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




Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2013

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.


Kaden Foster and Tyler Stolting, Burn Pile at Haggis Hollow

February 14 

Is it almost spring? Some hours, some minutes, you know it is! The quality of the light, the sun’s arc in the sky, the temperature you need to be outside in the garden. Each day a little more light, each day we and the world around us smily a bit more! It is pruning time, roses and fruit trees. Hedges and plants in pots all need shaping and energizing. It’s grand because as you work with the all the stark twiggy bits your mind is full of pictures of what will be. Plants are a succession of beauty, really, of leaf bud burst, full leaf, blossoms, perhaps even fruit to eat and prepare.

Soon, pollen-rumpled bumblebees in crocuses, eating nettle soup for dinner, laugh at brandnew wobbly lambs nosing their mamas for hot milk, or a squad of robins running, pausing, in full worm-stalking mode.

The Saturna Ecological Centre is gearing up for the next semester. The school is full this spring with returning students and new arrivals. In preparation for the new semester, the bunks, bathrooms, common spaces, the kitchen, refrigerators, everything is scoured and tidied in anticipation of a fresh, clean start for bodies and souls. The work is accomplished by some of last semester’s kids who volunteer to come over to Saturna, and Island volunteers who support the school.


February 28

I have a Saturna Island Library card! We have had many systems of procuring books at Saturna’s library but never have had library cards! Always, we had very organized lists of who borrowed what, on what day, and the expected date of return.

Getting a card calls for having official identification. As most of us came in just to get a book, we were not equipped, so the necessity was waived. The plastic cards are gorgeous, brilliant colours and a brilliant idea—the front features a reproduction of one of local artist Jack Campbell’s paintings which hangs prominently in the library. Join the library and you have your very own tiny Jack Campbell painting!

Our library (not the smallest, Piers Island gets that distinction) belongs to the Southern Gulf Islands Library Committee which meets twice a year, and to the BC Libraries Cooperative. What has been clear from the get-go is how much the community loves reading books, and is willing to maintain a system and a place to make that activity available to all.

The library is a hub of the community. Now, there is a hardworking group of about 25 dedicated volunteers. Quality books–donated to the library–are sold by the bagful at the Saturna Lamb BBQ, and are a huge fundraiser for the library. Dependable financial support for the library comes from the property taxes based on population.

Now, computers, a plastic card, slick as a whistle, and the book is yours for a length of time! Under this new system, you will even get a ‘courtesy reminder’ and can use a new website to peruse all the choices available. The system speeds check-out time. You used to chat with the volunteer librarian while the title, your name, date loaned, date due, were filled in on sheets and sheets of lined paper. The library in our community is so much more than a place to get a book. It is a place to view books, and–just as important–to chat with people who love books and live alongside you in your community. What a civilized mutual effort!.


March 14

Last fall, for weeks, arborists were all over Saturna’s roads trimming and extending the forest-free air power and telephone lines corridors.

Nevertheless, after a bouncy, noisy, blowy weekend, at 7am, Monday, March 4—a Baking Day at Haggis Farm—the power went out— kaput! Being already up and ready to fly at it, I immediately called BCHydro to inform them.

A lady asked, ‘Are you sure the power is out? You are the first person to call reporting an outage in this area—look outside your window and see if your neighbor’s lights are on.’ After that, she recommended checking our house breaker switch and that I walk around my neighborhood to see if any trees were down on lines. Mention ad for discount!

I asked her where she was situated— picturing her sitting at her desk with a headset on and lights blinking in front of her in Mumbai. She was just across the water in Burnaby, and promised cheerily, since it did seem indeed that my power was non- existent; even if there were no close neighbors to consult and no trees immediately down to substantiate my claim, ‘to send someone out immediately.’

Ms Burnaby, who answered my call, wouldn’t know what was entailed in ‘sending someone out immediately’ to our little hard-to- access vicinity! So, gathering up the hounds, I jumped into the car to see just what was what and to decide if it was worth firing up the generator for baking.

There it was, a leafless, red alder all catkined-out for spring. From about 20 feet into the forest it had just taken a notion to drop-across the road and land limbs and all— wham—on the lines. Right next to the pole, was a neatly limbed-0ut cedar! Well, you just never know.


