Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More berry beauty

I'm still picking some blueberries in my woods these days.  I've just noticed recently that the blackberries have also begun to ripen, which is lovely, but is also a sure sign that the summer is coming to an end.  I hope to gather some blackberries for freezing perhaps, if there are enough.

There are still carpets of red berries sported by the Cornus canadensis plants in my woodland spaces.

Another "berry" of sorts that is turning red right now is the flowering crab apple fruit.  These aren't really berries, but they sort of look like berries.  They will provide much-needed nourishment to winter birds.

I was talking to my mother about crab apples when she visited recently, and she was saying how crab apples in the United Kingdom, where she grew up, are much larger than the ones here.  I thought this was intriguing so I did a bit of research and found out that UK crab apples are generally Malus sylvestris species, which is the European crab apple.  The fruits are much larger and more useful for humans, often being made into cider, jellies and used in desserts and other recipes.  Here in North America, we have 3 native crab apple species.  Malus coronaria, M. fusca, and M. ioensis.  These are much smaller-fruited and are mostly eaten by wildlife.  Many ornamental crab apples that we see here in Canada and the US are cultivars derived from those species.  However, there are 34 (!!) crab apple species listed on the Wikipedia page about the apple genus (Malus).  Since they are all called crab apples, its a bit of a confusing subject.  No wonder the things my mother knew as crab apples are different to the ones I know!

When I was out looking at the berries, I thought I'd take a picture and write about another berry with a plethora of common names.  This is a picture of Gaultheria procumbens growing in my woods.  It's a low-growing forest plant with oval, glossy leaves and small red berries.  I put my hand in the picture to isolate the berries and leaves from the other plants.

The plant forms a sort of carpet amongst the moss and other woodland scrub plants.

It has an odd mix of common names, but many know it as "American wintergreen."  This name is used because the leaves produce the very characteristic wintergreen smell when you crush them, which makes it an easy plant to identify. Some people do actually use it to make a type of tea.  The berries are mildly minty and slightly sweet.  I learned that the berries are a favourite food of the chipmunk, which is probably why mine keep disappearing very quickly as soon as they ripen!

Seriously though, this plant highlights the problem of common names, because here is a list of the other common names by which G. procumbens is known: American mountain tea, boxberry, Canada tea, canterberry, chickenberry, chinks, creeping wintergreen, deerberry, drunkards, gingerberry, ground berry, ground tea, grouseberry, hillberry, mountain tea, one-berry, partridge berry, procalm, red pollom, spice berry, squaw vine, star berry, spiceberry, spicy wintergreen, spring wintergreen, teaberry, wax cluster, and youngsters.  No wonder I prefer the proper scientific or Latin names of plants - there can be no confusion that way!

Here's a photograph of the rowan tree berries at the Sackville Waterfowl Park, near where I live. They are looking plump and healthy, and will provide a great food source for all the non-migratory birds later this fall and winter.  There are many rowan trees at the park, and one in my front yard as well, although the berries on mine aren't looking quite as good as these!

Last but not least, here are some berries on Prunus virginiana, also at the waterfowl park.  This is another important source of food for birds.  You can see that there are some ripe (dark) fruits on the left, while the ones on the right are still red.  They will all turn a purplish-black eventually.  The common names for this tree include chokecherry, Virginia bird-cherry, bitter-berry, black chokecherry and western chokecherry.  This one is safe for humans as well, and some people make it into jelly or jam.  I'll just be watching it for avian visitors!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Blooming where you're planted (or not)

Today's post is a bit different.  I know, usually I blog about birds and flowers and insects and sheep and other happy things.  I love to share those things and I know that at least some of my readers enjoy them too.  Today, though, I want to tackle a slightly more serious subject - one that is important to me, and one that I've learned a lot about in the past few years.  These thoughts are based on my own experience, and I'm sure others will disagree, or have other viewpoints.  That's OK - everybody is different.  I just want to share what I have come to believe.  I'll throw in a few gratuitous flower pictures, since it's a post about "blooming," just to keep it cheerful!

There is a common and long-used saying that most people are familiar with - "Bloom where you are planted."  There are a number of different ways to interpret that phrase, but my personal interpretation has typically been around the idea that one should appreciate one's surroundings and the opportunities that one has at any given time, rather than always wishing for or wanting something else.  It's a wise saying, because if one is always focused on things one doesn't have, one can become despondent and frustrated.

At the same time, I have to admit that I don't entirely agree with the sentiment behind the phrase. There is a difference, to me, between blooming, and just living.  If you put a plant in a place that isn't appropriate for it, the plant might continue to live, putting up leaves every year, photosynthesizing and carrying on...maybe growing a couple of inches each year and putting out a few more leaves each year.  It might even make a flower or two, if it's feeling so inclined.  The thing is, that plant is living, without thriving.  It might be blooming, but only sporadically.  You could dig up that plant and move it to a different flower bed, where it gets more sunshine and perhaps has better access to soil nutrients, and suddenly that plant is going to grow a foot in height every year, throw forth dozens of blooms, and create new networks of branches and roots that reach far beyond what could ever have happened in its previous position.  

I know about thriving after transplanting, because I am that plant.  

