Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

It already seems traditional to review the past year on New Year's Eve, so I've chosen one picture per month to share with you.  The ones I've chosen are not my favourites, not my best pictures, and certainly don't capture our exploring adventures in the past year, but they do capture the seasons, which after all are the main topic of this blog.  So I hope you enjoy them, one per month, to illustrate the essence of the changing 'Seasons in the Valley'.

January - cross country skiing through the pine plantation.  This is always one of my favourite runs at the Glenelg ski trails, especially after a fresh snowfall leaves the trees wrapped in white.  January started winter off well, with plenty of snow for skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling right from the start.

February - Inglis Falls, totally frozen over!  By February we had had a stretch of very cold and windy weather, with lots of snow - minus 30°C. for a week or more.  For the first time in my knowledge, Inglis Falls was totally frozen with a cover of ice over the water, plunging down over the rocks underneath.  That illustrates just how cold part of last winter was!

March - 15' snowbank.  By March, the roadside snowbanks just kept accumulating.  The plows did their best, but eventually they had to bring out the front end loaders, close stretches of the worst roads, and lift the snow further back off the road.  Never in my life have I seen snowbanks like 2014.

Apr. - Skunk Cabbage in bloom.  Not a very exciting picture, but in my mind, the first sign of spring in the natural world is the Skunk Cabbage, which emerges right through the snow with its deep purple spathe.  The flower is protected inside.  Its appearance heralds the melting of the snow, flooding of ditches and streams, and the coming of many more wildflowers.

May - Trilliums, Old Baldy.  Among those early spring wildflowers, the White Trillium is undoubtedly one of the best known here in Ontario, where it's the provincial flower.  We always make sure to schedule a Bruce Trail hike that will take in the trilliums blooming in the woods - and usually also see many other species of flowers under the pale green of the emerging tree leaves.

June - Christmas Fern emerging.  By June, the ferns are unfolding their fiddleheads under the green forest canopy.  I'm not sure why, but I've always been fascinated by ferns - the only group of plants whose Latin names I once learned when I was enthusiastically exploring botany.  They still strike me as one of the most interesting plants in the woods.

July - Day lilies in the garden.  I certainly have to give credit to our garden for much of the colour over the summer months of the seasons.  Although most of my exploring is of the natural world, the changing show of colour among the garden plants right outside our door is a constant changing story of the seasons - and the day lilies are the highlight of that over the year.

August - the Fall Fair.  These heavy workhorses are my favourite feature of the local fall fair, which is an early one, in late August.  But fall fairs everywhere symbolize the changing season in agriculture.  Many crops are in, animals are growing, and farm families gather to celebrate the year.  For the first time this year I joined in, entering the Photo Contest, and actually winning a few prizes!

Sept. - Monarch Butterfly on the Butterfly Bush.  The Monarch is the queen (or king) of butterflies for me, though it's been hit hard with the loss of Milkweed, it's preferred food and breeding plant.  We were pleased to see several in our garden therefore, late in the season, after most other butterflies had come and gone.

Oct. - Fall colour along the Bruce Trail.  Fall is the month for  both fall colours and for hiking.  It's a great time of the year to get out along the trails, and watch the leaves turn.  It ends the long summer season, and starts us into the dormant 5 or 6 months of the year.  Here the trail winds past some big maples through one of my favourite woodlands.

November - first snowfall.  Although it's been known to happen in October, usually our first snowfall is in November, and often it's moist snow that sticks to the young trees and shrubs, turning it all into a winter wonderland.  It may not last long, but it's beautiful while it does, and heralds much more to come.

December - Winter arrives.  By December, the leaves are long gone, our world is usually frozen, and the snow begins to stay on the ground.  Hopefully all farm crops are in.  This December we didn't have much snow, and ended up with a green Christmas, but it has snowed for the last three days, and there's plenty of white stuff to end the year with!

Hope you enjoyed a retroactive look at the seasons here in the valley, and best wishes for a great 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wildlife Party in the Back Yard!

For ten days before Christmas (before the warmer air arrived and left us with a green Christmas!), we had about 2" of snow on the ground.  With no fresh snow, the wildlife tracks just accumulated until it looked like the deer and the mice in particular were having a party!

Here was a group of deer right on our driveway.  Most of these appear to be the smaller prints of does or yearlings.

The deers' two hoofs are easily recognized, and the White-tailed Deer we have here also commonly drag their toes through the snow leaving tracks between their footprints.

Here's the large buck, a print fully 6" long, clearly showing the dew claws at the back of the footprint.

Here the Meadow Voles were obviously having a party too, this patch of tracks right in the garden.

