On New Year’s Day, it was a chilly -30 degrees in Winnipeg. Despite the Arctic temperatures Dave and I decided to bundle up and went for an hour-long trek in Kildonan Park.
I thought we might be alone on the trails but I was surprised how many other hardy hikers we encountered. It was hope-inducing to hear our cheery New Years’ greetings to one another ringing through the crisp cold air.
I thought it might be too cold for any birds to be out but I was wrong. We had just closed our car doors when a huge bald eagle soared right over our heads, flying so low we could clearly see its bright yellow beak.
We took detours when the incessant pounding of two different pileated woodpeckers caught our ears. We spotted both of their bright red heads but weren’t fast enough to get a photo before they flew off.
No such problem with a group of chickadees in some pines. Dave held out a peanut from his pocket and one of them hopped right over to have a snack.
We spotted some crows too, their inky silhouettes stark against the white of the snow-covered trees.
It was mighty cold in Winnipeg on New Years Day but not too cold for the Driedgers or the birds.
Yesterday we left Vancouver Island but there are some memorable things that happened there I don’t want to forget and haven’t posted about yet.
I had a lovely long lunch in Tofino with a former teaching colleague from Elmdale School in Steinbach. Joanne and I taught together more than thirty-five years ago but we both have fond memories of our years at Elmdale when we were just beginning our teaching careers. Joanne lives in Whistler BC now where she recently retired from teaching. Through social media, we realized we would both be in Tofino at the same time. It was so great to visit and reconnect and talk about our life journeys.
Although it was chilly and rainy for much of our time on the island we did have a warm and gorgeous autumn afternoon on a golf course in Qualicum Beach where we played nine holes with a friendly local couple about our age.
There are lots of sea mammals one can spot on the Vancouver Island coast. We saw three. On an afternoon hike along the breakwater in Victoria, we stopped to enjoy the antics of a seal. On our way to Tofino, we had lunch in Cowichan Bay and then spent a delightful half-hour or so marveling at the sounds of a sea lion choir.
The sea lions were all different shapes and colors and sang at various pitches, making a myriad of crazy sounds, seemingly doing a kind of call and response with one another. It got incredibly loud at times.
Then our first morning in Tofino we walked down to the water and spent a long time watching a sea otter dive to catch shellfish, flip over on its back and crack them open to eat. There was a gull swimming nearby making sure it could feast on the remnants of the shellfish.
Although I said I wouldn’t write anymore about Dave’s beer brewing research we did visit a brewery in Tofino where he continued to explore the world of British Columbia beer.
There is a giant wooden canoe in the rotunda when you walk into the Legislative Buildings in Victoria. It was carved by Steven L. Point the first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The canoe is called Shxwtitosel which in the Halq’eméylem language means a safe place to cross the river. It represents the idea of building bridges between all the different people in BC.
I saw thisunique tribute on the steps of the BC Legislature in Victoria in memory of all the Indigenous children found in unmarked graves in Canadian residential school burial grounds. There were hundreds of orange shirts each with a cross and a stone on them.
I discovered that the Victoria Art Gallery is partially housed in a beautiful heritage home.
On our drive back to Victoria from Tofino, we stopped for soup and cornbread at a country market cafe in Coombs called Goats on the Roof.The place was built by a family from Norway in the 1950s who decided to give it a sod roof like many traditional homes in Norway. In the 1980s the grass on the roof had become too tall and to spruce it up for the local county fair the family borrowed some goats to eat the grass. It turned their business into a tourist hotspot that now attracts more than a million visitors a year.
Probably other bits of Vancouver Island will find their way into posts I do in the future, but for now, we have said goodbye to the island. We had a great time there.
Does this painting of a bison make you think of a logging truck barreling down the road creating clouds of dust and then swerving suddenly towards YOU? That’s what Robert Bateman was envisioning when he painted it.
Does this painting of eight different kinds of water birds conjure up images of ballet dancers on stage getting ready to perform Swan Lake? That’s what Robert Bateman was thinking of when he painted it.
My friend Esther encouraged me to visit The Bateman Gallery in Victoria and I am so glad she recommended it. My curiosity about Robert Bateman had also been piqued by writer Margriet Ruurs who was the keynote speaker at a children’s writing conference I attended. Both Margriet and Robert Bateman live on Saltspring Island and Margriet has written a book for children about Robert and his art.
At The Bateman Gallery, I learned Robert was once a more impressionistic kind of painter like the Group of Seven but decided at one point he could either become part of the elite and more academic art world or paint what his heart told him he really wanted to paint and that was realistic renditions of the natural world. For many years before he was a full-time artist, Robert was a teacherhelping kids learn to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature.
