|Hall's Harbour Observatory, Hall's Harbour, NS|
Denman Diary: 2011
|21-Nov-2017, 19:06 AST||21-Nov-2017, 23:06 UTC|
Merry Christmas! Well, happy Boxing Day, anyway. I would normally have written this last night, but it was a rare clear, moonless night, too rare an opportunity to pass up. I spent the evening stargazing instead of diary-writing. (If you are interested in my efforts, check here.)
I have been working on a couple of projects around the house. Last week, I finished the rustic railing for the basement stairwell. This week, I have been building an insulated wellhead cover.
For some inexplicable reason, the head of our drilled well is above ground. Typically, the water pipe in a well leaves the casing several feet below the ground level, for frost protection. Ours is a foot above ground. The wellhead was protected by some old tarps and fiberglass insulation, but they are starting to deteriorate with age. The new cover will be a small, low shed, with a hinged, detatchable roof for maintenance. The walls will be insulated and mouse-proofed. I have it framed, and will be applying the siding soon.
The weather this week has been eerily pleasant. The lack of rainfall is worrying. Still, it makes for nice walking weather. Here is a view of the Denman Golf Course on Dec 23rd. As you can see, some of the natural hazards do double-duty as lawn maintenance workers.
On Christmas Day, we went for a walk to Cable Beach, on the east side of Denman Island. It is a 45-minute walk each way, through farmland, across the middle of the island. We enjoyed the sunshine there, with a view across to Hornby and Texada Islands.
The waters around Denman are noted for the winter waterfowl. There were several groups of scoters and buffleheads (types of ducks) out on the water, as well as numerous other birds we didn't identify.
As we walked along the beach, we came across some friends setting up a beach fire. It is their version of a Christmas open house. They made the fire and brought lawn chairs and treats for anyone walking along the beach.
On Wednesday, Wendy participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count. (I had to work, unfortunately.) The Christmas Bird Count has been held for the past 112 years in communities all over North America to provide a consistent basis for assessing bird populations. Because of the consistency, the results are extremely valuable in determining whether there are significant changes occurring in bird populations.
Wendy was teamed with Andrew, one of Denman's top biologists, and assigned the north end of the island. The territory was unfairly large and varied, so they had to pick and choose which parts they would survey. One of the areas they looked at was the beach on the north-east shore of Denman, newly made accessible by a staircase down the cliff. They walked around to the north tip of the island, which is a known gathering spot for all types of shore birds and waterfowl.
Wendy was doing the recording, while Andrew did the spotting and identifying. She tells me that there were indeed birds there. Naturally, it rained. It is traditional.
On Friday night, we walked downtown (wearing our reflective traffic vests, and carrying flashlights) to participate in "Moonlight Madness", the one night a year that Denman businesses are open late. We stopped in at a dozen businesses, mostly to chat and hang out. There didn't seem to be a lot of actual business being transacted, but there were a lot of people out, and everyone was in a good mood.
The editor of the Grapevine, our local weekly newspaper, was celebrating the 1000th edition with copies of all the back issues on display. It was fun to flip through them and see how much has changed, and how much hasn't. I read in one old issue about a BC Ferries customer appreciation day. Whoa! Times really have changed!
Saturday was a crazy day, with three Fire Department callouts in 15 hours. As far as anyone can remember, that is a Department record. As the first officer to get to the hall, I was the incident commander for all of them. Two were First Responder incidents, including one in which we had to perform an automobile extrication (the Department's first in many years). The other one was an unattended campfire, which we extinguished.
Two of the incidents were back to back. Wendy and I were in the Kaffee Klatsch Bistro having lattés when my pager went off. I grabbed my cookie, left the latté, and caught a ride with the Fire Chief, whose business office is next door, to the hall. When that incident was over, I got home just in time for lunch. I was three bites into my sandwich when the pager went off again. Someone somewhere didn't want me to finish any meal that day!
In between all the excitement Saturday, Wendy and I attended a fundraising event that was raising money to replace nesting boxes for purple martins. The birds live at Buckley Bay, across Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island. The old nesting boxes were ripped out by BC Ferries in connection with some dock work they were doing. The company is replacing the pilings, but new nesting boxes have to be built and installed.
To raise the funds, one of the island's most talented and busiest individuals, Peter Karsten, was selling some of his paintings, sketches and carvings of birds. Peter is the former director of the Calgary Zoo, as well as being an accomplished artist. He also breeds endangered pekin robins, and his aviary was open for guided tours. Naturally, we couldn't resist buying one of his paintings.
Today, we went for a walk to the beach, because it was a particularly nice day. We watched as a seagull picked up a shell and repeatedly dropped it onto rocks to break it open. I managed to catch one of the drops.
This evening, we attended the annual community Christmas dinner. This dinner is a community event intended to bring everyone together. It is entirely free, being supported by volunteers and donation. It is probably the biggest single event on the island, certainly the biggest event whose attendance is not swollen by tourists. They were expecting about 500 people, nearly half the island's population. The event fills the entire Community Hall building, both the main auditorium and the back hall.
Dinner is served nominally in two sittings, but in effect continuously from 5:00 to 7:00. The 5:00 sitting is for adults, while the 6:00 sitting is for families with children. Apparently at 7:00 a fat fellow in a red suit shows up. We didn't stay for that.
The weather has been uncommonly dry and sunny for this time of year. Most of the moisture we have had this week has been in the form of dew or frost. Occasionally, the dew and the sunlight combine to form seasonally-appropriate natural decorations.
Our activities this week have also been seasonally appropriate. On Thursday, the Community Choir backed up the elementary school kids for their Christmas concert. The younger kids sang a "What a Wonderful World", terribly off-key, but totally cute, of course. This was followed by the choir singing a couple of songs, and then the premier screening of a great video that the kids made to promote the school.
The video is part of the school's year-long promotional campaign. The school is in trouble, with only 37 students, and is in danger of being closed in the next couple of years. The consequences of school closure for the demographics of the island would be severe. In order to attract children that are curently home-schooled or sent to private schools off-island, not to mention prospective immigrants with school-age children, they have engaged in a campaign to improve the school and its reputation. The video is part of that. It is supposed to be on You-Tube. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find it there, or I would link to it.
The video is a "lip-dub", in which the kids lip-sync to the sound track of well known songs, in this case, the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" and "Help". It was very well done.
The second half of the concert consisted of a play written and performed by the older kids. The plot was a bit hard to follow - something about Rudolph the Reindeer being kidnapped, but was a lot of fun to watch. Finally, the kids' band and the choir joined to perform the rock 'n' roll version of "Joy to the World". If you look carefully in the picture, you will see Wendy and me in the choir.
The community hall was packed to standing room only for the concert.
On Saturday, I was at a one-day course put on at the Comox Fire Department on fire attack ventilation. It was an interesting course, and eight members of the Denman department attended. However, we skipped out early and missed the demonstration portion of it in order that we could catch the ferry home in time for our own department's annual awards dinner.
When we get all the firefighters, the auxilliary members, the island doctors, and all their respective spouses together in one room, we fill the smaller hall. We had a great meal, and enjoyed the awards, some serious and some not. I didn't get any awards this year, but I was officially recognized for having set up the department's database software and organized the training schedule.
In keeping with the rule that, if I run out of photos for the week, the space must be filled with cat photos, here is Owen sleeping comfortably on the back of the chesterfield.
The major event on Denman Island this week was the 30th annual Christmas Craft Fair. The fair is considered one of the best craft fairs in the Vancouver Island area and draws tourists from all over the big island. The craft fair weekend is one of the busiest weekends for the ferry. Parking downtown is at a premium, and the sensible tourists park on the other side and walk onto the ferry. There is a shuttle bus on the Denman side to pick people up from the ferry and take them up the hill.
The Craft Fair completely fills both the halls downtown. There are 85 booths, and all entries are selected by jury, so the quality of the crafts is consistently high.
Wendy and I spent a few hours admiring all the crafts. There are some extremely talented potters on Denman, and we just couldn't resist coming away with a couple of mugs. Wendy bought some purple crocheted wrist warmers.
The weather continues to be cool but generally pleasant. There were no big storms this week, and even some sunshine. We have been continueing to work in the garden. The raspberries have now been fed with seaweed, and all the veggie beds covered with straw. Wendy has been weaving some of the branches from our earlier tree pruning into the deer fence along the road to make a privacy screen.
We want to plant some more apple trees in the next week or two.
On sunny December days, Denman often looks its bucolic best. This old wagon has seen better days, but is decorated with a Christmas wreath in the driver's seat. The rooster "guarding" it is quite dead and stuffed, but makes a nice addition to the scene.
Our climbing rose has a tradition of having one last blossom in December. This year is no exception.
It has been a rainy, stormy week. Monday was our second rainiest day this year (after February 14th), with 43 mm of the wet stuff. Temperatures have been mild, though I have had to scrape frost off the car windshield once or twice. When it is rainy, it is usually because it is stormy. We managed to survive the blows on Monday and Thursday, but Saturday's wind storm knocked out our power for about four hours. In between storms, the weather has been cool and pleasant.
I had to go to the ferry terminal on the east side of Denman during the storm, and the ferry was having a hard time docking. It was rocking and rolling in the waves, and moving about eight feet vertically in the swells. The captain docked it by jamming it hard into the dock. I am glad I did not have to ride it.
Because of the stormy weather this time of year, the regular barge-hulled Hornby ferry is normally replaced by a boat-hulled vessel in winter. Apparently this year that will not be the case. It is possible that they may have cancellations on that run this year. Our Denman ferry sails in calmer water on the west side of the island and almost never misses a run because of weather.
The large ferries that cross the Strait of Georgia are not so lucky. Many sailings were cancelled in Thursday's storm. That affected us because we had been looking forward to seeing a play called "The Progressive Polygamists" on Thurdsay evening. The performers were unable to get here from Vancouver on Thursday, and the play was postponed to Saturday.
The wait was worth it. The play was the hit of Fringe Festivals all across Western Canada. It was a hilarious and insightful look into the polygamist FLDS community in Bountiful, BC. It played to a packed hall on Denman, and was scheduled for performances in Courtenay and Cumberland. The power flickered a couple of times, but stayed on until the play was over.
Today, we attended another Concerts Denman performance. This concert featured reknowned bassoonist George Zukerman. Though the concert was competing for audience with some football game, it was reasonably well-attended. He played a variety of pieces from baroque to modern, with everything in between. Mr. Zukerman made some jokes about bassoon players in orchestras going out for a beer after playing their three notes. Clearly, the instrument has considerably more potential than that, as he played a variety of melodic pieces with piano accompaniment. In addition to traditional pieces by Mozart and von Weber, and some non-traditional pieces, he played one piece written by his pianist, Leslie Janos.
This morning, I was helping at a CPR course put on by the Firefighters' Association. It was a repeat of a very successful course presented in the spring. Between the two courses, we have now trained 150 islanders in CPR. Considering that the population is only 1100, that is a large portion of the population. Statistics show that that level of public participation and training significantly improves heart attack survival rates.
Well, winter is finally upon us. On Friday night, our temperature dropped below zero for the first time since March 1st, a frost-free period of 262 days. Along with it came a bit of snow. Not enough to shovel, but enough to remind us that we still live in Canada.
Earlier in the week, on Wednesday morning, a wind storm knocked our power out for eleven and a half hours. I had just, the week before, filled two jerry cans with gas for the generator. We don't run the generator all day, and when the weather is not suitable for working ourdoors, there is surprisingly little you can do indoors without electricity. I spent most of the day at the firehall, where the generator does run all day, working on the training syllabus I am setting up.
Although the electricity came back by Wednesday evening, our Internet was off the next day. Apparently, one of Telus' routers was knocked out by the power failure. Though our internet was back by Thursday, several subscribers didn't get theirs back until Friday. The common-sense solution of going down to the Bistro to use their Wi-Fi didn't work, because the Bistro was one of the subscribers affected.
On Tuesday evening, the sky cleared out, and I was able to do some more astrophotography. This picture is of the Pleiades.
Saturday was election day here. All municipal-level elections in B.C. are held on the same day. Although our Regional District and School Board representitives were acclaimed to their positions, we on the Gulf Islands also get to vote for Islands Trust trustees. There were six candidates running for the two positions on Denman Island. Wendy and I had already voted in the advance poll last week - something we always try to do if we can - but we noticed a large turnout at the polling station when we walked by.
Another interesting event on Saturday was a CD release concert by a local band. It is a six-member guitar-based group, with trumpet, saxophone, and piano. Their music is melodic, instrumental jazz-rock. Their timing was very tight, and the melodies, especially the trumpet - guitar combination, were quite delightful. In live performance, they were a bit loud for our tastes, but the CD is very listenable.
Of particular interest, it being election night, was that one of the band members was a candidate in the election. We thought it was a particularly civilized statement on the condition of democracy on this island that a candidate for the highest public office on the island would wait out the election results performing on stage, while one of his rivals sat listening in the audience. Half-way through the second set, someone got up on stage to announce the election results. The band-member candidate acknowledged his victory, and then the performance continued.
Although Wendy usually practices her fiddle out in the cottage, she occasionally does so in the house. Owen seems to be a bit of a music critic, and begs her to stop. In fact, he insists. Here, he is biting Wendy's leg to emphasize his demand. He doesn't bit hard, just enough to get his point across.
The weather this week has been cool, with some rain. Although I still haven't recorded a below-zero air temperature, we have had ground frost on a few occasions. This morning, we had lovely frost fern patterns on the deck skylights.
I have been informed that I was remiss last week in not mentioning World Vegan Day, which was on November 1st. So, consider it mentioned. What was really worthy of mention were the vegan cream-filled cupcakes that Wendy made for the occasion. Yum!
On Thursday, the community choir, of which both Wendy and I are members, performed at the school for the kids' Remembrance Day assembly. The assembly was mostly the work of the kids themselves, with music, poetry, and reports on interviews they had done with some of the island's elderly veterans.
On Friday, the choir did a repeat performance for the main community Remembrance Day ceremony. Attendance at these ceremonies has been increasing over the past few years: the hall was quite full. The choir acquitted itself reasonably well at both events, not bad considering that we have only been together for a little over a month.
There was another major event on Friday: a special screening of the movie "Hair". Someone with a numerological mind-set had apparently decided that 11/11/11 was the beginning of the "Age of Aquarius". (Apparently the actual date is not well defined, and could be any time from the 20th to the 25th century.) The peace theme made it appropriate for November 11th, too.
Regardless of the excuse, it was a major event. For the last couple of weeks, people had been asking each other if they had got their tickets yet, and if the were planning to dress up. Both questions were a bit silly, because clearly this was going to be the event of the year, and here on Denman Island, half the population consists of old hippies. It seemed that everyone was going, and everyone was dressing up.