March 28

We have had such days and days of pallid skies and dripping rain: hard, medium, or just drifty. I have been frequenting the book store and the library and reading lots of fine books. Today is a mid-March Sunday—glorious blue and dazzling light, as predicted by the weather forecasters—and I feel joyous and different. Not for today, more of the sorting and pitching accomplished this late winter! Today calls for a good walk to see what’s up in the wild world.

I want to see those salmonberry, flowering currant blossoms, and crocuses up close. I want to watch the bumblebees, keep a sharp ear for a male rufous hummingbird zinging around. I will plant in the greenhouse, and rip out some weeds that are totally inspired and way too annoyingly vigorous.

The Campbell farm is bursting with lambs! The first few arrived in late February and then nothing and then lambs were arriving in landslide proportions! Jacques and the gang have 143 lambs and one calf. Our family always visits the farm at lambing time, there’s always something to do to help out. Though last year was disappointing year, with lambs not surviving and ewes dying. So,this year is a bonus and a lovely success.


April 11

Did you see the smiles on Easter Weekend? Everybody seemed so buoyant and just plain happy to be warm. Sunlight filled the day, and moonlight the nights! Heaters, fires, jackets, gumboots suddenly became extraneous as the day and night-time temperatures climbed. Not only were people smiling, suddenly there were red-legged frogs, butterflies, pacific tree toads, garter snakes, a report of a male grouse drumming, a stack of six turkey vultures climbing on thermals, a pair of violet green swallows, and Humphrey—the orphan rufus hummingbird,— came home to Bill and Sam Peramaki’s feeder for the 5th year in a row!

Easter weekend was hugely busy on Saturna after months of rain and community business meetings. With an early prediction of sun-filled days for the weekend, lots of people hopped on the ferry and came over.

At the Saturna Community Hall, the Saturna Woman’s Club’s Easter Bake Sale was a fabulous success with all the baking sold, the tableful of Cake Walk cakes emptied, and Tea and Welsh Cakes enjoyed by many (older) participants on the tablecloth-clad tables in the lounge.

Besides the full plant-table, many local businesses and artists donate generous and interesting items to be raffled with the Women’s Club as the beneficiaries of the ticket buyers. Plants, dirt, firewood, chips, gravel, dinners, food baskets, backhoe work, stays at B&Bs, what a practical Island we are!

Saturday night, the Lion’s Prawn Fest was loaded with Islanders and their guests and families. People always have a good time at the do, eating and visiting. The Winter Cove Yacht Club sponsors the Easter Egg Hunt at Winter Cove—10am sharp! The tiny, just-walking kids are released first—the ones who find an egg, plump down on the lawn, slowly tear the foil off and eat it, then get up to find another one! At last, the big kids are launched to sprint off, tearing about picking up eggs like vacuum cleaners. Then the parents can close in on the picnic tables laden with coffee and goodies!

Usually the hunt is done in half an hour due to blowing rain and wet participants. The finale is generally a sprightly soccer game to warm-up—and run off the chocolate. Drenched in sunlight this year, the grandparents and aunties and uncles, friends and parents lingered to visit, stroll about, take pictures, admire the loot, munch on sweet baking and savour coffee.

The Community does a lot to entertain itself, friends and family, and welcome newcomers. Islanders appreciate being together to celebrate.


April 25

We year-round islanders are getting more company as spring progresses! Besides our fabulous returning creatures—vultures, hummingbirds, swallows, warblers, orcas, fawn and chocolate lilies—snowbirds, weekenders and cottagers are remembering how glorious the Islands are at this time of year. Every year we have two violet green swallows who fly by at this time to check out their nest site on the second-storey, south -facing wall and then, later, returntonest. Every year we have neighbours who regularly call to see how the Island is and how their home is and by May they are ‘back home’.

Besides the animation of nesting,the vibrance of unfurling leaves and blossoms, there are more people for Islanders to interact with socially and economically. Bridge Club numbers swell, the library is much more active, exercisers and the line dancers move over to make room for the people who go away and yet have place here on our Islands.


