Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Homestead Sleuthing!

Ok, can you find the clues that reveal this late April scene to be the location of a pioneer homestead?  Some years ago, my friend who owns this property, just as a bush lot, was lamenting that he had never found the site of any pioneer home on the 50 acres.  I looked across the field, spotted a cluster of unique trees, and said "How about over there?"  And I was right!

You can't see all the clues in this photo, but you can see two of them, the shrubs on the left and the taller trees on the right.

The first clue that there may have been a homestead nearby, was this old stone fencerow.

It's one of the most remarkable stone fencerows I've seen here, because it isn't constructed of smaller rocks or boulders piled up, it's just a line of enormous boulders!  I can't even fathom how they moved these with just horses and pioneer ingenuity.

And here's the clump of shrubs.  Do you recognize them by their growth form, or the remnant seed cases against the sky?  I'm sure most of you have seen these, or even have them in your yard.

They're Lilacs, here with large swollen buds ready to burst into purple flower.  I'm sure they're a very old variety, and have just slowly spread from some small original plantings.

And here's the other most obvious ornamental plant - Day Lilies!  Just the common orange 'Ditch Lilies', but 150 years ago that was probably all the pioneers had.

Finally, the trees, though I can't blame you for not recognizing these at this time of year.  They're Silver Poplar, or European White Poplar, with leaves that are actually white underneath, and maple-leaf shaped.  Theyre  another popular plant found around pioneer homesteads.  I'll get a picture later in the season for you.

And crawling around in the underbrush under those trees, what did we find but a small pile of rocks that I expect was once the corner foundation of a log cabin.

Half-buried in the dirt, I found a red brick when I walked here Monday.

So this is a little flat patch, right in front of a stream, where I believe a small log cabin was built by the pioneers who homesteaded here, and planted a few Lilacs, Day Lilies and Silver Poplar to bring civilization to the wilderness that was then southern Ontario.  Those plants were undoubtedly precious to people who probably travelled from Britain to make a new life!

At this time of year, there's even a little stream that is dropping down into a karst depression, and disappearing down a sinkhole.  Hope you enjoyed our sleuthing expedition!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Early Wildflowers

The first group of early spring wildflowers are in bloom, and I saw several yesterday and today.  The peak of the wildflower season here is Mother's Day, but the blooming period for spring ephemerals is spread out over about 3 weeks; this is the beginning.

One of the most prolific, at least in terms of the leaves covering the forest floor, is the Trout Lily or Dog-tooth Violet.  Only a few leaves seem to produce a flower, but it's a pretty one.

I saw my first Bloodroot here today as well, the leaf still clasped around the stem like a sheath (here partly hidden by a Trout Lily leaf).  That leaf will unfold and be quite large and shaped sort of like a hand later on.

The Sharp-lobed Hepatica, which I think of as one of the earliest spring wildflowers, is still in bloom.  Now you can see it's leaves, which come in threes, beginning to unfold, for example in the lower left.

To put it in context a bit, here's the Hepatica on the forest floor, beside the root of a big Sugar Maple.  That's the leaf of a Trillium in the background, but no Trilliums in bloom yet!

Another context shot - this flower was growing in a clump of bright green leaves on the side of a big mossy boulder.

A close look reveals the flower of Dutchman's Breeches, with its soft green, delicately lacy leaves.

Here's another view of the Blue Cohosh I posted yesterday, showing the flowers (on the left) from the back.  There were so many of these across the forest floor I had to watch where I stepped.  And they're hard to pick out from eye height, against the old leaves and twigs.

And of course there were a few Coltsfoot in the woods, though they're nearly finished now.  And they're more common in the open, for example along roadside ditches.

This isn't a flowre, but it's the bright green leaves of the Wild Leek; they come up to take advantage of this ephemeral sunlight before the canopy closes, and then the leaves die away.  But later in the season, a small spike of flowers will rise from the roots.

