Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hug a Tree This Year

There`s a tall strong tree where I enter the woods on the farm next door for a walk that I often stop and hug or at least say hello to.  It`s become a symbol for me of our oldest son, killed a year and a half ago fighting a forest fire in northern Alberta.  In the weeks after his death I would walk this trail, and hug the tree, simply trying to stay in touch with reality.

The hurtfull side of the grief only strikes occasionally now; instead it`s been mostly replaced by a deep sense of love, not just for Will, but for our other son and daughter, their families, and all our other relatives.  I`ve become so much more convinced of the importance of love, and staying in touch.  That`s Will`s tree on the far left.

The little adventures I go on, the snowshoeing, the hikes, skiing, and photo expeditions, are all my way of building a connection with Will into every day.  For Will, every day was an adventure, so I try to live the same way, though with much quieter and easier adventures!

The dreams I had when we retired faded for awhile, but they`re coming back now, seeping back into my mind whether I like it or not.  Books I`d like to write, photography ideas, travel we`d like to enjoy.  I think it`s all reminding me how Will followed his dreams, and I still need to do so as well.

So I`m looking forward to a better year ahead, filled with loving memories and continuing to stay in touch with loved ones.  So hug a tree this year, and make the extra effort to stay in touch with your own loved ones, follow your own dreams, and make every day an adventure.  Can you picture me there hugging my tree?

Happy New Year Everyone!  May we all contribute to making it a good one!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Therapeutic Riding Horses

I've been out collecting pictures so I can keep the blog going in this winter weather.  After a snowshoe walk around the edge of Wodehouse Marsh the other day, I drove home past Hope Haven, a nearby centre for therapeutic riding, where we have both volunteered a bit.

It's a nice looking farm, and if I stop at the right point, I can frame the farm buildings and paddocks with the old cedar rail fence and this big old Sugar Maple.

They've got about a dozen horses, and regardless of the season those horses prefer to be outside.  The farm manager tells me there's a greater danger of over-heating staying in the barn too much than being cold outside, though they're taken in at night.

For a change these four horses were in the paddock right by the road, letting me get a close look.   But they were certainly more interested in eating than in me!

These light brown horses are Norwegian Fjord horses, very hardy, peaceful, and small of stature.  They're ideal for therapeutic riding, where the riders need gentle, patient horses.

They've got an interesting pattern in their manes, here groomed differently to help tell them apart!  And take a look at the length of their tails.

Eventually one of the other horses looked up at me.  I always enjoy driving by here to see which ones are out in the paddocks.

Hope Haven has a good reputation in the local community, running a variety of programs for riders, and attracting a large group of volunteers to help.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

River Otter Tracks?

Just before Christmas, after our big snowstorm, but before our big melt, a friend and I snowshoed down the 10th Sideroad, just three roads north of us here.  It used to be a road, and you could probably still get a vehicle down it with care in a dry summer, but they don't maintain it anymore, and now it makes a nice walk in to the point where it crosses Wodehouse Creek.

Dry Beech leaves rustling in the breeze. 

We parked across the road, beside the tiny New England cemetery, and headed down the trail.

Passed one of my favourite giant old Sugar Maples.  It's got such character; it's rough bark suggests to me that it's been growing 150 years!  Each of those lower branches is big enough to be a substantial tree in its own right.

The entire distance, almost a kilometer, is bordered on one side by an old stone fencerow, built of fairly big boulders, but so overgrown it's hard to get a good picture - and at this time of year smothered in snow.

We got in as far as the bridge, but surprisingly didn't see even a trace of open water.  There's a fair current in the stream here, and it hasn't been that cold, so I didn't expect it to be frozen over.

With the deep fresh snow, this was a day for the big snowshoes, and we left the trail to tramp along the riverbank and see what we could see.  In spring, the water will be just a torrent down this little valley.

The evergreens are Eastern Hemlock, here backing the dry Beech leaves.  Hemlock will grown in the shade of taller hardwoods like Sugar Maple.  There are quite a few of them along the creek here.