The screening was held as a fundraiser for the Memorial Society, which is setting up a "green cemetery". I am sure it exceeded the organizers' expectations, because the hall was packed. Almost everyone was in their hippie finery, with lots of tie-dye, beads, headbands, and fringed vests. For some of the original hippie residents of the island, the clothes were the real thing, lovingly dusted off from the back of the closet.
For the musical sequences in the movie, there were live dancers in front of the screen, choreographed to synchronize with the music and dancing in the film. Clearly, a lot of work had been put into organizing it. A fun time was had by all. Wendy and I didn't stay for the dancing that followed the movie, but we had a lot of fun anyway.
Today, Wendy and I walked up to the new park at the north end of the island. I reported on the opening of the park a few weeks ago, where they have built a staircase down the cliff to the beach. It was a pleasant day for a long walk (19 km round trip) with no rain or wind.
The fall weather continues. We have had a mix of showers and sun, and temperatures have been seasonal. There has been ground frost on the deck on a few mornings this week, but I haven't yet recorded any below-zero air temperatures. Some of the stormier days have blown a lot of the leaves off the trees, but there are still a few hanging on. The first photo this week was taken before the wind.
Fall chores continue. Today, I weeded and dug one bed in the garden in preparation for planting garlic. Our garlic was much more successful this year than the year before, and we want to continue that by planting early. At least this year, we have multiple cloves per bulb, so we have enough for both planting and eating. Last year, each bulb had only two cloves, so most of the crop went for seed stock!
I fetched another load of seaweed to use as top-dressing for some of the shrubs. Our California lilacs looked a bit misearble when they started out this spring. We are thinking that they mind the cold. With a good top-dressing of seaweed and some straw on top, they should not only stay warm, but should wake up nourished in the spring.
We are still harvesting the late raspberry crop. Picking once a week gives us enough for a few handfuls on porridge in the morning. However, there are still quite a few immature berries on the canes, so with the odd sunny day, we could still get a few more before a real frost puts a stop to that.
Wendy is working on the pile of branches from the tree pruning. It is finally getting noticeably smaller than when it first started. The small stuff is being piled by the front fence as a privacy screen. As she oncovers the larger pieces, I cut them up for firewood.
We are not the only people doing tree pruning. The Guesthouse has had a giant maple that was blocking their front window cut down. I am sure that it will be much brighter in the coffee shop on winter days.
The main event this week was this afternoon's all-candidates meeting for the upcoming Islands Trust election. The election would normally also include voting for regional district and school board representatives, but the incumbents in those two races were acclaimed.
For the Islands Trust election, however, we have six candidates running for two positions. The Islands Trust is a unique municipal-level government with responsibility for land-use planning on the Gulf Islands. It is unique not only in sharing the municipal responsibilities with the regional districts, but especially in that its legislated mandate is to "preserve and protect" the natural and social environment of the islands. It is probably the only governing body in the democratic world with a specific mandate to say no to developers.
With a large number of candidates running, and with several social issues looming large on Denman Island, notably the challenge of affordable housing and changes to our ferry service, interest was high for the all-candidates meeting. Though the community association couldn't really afford to rent the main hall, they were forced to move the meeting there when the attendance in the back hall exceeded its rated capacity. Voter turnout on Denman tends to be above average, and I fully expect it will be high for this election. The election itself will be held in a couple of weeks' time.
I mentioned last week that I was going to try to take some more astro-photos. I actually was able to set up the telescope twice this week. I completed the photograph I was working on, and managed to get an even better one. This is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Triangulum, known as M-33. (For a larger version of this picture and thumbnail links to more of my astrophotography, check out my Astronomy page.)
Denman Diary is short this week because not much happened. The weather has continued fall-ish, with a mix of cool, sunny days and cool, wet, windy days. When it has been suitable to work outdoors, we have been gradually whittling away at the big pile of tree pruning debris.
I went down to the beach again today for another load of seaweed. This time, I put it on the rose and the younger raspberry canes. One or two more loads should take care of the rest of the raspberries. That will pretty much take care of winterizing the garden.
Last Sunday evening, we had a rare clear night, made even better by the fact that there was no moonlight. I spent a couple of hours out on the driveway with the telescope looking at various celestial objects. Jupiter is looking good in the evening sky these days. The next clear night, I am going to do some more astrophotography. I want to get a really good photo of the Andromeda galaxy, which might require an hour or longer exposure.
When the weather has been unsuitable for outdoor work, I am still working on the Fire Department's software. Learning how to use the new software is a major undertaking, and there is considerable data that has to be loaded. At the same time that I am doing that, I am working on designing a long-term training program. While the training we receive is of top quality, we have never had a long-range program to organize it. Having such a plan will make it easier for future training officers and instructors to ensure that no one misses any critical training, and that everyone is up to date on their various certifications.
Basic rule for Denman Diary: when you run out of material, insert a kitty picture. Note how Owen has not only picked the most contrasting object to shed his fur on, but he has left a nice line of footprints across the bed.
This week's main focus has been dealing with the pile of wood and brush left from the tree pruning that we had done last week. We are stacking the bucked, unsplit wood next to the woodshed, which is currently full. The limbs are piled in a rather large mountain. I am gradually cutting my way through them, bucking up the ones that are large enough to use for firewood. Fortunately, the pile is close enough to the house that I can use the electric chainsaw on them. It weighs about half as much as the gas-powered one, making it very useful for this kind of work, and much easier on the back. Wendy is using what remains of the branches to fill gaps in the privacy screen on the front fence. Anything left over will be disposed of in the forest.
Today, I went down to the beach and collected several buckets of seaweed to spread on the heavy feeders in the garden. Both the rhubarb and the asparagus will benefit from it. They are now happily tucked in for the winter.
The weather continues to be mostly mild. We have had some sunny days, which bring out the October colours. Fall colours here are more subdued than in many other parts of the country, but the lighting at this time of year is spectacular.
On Friday, the weather was stormy, so we used it as our shopping day. We had lunch at the Blackfin Pub in Comox, where we felt like we were stormwatching, looking out over the waves crashing in the harbour.
When we have had inclement weather and I am on the island, I have been working at the firehall, configuring a new software package. It will keep track of personnel, equipment, and training, and comes highly recommended by other fire departments in the area. It will be very useful, but we have never had this level of record keeping before, and getting it all set up is a lot of work.
The weather this week has been cool, but it turned clear and sunny towards the end of the week. We could call it Indian Summer, I suppose, except that the official definition requires that there must have been a killing frost first. At least one location on the island has recorded below freezing temperatures, but not a killing frost yet. At our house, the lowest temperature so far was +4°C.
One reason that our temperatures stay warmer than other locations is because of the insulating effect of all the tall trees. They not only keep our overnight lows warm, but some of them shaded the house and garden, and were starting to pose a threat to the house in storms. We decided that it was time to cut back a few of them.
We hired an arborist this week and had six large trees near the house and garden topped, one in the cat shelter, four between the house and cottage, and one beside the garden. The crew worked all day on them, and did an expert job of keeping the pieces from falling on anything valuable. They left enough trunk that the trees will regenerate quickly. Maples, in particular, are notoriously difficult to kill, and we expect to have to repeat the operation in a few years.
For now, the change in lighting has been dramatic. We are now getting sunlight in the house at mid-day, where previously we didn't. The garden, too, will benefit from the increased light.
We also have rather a lot of firewood and slash to clean up in the next couple of weeks. Since the woodshed is full, we will just stack the firewood bucked but unsplit until there is room for it. The slash will be piled where it will be useful as berms to make privacy screens near the road.
A major beneficial side effect of the pruning has been to open up the sky for my astronomical observations. With the clear evening skies this week, I was able to enjoy a significantly larger area of sky than before.
On Saturday, we hiked up to the north end of the island (well, we drove part of the way and walked the rest) for the opening of Morning Beach Park. It is a site where, for years, people used to access the beach below a steep cliff by scrambling down the cliff holding on to fixed ropes.
With that area now being developed, the site was donated to the Regional District as a park, with the understanding that the beach access would be preserved. Using Regional District funding and local volunteer labour, the rope trail has been replaced by a nice new staircase.
The park is well-signed, with hand-painted signs made by a local craftsman. We presume that the "unstable bank" sign is not a reference to the financial crisis in the U.S.A..
In deference to the history of the old rope trail, the local politicians and dignitaries cut a rope rather than a ribbon to open the new park.
This afternoon, Wendy and I attended the first concert of the new Concerts Denman series. Once again, it looks to be a superb season, and we have purchased season tickets.
Today's concert featured cellist Helena Jung and pianist Sean Mooney. The program included works by Beethoven, Jean FranÁais Rondino, and Debussy in the first half. The second half added a bassist and a drummer, and consisted of a suite for cello and jazz trio by Claude Boling. The Debussy didn't do anything for me, but I liked the Beethoven and especially the Boling jazz piece.
The new Sunday afternoon scheduling for the concerts, as well as the greater emphasis on classical music seems to be going over well with the audience. Last season and again today, the concerts have played to almost full houses.
Though we have had a number of rainy days, we have also had some sunshine. In the garden, the late raspberries are still producing well. We harvested the gravenstein apples and the last of the plums this week. The gravensteins didn't produce well this year. The spring weather was pretty flakey, and pollination rates varied a lot among varieties. Apparently, gravensteins lost out. The spartans are doing well, and we should get a good crop off them.
If we get a bit more warm weather, we might be able to harvest a few grapes. They are very late this year, due to the cool summer, but they are within a few days or ripening. With any luck, the birds that eat them the day befor they ripen will have left for the season by the time that happens.
Now that the yard is fenced against deer, we are starting to plant some more trees. We started this week with some hazel nut saplings. We have one of the Barcelona variety, which is intended to be the main producer, and one generic hazelnut, which is required for pollination. The generic one actually had several plants in the one pot, so we planted them separately as insurance.
Our plan is to plant four apple trees of various heritage varieties in the next few weeks.
I have been cutting up some windfall trees on a neighbouring property. The caretaker of that property called us up to say that the owners had given us permission to harvest them. They weren't fresh windfalls, but they have been up off the ground, and are in fairly good shape. Though the woodshed is full with a two-year supply, more wood is always a good thing, especially when it is free.
Wendy and I are trying something new this year. The community choir has started up again, and we have joined it. We were quite impressed with the choral concert they put on this summer, and are expecting it to be a lot of fun. The choir is being led by one of the teachers at the Denman school, who is an experienced music teacher. I don't think there is any expectation of doing a concert, but who knows, we may end up doing one.
Wendy sings alto, and I am in the tenor section. I think my voice is a bit below the tenor range - some of the parts are a bit high for me, and I keep unintentionally dropping down an octave and singing with the basses - but there is a shortage of tenors, so I'll work with it.
Denman Island's cable ferry saga has made the big time. Today, the Globe and Mail had a feature story on it on the front page of their website. There is nothing there that we idn't already know. The news aspect of the story is presumably that they have put out the request for expressions of interest. I don't think BC Ferries is seriously expecting to receive any bids on it. Behind the scenes, they are starting to work on their own proposal for the service.
This week's big event, of course, was picking up Wendy at the airport, after her three weeks in Nova Scotia. Though I survived her absence, I am very glad that she is home. Fortunately, she feels the same way. She had a good visit with her parents, though.
Last Sunday's major rainfall was followed on Monday by a major wind storm. As is common in wind storms, the power failed mid-morning. Since I had to run errands in the afternoon and then pick up Wendy at the airport, I decided to go into town early, in case I ran into traffic problems from failed traffic lights or lineups in stores due to out of action cash registers. As it turned out, most of Courtenay had power restored by the time I got there. However, I brought Wendy home to a dark house, and had to get the generator fired up for the evening.
I booked off work on Tuesday due to the lack of power. It was finally restored late on Tuesday morning.
Having Tuesday off, I was able to attend the Ferry Commissioner's meeting. Much of the discussion centered around the proposed cable ferry, which is outside of the Commissioner's jurisdiction. However, there were some good points raised about serious flaws in the Coastal Ferries Act, a subject on which he specifically wanted feedback. We'll see if the process produces any significant results. I am not holding my breath.
The virginia creeper at the entrance has turned bright scarlet. It is the most colourful of our fall foliage. The bigleaf maples turn a nondescript shade of brown, and the alders don't change colour at all, so we depend on shrubs and vines for our fall colour.
I have been finishing a new door for the bedroom. It was originally planned for the bedroom, but somewhere along the way, we changed our minds and were going to put it on the bathroom. As it turns out, though, it is the wrong size for the bathroom, so now it is back to the bedroom.
The old door is one of those generic hollow slab doors. Pretty ugly. The new one is a nice real wood panel door made of alder. I have stained it with a light gold stain and coated it with polyurethane. Having trimmed it for length and installed the hardware, I encountered one of the hazards of this house: though the house is solidly built, it is not built with precision. I will have to trim both the top and one side of the door to get it to fit the frame.
I have also been working on a new version of my well depth gauge. It looks like it will be a major improvement over the old one. Considering how much our well level fluctuates between winter and summer, knowing how it is behaving is quite important. The water level rose about ten metres with last week's rain.
This morning, Wendy looked out the kitchen window and saw this barred owl sitting on the railing of our deck. Barred owls are common around here, and we often have conversations with them. If you hoot at them, they will hoot back. However, it is rare to see one. They normally hang out in the forest, where they sit perfectly still and practically invisible on a tree branch. It was quite a treat to see one up close. He didn't seem at all perturbed at seeing us in the window. He just sat there and looked around the meadow, presumably keeping an eye out for mice. After maybe fifteen minutes, he eventually flew away.
In the garden, the late crop of raspberries continues to ripen. We expect it to continue until the fall frost.
The rainy season started early this year. It has been raining consistently all week. By far the wettest day was yesterday, with 26 mm of rain, the wettest day since March.
This week's major event was an information meeting held by BC Ferries to discuss the proposed cable ferry. It is going ahead for certain, and they expect it to be in service two years from now. It will probably be the longest cable ferry in the world, certainly the longest in salt water, by far. Work on the dock reconstruction will start next summer. The reason they are doing it is to save money. It will require less fuel, but the biggest factor is labour costs: the new ferry will supposedly require only a crew of three, half the size of the present crew. Unfortunately, that will mean the loss of several of the best-paying jobs on Denman.
They say that there will be no impact on service, and that the cable ferry will maintain the same schedule as the current vessel. We'll see.
