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Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2004

A collection of episodes about life on an island farm - the first section of Priscilla Ewbank's Saturna Notes column is our longest running feature and a must read for everyone who loves the Gulf Islands.

People rowing a boat

January 29
Another year, named 2004, for us to live in, delight in and speculate upon. Saturna Islanders ended 2003 with a lively New Year's Eve party at the Community Hall, organized by Saturna Island Parents Group. Flora House, Generalissimo of this event, wants to thank everyone who contributed to make this event so successful—revelers and organizers. Dance music was provided by the Voyageurs, a lovely spread of snacks and the bar was run by the Saturna Lions. The celebration sold 104 tickets and added $780 to the fund to build a covered play area at Saturna School. This is just the kind of event Saturna does well, coming together, having a good time and eating with the combined effort going to something that enhances the community good. Flo commented that the band loves to play on Saturna and that they brought great energy to the party—and lots of friends who also bought tickets!

February 12
Wet it is—quite befitting our January and February winter. Rain, sleet, puddles, streams—water is the word. The little creek that runs by our house is roaring along and the waterfall into Lyall Harbor valley is gorgeous to see, the great gush of water creates its own wind as it shoots off the stone lip and crashes below into the cedar-fern-forested bottom of Lyall Harbor. The woods are brilliant with green mosses and all of the lichens and bracket fungus and gooey branch and trunk tree decayers are in full form—very colorful. Turning over rocks in the garden, we found three long-toed salamanders, curled and quiet between the damp earth and the rocks. Steamed nettles were on the home menu tonight, first of the season! Spring is coming!

February 26
The eagles are back on Saturna in full force. Recently, an immature bald eagle landed in one of the spike-topped branches of a first-growth Douglas fir by our house. One of the resident ravens immediately took off and landed in the tree much higher up. By the time I had reached the top of the hill to get a better look, (I'm always trying to decide if we have a immature bald or golden by checking for feathered toes—a distinguishing feature) the raven was on the same branch nonchalantly inching closer while cleaning its beak, stretching a wing, inspecting its toes. I laughed! Soon, the other raven arrived and the pair kept up a constant calling back and forth. The eagle ceased appraising the chicken flock and turned its full attention to the raven, which hopped to the base of the branch in a fluid moment. Within several minutes the eagle gave up and fell into the air, gliding across Lyall Harbour valley to Mount David. I can imagine the conversation between the two ravens—they looked generally smug anyway.

March 11
For amphibians and forest moss carpets, can life be better? Damp human beings are observing that each day is exponentially longer, five days out of seven there is a good, soaking rain filling Saturna’s rocks, crevices and aquifers. Wildlife is very visible in this season as all of the beasties are calling attention to themselves as the most worthy mates with the best colors, or sounds, or behaviors—always entertaining! Money’s pasture pond is getting a good frog chorus going in the early evening, rough-skinned newts are crossing the roads from one drainage ditch to the other, with luck, to lay eggs on the other side, the avian bird chorus is loud and early every morning and Easter vacation plans are coalescing for human beings. Life is good! We found a dead mink under our lilac tree on the path leading up to the house. There it was, and in beautiful shape. I wonder what the story was. I have seen several mink out of the corner of my eye, especially at Saturna Beach, but I’ve never seen one close up before. They are tiny, like a malnourished cat, it must take hundreds to make up a coat. Its fur was a rich chestnut gleam, tail as long as its body, and big canines that extended beyond its lips, defiantly not a seed eater. Minks are members of the weasel family, just like our river otters. The mink population is starting to expand since there are no longer people running trap lines on Saturna. Minks were raised commercially on Tumbo Island for a period of time. Rick and Darrell Jones reported a huge 60–70lb river otter washed up on their beach from the Fraser River current. Apparently the Fraser’s river otters are much better fed than our smaller ocean-living river otters. Eight bald eagles were feeding on the carcass at one time.

March 25
This is it, Spring! Sunday, March 21 was the vernal equinox—equal parts of daylight and dark. This week, I went on the morning ferry sailing and at 6:15am and I could easily see the car in front of me and the car behind in the lineup and I didn't take a flashlight to get down from the house to my car. This is important stuff! It means you can read in your car in the morning if you are so inclined, that the blinds are rolled up on the ferry windows and you can watch the dawn light up Mt Baker as you steam down Navy Channel on the Mayne Queen. The day doesn’t crash to a halt at 5pm, you have time to linger, listen, and do stuff outside—what could be more joyful? March 15–19 was the school Spring Break week and we had lots of kids on the Island with their parents. It’s great to see them about. Several people have already seen their first hummingbirds of the year, the red currant bushes must be blooming!

