Arbutus

I grew up on an acreage in northern Saskatchewan. We had a massive yard and a massive garden, I think partly because we were not wealthy and the garden provided much of our food, but also because my parents loved plants and trees. Many of our plants were your average garden plants — potatoes, carrots, beets, broccoli, tomatoes, beans, squash, peas, etc. I had to do what felt like a lot of gardening as I was growing up, and I remember not really liking it (as any kid is likely feel about chores). But I also have a lot of fond memories of the sun-warmed dirt between my toes, of throwing the sun-greened potatoes at the aspen trees growing around the garden, and of eating the fresh fruit and veggies right off the plants.

We also planted trees. At first they were mostly fruit trees that we’d expect to produce, like a few varieties of apples, chokecherries, cranberries, and whatever would grow in that harsh climate. Over time though that expanded to more challenging trees like plums or more decorative trees that were just for the beauty of being. We got a Swedish Nut Pine, we tried varieties of maple. All of us kids also learned about all the trees in the woods around us. We knew where all the stands of birch were (there weren’t many) and the one little group of balsam fir was a highlight that we built a little trail to. We would climb the jack pines and find the perfect white spruce or black spruce for a Christmas tree. I learned to love trees.

I’ve tried to increase my knowledge of trees over the years, but I haven’t done well. Living in the city with the pressures of jobs and bustle of life it’s hard to keep up with that sort of thing. Last month in BC I went on a few hikes with interpretive signs that taught me a bit more about Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar. But one tree stood out to me more that anything else: the Arbutus menziesii, commonly known as Arbutus (ar-‘byoo-tus). They have a striking bare yellow trunk sometimes covered with curling red to purple bark. They’re a broadleafed evergreen — even in late October there were flowers on some, and bright red fruit on others. They often have twisting gnarled trunks with clusters of leaves at the top. They are a beautiful tree. But they’re often overpowered by the cedar forests they’re growing in. They tend to be here or there on the warm south-facing rocky slopes where the forest isn’t too thick and they have a chance. I never saw forests of Arbutus.

I guess this is a post for my parents, who I thought of a lot as I was searching for these trees. I was thinking they would enjoy planting a small forest of Arbutus. Not that it’s practical or makes any sense at all, but I think they’d like these trees. They seem like they’d be a bit of a challenge to grow, and would pay off in beauty. Maybe they could even get them to grow out in Manitoba, although I’m pretty sure the winter would kill them.

One thing I really wanted to accomplish in BC was to get a photo that did justice to the Arbutus tree. I’m not sure I succeeded, but I gave it a good shot.

Mushroom a Day (1 of 6)

Mt Edith Cavell is one of the more spectacular mountains in Jasper. It is the home to Angel Glacier, a lake with icebergs floating in it, and many relatively tame pikas, marmots, and chipmunks. When I was in Jasper recently, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning so I could hike up Cavell Meadows in the dark to catch the sun rising on Mt. Edith Cavell. What did I come away with? A bunch of mushrooms. They’re just so cute.

I’m posting a series of tiny mushroom shots here over the next week. This one starts it off.

Fresh Cafe

I almost forgot — I just updated the photos in Fresh Cafe. There’s now a little tropical corner with some of my photos from Barbados and Dominica. Go grab a coffee and check them out!

This photo is in the cloud forest near Boeri Lake in Dominica after a we’d been hiking for a few hours. You can probably spot one of the dogs, the other is a little more camouflage. They hiked with us all the way from the treehouse where we were staying. I guess they needed a little adventure too.

14mm, f2.8, 1/30 or a second

Burtonsville Island

I got a chance to get outside yesterday, and I headed out to Burtonsville Island Natural Area. I haven’t been there this year yet, and there were a lot of surprises. There are coal mines and oil wells everywhere, and they’ve made it harder to access the natural area. There is the constant drone of mining machinery and I didn’t see as much wildlife as I often do around there. Once I figured out how to access the area (they’ve changed the roads around) I got my next surprise. The water on the North Saskatchewan River was still pretty high and there was evidence that it was about 8 feet higher at one point (which would have come close to submerging the island). No one else had been there and the trails were all getting very overgrown or non-existant. I still managed to get across the beaver dam to the island (at least the beavers keep things in good repair), but it was soggy going. I got entirely soaked pushing through the rain-soaked undergrowth, but it was a beautiful evening and I got to test out my new camera, so I’m happy. It will take me a while to get a good feel for it, but first impressions are that the Canon 6D is a very nice camera indeed, and a great update to my old 5d.


Sorry for the gross image, but this is the flood evidence on the island.

17mm, f8, 1/500 of a second

Birch in the Afternoon

This was one of the most beautiful afternoon walks I’ve had in a while. I headed out to the Waskahegan Staging Area of the Blackfoot Lake Recreation Area, and wandered around for a few hours. I found this little birch grove, got dive bombed by black terns, conversed with a catbird, relaxed with a deer, shivered with howling coyotes, and got to enjoy a fantastic sunset. The only downside was the mosquitos, although there was a breeze for a bit that helped.

7mm, f5, 1/60 of a second