They haven't thought much about alternative service when the cable ferry needs repairs or maintenance. The existing, recently-rebuilt ferry dock at Buckley Bay will remain there, so a regular ferry can dock there. However, the old ferry dock on the Denman side will be dismantled and only replaced by the cable ferry dock, so a regular ferry cannot dock there. Instead, the proposed alternative service involves a cruise around Chrome Island at the south tip of Denman to the dock on the east side. That means a round-trip time of three hours, with a vessel half the size. And they clearly haven't given any thought at all to how they will manage traffic at Gravelly Bay on the east side, with two routes docking there. There is no waiting apron at Gravelly Bay, and not even a shoulder on the road for cars to wait on. It is bad enough with cars queueing up in the driving lane for one ferry, but with two routes to queue for, and all the traffic having to make a U-turn to join the queue, and the prospect of a three-hour wait if you miss the boat, it is going to be a nightmare.
The logical alternative of making the cable ferry dock compatible with regular ferries hasn't occurred to them. Instead of having the loading ramp on the dock, as at every other BC Ferries dock, the cable ferry will have the loading ramps on the boat. As a result, the regular ferry will be unable to use the new dock. They are doing it that way "because that's the way all other cable ferries are designed." Hence the need for the three-hour cruise.
The Ferry Commissioner is going to be on Denman on Tuesday, and I suspect he is going to get an earfull.
I have been working this week on finishing a new door for the bathroom. It is just about ready to go.
My other project was to upgrade my well depth sensor. I did the plumbing work for it last week, and this week I finished the electronics and calibrated it. Unfortunately, one of the couplings is a non-standard size, so I have to try to find a micro-sized pipe clamp to keep the air pressure from blowing it off.
Well, last week's heat must have been summer, because we are now well into fall. The temperatures now are struggling to make it into the mid-teens. In fact, this week has been so cool and cloudy that this morning I made a fire for the first time this season. The last few days, we have actually had measurable rain, the first in a month.
There is still one more week before Wendy comes back from Nova Scotia. The cats and I will be glad when she is back.
I have been keeping myself busy with several minor projects such as replacing a couple of old lamp timers, and working on the well depth measuring system.
The excitement for the week, if you can call it that, was the annual budget meeting of the Residents Association. Although the association has no governmental functions, it serves as the only forum on the island for tax-supported organizations to present their budgets to the public. The Fire Department's budget is the biggest, and for the first time was presented by the Firefighters Association, who have newly taken over management of the department. The meeting, of course, is a long one, but that didn't stop people from raising pointless items for discussion and repeating themselves unnecessarily. I walked out after 9:30.
In the garden, the second raspberry crop is starting. There are loads of berries still on the canes, and they are starting to ripen. This crop will continue now until frost puts a stop to it. The plums, too, are starting to ripen. I was able to eat one straight off the tree today. In spite of my pessimism last week about the grapes, some of them are beginning to ripen. You can tell when they start ripening because the skin turns translucent. The first few grapes are getting there. They are a long way from being sweet enough to eat, though, and I am still not optimistic about being able to eat any before the frost. Last week's warmth may have woken them up, but I suspect the cool weather is here to stay.
It has been a busy week, but I don't have a lot to show for it. The weather has actually been hot a few times, with our highest temperature of the year, 27.5°C being recorded on Thursday. If you call that hot. With the long dry spell, the fire hazard went up to Extreme on the weekend.
On Tuesday morning, I took Wendy to the airport for her trip to Nova Scotia to visit her parents. She left lots of food in the fridge and freezer, so I am unlikely to starve in the next couple of weeks. It has not even been a week, but already I am anxiously waiting for her return. So are the cats.
I have been pretty busy though. I moved my work days to Wednesday and Thursday last week, to accommodate the trip to the airport, but that then took care of most of the rest of the week. On Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning, I was at the firehall renewing my First Responder licence. It was quite intense, as the instructor crammed a couple of days' training into a few hours. We performed numerous first aid scenarios, which were evaluated by an examiner, and had to write three written exams. I passed, so I am once again certifiable.
The garden is hanging in through the hot dry weather. We have almost emptied two water tanks, leaving just enough in them to fill a few watering cans. I will have to start monitoring the third tank to try to project how long it will last. The rains usually start in October or November.
I have to water daily. The raspberries are getting ready to produce their second crop, so they are getting 45 minutes of water a day, about 60 gallons. We have quite a few plants that need a daily gallon of water: a row of California lilacs along the edge of the deck, and the vines at the front entrance. Both the lilacs and the vines have done particularly well this year, so we want to ensure that they go into the winter healthy. The Virginia creeper has started changing colour.
We have fruit on the Spartan apple tree and on the plum trees. It is not a good year for fruit, due to the cool spring. We have tons of grapes, but it is too late in the season, even with the current warm spell, for them to ripen.
ADDENDUM: It was pointed out to me that I completely forgot to mention the earthquake on Friday. It was a magnitude 6.4, centered just off Nootka Sound.
I was sitting at my computer when it hit. I heard the house creak first, but I didnít think anything of it. Then I felt what seemed to be my chair rolling over a couple of wrinkles in the carpet. Except that there is no carpet and I wasnít moving the chair. I was starting to think earthquake, and when I saw the pull-cords from the ceiling fans swinging, that confirmed it. The living room light was also swinging, as was the door to the den. It lasted about a minute. The only damage was that the tip ofthe clematis vine came off the pergola.
It was apparently felt all over Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea basin.
Summer has finally arrived, with the beginning of September. It looks like we are in for a run of several days in a row of warm, maybe even hot, weather.
We are lucky to have dragonflies here all summer, which keeps the mosquitoes down. This week, there must have been another hatching of them. I was outside one evening and saw hundreds of the zipping around, hunting. Later the same evening, I saw bats doing the same thing. They eat dragonflies as well as the mosquitoes, but it all balances out in the end.
This week's big event was the annual Blackberry Fair. As usual, I was part of the Fire Department crew serving hamburgers (or, in my case, veggie burgers). The playing field aat the community hall was covered in booths, serving food, displaying crafts, or providing information on various causes. It was the biggest fall fair since we have been on Denman.
Wendy watched the parade, which also had the best participation we have seen. The biggest group in the parade this year was the "Denman Opposes Coal" group, protesting the proposed coal mine that is planned for the slopes directly across Baynes Sound from the Denman ferry. Considering that opposition to the coal mine runs at close to 100% of the population, the large contingent was no surprise.
The parade route runs right through "downtown Denman", both blocks of it. It lasts perhaps ten minutes, and is carefully times to take place between ferry runs in order to minimize traffic conflicts.
We got our final load of firewood delivered to fill the woodshed. We are now well-stocked for both this winter and next. Our goal is to always have a two year supply. Not only does that ensure that the wood is fully cured before use, it also means we have a reserve supply on hand in case of a hard winter.
Tomorrow, Wendy flies off to Nova Scotia to visit her parents. She will be gone for three weeks. The cats and I will miss her.
This week has been quite summer-like, with temperatures in the mid-twenties. We actually had a splash of rain on Monday, really just enough to keep the dust down for a day. With the month almost over, we have only had 16% of our normal rainfall for August.
This weekend, we took a drive to Duncan for a couple of events. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Cowichan Valley Star Finders held their annual star party. A star party involves a group of astronomers meeting to observe stars, planets, and other celestial objects together. The Cowichan event is held in Bright Angel Provincial Park, on a baseball field that is surrounded by trees. Their trees being shorter than ours, the location has a good view of the sky in most directions, with minimal local light. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of light pollution from the nearby town of Duncan, but the sky conditions were still quite good.
All the astronomers camp on the field, in order to be able to stay up late or get up early in order to view their chosen objects in the sky. There were at least a couple of dozen tents and trailers, all with one or more telescopes or binoculars set up on tripods in front. There were telescopes of all shapes, sizes and types, from small, very portable refractors to large, bulky reflectors, and from totally manually-operated ones to fully computer-controlled ones.
It was hard to get a good picture of all the telescopes set up, since most people took them down in the daytime. It is mostly a field of empty tripods in the daytime.
It is considered good manners at a star party to walk around the field visiting with the other astronomers, admiring their telescopes and looking through them. I got a chance to look through the monster 20-inch diameter telescope in the second photo, and what a view it gives! I'm not sure I would want to haul it around, though.
I had a good time at the event, and met some interesting people, including an Internet friend from an astronomy discussion forum. I did some astrophotography and got a couple of good pictures.
Meanwhile, Wendy, who is not really interested in astronomy, preferred not to camp and stayed in a motel in Duncan. We went to Cowichan Bay on Saturday, where we stopped in at our favourite bakery for brunch. We also went on a nature walk on Saturday afternoon at the provincial park, and explored downtown Duncan.
The real reason Wendy came on the trip happened on Sunday, when we visited a pit bull event in a Duncan school playground. The event, called "Pits in the Park", organized by Hug-a-Bull, brings together pit bulls from all over Vancouver Island and even the lower mainland, to meet each other, to help socialize their dogs, and to improve the public image of the breed. Pit bulls are one of Wendy's favourite dogs (after dobermans, of course). We had a good time meeting the dogs and their humans.
We even participated in one of the events. They were doing "good neighbour" dog certification, where they challenge the dogs to behave appropriately in various situations that are stressful to untrained dogs. For one part of the exercise, they needed a "crowd" through which the dog was to be led, the idea being that the dog should ignore strangers milling about or carrying varous objects. Since Wendy and I were among the few "dogless" people there, we were commandeered to form part of the crowd. All the dogs that we saw taking the test passed.
This was a week of nice, warm, sunny weather. With the long dry spell - no significant rain since the middle of July - the Fire Chief has announced the annual total burning ban. They say it is the latest date in living memory for the fire ban to be introduced.
The major event in Denman this week awas the official opening of the new community dock. The old government dock was removed many years ago, and was never replaced. As a result, we were probably the only inhabited island in the known universe without a dock. Over the last several years, one man, John Johnston, has been instrumental in getting the dock project from start to finish, including all the various permits and plans. Construction started early this summer, with the footings being poured at the June low tides. This week, with the landscaping done, it was completed a month ahead of schedule and within budget.
There was a large crowd in attendance for the opening. The Coast Gaurd was in attendance, as was our local ambulance. The original purpose for the dock project was to permit emergency medical evacuations when the ferry was not running. Both the Coast Guard and the ambulance would be involved in such an exercise. Several private boats detoured from their trips up and down Baynes Sound to come over and see what the excitement was about. Although I missed it, apparently the ferry Quinitsa performed a sail-past salute with water cannons spraying.
On Sunday, Wendy and I went for a hike with the Comox District Mountaineering Club to Carey Lakes in Strathcona Provincial Park. Access to the "trailhead" involves over an hour of driving on forestry roads. It is for this purpose that SUVs were invented. Our little Honda Fit would never have survived the trip. Even the vehicle we were in, a Jeep SUV, was at its limit.
The description of the trip promised that the route was "all trail". To call it a trail was quite a stretch of the imagination. It turned out to be partly a marked off-trail route, and partly wicked bushwhacking. The ground was boggy, still wet with very recent snow melt. It has been a very late season in the mountains. The winter had a record snowfall, and then we had that cold spring and early summer. Even now, in mid August, the first spring flowers are only just coming out in the high meadows. As you can see from the photos, not all the snow had melted.
Though the "trail" was bad, the bugs were worse. Though I have lived in Canada for most of my life and am used to biting insects as a fact of life, I have never in my life experienced blackflies and mosquitoes that bad. I can well believe reports of people in the far north being driven mad by the insects.
We survived well enough to enjoy our lunch stop on a rocky outcrop high enough up to get out of the worst of the bugs, and with enough of a breeze to keep the rest away. We had spectacular views in a panorama from Mount Washington to Denman Island and the Georgia Strait to the Comox Glacier.
After lunch, we took a different route that brought us past the largest of the several Carey Lakes. We stopped there for a while, enjoying the view of the ice floes drifting on the water. Though the subject of going for a swim was discussed, no one tried it.
Thereafter, we endured a vicious bushwhack down steep slopes to return to our starting spot. We returned home on the 8:30 ferry. Nice though the views were, I don't think we are likely to do that route again. And next time we go hiking, I think I will marinate in insect repellent before heading out.
My project at home this week is to rewire the toolshed. Now that we have decided that it is a more or less permanent outbuilding, it needs a couple of lights to be reconnected. Since the building can't be mouse-proofed, all the wiring needs to be in conduit to protect it from rodent teeth.
The weather has continued to be warmish and dry this week. We had a whopping 1/4 of a millimeter of rain yesterday, the first rain we have had this month. The Fire Chief is considering bringing in a total fire ban before the Labour Day weekend.
The snow has not yet fully melted off the Beaufort mountains across Baynes Sound. In a normal year, there would be only one tiny patch left by the beginning of August, and it would be gone by the end of the month. This year, there is quite a lot left.
Along the stretch of Northwest Road where we often walk, there used to be a flock of wild turkeys. We haven't seen them for a while, and I suspect that most have ended up on various people's dinner tables. However, there appears to be at least one survivor. He might be lonely, though. He was hanging out these chickens.
On Thursday, I helped out at the community dock by raking gravel for a couple of hours. Most of the gravel for the parking lot was spread by machine, but the corners and edges needed to be done by hand. With a crew of four in addition to the backhoe operator, it didn't take long. The grand opening for the dock, which had been planned for the end of September has been moved up to next weekend. Ahead of schedule and under budget, and it looks good.
On Friday evening, we attended a choral concert at the community hall. The concert was the culmination of a choral workshop on Denman Island led by Dennis Donnelly, a choir leader from Victoria. The choir consisted of the workshop attendees. Wendy and I both like choral music, and they sounded really good, especially for an amateur group that had only sung together for a few days. They were accompanied by the Baynes Sound String Quartet, a group from the local area that includes one member from Denman Island. In addition to accompanying the choir, the quartet performed a few instrumental pieces.
This weekend was the annual Denman Island studio tour. A couple of dozen artists and craftspeople of all types annually open their studios to the public in an organized tour. We have visited most of the studios before, so we only went to a few that were new to us. Silly me, I forgot the camera. One display in particular would have made a good photo: a colourful display of quilts hung between trees outdoors in the forest.
This week's theme is sunshine. Yes, amazing as it is, we are actually getting more than one day in a row of sunshine, along with some moderately warm temperatures.
The expression is "Make hay while the sun shines." Denman farmers are doing just that, taking advantage of the warm, dry weather. Quite a few hay fields are freshly mown this week, or, like the field in this bucolic scene, are being cut today. My impression is that the hay crop is late this year. Often, they will get two cuttings in one season, one around June and another in late summer. I don't think that has been happening this year. For most hay fields, this is the first cutting.
