Safe Returns – April 20th 2017

Even before I opened one bleary eye at dawn this morning, I heard him.  – “Eeee – oh-layyy! bup bup -…..Layoieeee! ….bup bup EEEoh layyy, …Leee ohieeEEE!”

Nothing means spring has arrived as much as the call of the wood thrush.  Even though every morning now brings a welcome song that means an old friend has arrived back home.  It was the excitable little eastern phoebe a few mornings ago – flicking his tail and calling repeatedly, “SqueeeGEEE!” ….causing me to regret a late night and little sleep.  The rousing dawn chorus of all the feathered ones has declined greatly in my lifetime,  but there is still a fevered pitch of sound to greet the start of the spring day.   There’s nothing you can do except give in to the clarion call and go outside to listen – and once the dogs hear you sigh and don your clothes, they are happy to reinforce your awakening, and accompany you!

The flutebird – (as I call him), and I have an uneasy relationship.  I love his ethereal song, and the fact that this plucky little bird comes back to our woods each spring, migrating along one of the longest routes of all the neo-tropical songbirds, from the central americas of Panama to the mixed deciduous forest at the far reaches of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence range.  This bird and his family seem invincible, migrating at night, all that distance, using the stars and the earths’ magnetic field to orient their flight.

But I worry about him, on several fronts.  Firstly, his species is in decline, and have been on the near-threatened list since the 1960’s. When I was a front line environmentalist, my hearts’ focus was on forests, and the need to retain large tracts of the landscape from fragmentation through road accesses and harvest.  The wood thrush is one of the first birds to suffer when their woodland habitat is altered.  Their absence from a supposed “habitat managed” forest is as strong an indicator of illness as the dead canary is in a coal mine.  They return to the same home in each region every spring and winter, where they need a canopy forest and a leafy floor to forage. Any home they have to subsist in, other than this, decreases their food supply and leaves the birds vulnerable to predators; both those that kill the adult birds, and in the case of the ubiquitous cowbird, predate their nests. As we loudly decry the fragmentation of forests in Central America,  we are as guilty of the same crime here in the north of the continent.

So even though my flutebird is a welcome spring blessing I wish I knew less of the story, which tempers hearing his song with a hint of sadness.

A more immediate anxiety I have once I hear this silly little bird each spring comes from being aware of the dangers I am directly responsible for.  I say “silly” – because if this bird has one detrimental attribute, it would be that of owning an aggressive and reckless nature – it flies as if shot from a cannon, banking around obstacles and aero-planing in top-speed and exceedingly low glides through the forest.  It delights to shortcut sharp corners and has no regard for buildings and windows. Thrush are territorial and will chase each other until totally winded and unable to fly,  and they show off to each other in reckless flight even more.

You would think after that huge journey the agenda would designate some R and R for a few days? Huh! …..no chance of that, they puff out that dual vocal chord, sing their hearts out, and terrorize the other feathered foes with some kamikaze hazing.

After a few trial and errors I have finally arrived at a seemingly effective way to keep them from knocking themselves out on one particular window, the one at the corner of the house that seems to present an attractive shortcut.  I have laced a cobweb of light twine across each section of the glass in a random pattern, and after many other options this has worked to keep the thrush family from diving into it.  I reasoned that if birds dislike to fly through cobwebs, this lacing of twine would look like a huge malevolent one, and so far my theory seems to hold.  It’s fairly invisible from the inside, but presents a no-fly zone for these little fearless featherbrains.

So of course, once that clarion call comes through the dawn, sleep has no power to hold me in thrall.  I have to go out into the dawn to listen and count all who have returned with last night’s spring wind, and check all my contrived cobwebs to keep them as safe from harm as I am able.  And those are the touchstones that let me sleep well at night, if I get to bed early enough!

It would be a shame to miss tomorrow’s dawn chorus.

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Winter’s Passing

While many of the local folks are huffing out a big sigh of relief at the thought of warmer weather and snow melt, I feel a huge sense of loss.

I love winter, and everything that is entailed in living in a cold climate. Granted, it has been a busy few months, with visitors, snow sports and home chores, and I do feel grateful for some time to relax and reflect on this past season. However, along with the loss of routine, the cessation of winter brings on a nervous hesitation about what comes next. Change is in the air. Our world is ripe with possibilities … should we ignore the rain, chase the snow and head to the mountains for a last ski-hurrah? Rip off and replace the front porch? Get out the canoes and bicycles? Get out the taxes? Gods forbid – go to town??  … Suddenly, so many choices. Many of them influenced by March madness – A.K.A. cabin fever. Which along with getting high on too much maple syrup leads to a vacation in another way … but sorry, I digress.

No matter how distracted,  I know every season has it’s merits, and besides, the comforting reality is that in six months my world will narrow to a cozy white womb once more. 

