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Unique newspaper coverage of local, regional and global topics - serious and light-hearted.

Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2012

A fortnightly excerpt about life on a rural island - Priscilla Ewbank's Saturna Notes column is our longest running feature and a must read for everyone who loves the Canadian Gulf Islands.

Saturna Ferry Dock January 12 

What an incredible string of warm days. Our world is brilliant green with grass growing anywhere the winter light can shine and moss plumped up with as much water as it can hold. I have seen dandelions budded and ready to flower. Calendulas with their bright orange daisies are hardly dismayed by our winter—so far. All of the even mildly prone to dying-in-low-temperature potted plants are safely stored in the greenhouse since I have had so much time to walk up and down from the greenhouse unimpeded by snow or other ghastly weather phenomena.

The chard is starting to grow on last year’s plants and most greens out in the garden are at least holding their own. We can have and share fresh salad greens right now, planted in April and May 2011 into the year 2012! Every tomato has been eaten or is still ripening in trays in the house, along with the red peppers. This bounty is so good for us!

January 26

Saturna has been skittering around the edge of snowstorms. We have had some overnight showers of pearly snow and, during the day, flakes have wafted and drifted down from black clouds in brilliant sunshine. This morning—kapow!

Haggis Farm is right behind Mount Warburton Pike, the highest mountain in the Southern Gulf Islands. If there’s snow, we get the best, the longest-lasting, and the deepest! Our house has definition and illumination from reflected snow and sunshine. Today is blowing snow with twirls anddust-devils of snow blasting off the roof and the trees. Islanders are so used to existing in a liquid medium that white instead of clear, and solid instead of dripping is weird and wondrous! Snow is always a buzz word on the Island—a little shot of anxiety if you are an adult and have responsibilities, or a ray of hope if you are in highschool and the schoolboat and schoolbus might not run.

February 9

Last weekend the Saturna Lions held their 21st Robbie Burns Dinner in the Rec Centre. Amidst 50-50 draws and silent auctions was the ceremony to Scotland’s famous poet. About 60 people were treated to the time-honoured procession of a Pender Highlander Piper, the Haggis Bearer, the Head Cook (bearing a bottle of scotch) and the person who would give the Address to the Haggis. Strange and wonderful!

The Address to the Haggis was given with proper dramatic rendering. The traditional meal was blessed with the Selkirk Blessing and dinner was presented and enjoyed. The Immortal Memory, and the Toast to the Lasses and the Response were delivered to the guests.

The speakers were wonderful this year—thoughtful, funny, lively, very engaging. It was clear that they had put much consideration into the evening’s presentation, making it clear why Robbie Burns was such an inspiration to other writers and poets.

March 8

Almost! I almost put away the snow-shovel and the two buckets for watering the chickens when the automatic waterers freeze. The hats and mittens—almost packed up—are still out! This last run of not very cold during the day but freezing at night weather might just be the last for this winter. The latest I have ever known snow in our neck of the woods was within the first two weeks of March. And daylight saving time starts March 11!

Without the threat of below freezing temperatures, I look forward to pruning the roses right back and filling the greenhouse with plant starts—all those seed packets start to come alive! And walking, much more walking as the nettles spring up. Wandering just a little further is really enticing as the days get longer and the air is warmer. The crocuses are up in the garden and a delight when the sun shines and the petals open wide. One of my favourite sights of spring is a fat bumblebee roving around the pollen-covered stamens.

March 22

What a weather ruckus! Saturna’s trees got off lightly given the ferocity of the winds on Monday, March 12. At about 6am, the lights flickered three times and then poof! Darkness and utter quiet in my house. We haven’t had many power outages this year and I am very grateful when we have windstorms full of rain (like this one) instead of snow.

From the bad old days of week-long outages, I have a set of protocols I adhere to when the wind starts to roar and the trees are thrashing and bending: grind coffee beans for Jon, put well water in the stove kettle, and a big potful on top of the woodstove, get out flashlights and put candles in stable holders, fill the wood box, and put my glasses where I know I can easily find them.