On Saturday, we went to an open house at a cob-building workshop at the co-housing site just over the hill from our house. The co-housing project has been ongoing since before we moved to Denman, six years ago, but it is only in the last year or so that construction has started. One of the houses is being built with cob (mud and straw) on a timber frame. The construction is being done as a two-week workshop for people interested in learning this building technique. Although the workshop is for the benefit of the registered students, they opened it to the general public for one afternoon, and we decided to take a look.
The cob mixture contains locally-mined clay, sand, straw, and a bit of water. It is mixed on site by foot, on a big tarp. Because the walls are built without forms, they can be sculpted into free-form shapes. Corners tend to be rounded. Windows are set right into the cob. Door frames are set into the cob, with the doors hung conventionally later.
Cob construction can only be done in dry weather, so I am sure that the organizers were relieved at the current sunny spell. They will have to ensure that the roof is finished and the walls coated with plaster before the autumn rains begin. The water-soluble cob mixture must never be exposed to water.
Quite a lot of Denman residents are interested in alternative construction methods, so the open house was well-attended. As well, I suspect that many of the visitors were just curious about how the co-housing project is progressing.
My good-weather project this week was to paint the toolshed. The old paint was decidedly the worse for wear. We went with a shade of green intended to make the structure blend in to the trees. It came out a tad more vivid than that, but looks good. I used some contrasting colours leftover from other projects to paint the trim. The red stripe on the gable board is Tuscan red, which is just crying out for a beaver logo and the words "Canadian Pacific".
Meanwhile, Wendy was preparing the woodshed for a delivery of firewood expected this week. She moved the oldest wood out of the shed and under the deck. It is important to keep the different ages of wood segregated in the woodshed so that you can burn it in the right order as it ages. While we dislike moving wood more than once, this was the best way to ensure the proper sequencing of the wood.
Some people just enjoyed the sunny weather without doing a lick of work. Liesl likes to get attention by rolling on her back on the living room floor and meowing. What could be better than rolling for attention in a nice warm sunbeam?
It's only two months late, but summer is finally here. We have had several consecutive days with sunny weather and temperatures in the 20s, with the high for the year being 25°C.
Flowers and vegetables are doing well in the garden. Though rainfall is below normal this year, the cool temperatures and cloud cover, with warm overnight lows, have made everything grow like it is in a jungle. Actually, it isn't just like a jungle, it is a jungle. Wendy's potted nasturtiums are loving the weather and starting to take over the deck. She has some potted pansies that are in their third year (Who knew that pansies are perennials?) and still putting on a great show.
The strawberries are pretty much finished, but the raspberries are now in full production.
The Denman Dock is nearing completion, and looking good. Yesterday, as we were lining up for the ferry, we noticed that they have a very nice sign, with carved sailboats and the words "Denman Community Dock." It is definitely a classy operation.
This week's major event was the annual Filberg Festival in Comox. It runs all long weekend, though we only went for one day. We listened to several musicians, including James Keelaghan, who was our favourite of the day. The rest of the time we spent admiring the various crafts on display.
It is impossible to come away from the Filberg without some kind of craft or artwork, and this year was no exception. We bought a beautifil temple bell, very creatively made from an old air cylinder. We are not sure if it was a scuba tank or a firefighting air tank, but, as a regular user of air tanks, I thought it was a very creative form or recycling. The bell is decorated with welded-on flower ornaments and has a nice deep ring.
The August long weekend is the busiest weekend of the year for tourists going to Hornby Island. The Denman Fire Department exploits this traffic by holding a "boot drive" on the ferry all weekend. The boot drive involves panhandling all the tourist vehicles arriving and leaving on the ferry. It's called a boot drive because the receptacle for the money is a firefighting boot.
This weekend's boot drive was of direct benefit to the hordes of tourists who stream across Denman in the summer. The money raised will be used to purchase new "jaws of life", the hydraulic-powered cutters used to extract people from crashed cars.
The weather was perfect for the boot drive: sunny but not hot. I worked my four-hour shift this morning. Initial indications are that the total "take" was up from last year.
We just got back from the Filberg Festival this evening, and I have to work a shift of the Firefighters' Boot Drive on the ferry tomorrow morning, so Denman Diary will be a day late this week.
Most of this week remained cool and cloudy. However, the weather did clear up for the weekend, with some nice sunny weather, and the temperature getting up to 25°C for only the second time this year.
Our strawberries were pretty much wiped out by the rain of the previous week. We will probably do one more picking, and that will be it for the season.
The raspberries are coming into production. We have a lot of baby grapes, but there is little chance of any of them ripening this year as we are just not getting the warmth they need.
On Friday, Wendy and I took another hike in the Boyle Point region of Denman Island. The trail we took this time led us through one of the biggest blowdowns from the big December 2006 storm. The sheer number of huge old trees that were toppled and are still lying on the ground is impressive.
We have now explored all the major trails in that area. There is quite a network of trails covering several adjacent properties. Now that we know where they go and how they interconnect, we can make several different loops for longer hikes.
I eventually want to do some similar trail exploration at the north end of the island, too.
Denman's new dock is coming along nicely. Apparently, it is on time and on budget. The floating portion of the dock is now in place, moored to its pilings, and all the ramps and walkways appear to be finished. There is a new gate across the road entrance, and railings are being installed along the edge of the breakwater. Just this evening, we saw a large barge tie up to the dock, presumably to work on some portion of the dock. It may be the first boat other than the ferry to tie up at a Denman dock in years. The grand opening is scheduled for the end of September.
Today, we drove down to Duncan on Vancouver Island for the last day of the annual Islands Folk Festival. It is the first time we have been to it, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Next time, we may go for more than one day.
It is held on the grounds of a former residential school, now a working organic farm and a community for handicapped people. They had five music stages running all day. One of the nice features of the festival is that they limit ticket sales to 3000. We have found in the past that festivals that limit ticket sales rather than trying to grow without limit tend to be more enjoyable experiences.
Some of the acts were big name folk or blues musicians, and others were ones we had never heard of, but all the music was good.
The weather was sunny and warm for it, something we are definitely not used to this year. Believe it or not, we were complaining about the heat and trying to find places in the shade!
After stopping for supper in Qualicum Beach, we arrived at Buckley Bay expecting to have to wait an hour for the next ferry. However, heavy vacation traffic leaving Hornby Island forced them to put on an extra evening run, and we hardly had to wait at all.
The weather this month sure is nice - for October! The temperatures have been ridiculously low, and, this week, we had a major rainfall over three days. The level in the rainwater storage tank rose by 400 gallons, to within 350 gallons of full tanks. Though it has not been a particularly wet year, it has been so cloudy and cool, with intermittent showers, that we have not needed to water the garden much at all. In fact, I have been holding back on watering the strawberries to cut down on the amount of mildew on them.
Speaking of strawberries, we had a major haul of them earlier in the week. With my brother's visit last weekend, we missed a couple of days' picking. So, on Monday, with bad weather in the forecast, we did an emergency catch-up picking. This was our haul in a couple of hours of work: a full cart-load of berries!
We weren't able to pick in the rain, so we have probably lost some of this week's crop, but the plants are still producing.
The raspberries would like some heat to get into full production, but they have started ripening.
On Monday, we also went for a walk on a different route from our normal "around the block" walk. There were huge numbers of oceanspray (spirea) bushes blooming along the side of the road. The air was heavy with their almost sickly-sweet perfume.
We have been seeing lots of deer in the forest and along the roads. Mother deer are bringing their bambis out in the open now, and the males, like this handsome fellow, are starting to grow their antlers.
This week was the annual Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. We had been scheduled to billet one of the writers, but he had to cancel on short notice due to illness. Wendy attended most of the sessions, while I only went to a few that particularly interested me. The festival is becoming well-known in the area, and about half the attendees were from off-island.
I have been working on an observing chair for use with my telescope. When using a telescope for astronomy, particularly a Newtonian reflector like mine, you end up peering into it from all angles and all heights, depending on where it is pointing. An adjustable chair is almost a necessity. This one is based on designs that I have seen on the Internet. The seat adjusts from about 12 inches to 42 inches in height, and there is an adjustable footrest for use at the higher heights. The whole thing is collapsable for easy transportation.
Now, if only the weather would cooperate and give us some clear skies...
On Monday, Wendy and I went for another hike at the south end of the island. Since we didn't get to the end of the trail on our Canada Day hike, I wanted to explore where that trail ended up. Based on the direction it was heading when we turned around, I took a guess that we could access the other end of the trail from the Boyle Point viewpoint. We hiked down the tourist trail to the viewpoint, which overlooks the Chrome Island lighthouse, and then walked the trail to Betty's Beach, where we ate our lunch while enjoying another view of Chrome Island.
Finally, we explored a side trail which seemed to be heading in the direction of Friday's trail. Sure enough, after about half an hour of walking through open forest, we recognized, and confirmed with GPS, our turnaround spot from the previous hike. So now, we know of a nice, moderately long trail which can be combined with other routes into a scenic loop. We still have a few more trails in that area that we want to explore.
In the garden, the strawberry harvest continues. We are starting to run out of containers in which to freeze them. The raspberries are starting to look promising. I hope we get some warm weather so that they will ripen before the fall.
On Tuesday, Wendy was out on her regular walk "around the block" when she came upon a large tree down across Pickles Road. We are used to trees coming down in major storms in the winter, but we had had no big winds in recent days. The tree, which looked a bit rotten, had apparently just toppled over of its own accord. I had visions of a hummingbird or dragonfly landing on a branch and putting it just sufficiently off-balance to cause it to fall.
Though it is tempting to harvest firewood from any naturally-fallen tree, it was far too big for my chainsaw's 20-inch bar. We phoned Emcon, the local highways contractor. Eventually someone, who might not have been an Emcon employee, showed up with a big chainsaw and cleared it off the road.
The highlight of this week was a weekend visit from my brother Adrian and his partner Ed from Vancouver. It was a treat to be able to show them around our house and property, and to take them around the sights of Denman Island. We took them to several artists' studios, introduced them to some of our friends, and hiked on some of our favourite trails.
They were pleasantly surprised to find that we have a restaurant serving excellent meals here on the island. I am sure that they expected granola and pureed soybeans. Instead, we enjoyed a delicious and beautifully-presented meal at the Kaffee Klatsch Bistro - seafood for them and a vegan polenta for us.
I think that they were pleasantly surprised that Denman Island is more sophisticated than they had imagined.
Whether or not summer is finally here is probably still a subject for next week's report. The forecast says it might be, but so far this year, any forecast more than 24 hours ahead has been pretty much a random guess. Though today was sunny and warmish (it didn't break 20°), most of the past week continued the cool, cloudy trend we have had all spring.
The garden, however, has decided that, cool weather or not, everything is going to carry on as though it were July. The meadow is full of daisies and dandelions. The grass out there is shoulder-high on me. It makes quite a difference not having deer in the yard this year!
Our climbing rose is very happy. It had a major growth spurt this spring, and is now covered in blooms. We fed it a full wheelbarrow load of compost last fall, and gave it a bucket of seaweed this spring, and it sems to like that.
Down in the vegetable garden, I have weeded and thinned the main veggie bed. The beans are still slowly recovering from a slug infestation when they wer germinating, but the carrots, spinach and collards are looking good. The spinach is an unusual red variety. It still tastes like spinach, though.
The garlic is ready to have the scapes (the flower stalks) cut off. Cutting them off forces the plant to put its energy into the bulbs instead of the flowers.
The stars of the garden right now are the strawberries. The weather has actually been a bit too cool and cloudy for them. It doesn't show in the ripening rate - we have a bumper crop - but we have a lot that go moldy. We probably need to thin them more next season. We have to pick them daily right now. If we miss a day of picking, it just means more work the next day. We are getting something like 15 pounds of berries daily. This week's desserts included a rhubarb-strawberry pie that may just possibly be the best dessert ever, and a strawberry-chocolate mousse pie (ditto).
On Friday, Wendy and I celebrated Canada Day by going for a hike at the south end of Denman Island. It is an area that we haven't explored much. A moderate-sized provincial park (Boyle Point) is contiguous with a quarter-section of crown land that is slated to be added to the park within the next year and a large parcel of nature reserve owned by the Islands Trust Fund and managed by the Denman Conservancy Association. The combination of lands makes for a large contiguous area of wild, protected land, that has some really nice hiking trails.
We hiked for over two hours, covering nearly nine kilometres, exploring several of the trails. We turned back for lack of time, but we plan to return to continue the exploration. We never did get to the end of the main trail we were on, so we have to see where it ends up.
Today was the day for the annual Firefighters' Pancake Breakfast. It is the biggest single event on the island, regularly drawing nearly half the population. The day began with a 6:00 am page (yikes!) on our radios to make sure we got to the hall in time to set everything up. The trucks were taken out of the hall, to ensure there was space for people in the event of rain, and parked strategically to not only make them accessible by the public, but also to leave them free to get away in the event of a callout.
People started showing up for breakfast about 9:00, and from then on, there was a steady stream of customers until noon. I was in charge of cooking the vegetarian sausages, and Wendy sliced strawberries. The pancake breakfast strawberries, unfortunately, were the plastic ones imported from California, not real thing from Denman Island.
The weather for the breakfast was better than we have come to expect. It was sunny, though the temperature could have been warmer.
Well, it is officially summer. The true start of summer is not the solstice, but the first strawberry harvest. On Thursday, we harvested enough for our porridge. Today, we harvested enough for strawberry shortcake. For the next few weeks, we will be picking berries every day or two. We freeze what we can't eat immediately, and enjoy them for a full year. We have only just finished last year's harvest in time for this year's. I have no pictures, since we were too busy eating them.
Recently, Wendy and I both read a book about Desolation Sound (on the mainland) in which the village of Lund figures prominently. We decided to go over there for a weekend, just because we had never been there.
Lund's main claim to fame is that is is the end (or beginning) of the road. Highway 101, the Sunshine Coast Highway, which is Canada's portion of the Pacific Coastal Highway, begins there, about 20 km north of Powell River. The other end of this unoffical highway is 15,000 km away in southern Chile.
The main industry seems to be catering to the transportation needs of rich cottagers on Savary Island, as well as providing for boaters and kayakers heading into Desolation Sound.
The 8:00 ferry off Denman got us to the ferry dock at Comox in plenty time for the 10:10 ferry to Powell River. As it turned out, traffic was light, and we probably could have taken the 8:40 ferry off Denman. The crossing to Powell River takes an hour and 20 minutes.
