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Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2014

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


Fresh garden tomatoes

March 6 

I took the Queen of Nanaimo home to Saturna from Vancouver with three one-ton totes of chicken feed on the back of the truck, for the lovely hens of Haggis Farm to keep those golden-yolked eggs coming (in combination with slugs, grass, worms, and insects).

Travelling back to Vancouver again, a big Pineapple Express storm was gathering with blasts of wind knocking into Village Bay whilst I was transferring from Mayne Queen to Queen of Nanaimo. By the time I was aboard and upstairs in the cafeteria, warm and cozy, we were out in Active Pass and the storm was on!

White caps, squalls coming and going, rainbows and blasts of sunlight frothed up the ever-changing colours of the sea, the shore and the wings of the gulls. How lucky am I, I thought, to be traveling on a wonderfully people-friendly ferry with excellent service and these views.

I relish that the Nanaimo does not resemble a seagoing shopping mall. You are on a journey when you drive on board this ferry! The boat has truly beautiful aspects to its construction. I love the woodwork, the brass door-handles, the painted signs, that cafeteria windows right next to the Salish Sea and the islands as they slide by.

The Queen of Nanaimo is the right size for people—people snooze on the floors in the forward lounge, they chase after kids, they ‘visit’ over the barndoor shelf of the purser’s office, play games on the tables, do computery stuff in the study carrels, sit in ‘their’ seats, kibitz with the cafeteria staff about whether they can ‘hold the chilli’, ‘double-up on the sour cream and chopped green onions’ with their baked potato. Islanders move the chairs and tables around to accommodate impromptu meet-ups of friends or family for a good visit over food with ceramic plates and metal cutlery. They thank the staff for this and that consideration, and generally clean-up and put things back to rights. We southern islanders can truly see ourselves represented, two glass cases feature islands’ art, the little store has BC books written by BC authors. For me and many other Islanders Queen of Nanaimo is island life extended.


March 20

The longer days made the last snowfall bearable and even fun. We had over-the-top-of-your-gumboots snowfall at Haggis Farm while the seawater fringes of the Island were only heavily dusted. Elevation is so easy to see when outlined by exactly where the snow is falling or isn’t.

The dogs blasted around, sending up rooster tails of flying snow dust, barking like crazy and keen for any walk. The chickens were decidedly not enthused although I noticed that their lightweight and three-toed chicken feet kept them safe elevated on the snow crust.

All the power went off by Sunday afternoon and quiet descended, candles glowing for a slow-cooked, woodstove dinner and walking around carefully doing basic tasks with a candle. The snow was so heavy and fell so continuously that branches began to snap and the lowest boughs sank down to the snow becoming part of a glass globe snow picture.

Snow in March is generally dramatic for a day, then over—no sticking! Usually, you can slide by with augmented Gulf Island costuming. But by Monday, I was in the basement with a headlamp sorting through the serious snow gear—mittens, woolies, felt-liner boots, down parka, and warm hats.

Our power came on three days later, just as my state-of-the- freezer anxieties were peaking. South Saturna, the end of our road and several other homes came back on the next day.


April 3

It is spring, there is not a chance for more snowflakes! At Campbell’s Farm, lambs are up to high cavorting, all 108 of them including one set of quadruplets, three Hereford calves are cavorting too. The bigdaffodils are just about to flare out dazzling yellow; green grass growing, yellow daffodils opening on a blue sky day—just like a fistful of crayons. We have boatloads of robins chattering away, bouncing and hopping along in the pastures. Our robins have fat bellies from sucking up earthworms like a kid with a long piece of spaghetti!

School Spring Break is wonderful in the Gulf Islands. It is the first occasion of the year where the island is bustling. Like new lambs and daffodils, spring break is full of young life—children! Besides the very real economic benefits, it is so good to see kids and parents walking trails, checking out the beaches, hanging around the stores nattering and consulting about what to buy, where to go next. Meanwhile, Saturna kids are off doing trips with their parents, getting animated and stimulated somewhere else—the great trade around.


