Tuesday, July 22, 2014

blue and all blue

blue and all blue --
low lying spatula of hills,
curving ruffled wake

We're all reluctant to leave the magic of Salt Spring Island, but we have to get to Vancouver, so we line up at the ferry, four cars wide. I wander down to the water's edge. Under an arbutus tree, a couple patiently sits, reading while they wait to board with their bikes. Nice to see people still reading paper books!

On board, I roam around the boat, happily taking photos of seascapes, marine paraphernalia and people.

As we near the port, the Coastal Mountain Range rises like white-cap waves on the blue horizon.

The ferry that was behind us docks just before we do, so we get to watch vehicles disgorging while others wait to enter the twin parking decks.

When it's time to disembark, I can't find the car I came in. Walking up and down the rows of parked cars, starting to get a little panicked, until I remember that I got switched from the white car to the black car back on the island. So easy to get confused when you're traveling and things keep changing!

Monday, July 14, 2014

tiny green tree frog

tiny green tree frog
nestled inside a day lily,
when I come too close -- pop!

Early on an unusually cool July morning, I am out picking flowers when I spot an emerald green spot in the mouth of a yellow day lily. On closer inspection, the spot turns out to be a tiny tree frog with a smooth, sparkling green back ending in a hood over its snout, a pale patch under its eyes, gray sides and legs, and bulbous toe pads.

Like a wary Robin Hood, the minuscule amphibian stares from under its green hood at this immense apparition. When I get close enough to see the vertical black slit in the gold-flecked iris of its eyes . . . pop! It plunges off the petal to the ground.

According to HerpNet.org, my little frog is a Cope's gray tree frog. Gray? Yes, Hyla versicolor is a Color-Shifter, able to change from bright green to gray, almost brown, in seconds -- depending on temperature or sometimes their surroundings. 
          Male gray tree frogs are accomplished Bagpipers. They create a loud chirring sound on summer evenings by shutting their nostrils and mouth and squeezing their lungs so that air flows into a "bag" on their throat until it blows up like a balloon and resonates their vocal chords. 
          During the day they turn into expert Samurai. It takes them less than a second to throw out their long, sticky tongues to catch insects. And if it's a big insect, they can drop their eyeballs into their mouth to help push the bug down their throat whole.
          Like Spider Man, they can scale tall buildings and cling to glass windows with ease, due to their ability to secrete mucous from those exaggerated toe pads. And then leap from great heights in a single bound.
          In winter they become Cryonic Masters. After crawling under some shelter like a rock or log, they allow most of their bodily fluids to freeze, but convert enough glucose from the liver to protect their vital organs from freezing. Essentially, they stay frozen until spring revives them from their state of suspended animation.
          All that in a body the size of a quarter!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

golden daylily

golden daylily
bursting forth on July Fourth
in a cloud of silk

The Fourth of July fell on a Friday this year. Because it was the first Friday of the month, our monthly Art Walk, our city's fireworks were scheduled for Saturday. This year, 2014, is the 175th anniversary of the founding of Fairfield, and the display was going to be the biggest ever. But on Saturday it rained barrels, so it befell Fairfield that the fireworks display was canceled. The rain date? Labor Day! But on Friday, people turned out in their red, white and blue stars and stripes to enjoy Art Walk, and I enjoyed watching the people. On the way home, I got to see some fireworks set off from the tiny town of Sturbridge south of where we live.

The day ends with a bearded man wearing a brown bowler and PEACE on his back slowly walking away through the long shadows.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

along the fern dank creek

along the fern dank creek
skunky golden chalices rise
from large lettucy leaves

One last hike at Ruckle Provincial Park before we catch the afternoon ferry to Vancouver -- the city on the mainland, that is, not the island. During a short walk on a flat trail that winds along a creek, flashes of bright yellow among the dark ferns draw me down for a closer look. Tall golden chalices with a central spike rise up from what looks like huge romaine lettuce leaves. The area smells like a passing skunk cast its noxious spray, and I suddenly remember why this gaudy plant is called Yellow Skunk Cabbage. The odor of Lysichiton americanus attracts flies and beetles to pollinate the tiny flowers on the spadix wand, and perhaps the bright yellow hooded spathe also acts as a beacon light for the insects. The odor is enough to discourage most folks from even thinking about using those leaves in a salad, but they are also toxic. The peppery taste causes a prickling of the tongue and throat, possible stomach pains and even death if eaten in large quantities. So the Yellow Lantern, as it is also caused, flashes a warning to everyone but its chosen pollinators: Danger! Stay Away!

At the end of the short trail, a number of houseboats float at anchor in the quiet waters of King's Cove, which is shaped like a round-bottom bottle with a narrow neck at the gulf end.

One houseboat seems to be outfitted with a plastic geodesic greenhouse. 