The drive north to Lund is uneventful. The road ends rather abruptly: One moment you are driving along a two-lane highway, the next moment, you come around a corner and you are on a boat ramp. At the top of the boat ramp is a rather uninspiring stone pillar that is the official "Mile 0" of the highway.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around Lund, which is all it takes to "do" it fairly thoroughly. We ate a delicious lunch at the "famous" Nancy's bakery. We even had a chance meeting with two dobermans, which made Wendy very happy.
From Lund, we returned to Powell River, where we had booked a room at the Old Courthouse Inn, which, as its name suggests, used to be the courthouse. It is a charming old building, decorated inside with antiques in the hallways and guest rooms. Unfortunately, it is charmingly situated across the street from the pulp mill. However, the smell was not too bad. Apparently, they have cleaned up emissions compared to the old days.
The next day, we wandered around downtown Powell River, checking out art galleries and shops. In one restaurant, we were warned to have an early lunch because they were expecting a couple of hundred Royal Bank employees to walk off the ferry and fill the place. As it turned out, we didn't run into any bankers in the town.
However, as we waited in line for the late afternoon ferry back to Comox, we watched as an enormous herd of bankerly-looking people walked onto the ferry ahead of the vehicular traffic. The large passenger lounge on the ferry was chock-full by the time we got on board. We gathered from the conversation all around that they were on an outing to listen to a concert in Powell River. Someone from the group came around distributing souvenir Royal Bank shopping bags to all the passengers on board. Very nice; now if only they would stop with the telemarketing calls already.
Though the weather continues to be cool for the time of year, the garden is doing well. The beans were attacked by slugs when they first broke ground, but the survivors are recovering well. The photo shows some carrots, red spinach and collards.
My solar-powered irrigation system required some maintenance work this week. The battery, which had given four years of fine service, was not holding its charge. Considering that it was in daily use each summer, it did remarkably well. Its replacement is now in service.
On Thursday, Wendy and I hiked out to Tree Island, off the north tip of Denman Island. At low tide, the crossing is a one-kilometre walk across mud flats. From the closest road access, the route follows a few kilometres of beach before crossing the mud flats. After strolling around Tree Island itself, we attempted to cross more mud flats to some other of the islets in the area. However, tidal pools and the creeks draining them blocked the way. A person wearing sandals would be able to do the crossing. Our total hiking distance for the day was 15 km.
On Saturday afternoon, we attended the final concert of the season. This one featured baritone Jason Stearns, accompanied on piano by Miles Graber. He sang arias from several operas by Wagner, Puccini and Verdi, as well as some sea shanties and spirituals. The more classical orientation of this year's concert season has been well-received, and the artistic director is staying on for another year offering more of the same next year.
Work continues rapidly on the Denman Dock. This week, they were back-filling the retaining wall with sand and gravel from the Denman pit. A fleet of trucks was delivering one load every four minutes, all day. They estimated it would take 300 truckloads of fill to complete the job. The metal walkways and floating dock sections are being manufactured on Vancouver Island. The work is apparently ahead of schedule.
On Wednesday this week, Wendy and I took the first ferry to Courtenay to meet up with the Comox District Mountaineering Club for a hike on Quadra Island. The group is not as formidable as the name sounds - they mostly do ordinary trail hiking. This particular hike had been cancelled twice before due to weather, so we were pleasantly surprised when the day turned out to be nice and sunny.
A group of 20 hikers assembled at the meeting place in town and, after arranging car pools, drove up to Campbell River. From there, we ferried across Discovery Channel to Quadra Island. Quadra turns out to be the second-largest of the Gulf Islands (after Texada, and ahead of Salt Spring), and the drive from the ferry dock to the trailhead took 45 minutes.
The destination of the hike was the Surge Narrows lookout, a pleasant beach where one can look across the tidal currents of Surge Narrows on the east side of Quadra Island. Although the Salish Sea (the official alternate name for the combined Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound) fills and drains mostly through the Juan de Fuca Strait, a significant amount of its water passes through the narrow channels at the north end of Vancouver Island, of which Surge Narrows is one. Tidal currents in this area are very fast. Even the big cruise ships time their Inside Passage voyages to pass through Discovery Channel with the tidal current flowing in the right direction, and small craft often have to wait several hours for slack tide before venturing out of their harbours.
We were there on a day when the tides were not extreme, and at a time when it should have been close to slack tide, and yet the current was flowing like we were watching a large river. As the water flowed over submerged rocks, it produced significant rapids, and small islets generated bow waves and wakes.
We ate our lunches on the beach, watching the current and the eagles, and then hiked back to the cars. There was considerable interest among some members of the group in getting back home early. Apparently there was a hockey game on TV that some wanted to watch.
As the ferry pulled out of the bay on Quadra Island on the return trip to Campbell River, we saw a tugboat appear from around the rocky point, heading directly in front of the ferry. Working tugboats are usually followed by a length of cable and some kind of load, and the ferry captain wisely decided to stop and see what was coming. Sure enough, it was towing an enormous empty cargo ship apparently designed to carry logs. Once it passed by, we resumed the crossing. It makes me realize how lucky we are on Denman to be located on a quiet backwater instead of on a busy shipping lane.
Back on Denman, we noticed that work has started on our new public dock. Up until now, we have been the only inhabited island in the known universe without a dock. The ferry dock doesn't count, since BC Ferries does not let anyone else use it. Thanks largely to the tenacity of one man in pursuing the project, contruction has started, and we will likely have a working dock by later this year.
On Thursday evening, we went to a public meeting on emergency preparedness. Denman Islanders tend to be well prepared for run-of-the-mill emergencies like power cuts and storms. The meeting focused on being prepared for anything, especially "The Big One", the large earhquake that will strike the region sooner or later. They say you should be prepared to survive the first 72 hours on your own, and the session included information about how to be prepared for that as well as for possible evacuation.
Owen the cat has been on a hunting binge recently. I mentioned last week about his bringing in a couple of shrews from outdoors. This week, he brought in a mouse and - horror of horrors (for Wendy) - a snake. The mouse was a lively one, a challenge for both of us to round up and escort outside. The snake was either dead or comatose, so it wasn't difficult to catch, but I had to do the work on my own.
The wild roses are in full bloom this week. The first ones started flowering a couple of weeks ago, but now they are everywhere, clashing magnificantly with the yellow Scotch broom that is still in flower. Our cultivated rose is covered in buds that look ready to start opening any day.
The weather seems to have turned a corner this week (he said, hopefully), and the days are mostly sunny and warm-ish. The garden is doing well, especially the weeds. The combination of ideal growing weather and the lack of deer has made the grass in the meadow really take off. It is up to my shoulders in places. When Wendy goes out in the meadow, she needs one of those tall flagpoles that cyclists use for visibility, so that she doesn't get lost.
One of my regular garden chores is to clip the weeds off the electric fence that keeps the raccoons out of the garden. With the sudden growth spurt, there was a veritable jungle around the fence. It took me two days to clip it. I also had to scythe a path through the meadow to the back gate and the compost bins.
The strawberries have a lot of blossoms - it looks like it might be a good year for them. The raspberries, too, are doing well, with a lot of flower buds. This is early to see this many buds on them. The rhubarb continues to threaten to take over the whole island, and we have been forced to eat rhubarb desserts just to get rid of it. Yesterday, Wendy combined getting rid of fresh rhubarb with clearing some more of last year's frozen strawberries out of the freezer and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Yum!
Our climbing rose has put on a growth spurt, and has quite a few flower buds developing. It now has a branch under our bedroom window, which we are happy about. We chose that rose largely for its scent, so we are looking forward to warm evenings with the scent of fresh rose blossoms.
On Friday evening, Wendy and I went with some friends to Qualicum Beach to hear a concert by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, accompanied by Natalie Haas on cello. The concert was well attended by an audience that, for Qualicum Beach, was fairly young - ours was not the only non-gray hair. The music was excellent, including a lot of slow airs as well as the obligatory jigs and reels. The cello made for some very nice arrangements. At the intermission, we moved to the back row in order to make a "Denman Exit" to catch the ferry home.
On Saturday, we went on a 5 km walk through the woods to Bruce and LeeAndra's Rock Shop for brunch. Every year, they open their lapidary and jewellery shop with a weekend of brunch served al fresco. The weather was perfect for walking and eating out - clear and warm but not too hot. We had some delicious black bean burritos, and then Wendy bought some earrings and a bracelet.
We did some more hiking today, with a 15 km walk through the North Lands, the relatively undeveloped north end of Denman Island which is slated to become a provincial park soon, as part of a development land deal. The area was clearcut in the 1990s, but parts of it are starting to recover.
While the typical trees in Denman forests are made up of Douglas Fir and Red Cedar, the new growth in the North Lands includes a lot of pine trees. Right now, the male cones are ripe, and touching one releases a cloud of pollen. In the photo, Wendy is rubbing a cone, and you can see the cloud of pollen coming from the cone. Needless to say, we checked the wind direction before doing this demonstration, and were careful to stand upwind of the pollen cloud. We get quite enough pollen in our sinuses already!
Yesterday evening, while I was working on the computer, I noticed Owen the cat trotting into the living room from the outside cat door. In his mouth was a dark object. An object with a tail. I yelled, "Mouse!" and we sprang into action. While the little creature escaped from Owen's jaws and ran to hide under the chesterfield, we fetched our mouse-capturing equipment. Wendy wielded a long stick to encourage the mouse to run in my direction, while I held an empty margarine container inverted, ready to drop onto the critter when it emerged from hiding. Owen likes to bring in mice and other small creatures to play with, so we have had plenty of practice, and the capture was speedy and uneventful.
The "mouse" turned out to be a shrew. I released it outside, with a warning to stay away from the cats' enclosure in future. Owen, meanwhile, spent some time searching for his lost toy. Today, unfortunately, we found that the shrew had not heeded my warning. When we returned from our hike, we discovered his remains on the living room carpet. Owen usually doesn't kill his captured prey, but it must be pretty hard to carry a squirming critter unharmed in a mouth equipped with fangs.
The weather, while cool, damp, and too cloudy for humans, has been an ideal combination of sun, cloud and rain for vegetation. With our having been away on the long weekend, and busy in between times, the grass has grown amazingly. It was far too long to mow, so I had to scythe it, just to get it short enough for the lawnmower.
Though there has been much grumbling, we have had some sunny days, and the island looks beautiful. Everything is fresh and green, and lots of flowers are out, like the clematis and these water lillies. At least we don't have tornadoes, flooding or forest fires. (Knock on wood.)
The rhubarb is gorgeous - big, bright red stalks, and very tasty. Wendy harvested some and made a delicious rhubarb cake. The strawberries are standing up tall and blossomming en masse, so we should have fresh strawberries in a few weeks.
I have been out weeding the vegetable patch. The first weeding of the season is a challenge. You have to let the bed go long enough for the young veggies to be up and distinguishable from the weeds. On the other hand, if you don't remove the weeds quickly, they will soon choke out the veggies. And, of course, it has to be done by hand, since the weeds are all around the vegetables. I have the beans and carrots done. If the showers hold off, I'll do the greens today. Subsequent weedings will be a little easier as identification is less of a problem.
We were in Courtenay on Thursday for our regular bi-weekly shopping trip. I always carry my fire department pager with me, just so I know if there is a callout while we are away. Well, on Thursday, it went off for a structure fire, the most urgent of all the types of call we could get. After checking the time to see what ferry we could catch, we finished up the errands we were on, cancelled the rest, and hurried back to Denman. Unfortunately, the fire took off very fast, and there was nothing the firefighters could do to save the building. The homeowner and dog escaped unharmed. The cat is still unaccounted for. I arrived in time to help with the mop-up.
We ended up going back into Courtenay on Saturday to finish our errands.
The generally cloudy weather has been frustrating for getting to view the night sky. The last clear evening we have had was back in mid-April. I have been itching to work on my astrophotography technique. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Saturday evening turned unexpectedly clear. This time of year, seeing a dark sky requires staying up past my bedtime. I spent an hour or so getting all the equipment set up and aligned, then started taking the pictures. This photo is a combination of 18 one-minute exposures. I am quite pleased with the result. The subject is a globular cluster (of stars) known as M-13.
For the Victoria Day weekend, Wendy and I went on a cruise. No, we didn't go to Acapulco, nor the Mediterranean. Instead, we took an unusual trip on our favourite war surplus ship, the MV Uckuck III.
The Uchuck normally sails out of Gold River, transporting passengers and cargo around Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet on the outer coast of Vancouver Island. However, every May, it sails down to Victoria for a refit, and it takes passengers on the run each way. We had booked a passage on the return voyage from Victoria to Gold River.
Years ago, before roads were built to many of the outer coast ports, the Canadian Pacific steamer SS Princess Maquinna sailed this route once a week, and was the only means of access to those communities. Nowadays, while many people see parts of this coast from land, from the Juan de Fuca and West Coast trails, few people see all of it. Most of the coast can only be seen from the sea.
Our original plan was to take the train down to Victoria on Friday. However, the train is no longer running, due to an unsafe track, so our train ticket gave us seats on the Via Rail bus that is currently taking its place. (The whole train fiasco is a long and sad tale of government and industry neglect. The non-profit group that now owns the track has no funds to upgrade it, so we may have seen the last of rail service on Vancouver Island.)
Thanks to Google Earth, I had located a hotel that was within walking distance of both the "train" station and the Point Hope shipyard, where we were to meet the Uchuck on Saturday morning. It could not have been more convenient, and we were able to enjoy a meal at our favourite vegan restaurant on Friday evening.
On Saturday morning, we were up bright and early for the short walk to the shipyard and our 8 am departure. The Johnson Street bridge in Victoria is a landmark, known simply as the "big blue bridge". We got to see it operating for the first time, as it raised to let the Uchuck out of the Upper Harbour.
From Victoria to Port Renfrew, the sailing was scenic and uneventful. We watched cargo and cruise ships go by on the port side, and lighthouses, cottages and seaside mansions go by on the starboard. At Port Renfrew, the route leaves the confines of the Juan de Fuca Strait and enters the open Pacific Ocean. After having served an early lunch, the galley closed, with good reason. The swells increased in size until, by Cape Beale, they were about 15 feet in height. The photo shows lots of wave action, but doesn't really show the height of the swells. The Uchuck, travelling light with no significant cargo, rocked and rolled quite a bit. For some passengers, it lived up to its nickname, the "Upchuck". However, as soon as we rounded Cape Beale and entered Barclay Sound, the water calmed down, and it was dead calm when we entered Bamfield inlet shortly after.