May 23 

I always thought that June, culminating with the Saturna Lamb BBQ smack on July 1st was the busy month of the year. May has been bursting with Spring, with gardening, with a provincial election, with entertainments and meetings! With one week of flat-out, everyday, dependable sunshine and the 15-hour days, you can wear yourself to a frazzle with inspiring projects to accomplish!

We have some terrific new visitors observed from kayaks! Around East Point there have been two sightings of the short-finned pilot whale, one of two individuals and another of three. Pilot whales are are a little smaller than orcas, males up to 18ft, live in pods, are highly social, mostly matrilineal, and are still hunted. The short dorsal fin with a deep notch is very curved over the body.

Pilot whales are members of the dolphin family (toothed whales) just like orcas. They have a balloon-shaped, bulbous head. Squid and octopus and some fish make up their diet. They are predominantly found in the open sea. At first I was dubious of the identification but when the second sighting was reported, I was delighted!

Migrating back from their winter grounds in Panama and the olive-sided flycatchers— federally designated Species at Risk—are back on Saturna. ‘Quick! Three Beers!’ is their easy to identify call. Derm’s Garage, the old barn by the General Store, is alive again with returning barn swallows.

In the cool dark of the barn, Derm runs cars in and out, works in the pit clanging and slamming underneath, grinders run, the air compressor roars to life filling tires, people flow in-and-out chatting below the swallows constructing their nest and raising sometimes two broods!


June 6 

We’ve had some nice rainy days to keep our soil, wells and forest moist a bit longer. The slug smiles are dazzling as they super-glide along the garden paths and roads. Except for a desultory sprinkle every-other-day in the greenhouse, garden watering has ceased for a while!

The last weekend in May, Saturna Island hosted ‘Moby Doll Symposium-Reflections on Change’—240 attendees. I was blown away—we did such a fantastic job of organizing, feeding, seating, informing, over-nighting, and transporting the off- Islanders participants and the 8 presenters and their partners, and the Barry Gough Jazz Band for the Saturday night party.

The galvanizing force of the conference was the narrative of the juvenile killer whale Moby Doll, his harpooning for science, capture, and 3-month incarceration till he died. Then, the effect that this close-hand experience has had on public and scientific attitudes during the 50-years since the harpoon stuck in his body.

The skillful highlighting of this story and hearing about subsequent patient, passionate work of scientists is what made the symposium so vibrant and vital.

Saturna Islander, Richard Blagborne had the vision, Saturna Heritage Commmittee and the Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society marshaled the details of graphics, publicity and money, speakers and food, scheduling, registration, filming and programming. The rest of us did our small but necessary parts—from arranging flowers, washing dishes, setting-up (including all the audio-visual equipment), to seeing that two very tired young children of presenting guests had a soft blanket-bed to fall asleep on at the fancy Saturday night dinner while the jazz band played ‘Memories of You’.


June 20 

This is rose time. All the roses have the message and are blooming rambunctiously—native, feral and garden types. Except for the roses we have hacked down to reclaim our fields, they are all gorgeous and smell from variations of spicy to Avon lady to fruity mango.

Fifteen foot sprays arch out from hedges; deep pink, simple petalled, wild Nootka ones. The thorns are like shark teeth, nobody walks around with decorative sprays to fill vases.

Deer are excellent botanists and can discern the difference between cultivated roses and our native baldhip and Nootka roses—with a tiny whiff and achomp. Those roses sneaking into our pastures are untouched by any small, medium, adventurous or lusting deer, at any time of the year.

If any of my domestic roses stray an inch out of the 9ft fence they are bonzai-ed immediately as high as any big fat buck standing on its hind legs holding onto the fence wire to steady itself, can reach.

Tent caterpillars are equally as admiring of roses. In bad infestation years the roses can be a cobwebby pallid mess.


July 18

You wouldn’t want it any hotter! The presence or absence of shade takes on a whole new meaning, as daily watering of some plants can be critical to their very survival. Right now, sugar snap peas, are 12-feet-high and climbing past three trellis extensions. I can almost hear the irrigation water being turned into fat plump juicy pods—not snow peas, not shelling peas–my family adores sugar snap peas.

