Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en..and please keep your critters safe!

I'm not much of a Hallowe'en fan - between greedy kids with pillowcases (PILLOWCASES!!!) full of teeth-rotting, mood-changing, sugar-loaded candy, inconsiderate teens tossing firecrackers and defacing property, and ignorant adults ignoring fireworks bans and not protecting their critters....well, it just simply is NOT my favourite time of year. The real origins of the day have been lost, consumerism has once again reared its ugly head (have you checked out the price of costumes lately, let alone the price of treats???), and in its wake are streets full of candy wrappers (so much for waiting until the kids get home for parents to check their goodies) and other crap.

But, to me, the most distressing part of Hallowe'en is the number of lost dogs and cats posted in the week to follow. Dogs and cats do NOT belong outside on Hallowe'en night - not even for an instant. Yet every year, people whose dogs "always come when called", "stay right by my side", or "have never done this before" become startled by the firecracker that goes off nearby, or the plethora of noisy costumed kids crowding the open doorway, or simply the out-of-the-ordinary night sounds and smells. And so that dog or that cat that has never taken off before bolts, ignores calls, and is soon lost and confused and terrified if they don't first run into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

An animal can slip through an open door faster than you can say "Stay!". Dogs that never jump fences or bust through gates suddenly do so. And that flat collar that seemed snug is no match for an elongated neck of a frightened dog who backs out of it and leaves you holding collar (with id tags, of course) and leash in your hand.

So - keep your critters inside. If your dog needs a potty break use a martingale collar, or a combination of two collars (or harnesses) with two leashes and two walkers holding those leashes, to give you those critical extra seconds to grab him or her. Make sure all cats and dogs are confined in an area where they do NOT have access to the door from which you will be giving out treats. And keep them there until well past the witching hour because those firecrackers and late night revellers can be out creating havoc after all the wee ones are home driving parents crazy with their sugar highs.

It will be a busy day for me - I'm volunteering at Chemainus Theatre for much of the day, arrive home just about the time the Olympic Torch arrives at the ferry dock near my home (which may mean I can't get home right away due to road closures), then I'll check out the party in the park, quickly walk the dogs on their Martigales, put the cat in the bedroom and the dogs behind the baby gate in my office, and start with the endless stream of trick-n-treaters. After many years of living in the country with few or no kids to contend with (not a single one for the past three years), I've been told to expect anywhere up to 150-200 tonight. Ugh!

And tomorrow, no doubt, I'll be reading all the "Help! our dog ran off last night!" ads and signs and figuring out which searches I can help with.

Please keep your critters safe.

Friday, October 30, 2009

For Cisco, For Ellen

Cisco, Sleeping in Rays of Sunshine
(Photo by Ellen )

My friend Ellen and I had a long talk on the phone last night. For a couple of weeks now, we have known that her senior whippet Cisco was experiencing some health issues, and Ellen had already been given the heads up that the news might be bad.

On Monday night she received confirmation of what we both feared. Cisco, the whippet that melted my heart and stole hers completely, has been diagnosed with lymphoma - the same horrible cancer that stole my Caleb.

And now Ellen is going through the overwhelming task of weeding through research, making decisions, trying various treatments to keep Cisco comfortable and to help his last days or weeks or months - or possibly even years - to be as precious to Cisco as Cisco is to Ellen.

Just as I made the decision that chemotherapy was not an appropriate route for Caleb, Ellen has decided it is not the right choice for Cisco. And so now begins the process of researching and considering the best choices among dietary changes, herbal remedies and homeopathic treatments, conventional pharmaceuticals like prednisone, and so on. The goal, as always, is to provide Cisco with a treatment plan that is right for him, that will give him the best quality of life for whatever time he has left.

Cisco is twelve, and Ellen adopted him just over a year ago when his not-so-great family decided they no longer wanted him and took him to the vet to be euthanized. Thank goodness the vet they chose talked them into surrendering him, and phoned Ellen to see if she could offer him a home. Thank goodness that Ellen said yes. Thank goodness that Cisco has been blessed to experience her loving care, the company of his young whippet brother Kinley, runs on the dikes and rides in the car, sleeping on the bed (under the covers, yet!) and curling up with the cat. It is the type of life I wish all dogs could live. And, oh how I pray that he will have many, many more nights curled under those blankets and many, many more days racing along those dikes.