We couldn't see any open water, but we could certainly hear it gurgling under the ice.  Then we spotted a single hole in the ice, a hole that looked suspiciously like a breathing or access hole for some animal.

Past a tree, I spotted these unsual tracks down on the snow over the ice, leading to that hole.  Could they possibly be a trail left by an Otter!?  They were the right size, and this is the only place in the valley where I've previously seen otter slides in the snow, down to the river.

I'm going to call it an otter track, probably most exciting evidence of wildlife I've seen in the valley.  Challenge me if you will!


Meanwhile, it was down to the cardiologist today in Kitchener.  Good news, as it looks like the old ticker will work a few more years yet.  But this half of the drive was nasty, with blowing snow covering the road.  A much slower drive than usual, but we're home safely.  More snow to come tonight.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bronte and a Big Dog!

Well, I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel to find photos to post about.  I'm going to have to go back to before Christmas, and even before the big snow.  But in the meantime, we were in Bronte, now a suburb of Oakville, for Boxing Day, visiting Mrs. F.G.'s 96-year old mother.  I was trying to get my walk in and find some fresh air, so I walked down to the waterfront.

The harbour is totally devoid of boats now, but in summer it's a very popular sailing area on the shore of Lake Ontario, with two crowded marinas.  Today it was just grey, all the way to the horizon.

It was that mild day in our crazy weather, but it had obviously been frozen, the ice floes still floating in among the docks.

Part of the harbour makes use of 12 Mile Creek, but the new outer harbour has been created by large breakwalls made of huge limestone boulders.  It was a pretty peaceful day on the lake.

There's a nice area of walkways, benches and open space beside the harbour and the creek mouth.  But I was surprised for just a moment to find a Fishermen's Memorial.  It only took a few seconds in my mind to realize that 'of course, Bronte was once a fishing village'.  That led me to read a little history.

Bronte's harbour was used for the flourishing lumber and wheat trade in the early 1800's, until that trade collapsed when the Grand Trunk Railway opened in 1856.  Then commercial fishing took over, with small boats fishing for lake trout, herring and whitefish which were packed in ice and shipped to cities like Hamilton, Toronto and New York.  Those fisheries collapsed in the 1950's.  The memorial is more a celebration of that commercial fishing heritage than a memorial for lost fishermen, though some did lose their lives out on the lake.

Today the former Bronte village would be totally unrecognizable to an earlier resident.  The original commercial buildings that we find downtown in all the small towns we visit have been completely obliterated here, replaced by modern multi-story condos and a mall or two.  A yuppified replacement for a formerly active fishing village.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, we woke up one morning last week to see some unusual tracks where an unknown animal had romped across our yard.  Eventually, after coffee and dog walk and breakfast, I went out to see what they might be.  This is one of the tracks, beside the front half of my own boot track.

These were absolutely enormous tracks, obviously not deer, but a member of the dog or cat family.  They were 3.5" wide and 4" long, considerably larger than our own dog's paw prints.  So I dug out my Field Guide to Animal Tracks.  I quickly learned that tracks of members of the cat family (like Bobcats, Lynx or Cougars) don't show their claws.  This was a dog family track; you can see the two front claws.  So I checked them against Coyote and Wolf tracks.  Well, we don't have Wolves here, and Coyote tracks are actually considerably smaller, rather like dainty dog tracks in fact.  So this is likely just a big dog that went wandering through in the night.  We do have some new dogs in the neighbourhood; I'll be watching.

Here's our own dog Roxie during the heavy snowfall of the big storm last week.  I think she must be part Husky; she just loves the snow!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Day Disaster

I don't think I've written about snow avalanching off the roof.  Deep snow and cold temperatures are not a problem here in the snowbelt.  Snow tires and snow plows can take care of the driving, and skiis or snowshoes can get you out to enjoy winter.  But temperatures that rise above freezing, or rain on top of snow, are a REAL problem.

