Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sunsets and Smiles

I think this is one of the most spectacular places in British Columbia for amazing sunsets and sunrises. Last night, the sky was washed with streaks of red running parallel to the horizon, as if someone had dipped their brush in watercolors and gently brushed them across the sky:

Today, I took Charley and Sadie to Osborne Bay Park, our favourite offleash area. The fields are awash with white daisies, and tall grasses sway in the light ocean breeze.

I think the dogs were pretty darn happy:

Even these flowers looked happy, and the little bug on the daisy seemed pretty happy, too, waving his tiny antennae around in the breeze:

And one last happy picture - yesterday I was going through some old photos from my days in Mission, and came across one of Princess Belle and the piggies. It made me smile to see her smile:

Simple things, sunsets and smiles, but oh so important for a balanced life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two quiet, old, easy-care dogs

It’s strange how losing two little shelties in a short space of time can change ones life so completely. My days have been hectic for so many years, with paid work, volunteering, fostering, and caring for special needs dogs. Now, with just two quiet, old, easy-care dogs and few responsibilities, the sun shining and the flowers blooming and a cold beer in the hand, the old song comes to mind: “Summer time....and the livin' is ea-sy....”

As I wandered along the beach near the RV park the other evening, I found myself envying a family gathered around a campfire singing songs and softly strumming guitars. I used to camp every chance I got – sometimes with a dog, sometimes without, often with friends or family but often alone. I camped with my parents when I was a child, I camped with friends in tents or out in the open beneath the stars, I camped in tiny rustic alpine lean-tos on backpacking trails high in the mountains, and I camped (though I would hardly call it that) in a fully equipped trailer on my own little piece of recreational property in the Fraser Canyon. Whether in a tent, under the stars, in a rustic lean-to or a fancy trailer, camping has always been part of my life. Lazy days fishing or reading or hiking, evenings around the campfire, any spare time I had was spent doing these things I loved.

That is, until I began volunteering at sanctuaries and shelters and taking on senior and special needs animals of my own.

Working full time for pay while also volunteering 15-40 hours a week at a multi-species sanctuary for senior and special needs animals left no time for camping. From there I moved on to fostering animals – up to 18 at a time – pigs, alpacas and palliative dogs on my own property, while also assisting with rescue transports, homechecks and the occasional day at Hearts on Noses potbellied pig sanctuary. Post-retirement I moved on (both figuratively and literally) with my four adopted senior/ special needs dogs, and with various volunteer obligations as well life was pretty full.

Then the volunteer project I was most heavily involved with reached completion, and my two most needy dogs died the very next week, and suddenly the life of chaos amid structure, of uncertainty amid predictability, of going flat out for as many hours a day as I could while still caring for my deaf, visually impaired and cognitively confused shelties, was over.

As I wandered down by the RV park, and reminisced about my days of hiking and fishing and my nights singing and play guitar around the fire, it occurred to me.... I could actually do those things again. With only two quiet, old, easy-care dogs and few responsibilities, I could take off on a whim and go camping. Tenting doesn’t much appeal to me anymore, but my van is big enough for two dogs and me to sleep in, and I still have my campstove and axe and other basic necessities of camp life.

Or I could load up the dogs and visit my sister in Penticton or my friend of over fifty years in Vernon. I’m sure both would welcome me, with just two quiet, old, easy-care dogs.

Even without leaving home, the livin’ is easy with only two old dogs.

I now get up late for the first time in over forty years – and even then, it is my needs, not my dogs’, which drive me from the bed. Sadie and Charley have bladder control far greater than mine – they can go from nine at night until nine the next morning and still have to be coaxed outside to go pee.

I make very few plans for the day. If the errands and chores get done, great; if not, there is always tomorrow. I putter around the house or yard, take the dogs for a stroll on the beach or a short hike on some shady trail in the municipal forest. I snooze, or write, or chat with a friend, or confer with a neighbour about the blackberry brambles that are climbing over my fence.

I still volunteer at a couple of places, but schedules are flexible and the big fundraising events are over for the summer. I can go out whenever I want – the dogs don’t mind. As long as they have had their walk, they are quite content to sleep on the couch or the bed while I take off for who-knows-where. And when I am home, they continue to sleep – large black furry couch potatoes who demand nothing more of me than some food, fresh water, a few pats, and a soft bed.