April 8
In the American south, they use the word ‘swivet’. I take it to mean an animated moment when life is just too good, so full of delight that one’s soul is captured. I wonder, as our wandering summer team arrives from the south, do these birds always stop at Saturna like our Lyall Creek salmon—or do they stop here for just one year and next year find the delights of Duncan just fine? At Haggis Farm on March 29 there were three turkey vultures circling high, causing the chicken flock palpitations (the eagles have taken to serious dining here too). The two old apples were full of red-winged blackbirds and their liquid notes and the violet-green swallows were gliding and diving over the pasture and the pond. A rufous hummingbird did a fast rip around the garden and then sat, peering from the wire fence for a moment. A newly hatched, bright orange Westcoast Lady butterfly was in the greenhouse. Islander Peggy Warren was telling me that she greeted her first hummingbird of this year with ‘I’m so glad to see you! How was the trip?’ These are ‘swivet’ moments!

April 22
Some of you may notice a change in the tone of this column. Priscilla Ewbank is in Prince George attending the birth of a new grandchild and has left this space in the care of myself and Alfred Reynolds. So, while Priscilla's away, John and Alfred will play. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.

May 6
‘Jewels. They really are jewels,’ popped into my mind as the airplane taking me to Prince George flew low enough to see the wonderful colour, detail and topography of the Gulf Islands. Suddenly maps I have pored over and news stories come alive. There is the recently logged area on Hooson Road, all the tiny marinas around the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, Magic Lake and her famous subdivision that stimulated the creation of the ten-acre land freeze in the 1970s, our new land developments on Saturna, the Park development at Warburton Pike! A month ago a friend and I had poured over a satellite composite photo of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver. Now flying on, there it all was below me! The roiling Fraser’s huge, brown stain welling out of its several mouths into the Strait of Georgia, the twining sandbars, the quilted fields ending abruptly as the snow-white and rock-black mountains fill the entire view below the plane—and that’s the end of spring till I get back.

May 20
Priscilla is still away and the baby has arrived! She writes, ‘Genni had, with Dave’s unwavering support, a baby boy, born Mother’s Day, May 9, Nicholas Jonathan Stigant. Nicholas weighed 10lb 40z. Genni is elated and tremendously relieved to have the actual birth over, and the baby born. Dave is exhausted and exhilarated. Grace, Nana (Dave’s mother), and I, Gramma, are holding the fort: feeding the fish, swinging on the park swings, keeping all systems running.’ Congrats everyone!

June 3
Back Home! I was away far enough and long enough to not only see the sights but to make some changes in my ideas of living. Coming home, the first thing I noticed was how green and lush the world is here. There is a particular soft, spring-growth green that is almost the same for hemlocks, grasses or the unfurled sprouts of ferns and salal. It demonstrates a trust in the mildness of our climate. Plants in Prince George are sturdy, robust, short and cautious—everything was still ready for a flurry of snow. (On Mothers Day, snow drifted down, flakes as big as the small tissues women put in their bags—and as wet as a well-used one.) All in all it was a wonderful visit. Spending five weeks with one of our grown-up children is a delight—not just a weekend or Christmas, but to live with them and see the life they have created for themselves. I also recommend a three-year-old’s company to send any of life’s grievances packing. They are up for anything and their joys are simple. What in adult terms was an invitation to the neighbours to watch a hockey game was translated by Grace as, ‘We’re going to have a party, Grandma! And we’re going to eat chips!’ How much better can life get?

June 17
We had marvellous low tides all through this last weekend. According to the Canadian Hydrographic Service, June 4th was the lowest since 1951. The tides will be as low as last Friday's, July 2 and 3rd. I am a dedicated tide-pooler and will use almost any excuse to wander and poke around in all the places that are usually below the reflective surface of the ocean. As I drove down East Point Road it was exciting to see how much ‘larger’ Tumbo and Pine Islet appeared and how close you could walk out to the roar of Boiling Point just off of the tip of Saturna. Removing a couple of vertical feet of water from the surrounding ocean greatly increased the landmass! The tidal area is so fertile in our waters, many wondrous creatures make their living where the tide surges in and out, alternately wet and dry. I love the interplay between land and salt water, garter snakes that swim in the ocean and little red crabs that get into the First Nation’s middens when the tide is really high. So, next month, right after the final Lamb BBQ Clean-up Bee on July 2nd, I’ll be back out to take advantage of the opportunity to see into a neighbouring world.