June 12

9pm and still too early to put the last free-soul chickens safely into the coop to bed—they are far too awake and busy with chicken business. Ahh, this is why we can endure dark December; we have memories saturated with smells and sensations and vivid colours of June! There are roses everywhere: wild roses, old carefully bred hybridized roses, feral roses—wonderfullysmellyrosesinandoutofgardens. People go to meetings and arrive with vases of their best garden picks that they just couldn’t stand not to share! The marguerite ox- eye daisies are popped out on hillsides and in any old place with some sun. Th0se English garden escapees, foxgloves, are just colouring up at the bottom of their tall plumes. Swallowtail butterflies are in abundance and tent caterpillars are not. Bless that scarcity part of the cycle! New lime green ferny feathers filter the sun shafts in cool shady places. Oh, it is hard not to be visually overwrought on the Gulf Islands in June!


June 26

We’ve got kids ‘underfoot’ before summer has started! Kids all over BC are not going to school and are doing something else—going to camps, hanging out with grandma, or helping their moms and dads while the teachers are on strike and many parents are at work. Our own, young James Davies. informed me that waiting for his mother while she worked was really fun ’cause he had a big-scoop, icecream cone!

Going to town on Monday on the morning ‘milk-run’ boat, I saw two young teachers get on at Pender Island. I could tell they were teachers because they had a fist full of markers and were making up their placards on a ferry table to carry at the ‘Support Public Education’ rally at the Legislature buildings later that day. They were feisty, full of information about the latest rounds of bargaining, proud of their jobs and loved being teachers and with kids. They are part-time School District 64–Gulf Island teachers working on their masters degrees, willing to travel inter-island to work at different schools and cobble together a living and dedicated to ‘their’ kids.

A group of interested ferry travellers joined the discussion–everyone has a kid, or a grandkid, or a grownup kid who is a teacher and an opinion! I loved that these young professionals were participating and informed, ready and interested in talking to other citizens. No whining, they were off to exercise their democratic right to express their opinion!

A new young child is also at home, on his Island. Hunter John Money, Amanda and Andrew’s first child, is just home from intensive care in Vancouver. Hunter was eager to get things rolling here in the big wide world, due to be born two weeks from now, right after the Lamb BBQ, he made his entry about a month ago. While he gets his immune system going he has to be cooed over from afar. Congratulations to Amanda and Andrew, new mother and father and Hunter who brought them their roles and truly made the couple a family!


July 10

There are lots of society AGMs at this time of year—people are clearing the calendar for a non-committed summer of frolic and as-you-will decisions. Many year-round business people will be working harder than ever. This is the time for Gulf Islands businesses to cater to their summer visitors that come to tour and take a rest from their common concerns. Eating, drinking, participating in markets, art tours, walking, kayaking, fishing, exploring these gorgeous islands. Being proud of our island and living here we are all in a sense tour guides—part of a visitor’s experience—welcoming and willing to connect and give fine service and goods, for off-Island dollars. For other businesses, this is also prime time for renovation and building—in the dry season!

Natalie Dunsmuir, Silas Strilchuk and Don Stevens have graduated and have earned their BC Dogwood Diplomas. Don is off to UVIC and working as a camp counsellor this summer. Silas is looking at various trade schools, and Natalie is working at Island Tides.

About 40 people, parents, friends and teachers, gathered at the Group of 30’s Shore House in celebrating the accomplishments of the graduating students. Each graduate presented a lively speech about their experience at SEEC and their reflections of heading out into the wider world. Dinner was potluck and we left the students dancing after they had worked to clean-up the beautiful space where their celebration was held.


July 24 

Salish Sea Islands’ governance has a unique-in-Canada component in the Islands Trust which regulates land use, in the broadest sense, for a good deal of the Salish Sea—on 13 larger islands and about 450 smaller islands.

The Islands Trust Area contains the at-risk Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem. As well as being thrillingly beautiful, our area is drier (rain shadow) and milder than most surrounding lands. This area has always attracted humans, and the Islands Trust’s challenging task is to maintain a balance between increasing human use and the longterm survival of endangered ecosytems.

This was all apparent at Islands Trust Council’s quarterly meeting, held on Saturna on June 18 and 19. I was impressed by the civil level of governance and the effectiveness of the discussions and decisions.


August 7 

This is a picnic summer—watermelons and BBQs and bathing suits! Being outdoors is so appealing in the summery weather—unless you are roofing or working hard—fun outdoor events are well attended, even the weekend ferry lineups have a festive atmosphere.