Tempering all this emotional and physical disruption brought on by the ending of winter is my general awareness that society does not like to be affected by seasonal climates, and prefers to dumb us all down to a common denominator of the same generic physical activities and social strata. Since when did activities such as skiing and skating become outside the norm?  Since multi-national insurance companies decided so, is perhaps the answer. And Ontario’s winter cities, although few and far between, are not identified in the media for their differences, and applauded as winter destinations, even though cities in the province of Québec have been a success in this field.

Local reporters in the media take every variable of our ordinary weather as a disturbance to personal comfort, a shrieking chance to warn us all of the horrible risks of venturing out the door. On world-wide media, when our community is impacted by winter weather, the public face that we present to the world is negative, reactive and embarrassing. “Power out!” “Freezing in the Dark!” “Ice Storm!” “Whiteouts!” “Road Closure!” The public and highly exaggerated threat to the continuation of all necessary social services! ….Oh MY, how terrifying!

No wonder we northerners are regarded with pity when we travel anywhere south. It’s all in the way we are presented as a society; as needing to be kept safely inside, needing to take Vitamin D, needing to escape the dark and cold!

The provincial and regional government has a mandate to support and promote the tourism assets of Algoma. With the assistance and leadership of many positive advocates and business owners within the tourism sector, acclaim and awareness of what our region has on offer for outdoor activities is slowly being recognised. However, the City of Sault Ste. Marie fails miserably to support and acknowledge seasonal resources and established outdoor activities for its occupants. Even hockey is an indoor sport in this city! Recently the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Christian Provenzano, questioned the Economic Development Corporation, (a public NGO which supports economic diversification projects) about their partnership purchase of Searchmont Resort, which lies just outside the jurisdictional boundary of Sault Ste. Marie. Mr. Provenzano said that the E.D.C. should not have the approval for that venture from the city council. He also went on to make several very disparaging remarks about the village of Searchmont as well.

Such a partnership project should be supported and sought out, not questioned.  Attitudes such as this make our city fail in their intent to be a healthy society. Designating geophysical boundaries of city interests and attributes, ignoring outlying regions and refusing to acknowledge the value of the outdoor activities they offer to the city, such as park use, skiing and snowboarding, keeps this city from competing on the map as a world-class destination. It teaches our youth to be insular and cliché about what should interest and support them. Worse, our citizens and in particular, those children suffer poor health and limited resources for learning how to enjoy a full and active life in a location that has a variable and wide-changing climate.

Learning to ski is not an elitist sport, it is the privilege of every child that lives in a winter landscape. It is a necessity. Children should know that living in a winter city allows for enriching opportunities and activities that set us apart in advantage over more southerly cities.

All these things I ponder today as I watch the snow melt away, and I see the gradual erosion of an individuals’ own experience of place being replaced with indoor climate control and second-hand screen stories.  If there is such a thing as the collective unconscious, perhaps this also has effect on climate change. The more we present a hateful and frightened attitude towards winter, perhaps the less winter we will have to enjoy. And all those negative attitudes, held by insulting and insular city officials, and reactive weather forecasters, just works to make people feel they are apart from the environment, and at odds with the world we inhabit.

Our loss (of enjoyment and experience). Our collective sadness (at denying our culture). Our failure (to enjoy what our environment makes available for us).

…maybe I do need a little Vitamin D after all.

 

 

2016 – 30 years!?

Oooomph!! That’s a hard thing to believe!

30 years since this little guy showed up in our long winter’s night dreams, and helped us embark on this interesting venture. And …

“what a long strange trip it has been”! Telegraphic!

As Enn and I head into our 30th year as keen ambassadors for back country telemark skiing – (all right, it’s an obsession!) we are a little surprised to find ourselves still here! Well, of course there have been a few close calls, and yes, we’ve lost some dear souls from the slopes along the way, but … really? How incredibly lucky we are, even with this kind of behaviour out there in the wilds! Kudos to us!

Oh, hey, remember it wasn’t all easy like it is now, you young ‘uns have it all handed to you on a board now – we had to make our own gear up as we went along!

Skinny noodle wood skis…

 

…in Enn’s case ones he made himself, while working with Mauri Luomeranta at The Superior Ski Company.

…and these really REALLY long poles were needed to fend off the snow snakes and keep wild porcupines at bay … all sadly now extirpated from the woodlands …and the extensions also helped to test the depth of the snow in those deep drifts.

However there was this one time they weren’t long enough! – my pole was extended as far as it would go beneath me and there was no ground to be found! …if not for a trusty dog friend that came under my armpit and rescued me I would have suffocated. 😦 It’s every man (and woman ) for themselves out there – and laughter is the best medicine they say! Even at the risk of your friends’ precious lives and limbs…

snowy grave….anyways maybe that will help you understand my mantra “Levity gets you up, and gravity gets you down”!