The cruise included overnight accommodation for the 28 passengers at a couple of bed-and-breakfast places in Bamfield. Bamfield is situated on both sides of a small inlet off Barklay Sound. There is road access (from Port Alberni) to the east side of Bamfield, but none to the west side. There are some roads on the west side, but vehicles have to be barged over, and never leave once they are there. Instead, most traffic in West Bamfield is either on foot, along a boardwalk that serves as the "main street", or by boat.
On Sunday morning, we rejoined the Uchuck at the government dock, and sailed out across Barkley Sound, through the famous Broken Island Group. Between the Broken Islands and Ucluelet, we saw a whale, just 100 feet from the boat. Every time we have sailed on the Uchuck, we have seen at least one whale. Unfortunately, it is difficult to photograph whales. I could show you a photo of a ripple in the water with a cloud of steam above it, but it doesn't do justice to the reality.
Once we passed Ucluelet and were back on the outer coast, the sea was a lot calmer than it had been on Saturday, and everyone was able to enjoy the voyage. The swells were only six feet or so, but, as we rounded Estevan Point, we passed a reef where each swell would suddenly rear up into a giant breaker as it passed over the submerged rocks. One can easily imagine, in the days before GPS, how a vessel could have run aground in fog on this coast. All along the coast, we could see huge explosions of surf, some as tall as tall trees, as waves crashed into rocks on the shore. They are impossible to photograph, since they are not predictable.
Eventually, we passed the lighthouse at the entrance to Nootka Sound, and the remainder of the voyage was in the sheltered waters of the Muchalat Inlet, ending at the dock at Gold River.
After an overnight stop at a hotel in Gold River, the final part of the trip, getting the passengers back to their starting point at Victoria, was originally supposed to have been by bus to Courtenay and then by train to Victoria. However, with the demise of the train, the bus continued all the way through. We got off at Buckley Bay to catch the ferry home to Denman Island.
It was an excellent trip, seeing a part of the coast that few people ever get a chance to see. The total sea distance was 350 km (190 nautical miles), at an average speed of 11 knots (20 km/h).
Denman Diary will be delayed this week. We are busy enjoying the long weekend.
The weather this week has been a bit more seasonable than the last few weeks. It is still mostly cloudy and showery, though the total quantity of rain does not add up to much. It's not all gloomy. We had one nice sunny day this week, and were able to get out in the garden to do some work. Last night, the overnight low remained above 10°C for the first time, a magic number that makes plants thrive.
The garden is doing well. Last fall, we fed both the rhubarb and the asparagus with several buckets of seaweed, and then covered them with straw mulch for the winter. Both plants have suddenly woken up and responded well in the last week. The rhubarb is healthy and vigorous, and looks like it is plotting to take over the world.
I finished weeding and mulching the third bed of strawberries. Not a moment too soon, as they are starting to flower. We are frantically using up all the frozen berries from last year so that we will be ready for this year's harvest next month. There's nothing finer on a cold rainy spring day than a plate of strawberry shortcake!
Today, on our walk around the block, when we passed the General Store, we saw this safe standing on the porch. The owners had been renovating, and discovered it in a back room. They are taking sealed bids on the safe and its (as yet unknown) contents. Although they don't have the combination, they know who does. It will be opened on Friday. The results may or may not be interesting, but for now, it is a bit of mystery.
This week's major event was the biennial Home and Garden Tour. The tour is a fundraiser for the Denman Conservancy Association. Ten homeowners open their homes and/or gardens to the public for two days. For many years, it was held on the Fathers' Day weekend in June. The last couple of tours have been held on the Mothers' Day weekend in May, the thinking being that visitors would get to see a different phase of the garden's annual cycle.
Unfortunately, the weather this year has not cooperated for early season gardening. April was unseasonably cold, and everyone's garden is weeks behind schedule. Still, there were some gardens that had a profusion on tulips and other early spring flowers, along with others that had empty beds optimistically labelled with the dates that seeds were planted.
Wendy and I were busy on both days, volunteering at two different places. Being "staff" as opposed to "visitors", changes one's whole perspective, and I didn't take nearly as many photos as I ought to have. On Saturday, we spent a chilly morning at the end of a driveway, taking tickets at Dragonfly Knoll Studio. On Sunday morning, we were the outdoor and indoor hosts, respectively, at the Hermitage, the local Buddhist retreat centre.
The weather actually cooperated reasonably well with the tour. Where we were taking tickets at Dragonfly Knoll, we were exposed to a cool wind coming off the water. However, aside from one light shower, it stayed dry all weekend, and the sun even came out on Sunday.
I haven't heard any word on attendance, but there was a steady stream of visitors at both places.
At the Hermitage, visitors were interested in both the present operation as a retreat centre, and in the property's history. The main building, a pair of interconnected geodesic domes, was built in the early 1970s by two of the original co-founders of Greenpeace, Jim and Marie Bohlen, as their home. It is now the kitchen and dining room for retreatants. The domes are visible in the second photo, though partly obscured by trees. It is hard to get a good unobstructed view of them.
The Bohlens did some early research on low-impact lifestyles, and published (under the name "Greenpeace Experimental Farm") how-to guides on topics like running a tractor on bio-diesel fuel and building an innovative pentagonal dome-like cabin that makes the most efficient use of materials. The Hermitage organization intends to preserve as much of that historical legacy as possible, while continuing to develop the property into a year-round retreat centre.
A lot of the visitors were Denman residents, who had heard rumours of the Greenpeace domes for years, and had probably heard more recent rumours of Buddhist activities, but had never had an opportunity to actually see the place.
Aside from the two places where we were working, we did get a chance to see a couple of the other open houses on the tour. While the gardens were nice considering the weather, we found the houses more interesting. One was a house of straw-bale construction, which is being finished by the owners, one an expert finishing carpenter, and the other a mosaic artist. They apparently compete for wall space. Whichever one gets to a corner first determines whether it will be finished in wood or tile. The results are unconventional and gorgeous, with beautiful woodwork, cabinetry and tile work throughout the house. Taking interior photos, unfortunately, is not permitted.
After the tour was over, all the volunteers were invited to a close-out party, the reason that Denman Diary is late this week.
Today is election day. Regardless of who wins, it seems like a fulfillment of the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times!" We live in one of the many ridings that is too close to call. It will indeed be interesting. We will, of course, carry out our civic duty and head down the hill to vote this morning.
We fulfulled another civic duty and got our income tax returns sent off this week.
Though the weather remains unseasonably cool, the daffodils are putting on a good show. Now that we have a deer fence, we are planning to plant bulbs other than daffodils for next year.
Other plants are starting to wake up, too. The bigleaf maples have had their catkins out for a while, and the leaves are now starting to open. Even the grapevine, which typicially is one of the last plants to show green, has leaf buds, some of which are already starting to open.
In the garden, I have been concentrating on the strawberry beds, since they are our first significant crop. I have two of the three beds weeded and mulched. One more to go. The rhubarb is looking healthy. Some of the mixed greens I seeded a couple of weeks ago have germinated and are almost big enough to distinguish from the weeds.
On Saturday, Wendy and I drove down to Cowichan Bay. It is a nice little port town, off the highway and therefore not as touristy as it might be. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the True Grains bakery. They mill their own flour and bake all the bread on the premises. Some of the flour is made from locally-grown red fife wheat, part of the effort to increase local production of traditional foods. We had a couple of hazelnut-chocolate mini-loaves for lunch, and bought some regular loaves to bring home with us.
On the way back from Cowichan Bay, we stopped in at Ladysmith, where there was a Celtic Music Festival in progress. We sat in on a couple of workshops, but they were aimed more at musicians than at audiences. We didn't stay for the evening concert, as that would have presented logistical issues involving cat-sitting, ferries and accommodations.
So, with lots of time left in the day, we stopped into Nanaimo to look at electric bikes. For quite a while, I have thought that an electric vehicle would be perfect for Denman Island. Limited range and speed would not be problems, since you can't go anywhere far or fast on the island. Electric cars are prohibitively expensive, so an electric bike is a sensible alternative.
As you can see, I found one that I liked. I don't think much of the colour, but it was what was available. This is a regular 24-speed mountain bike with the electric conversion installed at the factory. It is an "electric assist" which means that you have to pedal to make it go. A strain gauge in the rear axle measures how hard you are pedalling and provides a proportionate assist from the electric motor. You can select 25%, 50%, 100% and 200% assist levels, all based on how hard you are pedalling. At 200% assist, you can run the battery down pretty quickly, but it does make riding up Denman's "big hill" possible without breaking a sweat. Going downhill, you can switch to a regenerative mode, which provides braking and recharges the battery at the same time.
Where the bike will prove most useful is running errands "downtown" on Denman. If I am working on a project and need some nails, I don't really want to take 45 minutes off from the work to walk down to the hardware store and back. I could ride my regular bike, but I don't necessarily want a strenuous athletic workout, which riding up the hill would be. So I usually end up taking the car, which doesn't have time to warm up and therefore wastes gas. An electric bike means I can get my nails and be back on the job quickly without getting worn out in the process, and without having to use the car.
On returning home from Nanaimo with the bike in the back of the car, we found Owen sitting by the front door with the doormat all scrunched up. We thought maybe he had been trying to open the door. As I bent down to straighten the mat, I noticed a cute little (emphasis on "little"!) garter snake hiding under the baseboard heater. Apparently, Owen, who occasionally brings in mice from outside to play with in the house, had found a new playmate. As far as Wendy, who suffers from ophidiophobia, was concerned, the world had come to an end. Fortunately, I saved the day by evicting the little fellow.
The weather this week continued cool, though it did warm up a bit yesterday. More daffodils have opened up, though many are still waiting for warmer weather.
Quite a few other flowers are starting to show up. There are little daisies and violets growing in lawns, and flowering trees, such as cherries, flowering plums and forsythia are in full bloom. We even saw a rhododendron that had flower buds starting to open. This flowering currant was down by the Arts Centre, in the heart of downtown Denman.
On one of our walks this week, we went to the Hermitage, our local Buddhist retreat centre. I wanted to do a bit of trail mapping, so that we can give retreatants an accurate map of the premises. The majority of the Hermitage property is mature forest, and one of the trails makes a big loop through it.
The centre has been gradually improving its facilities. One major addition this year is the renovation of a cabin to be used as accomodations for a resident teacher. A volunteer has spent the last couple of months completely insulating and remodeling the cabin, adding a bathroom with indoor plumbing, and a nice verandah. He has done a great job.
On today's walk, Wendy and I stopped in at the workshop of a local potter, to see the Anagama kiln in operation. This is a large, wood-burning, pottery-firing kiln that is built into the side of a hill. It is one of only four of its type in the world. It is fired once a year, and this weekend happened to be the time. All the local potters are invited to place works in it for firing.
Wood-fired pottery is very unique, because the colours and shading of the glazes are determined by the aerodynamics of the flames and smoke as they pass over and around each piece. Loading of the kiln is an art form in itself, because each piece affects the airflow onto the neighbouring pieces. Different pieces will be placed in different parts of the kiln, depending on what effect the artist is looking for.
The firing of the kiln lasts for several days, during which time the potters work in shifts to tend the fire around the clock. Many cords of wood are consumed. The area around the kiln becomes a bit of a campsite, with an outdoor kitchen and dining hall.
We haven't been doing anything quite so exotic. I have been weeding the strawberry beds in preparation for the berry season that (we hope) is only a month-and-a-half away. Wendy has been rehabilitating some of the overgrown corners in the garden.
This week, we have had a fair share of sunny days, but the weather has been getting colder instead of warmer. I heard one person complaining today that we are having February in April this year. It is a late spring anyway, and all the flowers are behind schedule. With seeds in the ground, we need to start getting warmer temperatures soon. We haven't had below-freezing air temperatures at our place, though it has been close a few nights, but there are regular ground frosts in the morning.
In the garden, the rhubarb is looking good. There is still no sign of the asparagus yet, but last week the person we got it from told us that it was too early to start worrying. We have very healthy kale that survived the winter. Kale is a perennial crop here. It is nearly impossible to get rid of, so people just let it grow wherever it wants to. We also have parsnips that overwintered successfully. I thought I had harvested all of it, but apparently I missed some. We will have to harvest it soon, because the root will get woody in its second year.
I started weeding the strawberry patch this week, getting it ready for what should be a June crop. This year, it might be more like July.
The daffodils are among the flowers that are late this spring. We do now have quite a few flowering, and a lot more that are just waiting for a few warm days to open. Last fall, I planted daffodil and crocus bulbs in a patch of lawn near the house. They got off to a slow start this spring, but every day, we see more of them popping up. The crocuses in that patch have started flowering, and there will be quite a few daffodils there too in a couple of weeks.
One flower that is doing well is the skunk cabbage, or swamp lantern, that grows wild in all the island's marshes. It seems to be a particularly good year for them. They smell kind of skunky, hence the name, but they are quite spectacular flowers.
There are several sheep farms on the island. On Friday, we went for a longer than normal walk, 17 km around the larger road loop, and passed this farm, where the sheep and a few newborn lambs were mowing the lawn. The lambs rate a 10/10 for cuteness.
This wasn't a very eventful week.
More of the daffodils and crocuses that I planted last fall are up. I planted them in an area of lawn that gets good spring sunshine. It will make for a nice display when they flower, but it means that I will have to postpone mowing for a month or so. By that time, I will likely need to use the scythe - already it ought to be mowed.
Aside from the ones that have just emerged, most of the daffodils have buds on them and just need a few days of sunshine to flower. A handful are already flowering. With the yard fenced against deer, we are looking forward to adding tulips for next spring.
My construction project this week was to nail shingles onto the toolshed ramp to provide traction in wet conditions. There are few things quite as slippery as wet wood.
Ever since we moved to Denman Isalnd, we've been wanting to get out hiking. It was one of our favourite activities in Alberta, and there is plenty of hikable terrain on Vancouver Island. With so much going on, we never quite got around to it until now. Finally, this week, we met up with the Comox District Mountaineering Club and went on one of their hikes. They allow guests to participate in one free hike before one commits to joining.
Considering that we haven't hiked in several years, we decided to try an easy hike. This one was advertised as a 16 km hike, but turned out to be more like 20 km. We were pleased to discover that were were still in reasonable shape for hiking. The destination was Supply Creek Canyon, near Comox Lake.
It was not exactly wilderness hiking. We started out with a walk along trails that passed by two BC Hydro dams. On the way up the ridge, we could hear shooting from a target range in the valley. And, after crossing a clearcut, we stopped for lunch and were passed by four mountain bikers and two motorcycles.
