Monday, November 30, 2015

The Last Day of November

Here it is, the last day of November.  The last day of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).  I have blogged Every.Single.Day of November - that is exactly the same number of posts as the total for the whole of the past six months.  Whew!  No wonder I'm exhausted and can't think of a thing to blog about tonight! I still have photos to edit and stories to tell, but nothing that is post-ready.  So instead, I'll let the animals voice their thoughts on the past thirty days.

[Here I was going to upload some photos of  the various animals that have appeared this month, with what I was hoping would be funny captions]

Well sh*t.  It won't let me upload any photos.  I'm not kidding.  It says I have to sign in (I am signed in!) to add photos from my 'online storage' (huh?  I just want to use ones on my computer, like I always do!).  So I tried to sign in, and it tells me that feature is 'unavailable' at the present time.

WTF?????  I can't post any photos for this LAST day of NaBloPoMo????

So....I went  to the blogger forum to find out how long the problem is expected to last and guess appears Blogger made some changes today that have made it impossible for us to upload photos from our computers.

Which means I'm doomed.  And so are you......

I will hope Blogger will realize THEY have made an error and will correct the problem.  Because otherwise this will be the end of My Life With The Critters - I'm not interested in re-establishing a blog using another bloghost, nor in changing servers, browsers, or whatever it is they want me to change.

What a bummer.......

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Frosty Reception....

The days have been sunny and crisp - my favourite winter weather - and I have been making the most of it. Yesterday, my friend Liz and I took her dog Sasha for a walk on Mt. Tzouhalem in nearby Duncan.  We got a frosty reception.  Literally.

That's a slippery slope you're treading, Sasha!

Sasha didn't seem to mind - even though she's a senior dog,  her inner pup came out to play:

Play with me mom!  

That really wasn't snow - it was frost.  Hoar frost, to be precise.  Here's some close ups of it:

Close up
Hoar frost on dirt and grass

And closer still...
a forest of frost

Even with the sun shining, boulders were still coated with white:

Sun on frosty boulders

We did walk around to a warmer area, though, where puddles were still frozen but the frost was mostly gone:

Liz looking down on Quamichan Lake
Sasha didn't care about the view....
she was just happy to be out.

But then it was back to the frosty side, and one parting close up shot of the hoar frost:

Frosty flowers of ice

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sunny winter days are the best!

Our weather has been gorgeous the past several days - sunny, crisp, frosty, very little wind....the perfect winter's day to get outside.  With temperatures hovering around zero (celsius),  it really does feel more like winter than fall .  We don't get many below-freezing days here, and blue skies - at least for a while - are preferable to grey ones.  The ideal winter to me is a few days of sun, a day or two of rain, a few days of sun, a day or two of rain.  Gotta have rain (and snow in the mountains) to fill our waterways and reservoirs for next summer  and because,  y'know, ya gotta have some miserable weather to catch up on those miserable inside chores.

But, while the sun shines, I'm outside - Escarpment Way, Mt. Tzouhalem, Crofton Lake, Swallowfield......even without a hiking dog, I'm out hiking.  Yesterday, it was Swallowfield  with my dogless friend Sally - out to the river and across the estuary.  The reflections in the water were amazing:

On the estuary, the rivulets running to the sea were covered with a crust of ice that extended onto the nearby dried grasses:

The red you see in the above photo?  Rosehips on the wild rose bushes - the grasslands across to the estuary are full of them.  From the trail above, it is like looking at a field of cranberries just before they are harvested.  Up close, it is a cascade of red pods:

The frost on some bushes, despite still-green leaves nearby, made for a wintry scene:

In the shade of a long rock outcropping, an old fence on the estuary is still coated with frost and shadow:

On the hike out,  we took a side trip to the south end of the estuary, a more barren and desolate area yet still beautiful in its own way despite the pollution rising from the mill in the background:

And on a berm on that side was a small arbutus that caught my eye.  Look closely at the trunk, about half way between the ground and where the trunk curves:

Do you see that tiny little growth coming out of  the trunk?  New leaves, green and red, force their way toward the light despite the season.  In this straight-on photo, it looks like the tree (Canada's only native broadleaf evergreen) has a beautiful floral tattoo!

