“Snowmaggedon” 2017

I’m sure many of us have admired Currier and Ives Christmas card scenes — picturesque drifts of snow, frosty wreaths on doors and gates glistening under a dusting of fresh powder, shoppers bustling along sidewalks, smiling and greeting each other. Maybe the spire of a country church is outlined against a brilliant winter sky. Or a farmhouse nestles into a stand of snow-laden trees, windows outlined with twinkling coloured lights.

Then there are the beautiful nature scenes. So very pretty!

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It’s all very magical and nostalgic. The trouble is, this isn’t the entire picture. While admiring such scenes, there’s a reality we tend to forget.

Impassable roads, burdened branches and breaking trees…

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Damaged power lines…

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Constant clearing of snow and ice to facilitate going anywhere on sidewalks, driveways and roads…

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(Yes, everyone helps!)

Trying to salvage expensive garden shrubs, often to no avail…

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Are you getting the picture? I love the beauty of a fresh snowfall as much as anyone does, but if you’d been within earshot this past week you’d likely have heard my hubby and me muttering about the dratted white stuff. After all, enough is enough!

All these photos were taken on our property and street. The heaviest snowfall we’ve had in twenty years blanketed the neighbourhood over several days last weekend, taking down trees and power lines, and plunging us into four days without electricity — no lights, cookstoves or water. Fortunately, we do have a wood-burning fireplace in the family room, plus three kerosene lamps, and an emergency supply of bottled water. We spent most of our days huddled in the one warm room which usually stayed around 15-17 degrees celsius as long as we got up a few times during the nights to keep stoking the fire. The bedrooms, however, were a chilly five degrees. Thank goodness for cozy down duvets!

Of course we survived. I suppose it was an adventure of sorts, but we’ve seen enough snow for now. I’m thankful to have all our electrical conveniences back. I’d be happy to get our television cable restored, too (it’s been off for a week), but that’s a minor inconvenience.

I’m ready for spring. Crocuses and snowdrops are buried somewhere under all this white stuff and we’re hoping the predicted warming trend  will soon return us to more typical balmy west coast February weather. I think our local critters would appreciate that, too. These guys are camping out on our back deck, begging for extra birdseed.

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(Douglas Squirrel)

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(Varied Thrush)

No, there’s no real point to this post. I’m just complaining a bit. Once in a while a body just has to let loose and rant. 🙂

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Honestly…I DO like birds

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I love birds; I really do. But the last couple years a pair of juncoes have decided they would like to nest in the hanging basket on the deck beside our patio door. I’m sorry, guys, but IT’S THE WRONG PLACE. I have significant time and money invested in that basket and I need to be able to water it daily, fertilize it weekly and regularly deadhead its blooms.

They don’t care. They also apparently don’t care that my hubby barbecues underneath it, that our table is frequently occupied under the umbrella beside it, or that there can be significant activity on the deck around it. For instance, a few weeks from now there will be about sixty people milling around during our annual church barbecue.

We tried surveyor’s tape, fluttering a discouragement. Then we tried hiding the basket out of sight.

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Now it’s temporarily covered by an old apron, barricading against their nest-building access during times when we aren’t around to guard it.

 

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They don’t seem interested in the tubs that sit on the deck — not that I’d want them there either — it’s just the hanging baskets that appeal. They fly in, burrow between the plants and excavate a hole into which they start importing their building material, leaving remnants on the deck underneath. The splats they leave on the window as they come and go aren’t desirable either.

It’s not as if there aren’t other nearby nesting places available to them. We live amidst trees. Lots of them. It’s a forest, for goodness sakes! There’s even a nesting box. But, no, they are persistent. Well, guess what. So am I. If I’m not, there will soon be eggs and babies, and at that point I wouldn’t have the heart to dislodge them. My basket will soon look pathetic as the heat dries it out and kills the plants. So for now I must be vigilant. Sorry, little juncoes, but GO AWAY.

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I tried to extricate a writing analogy from all this, but the only one that comes to mind is the need for persistence. In the goal for publication we first need to research the right places — appropriate agents or publishing houses — and then keep sending out queries until the ideal match is made.

Now if these juncoes would learn that lesson, too, we’d all be happy.