April 5

It’s not all paradise on Saturna. Community problems are interesting and let us probe, think, involve others, and live with patience as part of our Island skillset. Our community hall is a well functioning part of our Island lives — usually.

In the last two weeks, the neoprene O-ring living within the brass fitting of the Schraeder valve squashed itself to bits and therefore the rooftop heatpump isn’t functioning. No heat. The Hall is cold and functions with electrical heaters—best if there are 30 or more people adding their heat and the fireplace is blazing.

Next impediment to civic enjoyment is that a mother otter has decided that the underside of the Hall is a great place for a ‘natal’ den. The cold and otter-reek has rendered the Hall not good for Tai Chi, stretch class, yoga, film night and many more upcoming Island events.

April 19 

Saturna had a sunny Easter this year! Years of Easters have featured sideways rain and south-easterly winds buffeting the gumbooted, raincoat-clad, eager egg-hunters and their equally warmly clad parents.

Every Easter, scads of locals, weekenders, and friends of both categories turn loose their children, toddlers to primary schoolers, at 10am sharp to wander around collecting bright foil chocolate eggs. The speed of collection and dedication to the task being directly related to height.

May 3 

What a riot spring is! Our home area is not grazed and the grass blades are so dense that the lawnmower is intimidated. The air smells robust, full of blossom scent. The birdfeeder is standing room only and noroom at all on the prized rim. Seems like every bird has something to say and is dressed smartly and vividly for the occasion. Banana slugs are on the go, rough skinned salamanders are mating in shallow warmish ponds and morel mushrooms are to be found. Cars are gritty green-yellow with the great clouds of pollen released from firs, cedars, alders and maples. Who would watch a movie, where would you find enough dark? Let’s do spring more frequently!

May 17 

The moon was spectacular on May 5! That the moon, so much a presence in the dark of night does not generate its silvery light, but reflects from the hidden sun-star is in itself intriguing. ‘Super moon,’ new hoopla term! 14% bigger and 30% brighter could be an ad for a new light installation instead of our old friend, the moon.

Nights and days seem to run together at this time of the year. I hear bats squeaking and shadowing about when I go to bed and when I get up. Caterpillar tents are just beginning to show silver in the fruit trees. The huge bitter cherry is full of buzzing pollinators and California purple finches, it sounds as if it will take flight! People are talking animatedly about sailing, grandchildren coming for summer, and about their gardens!

May 31

Those of us growing apples, roses, and strawberries—succulent fare for Western Tent Caterpillars—pay attention to the caterpillars’ seven-year boom-and-bust cycle. As Islanders will have noticed, the cycle is now in its abundance phase.

At Haggis Farm in mid-May, in the dry weather, we did one spraying of the bacteria BT as soon as we saw the level of silken nest building and the leaf skeletons festooning the King apple trees. After one week, the nests seem inactive.

June 14

The Islands are lush and vibrant and full of powerful colours right now! Riding the ferry down the channels, you can see the schoolbus-yellow of broom plant jumping out from the background greens of all our variety of trees and grasses. If it isn’t blooming right now, it is getting ready to and that goes for grasses, trees, shrubs, migrant oxeye daisies, foxgloves, and evergreens–so much mixing of genetic material!

What a joy to have the summer citizens back from the south, too. The returned vultures are politely horning in on the ravens and eagles at the carnivore table, while the hummingbirds and swallows make the daylight hours full of flight and sound. I love having the southern migrants back; the flycatchers and their Central American kin make the cool damp alder places full of song and movement high in the leaf canopy. What a place we live in!

June 28

The first day of the summer, June 20, began brilliantly blue, and softly warm for 7am–defining features of a summer day. In our neck of the woods, we aren’t nearly as boisterous or rowdy in observing the first day of the Solstice as our forebears are reported to have been!