Spotted a few of these dried puffballs from last year, still clinging to mossy logs, but long since emptied of spores.

And here's a neat little forest butterfly, the bright blue Spring Azure.  Unfortunately the blue only shows when it's fluttering past, and its wings close when it alights.  Can you spot it?  (Centre right).

Here's a closer view.  One of our prettiest small butterflies when it's flying, but impossible to see when it lands, unless your eyes have followed it to its landing spot!

And can anyone help with these leaves?  I've seen these every year, usually in patches of 3-4 feet across, but I've never seen a flower, and never been able to identify it.  I'm wondering if it's a Wood Anemone, and I miss the flower because it's in the middle of mosquito season!

These are mostly from yesterday's walk, but today's walk was with our Photo Group, to Bognor Marsh closer to Owen Sound.  A cool but sunny morning, with lots of Tree Swallows buzzing overhead.  I'll get around to those pictures eventually!


Monday, May 2, 2016

The Woods in May

Went for a long walk through the woods today, and found summer has started - the woods are turning green.  It's just the forest floor so far, but the canopy won't be far behind.  It was just a glorious day for going exploring.

If you look closely almost all this green is leaves of the Dog-tooth Violet or Trout Lily.  It's a carpet from one end of the woods to the other.

I find there's just something magical about being in the woods in May, and I'll be trying to get out there every day.  Today I was alone, one hiking buddy recovering from a cold, and the other gone off on a holiday!  I decided to hike a property on the east side of the valley, above the cliffs, that is actually owned by a friend.  There was a big rockfall down the cliff here that I wanted to try and find.

I spent most of my time in the woods rather than the old fields, and there were lots of trees to see.  This was one of the tallest and straightest!

Wildflowers were popping out of the ground, and a few were already blooming.  This is the ghostly purple Blue Cohosh, one of my favourites, because it's such an unusual colour when it emerges, and it grows so fast, an inch or two a day.  The tiny flower is very inconspicuous.

Lots of moss on the fallen logs and boulders too.  Another group of plants I'd like to learn to identify. 

And some of the understory was coming into leaf, like this Elderberry shining in the sun.

I managed to get all the way through to the cliff, where I got a spectacular view over the valley, and watched the Turkey Vultures soar, both above and below me.  And I did find that rockfall.

There were a few other critters in the woods, though I heard more than I saw, let alone got pictures of.  This is a White-breasted Nuthatch the way you actually see them in the distance on a tree trunk.

A few White Birch trees too.  Nothing to beat a bright white birch against a deep blue sky.

I'll be going back to get a lot more pictures this month, my favourite month of the year, starting with the wildflowers.  The light in this picture illustrates perfectly the 2-3 short weeks when the 'spring ephemerals' bloom.  It's that period when it has warmed up enough, but the leaves haven't come out on the trees yet, so the forest floor gets lots of sunlight.  This is when most of our native woodland wildflowers bloom.

I took so many pictures today I have enough posts for a week, just from this location.  But I'll be out every other sunny day this week, so I have no idea how I'm going to share them all with you.  But I'll try.  Tomorrow - the early wildflowers I found.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lichens, Leaves and Lilacs

Well, it's a motley collection of photos tonight, on this rainy, cold foggy evening!  But I do think I came up with a good title.  Spotted some bright orange lichens on a walk recently, the first leaves have started emerging here, and I wanted to share our Lilacs, since so many other bloggers have posted pictures of theirs.

Most of the lichens around here are of the gray green variety, but every now and then I spot this bright orange one.  Lichens are notoriously difficult to identify, but I find that most places I check online, this would be identified as part of the Xanthoria genus, and probably called a Sunburst Lichen.  But if there's one of those rare lichen experts in the crowd, please help!  In any case, it's very pretty.

I was hunting around a reforested area nearby, looking for any evidence of an old barn foundation.  I was unsuccessful, but I did find some interesting rocks.  Only three of them had this orange lichen on them like this big boulder.