Who you callin' a Couch Potato? I'm a Rug Spud!

An' this aint no comfy couch beneath me!

Well, okay, I'm a Sofabed Potato.

Or maybe just a bedbug...er..bed-dog.

[Aside from Allie: "Don't you DARE post dat picture! Don't you DARE!!! I'll be kicked outta the 'Cats Rule, Dogs Drool' Club if anyone seez me sleepin' wiv the enemy!!!]

It is a slow and easy life. And for now, at least, I think I like it that way. It offers.....possibilities. Many possibilities. I shall have to think about that when I next look at Chester, the eleven year old pitbull cross on the Bully Buddies website, or Casey, the ten year old yellow lab whose owners told the Maple Ridge SPCA they didn’t want him anymore, or Conroy, a ten year old boxer whose family dropped him off at a boarding facility and never returned, or any of the other dozens of senior dogs being temporarily cared for by rescue organizations and shelters in British Columbia. They all need a home. And I could provide one. But for now, it’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.....with two quiet, old, easy-care dogs.



Friday, June 25, 2010

Horsing Around

On my quick trip to the mainland, I stopped by my friend's farm to meet her new horse and catch up on the latest gossip from my former place of employment. Of course, I took the opportunity to get some pics of both her horses, Dobby and Haven. I was so stunned by Haven's gorgeous markings that the names of her two dogs, also shown below, have completely slipped my mind. Siska and Nicki???? Me bad!

Dobby is a lovely dark chestnut brown colour with black mane and tail. His claim to fame is obviously as a spy - he likes to peer through the chinks in the barn wall and check what's going on in the other stall:

He's a very sweet boy, a bit less forward or flirty than the newcomer, Haven, but more of a gentleman.

Haven is just a big flirt, quite prepared to nibble away at my hair, nuzzle my neck, or give me a love pat - er, thunk - when I'm not paying enough attention to him.

I love, love, love the markings on his rump! (I told him if he didn't behave, he would make a mighty pretty hide on the wall! Just kidding, Haven, just kidding!).

And his mane and tail - Haven, do you realize people pay big money to get their hair streaked like that???

Farms are great places for photoshoots, and for the most part the natural light accomodated me. Barns are one of my favourite places - to hang out, breathing in that unique combination of hay and straw and manure and animal sweat, or to photograph old weathered wood in sunlight:

And what is a farm without a couple of dogs - though Samoyeds might not be the first breed that comes to mind for life on a farm! How the heck do you keep all that white fur clean????? These two obviously enjoy life, though, and seem to have a smile permanently fixed on their faces:

Thanks for the farm-fix, Luanne. It was a refreshing break in an otherwise hectic and stressful trip.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The good news and the bad news....

WE WON! THE COWICHAN VALLEY SPCA WON! Thanks to all who voted.....we won the Sun FM's SuperGive contest, with a grand prize of $25,000 in free advertising, and the station's commitment to fundraise another $25,000 cash for us this year.

I was sitting in my car in Abbotsford listening to the radio for the announcement. I think they probably heard my shout of excitement all the way back to Duncan.

I made a rush trip to the mainland this week, stopping by Hearts on Noses to discuss a grant proposal, visiting a friend and former colleague to admire her horses, and then the real purpose of my trip - to check in on my mom. Who, as it happens, was not doing at all well. Which meant we spent the morning at the clinic instead of having a nice lunch out or going to the park for a picnic. Not fun.

No more fun than getting rear-ended on the trip over, by an 18 year old with an N licence - his third accident, and so now the roads will be safer for a year as he loses his licence. Fortunately his vehicle took the brunt of the impact, but it is still a hassle to have to file a claim, meet with ICBC, get the new van repaired, etc. Not to mention the number it played on my already sore back.

And no more fun than watching the car in front of me get creamed by a post which a ferry employee steered the driver into. Or listening to the ridiculous attempts of the ferry personnel to deny any reponsibility and place it all on the driver of the car. Apparently, even if a person in uniform tells us to move forward and to the right we have the complete right to simply stop our car whereever we want on the ferry deck and refuse to move it. Who would have thought?

Anyway, I'm tired, it's been a long day, and tomorrow I shall post some photos of horsies and dogs and other neat things.

