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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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!

 

 

 

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)

What a day for a tour …..

February 7th, 2012

It was an incredibly sunny,  blue, gold and white winter day today!

What a change from the past few weeks – and so overdue ~

I know it’s silly to feel responsible for the weather, but I always feel anxious when the weather doesn’t put on it’s best face for guests who are enjoying a hard-won holiday here in the north country. But sunshine is not always a precursor to a fine day – just received a wonderful note from our guests from last weekend  – and am happy to publish it here.

Thanks so much, Craig, for taking the time to write about the joyful day you and Terri experienced, and sharing your inner sunshine!

…Craig wrote:

“Terri and I had a wonderful tour.  We followed the tracks from the day before and instead of heading down onto, I believe Hemlock Lake, we stayed south and climbed the south side of the bluff at the east end of the lake.  What an incredible view from the top.  We could see the beaver dams, Hemlock Lake, and it was clear enough to see Whitefish Point from there looking out over the “North Face”, and Lake Superior.
 
We then skied and laughed our way down the north side from the bluff.  The snow was firm and we were able to stay on top even though we were skiing on thinner 160cm skis.  We learned to get our weight back if we came to a small compression, or skied next to a larger tree, if not, we would break through and come to an immediate stop.  The brush wasn’t too bad, so we were able to find some gentle lines.  We got out on the east end of the lake and crossed the center to the tracks from the day before. 
Sure enough we came across the tracks of a snow snake.  Two of them.  Quite fresh.  I think we just missed those otters, or they heard us coming.  Awesome to see and I am not sure I would have guessed at what made them had you not described the tracks to me that morning.  I wanted to take chase and Terri wanted to let them be.  I know they were close, but we left them in peace. 
We then headed up to the North Face and then to the “Look Out”.  Had two ravens putting on a show for us in the breeze before we headed back around.  As we came down Lois Lane, we came across a grouse strutting across the run.  Terri skied to within 6-7 meters and tried to get her camera phone out before it strutted away.  It never took flight.  As I had mentioned, the snow had firmed up.   Once we were below the steeper pitches, it was a fun ski to the bottom.  No falls.
 
We had been out for over 3 hours and Terri had a wonderful time.  What a transition from her first descent two weeks ago.  She has become so comfortable on her skis as long as we stick to the gentle slopes.  She mentioned that this is her favorite type of crosscountry/backcountry skiing and is looking forward to the next outing.  It will be tough to beat yesterdays adventure of the Algoma Highlands and Bellevue.
 
Thanks Robin and Enn.  Hope our paths cross again soon.
Craig”
 

Cedar Snowbounder

 When I wrote last, I felt keenly aware of the myriad of  reasons that I look forward to Thanksgiving as an  occasion on the calendar, especially here in Canada where it sits in the first weeks of October.  These are the  days, when the whirlwind that is our friend Summer gets  a chance to hunker down, and gather all her apples up in preparation for leaving us to face the bitter wits of old man Winter.  Still enjoying some deep golden days and heady wine-sap air, we sit in the tired sunlight on Summer’s velvet cape of autumn, and breathe deep with satisfied thoughts of all the riches we have gathered in; of harvest, of lifetimes of incident and experience, and of family and friends.

Earlier this month we were enjoying spending these last  long days before Summer shrugs with our best friend, Cedar.  She had been feeling a  bit strange for a few days, I would catch her  gazing inwardly at secret thoughts, although  she said she really didn’t want us to be  concerned.  So to shake off our trepidation we  rolled like puppies in the field, where the grasses are whispery with wheaten dryness, and smell like the best roasted Ceylon tea in the world.  Heikki chased his frisbee-flipper and Cedar got to chew upon the very best beaver sticks.  We spent a day in the landscape truck, doing errands in town and delighting in the smells at familiar places and of seeing friends both biped and quadruped.  We stole apples and carrots from Clancy’s breakfast, and crunched them up on the grass where the dew was slippery and sharp on the tongue like the ghost of  snowflakes.

And then, on that last day of thanksgiving when Summer gathered her cape to move on, Cedar Snowbounder decided to travel along with her.

….it’s been two weeks now, and the wet grey clouds that settled in on that day have still not found a better place to be. We who are left here at the lodge to await Winter are feeling bereft, but thankful that our friend did not have to suffer pain, or  feel fear when faced with travelling her last journey onward without us.

Good girl, Cedar.

You were our best companion, a dog like no other, and we will miss you always.

October always follows April.

Gosh darn, the world has just been rotating too fast again. October is here!?

However I refuse to  feel embarrassed about being so remiss about posting to this blog; good ol’ gal Summer was so verdant and bounteously beautiful this year I even found it difficult to come inside to sleep.  If it’s possible the Mayan calendar is right about what’s coming in 2012, well then, this surfeit of natures’ abundances must be the fireworks finale!

Not that Nature acted alone – we worked hard in our garden this year, coddled the tomatoes with enhanced heat keepers and waged war with the blister beetles to keep the potatoes safe. Several hours of serious picking rewarded our freezer and jam shelves with wild blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. Haven’t seen my bear all summer – they are all too fat to navigate the evils of the ‘burbs.

So yes, I could have written here in early May to tell you about the insistent and obtuse black bear who tried to bite his way into the house one evening – and how I had to vacate a lovely hot epsom salt bath to go and wack it with the porch broom to get it to de-sist …… or about the most amazing meteor we saw one night at dusk in June, possibly it was the space station, so large and bright ….. and I’m sure you would have liked to see a picture of the 2 ft. wide snapping turtle that hung out here in July. Or the huge waves we played in on Lake Superior in August. Or read a thrilling account of what happened to the young Cooper’s Hawk that Bill fished out of Saw Pit Bay that was happily resuscitated with a Tilley hat and a sock (September). In fact, I would have been chained to this keyboard … because something intriguing and beautiful in my favourite world of outdoors happened pretty much every day, all summer long.

But it’s not too late to tell you Fall is now here in full dress – and is continueing to follow the same pattern of excess – leaf colours are so bright and sky is SO blue that it hurts the eyes! …and what I speak of is Right Now – Right Here. (Yay! …Be Here Now!)  So I guess I can say this is my sorry attempt to span the months – but I’m sure, dear Blog,  you didn’t even miss me! Perhaps now that we have emerged from the Age of Dial -Up to the era of Hi-Speed I’ll feel like playing with you more often.