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Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2005

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.

Close Up of Sheep

January 27
Pat, our road foreman, worked monumental hours keeping the roads clear and sanded. Only on January 16, was enough ice gone from the north side of Warburton Pike road so that South Saturna people could get out. The Campbells had resorted to using their tractors or walking the treacherous road. Riding the 1970 red Farm-All Super C over the mountain was a cold ride, reported Jacques and Andrew. We all survived and are in good shape, which is a blessing. Since the last of the sub-freezing, I don’t know where our Gulf Islands much vaunted ‘rain shadow’ has gone—we are soggy and awash in running water! The creek that runs past our house has overflowed the culvert and the road is flooded. Road run-off combined with the culvert contents feed the waterfall across the road to roaring proportions. Several times I have hiked down to see the water and foam hurtle off the rocky lip of the fall. But yesterday in between deluges, I caught myself playing in the garden—the warmth, the softness, led me outside to pull a little of this and that, plan, dig a bit. ‘I’m gardening! It’s January and I’m gardening with delight and comfort!’ Yes, life is slowly returning from survival mode to normal living on Saturna.

February 10
I have snowdrops blooming! And my tulips, the early ones of course, are just about to bloom. Two more lambs were born last night and I know I heard a hummingbird! For all you Islanders who just love winter because it is the quiet time of year to read and reflect, spring is approaching at the gallop—you are about to be routed by robins, roses and those enthusiastic humans who are glad to be back into the light!

February 24
One week of sun and budding daffodils and my snow shovel is back up in the barn rafters. This might be premature but I doubt it. The daylight is so much longer and the robins march around the pasture as if they plan to stay awhile. I realize I’m a little edgy about the weather—while it is still true we can’t control the weather, we human beings do seem to be influencing it.

March 10
Three weeks of moonlight and sunshine in February were hard to beat as a mood enhancer. The Victoria region set a February record for hours of sunshine—over double the usual amount. So much is growing: rose leaves, daffodils, hyacinths, and lots of green leafy vegetables. In fact, we ate kale all year this year and today I picked every red Sweet 100 tomato left on the vines in the unheated greenhouse. This is a new record, homegrown tomatoes in March! Now we’re back to soft rain and grey days, perfect for trees, grazers, and our other local flora and fauna. Lambing occurred right in the middle of the stretch of good weather and this was a benefit to the newborn babies and to the farmers. Another couple of weeks will see the Jones, Breezy Bay and Campbell flocks finished with lambing and onto eating rich spring green grass. By July first, we will have a good selection of lambs for the Saturna Lamb BBQ.

March 24 – Alfred Reynolds
Your regular correspondent is away in Washington, DC—something about tightening up ol’ Dubya on a number of issues, and we wish her luck. To date, I’ve been unable to substantiate the rumour that the Nanaimo chapter of the Hell’s Angels is considering making an offer on Saturna Vineyards in order to clean up some excess revenue. This has been a time-consuming exercise, preventing me from paying attention to what’s really happening, so this report may be somewhat shorter than usual (I can almost hear the sighs of relief already).

April 7
It’s hard to believe the long-range forecast for drought conditions this summer. With the recent heavy rain showers, when the sun does shine the atmosphere is so clear even the trees seem washed and bright. The short-range forecast is for another week of the same. I heard frogs, not Pacific Tree Toads, when I was walking home along Narvaez Bay Road. The croaks came clear up from Lyall Harbour Valley! Surely this is a good sign? My recent delight and entertainment is a gorgeous male rufous hummingbird that visits a flowering red-currant in the garden. He has a cinnamon-gold-brown, iridescent body with a raspberry-coloured throat accentuated with a gold rim. What a guy! He blasts through, has a couple of drinks from the currant, blitzes the hip-hopping, twittering Oregon juncos at the feeder and is gone. He is sort of a high-speed, west coast form of Irish fairy.

April 21
San Jacinto, Rene and Eunice Weatherall’s wooden fishing boat, had new residents seeking low cost housing a week or so ago—a pair of Boot Cove herons had a great start on a nest in the rigging. Rene and Eunice go north fishing every summer and while they didn’t want to dispossess the eager herons, they didn’t want live-aboards. Close neighbours Nevar and Rene devised a faux tree-boat rigging assemblage on the end of the Weatherall’s wharf and it looks as if the transition is a go!