Everything is in place for a splendid July 1 Saturna Lamb Barbeque. The Ladies’ Mint Sauce Making Wine and Tea Party prepared gallons of sauce for the barbecued lamb; Ron Hall kindly donated alder wood from his property; a whack of wood hewers, haulers and splitters stacked about three cords next to the fire pit where the 27 lambs will be roasted. Entertainment at the wood cutting bee was provided by tree faller and harmonica player Ian Middleditch, who deftly positioned and roped up the trees using spurs to get to the top to set the line, then dropped them neatly where the trucks could back in easily, missing all the power lines in the process. Lastly, the Winter Cove site has had its thorough cleaning; T-shirts are printed; 1,800 cookies, 27 lambs, coconut bunches and portapotties are ordered; distinguished guests are invited; the wharves are ready!

July 12

The July 1 Lamb BBQ came through with nary a raindrop, as all the little pieces folded into a perfect day for the guests and a successful year for our fundraising. This community project is worth its weight in lamb chops! It raises money for the Community Hall operations and other necessities, while giving us a purpose to work together and see the project through to a generally agreed upon definition of success. Our kids work alongside and eventually some take over from us and the Lamb BBQ continues as it has for the last 50 years or so. Lots of work and then, after Canada Day, Saturna summer really begins.

The kids are footloose and fancy free. Can you remember the sensation of so much freedom? There will be herds of kids around the Island, clots of cousins and school chums bicycling about, as well as visiting kids, some who come like clockwork through the years. You see them eating icecreams on the store porches, and crowding around the penny-candy jars, counselling each other about which are the tastiest and most long-lasting choices. Patient staff slowly count out the cherry sours and jellied worms dear to the hearts of kids.

July 26

There were a lot of tired Islanders the morning of Friday, July 13! Out of the blue, really out of the blue–blue skies at bedtime the day before, and no warning on Environment Canada’s five-day forecast–we had the biggest the thunderstorm I have heard in the 40 years I have lived here. It was thrilling! I saw one mega-flash of sheet lightning leap horizontally from cloud to cloud; the thunder sounded like it was ripping the sky apart! Our dog was beside herself with terror, shivering, panting and inconsolable; our visiting dog kept nodding off to sleep. The next two days, the skies shifted quickly with gorgeous hues and intensities of light and in the afternoon the sky rumbled and flashed softly.

Our local weather is usually so quiet, except for windstorms; it was a fun change to see the quick changes in cloud formations, light and sound that we had for a few days. Not so much fun for farmers, however, as the unexpected rainstorms seriously complicated haymaking this year.

August 9

We have had extremely low tides the last couple of weeks, a full moon on August 2 (and another on the 31st, a ‘blue moon’), the blackberries are coming on strong and the sun shines most every day...t he middle of summer! Those low tides mean there is less ocean to frolic in and acres more intertidal, the birds and beasts seem that much more concentrated and easy to see. The critical interplay between salt and fresh water, shifting tides and equitable temperatures is so exciting. I love living in the Holocene Period, our geological epoch. We have been in it for about 11,000 years, I read. I am in no hurry to leave a system of stable sea and land temperatures, and air composition. To be humourous, my tomatoes will suffer from any big shifts. To be realistic, my grandchildren will suffer hugely in the chaotic scramble to stabilize human society.

August 23

This summer, I find myself thinking and thinking, while living my life with its small beauties and minor frustrations. What is being thrust upon us? How did we get to be the recipient of so much frantic energy to pipe oil and natural gas to our coast by an industry that kills the land in Canada and abroad in its pursuit of money? I am embarrassed to say that I feel as if I am suddenly living in a third-world country. The land I love and revere is being grabbed by some far-off consortium for their use.

I read in the Globe & Mail that Calgarians don’t want oil wells in their city limits and voted successfully to block an application for drilling. I want that same power to control my destiny. Why am I constrained to act with respect and reply civilly in the face of so much greed and deceit? Who will stand for us collectively and ask intelligent, measured questions? Where did the venue for discussion disappear to?

I assumed (ever dangerous) that citizens have a voice and an agreed upon system: democracy. Or was it just never put to the test with what I cherish? What is my responsible course of action? I have no answers yet, and I work hard to remain engaged and vital in my world.

