 150mm of rain in one minute. I have to manually correct my records avery day.
In fact, there has been no precipitation at all for a couple of weeks now, except for a skiff of new snow last night. This January is going to be even drier than last year. I hope that is not an indication of how the rest of the year will unfold.
I am continuing to make progress on the cottage renovation. I finished casing and hanging the bathroom door, and started priming the walls today. The next task will be painting, at which point, it will actually start to look like it should. The end will be in sight.
I have been doing quite a bit of on-island consulting work, fixing people's computers. You would be surprised how many people have sick computers: viruses, complicated upgrades, dead Internet conections, you name it. It is a good thing that Macs never really caught on, because, with all the Windows PCs out there, I can always count on something breaking and needing repair.
On Friday night, we attended another concert in the Concerts Denman series. This was a program of piano music played by Sara Davis Buechner. She played pieces by Bach, von Weber, Dana Suesse and George Gershwin. It was an excellent concert and fairly well-attended but, surprisingly, it was not sold out.
When there is nothing else interesting to photograph, I can always count on the critters to be cute. Here is a picture of two young deer sharing a pile of sheep food that Wendy put out for them. With the cold and snowy weather this winter, we were concerned that the deer, particularly the young ones, would have a hard time finding food. We learned that they love sheep food, which is available at the feed store in town for quite a reasonable cost. Between that and the last of our apples, they seem to be surviving just fine.
Owen, of course, doesn't need an excuse to be cute.
This week's weather has consisted of pea-soup fog and frosty overnight temperatures. All week long, we have been hearing the sound of the foghorn on the M.V. Quinitsa, our ferry. In the cold air, the sound carries well enough that we can hear it clearly and quite loudly, even up here on the far side of the ridge. The poor folks near the ferry terminal must just love the sound by now!
The fog tends to be patchy. Some parts of the island will be almost clear, while in others you can barely see across the road. Generally, if we have fog here on the ridge, downtown will be clear, and vice-versa. It deposits hoarfrost on the trees overnight, which then drips off them onto the dry leaves below with a clattering sound during the day.
The fog cleared to a light mist this afternoon, allowing shafts of sunlight to peek through the trees. It was quite pretty.
The little patches of sun that reach the ground are not enough to melt any more snow. With the cooler temperatures this week, melting has just about come to an end, though quite a lot had melted before the weather cooler off. Earlier this week, we were able to get the car down the driveway for the first time in a month.
In frosty weather, I keep an old bath towel over the windshield of the car to prevent frost from building up. This is particularly important in case we get a fire department callout: you'd hate to have to take time to scrape the windshield when someone is in urgent need of emergency medical care or someone's house is on fire, yet you couldn't go without doing it.
I was glad I did this on Thursday morning, when, just as I was about to sit down to breakfast, my pager went off announcing a structure fire. We have been extremely lucky that we have not had a house fire on Denman for two and a half years. However, all those weekly practices paid off. We responded rapidly (9 minutes from the time of the page to the first vehicle at the scene) and worked well as a team to get the fire under control quickly. It was the first time we have worked with our new fire department auxilliary members, and it was very successful: they ran the tanker trucks and helped with other equipment, freeing up the regular members for the actual firefighting. The house was badly damaged, but we managed to save the structure.
All on an empty stomach.
We attended an interesting cultural event last night. One of our friends here on Denman, Neil, was among the producers of the well-known film Koyaanisqatsi, which came out in 1983. The film, which has become a cult classic, is a feature-length documentary on the disfunctional relationship between modern society and nature. It has no plot or dialogue, yet it tells its story beautifully and clearly with images and music alone. Neil showed the film at the Arts Centre, taking a bit of a chance on what kind of audience he would get, since it is not everyone's cup of tea.
The Arts Centre, when set up for movies, comfortably seats about 20 people. When we arrived there, with plenty of time to spare, the place was packed, with only two seats left. In fact, people kept coming in behind us, and they had to borrow extra chairs from the community hall. The total must have been around 40, probably the biggest movie audience on Denman Island in the last five years. The event was a fundraiser for the Arts Centre building, so it was quite a success.
On the way home, the fog had lifted, and the sky was velvety-black with thousands of brilliant stars and the Milky Way arching overhead. Naturally, a Denman audience would "get" what the film was about!