Last week’s rain was welcome news for everyone, no matter what their plans were for the day. The grasslands were crispy and full of clingy grass seed. The forest is still dry—dry deep into the earth; certainly a time for caution around any kind of flammables. So many less people smoke now that anyone who does, stands out. From a distance, I saw someone smoking at the Saturday Market—three people had spoken to them before I did, obviously giving them the Island line on fire precaution!

The Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society commemorated Parks Day at East Point, in collaboration with Parks Canada. With free icecream cones in hand, participants in the afternoon event watched Marine Sanctuaries Society divers underwater in Tumbo Channel through streaming video supplied by Mike Irvine from Subeye as they collected tidal species for the touch tanks on shore at Shell Beach. The tanks were supplied and constantly replenished with cold, clean, fresh water from deep in Tumbo Channel, Marine Sanctuary.


August 21 

The blackberries are coming on. The impromptu pickers are all around: in flipflops and short shorts, Starbucks coffeecups as containers. Also present is the organized, determined picker armed with a bucket, rake, loppers, determination, a short ladder and dressed in something like a French foreign legion outfit. Mmm, those wonderful smelling berries, the scent of a Gulf Islands summer!

In this sunny weather, with an extended buggy season, swallows and other birds seemed to have successfully raised two broods. Those tiny crickets we found in the spring grass are now chirping in the late afternoon.

Though evenings are no longer everlasting as in late spring, the stone patio with its stored summer heat is wonderful to sit on as we wait for dusk and the bats and nighthawks to make their appearance. Regularly, about eight nighthawks (federally listed as a species of concern) entertain us. From the shaded evening of our house, we watch them way-up in the still, sunlit, blue yonder.

This year has been full of notable wild creature spottings. Saturna is a very learned natural history community. People will come up and ask you to tell them what they saw. Some are earnest—and way off the mark! I query them, ‘You saw 20?’ I am working hard to keep the exclamation point out of my voice. Yup, 20 bandtailed pigeons and, in this case, there really were!

Further to that surprising sighting, a blue grouse with four big offspring on Narvaez Bay Road, an alligator lizard in an outdoor sink on Cliffside Road, and an elephant seal hanging around East Point (Rick Jones). A video of a sea otter at East Point (Jim Hope) confirmed that this was not one of the yellow-tagged ones introduced by Vancouver Aquarium.

Nearly every day, the orca pods (our species at risk) have gone by. I asked an East Point citizen if they were getting a little bored with all the whale traffic—not a chance!


September 4

Golden warm days, are followed by deep darkness by 9:30pm, nowadays. Summer visitors are waning as the school year begins. Local businesses are recalibrate their weekly stock ordering, as the migrant customer-base goes home in all directions. The Oystercatchers, our hometown baseball team, are winding up the evening games season—games with Mayne can’t be squeezed in between when players get off work, a speedboat goes between islands and night falls! No full banks of stadium lights for us—just the sun!

The fourth weekend in August, Saturna Island Ecological Eduation Centre held a four-day workbee to get the Haggis Hollow facility ready for the 12 students coming for the fall semester.

Alumnae, new students, and their parents, and local supporters laid bricks, painted the interiors of the dorms, washed and scrubbed, shining even the tallest windows. School architect Richard Blagborne pitched in and built an extension onto the woodshed, while students split and stacked the year’s supply of firewood—felled and bucked by an islander.

It is a gift to get to know our kids—from our youngest, Hunter, to our eldest, one of the SEEC students. Our kids grow and thrive in our Islands with our close-knit communities that value children and education—we have a lot to offer.


September 18

The full harvest moon is so gorgeous. Narvaez Bay Road runs east and west outside Haggis Farm. In the middle of the road at 6:30am the moon was setting to the left and sun rising to the right—what a grand amount of light.

Usually after Labour Day as the weather cools off, the kids are in school and the community pace of events ebbs downwards. Not this year—there’s still lots happening.

On Saturday, September 6, we had Parks and Recreation Commission’s annual Thomson Park Salmon BBQ at Saturna Beach. Free for everyone, lunch was sockeye salmon burgers beautifully cooked by Hubertus Surm, along with tea, coffee and carrot cake. Rick Jones gave his annual update on the state of the salmon in Lyall Creek—the premier creek in the outer Gulf Islands for salmon enhancement success.

It was a gorgeous day in the little community-owned park—the big swing was in constant use by the kids, and people had a grand time sitting around yakking and eating. A snappy northwest wind kept the hornet menace stymied. Our park is beautiful and full cause for a yearly celebration. Thanks to Parks and Recreation for a lovely community event.