The weather was cloudy, with rain that alternated between moderate rain and light drizzle, but never quite stopped altogether.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant hike, and it felt great to be out on a trail again. Supply Creek Canyon, the destination, is a half-kilometre stretch of creek that is deeply cut into the surrounding rock. The trail parallels the creek near the base of rock cliffs that are covered with mosses and ferns. On a drier day, it would make a spectacular photo. I didn't really feel like soaking the camera, so I passed on taking that photo today.
The club seems like a good group, to judge by the people on this trip. The club's name suggest activities of a much more technical nature than we are interested in. While they do some mountaineering, they also have a broad selection of hiking trips to choose from, so we are going to sign up.
This week's photos are from the hike. My sole scenic shot of the day is this rather pretty arbutus tree that has almost been knocked down by another falling tree.
The second photo is of the remains of the #8 Colliery. Coal mining played a major role in the history of the Comox Valley, and there are abandoned coal mines scattered all over the area. The shaft of this mine has been sealed, but the ruins of this building, probably a power house, remain, slowly being reclaimed by the rain forest.
This week, I finished the ramp for the toolshed. It is surprising what a difference it makes to be able to get the lawn mower in and out easily. Not a moment too soon, because it looks like I might have to do some mowing this week.
Down in the garden, the rhubarb is coming up well. We fed it with a bunch of seaweed last fall, and it seems to be happy. Still no sign of the asparagus. It may not be happy. The garlic, however, is nearly a foot tall.
I rototilled the fall rye crop into the unused bed, and this afternoon, I was out planting seeds: beans and carrots. I would have planted some greens too, but there was a fire department callout and I had to drop what I was doing.
We have lots of daffodils all over the place. I planted quite a few new bulbs in the fall, most of which have come up, and there are lots from previous years that have divided. For a while it seemed like every time we looked there were more up. Most of them have buds, and they should put on a good show in a week or two. There are already daffodils flowering all over the island in sunny spots. Our yard is shady, but it won't take much sun to speed things up now.
Down on Pickles Marsh, the skunk cabbage is flowering, and the water lillies have started sending leaves up to the surface.
We noticed that the first salmonberries have started flowering. Since they are a favourite food of hummingbirds, they are usually a sign that the hummers are about to arrive.
Sure enough, we saw the first hummingbird of the season on our feeder about an hour ago. The arrival of the first hummingbird is so sudden that we are sure, both last year and this year, that we think we witnessed the actual moment of his arrival from migration. No photos yet. We thought we had better let him refuel in peace after the long trip.
Today, April 3rd, is the sixth anniversary of our arrival on Denman Island.
Already, we are noticing an advantage of having a deer-proof yard: our crocuses are doing much better this year.
Crocuses are supposedly deer-resistant, and to their credit, they have survived for several years. But the deer around here don't know that they are supposed to have a dislike for them. Actually, young deer don't seem to know much at all about what to eat. They learn as they grow up by sampling a bit of everything. They catch on pretty quickly that they don't like daffodils, though a few get nibbled in the process anyway. Crocuses get a bigger nibble before being rejected.
This year, with the fence being completed just as the crocuses were coming up, we have several nice displays, particularly of the purple ones. We are hoping that they do even better next year.
Another spring activity is collecting firewood from blowdowns. I had mentioned three weeks ago how I salvaged some wood from the side of the road. This week, a neighbour who had had several trees blown down over the winter generously gave us the wood from a couple of them. We now have quite a large pile of wood to be split. There is still one more big tree to fetch in, taken down by BC Hydro as part of their preventative maintenance.
My construction project this week has been building an entrance ramp for the toolshed. The toolshed started life as a sauna, attached by a deck to the cabin that is now our guest room. The cabin was moved several years ago and the deck demolished, but the former sauna remains as a home to our rakes, shovels and lawn mower. However, until now, it has been lacking a proper entrance, and the step up was rather large.
In order to improve accessibility and safety, and to make hauling the mower in and out a bit easier, I am building a deck with a ramp. The pace of construction is determined by the size of load that can be carried on the car roof. I got the framing completed, and started on the decking with some leftover deck boards from a previous project. On the next trip to town, I will get the remaining deck boards and handrails and finish the job.
It is time to get the garden in shape for the growing season. At last year's Seedy Saturday, we bought a package of mixed bean seeds that were intended to be used for propagation. Rather than growing them for food the first year, you grow them to produce a seed crop for the following year. We did that last year, harvested the plants, and hung them in the garage to dry over the winter.
Today, I shelled the pods and collected all the beans. They are a fine looking batch of beans. There are five types. I forget what type names the original packet listed, but we have red, white, yellow, black and pinto beans. The numbers are greatly increased from the original packet, of course. We will be able to plant a large crop of beans this year and probably have some left over either as seed for the following year or to eat.
On Saturday evening, we enjoyed another concert in the Concerts Denman series. On the program this time was the Marc Atkinson Trio, a jazz group based right next door on Hornby Island. Their style is guitar-based accoustic jazz, and they are a major talent in the field. They played a mixture of original and well-known tunes, all with timing so precise that it sounded like one person playing. It was an excellent concert, played to a full house.
We were honoured to billet one of the musicians, bassist Joey Smith. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a chance to visit with him. We picked him up after the concert, and had to get him to the ferry first thing in the morning, before breakfast. However, we did have ten minutes to chat in the morning - he is a delightful person.
We like being able to host visiting artists. It is a great opportunity to meet interesting people.
This week started off with some political intrigue. Technically, the fire department was a branch of the residents' association, under a contract with the regional district, though the association took no active part in running it. Over the last year, some folks thought it would be fun to have the residents' association take a more active role and actually run the fire department. It's a long story, and 'way too messy for this journal, but the long and the short of it was that, at this week's meeting of the association, I ended up speaking for a motion to separate the fire department from the association. The motion passed. It probably would have passed anyway, but I like to think that I helped it. The end result is that the department has avoided what could have been a hostile takeover.
With St. Patrick's day occurring this week, a local violin player asked me to play dulcimer along with his fiddle for the St. Patrick's day dinner at the Seniors' Hall. We rehearsed a few Irish tunes over the past couple of weeks. The photo is of one of our rehearsals. Wendy and I didn't actually attend the dinner, since there was nothing edible on the menu, and the other main activity, drinking, is not our style. (I was there, obviously, but not to eat or drink.) The music went over well.
The contractor finished our fence this weekend. The driveway gate was delivered earlier this week, and now it is hung in place. Finally, our clearing is deer-proof. We are planning to plant some more interesting vegetation now. We want to plant some more apple trees, a lilac bush and some flowers other than daffodils.
Having a gate on the driveway is a bit of a nuisance. We now have to stop the car, open the gate, drive through, close the gate, and then drive on. However, most of the time (except on fire callouts) the few seconds it takes don't matter.
The gate is the most unobtrusive one we could find that would do the job. Similarly, the fence, for the most part is just deer wire and is not particularly visible. In one area, though, we decided to have cedar boards along a stretch where the house was quite visible from the road. It is nice to have a bit of a privacy screen there.
Today, the weather was sunny, and we spent it out working in the garden. Our apple trees were overcrowded in the garden, and I had to remove two of them in order to allow more light to the remaining two. They are now firewood. We will be replacing them, but we won't be taking up valuable garden space with them. With the entire yard fenced, we can now plant them anywhere we want.
The remaining apple trees needed to be pruned. They probably should have been pruned last month, but the weather wasn't exactly conducive to gardening. I think I got them done in time: the buds haven't started opening yet.
Our garlic is doing well. The asparagus isn't up yet, but the rhubarb finally is. It will soon be time to dig in the winter rye cover crop in preparation for planting the rest of the veggies.
Wendy has got a hummingbird feeder ready to hang up outside. It's probably a bit early for them yet - we haven't seen any signs of salmonberries or currants flowering yet - but last year, the first hummers showed up in the last week of March.
It has been a stormy, rainy week. After a slow start to the year, our precipitation level is back up to normal. The last patches of snow are long gone and temperatures are moderate. I have once again filled the rainwater tanks. I am hoping that it is late enough in the season this time not to bring on another cold snap.
All the creeks and roadside ditches are running high. The photo shows a hiking trail flooded by the high water. Normally, this creek would be a trickle that is easily hopped over. At the moment, it is a raging torrent.
After last week's big blow, BC Hydro has been patrolling the island looking for unstable trees that were a threat to the power lines. Ever since the big storms in 2006, they have been quite pro-active in trying to prevent trees from coming down on the lines. Early this week, Wendy saw a Hydro truck slowly cruising down Pickles Road, stopping every so often. Later that day, we noticed blue paint splotches on some leaning and dead trees. The next day, an arborist crew was hard at work felling them.
One rather sizeable tree that was marked and taken down was on our property. We hadn't noticed it until we saw the blue paint mark on it, but it had definitely taken on a lean towards the road and the power lines in last week's storm. I didn't see them take it down, but they somehow managed to bring it down the opposite direction, where it is now awaiting harvesting for more firewood.
The fence around our yard is now complete, except for the driveway gate, which is on order. We have already noticed a decrease in the deer activity. We have seen three of our regular deer who always travel together hanging out outside the fence with puzzled looks on their faces. One large male has figured out that he can still get in the ungated driveway. He has been hanging around looking for handouts. Wendy has been working on retraining him by putting food outside the fence. Hopefully, he will catch on soon.
The fence is six and a half feet tall. In theory, a deer could leap over it if it was running for its life. In practice, it takes too much effort to make the leap just for food. We hope. Once the driveway gate is installed, we expect that the only deer in the yard will be due to lapses in gate etiquette rather than from cervine break-ins.
Our daffodils are making up for lost time. They seem to grow an inch a day. The cold snap (and some of the fence construction) seems to have killed off some of them, both old and new plantings. However, the ones that are up are looking good. There are also quite a few crocuses showing buds and even a couple of tulips that are above ground. Our climbing rose has leaf buds opening, with new growth on all the branches.
Other than that, it has been a slow week. I have spent the rainy days working on projects for the Conservancy and the Fire Department.
I have also been practicing up some dulcimer tunes for a St. Patrick's Day dinner this week. A small group of us are going to provide a musical interlude at the Seniors' Hall.
This week's big story was the wind storm on Wednesday. A strong low pressure system went barrelling up the coast staying west of Vancouver Island, but coming close enough to give us very strong winds.
The wind started picking up on Wednesday morning, while I was working. One of my co-workers had commented by email to me about the weather forecast, wondering if we had blown away yet. The forecast had been calling for winds of 100 gusting to 140 km/h. At that point, the wind wasn't too strong, but about half an hour later, suddenly the lights blinked and went out. I called my boss to book off work.
We spent the rest of Wednesday doing storm-related stuff: calling Hydro, making sure the generator was working, checking what circuits were affected, whether roads were open, going to the bakery to stock up on bread. There was a Hydro crew on the island for most of the day, but their priority is always to get Hornby Island up and running first. Because our part of Denman is on a different circuit from the one that feeds Hornby, we are low on the priority list for repairs. With the generator running, we had access to the Hydro website, and watched as our estimated repair time slipped to 8:00 pm, then 9:00 pm, and finally to 4:00 pm the next day. We turned off the generator to save gas, read by flashlight for a while, then went early to bed.
On Thursday, with the power-on time still predicted to be 4:00 pm, we made breakfast on the wood stove, then decided to go into town and do some shopping. We always have a few errands saved up that we never have time for on our regular shopping days, so an occasional 'extra' day in town is handy. By the time we came back on the 2:00 ferry, our power was back on.
Several trees had come down in the storm in various places on the island, some blocking roads, and some taking down power lines. One of the latter was a group of three large trees across the road from us on Pickles Road. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, I don't know if it makes a sound, but I do know that it makes good firewood. As soon as BC Hydro had the power lines safely reconnected, someone was out there with a chainsaw and a truck to harvest one of the three trees. I wasn't able to do so quite as quickly, since we were in town at the time, but the following day, I was out there with my chainsaw harvesting firewood from another tree of the same group. We now have quite a decent pile of wood ready to be split in the spring.
The weather has since cleared, and most of the snow from last week has finally melted. We have snowdrops flowering, crocuses about to flower, and buds on the daffodils. Downtown, there are violets flowering.
The weather this week has been unseasonably wintry. That may sound odd to those not living on the west coast, after all February is usually considered to be part of winter, but here, we expect crocuses to be flowering and daffodils and tulips to be growing in February. February is the month when we start planning the garden.
With overnight lows forecast to be around -9 several nights this past week, I took advantage of the last above-zero temperatures on Monday to drain about 500 gallons from the rainwater tanks, just enough to ensure that the overflow pipes were dry. I then drained the underground pipes which were never intended to be frost-proof. Luckily, we can expect to get more rain before summer, so replacing the water before gardening season shouldn't be a problem.
On Wednesday afternoon, it started snowing heavily, giving us an accumulation of about 20cm of fluffy Alberta-type snow. On Thursday, we went into Courtenay for our regular biweekly shopping trip. At that point, Pickles Road had not yet been plowed, so I had to keep the chains on the tires to get out to the main road. Once we were in the ferry lineup, I took them off. In town, they had had no snow at all.
In fact, we have noticed that snow tends to be very localized, even on Denman Island. We live at the top of the ridge, one of the highest points on the island, and we usually get more snow than anywhere else. Sometimes even walking downtown, a distance of less than a kilometer, will get us out of the snow belt just due to the change in elevation.
On Sunday, we attended a concert by the British Columbia Boys Choir. It is an English-style boys choir, meaning that it has sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, as opposed to a Viennese-style choir, which would have only sopranos and altos. They have 28 members. They have gone on international tours in the past, and were featured at the Vancouver Winter Olympics last year. Their music was mostly on the theme of cultural diversity, with a few classical pieces added, including an acceptable version of Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring and an arrangement of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. It was a short concert, with no intermission, because they had to catch a ferry back to the mainland, but it was very enjoyable.
Every Tuesday morning, Wendy walks to one of the local marshes to count trumpeter swans. It is part of a program throughout the Comox Valley to document their winter habits. It is a frustrating exercise, because in the last two years, there have been hardly any swans on Denman Island. Earlier this month, she saw one swan on her assigned marsh, which is one more than last year.
This week, she didn't see any swans, though she did see two ducks. However, she took the camera, and snapped a nice photo of the marsh.
It is just as well that she did, because the remainder of this week's photos are less of less pleasant weather. Arctic air from across the water in Canada has invaded our island. On Friday morning, we woke up find that heavy snow had started to fall, and was accumulating rapidly. I was just able to move the car up to the top of the driveway before it became impassable.
Temperatures so far have only dropped a couple of degrees below freezing, so the rainwater plumbing should have survived. I drained the above-ground pipes after I topped up the tanks last week, and the tanks themselves won't have frozen enough to do damage. However, they are forecasting temperatures down to -9 later this week, so I will have to dump the water I collected last week. That is cold enough to cause problems. Luckily tonight's forecase low is above zero, so I should be able to operate the valves tomorrow.