 Back to the main path home, where the winter's sun, low in the sky, cast long shadows through the trees:

And that was Friday's hike.  Today it was Mt. Tzouhalem with my friend Liz and her dog Sasha.  The hoar frost was so thick  it looked like a blanket of snow! But that's a post for another day.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Mother Nature as Artist

Went for a walk at Swallowfield today - beautiful day, sunny with lots of frost, reflections, icy shards on the grasses and rivulets.  More photos tomorrow, but two which stood out were not magnificent so much for their scenery but for their artistry - Mother Nature as Artist produces a beautiful multi-media piece from leaves, frost, twigs and dirt.  All I added was the frame.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Old Trails and New Adventures

It has been a while since I hiked up the Escarpment Way trail and over Richard's Mountain. I don't recall going there at all this fall, nor in the hot days of summer.  And yet it is one of my favourite trails. So when my friend Sally asked me to take her on some of the hikes in our area, Escarpment Way was high on the list. We headed out there last Friday, a sunny but crisp day, cold enough that there was ice on the few puddles we encountered:

Ice on the puddles

One reason I like this hike so much is that it offers such variety of ecosystems.  We begin in shady forest on a narrow path through trees, across rocky outcroppings, around  a bog, up needle-covered trails, over and under fallen logs.  On mossy rocks and in the shade of  bush we see brightly coloured mushrooms, like these little ones catch a few rays of sunlight:

Mushrooms in sunlight

Then we come out to an old municipal forestry road, now overgrown with grasses and small shrubs.  When I first hiked this trail, about seven years ago, they had just logged this part and were busy replanting.  Those trees are now well established, most being six to ten feet tall.  Sadly, the plastic cones that were placed around the young trees, were just heaped in piles when they were removed from the saplings, and never hauled back out. And so, amid the undergrowth, we see piles and piles of non-biodegradable plastic.  For shame!

Plastic cones from reforestation,
left to mar the landscape.

But even this cannot mar the day, for just a few meters further on we look across the valley to Quamichan and Somenos Lakes and the City of Duncan and the hills of Glenora.  The woodsmoke from outdoor burning and indoor woodstoves leaves a haze across the vista, but it is still a beautiful view:

View looking south

We head down the other side, where the old forestry road feels more like a rustic country lane lined with beautiful trees...

Down an old forestry road

...and soon we are into an area with a rainforest feel - boughs laden with moss and lichen, multiple little creeks, rotten stumps, deep dark forest.  Crossing one creek, I look along its length to see another shaft of sunlight illuminating a fallen tree suspended above the water:

Fallen tree above a creek

We reach the end of the main forestry road, and decide to continue on down.  Eventually we reach a road on the other side of the mountain, rooftops of houses and barns visible through the trees.  As we head  back up, we noticed what seems to be a well traveled forest trail - too wide to be a deer trail, too level and well cleared to have occurred just by chance.  So, in the spirit of adventure we decide to 'see where it goes'. Ha!

(Lest you worry, I always carry emergency supplies - cell phone, first aid, matches, snacks, water, windbreaker, whistle, etc - when I head out on a hike).

The trail heads north east, then swings directly east - and up.  And up.  And up.  And becomes narrower. And more rugged and uneven.  And boggier.  And steeper.  Did I mention this trail went UP?

We see what appears to be a crest above us, and hope that our rapidly-disappearing trail will either connect with a secondary forestry road we passed earlier, or at least give us a clear view of the road we had walked down from the point where we photographed the views.  So we slog on.  Ever upwards. Always saying things like "Let's just go to that tree...that rock....that see what we can see from there."   Altogether now:  

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see what she could see.
And all that she could see,
And all that she could see,
Was the other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that she could see.