The good new is that we haven't had any more snow since last Monday. All this week, they kept promising us rain, but it never materialized. The weather radar showed Victoria and the lower mainland getting a good soaking, but we barely had a few sprinkles.
Between the lack of a good rainfall and the fact that the sun, when it shines, doesn't get above the trees this time of year, the snow remaining on the ground is taking its sweet time about melting. Having said which, it has gone down quite a bit with the warmer temperatures,. There are now bare spots on the ground, mostly under trees and where we have shovelled it. It feels strange to walk about on bare ground again.
As you can see from the second photo, there are places where it will take a long time for all the snow to melt. The big mountains are where we dumped the snow from the deck, including all the snow that avalanched onto the deck from the roof. There is another equally big mountain of snow at the other end of the deck.
Last year, in the first week of January, our daffodils had started to poke their heads up. Just out of curiosity, I went up to the end of the driveway today to see if I could see any. Most of them are still under a foot or so of snow, but, in one clear patch, I spotted one little shoot. It is barely half an inch long, and it looks a bit cold, but it is unmistakeably a daffodil.
This week, we picked up our tickets for the documentary film festival next month. It is a day-long event featuring over 30 documentaries, and is one of our must-see events of the year. We are looking forward to it, and are already studying the program to decide which films to see. It is not physically possible to see them all, sice they run simultaneously in several venues, but you can rent any of them that you missed after the festival is over.
I am continuing to putter in the cottage. I now have all the corner trim in place in the bathroom. We are getting a new bathroom door next week. Once I have it installed - a bit of a challenge, with no actual 90° corners in the framing - the room will be ready for painting. The front room only needs a closet door before it will be ready for painting.
It is all Saskatchewan's fault! As long as they hang on to their -40°C temperatures (-52 with the wind chill), their Arctic airmass is blocking our weather. While our temperatures can't compare, the stagnant airmass is keeping us cold enough for it to continue snowing. So enough of that macho stuff already. You've made your point: you prairie folk are the hardiest. We all admit it. Now let that cold air move out of here!
As you can tell, folks here on the coast are getting thoroughly sick and tired of snow, snow, and more snow. It started on Dec 13th and just hasn't stopped. We've been shovelling for three weeks straight. It is the topic of conversation at the General Store: Can you get out of your driveway yet? Do you still have gutters? Although we often get bigger one-day snowfalls, they usually melt within a few days. This on-and-on stuff is getting on people's nerves. We actually set a new record for the most snow ever in December.
Today, the temperature was forecast to moderate and we were supposed to get rain. Great, we though, it will melt the snow. After a few minutes of rain, though, it started to look awfully white and fluffy. Yep, more snow! Now they are saying it will turn to rain overnight. I'll believe it when I see it.
Still, with nothing else happenning except shovelling, I figured I would post some of the prettier pictures from the last few weeks. The phrase "winter wonderland" is usually spoken with a voice dripping with sarcasm here these days, but it is pretty to look at.
We had planned to visit my mother in New Westminster at New Year's, but that trip was postponed due to weather: another snow storm with bad roads. Instead, we spent a quiet New Year at home.
We did attend one cultural event this week. One of the members of the Denman Island Photo Club, Bryan Treen, opened a new exhibit of his work yesterday evening. His specialty is long-exposure black and white pictures, and his photos are stunning. The opening of the show was well-attended, with rather a lot of people squeezed into a limited space. It was a good chance to come out of hibernation and mingle.
One of the interesting things about this show is the venue. It is at the Kafé Klatsch Bistro, the most popular eatery on Denman Island (there are only two). The Bistro is under new management since the summer, and the new owner has made quite a few changes. In addition to decor and menu improvements, they now have regular art shows, a new one each month. Instead of ordinary restaurant decor, the pictures on the walls are original artworks by local artists.
We chose to walk to the event, since it was just down the hill from our place. We quite often walk "downtown", and have acquired a reputation for our odd habit of walking. In a place like Denman, where being odd is normal, it takes quite an effort to get a reputation for oddness, but we seem to have managed. As we were leaving the photo show, putting on our reflective vests and checking our flashlights, we had to fend off offers of rides: "Are you quite sure you would rather walk?", asked in an incredulous voice.
Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Walker
Last modified: 27-Dec-2015