Monday, April 28, 2008

Stepping Into Spring

Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting at the computer, waiting for my younger son, Alex to arrive home from a friend's house. I heard the front door open and I expected the familiar footsteps of my boy. Instead of the thunk, thunk of teenage feet climbing the stairs, my ears were met with relative silence. Figuring he had stopped to use the washroom downstairs, I continued to focus on my task of down-sizing recently captured photographs. A moment later I thought I heard the floor creak behind me and I expected to hear the sound of a chair rolling across the floor as Alex took his usual seat at the computer behind mine. Silence prevailed. Without turning around I greeted him, but heard nothing in response. This of course prompted me to turn around and face not my younger son, but my older boy, Jeffrey who had driven home from university to surprise me with a three day visit. His grin met my look of joyful surprise, and his arms opened wide, ready to receive my lunge and hug.

Originally, his plan was to come home on Thursday and stay for the weekend, but he had work to do in order to prepare for his upcoming training this summer. With his exams finished two days earlier than planned, he decided that he would spend Tuesday through Friday at home. I cooked dinner for him that night and he returned the favour by preparing lunch for me the next day - a wonderful Mediterranean-style pita wrap with barbecued pork, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and lots of Tzatziki sauce. We drove to a nearby conservation area in the afternoon and enjoyed each others company and chatter as we explored the paths along the Credit River. Back home, we caught a glimpse of a heron (possibly the same one I'd seen the day before a bit farther from home) as it landed on the shore of our local pond. The air was warm, and the late-day sunlight filtered through the trees. My son was home and all was right in my world.

The weather has been lovely so far this month and I've had ample opportunity to go out walking. Everywhere I looked, I saw the reassurances that spring had finally sprung. Here are just a few random images from the past couple of weeks.


Frank isn't the only one who finds frisbees and other treasures when he's out walking. I came across this happy-faced frisbee while strolling along a nearby creek. Despite its broken face, its infectious smile seems to have attracted one of the many snails that were busy making trails that day.


Not too far away, another snail was hurrying along at breakneck speed, among the blades of grass. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see its eye at the tip of the left tentacle.


In town, a store owner brightens up their outdoor display with some of the flowers they sell. Remember to click to enlarge these lovely blossoms.



One of the spring blooms in my own garden. I used to have a number of crocus flowers come up each spring along with these daffodils, some tulips and irises. This year I only had one white crocus. My next-door neighbour has never planted any crocus bulbs, and yet for the past couple of years her garden has proudly boasted some of the same flowers that mine used to display. Coincidence, Caroline? I think not! ;)



This is one of my favourite places to walk. It's just off of the paved pathway of my local park. The trees are growing at odd angles to reach the sunlight.



Looking up, airplanes left chromosome-like contrails in the sky.



A brand new leaf as it is about to emerge from this bud. Click to see more detail.



A duck perches upon a rock as the golden sunlight sets on the pond behind him.


Jeffrey and I crossed this suspension bridge which spans a narrow crossing of the Credit River. Like any normal guy, he took great pleasure in rocking the bridge while we crossed.



Our small pond reflects the sunset with shimmering warmth.



A robin perched upon a branch greets the rising moon with its song. You can see the subtle colour of the robin's breast if you click to enlarge.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Of A Feather

Today I walked to the same area where I saw my romantic seagull pair last week. The park and its lake usually attracts a number of people to the area. Some sit and watch as I did, some like to fish and others just walk with their children, holding their hands tightly, lest they wander too close to the edge of the dock. Today was no different.

I stopped at the dock for a few minutes to take in the surrounding activities. Two women walked together, one not more than ten years older than the other. The younger of the two spoke to her with the gentle, patient tone of voice one might use to address a young child. She held her hand and led the smiling woman to a bench. She then took her own seat at the edge of the dock and opened a small plastic container filled with what I later learned were nuts and grapes. I wondered if she had prepared a snack for the older woman and herself, but I soon discovered that she brought the treat for a creature she had seen at the lake the day before. No sooner had she removed the lid and shook its contents, causing it to make a slight rattling noise, when this lovely swan rounded the corner and swam into view.



The older woman seemed disinterested at the sight of this tagged creature, but continued to smile contentedly at nothing in particular. The swan seemed fairly tame and it swam toward the younger woman in order to partake in its snack. It was quite curious when it saw my camera.



(Please click to enlarge)

I chatted with the woman about the swan for a few minutes. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed another bird in flight, and watched as it landed on an adjacent shore. It was a large bird and I suspected that it might have been a blue heron. I decided to search for it. I said my good-byes to the two women and began making my way around the lake.