Thanks again for your votes on the SuperGive.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Confessions of a Patio Gardener

Fuscias on the back deck

I love flowers. There are few presents which give me as much joy as a big bouquet of brightly coloured flowers or a potted plant chock full of blossoms. I love gardens – beautiful colourful gardens full of magnificent flowers, shady trees, attractive stonework and fountains. And I love to grow things. Um......let me amend that: I love to plant things.

A gardener I am not. I lack the patience, the knowledge, the strong back, or the interest in minute details like ph balance and soil construction and ratios of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

Each year, I buy or receive as gifts perennial cuttings, carefully put them in the ground, water them the first few days…..and then neglect them. By next spring, I don’t even know where they are or what they are called, and as I madly yank out things that I assume to be weeds running rampant, I inevitably yank out the perennials too. Those that do survive soon become infested with aphids or caterpillars or slugs or other little creepy crawlies who munch holes in the leaves, strip the branches, and turn beauty into beast.

I compare myself to the person who buys a dog thinking if they just provide a bargain brand dogfood, some water, and maybe a place to sleep, the dog will spontaneously become Lassie and save Timmy from the well. No work necessary - the hand of fate will miraculously turn a pup into a loyal, intelligent, social, amazing pet. Sure it will!

I buy plants. I stick them in dirt, add some water, occasionally go look at them to make sure they are still alive, and envision a future with blossoms everywhere, friends and family agog at my beautiful, well trained plants. Yeah, right. The bugs and weeds win every time and before you know it the poor abused plant is being dumped at the nearest shelter…er…compost heap.

The reality is that what I love, when it comes to gardening, are flowers that grow spontaneously, surprising me one morning with a shock of blue colour here or a red blossom there, peeking out amid the weeds. The self-seeding, over-productive flowers that are the bane of other more disciplined gardeners are pure delight to me – hence the flower bed in my front yard, full of those bright orange flowers whose name I forget but which every neighbour has warned me I need to pull out lest they take over the garden.

Orange flowers spreading like wildfire among the weeds

But dreams seldom die, and so once again I have put my hand to trowel and, with visions of blossoms dancing in my head, planted a garden. My approach this year was different – instead of working the rock-hard clay and stoney dirt that surrounds my house, I decided to build a patio garden, full of pots and planters and hanging baskets of bright geraniums and petunias, impatiens and trailing white bacopa, cascading down the fence and surrounding my 8x8 patio, complementing my beautiful Tuscany-like bistro table in colours of red and white and touches of sky blue.

Bistro Table

I have never found gardening to be an inexpensive hobby – flowers, soil, fertilizers, tools, one can spend one’s life savings in just two or three visits to a nursery. So I scoured garage sales for planters and stands and garden-type brick-a-brack. I cashed in Air Miles for gift certificates to the garden centre of a local home and garden store, I lugged home a small tree from another garage sale and friends gave me gifts of plants. I did end up paying cash for a few things that I couldn’t find elsewhere – a couple of long planters, some wrought iron shelf brackets, a string of solar-powered dragonfly lights, and a small outdoor area rug to put under my patio table.

I was pretty proud of myself. I built shelves on my sturdy cedar fence for the long planters, from which would cascade red and white showers of ivy geranium and wave petunias; I potted and planted and filled baskets and positioned a bird bath/fountain, carefully choosing which plants needed the shady location, which the sunny spots. And after several days of work, I finally had it finished – everything except the daily watering and waiting for Mother Nature to do the rest and produce my magical patio retreat.

South Side

West Side

House (East)Side

Dogs checking it out

I took photos, and as I sat at my computer looking at them and preparing a blog, I heard a crash. Outside. On the patio.

Forty dollars worth of wrought iron brackets and two eight inch wide planks of 1” cedar are not sufficient to hold two twenty dollar long planters full of dirt and flowers and water. The long planter had come crashing down on the flowers below and the new outdoor area rug, bringing the dragonfly lights with it. The planter smashed to pieces, the blossoms and tender leaves were crushed, the dirt was everywhere, and like the negligent dog owner who blames the dog for the mess on the floor, I swore at the plants.


