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Salish Sea Almanac ~ 2016

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 Easter Egg Hunt

January 14 

What a busy Holiday Season! I always think—with Island Tides on publishing break for a couple of weeks and the weather being dark and rainy—that we will rest and contemplate the season of lights and the turn of the year. I think this every year. I never do it.

Working together, all the birds in the Gulf Islands need to be counted for the annual Christmas Bird Count, all the kids have their splendid plays to be attended, the Santa Ship comes (or rather doesn’t this year, due to stormy weather), and every small accretion of Islanders has a festivity to which all are welcomed. Every community building hosts an affair: the General Store has a Christmas Eve open house with egg nog and sweets, the Church has Christmas Eve Service, the Community Hall has the Candlelight Dinner, and the Rec Centre lights up their Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day itself, best friends and family settle in or call each other. Suddenly, it’s New Years Eve with parties and dinners everywhere, hugs all around. Life is good!

January 28

Snowdrops are fully blooming, narcissus are fat-budded, and some volunteer daffodils are up and running at the General Store. But from past experience we could get walloped with snow through February, which would be a big shock to a rose in my garden that has soggy wet blooms right now.

No rain shortage in winter in the Gulf Islands! The big pond on the farm is full up with water, and the reservoir that serves the Lyall Harbour Boot Cove Water System is ready for summer; by late fall last year it was looking a little California-ish.

We have a Haggis Farm pair of eagles that is around most of the year except in October—when they are fishing up-coast. Yesterday, they were in the top of a very-visible-from-the-house Douglas fir, chatting away between themselves for most of an hour. They pair up for life, apparently—you have to wonder what makes those particular two come together and what the ‘conversations’ are about. I see them often chittering away together on a single branch by the pond or the top of the big maple. At night, especially strongly moonlit nights, I hear the pair of them.

February 11

February is the long stretch of winter for me—so much promise, and still a ways to go! I am delighted by the increasing bird presence. There is a small gang of robins that sits like a still life in the bare apple and fig trees in the late morning. Sort of a coffee break, I figure!

Potential mud everywhere—walk on it twice and you have made real mud. Doormats, muddy dog feet, and taking your shoes off the moment you open the front door are priorities.

I went out to East Point just as the recent warm and almost fragrant Pineapple Express was turning back to plain old winter cold and drizzle. East Point views were exotic with alternating black curtains of rain, dazzling sunlight and spindrift on the rolling seas. I felt almost tipsy as I walked the backbone ridge in the gusting gale.

I love East Point. The light is always powerful and uplifting and I have never—and I mean never—gone there and not seen some drama that lifts me out of my life. Sea Lions were pushed to a tiny tide remnant of Boiling Reef and the waves were washing over their big, lanky bodies. There were 21 seals tightly packed in the leeside of Shell Beach; curious eyes keeping close watch on the dog and me. Hundreds of surf scoters were a tad further out than the seals outlining the tideline, flying up and coming down again, not far from where they erupted into the air. What a show—no tickets required!

March 24

I am so ready to be out and about the garden­–digging and moseying around outside! These last weeks have been a climatic entertainment with gusting winds whipping debris into the sky, where blue holes and black clouds change regularly. The upshot has been lots of rain and the requirement of gumboots in some parts of the pasture.

Although we have had plenty of power brown-outs and several short outages, we have also had pretty steady power given the tree-bending blasts. Soon, though, the handy stash of candles and flashlights can retire to the basement.

Good news–the weeds are thriving and the daffodils and other bulb flowers are long lastingly stupendous. Fruit-tree blossoms, white stellata magnolias, flowering red currant, heather, blue blossomed rosemary fill in spring bouquets picked by children’s hands or us big kids. What a joy to have enough flowers on hand for a big lusty bouquet!

Campbell Farm is up to about 140 lambs this spring, with additions now winding down. Jacques has been cumulatively tired from 6 weeks of lambing on-call. The border collies are not tired, though, they love all the rounding-up chores at his time of year.

The lambing barns and sheds are continuously sorted between strong healthy lambs and moms, the soon to be mothers, and those needing extra attention and observation. The goal is all sheep out to pasture, and growing on the new grass. The ratio of healthy lambs and ewes to deaths has been pretty good this year. Sheep suffer from all sorts of maladies, unlike cows.

April 7

Against a backdrop of soaring eagles filling the island’s skies, recently arrived vultures and hummingbirds, green grass, and daffodils everywhere families gathered—coming home to us for Easter, rain or shine!

May 5 

Gracious! I was ahead on gardening and suddenly, with all the warmth and sunlight, I’m behind. Outside, the heat and light sets tomatoes flitting through my mind… no, not yet!

This has been a bumper year for fairy-dust—Saturna Island is coated with cedar and fir pollen. Cars, walkways, other plants, anything that stands still for any length of time is coated and, if it rains, caked in gold-green flour. You can’t tell if someone is tainted with a cold and to be avoided, or just sneezing seasonally due to a big dose of hayfever. The wind blows and pollen swirls like dust. Another notable overabundance has been ticks. The dog and I hate excavating them out of her face and neck and there are enough around that I worry about Lyme disease.

