Sunday, May 31, 2015

William, 1977 – 2015

Will was a good kid and an adventurous one from the start. 

We all loved to explore the outdoors.  His grandmother took us all for walks in the woods, and after his younger brother joined him, his grandfather started taking them out to a friend’s stocked trout pond fishing.  Fishing became a life-long love of both boys.  After his baby sister joined us, we started on the big family camping trips across Canada. 

We travelled to the east coast twice, and the west coast three times, camping in every Canadian province, the Yukon and Alaska, and several northern U.S. states.  It was the time in the mountains that is most memorable for all of us I think, hiking the trails in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, seeing Mountain Goats and Mountain Sheep, and of course fishing our way through northern BC and Alaska – salmon galore!

Along the way Will played every sport available locally, and seemed to find a winning team every time, winning MVP more than once.  I firmly believe that teenage boys need some life-threatening activity to grow up normal, so we took up downhill skiing – and I was the one who got injured!

It was on the trip to the Yukon and Alaska that Will saw his first forest fire, and we think then that he decided what he wanted to be.  I remember the conversation in his last year of high school about what he wanted to do with his life, and it took about 2 minutes, as Will had already made his own decision to apply to the aviation programs in Ontario, and he headed off to Confederation College in Thunder Bay in 1996 to become a pilot.

The inspiration of his grandfather, who served in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) during WWII, teaching navigation, was also important.  He shared his stories with our sons and gave William his Air Force cap, which was treasured.

William flew float planes for Kenora Air Services in Northern Ontario, taking guests in to fly-in fishing camps.  He flew National Geographic photographers out of Yellowknife to see wildlife on the tundra in the North-west Territories.  He made the step to year-round float plane flying by heading to Fiji for a winter, flying for Turtle Airways.  Next he joined North Pacific Seaplanes out of Prince Rupert, B.C. (now Inland Air).  It was there that we had our only flight with him, when he took us out to Haida Gwaii and back (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). 

Then he moved to northern Ontario flying larger freight planes for Wasaya Airways into isolated native communities.  These were the planes he needed experience on to follow his dream of becoming a water bomber pilot.  This past winter after we had suffered through a particularly bitter week of -30° temperatures he laughed that we hadn’t been cold until you unloaded a plane in the fierce arctic wind at -60 on the shores of Hudson’s Bay!

William got his dream job with Conair 4 years ago, first flying the large water bombers, and then moving to the advance team of small ‘Fire Boss’ planes because of his float plane experience.  He was part of the team fighting the Cold Lake fire in northern Alberta when his plane went down.  He died doing what he loved, and if he had a message for us it would be to ‘Follow your dreams.’  Thanks to the Cold Lake military Search and Rescue Team who were able to retrieve him by helicopter in the isolated location.

The memorial site his sister set up,, has given us enormous comfort, as it has brought a huge outpouring of grief and support.  Will has been described as a good man, a kind, gentle and generous friend, and a natural pilot.  He pursued his dreams and found them, he cared for people wherever he went, and he had lots of close friends.  What more could a parent ask?

Although we always just thought of him as ‘our son, the pilot’, he was also a firefighter, flying the water bomber, and to the communities of northern Alberta and B.C. he died a hero.  The enormous number of visits to his memorial page reflect the strong support of that community, and the comments and private emails we have received from his friends have given us enormous support. 

We are lucky to live in a small rural community, and have had strong and immediate support from family and friends ourselves.  We will live every day to honour our lost son, but all of us will live on, pursuing our own dreams, no matter how ordinary they may be.  For the next week or two I am simply going to post a few of Will’s own pictures from his flying days in the north and on the west coast.  

I have thought  and hard long about sharing this on my blog, and imposing it on you the reader.  That I feel able to do so reflects the magic way that special friendships develop in the on-line blogging community, and the support I feel from many of you.  It also reflects the fact that we will celebrate Will’s life as much as we mourn his death.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spring Trees and Skies

I thought I would specifically take pictures of certain trees in all four seasons, so I'll end up with comparison shots.  My benchmark is picking trees that look spectacular in mid-October.  So here are a few of the trees that will be in brilliant fall colour in five months, as they look today in spring.

