Beach Fishing, Anyone?

I would feel safe enough fishing from a little skiff. I wouldn’t mind the mystic, misty fog that will burn off later in the day.

But going ashore to fish from the beach has given me pause. All sorts of dangers lurk there, right next to those horse clams that squirt water through their siphons like a mini fire brigade.

Remember them, squirting water into the air? Well, just look what is going on behind their backs.What if I’d been standing on the beach fishing, and it turned out to be the bruin’s favourite fishing spot? I think I’d stay in the skiff, thank you.

But worse yet, what if you heard wolves howling the night before, you go to the beach to fish in the morning and a friend calls over to tell you he just saw a wolf running away. You go to explore, and find that wolves have taken down a good-sized deer.

A pack of wolves would tear at the hide, pulling it right off the hind quarters to get at the meat under it. I apologize to the squeamish readers, but this is real life and death–the kind of thing we Disney fans deny ever happens, when in fact it is going on all the time. It must go on. Wolves have to eat too. But you’ll excuse me if I’m not overly in love with wolves or want to transplant them to every part of the country.

Next time I’ll post something sweet and not too real. I know that for many of you this is hard to look at. I didn’t like it myself, but it’s real, it’s true, and it’s happening out there in the real world.

No, I wasn’t there that day, but the Captain was. He took these pictures.

Comic Relief

Comic relief, as I understand it, is when you crack a joke or laugh at something to take the intensity out of a serious or frightening situation. So maybe it doesn’t quite fit because I didn’t laugh until much later when I had stopped shaking. You may remember that we had a bear in the woods next door about a month ago. My knee still hurts from the sprawling tumble I took in a dash to get my camera. But I did get a shot of the bear that time as it slowly moved on through the neighbouring properties.

The Captain saw him again a day or two later, but since then, although there have been reported sightings by other neighbours, the bear hasn’t been back to ponder how a spaniel would taste for lunch. Until today! I was hanging up laundry wondering what 2-yr.-old Emma was doing in the backyard. (She gets into more mischief than 9-yr.-old Ruby.)

I heard her running around behind the workshop. Lots of squirrel and raccoon smells there. But then I heard twigs cracking in the bushes coming right from the area where the bear was last month. My imagination went into overdrive, but I rationalized, “It’s probably just the neighbours clearing some brush off their path. I’ll take look and say hello if that’s what the noise was.”

No neighbours in sight. Just the black shape you see in the center of the photo below. My heart was trying to leap out of my throat. What to do? Run for the camera and try to break the other knee? What if the bear leaves before I get back? What if it doesn’t!? Priorities!! Get the dogs into the house. I called for the dogs and tried not to sound scared in case the bear thought, “Aha! I’ve got her on the run. Good time to give chase.”  Luckily Emma came when she was called (this time), and Ruby was already waiting by the door.

I rushed into the house and got the camera. Now what? Do I just saunter up to the fence and say, “Smile! … Say Cheese?” At least it wasn’t rushing me. But it wasn’t running away either. I used the zoom. “Hmm…. The head seems to be up too high…. Oh …. Whew! It’s a deer! But it’s so dark!”  I tried to get a different angle but without going right up to the fence, I couldn’t get a clear look. “It sure is getting brazen. Doesn’t care that I’m here at all and it’s looking right at me.”

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I zoomed right in with the camera and got this picture of it. Then, feeling braver, I inched my way over to the fence and saw the stumps of two pin cherry trees.  I felt stupid, but very relieved as I went back into the house chuckling nervously. It took a while for my hands to stop shaking.

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Guard Dogs

The sun is out this morning. I was helping load things in the truck when the backyard supervisors sprang to life, barking and running around in circles, looking for the Captain or me.

“Probably a raccoon,” the Captain said, but we headed in the direction of the fuss anyway.

“I should get the camera … but … nahhhh … I’ve got enough raccoon pictures.”
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The supervisors barked more bravely now and stuck their noses through the fence towards the intruder.

I followed their line of sight and yelled to the Captain, “It’s a bear!”

Then I ran for my camera. I think the Captain probably thought I was running away from the bruin but I didn’t have time to worry about that. I had to get that camera, and fast. I know these visiting bears don’t hang around long once they’ve been discovered. But first, I had to do add some inadvertent drama to the show. My shoe caught a vine as I ran for the house. It was a vicious tangler and didn’t let go when I shook my foot as I kept running. That ended in a face plant. Thankfully that part of the yard, somewhere in behind that big tree in the top photo, has soft mossy ground, but it still hurt and I couldn’t get up right away. My knee and my neck felt broken, but it turned out to be nothing but old age.

