Friday, May 30, 2014

facing saanich

facing saanich
the Tsawout elders teach us
through sencoten eyes

On our second day on Salt Spring Island, Teresa takes us on a special hike through a wilderness area under the stewardship of the Tsawout First Nation. The sign at the trail head shows their beautiful thirteen month calendar depicting the local flora and fauna, especially the fish and shellfish native to the waters and beaches of the island.

The forest is filled with silence, soaring trees and light penetrating the dark, moist floor.

Lichens, moss, ferns and rocks create a soothing yet lively palette.

Wild orchids provide tiny spots of violet and red in a realm of green and gray and brown.

One of the girls at the head of the group points down and calls back, "Watch where you step." It's a striped and spotted slug, about the size of the small pine cone it's slowly ambling over.

A delicately striated and layered shelf mushroom lives on a fallen log, transmuting dead cells into new life.

A burl on a cedar tree creates a convoluted mask to cover a wound, while spider webs form miniature staircases up the crevices of the bark.

So little space, so much life -- the limbs of a tree wrap around each other and continue growing in different directions.

Near the water, Teresa points out the foundation of a Tsawout lodge. How long since it stood on this serene shore?

In a clearing nearby, we come across a circle of pine branches surrounding a stump surmounted with a column of rocks. Here the hands of humans have used nature's gifts to create a sacred space for their spirits.

By the shore, massive madrone trees stretch their coppery branches out over the salt water.

A heart shaped scar encloses the place where a limb broke off of a young madrone.

Where the madrone's flaky bark has peeled away, the underlying bumps look like little polar bears.

We leave the forest and climb down to the shore, where I find a moss-covered piece of driftwood that looks like a deer skull.

On another piece of driftwood, an oyster shell, the fabulously crenelated shield for the soft sea creature that the Tsawout frequently feasted on.

The white sand of the beach is made from bits of oyster shells.

Tiny islets in the bay harbor seabirds and one lone Canada goose.

From a rocky point we have a view of a distant peak.

Where water washes the rocks, tiny white turban shells cling to the leathery kelp.

Nearly hidden under the kelp, a purple starfish gleams.

At the end of the trail, the first signs of civilization, an anchored sailboat, fortunately with its motor raised out of the quiet water.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

blue-black pines on a hill

blue-black pines on a hill,
azure sound, lapis islands,
indigo sunset clouds

While we're waiting in line at Swartz Bay to drive onto the ferry that will take us from Vancouver Island to Fulford Harbor on the little island of Salt Spring, a man in a bright yellow jump suit pulls up to the dock in an aquamarine dingy with a coral red interior -- a riot of primary colors set against the slate blue water and weathered gray wooden dock.

Perhaps he works for the logging operation going on in the bay where a couple of tug boats are herding floating logs. A huge ship that looks like some kind of floating factory looms behind them. So the timber, logged in Vancouver by a company with the Scottish name, Campbell, based in Nassau, must be destined for the Bahamas.

Just as the ferry is arriving, a herd of school children hurry down the ramp. They must live on Salt Island but take the ferry every weekday to school on Vancouver Island, a 35 minute ferry commute each way, not counting transportation from school to ferry to home. On board, the e-generation are mostly engrossed in video games and texting.

On Salt Spring Island we're met by Teresa, a friend who lived in Fairfield for a long time.

Teresa takes us to a little cafe for a snack, a popular hangout for friendly people and corgis.

Inside the cafe, a colorful bouquet of poppy anemones in luscious shades of red, blue, pink and white greets us.

Coast Salish traditional wood carvings are displayed on a board covered with burlap from Guatemala, where the indigenous people also have a long tradition of handcrafts.

The weather is sunny but a little cool, so I order hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of powdered cocoa, a fair trade import from coastal Guatemala, where the Maya still grow ka'kau'. I imagine a ship bound for the Bahamas carrying timber products from British Columbia passing a ship from Guatemala with a load of cocoa somewhere along the Pacific coast. Small world.

After our treats, Teresa leads the way past vineyards, a honey store and a glassblower into what she calls "wilderness" until we're bumping up a gravel road to the top of a hill where the World Peace House perches. 

From the house we have an incredible view to the east across Puget Sound to Mt. Baker and the Cascade Range in Washington State.

Whitetail deer browse on the mowed grass around the house and then fade into the surrounding woods.

In the evening I sit on the hillside to watch the sun set through bands of clouds, a study in shades of blue.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

late spring at the lake

late spring at the lake --
ten gray goslings all in a row 
play follow the leader

On a walk around Bonnefield Lake, I'm enjoying the fantastic fragrance and seductive white blossoms of black locust trees when I surprise some Canada geese browsing on the freshly mowed grass on the path. The town has attempted to keep the geese from nesting at the lake by draping lines along the shore, on the theory that the geese won't cross the lines to get to the water. Obviously didn't work.

Two families, one with five goslings, the other with ten! The fuzzy gray goslings have golden heads and stubby wings and tails, while the parents sport elegant black caps with white chin straps and long wings and tail feathers. The goslings are too young to fly but the fully feathered parents are not going to leave them, so they all walk as quickly as they can on webbed feet designed for swimming, through the tall grass along the shore and into the safety of the water. 

At first the two groups seem to be headed in different directions.

In the water, one of the parents with the biggest family takes the lead and the other brings up the rear, while the goslings line up in a row in between.

Both groups head for the end of the lake, where a brush-free gravel embankment above a culvert makes a nice gangway from water to land. One gander keeps a lookout while the others climb up.

Now that they're on the gravel path that's part of the longer loop trail, one couple seems undecided about what to do.

Just then a man on a bike whizzes by. Oh no, back to the water! So down the ramp they hustle again.

They swim back to the other side of the lake, and I continue the long way around, where I surprise them again, grazing on the path, and send them hurrying once more back into the water. Brrr! Must be cold!


cream-white clouds of black locust 
racemes - summer's heralds

The black locusts have burst into blossom, intoxicating me, and the honeybees, for one wild week in late May. The buds look like a bundle of white slippers, while the creamy blossoms with green throats look like little orchids hanging in tantalizing racemes. The shape of both buds and blossoms shows Robinia pseudoacacia's relation to the pea family. The blossoms are edible, as are the young pods and seeds; however, the bark and leaves are toxic, especially to livestock.

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria grow symbiotically on its roots, so black locust can easily tolerate our Iowa clay and take up residence in areas where the soil has been disturbed, where it grows quickly and spreads by underground shoots. 

Black locust timber is so hard and rot-resistant that a fence post set in the ground can last for over a century. This is the tree that gave Abraham Lincoln the epithet. "Rail Splitter," from his early days of splitting black locust logs for rails and posts. Unfortunately, since at least 1900, locust borers have destroyed many of the big old trees and young trees rarely grow large enough to be valuable as timber.

But the fact that it grows quickly makes it valuable as firewood. We don't (yet) have black locusts on our property, but we do have a lot of honey locusts. However, honey locust has huge clusters of extremely long, sharp thorns guarding the entire trunk, so cutting it for firewood is, well, a thorny business. Black locust, on the other hand, has tiny spines at the base of the pinnate leaves, so it's a much better deal. Not only is it hard and burns slowly, producing very little smoke, but is said to have a heat content higher than any other wood, comparable to anthracite coal. And like its thorny cousin, if you cut it down, it grows back quickly from the stump, so it becomes an excellent renewable source of firewood.