Oh, and what about those wonderful little leather slippers that were all the rage for backcountry? About as useful to a telemark turn as a plastic spoon is to ice-cream … the old leathers

But back then, things were simpler.

Your mom made you a hat, based on your favourite design Robin with Emme hat on …..and if you had lots of hair –

well,  then you didn’t need one!Enn with HAIR

Of course that was back in the day when it would snow for forty days and forty nights, and the power would go off for a week and there were no roads, only skis and horses…..and all the men had hair.

The one thing you do always need; to keep the mantra going around, the trails navigable, and remind you what you looked like back then – is your FRIENDS!

So hey out there, everyone – hope you’ve enjoyed this little celebration of the path we’ve been on together. Perhaps you can come on out to the 20th Annual Snowflea Telefest, February 19-21st 2016!  We will spin some yarns and tell tall tales of all the routes we’ve taken and the ones that we did not , still out there for us to discover.

Ski you on the slopes!

 

 

 

Annual Fall “Lopp-It-Good” – happening November 8th 2014

Hi folks,

A lovely little nip is in the air today – you can smell snowflakes in the stratosphere. Yes, you can! 😉

All the maple and poplar leaves have been set free, swirling in huge drifts over the yard. Raking has been a chore with these huge northeasterly blows happening all week. Only the rubrous oak and citrine tamarack are stubbornly holding on to perk up the hillside views.

Enn is walking the mountain this weekend, making note of large windfalls and areas that need some saw work to keep the turns safe this winter.

mike marie conner loppet

We’ve planned the big trail clearing on November 8th and 9th … if you can join us, we would love to have you!

And ……..Snowflea Telefest is planned for February 20th – 22nd 2015.

This will be our 19th Annual! I hate to admit how many more years we have been tromping these woods, clearing deadfall and limbs to make this incredible trail network for backwoods skiing one of a kind.  Lopp it Good weekend asks for your participation in exchange for room and board … it’s a great way to get a deer’s eye view of our ski area, and become a part of the tribe, whether you love to make Telemark turns or prefer to snowshoe! Give us a call or send us an email for more information, or to reserve a bed – hope to see you soon.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

July 1st 2014 is almost upon us … and it  is hard to believe we are already past our longest day of the year. We marked the solstice this month (….and our thirtieth anniversary of putting up with each other!)  – with a wonderful house concert by Liam Titcomb, who most definately keeps me believing in the value of live performance! Such expertise and spirit, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who can measure up to Liams’ level, at any age. Listening to his performance, delivered so effortlessly and yet with such intricate guitar work and writing abilities, it is shocking to think he is not yet thirty years old, and has that depth of resource within. I have always felt guilty for not enjoying those shows “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” … people tell me they get so much pleasure from them – but having been in the music business for so many years it is just so painful to see how “dumbed down” a performance or singer/musician’s message has to be to appeal to the mass population. I find most of those performances so boring and predictable, it is actually painful for me to see the accolades that are heaped on the artists. Music is one of the easiest arts to force a square peg to go in a round hole. Once that happens you aren’t hearing the performers’ voice anymore – just the “star-maker machinery” as Joni Mitchell called it. 

The summer so far has not been kind – we have a surfeit of mosquitos and yet a lack of water. Keeping the garden happy has been a struggle! It is rather discouraging to invest so much time energy and sweat to grow a great crop of lettuces and greens – and then be unable to harvest any for dinner because of attacking hordes of mosquitos! They are lasting so long this year … taking the place of the usual swarms of blackflies. Enn says when he was a child and returned home after a buggy play day, his mom called the blackfly bites his “northern Ontario necklace”! ..and yet I don’t think I have seen one blackfly here yet this year.

But these MOSQUITOS!! We have been so clothed! – this morning is supposed to be the hottest day of the summer so far, up to 30 degrees – yet at six thirty this morning when I rose to water the garden, I dressed in wool socks, undershirt, overshirt, long pants which I tucked into the socks, put on a hat, dove into my bug shirt, zipped the face screen up, nitrile gloves, tucked the sleeves of said bug shirt, …then sprayed citronella, and eau de DEET over all this concoction. Then I opened the door and stepped out into this beautiful day. You think the sight would just frighten them away! Here we are, pasty white and suffering scurvy from a lack of sunlight and fresh food! At the height of summer!  😉

I have to admit I have refused a few bookings here at the lodge, knowing that some people would not be able to enjoy their holiday with us at present. It’s a matter of assessing if people really know what you are warning them about when you say the bugs are horrendous … let’s hope the heat today will take them out, and we can cautiously get on with the short and tank top season, even if it only lasts a few days I will welcome it!

