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Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2009

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.


Band playing horns

January 15
The year 2008 ended with memorable Christmas and New Year frivolities amidst snow banks, snow shovels, and snow ploughs! Three new words need to be added to our west coast experience: snow-light, snow-joy and ice-terror! The vast quantities of snow and cold made a new world of reflected light, new possibilities for delightful fun, and a need to adjust time frames and expectations.

January 29
For the last two weeks, in the Gulf Islands, our weather has been a function of where you are standing—at sea level or marginally higher. Usually, to get sunshine at this time of year, you have to take a vacation very far south. For the last two weeks you only needed to go up a hill, preferable facing east, west or south, and you would be in the blazing blue sky with views of resplendent snow-covered Mount Baker, the Three Sisters or the Olympic Mountains. The difference between drenching, chilling fog and glaring warmish sun can be like walking through a door and the difference in your mood can be just as stupendous! Riding on the Mayne Queen, it was a delight to pop out into the sun with full perspective and colour jumping into your brain after being encased in furry fog and hearing the ship’s whistle blowing every few minutes as she gropes her way along.

February 26
Spring Has Sprung, the Grass is Ris… The dregs and vapours of winter are melting away from the last corners of Saturna, spring is abroad. Snowdrops are blooming. It was a hard winter for many gardens. That December/January snow went on and on and shrubs were broken and many of the plants with southern accents are looking dubious. Such is the nature of gardening on the Gulf Islands. You fall in love with a southerner, settle it into your garden, and sometimes they survive the cycle of the year and sometimes not.

March 12
While gardeners may not yet be out in the garden, except to prune and plan, tent caterpillars’ eggs are lurking and growing! Saturna has not had a noticeable infestation since our last big one in 2005, which was the peak of 30 years of monitoring. Other peak years in the cycle were 1976, 1984, and 1996.

March 26
On March 15, a snappy northeast gale cancelled all light plane flights and small boat traffic. In the early afternoon, looking from Tumbo Channel into the Strait of Georgia all you could see was a blue view of standing froth in front of the North Shore Mountains, exciting! Recently sky water has come in every format and every direction: snow, sleet, hail, and rain. The joy of it is that ten minutes later the clouds might tear apart and brilliant blue sky is on some horizon, or right over you. The crocuses are fun to watch—they crank open like plates in the sunlight and shut their buds immediately when the sun clouds over. The red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) is just about to break bud and, as you would expect, the humming birds are beginning to arrive!

April 9
Thirty-six hours of rain with some sleet thrown in will change the landscape of your home area and your assumptions about spring in the Gulf Islands! The water level had dropped nicely in the cultivated garden areas, allowing for digging, weeding, planting, and contemplative touring. Not now—gardens and paths are gooey; the soil is waterlogged and every plant is drenched. With such cool temperatures, the soil temperature is low and so is the evaporation rate. The creek is roaring along beside the house—nothing like the Red River in Manitoba but an auditory reminder, nevertheless.

April 23
With the long winter and the extended cold spring the Island has been quiet. Come Good Friday, people were popping up all over. The stores were busy, the Easter Bake Sale crammed, and the Prawn Fest had 200 guests. Locals were dazed—we had expected a lot of people but what a lot of bustle and action they create! The Island looked gorgeous, every daffodil was intensely yellow, the grass was full green, the Easter lilies and blue-eyed Mary were in bloom enhancing any walk you wanted to take.

May 7
We have had several days of sunny weather! It has been grand to get into the garden to carry through more-than-one-day projects. You can go out of the house without donning your coat over two other layers and come back in without removing gumboots.

May 21
Cool and wet, interspersed with one or two mild days—and very green—is the order of spring for us. The grass is growing enormously: lettuce, peas, spinach—all the green, cool weather crops are flourishing. With all the rain, if you planted your squash and cucumber seeds outside in the dirt or mud they may be reduced to rotted mush by now. This weekend, the Queen’s Birthday and Victoria Day is the traditional one for planting your garden. I will replant my sun-lovers—in the greenhouse! I have read in several locations that the sun is putting out the least heat and light since 1909. Usually it is on an eleven-year cycle of sunspots and heightened activity but, seemingly, the sun also has longer cycles and we are in one of those in a cool downturn.

June 4
This spring is a symphony of green on green, from rhubarb and strawberries to arbutus and ocean spray, every plant is at its most juicy and rambunctious. Light is amazing at this time of year. By 4am the day is launched and it finishes at 10pm. We get only six hours of solid dark at this time of year—the rest is time to grow if you are a plant or time to be up and delighting if you are a person.

June 18
We have roared through spring—first the cold, then this hot weather has brought a clumping together of our usually more sedate progression of blooming perennials. The garden weeds are also in their glory—thriving—as the sunshine pours down on the preferred and volunteers alike. We had a dry as well as cold spring, and already the earth is dry on our little rock in the Georgia Strait.

July 2
Rain! Whew! People are commenting on rain as we do about sun in winter. ‘Smells so good!’ ‘We really need it!’ We are egocentric enough to know we are imperilled by fire due to the desiccation of the trees, grass and plants in our vicinity.

July 16
The 60th Saturna Lamb BBQ was a marvellous success, even for a mid-week BBQ bracketed with working days. Sixty years ago, the event was a combined school picnic and fundraiser for the Community Club. Jim Cruikshank, who had lived in Argentina, offered the last three lambs from his flock and suggested an Argentinean style BBQ be held at Saturna Beach on Campbell’s farm. At 50¢, Lorraine Campbell remembers, 150 people and about 12 school children came on Dominion Day. This year we sold close to 1200 tickets for $20 on what is now Canada Day. Our school children still get a free dinner because it is their school picnic.