May 5
What warmth we are having, what long evenings and early sunrises. And all this light and warmth is perfect for hatching bugs! But bug-harvesters have also arrived from down south to skitter and dart around in the sky in their pursuit of dinner. In our neck of the woods, the violet green swallows handle the early morning and day shift, the nighthawks the afternoon and evening, and the little brown bats the night. I don’t notice any migrants that arrive to feast on the carpenter ants. What I think I notice is that their population continues increasing and they are keen to share my house, delaying any need to migrate for shelter while they eat it! Because it is so warm and lovely, the big double doors and the windows are kept wide open in my house and the first female roufus hummingbird did a high-speed house tour. With the females now arrived to join the early-bird males, you can ‘hear’ the mating dance when the male does the high-speed, zooming dive and gives a particular chitter just as he pulls up from the bottom of the dive. Our eldest daughter Genni and her children are here visiting for a week from Prince George. Genni and 4-year-old Grace exclaim over how ‘green’ everything is. At their house, it is still between -1º and -5º at night, the daffodils are not blooming yet, the tulips are just breaking the ground, and all is tree silhouettes and brown turf—another world. And down here in southwestern British Columbia, all my favorite denizens of spring are here and no-one has left yet—a fulsome time.

May 12
Springtime elections don’t seem so stressful because you are surrounded with every possible natural assurance of growth and regeneration. Spring is a prime example of action over words! I’m glad that the Liberals, NDP, Democratic Reform, Greens and other independents are not in charge of Spring. Spring spontaneously generates the qualities of joy, exuberance, eroticism and unaccounted for possibility—I wouldn’t want to take the chance on party rhetoric, policy or platforms voting Spring out because it doesn’t meet the bottom line or is too hard to tax! Last evening I walked down to the ferry in the last bits of daylight. Substituting for the daylight vegetative visuals were the strong smells of lilacs, blooming arbutus trees and other growing things I couldn’t name. Money’s little pond in the cow field was alive with frog croaks, and a cow was calling her new calf. Talk about bucolic!

June 2
Saturna is so green and lush with grass this year—everywhere looks like a hayfield ready to cut. The foxgloves are just starting to turn colour and the ox-eye daisies are beginning to open their eyes. We have had so much rain that the shearing at Island farms had to be postponed. The arbutus are putting in a record number of blossoms and the white spirea is just about to add to the wonderful smells this time of year. It is all so good.

June 16
Some articles write themselves from beginning to end. Some are a struggle to get off the ground, and then take off. I’ve come to learn that when they don’t move at a smart clip, given all the interesting things that the Saturna community affords to write about, it is because I’m undecided about how to approach some big community happening. So, since I’m vacillating and procrastinating, I’m just going to jump right in. At the café today a friend said, ‘I don’t like that you put notices of someone’s death on the front door of the Store. That’s not the way I want to find out that someone I care about has died—and I’m not the only one who thinks that way!’ Several of us assured this person that the Store, under many ownerships, has always provided that courtesy to its community. I walked away thinking, ‘So how do any of us want to hear that someone we care about has died?’ And this is how I have come to tell you that Rick Tipple died suddenly on his way home with his wife Judy from Prince Rupert on Saturday, June 4. I didn’t want to hear that news delivered in any form that I can think of.

June 30
This is such a good time of year: it’s warm and the days last and last. The days have mixes of blue and clouds of varying densities and colour. I’m glad that when I was a kid I didn’t understand that the first day of summer marked the first day of the year’s declining daylight as well as imminent liberation from school! This year with the rain and clouds, the ox-eye daisies and the foxgloves are rampant down the road verges. Some of the foxgloves are eight feet tall with sidebars of blooms. And not one single deer bite! It’s time to cut hay all around the Gulf Islands and the Saanich Peninsula. The air is sweet with mown hay scent when you drive into Victoria. Jacques Campbell dropped the first swathes of grass this week to cure and then to bale. The sheep, cows and horses will be well fed when the weather turns cold and the grass stalks are dead and yellow.

July 14
Summer is here! From July 3, when the Saturna Lamb BBQ paraphernalia is put away until sometime in September, when the kids have gone back to school, baseball stops, and rain and short, dark days are on the horizon, summer is ours to revel in. Gardeners garden, fisher people and sailors are out in the Salish Sea, community members get cranky and reluctant when some one suggests we should have a meeting to discuss whatever has popped up on the communal horizon, new people come and fall in love with the Island, and Saturna Islanders want to be at home. People ask me, what do we do? It all seems so apparent to me—we are so busy and so immersed in the constant beauty around us, the backdrop to our lives. We go to the Free Store; be with kids at the beach (grandkids, other kids, ourselves!); take long walks and wonder about the lifecycles of wind, animals and plants; boat; go to the stores and hang out; be entertained by the wildlife around us (also including ourselves); watch the sunset from the pub or Thomson Park or Mt David; work like crazy to keep visitors happy and make money; worry about world demographics and local politics which seem poised to relieve us of our idyllic lives; watch baseball and eat hamburgers; pick blackberries; weed gardens and think about life; cut and bale hay; volunteer at recycling; practice firefighting; argue and say things we regret saying to each other; build houses for people; celebrate weddings and say goodbye to Islanders; rebuild houses for people; give care and love to our old people; cherish our kids; listen to and spread rumors… This all takes lots of time—a lifetime really.