Trying to get comparable pictures, I took out a tape measure and fixed it at 12" as a guide to size.  These tiny alternating tracks are probably also a Meadow Vole, as are the ones above.

We have plenty of Cottontail Rabbits around, probably the same ones that eat half the veggies in the garden! This track is coming toward us, with the two larger hind feet in front, altogether about 6" long.

In comparison, this is a Snowshoe Hare that crossed the yard, a similar track though going the opposite direction, and in total over 12" long.

In comparison the tiny Red Squirrel leaves a track only about 3" for all four feet, though in the same fashion as rabbits, its larger hind feet come first - heading away from us.

Finally, I suspect this set of single paw prints in not-quite-a-straight-line, is a fox, crossing the driveway and heading around behind the house.  We have on occasion seen one in the summer.  Altogether, quite a nocturnal party going on in our back yard!

Winter has returned here, and we'll have a white New Year's Eve at least, though the snow's not deep.  Far nicer for exploring the woods or walking the dog though than rain, mud and a few degrees above freezing!

 Linking to:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Inside the Barn

Last week I shared pictures of a friend's barn, using it to describe all the typical 'bank barns' we have around here.  They seem to be our most common type of barn.  This week, I've got a few pictures taken inside the barn - barn construction fascinates me!

I first had a chance to examine the inside barn construction carefully a year ago, when another neighbour's barn was being restored and they took part of the roof off.  I described that here.  This barn is very similar, if not identical.  I expect that travelling barn builders were working from pattern books, so the framing was pretty standardized.

This picture illustrates the timber frame in one end of the barn, large posts in both corners and up the middle,  The horizontal beams connect the posts, and are braced with smaller diagonal beams in most corners.  That entire timber framework is known as a 'bent'; four of these, built lying flat and raised into place, then joined together would make the framework for the barn.  You can see why it's widely referred to as 'post and beam' or 'timber frame' construction.

All of this basic timber framework is done without nails, through the magic of 'mortise and tenon' joints, held together with wooden pegs.  I explained this, with a diagram or two in last year's second post.  Here you can see the end of the smaller beam cut to form a 'tenon', which fits several inches into a slot (the 'mortise') in the vertical post, and you can see the end of the wooden peg pounded in to keep it secure.

Another similar mortise and tenon joint held with a wooden peg.  These secure joints are why a timber frame for a barn stands for so many years without falling down.  All of these old barns are well over 100 years old, mostly built in the 1870's and '80's I expect.  So when you glance inside a barn you actually don't see the key construction features until you look very closely.

But I like the other little features, like this ladder built with an extra post and some dowels for steps.  The old rope was likely used to pull the long-gone hay fork back and forth, or for kids jumping into the hay mow.

I also took a look inside the foundation of the barn, where the cattle once occupied the space - now just used for storage by this friend who is not farming.  In fact they only a few acres around the barn.  That long beam in the centre is a hand-hewn square timber probably at least 60 feet long.  I don't know where you'd ever get a single beam like that today.

And you can clearly see the old adze marks on it, from where it was originally 'squared - although the posts have been replaced with more recent sawn timbers.

The adze marks on the timber joists for the barn floor are also clearly visible, though these timbers were never 'squared', just flattened on two sides and left with two round sides (even with some of the bark still on).  The floor is new, as my friends totally replaced it with two inch sawn boards two years ago.  It worked well, as they hosted the local Bruce Trail Club's barn dance last summer!

Hope you enjoyed seeing the inside of a barn this week.  If you ever get the chance, take a close look at the framing next time you're inside a barn.  Linking to 'The Barn Collective', which took a holiday last week, so I'll now link that post too, to help this one make more sense.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Red Squirrel

A few weeks ago, after one of those early snowfalls, a Red Squirrel came to investigate the bird feeders.  We only use two hanging 'squirrel-proof' feeders, and so far the squirrels haven't got to them, but there's lots of fallen seeds to attract them.

It's a long trip for him from the old stone fencerow where he lives, but he braved it all the way to our deck and was finding some of that fallen seed.

Then he checked out the feeder.  Birds can feed through larger openings in the mesh, but a squirrel pulls the entire wire cage down with its weight, closing off the openings.

He seemed to investigate it thoroughly, but had no luck this time.  From our experience having birdfeeders invaded by larger grey squirrels when we lived further south, we have no interest in feeding squirrels for the winter.

This one appeared to give up, and eventually ran along the deck railing to disappear.  I may still put some nuts out for him over closer to his fencerow home.

Our Christmas visiting is over, and a good time was had by all, though it's been a green Christmas here, with just little bits of white left in the ditches.  And with the temperature above freezing, and the rain or drizzle it's not very nice walking in the woods.  I'm hoping for colder weather, even if we don't get snow, so the walking is a little less mucky!