When I got to the point where I believed the bird might have landed, I veered away from the paved path, working my way closer to the actual shoreline. I climbed over bushes and ducked under branches, winding my way along the water's edge. It saw me first, and before I knew it, the heron took off and flew over to the opposite shore. The lake's circumference is only 1.5 km or about nine tenths of a mile, so my decision to continue following it would mean only a few more minutes until I could catch up with it again. I had a vague awareness of where I might find it, so I continued my way around the lake to that area.

Along the way, I saw a couple of lovely birds posing quite boldly for me, and I obliged by snapping a few shots.




(Please click to enlarge)

Trees, bushes and bull rushes made it difficult to maintain my visual connection with the general area, but I soon arrived where I thought I might have a good chance of seeing the heron. As I did, a man noticed my camera and told me that I had just missed a blue heron by a matter of a minute or two. He pointed to the direction where he saw it fly, which was of course where I had just left. I could see the heron across the lake and snapped a few distant photos.


(Please click to enlarge)

It seemed ill at ease with each person that passed it by along the path a few meters away, and it wasn't long before it decided to return to the shoreline closer to where I was standing quietly, camera to my eye. I inched my way closer to where it stood and cursed my decision just one hour earlier to leave my second set of batteries behind, as the low-battery warning shot across my view-finder. Past experience told me that I had very little time between that alert and the one that says "change your batteries now," which would promptly be followed by a complete shutdown of the camera.


With each step that brought me closer to this beautiful blue heron, I snapped another shot. Step, snap, step, snap. The warning was flashing faster, keeping rhythm with my heart. I wanted to get a decent shot, and didn't dare risk the extra power it would take to review the ones I had already taken. Step, snap, step, snap, click, whirrrrr. Silence. As my camera shut itself off, the heron took its cue and flew away. I headed home with a promise to myself never to assume I wouldn't need backup batteries again.


However, luck was with me after all. When I got home, I found that one of the "step, snap" sequences produced this image.

(Please click to enlarge)

I'm in awe of its beauty and hope that I'll get to see the heron again soon. When I do, I'll have an extra set of batteries in my pocket.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gulls Just Wanna Have Fun

Wednesday was the first really warm day of the season. The thermometer reached a sunny 23C (74F) which prompted me to take a walk up to a small man-made lake a few kilometers from home. A pair of seagulls appeared to be dramatizing their young romance solely for my entertainment. Here's their story in pictures. Please remember to click the photos to enlarge.


Once upon a time...

Boy meets gull.



First fight.



Boy loses Gull.



Alone.



Broken-hearted.



Boy drinks to forget.



And gets high.



Gull comes back.



Happily ever after.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Mockingbird

I had about three hours to kill last week - the time spent on the city bus and subsequent train ride traveling eastward to visit Frank. I usually pack a book to read and this time was no exception. Having recently returned one to the library, I looked around my own bookshelves for something to bring with me, and settled on the classic To Kill A Mockingbird. I had recently promised my son, Jeffrey that I'd reread it soon, so it was an easy choice. I'd have well-written entertainment for my trip and I'd fulfill a promise to my son. I settled into the first chapter when a little girl and her mother stepped up into the bus and took their seats near the front.

The child, no older than four, had a scowl on her
round, little face and when glancing up at her mom, I could see that it mirrored her own features and expression. The girl whined loudly, and demanded something from her mother. The parent outdid her child with volume, telling her that she could not have any chocolate until after the bus ride. Something in her tone and in her child's immediate growled response told me that the chocolate would be making an appearance soon. A few more growls, and half-hearted refusals on the mother's part and the little girl was presented with a large cream-filled chocolate egg. She continued to hold the angry expression on her face while unwrapping the candy, and it stayed with her well into eating it.


A few minutes into gobbling up her treat, the child caught my eye. Her angry expression never left her face as she watched me. I feigned a scowl in response, and her own scowl deepened. My eyes narrowed, and as I turned my face away from her slowly, I shot one more quick look at her and then smiled. She continued to frown as she watched closely for what I might do next. I dealt her a series of smiles and winks, and as her face began to soften, she returned the smile. Suddenly, she was quite lovely.

I continued making faces at her from across the aisle and several rows of seats, and she continued trying to return whichever expression I tossed her way. When I winked, she blinked and eventually resorted to holding one eye open with her fingers, allowing the other to blink a wink in return. I hid my face behind my hands and reappeared with a smile. She did likewise. I blew her a kiss and she obliged with one of her own. Occasionally she'd do something different, and I'd imitate her instead. We continued to interact like this off and on during the course of the trip. Her loud, raucous laughter was quite infectious and several passengers were watching and enjoying her amusement. Occasionally I'd get back to Jem and Scout who waited patiently for me within the pages of my book, but it wasn't long before I'd look up, and we'd continue our own little mockingbird game.