July 28
Summer has arrived—real summer with sweat in the afternoon, grass seeds in your socks, shorts, fireban and looming water restrictions. And this is the season for zucchini! My plants (two) are getting ready to start blasting out the big crop; the stalk is stacked with unfurling yellow blossoms and infant fruit. Another two weeks and no one will leave Haggis Farm without a big fat zucchini! Each summer week has its own beauty. Two weeks ago there were fledgling robins, swallows, sparrows, hummingbirds, ravens, eggshells—‘feed-me-now’ squawking screeching babies everywhere. Did you know that raspberries ripen at the time that robin parents are most under the gun to feed their little gaping-mawed offspring? The male hummers have migrated and only the moms and babies are left. Everybody is fully feathered and learning the subtleties of their bird destinies. Yesterday, Ishbel Elliot offered me her first blackberry, ripened at the tip of a fully loaded frond. Ishbel has a fabulous little wet seep on her property and the blackberries, native and Himalayan, are big engines grabbing that sunlight and water and turning out blackberries (yum) and thorns (yikes)! Into this perfect meadow shot a big blue dragonfly—cruising for a snack! There are garter snakes everywhere and especially on the rock walls in the garden, small and full size. This year must have been just right for their needs.

August 11
Crisp and dusty describes any piece of the Gulf Islands that isn’t being watered by human beings. Now is the prime time to locate leaks in outdoor water systems; that flash of green growth registers immediately. Dust-coated Island cars have a common dull patina no matter what the original color! The dog is a portable dustbowl as she lies under the trees to stay cool, picking up copious quantities of dust and debris that gently fall from her as she walks and wags her tail. As the dawn-to-dusk blue sky days pile upon each other, I become immersed in summer’s tasks, thoughts, foods, and diversions. I love our west coast summers: copious quantities of watermelon and miles of flip-flop steps. Crisp and dusty adds up to flammable. The Gulf Islands are very dry this time of year. The moisture in the soil is nonexistent; every potential spark has an instant tinderbox surrounding it. Islanders get edgy with the increase in visitors and use of outlying shorelines and mountains. All of our firefighters and community members are aware of how limited our capacities are to fight a major fire. If you are a smoker, be vigilant. Stuff that cigarette butt in your pocket and you will be the judge of when it is really out of heat. Thee blackberries are really coming on! They are the most luscious colour in the landscape these days. Blackberry picking is as meditative as weeding, purple stained hands or dirt-stained hands, and the rewards are comparable.

August 25
What a gorgeous rain we had the night of August 16! The earth smelled so good in the morning! All the airborne accumulations from so many rainless days were washed down. Rain is magical for plant growth.

September 8
Summertime is the most elastic season, in late June it seems to stretch out forever and by the end of July it seems to have jumped on an accelerating racing sailboat! Did you do all the summer things you wanted? Me neither! I still have long lists of sunny weather ‘must be done chores’ and ‘must be done fun activities.’ Grandchildren have their back-to-school stuff organized and college-bound daughters have found housing, one will be leaving soon with summer working wages tucked in her wallet. The ‘shoulder season,’ when our university-age kids, who do so many tourist service jobs, are gone but travellers are still coming, leaves businesses shorthanded.

September 22
Labour Day weekend was the last full-on summer weekend: the last extended openings for most visitor amenities, the last Saturday Market, the last weekend before school, the last of the summer ferry schedule, and the last of the lightweight summer clothes—even a sunny September day can’t crank those daytime temperatures. Labour Day weekend also brought Paul White’s eighth annual Classic Jazz Dance with the Coastal All Stars, eight master jazz musicians, old and young, suited up in dress shirts and ties. New Orleans jazz is not my first choice, but the playing was so good I forgot I had preferences. The performances, ensemble and solo, were spectacular. By the middle of the first set the dance floor was in full swing—the 60 or so concertgoers were crowding the dance floor. Jim and Lorraine Campbell were honoured with a lovely rendition of ‘Sweet Lorraine’ as they led out the dance floor. (Jim and Lorraine spent lots of time dancing at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver when they were in college and they know how to dance!) A marvelous addition to the evening was Saturna’s tap dancer, Wesley Knapp. Surrounded by the audience, accompanied by the Coastal All Stars, Wes spun around the middle of the wooden dance floor, a visual rhythm of flying feet and arms, making his own rich sound accompaniment. Thanks to Paul White, jazz enthusiast and musician, for bringing us this wonderful evening of music and dance.