These are two of my favourite mid-October trees.  Having observed the fall colours for several years now, I know which trees will look best.  Now I can do some comparison shots.

This tree, just down the road from our house, turns brilliant red in the fall, .  If you look closely it's really two Sugar Maples intertwined a bit, with the leaves in spring slightly different shades of green.

These are the young maples regenerating quickly, just at the entrance to the woods where I frequently go walking.  The trail in is on the right end of this picture.

Just down the road are another two large Sugar Maples in a fencerow.  When I think of summer, fall and winter pictures, I have lots of time to take those, though only about 3 weeks in the fall.  But the window for spring pictures when the leaves are still bright green like these, is incredibly short - really just a few days.

It's actually the three younger and shorter trees in the foreground here that turn the brightest colour.  The two trees in the background that look half dead are White Ash, which are still barely unfolding their leaves.

And across the street is a cluster of large Basswood trees that are not quite as far out yet, but turn a nice colour in the fall too.  The background trees in the lower right are White Ash again.

To give you an idea of how varied the leaf growth is at the moment, this is a picture of the fencerow behind part of our garden.  The trees on the right in leaf are White Birch (planted), and the tree on the far left is a Sugar Maple.  But in the middle are my Butternut tree (its trunk behind the shed), a Cherry starting to come out in leaf, and another White Ash where the buds are barely opened.  Observing the seasons more closely to describe in the blog has opened my eyes to patterns I never saw in previous years!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wildflowers in the Meadow and Marsh

The wildflowers that I watch for in spring are those of the woods, which I've posted pictures of already.  But also in spring the first wildflowers of the meadows start blooming.  There will be many more later in the summer.

Perhaps the simplest, found both in the woods and the meadow, is the Wild Strawberry.  These ones are out back in our own meadow.

And of course the most ubiquitous wildflower at this time of year, the Dandelion.  Admittedly there are more of these in the lawn than in the meadow, but a lawn is a sort of meadow anyway, isn't it?  We've never sprayed a lawn to keep it 'perfect', and now that we understand how helpful Dandelions are for bees, we don't even make any effort to remove them by hand.  We've almost reached the stage where we enjoy the yellow lawn for 2-3 weeks!

The marsh is a different story.  Wildflowers are not so plentiful there over the summer, but for a brief 2-3 weeks right now, they are often yellow with Marsh Marigold.  I always watch for these coming out about the same time as the Trilliums in the woods.

They're a simple five-petaled yellow flower, with large shiny green leaves, and they like their feet wet - often growing right in the water (and therefore sometimes hard to photograph).  Nature likes variety though; note the four-petaled flower on the right.

But they add beautiful colour to the wetlands for a brief time in spring.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Getting the Boats In

I was in Meaford the other day and happened down by the harbour while the marina staff were working to put the boats back in the water for the summer season.  The winter storage period has come to an end, and the ice is gone.  Soon sailing on the bay will be a popular activity again, especially on the weekends, and the harbour will be busy with visitors.

There are some pretty nice boats on Georgian Bay, this one, 'Cloud Nine' being a good example - spotless and polished!  I wrote in January about all these boats having to be lifted out of the water for the winter to avoid damage from ice.  The same is true all around Georgian Bay and the other northern Great Lakes.

Or perhaps this one is more your style, an older boat with some interesting wood trim.  Georgian Bay is a very popular summer sailing area.

As we walked down the dock, I saw that a boat was already in the slings of the big boat gantry, ready for launching.

In just a few moments the slings were lowered further so the boat was floating, and it was pulled forward out of the gantry.

The slings were raised, ready to go and get the next boat, and they got the motor started on this one so they could berth it at the dock.

Around the corner they went, ...

And the next day I found it tied up at the dock, with the mast now in place.