It was interesting to discover that Robert takes some 50 or more photos of things he wants to paint. And it was also interesting to hear him talk on videos about what inspires his ideas for certain paintings.
Does this painting of two red-winged blackbirds bring to mind a pair of Japanese samurai warriors ready for battle? Robert Bateman was inspired by that idea as he created this masterpiece.
Once on a visit to The Smithsonian, Robert saw a man in a red turban walk past a red wall and that made him decide to do a painting of the reddest bird and the reddest tree he could think of.
Robert Bateman has said that “The world would be a better place if everyone was a birdwatcher.” He thinks it is vital for every person to have an informed and intimate relationship with nature. In a video we watched at the gallery, he talked about how important it is to get out into nature to give ourselves a sense of place in the natural world. He thinks nature can work a kind of magic on people. His artwork is proof that it can.
My friend John, an amateur naturalist, said some very kind things after reading my novelLost on the Prairiebut he did point out a mistake I had made. In one chapter of the book, a pair of young boys come upon a roost of monarch butterflies. Thousands of them are covering the trees and plants in a wooded area. Joe who is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton First Nation in South Dakota tells my hero Peter that since it is autumn the butterflies are in the midst of their journey migrating south to Mexico.
Of course, the monarchs are on a journey south to Mexico, but my discerning friend John said no one would have known that in 1907 when my book takes place. The information that monarchs went to Mexico was only made public in 1976 when a Canadian zoologist Frederick Urquhart published an article in National Geographic sharing data from a monarch research project he and his wife Norah Patterson had been working on since their marriage in 1945.
Fred and Norah wanted to know where monarchs went for winter and so they began raising thousands of butterflies in their Toronto home. They experimented with all kinds of tagging methods for the monarchs until they found one that worked.
In 1952 Norah wrote a magazine article asking for volunteers to help them with their project. Initially, twelve responded but by 1971 thousands of butterfly lovers were helping catch, tag, and release hundreds of thousands of monarchs. Nora and Fred began taking field expeditions to follow the data and it led them to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1972 Norah wrote letters to Mexican newspapers asking for help and Ken and Cathy Brugger a pair of amateur naturalists and butterfly lovers took up the search. In 1975 thanks to a tip from some Mexican loggers, they found millions of monarchs carpeting the ground and trees on the Neovolcanic Plateau about 240 miles from Mexico City.
In 1976 Norah and Fred now in their sixties traveled to Mexico and hiked 10,000 feet up to the plateau to see the amazing reward of forty years of research they had done. They happened to be standing near a pine branch that crashed from the weight of the butterflies on it and in the cluster of monarchs at their feet, the Urquharts found one that bore one of their tags. It had been tagged in Minnesota before setting out on its trek to Mexico.
In August of 1976, an article about their research and discovery appeared in National Geographic and shared what Fred and Norah had discovered with the world. Since then more than 13 wintering sites for monarchs have been found and are protected as ecological reserves by the government of Mexico.
Fred and Norah Urquhart were given the Order of Canada in 1998 for their amazing discovery.Of course, Indigenous people in Mexico had known about the butterfly roosts for thousands of years.
In 2012 a movie called Flight of the Butterflies premiered starring Gordon Pinsent and Patricia Phillips as Fred and Norah.
So how could Joe the young boy in my story have known the butterflies were going to Mexico in 1907 if that fact wasn’t made public till 1976? Well, he probably couldn’t have.
Although I did tons of research for my book and my editor was great at helping me find historical errors we didn’t catch them all. My book has a mistake in it but I am almost glad it does because it led me to do all the research for this post and learn about Fred and Norah Urquhart, two Canadians I’d never heard of before.
I am sure I will find other mistakes as my book reaches a wider audience of discerning readersand I’m excited about what I might learn from those mistakes. Thanks, John for pointing this one out.
On Wednesday morning as we set off on a little mini-vacation to Buffalo Point we received this text from friends we planned to visit at their cottage later that afternoon. “Bring your bear bells.”
On our drive, we heard a news report about the unusual number of bear and human interactions this summer in Manitoba. One of the recommendations in the news report was to make noise as you walk so bears know you are coming. That helped us understand our friend’s joking suggestion we bring bear bells.
Our first stop was the beautiful Lake of the Sand Hills Golf Course where Dave and I played 18 holes in near-perfect conditions.
Since we had been hearing about bears I asked Dave to take a photo of me at the hole called Black Bear.
On another hole as we were waiting for our turn to tee off, the course marshall stopped to chat and said there were about thirty-five bears in the area and quite a number had been spotted on the course.
