Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The bird's Christmas tree: a family tradition

The popcorn garlands, the little hanging cups of fat and seeds, and the candles are ready and so the crowd of grandchildren set off down the path to the top field and its tight rows of Christmas trees to decorate the chosen one for the birds.

Later, in the cool darkness that comes so early at this time of year all the adults and children will gather round, light the candles and sing mostly Christmas carols, but also the Johnnie Appleseed grace*. We have been doing this since our now adult children were small. There is something very special about gathering around the lighted tree surrounded by forest and raising our voices together. In truth it is about us, about unity in performing this created ritual, and we do not seek to make a religion here, but the thought that we are renewing a most basic contract with the natural world that surrounds us is important.

It is easy to forget our complete reliance on nature, the very air we breath, and for us to take time to first make food and light, and then to present it in the little clearing in the big woods to the beings of the air feels just right.

*Oh, the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need
The sun, and the rain, and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.

The Lord is good to me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter sunshine on Beaver Point

The point of land called Beaver Point is streaming with runoff water after weeks of rainfall. It oozes under the tall dead stalks of grasses, out of forest depths, across the bare rocks and tumbles into the sea. Home at last!

The clear light of rare winter sunlight races across the landscape between cloud shadows and lights up headlands, distant islands, ferries and the fresh-snow covered mainland mountains. I have a very limited time before the heavy overcast returns and so, camera in hand, I am out to walk the border of sea and land.

I am free and alone today, there is no need to make conversation or keep up with others. I can experience that unique sense of being within my creative mind and yet tuned in to the landscape. What does the land have to say? Where can I blend my creative perception with the reality of this mass of rock pointing out to sea? Because a photograph gives a rendition of 'reality' and yet the arts have traditionally thought of imagery as 'symbolic', I naturally look for aspects of the world that seem to represent the inner core of reality. - those subjects that pull me in.

The big reality is ocean, sky and rock and so that underlies much of what speaks to me today, but it is the living things that fight to find a hold in the thin soil and fissured rock that are closer to my own living self. I am drawn to their struggle, their persistence. I feel along with them the cold north wind when on exposed Beaver Point and later the sun's warmth along the more sheltered south facing shoreline that allows the stunted Garry oaks to form buds and fresh green leaves in mid December.

I worked here for many years as a Park Ranger so in thirty years or so I can see changes, in the vegetation - bigger trees, fallen trees, more or less grasses - , but the rocky shores and the glacial erratics that lie scattered upon it, are so much slower to change and my observation is not that acute. That stunted apple tree beside the shore though, was young and full of life when I first came here but now it lies stretched out beside its rotten stump. I feel for it but it is really myself I grieve for. The point itself is changing slowly and will slip beneath the waves over geological time, but it is the species that cling to life upon it - seedlings, saplings, vigorous forest and fern and moss; leading to decay, drooped branches, death - that I can notice and relate to. And while the growing landscape's individuals go through their life cycle the forest and it's associated flora and fauna survives, adapts and changes.

A millennium from now a forest of some sort will still cling to these thin soiled, glacier scraped, sandstone rocks. And you know, that is very affirming - we will live on.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

On the Pacific Flyway. That means birds, birds, birds.

  • Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophesy, and religion - all in one. John Ruskin.

A cool damp day in Fulford Harbour

Just about every bay around our island is full of migrating waterfowl these days, ducking and diving, building up their reserves for the next leg south. Except of course for many this is their final winter holiday destination. Most of the time the coast is mild and gentle but when the south-easters roll through they must duck for shelter.

From that safe place behind my lens I can find an endless parade of images, snipped from the lives of ducks, geese and swans. Fascinating! But to get a good photograph it is important to endeavor to understand, to feel in my bones and flesh the cold salt water, the ruffling of feathers in the cool wind, to hear as they do the lap of waves on the shore.

Like all those instructors have said over and over in so many ways, “You must be aware”, you have to see. That is the challenge whether with a camera or not. And not just with ducks.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Good to the last drop?

El Nino is visiting us this year with a steady diet of wind and rain. Our irrigation pond filled up what seems a long time ago now and the rebuilding that I did on it this past Fall is holding well. By raising the low side of the pond by a foot I can capture a lot more water before next year's dry season, and the gate I created at the exit to raise the water level to the new brim next Spring is now spilling beautifully. No more winter flows across the lawn!

The rain comes down in heavy bursts accompanied by gales every second day. It reminds me of the description of cyclones and of course these systems are cyclonic in weather terminology. What we experience on the ground is the roar of wind in trees, the occasional thump of falling trees and branches, the rumble of the stream as it leaps down the hill and the pelting rain on our metal roof. I love this time of year!
This is not good for all of course, falling trees down powerlines and thousands are without electricity, basements are flooded and driving is hazardous. I was reminded yesterday as I cleaned the debris from the pond spillway that others find this weather challenging and probably not exhilarating at all - a dead robin was part of the blockage. While waterfowl can fly to the lee side of the island for shelter, the birds of the countryside are stuck where they are amid rain and thrashing branches.

But we are glad for the rain after the long summer drought. We know it is pouring down the many cracks in our rocky landscape and filling up the water-table, seeping down to the roots of even the largest trees, soaking our garden and orchard. We will be glad for every drop during next summer's long, hot, dry season.