Please keep Cisco and Ellen in your thoughts and prayers as they make this difficult journey together.
((((((Hugs))))) Ellen. We are here for you both.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Messin' with the camera

After a year or two of using my camera on auto mode, I finally started messing around with the manual settings this week. Surprise - I found I have a "continuous" mode for action shots so I don't have to wait, wait, wait for the camera to be ready to shoot again!

When the sun broke out after a rainy morning, I took these photos down along the sea walk. I'm not sure if the manual mode produced anything better than the auto mode, but it was fun trying. (Note: I always find photos lose something in the reduction to blog size - to get the full impact of any photo, just click on it to enlarge, then use your back browser to return to the blog.)

First, of course, was the obvious - the brilliant fall colours, reflected in the waters of Osborne Bay:

Fall colours in water

Sunlight after rain

Sunlight reflecting on metal barrier

I tried some bird shots - something I've never found satisfactory with the camera on auto mode. There were lots of birds in the bay - gulls and ducks, geese and cormorants, herons and even those most comical of birds, the oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers always make me think of "Comic Relief" Day with its signature red noses to raise funds for charity - although the oystercatchers don't have round red noses, they do look like large black crows with fake bright orangey-red very long beaks. I wasn't able to catch a picture of them, but sure enjoyed listening to their hilarious chatter as they squabbled over a piece of rock. You can see what they look like here.

I did try my hand at catching birds in motion, though my zoom doesn't bring them in as close as I'd like:

Bird taking flight

Gull against blue sky

Bath time

And then my favourite bird shot of the day:

Bird on a wharf

And a few shoreline photos:

Beached Log

Shells and stones in sunlit waters

And lastly, a shot of the marina and bay from the little park by the ferry dock. The building to the right is an old schoolhouse, now museum.

One day I shall have to print out the camera's instruction manual (I hate how manuals are all online nowadays!) and actually learn how to use the manual mode more effectively. But for now, it was fun playing around with the settings.

(PS: I'm off to the mainland again for a couple of days, to visit my mom and my Emma and, of course, the piggies, so comments posted might not actually appear until Thursday night as I likely won't have internet access. But please comment anyway!).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

While You Were Sleeping

This was sunrise this morning, when I got up to let the dogs out. A half hour later, the sky was completely covered with cloud, and it rained the rest of the day. Thank you, Belle and Oliver, for being such early risers.

There are some mornings when having the dogs get me up so early is pure joy!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poor starved critters

Mama, we're starving!


Sometimes ya just gotta help yerself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday Walk: Fall on the Estuary

The morning rains ceased in plenty of time for the Wednesday walking group to meet at our usual place, Litos CafĂ©. As we decided where to go, passengers awaiting the little ferry to Saltspring wandered nearby, including this cutie – six month old Sully.

Sully is the nephew of Tarben, one of the Wednesday walking canines. Wiggle butts and puppydog eyes drew us like a magnet, so of course we had to stop to visit and to collect bulldoggy face washes.

We said goodbye to Sully and headed out to the estuary at Swallowfield, where the leaves are now drifting to the ground yet fall colours are still plentiful, and the spawning salmon create thick swirls and splashes at the mouth of the Chemainus river.

It is hard to describe, and even harder to photograph, the impact of dozens of large spawning salmon flipping and splashing and shoving, preparing to lay their eggs on the shallow gravel banks that separate the fingers of the stream. The ripples you see in the above photo (you may need to click on it for a better view, then use your back browser to return to the blog) are not caused by wind or tide but by an undulating school of fish, most weighing between three and ten pounds I would guess, churning around and around and around.

I suspect they were getting ready to deposit and fertilize the eggs in the gravel. Everything I have learned about salmon suggests that is the case – their colour had changed, the water was shallow, the gravel plentiful, the fish were flipping (an action they use to loosen the eggs for deposit), and the large males were shoving the smaller fish out of the way as they compete for the privilege of fertilizing the eggs. Pacific salmon are somewhat unique among fish, in that spawning is their final act before death.

I've also always been taught that this is NOT a good time to fish – not only does it destroy the next generation of salmon, but the meat of spawning fish is soft and mealy, not firm and tasty as it is earlier in the season. In fact, in many states it is illegal to fish among spawnbeds, though I was unable to find any regulation forbidding it here.