Now that I've planted that earworm in your head, I'll tell you that no matter how high we climbed, we never saw anything but more trees.  Even when we seemed to be AT the top, we could not see any roads or trails below us. Just trees.

Nothin' to see here!

Some of those trees were pretty interesting though, like this one which seems to be a smooth shell of  half a tree with two very, very long roots , one on each side, leading to newer growth above.

Eventually we ran out of trail completely and decided the safest option was to go all the way back down to the houses and return back up the way we came.  Which may well explain why my back and hips have been sore ever since.

As we headed back up our original route, I noticed this sign,  placed there some months before:

We had notice the dead Scotch Broom along the trail, so I was not surprised that pesticide explained its death - it is an invasive weed here which has become problematic and is killing off natural vegetation.  While some groups have been hand-pulling and machine-pulling it in an attempt to eradicate it, the municipality does use pesticides where it deems appropriate.  Nor was I surprised to see they were spraying for tansy ragwort, another invasive species.  What did surprise me - and distress me, even more than just the pesticide use itself did - was that they were also spraying to kill off...... alder and arbutus!   Arbutus is a unique tree, only found within a few miles of the coast, and is Canada's only native broad-leaved evergreen tree.  In most coastal areas of BC, including much of the island,  arborists, naturalists, and environmentalists are doing their best to encourage its growth.  It is a hardy tree that survives drought, grows on rocky and windblown surfaces, has a built in survival system for storing water and even for self-pruning.  It provides a dense strong wood, has lovely white flowers in spring, and produces edible red berries that the birds love. It can live as long as 500 years, grow 100 feet tall and ten feet around.  And it is beautiful - perpetually shedding its bark to reveal orange and red trunk beneath.  Why in the world would we be killing it?

A lone arbutus catches the sun
on Richard's Mountain.

Photo of shedding arbutus,
taken last summer.

Perhaps it simply doesn't grow fast enough for those who exploit the forest and hope to clearcut the mountain again in the future - arbutus takes up space and makes logging less profitable than the fast growing evergreens planted just a few years ago. How sad.

As we headed home, tired and perhaps a mite discouraged by the thought of pesticides killing the forest and its critters,  we were still able to find beauty, like these red Oregon grape leaves that added splashes of colour among the dead and dying foliage.

As we cut across the top, I realized I had not noticed the stump that my late friend Bonnie used to sit on, the place were we spread her ashes over a year ago.  I had to hunt for it, though it had always been right beside the trail in plain sight.  And then I found it, overgrown with dying Scotch broom,  the green and red of Oregon grape provided beauty to a somewhat desolate scene.

Bonnie's Stump

I hope in the spring, Bonnie's tree stump will once again be surrounded by greenery, and continue to give her, and those who pass, wonderful views of our beautiful country.  Because, clear cutting and dead end trails and plastic cones and pesticides aside, it is a beautiful place to live.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Yellow brains!

I'm working on a post from a hike last week, but my back and my brain is giving out so I'll just post one photo for today (I'll post the rest of the hike ones tomorrow).

Often in the fall, after a hot dry summer, I see clumps of a bright orangey-yellow gelatinous substance on trees or logs in the forests where I hike.  I knew it was a fungus but today decided to find out more.  It is, in fact, called 'jelly fungus' though I like its other names better:  witches butter, or - my favourite - yellow brain fungus.  You can see why:

Yellow brain fungus

Apparently the fungus was there all summer, but in hot dry weather it is small, nondescript, and virtually unnoticeable.  When the rains come, it acts like a sponge, absorbing up to sixty times its weight in water!  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An old dog learns new tricks

Thanks for your votes on yesterday's blog post, and especially for the idea of using the second image as a Christmas card.  Your idea has prompted me to look at some of my other photos from which I can create wintry or Christmassy images.  In fact, given some other skills I've been working on, I could create an image in which Mitzi is added to a snow scene from years ago,  and then enhance the image further with special effects like those used on the eagle photo.  Or maybe I could even take a whole bunch of my photos of animals, place them in a photo of a barn or stable, and make my very own nativity scene.  It's possible, though I'm not sure I'm that ambitious!