I let the mess sit there for a day or two before once again tackling the problem of how to suspend planters from the cedar fence. I bought two wrought iron half-circle fence planters, dug out some narrow red brackets from a box, salvaged what I could of the broken plants and dirt, and started again. This time the fence planters were attached directly to the thick, wide cross board and while I must now stand on a stool in order to deadhead flowers or check the soil, the twelve heavy 2.5 inch screws (and the additional security of a new shelf underneath) should stop these plants from tumbling down.

Revised West Side

The completed project - second time around.

And so I still dream of a patio full of flowers, cascading down fences and rising up from planters, a soft patter of water in the fountain, a steaming latte or an ice cold tea served to friends at my table, a place to read and a place to laugh and a place to dream.

Please hold me accountable – check back in a month to see if I have kept watering, weeding, feeding, and deadheading those plants in order to achieve my goal, or if the patio is surrounded by dried pots of dirt with shriveled up leaves and dead, brown blossoms. And if the latter, please ban me from owning plants – for life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lewis' Moon Snail - a lesson in biodiversity

The tides this week are exceptionally low, enabling us to walk the mile or so from Crofton Beach, in town, to Osborne Bay Park (my favourite offleash park and beach) along the rather mucky sand. This affords a close up view of zillions of shells and sand dollars and crabs and starfish, and an opportunity to learn more about the amazing biodiversity of this area.

I’ll save many of today's photos for another post. For this entry, I want to share what I learned about one of my favourite shells. From my first week here, I have been finding large, broken, empty, round shells, about 3 inches in diameter, with beautiful shiny insides. From previous posts you may remember this:

Or this:

In those shots, the inhabitant had long vacated the residence. But today, everywhere I looked, I saw the Real Deal – inhabited, intriguing, amazing moon snails. Specifically, they are Lewis’ Moon Snails, or Euspira Lewisii, a gastropoda from the family Naticidae. (To learn more about sea shells of British Columbia, check out this website).

The name Lewis’s Moon Snails, according to another website, honours Meriwether Lewis, who with William Clark (and led by a young Indian woman named Sacajawea) explored the route to the Pacific in the early 1800s, and brought back specimens of this edible shellfish, the largest of all moon snails.

The first indicator of the snails is a fist-sized mound of sand, which looks like this:

(Note: you can click on any image to enlarge, then use your back browser to return to the blog.)

As we approach, the snail retreats quickly. To do this, it must pull itself into its shell completely – made possible by expelling all water in a huge geyser which rises up in two large streams to a height of about 8 – 10 feet, a Crofton version of Yellowstone Park geysers! I was only able to capture a couple of feet as the whole event is over in seconds and the mound has become nothing more than a small hole in the sand.

(Edited to add: the above pictures may, in fact, be the mound and water geyser of the geoduck clam rather than the moon snail. While several sources speak of the moon snail forcefully expelling water in order to retreat into its shell, the geoduck is more famous for these shoreline geysers. Both geoducks and moonsnails share the same environment - the moonsnails feeding on the geoducks.)

But on many occasions, we found the snail extended out of its shell (it can extend up to a foot in diameter), sitting on the sand with little concern for its safety.

Apparently its primary predators are humans and “sunflower stars”, which are starfish common to the northwest, with 16-24 limbs or ‘rays’. The starfish, in turn, are prey for king crab which, I have just learned from Wikipedia while researching the Moon Snail, is the name of the weird crab whose photo I posted in an earlier blog:

The king crab are eaten by other local sealife such as halibut and sea otters and, of course, humans.

But back to the Lewis’ moon snail. All over the beach we found what appeared to be pieces of tires. They were, in fact, the egg casts or ‘sand collars’ of the moon snail, comprised of hundreds of tiny snail eggs bound together by mucus and sand.

These sand collars are large - a good 12-15 inches across. As the eggs hatch and the larvae merge with the plankton to grow and mature into little moon snails, the sand collars break down leaving “tire treads” all over the boggy sand.

And there is lots for the maturing moon snails to survive on – they simply drill a hole in the shell of clams and oysters and mussels and suck out the insides – in fact, they are the bane of oyster farms and clam beds. They can also suffocate their prey with their giant, gelatinous foot - if dogs, humans, oil spills, log booms, gulls or starfish don’t get them first.

One simple walk on the beach leads to a quick google inquiry to find out a shell’s name, which leads to a fascinating lesson in biodiversity. Moon Snails, starfish, king crab, halibut, humans .....all interrelated, each dependent on another.