What I do love about this exact time is the deep green—it’s dry enough that the puddles and slipperiness of the outdoors is gone, yet wet enough that the land is gorgeously green. Pollinators are making the fruit trees buzz loudly as they visit the many blossoms. This is the time of year when wild bitter cherries and plums are revealed by their blossom on island slopes.

May 19 

Gardening this May has been fun. You can garden and fiddle about until the cows come home. Sheep have come to Haggis Farm for their annual summer holidays—there is noisy baaing and bleating, the gates are closed for sure and there is slippery poop all over the meadow as the flock gorges on green grass.

I have pea flowers on the vines and tendrils are leaping up the trellis. I have never seen the roses bloom and perform as in this year. The chickens are doing their best. Last year’s little pullets are laying bigger and bigger eggs and the old hens are keeping right up. The ravens have killed two hens to feed their young—leaving behind neck vertebrae attached to two flappy wings and skinny dancing feet. No more eggs from these hens! Everybody is eating to beat the band and everybody has young to feed in this great season of abundance.

June 16

Watering! Mercy—have I ever been watering the garden so extensively this early in the year? Tree rings are going to record a thin line for summer 2016. I was thinking while watering that half the fun of a garden is the wildlife it attracts and the many little chances you get to see, close-up, the pollinators, bird neighbours, and all else. A grocery store may be the harvest without the garden but my garden is totally entertaining and beguiling to me!

In your garden you get the best, tasty vegetables and the marvelous flowers to bedeck the house and to give away bountifully, and, added to this, you create an rich environment which is so entertaining.

At Haggis Garden, a song sparrow sings regularly from one of the 12 foot sugarsnap pea trellis’ posts, the swallowtails butterflies are thick on certain flowers, a towhee mom always has a nest in a certain clay flower pot that suits her just fine, and the hummingbirds, male and female, are always raising a ruckus. Garter snakes bask in the straw and on clay pots. Robins are always ready to keep you company when you shovel.

Ahh, yes, it all comes back to me; the summer heat code: get up very early with the first gorgeous light, water early, stay out of the outside from 11am to 3pm, cook lunches and dinners ahead, and remember the refreshing wonder of brief showers and ocean water.

And yet, this year, despite the dryness and heat, spring birdsong is still almost continuous! About 2am there is mostly quiet except for bats and nighthawks. Get up early, go to bed late—Swainson’s thrush is there unreeling its gorgeous rich song. The swallows carry on being busy, with their chicks squawking from the nests. All our migrant birds are here, after flying thousands of miles to glut on the rich insect burst of life that occurs here in the Pacific Northwest.

Look up! The sky is full—eagles, swallows, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks. An osprey has moved in down at the federal wharf. In the trees, on the ground—there are babies everywhere.

And often there’s drama—eagles, mink, ravens, barred owls, hawks, and raccoons are seizing goslings, ducklings, and songbird nestlings to feed to their own chicks.

Sad to report, the Narvaez Bay Road mom-grouse with her little platoon of babies is nowhere to be seen this year. For twenty years I have seen her—and probably her daughters. I miss her! Lucky us to live in the midst of such a vibrant, still functioning ecosystem!

July 28

Summer is so smooth, so easy. Laundry dries, feet are dry and flip-flopping around, the dog is dry. Last Wednesday the baseball game with the Mayne Blazers was on Saturna at our baseball diamond at Winter Cove. I have never seen so many people, kids, and dogs at one of our baseball games. Hamburger scent wafted and the baseball players playinged with gusto—balls shoot into the air, players slid to bases. The barn swallows were chirping loudly, hawking over the entire field, getting bugs for their second brood. People were sprawling in chairs, at picnic tables, on the berm—laughing, talking, eating, watching the game. Kids ran about with abandon.

The evening light was gold with the sunset slowly evolving, the air languid. I want to hold on to these magic, timeless intervals, savour them. We are so very, very fortunate to live with peace and plenty.

August 11

The island’s orchard boughs are starting to weigh heavy—what a crop this year! Sliced transparent apples are filling up the first pie shells mixed in with blackberries—yum! We have glorious voluptuous figs—two trees full. Above all things, the sheep love figs, fig leaves and fig boughs. I laugh to see dirty woolly sheep pirouetting on their stubby little legs, lurching and launching into the air for fig leaves.

September 8

I am writing this on the second to last day of August, bright blue, dry with the southeast wind alternating with the west wind and blowing the laden apple boughs about. Rain is in the forecast for the next three days. This will make a change. Piles of bright yellow-orange, very crisp, big leaf and vine maple leaves are beginning to overflow the verges going down Lyall Harbour Hill. They are dropping from the dessicated trees—more like October. The maples are yellow-orange right to their tiptops.

Shockingly, the days are that much shorter! I know the equinox is coming and all is as it has been for eternity—but still I have internal clock surprise! At least I’m not staying up waiting for the last bunch of chickens to wander into the coop before I can go to bed.