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JUNE 17 UPDATE:

It seems we managed to discourage their occupancy of our hanging baskets, only to redirect their efforts to the deck tubs. Sometime between dawn and 8:00 a.m. they managed to almost complete the construction of a nest in the centre of one tub. ::sigh:: Really, guys, this is taking persistence to a ridiculous level!

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Birds of a feather…

Chickadees! Zillions of them flit back and forth, snatching seeds and passing each other on their fly past between the feeder and nearby woods. Well, maybe not zillions, but certainly millions. Oh, okay, at least a couple dozen at a time. 😉

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It’s hard to catch good shots of chickadees because they don’t sit still for long. This one was taken on a snowy morning at our daughter’s home. I sat at the family room window with camera poised and took several shots, few of which were in focus. Not until I uploaded them to my computer did I discover that (not counting the Common Redpoll’s little butt), I’d caught two different species of them in one shot — the Black-capped (right) and the Mountain (left) Chickadee.

The Black-capped are common where I live on BC’s south coast, as are Chestnut-backed Chickadees that often travel with them, but the Mountain Chickadees are new to me. Maybe I should say I haven’t noticed any on previous visits. A white eyebrow distinguishes them from the other species, but as they dart back and forth, that minor difference isn’t easy to spot.

One thing I find interesting about the birds who visit our feeders is the variety that often arrive together, especially in the winter. Here at home the Chickadees usual travel with Juncoes, and the occasional Varied Thrush or perhaps two or three Steller’s Jays join them. At my daughter’s, the chickadees arrive with Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks. First a bird or two arrives then the rest swoop in for an early morning feed, and leave for destinations unknown until it’s time to return for the next meal. They always make one last visit at dusk, stocking up extra calories for the night.

I don’t know the origin of the “birds of a feather flock together” phrase, but in the avian world it’s certainly true. Doesn’t matter their colour or size, they have feathers in common and many are happy to hang out together to share the benefits, (assuming we’re not talking about predatory kinds such as hawks).

People are a lot like that, too. We like to hang out with those who think like us, or have a love of similar activities. Even writers, who spend much of the time in solitary creating mode, like to interact occasionally with other writers. We know they understand our quirks and won’t question our eccentricities. They’re generous about sharing experiences and helpful information. And best of all, they commiserate without judgement over our query rejections and writing failures.

It should be like that for Christians, too. According to comments and articles I find on Facebook, however, not everyone has a positive experience in church. I read of discrimination, criticism and exclusion, and that boggles my mind! I haven’t observed that in the churches I’ve attended, but obviously it happens.

When it comes to sharing God’s love, we could learn a lesson from the birds! “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” [D. T. Niles]

“Evangelism is not salesmanship It is not urging people, pressing them, coercing them, overwhelming them, or subduing them. Evangelism is telling a message. Evangelism is reporting good news.”  [Richard C. Halverson]

Next time I see joyous wee Chickadees flocking to the feeder, I know I’m going to remember this.

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As Sandra Heska King’s “Still Saturday” winds down and merges with Lisha Epperson’s “Give Me Grace”, I link up for today’s transitional posts…

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and

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2016 and My ‘One Word’

We’re into another New Year, and I wish you a good one. Not everything we experience in 2016 is likely to be happy, but it can still be a good year, can’t it? A lot depends upon our perspective … our focus.

Unfortunately, I don’t always focus on the right things.

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Sometimes I’m not even looking in the right direction.

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I haven’t made New Year’s Resolutions for umpteen years; not since the realization that I rarely kept them, and thus proclaiming them only set me up for failure and humiliation. But I don’t go into the New Year without intending to accomplish certain things. (Intending is much more forgiving than resolving!)

Some years ago I discovered the ‘One Word‘ phenomenon, and each year since then have found a particularly meaningful word on which to focus. The word that has thrown itself into my path for 2016 is… ta da! FOCUS.

I really need better focus in my spiritual life, in my daily tasks, and in my writing, so it’s the perfect word choice for this new year. Hopefully it will provide the clarity I so badly need.

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(Pine Grosbeaks, with a few Common Redpolls in the background)

Is the New Year providing you with a new sense of focus? How are you challenging yourself?