October 2

It is raining—the world is noisy with rain on the roof. It hasn’t rained in a long time and fir cones are bouncing down off the metal roofs, fir needles are shedding and clogging drainpipes, the light dusty duff is forming into little gullies as rain runs along. Darkness comes even earlier when it is raining.

The kids are back in school! Fall is really here. You have to hustle to get the outside stuff done and a few good walks in during daylight hours. I forgot the rain routines of floor mats, doors closed, socks and shoes, towels to wipe wet dog feet, rain repellant outer wear... Gumboots—where are they?

What a summer of plenty—everyone has tomatoes to crow about, the best apple crop ever, pears or zucchini—bounteous and beautiful. I have been having freshly made tomato sandwiches, beefsteak, of course, basil, mayonnaise, and a Bartlet pear for dessert.

This is the first time I have ever seriously pondered my well. It has held up wonderfully all this summer, just like all other summers, and I am grateful for its deep underground stores.

The Campbells are feeding hay to their sheep already as their big pastures have dried up completely. The green of any tiny amount of groundwater coming to the surface is in contrast to the desiccated grass. The deer and the sheep stay in close proximity to the orchard. One ewe is nearby all the time and as soon as that apple falls kerplunk on the ground, she scrambles for it.


October 16

Each of these fall days is like a gift—you wake up and the stars are just fading and if it looks like a blue sky day is coming along—a blessing!

The pileated woodpeckers snap-land into the red-laden apple trees and apple bits start flying. By day, the sheep are hanging out in the orchard waiting patiently for the sound of the heavy apples bouncing on the ground before they sweep in en masse for the treat. At night, the big bucks are stretched out their full height from their back legs, reaching for a bough to jerk down. My shift is in the afternoon after the fruit is dry to pick on the big three legged ladder with the dogs sitting around me set on guard to keep the sheep from rushing the full boxes. This time of year, we regularly eat applesauce made from the windfalls and the ‘perfect’ go into boxes in the walk-in cooler for months of Haggis Farm Bakery apple pies.

Bright green, tender grass is growing now with the bit of rain and the heavy night dews. You can burn if you have a fire permit. Scads and drifts of maple leaves are starting to pile up. They are the best to mulch the beds for next year’s planting. The one rain we had was enough to start the puffballs and the meadow mushrooms and a few chanterelles coming but not much more. Fall is full of beauty, things to eat, things to do and the memories of previous years as the familiar tasks swing round again in the year’s cycle.


October 30

Thanksgiving weekend is my favorite national holiday. Thanksgiving is a time to eat the season’s gifts of food and be grateful for that food and the love of family and friends together. We smart Canadians hold Thanksgiving truly in the season of harvest, ensuring warm weather, avoiding Thanksgiving being the entryway holiday to Christmas, and, due to our west-coast location, having access to a coastal feast.

Thanksgiving weekend was gorgeous and busy. Saturna had an Oktoberfest Celebration at the Campbell Farm on South Saturna for the second year in a row. What a fun time!

A stormy morning full of rain transformed into brilliant blue skies and warmth by the time the event opened. In the Campbell Farm’s provincially inspected abattoir, chef Hubertus Surm, with the aid of his brother Bertold from Germany, had made merguez, a spicy North African sausage. He also made ringrider, a Scandinavian herb sausage. Hubertus was kept busy cooking sausages with all the fixings and Bertold was selling pounds of the meat to take home.

Next door, Gulf Islands Brewery was offering generous samples of Salt Spring ales to accompany the marvelous-smelling sausages, and the Breezy Bay Blues Band was vigorously holding forth from the tractor shed. Amanda Money had apple juice, dried apples, relishes, and produce; Michael Pierce had olive trees; and Jacques had woollen items. There was pottery, the big farm garden, a shepherd, sheepdogs, chickens—and visitors in the outside sunshine.


November 13

Anybody who has apple trees is reporting a bumper crop this year. You couldn’t eat your way through the bonanza. Several people on Saturna are drying apples and the Moneys are turning them into juice. Their four resident pigs are burping and smiling with all the crushed pomace that is turning up in their enclosure. Young islanders helped pick apples from the semi-dwarf trees which are about as high as a six-foot person with an arm stretched way up.