It makes me wonder if there's something different in the composition of these three rocks, or if it's just chance that the plant gets started and spreads on them.

I also noticed yesterday that the first leaves are starting to unfold here - only about half an inch long, but looking vibrant in the morning sun.  I look for the reddish leaves of these little trees every year to mark the start of the tree leaves unfolding.

These are Pin Cherry leaves, on a weedy little tree that never grows very big, but provides some bright white flowers later on, and some berries for the birds, or for people who would take the trouble to make pin cherry jelly.

And finally, I thought I should share this picture of our Lilacs starting to show some signs of life.  I'm sure I've seen 8 or 10 pictures of Lilacs (in bloom!!) on other blogs, but of course those blogs are all from Texas or someplace equally south, or from the west coast.  Our climate is a little different, but they've started, and by sometime in June we'll probably have caught up!

Today was May 1st, or May Day, or to those of Scottish or Irish origin, Beltane (that's the anglicized spelling).  It is a festival representing the beginning of summer, and I certainly think of it that way.  By May 1st the leaves here are just starting to unfold; by the summer solstice on June 21st they will be at their peak, and by Lammas Day in August, the harvest will be underway, and the first few leaves will be fading.  If you mark these 4 mid-points of the seasons (including Samhain, which corresponds with Halloween) as well as the two equinoxes and two solstices, you end up with 8 seasons which is about right to me!  I'll have to write something about the 8 seasons someday.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Seeking Adventures!

It was Earth Day here on Thursday, and I went to the Earth Day Film Festival to support the local Conservation Foundation.  The featured film was the story of four young people hiking the John Muir Trail in California.  Running 215 miles through the Sierra Nevadas in California, it has been described as the 'premier hiking trail in the United States'.

What it made me think of is the importance of seeking those outdoor adventures and challenges in your life.

These pictures are just from our little paddling adventure nearly two weeks ago, when I floated down the Bighead River with a group who've been doing this for years.

I was a guest and didn't know many of the group, so I was content to stay near the back and let the others lead the way, especially when we came to the short rapids.

I took my little canoe, which you sit in like a kayak, and paddle with a kayak paddle - you can see the tip of my paddle here.

It's not a very exciting river, and a pretty easy paddle, but it was certainly fun, and as it was new to me, it was an adventure, since I didn't know what would appear around each bend.

I had never really taken this small canoe through any rapids to speak of, so I was really glad to find I had no trouble with the 5 or 6 rapids we encountered - all just straight class 1 swifts, but never-the-less exciting!

The film portrayed the hike in the Sierras as quite a serious adventure!  It was 25 days of steady walking, up and down some pretty long and steep slopes, including some that were above the snowpack.  An adventure they'll remember the rest of their lives!

It was those sorts of adventures that came to mind while watching it.  I simply felt grateful that we have taken the plunge and had some good adventures, and faced some challenges, in our own lives. Our son William's death last year fighing a forest fire undoubtedly makes this more poignant for me, but I know I'll be able to get to the end of life and be secretly pleased that we haven't held back.  And there are plenty of adventures yet to come; we have more time now.

There were the cross-country camping trips when our children were young.  I think we saw at least 18 national parks from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as well as the Yukon and Alaska.  I phoned up a friend and asked if I could join him when I was about to turn 50, and there followed 9 major canoe trips on northern rivers, as far away as the Arctic.  Mrs. F.G. and I have travelled in Europe several times, and next year we're planning to revisit at least 10 Canadian National Parks again for our country's 150th Anniversary.  Even my own local intention to finish hiking the Bruce Trail here in the Beaver Valley this summer is a significant challenge for this summer.

So I came away from the film both glad I've had great adventures, and thinking about more.  And my advice to anyone is to get out there and enjoy life yourself as much as you can.  It's amazing how the thoughts of work, daily life and the mundane parts of our time here fade into oblivion, but the memories of those adventures still come vividly to mind!  They are what makes life worthwhile.