This year, the garden has a wonderful population of swallowtail butterflies swooping about constantly checking out the flowers. They are so big that as they silently flap by they cast a shadow—and I look for a bird. The garden has a full complement of funny-looking, disheveled young robins and towhees running around the beans and squash, popping up to scream for food from their patient, busy parents. They have hardly any tail feathers so, when they get airborne, they make very wobbly sprint flights to new perches!

What a source of goodness a garden is in summer—humour, beauty and the best food you can ever have!


August 1

Now damp and silent, the creek has stopped running above ground at our place. When I hand-water in the garden, I notice that birds come zooming in to perch close to the silvery droplets. Water is so precious.

The most-delicious and very-popular with family and visitors, sugar snap peas have had it for the year—we are on to delicious green beans, chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, and the first of the summer squash—and still salad greens. Plums are just coming and I am taking care to water the orchard this year to plump out the pears and apples. In Winter Cove, home of the best hedges and sprawls of vines on the Island, I saw a ripe head of blackberries—they were palatable but two more days of sun will send them over the top! Coming soon: that scent that mixes only in berry time in the Gulf Islands—dry grass, marine air, buzzy wasps, flowering Queen Anne’s lace. Quiet warmth and the plop of berries into small buckets tied around your waist—I can’t wait!


August 15

August—what a bounty from the garden! Saturna grown food hasthatextraappeal—taste,smellandtaut beauty—that comes from grown-next-door and just- picked. Several Islanders are growing to sell and lots are growing and sharing. At the Saturna Saturday Market there is always a stand that sells out and two local eateries use island- grown on their menus whenever possible.

Historically, the Gulf Islands used to be a major supplier of fruit and vegetables for Victoria and Vancouver. Mayne Island even had Japanese owned glass greenhouses with tomatoes and cucumbers growing and all the Islands had orchards.

All of the steamers that plied the waters made stops for freight and people. Boat schedules and stops were looser in those days while pears, apples, plums, wood, steers, wool, sheep, and whatever else might form a profitable cargo were loaded and discharged—entertaining and delighting passengers who dined in style with tablecloths and silver in the lounges.

With such sunny weather it seems we are really doing summer. Park-users, visiting families, and part-time residents are taking their vacations. The water is welcoming for swimming and boating, the blackberries are divine, and the wasps are really active and plentiful! The Island is fun and full of new people and their stories about where they come from, what brought them to Saturna and what they have found that is meaningful to them. We are hosting lots of bicyclists who are a fun, fit, and lively demographic to have rolling around the Island.


August 29

Oh my, the dusky evenings are coming on—the days are diminishing as fast as they were increasing in February! The moon has been so gorgeous these last nights—it seems bigger than usual with ragtag clouds floating in front of the craters.

We have our grandchildren over for two weeks. Each year that they come is a gift. The farm and the quieter way of life will be competing with sports, jobs, social events—the hustle and bustle of summers. Twelve and nine-years-old are such great ages, fully competent, full of wonder and appreciation, and full of laughs! Their observations, rationales, questions, jokes and riddles put the world in a great perspective.

Often enough, being with them, you get to remember, with surprise, a little piece of your own childhood suddenly comes into focus and finally makes sense. Who are these people above all others who come into your life and grow with you? I came from an immigrant family. Those vital spots of grandmother and other roles were blank, those people far away, back living in the country of origin. I make up this grandmother stuff up as I go along, augmenting the foundation of love and competence that their parents are establishing, loving the grandchildren for all their peculiarities and sharing my peculiar self and the land and community in which I am so firmly rooted.

Saturna is rich with social interaction, with surprising encounters with wildlife and wild shores and for the the kids the stress and vitality that comes with living with new ways of doing old things—‘My mom and dad always...’. The high points of the visit have been: a pedicure water spa treatment gizmo joyfully found at Recycling’s Free Store, being welcomed to a big local birthday bash celebration, jumping right into the local kid scene, and using all sorts of hand tools for work we need done.

Two of these experiences are Saturna specials. Recycling is open to all the visitors and ‘For free?’ is a big surprise to many people. Sharing and welcoming others to island events, personal and public, is a powerful message which gives worth and value to human interactions.

This week my grandkids, with 11 others, are attending the Gulf Islands Ecological Center Camp at Winter Cove. The kids get to be visiting with Granma and Pa and go to camp! That’s Saturna for you!