I generally don't do much to my photos when I edit, other than to choose which images are well composed or would make the best story, correct overexposed or underexposed images, occasionally enhance the colour if the photographic image doesn't match what my eyes saw, and add my watermark.  To me, that is all part of digital photography.  Where it crosses the line into the creative arts, however, is when I create scenes that never existed, either by combining several images into one, or by using special effects that go beyond mere enhancement.  The second eagle image yesterday demonstrated the use of special effects.  But did you know that one of the images I used two posts ago was digitally created from five photos?  Yes, five!

Remember this image?

The above image never happened.  Well, I did see numerous red winged blackbirds on my fence that day, but every time I tried to get a group shot, most flew away.  When I uploaded the individual shots, however,  I loved some of the postures - the blackbird strutting forward with one leg on one fence board, one on another, for example.

Most of the five shots I used for the composite were far from perfect - crooked, or distant, or partially out of focus. Here's what the other four original images looked like, after a bit of straightening and cropping, which are the first couple of steps in the process:

Then I straightened some more,  cropped some more, and using the last photo as the base, added each of the other images one at a time as multiple overlays, carefully zooming and shifting to match up the tops and sides of the fence boards, erasing parts of the overlay that I didn't want, and adjusting colours where the exposure differed, until I had what looked like four birds walking on the top of the fence while another fluttered onto the cone below. A little more tweaking to sharpen and clarify the image and - presto - a photo of something that never happened!  

Then I added a frame (just because I can) and a watermark (to discourage people from stealing it and selling it as their own), and posted it on the blog without a word about my deception. I'm sure those who are skilled with photoshop do this all the time and are wondering what the big deal is, but I'm kinda tickled that I've learned to do this despite my limited computer skills.  

I think this old dog can still learn new tricks! 

Fooled ya!  Or did I?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Eagle in tree

My back is in too much pain to post anything much tonight, so here's a  couple of versions of a photo taken last month.    I can't decide if I like the original (eagle and tree on stark white due to natural lighting and overcast sky) or the photoshopped one (or, more precisely, picmonkeyed) with background and frame best. Which do you prefer? 


Special effects added

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Day Well Spent

My plan today was to re-work a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, a story about an adventure my sister Carole and I had while exploring one summer.  It was still in the draft stage and needed a lot of editing, but I thought it an appropriate blog post for today, the fourth anniversary of my sister's death.

An  over-zealous hike on Friday left me with sore hips and back, which sitting at the computer for even a short while aggravated.  So, in my attempt to pace myself  (and because I just couldn't get the story to come together the way I wanted), I took frequent breaks to do little tasks like filling the bird feeders.

I returned to my writing, but I'm easily distracted and soon abandoned it again to make some bird treats of coconut oil, peanut butter and bird seed poured into pine cones, chilled, and then hung on the trees and stuck into the planters on the patio.  The weather has turned cold and the birds would need the extra calories to keep warm. As soon as the first ones were chilled, I put them outside and immediately the birds checked them out.

And, well, that was the end of my plans to write.  I parked myself on the floor with my camera, lens aimed at the window.  Allie was curious about all the action outside the window, so now and then I swung the lens in her direction.

When the birds finally finished feasting two hours later, I had hundreds of photos (which of course required more computer time to edit), a numb bum, a dog needing a walk, and no great desire to get back to writing.

A few minutes with the computer told me I'd captured at least some of what I was aiming for  - and not just the images, but the joy that comes with taking a day to just watch nature, to neglect all else and enjoy the moment.  And that is just what my sister would have done - sat on the floor, camera in hand, lens poised, back aching, lost in the moment.

It was a day well spent - remembering Carole, using her camera, enjoying being able to capture images to share with others - just as she shared her images with me.  A day well spent indeed.