July 1
My goodness, that was a hot spell of days! What an inauguration for summer solstice. The dog went on permanent pant, every time I turned around some plant, bush or tree in the ground or in a pot needed watering, and everyone faded into the cool if they could between 12pm and 3pm or so. Great weather to dry everything—sheets, firewood, paint, drywall and hay! Driving home through the Saanich Peninsula on Monday, the scent of fresh-cut grass blew on the hot wind. I had forgotten about that farming ritual at this time of year. Here, at home, the Campbells were doing exactly the same thing on their farm with lots of help from community members. The sheep and cows will dine this winter! For the first time that I can remember Saturna Island has Stage 1 water restrictions on the CRD-operated Lyall Harbour and Boot Cove service area. An informative notice is available outlining the need for conservation at this time, giving some guidelines as to responsible use, and asking for cooperation.

July 15
This year’s broods of swallows are fledged and making their maiden flights, dragonflies fill the daylight skies, and bats and nighthawks the night. And stand back—the zucchinis are coming on fiercely! We need rain. Saturna Island is bone dry, flammable and low on water. We have level-one water restrictions in place, and an ‘extreme’ fire rating which means all fires, anywhere in any sort of container, are banned. Those of you who regularly light small fires (in response to nicotine addiction) please consider where each of those little ‘fire starters’ are placed when you are finished. You may have a bbq at your house using charcoal briquettes, but no open flame. You may cut down or limb a tree at your house, with a garden hose available. You may not chainsaw in your woods. And, delightfully, summer life on Saturna Island goes on. Saturna’s summer is full of visiting kids, our school kids, and our grown-up kids come home to make some good working cash while they live at mom and dad’s, saving on rent. Summer is when the Island businesses make their money: B&Bs, cafés, restaurants, grocery stores, tours and boat rentals, and artists. The Island is bustling, and full of people in shorts and sandals having a good time.

July 29
Yummy! Blackberries are coming! The ‘point’ berry—you know the one in the middle of the cluster, closest to you—is ripe on all the berry bushes growing in the sun, the rest are coming soon. Walking to places takes longer now, who can resist such tasty goodness on the way? A berry patch is a lively place—wasps, kids, deer, raccoons, and your neighbours all share in the bounty. This being summer, and a hot one, blackberries and ice cream, smoothies made with a frozen banana and a handful of berries thrown in, or a cool drink with ice and a crush of berries are really welcome treats. Syrups, and jam, and canned blackberries are delightful to open up in winter, bringing back memories of summer (although in this heat wave I'm much too hot to do that today!) My garden, flowers, and vegetables are running a short circuit this year. I’ve got asters almost blooming and the figs are ripe—normally I expect them in late August. These long hot sunny days are moving ripening and blooming right along. The deer are out in full force. I never realized how high the deer could reach to eat a lily or get into hanging baskets. Someday I expect to see one swinging in the wind entangled in one of Saturna General Store’s hanging baskets. Along Narvaez Bay Road we have a mom with twins and a mom with triplets that regularly bounce back and forth across the road in front of bicycles and cars. Hmm, that bodes ill for gardeners next year! This is the height of summer, no one is thinking of back-to-school sales yet. The visitors go to the beach, bicycle, take long walks, eat, and relax. The Islanders run around—bringing in supplies, cooking, changing beds, keeping gardens looking good, swinging hammers, and also sneaking off for some delightful summer downtime!

August 12
There are hornets everywhere, the likes of which I have never seen. Yesterday, I ran over a nest with the lawnmower—and then I ran, dragging my lawnmower willy-nilly behind me. What a snit those guys were in! You can tell the ‘just minding their own business’ ones from the mad ones because the ‘just looking guys’ are open to suggestions about their being elsewhere, the mad ones latch on to you like Velcro just before they wreak their vengeance. The hornets and I have a working relationship when we are feeding on blackberries. If my hand is on the berry it’s mine; if they are feeding on one it’s theirs. This is it—the big time for blackberry pickers—blackberries are ripe right now and there are lots of them. I love picking blackberries, who could ask for better? It’s major contemplation time in a gorgeous setting, rich edible rewards, and something people are delighted to share. I laugh at myself for how much effort I’ll put into getting those just out of reach, very best, ripest, enticing blackberries. I ‘get’ that adage about the grass is always greener as I strenuously balance and plot to reach that quarter inch more!

August 26
Now is the time of year that deer take on the heavy pruning and harvesting of your garden, saving you hours of work. Gardening magazines write of the wonder of the winter garden, when ‘you truly can see the structural beauty of your plants’—the ‘bare bones’ as it were. Well, on Saturna you can see such ‘bare bones’ after a single summer night! All those dear deer are reproducing like crazy; we never get around to hunting anymore because with so many new houses and parkland if you discharge a firearm you will likely take out someone’s front window. There is a set of triplets and a set of twins on one mile of Narvaez Bay Road, along with last years’ fawns as part of the herd. With that amount of competition for food, it’s no wonder they have figured out how to stand on each other’s shoulders and get to those tasty, expensive plants! Today at about 6:30am we had a thundershower at East Point, with big rolls of thunder and lightening—what a great show! However, due to the extreme dryness of the year the lightening strikes were a worry and Firechief Terry Danyliw went out to check the area.