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Stop, Look and Be Awestruck

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“WOW!”

How often do you stop and really look around? I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to walk and think. After all, wandering provides a great opportunity to mull through plot problems and life dilemmas. I also like to keep an eye on where I’m placing my feet since I have the unfortunate habit of finding roots, dips and hollows that trip me up and, more times than not, cause a sprained ankle.

Granted, keeping an eye on the ground has resulted in finding objects that I might otherwise have missed — like coins, a frog in the grass, and the dog’s lost ball — but when I’m not looking up with the intent to actually see, I miss a lot, too.

I miss appreciating the beauty of an arid landscape… (Consider clicking on photos to enlarge.)

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(Near Cache Creek, BC)

and seeing the fire-glazed colour of the sun.

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(Smoky afternoon sun, Cranbrook, BC)

I miss exquisite fall reflections…

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(Oie Lake in BC’s Cariboo country)

and brief encounters with local wildlife.

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(Black Bear – Oie Lake, BC)

Sometimes I simply miss the potential of endless horizons…

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(View from the Creston-Salmo Pass, southeast BC)

Too often we don’t look at all, or we look but don’t see. I believe as writers we have to be keenly aware of our surroundings. It’s through observation that we learn to experience the emotions we want to convey on the page. Two closely related emotions are awe and gratitude.

When did you last experience that combination? In what situations might you have allowed one of your characters to experience it?

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For the LORD Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.

[Psalm 47:2]

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The not-so-Common Loon

At one time it would prickle the back of my neck — an eerie wail from out of the dark somewhere on the lake. Now it’s the first thing I listen for each time we arrive. The call of our Loons.

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Our rustic little cabin is situated on a very small unpopulated lake in BC’s Cariboo country. Loons are territorial, and in the sixty-plus years of my summer and autumn visits, only once have I seen more than the one pair on the lake. That was decades ago, and I wondered at the time if the other pair were adults or juveniles, but they were never close enough for a photo, even with my zoom lens. Every year since then there have been just these two, piercing the lake’s solitude with their haunting calls.

Until this summer. One evening early in August I heard the familiar wails and warbles … a clamouring of assorted calls coming from the creek mouth just below our cabin. Thinking there might be a chance of some closer photos, I crept down the path to the shore just in time to see a whole group of loons moving out onto the lake — six of them!

I apologize for the shaky video, but I was shaking myself!

One seemed to be a slightly different colour, but the rest were alike, and I wondered once again if some were juveniles. Once away from the creek mouth, they drifted, circled and flapped, their various tremolo and yodelling sounds suggesting concern over an intruder. Then they slowly paired off and dispersed. I didn’t see them together again.

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There’s a mystique associated with loons. They are often featured in First Nations myths and art, and associated with legends of the North. I have a modest collection of them in assorted forms that range from a switch plate cover to candle holders, paintings, and sculptures, including a wood carving. They intrigue me!

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I’ve learned a number of facts about them:

  • they are larger and longer-bodied than a Mallard Duck, but smaller and shorter-necked than a Canada Goose;
  • unlike most avians, they have solid bones rather than hollow ones, which assist them in diving and staying as deep as sixty metres underwater for several minutes;
  • because of the placement of their legs far back on their bodies, they are clumsy on land but efficient in water and air;
  • they require a relatively long distance to gain momentum when taking off, and when landing will skim the surface on their bellies to slow down;
  • during migration they may fly for hundreds of kilometres at up to 120 kilometres per hour;
  • they produce a variety of vocalizations, but there are four main types of calls: the tremolo, the yodel, the wail, and the hoot. Each one communicates a distinct message.

I could get carried away with Loon trivia, but I’d better not. If you’d like to know more, Living Bird Magazine has a good article on loons reprinted on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Spirit of the North, the Common Loon. The Cornell site also has additional information.

What does this have to do with my writing? Not much, except perhaps to point out that when doing research for a story, I need to put boundaries on the time I spend doing it! Interesting tidbits can lead to more and more online exploration, until I’ve spent too many hours and collected far more information than I need.

How about you? Are you a disciplined researcher, or do you sometimes get lost in the collection of data, too?

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(Judging by the grey bill, a juvenile Common Loon … I think!)