No  one seems to be talking about west nile virus this year – was all that discussion just a flash in the pan? I’m sure most of us living in theses muskeg and cedar swamplands of Ontario have been exposed to it by now. And I don’t want to appear alarmist – but there is a definate lack of warblers, forest birds and bats this year. And that is who eats most of these mosquitos. Most summer mornings at 5 am I am awoken by the beautiful dawn chorus – usually starting with wood thrush, oven birds, vireos, then the robins, warblers and other less solitary birds join in….this past week the whine of mosquitos at the windows is the prevalent song. Bats have suffered in this region from White Nose Syndrome … a fungus that infects them in their winter hibernaculae … and a bat will eat 4000 – 8000 mosquitos in one night. That is an amazing amount! I still have one old friend of a bat spending the days in the cedar shakes above the door, but other resting sites don’t seem to have been used yet this summer. If those bats were alive, they would be here, bats return to the same areas every year just as birds do. 

Mornings that I have this particular style of internal dialogue I just try to remind myself that once we make this planet uninhabitable for humans, either by bad art or bad air and water, other species will fill the niche and perhaps there will be a time when the rise and fall of hominoids will happen with a different set of defining values. 

Happy Canada Day, everyone!  ♥

 

2013 Lopp-It Good @ Snowflea 2014 Date announcement!

Chickadee by D. KasunicHi folks!

I hope everyone has enjoyed a wonderful year!
Looks like the globally weirded but welcome month of Aug-tober is drawing to a close, and my favourite time of year is finally here.
I love the outside scene when the vermillion leaves of the maples are down, making way for the rusty-brown oaks, yellow tamarack and deep green of the spruce and pine; allowing those far-off dreamy hill views, anchored between golden fields and azure skies. The ilex berries and moose-maple are all ablaze along the waterways.
…however I will admit that blue not the colour of the sky today – it is actually hailing outside, and I heard the buntings and juncos tweeting about snow!  We still have a lot of outside work to attend to around here, so I have hopes that this sleeting will be fleeting – just a quick visit from the weather gods, practicing for the Lopp-It weekend.
Which reminds me to get to the point ……as well as finally remembering my blog password, and dropping by to say hello, I wanted to invite any who can join us on the weekend of November 9th and 10th for the annual Bellevue Valley Lodge “Lopp-It-Good”!  We get out in the woods on our ski runs to shift what the winds have brought down, scout new death-defying drops and clear off the brushy ankle-grabbers.
We tromp around with power tools and loppers to test our mettle, and sometimes the elements test our resolve too!
Besides, there’s nothing like a bit of pain to make you think you are having a good time!
If you would like to join in on the weekend of November 9th, we happily house and feed you in exchange for this workout for your brawny bodies….please call or email for more details.
Also, the 18th Annual Snowflea Telefest is set for February 21st – 23rd, 2014…. so mark your calendars! (18 years … can you believe it?)
Thanks for reading ~ take care, hopefully we’ll cross tips and tracks sometime soon!
Best wishes,
Robin
(and Enn, who is busy building a new garage to host ski-waxing parties)

Spring flings wings!

Sunday morning chorus … so many happy travelers have arrived back home this week! Flutebird (hermit thrush) got back late last night, his song overlapped with an early morning barred owl. Yesterday it was Wagtail (eastern phoebe) who stood out as newcomer. The Yakker family (northern flickers) were quiet for a few days, but are now making a huge fuss – perturbed that the rotten poplar where they have nested in for a few springs has fallen; checking out several other suitable spots. Mr. Cutthroat (rose breasted grosbeak) is high in the treetops, sounding like an oriole.

There are a pair of eastern bluebirds hanging out near the compost piles; we put up a nestbox but I think the hole is too big for their liking.

Robins, sand hill cranes, nuthatches, brown creeper, downy, hairy, and three-toed woodpeckers, a mourning dove, purple finch, chickadees, bluejay, redpolls, pine siskins, goldfinch, several wandering ducks, boat-tailed grackles, red-wing blackbirds, and a drumming partridge also featured solo in the choir this morning. Yesterday while raking the yard I was spy-hopped by a turkey vulture, kestrel, kingfisher, a marsh hawk, and my ever scrap-hopeful raven couple and their cousin, Jet the Crow. Jet doesn’t want the ravens around suddenly – his partner must be sitting on a nest somewhere close by “his” territory. The ravens nest a bit earlier, but I probably saw one of the nesting partners and a juvie “helper” …out cruising for a treat.

Have not yet heard the white-throated sparrow, brown thrasher, catbird, or vireo this spring- a few warblers in the woods but no sign of the black-throated blue, the olive, or the black and white, at least here near the house, where they like to pick bugs from the copse of hazel out in front.
Later on in May, just after the sand cherries bloom, I will watch for those far-ranging travelers – the scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. Always a relief when they make it back here from the tropical lands.

I’m sure that the hummingbirds must be back – anyone seen one yet?