Somewhere in the back of my mind images formed of bears chasing those who run (even if it’s to get the camera).

By the time I got back with the camera, the bear was already thinking it was time to leave. The supervisors, tasty morsels though they might have been, had been sent into the house, so why hang around?

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One last-ditch, hurried effort to try for a picture only caught a dark blurry shape(front and center) with two small round ears perched on the top.

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The supervisors are continuing their naps in the house for the morning. They always stir up too much trouble when we let them out.

Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t it be nice if all birds could be friends? But that’s not how it is in nature. Crows rob the nests of songbirds, cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other birds and then fly off, knowing the surrogate mother will bring up the cowbird baby that will crowd out the original nestlings. Owls and hawks will kill other smaller birds. “World bird peace” is pretty much hopeless.

Two of the larger birds, great blue herons and bald eagles, live side by side on the west coast of British Columbia. You rarely see bald eagles killing a heron, but it does happen. Turkey vultures, crows, ravens, black bears, and raccoons are all nest robbers that will clean out a heron’s nest. Eagles will do the same but they also predate on great blue herons in every stage of the heron’s life. The eagle has great grasping talons and a beak made for tearing flesh, so what chance does a heron have?

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Photo, courtesy of Ken Thorne.

Many years ago, I saw how herons escape from eagles. While living on the Queen Charlotte Islands, I was standing in my backyard one day when I heard the croaking call of a heron in a tall tree nearby. An eagle flew in and the heron lifted off. I thought the heron would fly away as the eagle went after him, but instead, the heron reached up with both of his wide-spread wings and pumped air downwards. He flew higher and higher in a tight circle going almost straight up.

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The eagle also pumped his wings and pursued the heron, circling higher and higher after him. The heron went so high that he was a mere speck in the sky. Many meters below him, the eagle soared in circles but was no longer gaining in altitude. I think he had gone as high as he was able. The two birds circled at their respective heights for several minutes, and at last the eagle gave up and flew away. The heron came down after a while, to go about his business for another day.

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The great blue heron is the ultimate stalker. He is patient beyond belief, and will stand absolutely still for so long that you might wonder if he is alive. Then he moves one leg up out of the water and hesitates. After a moment he puts the leg down, just a little closer to the fish or frog he is stalking. His folded up neck reminds me of a boxer holding his fist close to his chest, ready to fling out his arm to throw a punch at the right second. The heron’s sharp grabbing beak is his weapon for securing his dinner. His patience usually pays off and he scores a snack for his dinner.

I saw this fellow today at the shore below my house. I also took the picture of the eagle soaring over the trees beside my house today.  I sure hope these two can keep out of each other’s way and both settle for a meal of fish instead.

Big and Black

In the spring of the year, I’m always a bit nervous of letting my dogs, Emma and Ruby, out into the backyard in the early hours of dawn. I like to wait a little longer until more of the neighbours are up and around. Why? Because this is the time of year when we sometimes have visitors in the yard. Black bears have wandered through here several times over the years, and two weeks ago a raccoon was wrestling with my birdfeeder at 1:30 a.m. Cougar sightings are also the topic of conversation from time to time. Although I’ve never seen one in our yard, I’ve heard reports of them being very close by.

So this morning when my usually quiet Emma barked, I ran to see what was up. She seemed afraid to go near the fence and as she backed up,  she did her “I’m not afraid of you” bark. But her tail told the tale. She was afraid.

She was barking at something in the same place where, a few years ago, I had called one of our previous spaniels away from a black bear who was sitting just on the other side of the fence.

I hurried to call both dogs into the house and then went out to investigate.

Later, I made her pose for this picture, but she still kept her eye on the fence.

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I scanned the woods on the other side of the fenceline, looking for raccoons, cougars, or black bears, and then I saw it. Sure enough it was a big black….

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At first I thought it was a tent, but on looking more closely, I assumed it must be a load of firewood, covered with a black tarp.

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Emma still isn’t convinced that it won’t do her harm.

Prince Charming

 At last, we had the perfect weather for picking mushrooms in this great watershed. All the hillsides around the lake should be loaded in treasure. Chanterelles like it damp, dim, and not too cold, and they like to grow where there are fir trees.

009Conditions were right. It should have been a great day, but until very recently, our weather has been extremely hot and dry, and it takes time for a mushroom to grow even after the first rains.

My friends and I found two or three button-size chanterelles each, after hours of scouring the woods. We sat by the lake to have our lunch and come up with as many reasons as possible to justify returning home without bags and bags of mushrooms.

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It’s great exercise.