In fact, we had the dubious privilege of watching a young man spear fish after fish simply by wading in, aiming, and then releasing the spear in the tradition of First Nations fishing cultures. (Note: spearing fish is illegal for nonnative anglers in BC; the First Nations are not governed by these same regulations).

Within a few minutes, he had pulled these four from the river, but then unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortuitously from the fishes perspective) lost his gear.

We left the anglers to their activities and wandered on further, where the dogs could run and play and swim without fear of being tangled in fishline or snagged by a hook. Because of the salmon run, the sky was filled with eagles and gulls and other birds harvesting their own catch to fill their bellies. In the pools of water, jellyfish floated – not big and red like the smacks that arrived in Osbourne Bay earlier this fall, but tiny and transluscent, drifting with the tide:

We enjoyed an hour or so watching the dogs play, humans drinking in the beautiful scenery while the dogs splashed happily at the water’s edge, or romped in the mud and grasses.

Tarben and Tess kept us entertained with their ongoing Battle For the Branch – alternatively stealing it from each other, parading around with it held high, or playing tug of war as they each grasped an end.

In this video, Tarben has decided the stick shall be his, and warns off all contenders – but watch what happens at the end when he gets distracted by a movement in the grass! LOL - Poor Tarben!

After a while, dark clouds began to gather and so we headed back. On the way home, I stopped to photograph this section of track emerging from the trees:

I had spotted the brilliant yellow, dense, sunlit tunnel of leaves Monday morning on my way to the SPCA, but didn’t have my camera. Now, just two days later, the leaves were already turning brown and many had fallen – yet still it was a lovely sight.

I do believe fall is my favourite time of year.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making a house a home

It’s raining. The dogs are bored. Oliver is chasing the cat around the house, doing his little bunny hop dance and attempting to snap at Allie’s tail whenever she jumps up (thank goodness his reflexes are slow and Allie only threatens to swipe at him with her claws without actually connecting). Sadie and Charley are arguing over who should get to lie on the bed – at the moment Charley is the winner, and Sadie is sulking on the cedar chest at its foot. She is, I suspect, waiting, waiting, waiting for Charley to hop down so she can stake her claim.

"This sucks. I want the bed. Move, ya dumb ox. Grumble grumble."

The Princess Belle follows me from room to room as I move about cleaning this, or moving that… each room she settles down on the best available cushion or bed, only to rise with a sigh when she sees me move to another room. Poor Belle – she just wishes her mama would sit still for a bit! Perhaps it is a good day to read a book. But other tasks call to me – little things I am working on, little changes I am making to my house.

"Would you PLEASE stay put??!!!"

I am in love with my house. When I first bought it, it was a “good enough” house – right location, right price, right size but nothing exciting. This past week, I have found myself wandering around thinking “I love this house. I just LOVE this house.”. Slowly I have been transforming it to match my tastes – a bit of paint here, a bathroom reno there, new light fixtures throughout (oooohhhhh the sunshine ceiling in the kitchen gives the whole house a brand new feel – I love, love, love it!), a couple of new closet doors, rearranging this and that, surrounding myself only with things that give me pleasure – good books, some pieces of family history, bright and warm artwork, real wood. Yesterday I brought my beautiful patio bistro table in for the winter – a brilliant splash of colour to brighten the dark winter days.

"Hmmm...needs cleaning...has rain spatters..."

"Waiter, clean this table....and bring me a half litre of cream!"

An interior designer would no doubt have a heart attack looking at my place, as nothing is particularly modern (or uniformly antique, for that matter) and the furniture is a mish-mash of woods and fabrics and styles – but it is MY place, a comfortable place, a place of peace and solitude and yet a place to welcome friends.

And, because I am not worried about having the Home Beautiful image, it is a place where my dogs and cat are welcome everywhere, in every room, on every piece of furniture and on every rug.

And my critters, of course, are what make my house my home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Paradox

How can people who claim to like the outdoors, who supposedly enjoy nature, who bitch about depleted fish stocks and salmon closures, do THIS to the area in which they fish???

This was Swallowfield last week. I have been walking the dogs there nearly every week for months now, and never seen any garbage – not a thing.

