Saturday, March 30, 2024

Waiting for Spring!

Having given us a foretaste of warm weather earlier, spring is now taking its time getting here!  I've been out riding several times earlier this spring, even back in early February, but the temperature is still hovering around the freezing point and won't be consistently up to even 10°C until a week tomorrow.  I may have to bundle up extra warm and get out a little anyway.  

I was hoping that all the bright green leaves of Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Primrose that appeared three weeks ago would start giving me photos to post, but except for the beautiful Dwarf Iris, all those spring flowers have the ability to just wait, so I guess I'll have to wait as well.

In the meantime, there's the fine clay dust problem.  The grit they spread on the roads here includes a background of fine clay dust that does not get picked up by the street sweeper.  It doesn't come off when I brush my tires either.  The result is tracks across the floors, which are dark hardwood.  It means I have to drive 10 or 20 loops on the driveway, leaving my tracks there before I come in.  We need a good heavy rain!

For now, it's still going down well below freezing overnight, as evidenced by the frost on the rooftops across the street.  No snow left anywhere, but we still get morning frost.  Sorry I haven't posted for ages - it's been a busy week!

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Birds Invaded! Finally!

As I went to sit at the window a couple of weeks back, a flash of red caught my eye.  It was a Cardinal!  Haven't seen one in ages, though I heard them singing around the neighborhood last week when it was so warm and I got out riding.  And then in about 5 minutes four other birds flashed out the window - more than I've seen all winter.

The first one I got a good photo of (at least good for my phone camera) was a White-breasted Nuthatch, climbing upside down as usual on the feeder.

How's this for the unique patterns on its back?  I love the three-tone colours.

Then the Cardinal settled down among the detritus of last years garden, presumably picking out sunflower seeds from among the leaves.

I think the Cardinal is the iconic bird of spring here, its loud piercing call easy to recognize from its typical perch high in the treetops.  Though 30 years ago I remember my mother being excited to see one they were still so unusual.

Then a Mourning Dove flew in and perched in the red chair with a bug in its beak.  Dull colouring overall, but those dark spots are iridescent in the right light.

Finally a Dark-eyed Junco ran behind a big pot, only appearing briefly as it dashed away toward the neighbors.  Not a very good photo, but it completed the sudden five minutes of visiting birds for me.  After a winter of seeing no birds, I was relieved!

Today is a bright sunny day and getting warm.  I think I'll go out for some fresh air!

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Turns out It Wasn't a Mistake After All!

Well, I should have googled it instead of trusting my own (faulty) memory.  The date of the spring equinox changes a lot more than I realized, and it isn't always the 21st.  In fact it won't be the 21st again in my lifetime!

Thanks to Anvilcloud for sending me back to Google.  My head is now spinning with facts and figures about the Gregorian calendar, which is the one used by the modern world.  The root of the problem is that the earth rotates around the sun once every 365.25 days, not precisely every 365 days.  To keep it simple, the extra quarter day is added in the form of a Leap Year every four years.  That keeps things balanced out, and is about the limit of my understanding.

We owe this complex system to Pope Gregory XIII, way back in 1582.  He modified the previous Julian Calendar to create a new set of rules in order to keep the date of Easter closer to the actual spring equinox.  

So I did check back, and I was right originally about spring starting on the 19th, but that was just a brain fart, thinking that Tuesday was the 21st - correct but by accident.  Now it's correct because I took the time to look it up!

However, my original point remains true.  The equinox is typically described with the words "spring has finally sprung."  I have trouble with that when I look out my window to see it snowing.  And with that I have probably kicked a dead horse enough!

For anyone interested, the next time the spring equinox does fall on the 21st is in 2101.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

What a Stupid Mistake!

And none of you even called me on it!  Did you even notice?

On Tuesday the 19th I claimed it was already the spring equinox, which happens on the 21st, today!  I was two days early and I've been feeling guilty ever since I discovered the mistake.  So sorry for misleading you.

Mind you, the message is still the same - snow on the ground for the first day of spring.  Tuesday it snowed and yesterday it alternated between blizzard and sunshine.  I went out to physio and managed to avoid the blizzards.  Today I'm just back from 'coffee', and trying to rectify my error.  (We call it coffee, but it's really a few old codgers gathering for lunch).

Here's our snowstick bringing the same message.  Phooey to spring equinox, whichever day it falls on.  At this point all we want is sunshine and warmth!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Happy Spring (Not)!

It's March 21st, the spring equinox here in this part of Canada, so that makes it the first official day of spring.  Nonsense!  We woke to a late gasp of winter not spring, and it's still snowing as I write this.  I understand the solstices as a reason to celebrate, but the equinoxes are relatively meaningless in my books.

Never-the-less, spring will come - eventually!  