September 22

Ahh! September and garden harvest! September at Haggis Farm means pileated woodpeckers shooting into the king apple trees with their unmistakable loud call. The woodpeckers drill no preliminary holes to figure out the sugar index. Can they smell the sugar?

Suddenly the apples are just ripe enough and the high-up, south-facing, reddest, apples have the woodpeckers’ signature big rectangular holes, soon filled with appreciative wasps drinking applejuice. Apparently the pileateds eat the apple pulp the wasps generate, and the wasps! The voles are eating the mature winter squash and the ripe gravenstein apples that fall to the ground. Here we are, birds and mammals vying for the high sugar fall harvest. Apples and squash will soon be stored away for my benefit!

October 20

Yesterday the last of the Haggis Farm apples and pears were harvested except a small Gala tree not quite finished ripening. The Gulf Islands are rolling in big apples this year, full of colour, sunshine and ripeness. Any tree right now is laden—or picked. Disposing of this glut is reminiscent of zucchini strategies where you thought up everybody who didn’t have a garden and planned to meet them with an armful of giant zucchinis and maybe slip one in the trunk of their car! We picked 20 boxes of long keeping Kings for the bakery pie production line. The basement and the walk-in cooler are stuffed! And—sigh—everybody seems to know somebody who has just given them a box of apples!

The first item of action when we bought this land we call Haggis Farm was to plant an orchard. Now, we have the bounty of the Kings and Gravenstein apple trees and what I call Gulf Island plums from some thoughtful soul who lived on this land in the ’40s or so, along with our own younger orchard.

Not only do we have the pleasure of the yearly round of fruition: blossoms, tiny leaves, bees, fruit drop, and tent caterpillars, but we have the pleasure of picking: up ladders, filling picking bags and boxes, and using lots of the fruit in Haggis Farm Bakery pies and flans and being sure that we pass fruit around liberally to all and sundry. On a glorious sky-blue day this Thanksgiving Weekend, Saturna’s Hayward family—from Bettianne in her eighties to 17-year-old Koshi—pitched in to bring in the 2016 harvest. And I am truly thankful for such happily offered, capable help.

November 3

I have a Saturna friend who says November is one of her favorite months. I look at her in astonishment—she looks normal—are we ever put together differently! For me, some days are just dour. I have to work all the angles to get them up and running.

Good music, bright clothes for the day, definitely a walk—one foot in front of the other. A joyful dog helps with ears alert, eyes on super-binocular, and a good nose into the wind. Its legs start to wind-up as something juicy sails by on the air currents that dogs are tuned into!

I give myself carte blanche to go to wherever the light is maximized by bouncing off the ocean. I pay attention to where the sun might possibly be as it low-arcs behind the grey sky. East Point, Fiddler’s Cove, Winter Cove and Thompson Park are my go-to places to give my heart and soul a boost. This time of year, the maple, both vine and big leaf, are big blasts of yellow lighting up the hills or piled crunchily along the road. Lyall Harbour Hill Road is packed with gold right now.

Walking out at East Point, which has been so dry, barren almost, for the summer, it is a delight to see the moss back to emerald mounds, swelling like dry sponges tossed into the dishpan—poof! The plants that make up the expanse are so tiny that they are lost to your eyes as you gaze at the green mounds.

But where are the mushrooms? I am used to lots of variety and lots of them at Haggis Farm. Not so far have I seen the usual cornucopia in my neck of the woods.

November 17

I'm always in shock when the fall time change occurs. How can there be so much dark! Sunset on the farm is 3pm in the afternoon! Personally, I’m pretty much solar-powered so I organize my days carefully. What did we humans do before burning pitchy torches and electricity? All this rain has brought waterlevel right up to above ground in places. Creeks that have been a series of pools all summer are suddenly seriously busy. Pools have joined up and water is shooting along, loaded with gravitational energy—and noise, down to the sea.

Mushrooms are suddenly present. Nothing much worthwhile eating, but fun to see in their miraculous growth and funny diverse selves.

I’m also seeing eagles, back from salmon fishing, in all their favorite haunts. Mary Jones reports that her’s are back in her backyard, I had eight at the Haggis Farm pond, the East Pointers are back home at the Resort, and the Boat Pass and Fiddler’s Cove pairs are chattering away. These are the common ones in my world and I know from the kayakers that there are several pairs around the north side of Tumbo, Cabbage Islands and East Point, and along Plumper Sound.

The sandstone rocks at East Point look like a bird-poo Jackson Pollack painting. Huge flocks of herring gulls are gathered and swirl about the lacy sandstone rocks with surf scoters, surf birds, and other little bands of winter migrators. The Christmas Bird Count is coming right up. December 19 is the worldwide day. Contact your local organizer—ours is Maureen Welton.

I finally saw the humpback whales at East Point! First, I heard them! Gads, what a sound! They have a tiny dorsal fin, a big white blow and the deepest breath sound I have ever heard. East Point dwellers regularly see two adults and a baby.


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