And another boat waiting in the gantry to be launched.  I've never actually seen this process in operation before, so I was quite interested in the whole thing.

The masts are an important part of this seasonal hiccup.  Most are removed and stored on top of the boats over the winter, ...

... and a big crane is brought in to enable putting them up on the boats again in the spring.  The masts can be installed either before or after the boat is actually launched.

And do you remember this boat?  It was one of those up on the dock in January, and I wondered what it would be doing for the summer.  It's obviously a cruise boat rather than a fishing tug.

Well, this is the boat today, rechristened the Huronic, with a new owner, the young woman standing onboard talking to my coffee and paddling buddy.  She has entirely repainted and refurbished the boat, and will be running sightseeing cruises out of Collingwood this summer, along with a weekly dinner cruise and a weekly wine tasting cruise.

We had a good chat with her and wished her luck with her plans.  What a transformation!

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fern Fiddleheads

During these early weeks of spring, I keep watching for ferns emerging in their characteristic fiddleheads.  Did you know that ferns are the only group of plants that emerge in a 'fiddlehead' shape? It's a logarithmic spiral, and slowly uncurls until the frond is full size.

These are the tiny early fiddleheads of a Maidenhair Fern, as are those below.

Both the curl on the end of a violin and that on a Bishop's crozier are modelled after the shape of fern fiddleheads.

And this is a Sensitive Fern unfolding in the woods, just a few days ago,

while this is a Sensitive Fern that's a little faster, and already unfolded.

I think these two are both Lady Ferns.

And this one is definitely a Christmas Fern, with its protective covering of outer scales.

As is this, a little more unfolded.

While these are the Ostrich Ferns down by the pond in the woods.   When people talk about eating fiddleheads, it is the early growth of this species that is the only edible fiddlehead in North America.  All the others range from not very tasty to poisonous!  So don't just go out in the woods and think you can pick any fiddleheads to eat.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Pond in the Woods

I've never really explored the pond in the woods, sticking to the trails when I walk, usually with the dog.  But after skirting it the other day I went back and walked around with my camera, (without the dog).  It's bigger and more interesting than I thought.

I approached the pond through a large bed of Ostrich Ferns, just past the fiddlehead stage, and unfurling their bright green leaves in the late afternoon sun.

The pond already has a lot of Duckweed growing on the surface.  I expect that soon there won't be many reflections left.   It was pretty soggy underfoot around the edge of the pond too.

The ferns really stand out when they are newly unfurled, bright green, and lit by the sun.

As I worked my way around the far end of the pond I realized that it was quite a bit bigger than I had previously thought; the parts you see from the trail are just two corners of it.

Burgeoning Duckweed floating on the surface of the water.

Passing the main pond, I found an extended area to the west, with less Duckweed, and more obvious reflections.  I'm discovering that the setting of my polarizing filter on the camera makes a big difference as to how the reflections show up - always learning by trial and error!

The banks of the pond here are a little steeper, but still lots of ferns.

And back where I started I found quite a patch of Sensitive Ferns right at the edge of the water, beyond the fringe of Ostrich Fern.  I think I"ll be going back to check out the pond several times over the season.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Georgian Bay View

Driving up to Meaford the other day the skies were a brilliant blue, with long lines of clouds coming out of the northwest.  Halfway there I go over the Niagara Escarpment on a steep hill, and the view opens out, all the way down to Georgian Bay.

This is my favourite view of the bay along that road.  Those blue silos look like they're near the bay, but they're not, they're just half-way there, on the peak of another hill that hides the town of Meaford.

That one above was a bit of a telephoto shot; this one is what I see through the car window driving over the brow of the hill.

The Bruce Trail crosses the road at this point, and a short distance down the fencerow the view is a little different.  Which do like best, this one that is mostly sky....?

... or this one, the same view with more of the hayfield and its current crop of dandelions visible in the foreground?

In any case it was a beautiful sunny day, spring rapidly turning the world to green.

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