So much fresh air.

It’s real life in the real world.

Beats working out in the gym.

Still, our feet were tired, and we were disillusioned and deflated at the thought of coming home empty-handed. Also we were dismayed to see how many of our old picking areas were now logging slash.

This is what we were after….

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But this is all we saw….

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Dry moss with not a mushroom in sight. Acres of dry moss.

We found huge pine cones…

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but no mushrooms…

We found the beginnings of a burl growing on a tree trunk...

but no mushrooms….

We decided to try one more area, close to the lake where there might be more moisture. To make it an easier walk, we set out across the clear cut area where the fireweed now grew tall. What we didn’t think about was that the logging company had left a mess of branches behind after taking the trees off the areas where we used to pick mushrooms. Apparently the logging companies are supposed to leave the limbs in place to decay naturally….sigh….

Picking our way through, we had to walk through places much worse than this one. Here are my friends trying not to trip in the slash. Up ahead and to the right you can see the fireweed that hides more of this kind of ankle-twisting mess.

031Tripping over the fallen branches, one of our team fell onto the bag that held her bear spray. She must have twisted the canister’s nozzle sideways and knocked off the safety guard. I was farther downhill from her when I heard, “Ouch!” and a hissing sound that didn’t want to stop. “Oh no-o-o-o-o!” she called, and I heard her crashing through the dried branches that lay crisscrossed on the ground.

When the canister was empty, the hissing faded, but my friends coughed so hard  that it sounded like pieces of lung must soon be spat out.

Just as I was congratulating myself on being farther away and not affected by this mishap at all, the invisible pepper cloud drifted downhill towards me. How did I know it was there? My lungs were on fire, I stumbled farther away from the pepper spray and coughed my way into the woods.

What a day! Our lungs were on fire, our lips and eyes burned, our throats ached from coughing. “Bear spray would definitely work if we needed it,” I barked out.

When we had recovered slightly, we moved into the woods for easier walking.

“Where is Prince Charming when you need him?” I thought.

Just then, the friend who had emptied her bear spray canister called, “Hey come look at this!”

And there he was! Our Prince Charming – a bit late to save us, but there, nevertheless.

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*** Don’t forget to check out my other blog, Anneli’s Place, if you are interested in anything related to reading and writing.

http://annelisplace.wordpress.com

Victoria Day Weekend

To the best of my memory, on May 20, 1963, it was 96 degrees on Vancouver Island. I remember it because I stood on the sidewalk watching the Victoria Day parade and after a while the shirts of the people across the street began to blend together into one blur of white. I felt nauseated and dizzy. Luckily, I was able to duck into the lobby of a nearby beer parlour where it was dark and cool, until my heatstroke passed. I wasn’t old enough to go beyond the lobby, but to this day  I remember the smell of stale carpeting and beer.

We haven’t had a Victoria Day weekend quite that warm ever since, as far as I know. On the contrary, many times it has been downright miserable. Those who make a tradition of going camping on that weekend will know, having spent many long weekends in May suffering through rainy and cold weather, huddled in tents or campers.

When my brother and sisters and I were young and living in Dawson Creek, we wanted desperately to go camping and stay overnight. What an adventure that would be. We nagged and nagged and finally, our mother gave in and said that if we could get a ride out to  Pouce Coupe Park, seven miles away, she would stay with us and camp overnight. Our father had to work, and we had no car, so we were ever so grateful to our mother for volunteering to take us and to procure a ride for us.

We had a great time, roasting wieners over the fire, wading in the muddy Pouce Coupe River (a shallow creek really, except for the big hole under a fallen log where someone drowned nearly every year). The huge playground gave us plenty of room to run around and play games. It was so much fun!

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How do you like our logs for the fire? This is what you do when you have no chainsaw. I remember that the smoke kept the mosquitoes at bay while we were around the campfire. We weren’t bothered by them when we ran around the playground either, but as soon as we stopped, it was a different story. And did those bites ever itch!

Check out the vintage of the cars and trucks parked behind the playground.

Our ride came to pick us up the following afternoon and we kids sat in the back reeking of campfire smoke, listening to our mother tell how we fared. As she spoke, I  remembered her bolting up to sit on her air mattress in the middle of the night when something hit the roof of the tent. I think it must have been an owl or some other night bird, judging by the flapping noise, but as my mother told it, she was sure the bear she had worried about since dusk had finally come to eat us all. She said she was so scared, she would never go camping alone again. (She wasn’t alone. She had US! What was she worried about?)

We never did go camping again until I was grown up and on my own, but I’ve done my best to make up for lost time.