Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunshine comes in many forms

As the dogs and I sit staring morosely through the windows at the rain, I can't help but reflect that the good mood I feel when the sun shines is also kindled by many non-solar events.

Now, I bet you’re thinking I’m about to tell you how my dogs make me laugh, or the cat warms my heart, or the flowers on my patio still bloom in rain.


I’m going to tell you about the sunshine that supporters of animal rescues and shelters provide. 

As many readers know, I volunteer at our local Cowichan and District SPCA.  We have the best staff, the best volunteer dog walkers and cat lovers, the best animals. 

We do!
The Very Best Dogs!

And we have the best annual garage sale in the whole of Canada.

I’m part of a core team of 6-8 people who begin in January to accept donations, sort them, research them, price them, box them, stash them in every available nook and cranny around the shelter, and place some high value or very large items online.  

Pack 'em tight
and stack 'em high!

Come garage sale time, we are joined by another 30 or so volunteers who transport them to the Cowichan Exhibition grounds, unpack them, display them, and sell them.  It is the cleanest, best organized, best attended garage sale event you will ever find.  Last year, all that was left in the previously-packed 16,000 square foot hall was a couple of passenger van loads and a utility trailer of stuff, which a local thrift store took away for us, and a profit of over $30,000 in the shelter’s coffers.  

We achieve this by being picky – only clean, good quality, unbroken items are sold – and by pricing low enough to attract buyers but high enough to maximize the benefit to the animals.  The total we raise annually speaks for itself.

But back to my original theme – sunshine.  Despite the fact that those of us on the core team become bone weary long before the actual sale, sometimes frustrated by dirty, broken, musty and even rat-and-mice-feces-covered items that the ‘donors’ should have taken to the dump (and which we have to pay to dump),  there are many moments when the generosity of our supporters brings sunshine to our lives. 

Generous donors are like a beautiful sunrise

Some of the donations we receive are amazing – like the three framed prints by famous artists we’ve received so far this year that are each valued at over $600;  like the clean, barely used furniture a care home donated;  like the quality clothing, the nearly new tools,  or the brand new set of golf clubs someone won and didn’t need.

And like the van load of goodies that came in on Thursday.  A supporter who is moving out of the country donated container after container of quality goods, all spotlessly clean, all carefully packed, all organized – tools and garden items in new or like-new condition in their original boxes with instructions;  beautiful kitchenware that would be coveted by any cook who knows his/her saucepans;  clean, popular, near-new books; small appliances without a scrape or dent or spot of grease on them.  Her donation will bring hundreds, if not thousands,  of dollars to our sale, to our shelter, for our animals.  It was like Christmas morning, opening those containers, oohing and aahing over the contents.

Not everyone has a houseful of goods to donate, or quality like-new items they no longer need.  But sunshine comes in little rays too: the colourful lego set a child has decided to part with;  the ‘oops what was I thinking!’  shirt with tags still attached;  the ‘time to get rid of these’ unused boxes of craft supplies for that hobby you never really got into; or  the ‘what the heck will we need these for in our new condo?’ shiny gardening tools. 

And of course there are things donated with a few tears – the orthopedic dog bed that a beloved pet only used for a short while before passing away; the family heirloom that sat on a recently deceased parent’s shelf for years but none of the relatives really want; the bedroom suite of the youngest child who has long since been out on her own.  

Every time we receive a donation of clean, quality, well cared for items, we smile. 

And sunshine pours into our lives.  Even when the weather outside is rainy.

Thanks, supporters.  You are the best.

Cowichan and District SPCA Annual Garage Sale
May 31 – June 1 at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds
Clean, quality donations gratefully accepted at the shelter on Bell McKinnon Rd until May 15th.  Please phone ahead if you wish to donate furniture.  We respectfully retain the right to decline items we know we cannot sell, like television sets and most other electronics, skiis,  old kitchen plastic ware, and items in poor or dirty condition.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hiking again at last

It has been a few weeks since we went hiking with our buddy Keaghan - first snow, then wind, then ill health kept us from going out on our usual treks in the bush.  But Sunday afternoon was the perfect day to return to Richard's Mountain, starting from the trail at the end of Escarpment Way.  We hadn't gone far before we ran into another frequent user of the trail, a very nice dog named Rusty and his human, Sharon. They were on their way back down, but turned around to walk with us a short way in order to show us the trailhead for another route.

People ahead!

Hey, it's mah pal Rusty!
Eddie really likes Rusty - I just about fell over with surprise when the two started dancing around and play bowing at each other - Eddie very, very seldom ever plays with another dog.  He's just not that sorta guy. Perhaps he had a touch of spring fever.

The skunk cabbage is showing its brilliant yellow blooms now, popping up in the shallow pools and marsh of the forest.

Keaghan always has to go for a paddle wherever water is found: 

The forest landscape had completely changed since our last hike up the mountain - the winter snows and high winds had destroyed many  trees and flattened the bushes.  The trails and brush were covered with broken boughs,

and we got our exercise climbing over or crawling under a number of trees that now criss-cross the trails.

Keaghan:  Eddie, you'll have to get yer mom
to help you over this! 

The recent rain and spring sunshine has brought out the toadstools on the mossy rocks, turning the area into a little fairyland,

Nearing the top, the sunlight filtered through the trees,

And soon we were looking across the valley to Duncan and beyond:

Eddie got the zoomies in the clearing where we stop, and Keaghan checked to see if the view was any better from the top of a colourful rock:

And soon it was time to head home:

C'mon, let's go!

Eddie:  "Hey!  Warn me before you stop to gaze at something, silly!"

Eddie said the only disappointment of the day was the shortage of cookies:

You WILL remember the treat bag next time!  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Spring!