October 6
A two-week US holiday is an experience of ‘far enough away and different enough’ to stimulate a reconsideration of life choices. What would my life be like if I lived in Washington, DC or Chattanooga, Tennessee? In the thirty years I have known them, both cities have grown enormously. Huge, 3,000 square foot houses are very visible. It is strange to see them juxtaposed in older neighborhoods or a whole cluster of them surrounded by mixed farming. 2006 is the first year in North America when the birth rate will dip below population replacement, which will leave those 3 to 4-bath, 6 to 8-bedroom homes very empty of human noise and activity! But besides all of the comparisons, my trip south was about visiting—sisters and my extended family. It was wonderful to talk and talk, and have little adventures that provided excuses for even more laughter and being together.

October 20
As I write, our first big southeaster of the fall is blowing. Crunchy maple leaves are flying and brown needles are raining down in heaps as the fir and hemlock branches bounce around in the wind. The roads look beautiful with their gold verges. There is a nice population of rough skinned newts in several places on Narvaez Bay Road—I know this because of the squashed ones in the road at this time of year! Banana slugs and newts never get out of the way fast enough for cars, so keep a small percentage of your attention on the short-statured road fauna! ‘To-Do’ lists change at this time of the year. During summer the basic premise is that the weather will be warm-sunny, or warm-cloudy and that outside and inside tasks can be done by inclination. Now, the weather divides lists into ‘Sunny Day’ and the longer ‘Inside the House-Barn-Bakery.’ My favorite list is Sunny Day as working in the warmth and light is very inspiring and tasks seem to fly along to completion.

November 3
Saturna is blessed with many Acer macrophyllium trees. They are our brilliant yellow-gold, lime-green and brown big leaf maple trees. (We have the much smaller vine maple, too.) Most leaves are more than a foot across and are the delight of children to gather and flap about. Our home looks across a valley to a ridge that lights up in the fall with the maples mixed in with the evergreens. In past Halloween celebrations, we had a contest—with a prize!—for the child who found the biggest maple leaf. Since the road down Lyall Harbor leading to Saturna School is lined with maples, everyone could easily participate.

November 17
The rain is thundering on the metal roof of the house, and the gutters are spouting energetically. Lyall Creek is just starting to flow again after the summer. It is always flowing at some depth; in the summer there will be a pool or a damp spot full of rushes and flowers every 20 feet or so. Now the creek has to get flowing enough to host the return of spawning salmon, from who knows where, to us—Lyall Harbour, Saturna Island, BC, Canada! Our local Salmon Enhancement Group is eager to see a successful return. They have put in many hours to restore the steam to its original population of salmon. Lyall Creek has the reputation as the best salmon stream in southern BC in terms of intact habitat. Parks Canada is now interested in the project and is supportive of our local efforts as is the Department of Highways and Fisheries and Oceans. Leila Sumi, local park warden, has been surveying the fauna of the stream and attempting to chart its course from ‘headwaters’ to the estuary. We have 41 days until solstice, when winter starts and the days begin to get longer!! Stew and soup are great this time of year, pruning is a good winter garden pastime and good gumboots are a great comfort.

December 1
Wintry weather has come! We don’t have snow, which is a plus, but we haven’t had any sunshine for days. Apparently, we are in a climatic inversion—this means that the cold and fog and grey is trapped under a layer of warm sunshine. What a horrid development!

December 15
Something fun about the cold of winter is how differently temperature is experienced whether it is going down to a freeze or up to a thaw. The temperature drops and then drops further and I’m shivering and colder and colder as the rain turns to snow and the puddles glaze, and then suddenly the cold front is through and ice becomes water once again. The same temperatures that brought on shivers as the thermometer was descending are suddenly wonderfully bearable! The smell of earth, of unfrozen earth, is delightful and I can remember spring—even though my brain says ‘In the Gulf Islands the most snow is recorded in February, and Santa hasn’t even come!’


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