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Friday, March 15, 2024

First Spring Flowers - Far Too Early!

We had a couple of those inordinately warm mid-March days earlier this week, and the first spring flowers bloomed at our house.  We have no Snowdrops or Crocus or it might have been earlier.  It's turning colder again for a week now, so I don't expect any more, but these are a taste of what's to come.

The Dwarf Spring Iris, in its brilliant royal blue, is my personal favourite flower of early spring.  I can't get close enough to soak in its beauty.

I don't remember seeing this white Hellebore in past years, but here it is, out in the back garden.  Its leaf is very distinctive and stays green all year here.  Its blossom always faces down, preventing me in a wheelchair, from getting a good look.

After two days this week that reached 12°C with bright sunny skies, it feels like we're headed back to winter.  Snow and freezing temperatures are in the forecast for next week.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Trains Arrive in Owen Sound

After the railroad day at the museum I got interested in understanding how two different railways arrived on opposite sides of the bay in Owen Sound, and two different train stations were built on opposite sides of the bay, so I started reading.  There were so many arguments about rail lines and bonuses and amalgamations in the late 19th century it's hard to keep track of things!

And it's hard to capture in words the fervent belief in the idea of 'progress' that ran through the communities of southern Ontario in the second half of the 19th century.  Politicians and businessmen alike were expecting growth and prosperity, if only the railway was built!  Two and three-story buildings were built on main streets, and the earliest town services started up.  And of course they were only copying the dreams of bigger communities to the south.

In proposing new railways, entrepreneurs were motivated by the idea of a 'portage' from Toronto to Georgian Bay, only one that was turned into a railway line.  And the first east-west line was to serve as a 'bridge' between Niagara and Michigan.  Both the Ontario Simcoe and Huron and the Great Western lines got underway at once.  

The literature on historic railways is full of information on both changing decisions as well as the tangible things that interest historians, like locomotives and train stations.  There is also a constant refrain of railways demanding 'bonuses' or subsidies from local towns  I'm going to set those things aside for this story.

The map below shows the two old rail routes into Owen Sound, the green line on the left and the red line on the right.  They both ended up with stations within sight of each other, on opposite sides of the harbour.  Today one is a restaurant and the other is a museum.  Remember there were the rocks of the Niagara Escarpment on both sides of the harbour, so there were significant grades to be incorporated in these lines.  Neither line still exists today, but the rights-of-way do..

The Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway on the east side was the first of these, arriving to a large celebration in 1873.  We cross its right-of-way every time we go to Owen Sound; it's now a walking and riding trail that extends far south of town, and the station in Owen Sound is a restaurant..  

This line was built on narrow gauge tracks to save money, but soon there were demands for it to shift to the standard gauge being used elsewhere.  They couldn't afford it themselves, so this led it to be sold to the Ontario and Quebec Railway, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883.

The Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway, the first operating railway in the province, had opened a line from Toronto to Collingwood in 1853, and there was immediate pressure for it to be extended to Owen Sound.  It almost got to Owen Sound first when it was built to Meaford in 1872, but it never made it further.  That railway was renamed the Northern shortly after it was built, and it's the right-of-way of the Northern that provides for the Georgian Trail running east of Meaford.

There's a confusing history of names and amalgamations for the railway that eventually arrived on the west side of Owen Sound.  To keep it simple the Port Dover and Lake Huron only made it as far as Stratford, and then, facing bankruptcy, amalgamated with the Stratford and Huron Railway.  In 1881 these became a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway, which finished the line to Wiarton, northwest of Owen Sound, in 1882.

With regular service but high prices from the CPR on the east side of town and regular service to Wiarton available a few miles to the west via the Grand Trunk Railway, Owen Sound began to agitate for a second railway line.  Although it took over ten years, by 1894 a spur from Park Head on the Grand Trunk Railway was built and the first train chugged into the station on the west side of the bay.  In 1923 the GTR was absorbed into the Canadian National Railway or CNR.

So I have my answer as to why Owen Sound has two different railway lines leading into town from east and west.

Of course the good times didn't last as cars, trucks and highways took over from trains.  By 1985 the Northern Railway into Meaford was closed, and by 1995 both railways closed their lines to Owen Sound.  All three old rights-of-way are today used as riding/walking trails.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Grey Roots Museum Visit

Yesterday we headed out to visit Grey Roots Museum on the edge of Owen Sound, a place we really enjoy.  We maintain a family membership for the two of us.  We went for the model railroad day; I've always been intrigued with the historic railways that came to Owen Sound.  I ended up somewhat disappointed, but there was a fascinating exhibit of carving that surprised me.

This was the model railroad, two small trains moving around a large oval 'doughnut' table.   Neat little trains, but somehow I was expecting more.  Sorry, both trains were moving so a little blurry.