I've been a little under the weather lately, and so has Mitzi, so we are both happy to see the sunshine and absorb some natural vitamin D.  Mitzi thinks it's still a bit chilly out, but in her cosy red sweater was happy to toddle about the yard with me.  Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side...

..especially when we're in the side yard and big brother Eddie is chomping on a raw meaty bone in the back yard.  Sorry Mitzi, but your tummy won't handle that right now.

You're mean, Mama Jean!

I tried to distract her by talking about the flowers that are popping up on the patio and front yard - the tulips and daffodils, grape hyacinth and primroses and the last of the crocuses:

But she was having none of that.

So I grabbed her halter and leash and took her to the beach to watch the little tugs and big tugs, the barges and birds and all that good stuff.

Little tug rounding up the logs

Big tug pulling in the barge

Barges loaded

Heron watching the action
at the log sort

Haze over water
Heron on post

Sun reflects on metal boat

A stroll along the sea walk, a stop by the museum to check out the flowers in the park, and it was time to go home.

And time for a nap.

Ah still think ah shoulda got a bone!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Farewell to a friend well loved

Gone to the Rainbow Bridge
March 11, 2014

I knew the contents before I opened the email from my good friend Deb, whose wonderful collie Riley has spent many weeks here over the past few years.  The subject line held just one word:  Today

Her Royal Highness Princess Riley passed away today.

I knew it was coming.  I saw the change in Riley from her long stay with me just over a year ago to her stay here this winter.  A year ago she was still able to climb up on the couch, to prance along the seawalk, to toss toys in the air, to empty my recycling bin and shred all the boxes - oh how she loved to get her teeth into a good piece of cardboard and rip it apart!  This winter, she needed help to get up from her mat on the floor, and cookies to coax her to walk round the block, and her favourite pastime was lying on her blanket on a sunny patch of grass, watching the world go by.  

And yet… and yet…..even on her last visit here, I received many gentle but firm nudges on my hand to say ‘I’m here, I’d like a cookie please’.  I smiled as she leaned into my body, sending a soft message of ‘thank you for looking after me.’  I laughed as she suddenly did a fifteen second bounce around the back yard with tail wagging and head bobbing in a moment of joie de vivre.  Surely she could live forever?

Riley was such an easygoing girl.  A Princess, for sure, but she ruled with a gentle paw and a regal nod of the head.  And  patiently, though with resignation, she would join us commoners for a little silliness:

Over the past few months, Riley did the same dance with death that my collie Charley had done  – one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back.  Hardly able to stand one day,  eyes lighting up with mischief and ready to go for a walk the next.  In both their living and their dying, Charley and Riley were so much alike.  Their knowing eyes, the way they picked up on and responded to our emotions, their pushy yet quiet way of demanding attention, their personalities, their preferences, even their sensitive tummies. 

Riley and Charley
at one of our herding dog pawties

When Deb emailed me a few days ago, knowing Riley was taking the final few steps of her earthly journey, hoping for just one more rebound but sensing it was not to be -  I thought of those last weeks and days and hours with Charley.  And I thought how blessed both Charley and I were to have known Riley.     

The joy of living with a dog for many years, of knowing that dog as well as you know yourself, of loving her as deeply as any human child or spouse or friend, has but one fatal flaw: when that life ends, as all lives do, the sense of loss and grief and pain is unbearable.  We can never prepare ourselves for that moment.

Even when that dog is not one of your own, but one who has spent weeks in your home, whose name draws forth so many great memories, the feelings of grief are palpable, the sense of loss profound.

My heart breaks  knowing the pain my friend Deb is going through and knowing Riley will no longer grace my hand with her sweet nudges, and yet...and yet I smile a wee smile at the thought of Charley and Riley together again, two peas in a pod, two old long-nosed collie girls reunited.

Run free Riley, run free.  You will be missed more than words can express.  You have been a friend well loved, and a loving friend. 

Deb, gentle hugs.  Riley has taken a chunk of your heart, and left in its place a lifetime of memories.  You gave her a wonderful life, and she is always with you. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Morning Surprise

The late winter snow storm set the spring flowers back a little, though as the days grow longer the blossoms are appearing in leaps and bounds.  On our walks around town this week, we spied early rhodos, yellow forsythia, acres of snowdrops and crocuses, primulas, winter pansies, and yes, even a few cherry blossoms.

My own garden is off to a slow start.  The usual order of bulbs is snowdrops in January or early February, followed by crocuses mid February, hyacinths late February to early March, then daffodils by mid to late March, and tulips some time in April.  My crocuses  just bloomed this week, the hyacinth are just beginning to develop their small purple heads close to the ground, my daffodils are gaining height and the buds swelling so should open in a couple more weeks.  That would mean the tulips would still be a month away.

So imagine my surprise when I slipped out to my side patio this morning to pick some fresh chives for my omelet and saw this:

Tulips! In bloom!  And on the north side of the house in the narrow space between my house and the next, where there is little sun or light in winter!  Spring IS here, let the world rejoice!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mother Nature's Sketchpad

Estuary at Swallowfield

Some days, on my walks with the dogs, it is not the brilliant colours or the wildlife or the canine photo ops that draw my eye but the contrast of bare boughs against winter sky, the gentle graduations of  soft blues and greys and greens and whites  from ocean to islands to mountain top, the mists rising from barren fields.  It is the amazing range of shades in a subtle palette.  I think of Mother Nature sketching out the landscape, the curves and angles, the slopes and shadows, adding tints with her coloured pencils, a rough draft to use as the basis for richer artistic creations when she returns to her studio.  Those are the days I wish I could paint.  Today was one of those days:

Osborne Bay, looking toward Salt Spring Island

Seagulls on an old wharf

Under the wharf

View from beach to snowy mountain

Heron on dock


Waiting for Spring