September 9
It’s so dark in the early morning now, the wheel of the year is turning through summer into fall. The recent heavy rains have been a magical growth tonic for the plants. Summer rain brings an eruption of stunning green and some small relief from the concern about fires. And suddenly inside activities hold some interest!

September 23
Mushrooms are burgeoning in every nook and cranny thanks to the warm rain and peek-a-boo sunshine routine. The earth smells so good this time of year, and raindrops sound foreign after our days of sunshine. Apparently mushrooms and hornets do not go together: after a summer of hornets, the only hornets I have seen these last few days are dozy ones, drinking apple juice in the holes made by the Pileated woodpeckers in the apples on the King trees.

October 7
We needed that rain and now the sun is shining and so am I! Sunlight on short days is even more desirable. With the moon coming to full and the night skies clear, the moonlight has been wonderful. We had a crackerjack thunderstorm last week. What excitement to feel the explosive bolts hitting so close after the stunning flashes of light. The rain was torrential, it made rivulets race downhill pulling the summers’ accumulation of duff-tree and herbage debris out of the soil and down to the lowest point. You can sure see how jungles have such meagre soil. The quietness of enveloping fog was with us for a few days, mostly mornings. Orb weaver spiders are busy fattening themselves with the blundering bugs in their fancy traps; the fog makes their webs appear jewelled with droplets. Mushrooms can really be described as blooming this year! There are so many kinds, the common one that comes up regularly around the farm is huge—like a dinner plate! Such vigour and abundance. The land is back to green, the moss is cushiony and plump, and the grass is vibrant green. Many birds are here, migrating or arriving back home—juncos, towhees, song sparrows, red shafted flickers, and varied thrushes. Their animation and calls add greatly to the season of autumn. Thanksgiving is coming, the apples need picking, the pears are ripe and the kiwis are awaiting the first frost—life is good in Canada.

October 21
I love Thanksgiving. We have a giant meal with family and friends and eat what is harvested from around us, cooked in inspired ways. And as I get older I’m more grateful for peace, quiet, health, beauty, friends, and the unfolding of our lives in a non-catastrophic atmosphere. This Thanksgiving was beautiful, some warm rain, some brilliant sun, bright red king apples on the trees, last roses on the bushes. We ate, laughed, washed a ton of dishes, then the kids hustled off on the ferry with all of the weekenders, our friends slowly dispersed home. And we two, whose home had just been so conspicuously blessed with food, safety, comfort, and friends and family, went to bed.

November 4
We have found our flashlights so we can get on the morning boat without walking into a tree on our way to our cars; our heavier coats to keep the shivers at bay; and our gumboots to wade the serious puddles or mow the lawn. This fall, I’ve had a regular 7am appointment, so, as the days shortened, I noticed it gradually become quite dark at 7am. (The return of Standard time will give morning light a short reprieve.) I have been seeing the nocturnal squad of raccoons, owls, deer, and bats just finishing off their diurnal tasks in the predawn. This time of year, their activity time is longer than ours. Summer is much more ‘our’ time—with the notable exception of teenagers.

November 18
I realize I’m not feeling so resilient these last days. ‘Four More Years of Dubya’—the Victoria Times Colonist headline on November 3—was not the outcome I had hoped for, similar to a lot of other Canadians, other world citizens, and just less than half of American citizens. The extensive commentary and reflection on this election have been very informing and interesting. We shall see how this all unfolds. Meanwhile, my own little patch of peace and quiet in a larger quilt of stability is even more appreciated.

December 2
The weather is so mild this fall—we haven’t had one frost. No complaints from me, even if it is darkening by 4:30pm now, especially on the rainy drizzly days. I find cheering in the thought that somewhere in the flip hemisphere, a woman is revelling in the warmth and enjoying long days! Lambs are growing in warm ewe-sheep bodies and life is stirring in the centre of crocus hearts. So, 28 more days until solstice and we will be on the return trip to spring and summer.

December 16
Saturna Island is soggy! The ducks are the only creatures that look dry! We have had periods of heavy rain, wet-your-face mist, light rain, intermittent rain, icy rain, rain sparkled by sunshine and windblown, horizontal rain. Wooden docks, porches, and stairs are greasy—slick with moulds. If you park on the roadsides partly off the asphalt, you risk getting your car stuck in the saturated soil mixed with maple leaves, fir and cedar leaflets—evidence of this drama are the deep ruts leading back to the solid roadbed! This wet month must be giving everyone’s water tanks a huge boost to help them through next summer.


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