Linking to:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Hoping all my blog readers have a Merry Christmas and a great holiday.  And if you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you celebrate kindness, generosity and peace, which are virtuous in any context.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bank Barns

Let me try to give you some history about the barns I've been posting pictures of the past few weeks, since a reader asked about it last week.  This part of Ontario, Grey and Bruce Counties, widely known as 'The Queen's Bush' in the 19th century, was opened to new settlers in the 1860's, after settlement roads had been pushed through to Owen Sound.  There is some very interesting earlier history of black pioneers here, and of course the First Nations, but those are other stories.

I went over to a friend's place to illustrate this with pictures of their barn, which is no longer in use for farming, but has been recently restored, with entirely new siding and interior floor - and they did most of the work themselves!  This is a very typical old bank barn, similar to most of the others I've had pictures of.

It's known as a 'bank barn' because it's built into a bank in the landscape, enabling access to the upper floor directly on the one side, and access into the stone foundation on the other.  For most of it's farm life, this barn like all the others, held animals below, and hay stored for the winter, along with some grain bins, upstairs.

Here's the lower back side of this barn, the foundation open at ground level so livestock could walk in and out.  Most farms started out in the late 19th century as mixed farms, with some cattle, at least two horses to work the fields, and perhaps some chickens or pigs.  Now most of these barns have no livestock at all, nor any hay!

I'm always amazed by the stonework in the foundations, usually put together by itinerant stonemasons.  Not only could they cut limestone into square blocks, they could do the same with granite!  Here you also see the ramp to the upper leve. of the barn, built up a little to provide a ramp, in spite of being built into the bank.

In the very early years, before combines, the upper floor where this huge sliding door opens would have been used for threshing, with grain being stored in small rooms built as grain bins.  The rest of the upper level would be used for hay storage for the livestock.  But combines were commercialized soon after these barns were built, so primarily they have always been used for hay storage.

Here's another friend's barn, this one built on flat ground, so as you can see in the picture below, a ramp had to be built to the upper level.  Originally hay would be harvested loose, and piled loose in the haymow, using a huge hay fork that dropped from the roof to unload the wagons.  I remember seeing this done at my uncle's farm when I was young.  Square bales soon took over, though they're a lot of work.  It's the large round bales handled by tractor and stored outside that make these old barns largely redundant today.

The other end of this barn shows the ramp to the upper level.  It's also full of clues that this is not a farmer's barn!  The big new garage door, the windows, and the pipe for a wood stove all tell you that this belongs to a rural non-farm resident.  In this case, there's a wonderful large workshop inside those windows, and the main barn is used to store wood for furniture projects.

Next time I'll show you the inside of one of these barns, and tell you more about their construction.  There is no 'Barn Collective' this week, but I'll link in again next week.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chi-Cheemaun in Dock

We were in Owen Sound a week or two back and spotted the Chi-Cheemaun at it's winter dock.  This is the ferry that transports vehicles between Tobermory, at the north end of the Bruce Peninsula, across the waters between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay to South Bay Mouth on Manitoulin Island.

Taking the ferry saves about a 7 hour drive eastward and north around Georgian Bay, but is a 2 hour crossing, an hour or more of waiting in line, plus 2 or more hours of driving to get to the same place.

After I took the first picture, I realized that there was quite a nice reflection here, so I lined up more carefully to capture it.  As you can see, the water was starting to freeze, blurring the reflection a bit.

We rode this ferry about 40 times back and forth when we were travelling to Manitoulin Island reguarly - 20 years ago or more.  It's a 'drive-on-drive-off' ferry, and this picture shows the curved line at the bow where the entire bow of the ship lifts up to let cars drive off.  It has to lift up about 30 yards before it actually docks against the ramp, and let me tell you, if you're the very first car in line inside there, it's a little unnerving to look out at the deep water 15 feet in front of you.  You gotta hope your brakes work!

The ship is big enough to take full size transport trucks, and there is usually a full load of vehicles during the summer season.  Sometimes you're waiting four or five hours in Tobermory for the next sailing.  Because of the ice of course, it is docked in Owen Sound for the winter.  The season is from mid-May to early October.

The ship docks for the winter just where the river (flowing in from the left) begins widening to form the harbour.  The harbour has been fixed up so that there are nice walkways and a number of interesting historical plaques along the side.

In the distance you can see the two main big industries left, the grain elevators, and on the right, cement elevators.  One hundred years ago this was a busy industrial shipping harbour.  By the way, 'Chi-Cheemaun' means 'Big Canoe' in Ojibway.

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