All in all, agriculture did well this year. Ian Rowe has been selling figs, beets, and shallots at the General Store, and two local farms are gearing up to keep the store supplied year-round with local garlic. Breezy Bay kept Saturna in tomatoes, green beans and basil for a solid couple of months.

Apple pies sold at the General Store come from two old King of Tompkins County trees in the Haggis Farm orchard. When we first bought the land and came to settle, the trees were tired looking and the crop spotty. I knew nothing and wondered if they had fulfilled their destiny. But lots of water and chicken poop laced with sheep and deer droppings turned the trees into the abundant bearers they are now.

Campbells grow a huge garden that they share with other islanders and Jacques reports more potatoes than they can store and surplus squash, as well as giant beefsteak tomatoes.

Campbell’s Farm does custom slaughtering in their government-approved abattoir. Live sheep are also brought from Pender, Mayne and Galiano Islands and turned into lamb in boxes—cut, weighed and packaged—ready for the farmers to pick up.


November 27

What an incredible wind blew through, dislodging our entrenched rainy low-pressure system and sweeping in blue skies and freezing nights. After the initial blow, the roads were littered with big leaf maple leaves and hefty boughs. Up on sunny Brown Ridge/Mount Warburton Pike with its sweeping vistas, the wind howled. Small craft warnings! Big ship warnings! Log boom warnings! Eagle and raven warnings! I’ll bet there were no ships in the southern straits all the way south to Victoria.

Walking up on Brown Ridge was exhilarating. Low boughs on the old firs were digging furrows in the new green grass as they swung wildly and oak leaves shot by our faces like missiles. Way below us on the steep necklaces of trails, the cling-on feral goats were plodding along eating, undisturbed by the weather event; just like the fish in the ocean under the spindrift and uproar. It was noisy beyond belief—even the guywires for the TV tower were howling. And then, as you walk twenty feet north beyond the lip of the cliff, like closing the door, silence—just sunlight.

Days of sunlight are welcome, particularly if your house is out of the trees and faces the right way. I’m positive we humans are solar powered. And the dogs follow the sunlight patches in the kitchen, Campbell’s horses and cows stand broadside to the light—while warmly dressed sheep don’t seem to care one way or the other.

We people were busy beavering about to pre-empt the possible effects of freezing temperatures after this long, soft fall. I heard lots of talk from very warmly dressed islanders of waterpipes, firewood, anti-freeze, generators, and tender garden plants.


December 1

If I were looking for a spot for the perfect house on Saturna, I would volunteer to go on a feral goat population survey. Our goats like south-facing, sandstone aspects with the brightest, greenest winter grass and earliest-growing browse.

Devon MacDonald, one of our Saturna Ecological Education Center students, is learning about feral goats for her Independent Directed Study project this semester. Nancy Angermeyer, her community mentor, and Richard Blagborne have a home on top of Brown Ridge and goats are an ever-moving part of their front yard. Our goats are a good subject to study: big, relatively tame, and distinguishable with their fancy interbred body markings and horn variations.

Devon and Nancy invited us all to participate in a goat-count to see what their population was on December 2. It’s the best time to get an accurate count—just before the nannies start going off into quiet corners to birth kids at the end of December. The herds are the biggest and the groups, the most cohesive.

It was a perfect day for us and the goats, since on rainy blusterous days the goats head for shelter like us, and in the summer when the ridge is dry the goats range widely around most of the perimeter margins of the island for feed. On a sunny winter day, however, the goats start at the eastern part of the ridge where the sun first hits and gradually head west.

Teams took different sections of the island, concentrating on current favourite goat habitat. The trick is to count just in your area, and for everyone to count at about the same time so ‘your’ goats don’t have time to run down into other people’s areas and throw off the count.

Feral goats on Saturna were last counted in 2010 in a joint Parks Canada/Saturna citizenry effort. The count was 210 ‘or so’. This year the count was about 240 ‘or so’. Interest in keeping track of the numbers has to do with the goat’s impact on the environment for what we humans designate good or ill. The goats keep invasive broom in check and keep Brown Ridge—which you can see from Saanich—relatively open and savannah like, to most people’s delight.

On the other side of the ledger they also consume young Garry oak trees, arbutus, juniper, Douglas fir—and our gardening and farming efforts, if we let them. As usual, a mixed blessing.




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