Eventually the mother nudged the little girl to let her know that their stop was coming up. The child continued to wave, make faces and blow kisses at me as she stood and waited for the bus to stop. She yelled a series of loud "good-byes" to me and she kept looking back at me as she descended the steps and exited the vehicle. The child left feeling cheerful - she skipped as she headed to their next destination.

I was pleased with the encounter which made the trip pass more quickly, but one nagging awareness disturbed me about the child's and my engagement. During the full hour trip, her mother never once looked over to see who was occupying her child's attention. Not once. She never looked at me while her child laughed out loud, blew kisses, waved and shouted her good byes. Unless the mother stole a sideways glance while I was catching snippets of my book, she had no idea who was holding her child's interest. As a mom, I found that troubling on a couple of levels.

Safety alone would dictate that a parent would want to see who is attracting her child's attention. Was I some potential child molester, or just an innocuous mother of long-grown children, out to acquire her child fix for the day? I would have expected to catch a glimpse of the smile that a mom can't usually hide, when her child delights in a silly game with a stranger. Mostly, I was concerned about why this mother would not show the sense of pride that most of us tend to feel when someone is clearly enjoying one of our offspring. Why didn't she show her little one that she took delight in her playfulness, her improved mood and her interest with some unknown stranger on the bus? I tried not to speculate about the relationship between mother and daughter. I hoped that perhaps the mom was just having a rough day, and therefore lost in her own thoughts. I tried not to entertain conjecture about the kind of mother she might be to her daughter, or what kind of person the girl might be twenty years from now. I do know that despite the smile on the child's face, I felt sad after they left.

Over the next several chapters of my book, I began to think of this little mimic along with Harper Lee's symbolic mockingbird. I hope that her songs generally evoke pride and affection in her mother. I hope that she feels cherished, and her innocence protected. And I hope she grows up to remember her childhood joyfully.

"Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird."


These photos were all taken in the wooded area just a few steps away from Frank's place. Please remember to click on them to enlarge.



When we go walking in the evening, we ease our way along the banks of this creek. The ice and snow that covered the land just days before, yielded to the warm spring sunshine causing the water to rush by rapidly.



Further along the creek, we enter the area that leads to the cedar grove. The area is beautiful and its approach always feels to me, to be the edge of enchantment.



Early the next day, our morning walk brings us to a calmer part of the creek, every bit as beautiful.



We soon arrived at the dam and fish ladder, where we paused to see if the trout were jumping their way upstream. Every now and then we'd see a quick flash of movement as one of them made its approach. I focused the camera where I had already seen a couple of fish splashing about. Frank warned me that it would take a lot of luck and patience to catch one of them. He then launched into a story about how he had spent many hours with his own camera over the years, in hopes of getting a shot at a jumping trout without ever having had any luck. "It takes luck and a lot more time than we have right now, Hil. Let's keep going. Benny is getting impatient" His voice droned on in the background...



By the time he finished his first sentence, I had already snapped this one. I suppose I had the luck. I didn't need much time. ;)




Here it is up close.




Moving along, the spring melt revealed some of last year's growth. Here's some Queen Anne's Lace, long gone to seed.




Close to the water's edge, we happened upon this natural wooden sculpture, being examined closely by one of the season's first flies.




Clearly beavers had been hard at work.


I'll post some more photos in a few days.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It Has Sprung

Spring has finally sprung around here. Today's temperature reached a sunny 16C (61F) and snow piles have almost entirely disappeared. It's been lovely for walking and snapping photos.

Just a quick update about the repairs that were necessitated by mamma raccoon. The roof has been repaired by an outside contractor. It rained heavily the following day and I heard nary a drop. The interior work has been on hold while the insurance company's contractor got their act together and presented an estimate. They're booked to come in next Monday to start doing the rest of the job which includes repairing my ceiling and wall, painting both and cleaning the carpet. The insurance company has agreed to pay all of my bills in full. That includes the interior and exterior work, the bill from the animal removal service, a bill from my neighbour Lloyd for his emergency repairs, the replacement cost of lamps, shades and venetian blinds, and a fair compensation for a water-damaged night table. Lombard Canada, Ltd. was cooperative, helpful, supportive and reliable in every way that I had hoped, and I highly recommend them.

I've heard the raccoon kits under the deck as recent as yesterday. My cat Skittles, Frank's dog Benny and my neighbour Caroline's dog Raven can all smell them. They head over to that corner of the deck to sniff around as soon as they are outside. I'm concerned that one of them might try to corner them sometime when they venture out, particularly Benny who seems to be hardwired to chase. I'll be happy when the kits are old enough to leave their nest behind so that we can seal up their point of access. Aside from my concerns, I'm happy to know they're still around, and hope that all four babies are still thriving.