July 30
I am loving this heat and light. What a difference from recent Gulf Island summers—day after day of sunshine. This summer evokes childhood memories of eating outside, doors and windows constantly open, getting up, early and lovely long evenings to be used until the stars come out.

August 13
In the last weeks of July and into August, sweltering was the condition and swimming was the cure. All sorts of Islanders who have never consider making the time or effort are immersing partially or fully and moving around in the cold waters of the Straits of Georgia! Local, lovely ‘beach accesses’ suddenly are not just for launching boats, bird watching, walking or other year round uses. Plumper Sound, Winter Cove, Veruna Bay, Russell Reef, Shell Beach, Saturna Beach, Narvaez Bay, Breezy Bay suddenly became irresistible dunking destinations, higher on the list of priorities than eating. Fantasies of cool to the core of your body arise unbidden. Water was critical—for drinking or surface cooling.

August 27
With the even warmth, shortening days and softer, golden light, summer energy changes. Staff burnout becomes a reality, school shopping and schedules begin to infringe on many minds. But out there—where the crickets have begun their dawn to dusk serenade replacing the frogs of spring—is summer’s glory. Fruit encapsulated seeds are ripening all over! The figs are delicious beyond a doubt—Brown Turkey, Desert King, and White Latroula. Egg plums, purple plums, Italian prune plums are all being traded among neighbours. The first transparent apples and crab apples are coming over the table. Blackberry picking is in full swing. Family and friends coming down from the Okanogan bring peaches and cherries, and I’m awash in tomatoes, basil and peppers! Our fairs are showcasing Island bounty and expertise.

September 10
‘Right as rain,’ is a saying I remember from my childhood. The rain began with a nighttime storm and half an inch of rain in half an hour. Before nightfall, I have been closing windows, dusty from being open for months, and scanning in my mind the garden, porches, barns and bakery for things left out that should not be getting wet. Blue black clouds were filling up the windowscapes after months of blue or stars. The humidity before the storm brought out the winged termites. In the late dusk, the dragonflies were having a feast easily catching the slow-moving, barely airborne, rich morsels! The showers in the days since have been equally welcome but gentle.

September 24
This is the time of year for the ‘10 minutes for gathering and 10 foot away from the door’ diet. Almost everyone has a basil pot on the go and the neighbour has more Bartlett pears than they can dream of using. Drying, canning, freezing and jamming are a part of every day. Harvest time for the Pacific Northwest is when we can feed ourselves from our own land or land very close by; foraging and gathering food without a barcode or package that never got to ride in a big refrigerated truck! (Stopping at the information booth on the way into Victoria, the kids spot blackberries starting to eat up the information signs. Yay!)

October 8
You have probably noticed a distinct lack of eagles on our Islands recently. Soaring about, chirping or screaming with their big white heads they, like the whales, are always thrilling to watch. The sky is empty without them. So, where are those eagles right now? They have piloted themselves over to Mainland or Vancouver Island estuaries and are eating the salmon that have come home to spawn in their home rivers and are dying and washing up on the shores. This rich eating provided by the salmon cycle occurs just when eagles are getting ready to be fertile and just before the colder temperatures of winter.

October 22
On Thanksgiving Day, the thermometer minimum was a hair above zero! In the garden, the cucumber plant leaves melted overnight leaving the last of the cucumbers hanging from a skinny vine. The weather sent me scuttling to the warm-wear section of my closet. I was surprised to be cold—hands, toes, just in general. Now that we are up to 10ºC again, I feel quite jolly. The harvest moon was gorgeous as it waxed and waned.

November 5
Our pond is full and the Waterfall Trail is starting to roar as the water cascades into Lyall Creek. The rain has saturated the ground enough to allow for outdoor burning! In fact, the precipitation requires hydro management—ditching and diverting streams of rainwater. The sunny days are so welcome, still warm enough to be easy to work and putter outside: finish apple picking, split and stack firewood, and harvest the garden. The maples are a still a blaze of colour. Last week on the ferry we came the southern route home on the afternoon ferry, around South Pender and Blunden Island. Looking up at Brown Ridge in the long light of fall, Saturna was gorgeous. While sweeping up the golden piles of maple leaves on the café deck I came across an alligator lizard. Scarcely moving, cold, wet and so beautiful. I am used to them being a skitter of movement in my peripheral vision on their way from one sunny rock crevice to another. The Gulf Islands is such a little oasis for the furthest northern range of lots of critters; our warm microclimate is critical! This lizard needed a warmish tuck-hole for the winter! The patio with a western exposure is a bad place for a lizard at this time of year. The rocks with all-day southern exposure that line Narvaez Bay Road just 50-feet away are the lizard hangout.

November 19
All the maple leaves are smushy-brown on the wet-dark roads and you can’t leave the house without warm covering; being indoors is more enticing. As my garden spreads around the path between the house and the bakery, I can’t help noticing the things that still need doing and some sunny, warmish day they could well get done but for now indoor projects are holding the day. Unlike humans, rough skinned newts, frogs and slugs are outside in the puddles and pools lining the roads. One of our students, Natalie Dunsmuir, found the smallest newt I have ever seen—all chocolate on the top and pumpkin bright on the bottom and tiny toes.




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