There was a talk about the trains coming to Owen Sound we went to as well.  Learned a lot, but there was no good map - and I'm a geographer.

There was a new exhibit of stained glass windows that was nice though.  These are the actual windows removed from the old Desboro United Church, now beautifully restored by museum staff.

I remember sitting in church as a very young child and counting the panes of glass like these in the big windows of the Kilsyth United Church.

And this is the remarkable exhibit of carving, genuine folk art done over many years by Erskine Brown who lived near Kilsyth where my dad grew up and my grandparents lived.  Sorry, these are all in plexiglass cases, so there's some reflection and glare.  This is the carving I like best, 'cause I could just picture a farmer returning from the woodlot with a load of firewood.

A stage coach of sorts.

And a team of eight horses pulling a wagon, a hearse by the looks of it.

I'm absolutely sure that my grandfather had a carving of Erskine's, and I certainly recognized the name.  He was 15 years younger than my grandfather, and 20 years older than my dad, and lived nearby.  It would not have been surprising if they knew one another.  Small world!

Friday, March 8, 2024

Green Things Poking Up!!

It's unheard of in my memory, but we have spring plants popping up about a month earlier than normal.  They're just green sprouts so far, but thanks to paying close attention to the garden I know what they'll be when they bloom.  It's as if a wonderful time of year has arrived early!

This is out back, the tiny green leaves of the Primrose brightening up on the left, and on the right the sprouts of new bulbs Mrs. F.G. planted last fall.  She's not sure what they are, but maybe a few Crocus.  Note that she's planted them right where I can easily see them from the window - she's always thinking of me!

Out front these very bright green shoots of Daffodils were shining in the sun.

These are the thin straight shoots of the Dwarf Iris, the first flower to bloom for us, normally in early April.

Can you see the white flower of this Hellebore, ready to unfold its bloom (centre right, lying on the ground)?

And I spotted these Snowdrops at a friend's house.  
At the same time our resident chipmunk has emerged from its hibernation (below our deck we think), and is running around enthusiastically.  All welcome signs of spring, ignoring the fact that it's a month earlier than normal!

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

And One More Time!

 Well, we just can't believe the ridiculous weather we're getting here in Ontario.  It's still early March, but it's like mid-April outside, with temperatures staying well above freezing and no snow at all!  There are just so many implications I don't know where to start, but I'd guess we're going to notice a lot of extremes this summer.

I won't bother repeating the picture of complete snow cover from my last post, but the temperature rose again and the snow started to melt - again.

Our snow stick crane was left free of snow himself, though snow still covered the ground around him.  He's always in shade from the house at this time of year.

A day later and it was bright and sunny, the temperature hitting 20°C, with no snow left anywhere - on March 4th no less!  The street sweeper doesn't even come until mid to late March.

The matted leaves are currently protecting the garden, but plants will burst through those wet leaves with no trouble in the coming days.  I'll show you a few in the next post.

Friday, March 1, 2024

The Rollercoaster Bounces Again!

You may recall that in the last photo I posted we were back to snow cover here, what seemed like a normal February, at least for a few days.  Well it hasn't stayed that way.

Here's where we were on Feb. 19th, looking like a normal winter's day.

Then the temperatures rose (to 11°C) and it started to melt.

And kept melting until by Feb. 28th in the morning there was virtually no snow left.  This is NOT like a typical February day!

Then another snowstorm blew through and temperatures plunged.

And now we're back to a white landscape again.

For a short while our snowstick has a cap of white (yesterday), but it's now 9°C in bright sun, and just going higher, possibly to 17°C on Monday!  And daytime highs will be well above freezing for the forseeable future.

So is this scary or not?  From what I've read this crazy winter is because we're under a strong El Nino pattern currently, though it will be changing to a La Nina pattern by summer.  The strength of this pattern is scary in the short run for farmers and for our creeks and rivers.  Without winter snow accumulation, soil moisture will be low, creeks may dry up, and eventually crop yields may be less. In some areas the forest fire season will be worse.

But it's also scary in the long run as an indicator of climate change.  One year does not climate change make by itself, but as year after year gets warmer, that's climate change.  Many indications are that it's happening faster than anyone expected.  Politicians may argue as to whether it's caused by human activity or natural cycles, but it's near-impossible to argue it's not happening.

There's lots of scientific theory behind all this, all related to ocean currents and water temperatures in the Pacific.  El Nino brings warmer waters to the surface, and warmer, drier winters to the northern U.S. and to Canada.  La Nina brings colder water to the surface, and in turn colder, wetter winters.  Interestingly Spanish fishermen noticed this pattern in the Pacific 400 years ago and named it El Nino or Little boy, and La Nina or Little Girl.

If you want a good but short explanation, read the National Ocean Service article on "What are El Nino and La Nina"?.