My main activity this week has been preparing for and attending the Fire Service Instructor's course. It was held at the Comox Fire Department's training facility, and ran from Friday evening to this afternoon. It was a busy course which required a lot of preparation. It was very hands-on, and aimed at teaching us how to teach the kinds of skills required in a fire department environment. The instructors are excellent, and it was a well-run course. Two of us from Denman Island attended, along with firefighters from various departments from Nanaimo to Campbell River.
Friday's weather was a concern for getting to and from the course, with temperatures dropping and snow falling through most of the day. We were worried about whether, driving on bad roads, we would be able to make the last ferry home after the Friday evening session. We decided to be prudent and take a toothbrush, a change of clothes, and everything we would need on Saturday, just in case we weren't able to make it back, and I got authorization from the Chief to charge overnight accommodation to the Department.
However, by the time Friday evening's class ended, the snow had stopped, and roads weren't too bad. We made it to the ferry in time.
Well, spring must be officially here, because the snowdrops are up. Actually, various bulbs, mostly daffodils, have been up for a while, but the snowdrops are flowering. These ones are down in the garden, which is quite a sheltered spot. The daffodils in other areas of our yard are still asleep, which is a bit late for them. Usually, they would at least be above ground by now.
Chances are that we are past the season of severe cold (lows below -5°C) for this winter, so I have started topping up the water tanks for the garden. I have transferred water from the upper tanks to the lower tank at the back of the garden and set the collection valves to start catching rain again. A day or two of steady rain should top them up. If we do get another cold snap, I can always dump a couple of hundred gallons again to protect the plumbing from freezing.
The reason for being keen to collect water is that this year is starting to look like a re-run of 2008, which was tied for the driest year in recent history. The La Niña pattern this winter looks very similar to the one in 2008, and the precipitation pattern is likewise very similar. In that year, the rainy season ended in mid-January, and rain was nearly nonexistent from then until the fall. The rainfall pattern so far this year has repeated that, and we are considerably below normal for the year already. Let's hope the pattern changes before summer.
We are having a deer fence put up around the cleared area of the yard. Fences are uncommon here - the normal thing is to have the vegetable garden fenced and leave the rest unfenced. However, the deer eat anything and everything, even plants that are advertised as being deer-resistant. The problem is that the deer have no genetic knowledge of what to eat, and are not taught well by their mothers. The result is that each young deer has to learn for itself what tastes good and what doesn't. It does this by sampling everything, even the deer-resistant varieties.
We want to grow more than just vegetables. Maybe some lilac bushes; some rhododendrons; certainly some more apple trees. Rather than having to place an ugly cage around each individual plant, it made more sense to fence the yard. It means having a gate at the end of the driveway that we will have to remember to close, but it will be worth it to be able to grow stuff.
It's a big job, and rather than trying to do it all myself, we have hired a local contractor to do the work.
Right now, I am keeping busy with preparation for a course that the Fire Department is sending me on next weekend. They are training me to be a Qualified Fire Service Instructor. I'll almost be a "QFI" once again! (In the Air Force, my job title was "Qualified Flying Instructor" - QFI). I did a similar course back in those days, but it's been a while so a refresher is a good idea. To prepare for the course, I have to write lesson plans - almost as exciting as watching grass grow.
Well, unfortunately, we weren't able to keep Caine the doberman. It wasn't his fault. He was a sweet dog. His old injuries weren't causing problems, other than poor vision.
However, the cats couldn't adapt to his being there. The few times they ventured out of the basement, he chased them. He was only curious - probably just wanted to sniff their butts - but they couldn't get over being chased. They spent all their time cowering in the basement, eyes wide with stress. Perhaps, in time, they could have adapted - or perhaps not. We had to decide quickly, because it wouldn't be fair to the dog to let him bond to us and then not keep him.
So, we took him back to the rescue organization. They weren't too pleased about that; apparently, they considered a cat hiding for weeks to be normal. Well, normal or not, we just couldn't do that to our kitties. Owen loves to sit on Wendy's lap. Not being able to do so for ten days was tragic.
So, we have accepted that, as long as the cats are still with us, we can't have a dog. The cats are a lot happier.
This week's other major event was the annual World Community Film Festival, held in Courtenay. The festival consists entirely of documentaries, and runs all day in four different venues. It is physically impossible to see all the films, so we had to make some difficult choices. We ended up watching films about the history of civil rights struggle in the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s told through songs; the hate-crime death of a gay Native American teenager; the lives of four wormking women in Africa; an untimately successful non-violent protest against the the Israeli wall in Palestine; and the cultural imperialism of modern education in developing countries.
In the garden, we have daffodils coming up. I harvested the last of last year's carrots and parsnips.
Yesterday, Denman Island had its first ever "Seedy Saturday" in the back hall of the Community Centre. The idea is to encourage local self-sufficiency, organic growing and preservation of heritage seed varieties by offering an occasion to swap home-grown seeds. There have been several seed-saving workshops in the last couple of years, and quite a few people now save their own seeds. Since seed-saving usually results in far more seeds than one needs, a seed-swap makes a lot of sense.
In addition to the swap table, where one could pick up any packages of seed that one wanted in exchange for an equal number of one's own seed packages, there were tables from regional organic seed vendors who specialize in heritage varieties. We picked up quite a few different vegetable seeds.
This morning, I joined some other members of the Conservancy board in hiking around Morisson Marsh, a mile-long marsh at the south end of Denman Island. The property is owned by the Islands trust Fund, and managed by the Denman Conservancy Association. We investigated a couple of areas where it might be possible to create new trails to scenic spots on the shore of the marsh. Morrison Marsh is one of the major bodies of water on the island, and is home to a lot of waterfowl. In addition to various ducks, we saw eight trumpeter swans and at least two pairs of bald eagles.
Wendy and I went beachcombing today. We were looking for pieces of driftwood to complete the handrail around our basement stairs. We already have a few pieces in the railing, enough to make it minimally safe, but it needs a few more to fill in the gaps, and to replace a couple that are broken. We found enough interesting-looking pieces to fill the back of the car, with a few more strapped on top, so I should have a good variety to work with.
Naturally, I have to include a photo of Caine. Unfortunately, he is turning out to be a handfull on walks, and the cats are still cowering in the basement, so we are not sure how that is going to work out.
The big event this week is a new addition to our family. Caine is a male doberman, about 5-7 years old.
Wendy has always been crazy about dobermans. She has had three of them in the past, the most recent being Reba, whom we had in Calgary. She frequently cruises dog rescue websites looking for pictures of dogs and searching for a doberman in need of a home.
A couple of weeks ago, she came across a writeup on a dog rescue website of a doberman who had been brought into the pound in Victoria, injured and emaciated. He was transferred to the rescue organization, which saw to his recovery and put him up for adoption. We actually just missed getting him (initially) because he has just been adopted. However, his new family changed their minds and returned him to the rescue organization, and we were able to adopt him after all.
There was, of course, a lot of back-and-forth by email and telephone. We had to find out all about him, his personality and medical history, and the rescue people had to check us out. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with a local doberman breeder (We have gone for visits when Wendy needed a dobie fix.) who was able to vouch for us. We drove down to Victoria on Friday afternoon, and brought him back yesterday.
Because he was a stray that came from the pound, we do not have a history of him. The vet estimated that he was 5 - 7 years old, probably closer to 5. His injuries have healed well, and he has no outstanding health issues. Naturally, we will be taking him to our vet for a full checkup soon. We think that he was at one time in a good home. He is well socialized and knows some basic obedience commands. Of course, we do not know his original name, and he is still learning his new name.
We took him out for a walk today for the first time. He is quite fit, and had no difficulty walking the 8.5 km loop "around the block". He is a real treat to walk, after Reba. Reba always used to rip my arm out of its socket when she pulled on the leash - she'd accelerate for 25 feet to the full extent of the flexi-leash and hit the end of the line at full speed. Caine likes to be out in front, but he doesn't pull hard at all. Wendy had no trouble hanging on to him on our walk. She was never able to walk Reba at all.
When I had his leash, I tried giving him a "heel" command when a car came by. I was pleasantly surprised when he immediately dropped back and walked by my side. It wouldn't have won any style points in an obedience contest, but he clearly knew the command and what to do.
Caine knows that there are cats in the house and would like to meet them. Unfortunately, the first time he saw one, he ran barking at it, which didn't make a good impression on them. They spent most of today in the basement. They are understandably cautious with a big black monster in the house, but they are also curious. We know that he gets along fine with cats, because the foster home had a cat that he ignored. We suspect that things will settle down in a few days. We have a gate across the top of the basement stairs, elevated so that the cats can get underneath, but Caine can't get past.
I spent my spare time this week preparing for Caine's arrival. I had to pick up fencing supplies in town and fence in part of the yard so that we can let him outside without his chasing deer. Eventually, we want to fence most of the clearing, both to keep the deer out so that we can grow more, and to allow Caine more freedom to run.
One consequence of all the canine excitement this week was that we missed the official launch of Denman Island as a Transition Community. The Transition movement is aimed at making communities more resilient in facing the coming challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change.
The theme of this week was snow. It started snowing on Tuesday night, but it was light and the flakes were dry. The weather must have been trying to lull us into a false sense of security. On Wednesday morning, we woke up to a foot of fresh, heavy, wet snow. I had prudently left the car parked out by the road, but it didn't matter, because the road was impassable.
One wouldn't think that someone who worked over the Internet would need to take a "snow day", but the power was out as well. Technically, I could work by generator power, but I don't really like to run the generator all day. On generator power, I logged in to work long enough to ask for the day off.
Breakfast was made on the wood stove. Wendy had prudently soaked our porridge overnight on the expectation of having no power for the microwave in the morning. Good planning! Making toast with the wood stove is actually faster than with the toaster.
After breakfast, I walked to the firehall to put chains on the fire trucks. The main road had been plowed, and, with the temperature above freezing, was bare and wet. However, with the side roads and most people's driveways impassable, we still needed the chains on the trucks. The power was restored by early afternoon.
Since then, the snow has melted fairly quickly, helped by warm temperatures and rain. Not quite quickly enough, though. On Thursday evening, returning home after fire practice, I tried taking the car down the driveway. It went down all right, but when I tried to come back up the other side, the wheels just spun on the slush. As soon as the wheels started spinning, I just knew we would get a fire department callout that night. Sure enough, my pager went off at 1:00 in the morning for a chimney fire call. I had to hike out to the main road by flashlight and flag down another firefighter heading towards the hall.
This week, we have noticed pileated woodpeckers very actively hollowing out trees. We presume that they are making nesting cavities, because they are too big to be their normal feeding holes.
Today, we stopped in at the Art Centre to see an exhibition of fabric art by Comox Valley grandmothers affiliated with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The exhibition is a fundraiser for the effort to support grandmothers in Africa who are the sole support for their grandchildren who are orphaned by HIV. The art works look like paintings, but each one is made of fabric, and is more like a quilt than a painting. Most of them told stories, and in some cases, several works together told an extended story. It was quite a unique exhibition. It is on tour right now, but the art works will be auctioned off in Victoria later this year.
It has been a while since I showed a cat picture, so it is time to make up for that omission. Here is Liesl, looking cute as always.
The weather has been a mixed bag this week. It rained a bit on Wednesday and Thursday, another Pineapple Express, though the total rainfall was nothing like the last one. Since then, the temperature has dropped and the sky has turned sunny.
Pickles Marsh is frozen again, but looked quite pretty this morning, with a sprinkling of snow grains on top of the ice. In spite of the cold temperatures - it only got a couple of degrees above freezing today - the regular Sunday soccer game had a full complement of players, all dressed in shorts. A typical January day on Denman Island!
Our big event was driving down to Mill Bay to pick up a telescope that I had ordered. They would have shipped it at reasonable cost, but it was an excuse to go for a drive down to our favourite bakery, which has branches in Cowichan Bay and Mill Bay.
The telescope arrived home with no ptoblems. Normally, there is a curse on new telescopes - the number of days of cloudy skies is based on the size of the telescope. I should have expected 8 evenings of cloud, but I beat the curse and was actually able to use it last night. It is a fantastic improvement over my old one! I may post photos from time to time.
The side trip to the bakery didn't go so well. Both the Mill Bay and the Cowichan Bay branches were closed. So instead of freshly-baked chocolate-chip buns for lunch, we had to settle for veggie burgers at White Spot in Duncan.
On the same trip, we stopped at The Bay in Nanaimo to get a new microwave. It was a terrific deal, but when we got it home, it turned out to be a lemon. Instead of cooking, it just flashed an error code. Looking up the code in the manual, it said, in effect, "You've got a lemon. Take it back." So, yesterday, we made another trip to Nanaimo to return it. To add insult to injury, appliances went on sale the day after we'd bought it, and they were completely sold out of that model. I guess we'll get one in Courtenay.
At least one errand of the three was successful.
One of our regular deer is a male that was born two years ago. We fed him and a couple of other fawns of that year through a long cold snap in which the snow didn't melt for weeks. As a result all three are not at all afraid of us. Of the three, the other male has defective antlers that I showed a couple of weeks ago. However, this fellow has a beautiful set of antlers. He has grown into a big, massive fellow.
Happy New Year!
The rain finally stopped this week. Luckily, it wasn't replaced by snow, but we did get some clear, cold weather in its place. Temperatures have been in the low positive single digits in the daytime, and in the negative single digits at night. The frost has dried up all the mud from the previous week, making walking easier and less messy.
When the weather is frosty, I usually cover the car windshield at night. In the event that I have a fire department callout in the middle of the night, I don't want to have to spend time scraping it.
The cool temperatures have limited outdoor work. As soon as the ground thaws, though, it will be time to start getting the garden prepared for the new growing season.
The frosty weather has also meant clear skies at night. The clear moonless nights have been excellent for enjoying the night sky, so I took some pictures of Orion. This is the Orion Nebula through a 200 mm zoom lens. (The exposure was 2 minutes at f/4.5, ISO 800)
Last night, we were invited to a pot-luck dinner that was actually a working meeting. Once a month, Wendy helps to collate the monthly newspaper. A group of volunteers gets together and assembles the individual pages, fresh from the printer, into the completed newspaper. It being New Year, the monthly collating was made into a pot-luck dinner, and spouses were invited. We spent an hour or so doing the collating and then sat down to some serious eating. At the end of the evening, the assembled papers were dropped off at the post office to be delivered today.
Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Walker
Last modified: 27-Dec-2015