We woke on Christmas morning to find this on our back deck.  The snow on the roof had been over 2 feet deep after our big storm, but I got out the roof rake and pulled the worst of that down.  But then we had this crazy rise in temperatures and the snow came loose on the roof; down it came like an avalanche.  Not only is the snow now stuck on the deck, but we have a major repair to the eavestrough this spring!

Do you know what snow from a roof avalanche is like?  If it's near freezing, or even worse above freezing, the snow turns to white ice very quickly.  If I don't get it pushed out of the way quickly, it's almost immovable.  You have to chop it into chunks with a steel shovel first!  But we were headed out of town shortly, so I just got a path to the back door shovelled, and we had to leave it like this.

This is the roof rake, snow removed from the roof, and our nice clean deck which I was working hard to keep clear of snow for the winter.  I even used the roof rake on the garage and front of the house, loosened the snow so it all avalanched off, but immediately used the snowblower to clean it off.  It's only the back roof over the deck that causes a problem, because that's the lee side of the house and the snow accumulates a lot deeper.

It gets worse.  Over Boxing Day, while we were away, the temperature rose to 10°C, well above freezing, and then it rained!  Then it dropped below freezing again and all the wet snow froze into solidified white ice.  This is our back deck now - it's going to stay like this until it melts!

I was so pleased with myself for keeping this deck clear after out big snowfall, but I won't be clearing this any time soon because it's frozen in place!

And then there's the driveway.  I'd been keeping it nice and clear too, but after being away two days, and the high temperatures and rain that intervened, it's mostly a sheet of ice.  This has happened before, and it's treacherous, because our driveway goes uphill.

Luckily the packed down snow on the drive was still fairly thin, and the gravel was showing through on both edges, so we could drive down (VERY CAREFULLY!).  Everyone here uses snow tires!  I got out my supply of pickled sand, and spread enough to create a track for driving up and for walking across the driveway to the garage.  We've had worse.

The 'pickled sand' is a gift from the local sander, about six years ago.  The tailgate on a sanding truck must have swung open, and the truck left behind a track of sand six feet wide, 20 feet long, and 3" deep on our road.  I took all the pails I could find, and filled them up with the sand, already preloaded with salt ('pickled').  I've only used half my winter sand supply since, so I have enough for a long time yet.  The eavestrough is another story.

Anyway, we're safely back home after Christmas and starting to relax before New Year's!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Fun with Christmas Trees

Merry Christmas Everyone!
I present again some fun shots of our Christmas tree.

And this is the real thing.
A quiet peaceful Christmas Eve here tonight.

From our house to yours,
Merry Christmas!

Remember, the origin of Boxing Day is distributing alms
from the almsboxes, to the less fortunate.
Forget buying more and give something to charity this Christmas.

All fun shots above taken in a dark room except for the lights on the tree, 
the camera set at ISO 100, and a full 1 second exposure, 
moving the camera by hand.  Experiment and see what you get.

See you in a couple of days.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Goldfinch and a Red Squirrel

Besides the Chickadees, the Goldfinch are the most common birds at our feeders.  They come in a flock, sometimes just a few of them, but sometimes 20 or 30.  And they crowd the Niger seed feeder, or eat spilled sunflowers below the other feeders - or sometimes sit on that sunflower seed feeder.

There are only 4 spaces on these 'squirrel proof' feeders, but these Goldfinch were impatent.  The Chickadees often lose out to a crowd like this.

You're more likely to see them on the Niger seed feeder, but it must take them a long time to eat enough of those tiny seeds.

During the day of the big storm the Goldfinch seemed particularly desperate for food, and they were really crowding this small feeder.  The snow was falling heavily, so there's lots of blurring in these photos, to say nothing of the moving birds!

I think 8 was the most birds I saw trying to crowd onto this feeder.

And some of them were not very pleased when others arrived.

We also have a small Red Squirrel that visits, but it's restricted to the seeds that fall on the snow.  Those 'squirrel proof' feeders actually work!

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