September 6

A few Sundays ago, a couple of grandmothers and their grandkids and the parents who had come to take them home in anticipation of schooldays. Kids’ busy city lives contrast with languid Island days...trips to the seashore, being on boats, going to the ecological camp, making your own lunch, learning to whittle with a really sharp knife, sailing under the watchful eye of a proud grandfather–truly learning the ropes of an important set of skills under the loving eyes of the previous generation.

My two visiting grandkids are eight and eleven—ages when they are so eager, so enthused about whatever is going on: catching chickens, collecting and cutting-up cucumbers, watching the bats in the long evenings, picking lettuce for their sandwich, lighting the stoves, sitting on the front porch of the store eating icecream and watching the Saturna Island Community swirl around them. Their delight, enthusiasm, and observations of the simplest things re-engage me. I hope that our chosen life which our daughter lived with us, and our loving connection to the grandkids, give them a rich experience to draw from.

September 20

Saturna is back to quiet again: ferry ‘shoulder season’, dried-out deciduous trees dropping leaves, dusty cars, and white-yellow grass, except where groundwater has touched the earth. ‘No Open Burning’ has been the sign on the front door of the General Store for months now. It’s easy to see the fire hazard, with all this glorious sunshine, day after day.

We did have a fire, on September 5, at south Saturna near Murder Point, on Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) land. The fire was reported from across Plumper Sound on South Pender Island, and by Kaare and Brian Carpentier, who were down at Campbell’s sheep farm and saw the billowing smoke coming up from the waterfront. A tugboat pinpointed the area for our fire crew by radio.

Saturna Fire Chief Brent Sohier called the BC Forest Service at Cobble Hill. Thye came with their helicopter, crew of three firefighters, plus pilot, and a fabric bucket harnessed below the helicopter to scoop water from the ocean and dump it on the fire.

It was great good fortune that the tide was out and the helicopter was landed on the sandstone rocks exposed by the low tide. The 100-square-metre fire was burning about 70 feet above the water. About eleven of our firefighters attended the fire with some people from the farm. With a full complement of tools, they scrambled and slid down the steep slope–several going down on ropes.

Parks Canada says there is a fire ban in the GINPR, but staff have extinguished six illegal campfires in the park this summer. This fire was human-caused, probably starting slowly the day before, igniting the deep soil duff and slowly gathering momentum, traveling above ground and underground following tree roots.

Firefighting started at about 1:30pm. The helicopter dumped bucket after bucket of seawater on the area and the firefighters slopped through the mud and debris, literally feeling with their hands to be sure there was no residual heat in the area after the flames were extinguished. The helicopter crew finished up and left at about 6pm.

October 4

I always wondered what my garden would be like if every day was sunny right through September. Given that, around the equinox, we lose about 3-6 minutes of daylight every day, what would be the result of the best conditions you could hope for? This is the year that I can ask for no more than I have been given!

I have never had such an enormous outdoor tomato crop—gargantuan tomatoes. The pears, plums and apples are blushing pinks and intense red-yellows from the accumulated heat and light. Dry petals on every flower, from the flimsiest, most water-damage prone to the real rain warriors, means that the garden has never been such a riot of colour and happy foliage.

At Recycling this fall there is a special blue box allocated for donated canning jars. There have been signs up on the bulletin boards from people looking for fruit, and jars to can them in. What a happy switch from the boxes of jars I have seen going to the glass depot.

Peas, squash and flowers have died of old age instead of rain and dew-melt! Cutting them down and just generally working in the garden has been delightful. Ripping out old growth right down to the ground and making the edges look smart and trim, you know how surprised you’ll be next year when that perennial sends up lush new growth in 2013! This summer and fall of sun will be one remembered.

October 18

Writing this on Thanksgiving Day, October 8, I can’t believe it hasn’t rained yet on Saturna. This extended drought is disquieting. I have never before thought about our well running dry. We think about water consumption even when it rains for four days straight, but have never had to think about sacrificing garden watering for household usage. Here I am though, the woman who comes alive in sunlight and warmth, wishing for rain! ... softly falling drops that will slowly saturate the soil, reviving groundwater, fattening up the roots of plants.


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