September 12

Labour Day Weekend—the last long weekend of this summer—is now on the memory side of experience. Not just a date on the calendar anymore, it’s been lived in whichever way we all chose. Summer is so easily a time of richness and sheer enjoyment and Labour Day Weekend signals the end of kids tootling about outside and in, footloose and fancy-free spending weeks with grandma and grandpa or with their parents staying at B&Bs or in the family cabin.

Walking uphill gives waiting passengers (and ferry staff) a minute-by-minute scan of how much longer they can lounge around and extend their vacation and visiting time before the ramp clanks down, the arriving cars disgorge and they truly are driving onto the car-deck—leaving. Here comes the Mayne Queen chugging steadily all the way down Navy Channel the sun in the west shining off the gorgeous blue Salish Sea, island upon island in the distance. Just like all the pictures in the brochures written by all the island tourist associations and Parks Canada, our islands are heart-lifting to visitors and home-town to year- round residents.

Towering icecream cones, shorts and sandals, some walking hand-in-hand, leaning on cars talking, happy people going home after their island adventure. Ferry staff taking money, offering advice, we Islanders watch the cars full of families and visitors going home to school and work with kayaks and bikes adhering to roofs and tailgates, bursting backseats with a dog panting in a small corner. We wave, there they go down the steep hill, onto the deck, and the boat departs almost to the minute on-schedule. We look at each other and smile—back to our businesses, jobs, school, governance, home life. Actually seeing the back of the fridge for the next nine months, mostly in the quiet company of ourselves!


September 26

For 43 years I have been riding the morning ferry that leaves between 6am and 6:30am from Saturna Island to wherever I want to go. In late spring I can leave my house in sunlight to drive down to the ferry, in winter the dawn can arrive an hour later as the Mayne Queen pulls into Victoria. The yearly cycle of the daily quota of light is so distinctive and the morning ferry departure is a fun yardstick.

The autumnal equinox usually brings some weather ruckus. Surprisingly, last Sunday, the foggy overcast day was overtaken with thunder and lightning—black roiling clouds, grumbling thunder, blazes of light and a rocket of a tempest that shut down the power to our house but entertained us!

All our fall fairs are now completed. I love our Island heritage of agricultural growing and celebration of food. Our house is full of fruit, the Bartlett pear tree is picked, Italian prune plums are being processed, the Gravenstein apple tree is being picked. Two Comice pear trees, and two King of Tompkin Country apple trees to go. Blemished and irregular fruit is recast as various flans, tarts, and pies. The food processor roars through piles of basil with garlic and olive oil tossed in—what a splendid reek!

The old orchards at Narvaez Bay, where the park is now, were full of ravens picking fat green walnuts off the trees and deer munching windfalls. The orchards belonged to the demolished Georgeson farmhouse whose front door is marked by a plum tree which now stands alone—no people to pick the fruit and enjoy the lovely flavour.


October 10

It has been raining in a day after day manner which brings to mind biblical deluge. Soup, I think, is the cure for chronic grey sky and falling moisture. As a result of the rain, green grass and fulsome moss coverage are right back in place. The fungal world of mushrooms is enthused and fruiting, spider webs anchoring to anything barely stable.

And then there is the wardrobe for this weather shift, clothes to be wearing for a fall rainy day! At this time of the year it is still warm. Halfway through a day of soaking wet rain, clothed in what seems appropriate, you can find yourself sweating if you haven’t been careful in making the fine distinction between early fall gear and December attire! It’s only October, perhaps a lovely sunny fall still awaits us!

In the pouring rain this last weekend in September, we had several community events. Saturna School held their twice-a- year bottledrive. The school had its system of counting, notating, and loading down pat as people trooped up in the deluge to give over their bottles for the cause. The kids work alongside their aunties, grandmas, moms, and dads to raise between $600–$700 a term for the outings and trips and other amenities that enrich the their lives.

Also amid the rain, Aleah Johnson and her staff invited all her customers down to Wild Thyme Café to celebrate her businesses’ first year of operation. Live music, pie, beer and other festivities entertained the participants coming to congratulate her on her success.




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