And then the salmon run began, and the anglers came (though I’m not sure fishing is legal at this particular place, nor it is advisable during spawning in a year when stocks are depleted) – and THIS is the mess they left behind:

Well, actually, that’s just part of the mess – I didn’t touch the soiled toilet paper left all over the place, and the pile here doesn’t include the Tim Hortons coffee cups dropped liberally along the trail in.

Not only was there this crap left to polute the land and water, but the edge of the water was strewn with fishing line and packaging from fishing supplies. And all along the edge of the water were discarded fish parts - they filleted their fish and just dumped the remains.

This is illegal - fish must be transported whole, head and tail intact. I know this because I once got caught with beheaded, cleaned fish when I was transporting them in the teeny tiny freezer of an small motorhome I once owned. Fortunately the fisheries inspector let me off with a warning.

I love to fish. I consider myself an angler. But I would never, never, never pollute the very land and water that gives life to the fish and balm to my soul. How can these people who eat nature’s bounty, who fish in this beautiful place, walk away from this mess without so much as a backward glance? For shame!

To get away from the mess, we walked passed our favourite (now garbage-strewn) spot and across the estuary. Fortunately, the anglers had been too lazy to walk out that far – no garbage here. The tide was the highest we had ever seen it, huge salmon were flipping around in the deeper pools, and the autumn colours provided a beautiful backdrop against which to enjoy an afternoon out.

High tide


Fall on the estuary

Fall colours

On the return hike, we took a detour to a part of the delta I hadn't seen before. There we found hills covered with small bright green ferns, evergreens laden with cones, and ripening grapes planted long ago by the homesteader on this land. Among the grape and blackberry vines we found winter crocuses and the old stone foundations of a house.

Hills of green fern

Bough laden with cones

Stone foundation amid the vines

Winter Crocus


Grapes and old stone foundation

We left nothing but our footprints, we took nothing but photos.

What a shame the anglers did not do the same.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Frost

There is frost on the lawn this morning. The roofs of the neighbouring homes have each donned a slip of white lace. The bright morning sunshine reveals a thick layer of summer grime on my windows – darn, I hate washing windows!

Fall has arrived. For the first time this year, for the first time in this house, I turn on the heat. Only for an hour or so, until I am showered and dressed and ready to move around, but I turn it on nonetheless. I like my house cool, but there is a point at which even my bones feel chilled.

On Friday, Else and I drove north about an hour to do a homecheck for a rescued dog. We noted then how much brighter, more red, more yellow, more colourful the leaves were just that short drive away. Yet this morning, the trees here are equally as brilliant, a palette of Tuscan colours to inoculate the soul against the dark, drab days of the coming winter.

Ironically, with my morning coffee I am reading ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes, and the colours outside my window blend with the descriptions in the book. The beautiful tiled bistro table and pastoral artwork I bought last spring, also reminiscent of Tuscany, help complete the transformation. Crofton becomes Tuscany.

Today, many will celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving, though in actuality our Thanksgiving is tomorrow. It is the Thanksgiving of storybooks, replete with harvest and falling leaves, wisps of smoke from woodburning fireplaces and the last of the apples ripening on the trees, the clear blue sky and brilliant sun mocking the crisp cold air. My neighbour is baking pies – the tantalizing smell drifts into my yard.

I am thankful for so many things – for family and friends, for good food and a warm (or cool!) house. I am thankful for nature’s palette, so many colours to paint my world, and I am thankful for nature’s music – the ocean waves, the birds singing, the distant but constant barking of the sea lions on the reef just beyond the bay.

And, of course, I am thankful for my critters – for Allie, who drapes herself across my forearms as I attempt to put my thoughts to keyboard; for Charley, who scratched away at the bathroom door this morning to tell me “Mommmmm, Belle is barking again!”; for Belle, who demands I be in whichever room SHE wants to be in, and whose insistent every-ten-second-single-bark-until-she-gets-her-way drives me and all the other critters a wee bit crazy; for Sadie, who used to live in a car and now hogs my bed and my couch and my lap at every opportunity; and for Oliver, love of my life, whose ever so gentle and quiet demeanor housed in a physically and mentally challenged coat of soft sable and apricot fur tugs at the heartstrings and whose morning happy dance never fails to start my day with a laugh.