Please enjoy some random shots taken over the past week. Please remember to click on them to enlarge.


Other birds are just as representative of the season, but get shortchanged by the popularity of the robin as the first sign of spring.





This mourning dove was busy gathering nesting materials.




This little guy watched me closely and suspiciously until I lowered my camera and moved on.



A walk along a nearby shallow creek offered this view.



Frank almost always finds something when he's out walking. This time, much to Benny's delight, it was a frisbee.



Here's a view of the willow tree that appeared in the last foggy image, two posts ago.



The setting sun always warms the lake with its golden light.



An out of focus shot of a duck taking off, rendered this image a suitable Photoshop experiment.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Boy

Twenty one years ago today, a most precious gift was bestowed upon me...

Happy 21st Birthday, my boy.


Love,
Mom

video

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

All Fogged Up

Late yesterday, a fog rolled in, and lingered until after dark. I love how it cloaks familiar scenes and mysteriously transforms how everything looks and sounds. It gives new perspective - something I've seriously needed these last few days.

House repairs have been a source of frustration for me since the raccoon incident (parts one, two and three). In the days following the chaos, the insurance company's contractor has been out to start repairs to the interior. This involved cutting a rectangular hole out of approximately one third of my bedroom ceiling and a similar, though smaller opening at the top of my wall. Once they had access to the interior of the attic, Manuel and his crew filled a dozen large bags with broken stucco ceiling, drywall and soggy insulation. A makeshift plastic wrap funnel was designed to transport any further rain water or melting snow down through the hole in my ceiling and into a bucket on the floor. Plastic was taped beneath the hole, allowing for the funnel to pass through it. Then three enormous pieces of equipment were placed beneath the work, and left there to run for as many days. One was a dehumidifier. Its hose was taped to my carpet, following a path to the bathroom so that it could drain into the sink. The other two machines were over-sized fans - one of which was aimed at the wall, and the other at the ceiling, in an attempt to dry them out for further repair. This would have been more logical if the roof had already been repaired, or at least patched, and if we weren't going to encounter more rain or snow in the following weeks. But that was not to be.

The interior crew - Manuel and the boys were bright, kind and humorous people who helped put my mind at ease despite the lengthy repair time that was becoming evident to me. I have no qualms about their expertise and their consideration for our comfort as they work. I'll be happy to have them back to complete the job when that time comes.

The roofers were not as inspiring. A day or two after Manuel and his people were here, two men arrived to look at, and temporarily patch up the hole in the roof. The weather had been clear and dry up to that point so the fan-blown ceiling and wall had not been challenged. After about fifteen minutes of hammering, the men left, assuring me that this temporary patch would hold out the rain. It didn't. Yesterday morning I awoke to a drip, drip, dripping sound as the raindrops hit the plastic above me. I made another call to the contractor and he said that he'd have a crew out during the day to take a look at what needed to be done to keep me dry. True to his word, three men arrived, hammered some more and left. It rained again last night. My roof continued to leak, filling a bucket with about 2 cm (a half inch) of water and causing rivulets of rain to stream down my wall - a cool effect if it wasn't so damaging.

As it stands at the moment, I'm waiting for callbacks from a couple of other local roofers to determine what the problem is, and to acquire an estimate for the repair. I'll be happy when I know my roof can survive the next rainfall or snow melt and I can clear my head from this fog of house repairs.

As for the raccoon family, I've not heard any chattering since the day after their relocation, but an adult (presumably the mom) has been around at night, munching on seeds that had fallen from my bird feeder. When she consumed all visible seed, she climbed the tree, gave the feeder a good whack and sent more munchies tumbling down to the ground, where she feasted some more.

She was totally unconcerned when I opened the door to snap this picture.

Here are some photos that I took late yesterday, while walking around in the fog. Please remember to click on each of them to enlarge.


The day appeared dreary and the path bleak, yet the fog helped to soften the darkness.



I passed very few people out in the park yesterday evening. Paths were mostly empty.



This is one of my favourite sites along the pathway. The tree's bent limb stood out nicely against the dark fog.



Crows perched upon a nearby tree, were dark silhouettes to the background fog.



There are two lovely willows that grow alongside the lake in our park. This is one of them as taken from across the pathway and up on a hill.



A tree leans out over the water to touch the fog.



Winding my way along the path, I startled a pair of ducks who were resting in the snow. As I snapped this photo, one had just taken flight while the other flapped his wing in preparation.



They landed here on a small rocky peninsula that juts out from the shore.



The female met her reflection in the water below as she decided to follow her already-departed partner.



This was the view from the pathway just beyond where the ducks were sitting.



This is the other willow. Its limbs are as wispy as the fog.