He said on one hole near the lake a mother bear and her cub had spent the better part of a day up a tree gathering acorns. He told us not to be worried, however. Bears prefer to stay away from people and generally aren’t dangerous.
We finished the round without spotting a single bear.
Later we had a lovely time at our friends’ cottage enjoying drinks on their deck, dinner, and visiting around a campfire but we saw nary a bear, although our friends told us they had certainly seen them during their time at the cottage. They showed us a photo of a mother and her cubs parading across their property.
Theonly wildlife we saw were the deer that routinely visited the yard and seemed to feel right at home there.
As it turned out we were fine even though we hadn’t brought our bear bells.
In August of 2011, my whole family was out at our cottage at Moose Lake. Dave and I had just moved back to Manitoba after living in Hong Kong for six years and my siblings and our families congregated at the lakeside cabin we had been coming to every summer for our whole lives.
My mother was in a wheelchair but she was determined to join us and it was marvelous to see the pleasure she took in visiting with her children and grandchildren, sharing meals with them, and watching them have fun out on the lake tubing, skiing and sailing.
Over nearly fifty years my parents had invested so much time and money in the cottage and seeing her whole family there having such a good experience must have felt rewarding for Mom. She must also have been happy that my brother Mark and his wife Kathy now owned the cottage and were taking such excellent care of it so she knew it would remain in the family
Our second day at the cottage Mom decided that she would like to go for a ride in the boat. This was no small feat to manage. Her wheelchair couldn’t really be pushed over the grass and rocks that led down to the dock. So her grandsons and son-in-law decided to carry her there.
It took another cooperative effort and lots of planning and negotiating to get her safely into the boat, but we did, and then she was off for a ride around the lake with her son at the wheel, her husband on one side and her grandson on the other.
I took this photo of Mom’s empty wheelchair on the dock just after the boat pulled away.
We didn’t know at the time that it would be Mom’s last boat ride. We didn’t know that this would be her last visit to the lake.
Mom died two years later. She had requested we sing the hymn Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore at her funeral. I think that was because of all the happy memories she had made with her family at the lake.
One verse of the song and its chorus particularly apply to my Mom.
You need my hands, full of caring through my labors to give others rest, and constant love that keeps on loving.
O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.
One of the readers of my novel sent me this photo recently.
The photo was accompanied by this message.
“Discovered that your book is highly effective at killing Pine Bark Beetles who are the most unwelcome guests in my cabin…I just grabbed the closest thing to me and squashed the little devil!!“
Apparently, thanks to climate change bark beetles are moving across the country after having a devastating impact on pines in British Columbia. They are now advancing through Canada’s boreal forests and scientists are trying to figure out how to lessen their effect on forest ecology.
Although I hadn’t envisioned my book as a tool for killing insects I do know that the folks who sent the photo hadn’t just used my book as a murder weapon. They had also read my book and enjoyed it because they had told me so in an earlier phone call.
They say you never know what will happen with your book after it is published. How true!
Yesterday I wrote about the first thing I love about Canada’s new Governor-General Mary Simon. Here is the second thing I LOVE about her. She was a founding board member and is now a board member emeritus of Oceans North!A couple of years ago I gave a tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to a group of Oceans North scientists who were meeting in the city. That was my introduction to their important work.
In partnership and consultation with local Indigenous communities, the Oceans North scientists are trying to preserve marine and other animal life in Canada’s Arctic. Spend a little time on their website and you will discover howthey are helping local lobster boat operators find more sustainable sources of bait, evaluating how ship traffic impacts the walrus populations that many northern communities still rely on for food, and creating music videos with northern school kids to celebrate a government decision to protect cold-water corals.
They are teaching communities how to test the ocean for plastic content, studying how whale-watching boats impact beluga populations, figuring out how increased ocean traffic impacts the way narwhals communicate, helping local communities conduct the caribou hunt in a way that preserves the herd, and examining the environmental implications of deep-sea mining.
Mary Simon our new governor-general was instrumental in establishing Oceans North because she felt it was vital to recognize the important role local northern communities play in the conservation of marine animal habitats in the Arctic and to understand how the health, wellness, and prosperity of those communities effects environmental stewardship. Governor-General Simon says that Arctic conservation is inexplicably tied to building and maintaining healthy communities. Protection projects must consider how they can accommodate and support an indigenous vision of a landscape that works for them.
I am sure as she continues her term in office there will be other things I will come to admire about our new Governor-General but I already appreciate her recognition of her heritage in the way she chose to dress for her installation and the way she is supporting the communities of the north as they partner with scientists who are trying to preserve the unique environment of Canada’s north.
The factthat she helped to found Oceans North is the second thing I love about our new Governor-General.