It is a good life. It is a beautiful world. That is not to negate the sorrow of homeless people or homeless animals, it is not to negate the lack of humanity exhibited in everything from global politics to child and pet care, it is not to negate the struggles of the poor or the frustrations of those with disabilities. It is simply to recognize that all this sorrow, all this inhumanity, all these struggles and frustrations, take place within a world of potential, within a world of beauty. And for that I am very thankful.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Maple Mountain, Overjoyed Oliver and Barking Belle

After yesterday's disappointing - no, infuriating - result at the District of North Cowichan's council meeting (they voted to continued using the gas box to kill cats, with only one dissenting vote.....I am still too angry to discuss their inane, illogical and ignorant justifications for such an inhumane decision), I decided to stay away from the computer, to stay away from the phone, and take off hiking with Charley and Sadie.

I chose Maple Mountain again, but from a different starting point - this mountain has almost as many trailheads as it has trees! As I was hiking alone and had told no one where I was going (I know, I know - I did take my daypack with a warm fleece, water, snack, cellphone, pepper spray, first aid kit, etc. etc., so wasn't exactly in any danger, but next time I shall remember to email a friend with my destination before I leave!), I stuck to an old logging road despite the tempting trail signs everywhere leading off into the trees.

It's obviously a popular area for equestrians, judging by the piles of fresh horse poops along the way. Why is it that dog owners must pick up their dog's feces, but horse owners need not, even when it practically covers the whole width of the trail for several feet??? (Sorry, that's one of my little pet peeves! LOL). Sadie thought they would make a nice light snack, but mama clipping her leash back on persuaded her otherwise.

One nice thing about inactive logging roads is the wide path that enables the walker to be more aware of their surroundings - better vibility of what is coming up, greater chance to spot wildlife or other hikers with dogs before suddenly coming across them. And....sometimes built in markers to tell you how far you have travelled.

It was a beautiful fall day, sunny but cool, golden leaves drifting down, sunlight filtering on ferns below. Birds were everywhere - singing happily and flittering from tree to tree. There was an abundance of Northern flickers - every few yards one would fly up from the ground where it had been foraging, its beautiful orangey-red underside flashing in the trees. The road was a relatively easy uphill grade for the first kilometer, and then leveled out as the view opened up below.

Then the road began to climb more steeply, but I am one of those hikers who keeps saying "let's just go to the next hill....the next bend.....that clearing....the next rise.." and before we knew it we had been walking uphill for over an hour. Just as we came to an open space from an old clearcut, I spotted a movement at the side of the road ahead - a cat! A kitten actually, a small orange cat perhaps 6 - 8 months old, who tore off into the brush as soon as we spotted each other. The dogs were lagging behind me, tired from the uphill stretch, so I was able to quickly leash them just in case they decided to follow the scent. From its behaviour and the fact we were far from any residences, I'm guessing the cat was feral - how ironic that I should go hiking to get away from the topic of homeless cats, only to find one high up on a mountain!

We walked a bit further, and then ever cognizant of the sun starting its downward journey and the dogs' limitations, we turned around and began our descent. We came across a woman with three dogs - two boxers and a lovely pitti - and one of the boxers decided to make macho and let Sadie know who's boss, but we soon had all the dogs under control and continued on our way. The only other person we saw all afternoon was a man digging salal bushes in the trees - probably illegally, as there are many signs at the trail heads warning that salal can only be taken with a permit, and he was very quick to grab his shovel and slip away when he saw watching him through the trees. Salal is used in floral arrangements but I wonder if there is some Eastern herbal use as well - the warning signs were in English and two Asian languages even though this area is pretty much solely English-speaking Caucasian and First Nations cultures. It is the only place I have seen bilingual signs with the exception of the beaches where people dig for clams, sometimes illegally during the closed red tide warnings.

But I digress - the return walk was pleasant and mostly uneventful, and the dogs and I enjoyed a good walk and a good workout.

I realize, in looking over the past many entries, that Oliver and Belle hardly ever appear in my posts anymore. They are not able to do the hikes and spend much of their time sleeping. I know Kelly, Sharon and Deb are probably wondering "doesn't she spend ANY time with those poor little shelties??????". I promise to do an entry starring Oliver and Belle soon - they are doing well, totally spoiled, and funny as ever. Just to placate you sheltie lovers, here's a video taken this morning of Oliver once again doing his happy dance to the accompaniment of the Barking Princess Belle.