Far in the distance we can see other gulf islands flying white cirrus banners, and between the boats and us, the head of a river otter stitching the still waters.

The tide is out and we walk a long way on the pebbly shore to get to the water's edge. 

A hodgepodge of barnacle-clad shells and rocks, water soaked pine cones, bleached driftwood and drying seaweed litters the ground. 

When I turn over one claw-shaped piece of driftwood, I find a little gray crab, its tiny claws clinging to a crevice, almost perfectly camouflaged against the wet wood.

The gray and brown feathers of a dead duck also blend into the gray and brown pebbles, flight returning to the earth from which it was born.

Some people have set up camp on the shore, with a driftwood campfire sending blue smoke up through a pink flowering tree.

While the rest of the group rests on big driftwood trunks, enjoying the sun, I go exploring along a little creek that flows into the cove. On a slender branch, a delicate white lichen orb.

And an extensive colony of plants with slender leaves and brown and white spadix that look like magic wands. Anyone know what they are?

We're all reluctant to leave this magical island, but we have to catch the ferry, so we slowly follow the dappled path lined with ferns back to the flat black parking lot.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

cobalt blue falls

cobalt blue falls
curl into inky fingers
staining the cedar fence

Each Dutch Iris blossom only lasts a few days. Then, fertilized or not, the wide soft falls corkscrew and curl inwards into a shriveled fist. But one blossom, falling against the lattice fence, uses her inky fingers to stain the fresh cedar a lovely shade of cobalt.

Friday, June 27, 2014

a pile of poly

a pile of poly
red and blue blankets for warmth
on a chilly spring day

During our last day on Salt Spring Island we are scheduled to take a two-hour kayak trip to Goat Rock Island, a private ecological reserve. We're late arriving for our scheduled outing with Island Escapades, but when we get to Ganges the girls disappear into the trade fair and have to be rounded up. Then It takes a long time for our guides, Jack and Nathan, to outfit us with the right size pdf vests and rubber boots for carrying our kayaks on the muddy shore, store our cameras in waterproof bags, hand out paddles and pair us off into double kayaks. 
          I'm used to a kayak but this is my first time in a sea kayak. In the stern I quickly learn how to operate the foot pedals that turn the rudder. It's windy and my buddy isn't used to any kind of paddling, so we quickly fall behind the rest of the group. I've brought a waterproof camera, but can't stop paddling long enough to take any photos until we reach Goat Rock Island.
          On the way we pass Grace Point, where we see a Great Blue Heron standing stock still in the shallows, watching for fish.

When Nikki and I finally pull up on the white sand beach, Jack tells us that is composed of pulverized oyster shells from the middens of First Nations people, who must have eaten millions of oysters over thousands of years. Jack and Nathan serve us hot tea from thermoses and cookies. I dig my camera out of the waterproof bag and snap a couple of photos.

Bits of translucent seaweed -- green and red and brown -- float in the shallow waters like miniature sea dragons.

Since we started so late, we don't have time to explore the island, but we do have time to visit the outhouse at the top of the hill. It is by far the most beautiful outhouse I've ever seen, with a peaked shake shingle roof, a Japanese moon window and a carved crescent moon on the door.

The woods are filled with the snaky branches of arbutus trees, which love to grow near salt water. These seem healthy, but elsewhere I've seen them with dying leaves. Unfortunately, they're very susceptible to pollution and various fungal diseases.

On the way back we see a Cormorant standing on a rock, holding its long wings out like a black W to dry them. Then we pass a Native bird sanctuary, its shores lined with the most amazing rocks, all riddled with holes from the salt water eating the soft sandstone. When we pull over to have a closer look, Jack carefully extracts a bright orange starfish from a rock and hands it around, then puts it back. He calls it a sea star, which is the proper scientific name and feels more appropriate and also more beautiful.
          As we head back to Ganges harbor, Nikki and I are bringing up the rear again. Jack is at the head of the group but Nathan, our other guide, stays right with us. He spots some harbor seals out in the open water and says if we make a high-pitched sound, they'll be curious and come closer to investigate. We have fun yodeling and watching one of the seals raise up out of the water to get a better look at us.
          Back in Ganges we have lunch at an open air restaurant. I ask the waitress about the vivid blue and red polyester blankets with fringe shaped like fat fingers which are piled high on a chair. She says it's for customers to wrap themselves up in when it gets chilly. The weather is so mild they're open all year around here.

After lunch I stroll around the trade fair, by now nearly finished for the day, stopping to admire handmade rugs, pottery and felted owls. I'm just looking, not buying, but the artisans enjoy talking about their beloved creations.

And finally, I stop at a little boutique to buy two pairs of cotton tights with wild designs, to remind me of our magical stay on Salt Spring Island.