On my former property in Nova Scotia, I felt as if I was planted in a deep, dark hollow with little sunshine and almost no water.  I struggled to grow any roots and I certainly wasn't blooming.  I tried to take advantage of opportunities but I felt like every step was a mountain to climb.  Everything was a sea of obstacles and I didn't know where I was going to end up.  Then, I started my own business.  I began to feel a little better - perhaps because I was being the change that I needed to make.  It wasn't enough to bring me into the sunshine, but I made it out of the cave.  I began to be able to make improvements to the house, which helped me find some water and fertilizer.  After that, I met Marc. He was like a whole big dose of sunshine and water and fertilizer, all wrapped into one.  My life became so much better, and I began to grow more leaves and make buds and roots and start to look like a proper plant instead of a wilted mess.  I moved to New Brunswick to be with Marc, and to live in his house.  I was no longer alone and stuck in an isolated location, and I had the most wonderful company.  The thing is, even with all of that, I still wasn't blooming.  

I can't explain exactly why it is that being in the right place, as well as with the right person, has been so critical to my well-being.  All I can say for sure is that there is no way I would have bloomed where I was planted if we had stayed where we were.  I would have lived and been relatively content, but despite the odd flower now and then, I would not have truly bloomed, no matter how many times I was told to bloom where I was planted. Now that we are in this new home in a new location, I can literally feel myself grow.  I don't mean that I'm getting any taller, or wider for that matter!  I feel myself establishing roots - strong ties to this place, and a desire to remain here for the long term. Every day I wake up with joy and hope and a desire to make the best of each day.  Every night I go to sleep with a feeling of deep contentment and a sense of being home.  I felt that way in Iowa (even though I never expected to do so when I first moved there), and I remember all too well how I lost that feeling when I came back to my Canadian home was really upsetting.  I thought I was "coming home," but instead, I felt like I was a stranger in a strange land.  

The important thing that I want to share...for anyone who needs to hear that if you're not blooming, you need to do whatever you can to transplant yourself.  It's not always going to be easy and it's not going to be instant, but you need to take steps to make it happen.  Being in the right place is vitally important for some of us, and if you're one of those people, don't ignore it.  Some people really can bloom wherever they are planted, but I am not one of them.  It's not about money or possessions or other material things.  It's about a feeling of home - being in the right "soil" and having the right amount of "fertilizer" and the right amount of "light" and all the things you need to make yourself bloom.  Only you can really know what those requirements are, and maybe you haven't even found out what they are yet.  

Sometimes those requirements change during your lifetime.  When I was in my 20s, I adored being in the city.  I loved the hustle and bustle on the busy streets.  I wanted to be where the action was taking place, and I enjoyed the buzz of being in a big city.  I loved walking around in downtown Toronto - trying new restaurants, checking out new boutiques, watching the world go by in high heels and tailored suits.  As I got older, I wanted to be somewhere quieter, where I could think and dream in silence when I wanted.  I guess you could say that I "found" rural living while I lived in Iowa.  I didn't grow up on a farm, but I came to appreciate the rural lifestyle and all that it could bring to my life.  My heels went to the back of the closet and my make-up bag found its way to the back of a drawer somewhere.  For many people, that would never be an enjoyable option.  I go back to my example of plants - some plants are designed for full sun, some for full shade, and some for a combination of the two. Some need a lot of fertilizer, while others need very little.  Some plants need wet conditions, others need it dry.  People are just like plants - we need different things in order to survive, and we need specific things in order to really thrive.

To me, the phrase "bloom where you're planted" has become synonymous with "settle for the best you can get."  Sometimes, when things aren't quite right, you do have to settle, but most of the time, you can do something, even if it's slow progress, to improve your situation.  Keep striving.  Keep moving towards that goal.  Don't give up.  Enjoy what you can in the situation you find yourself in, but if you know it's not right...don't believe that's all there is.  There's more.  I found it.  So can you.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Birds Abound

I'm so pleased that there are so many species of birds near my new home.  They make for hours of contented bird watching, and sometimes hours of study and occasional frustration in my attempts to identify them.  Here are a few birds I've photographed recently.

I believe this is the hermit thrush, although I'm not 100% sure.  It might possibly be Swainson's thrush or the gray-cheeked thrush, or even Bicknell's thrush.  They're all fairly similar and they all live in this area.  I eliminated the gray-cheeked thrush because I think this bird is too brown for that species.  I'll gladly take pointers from bird experts on this one!

Here's a very obliging female red-winged blackbird who posed for me at the Sackville Waterfowl Park.  Quite distinctive colouring and markings on this bird - she was easier to identify.

This is, I believe, a female magnolia warbler with fall plumage, possibly a juvenile one.  Again, I'll gladly accept other opinions!  The middle picture isn't as sharp as I'd like, but it's helpful in assessing the markings on the bird.

Then there's this little chirper.  I thought it was a dark-eyed junco, but now I'm not sure.  It seems to have a little more brown than I would have thought for a junco, and it's not solid enough in the grey colour compared to the others I regularly see.  Can anyone identify this bird?  It seems to be sparrow-like in size and in the shape of the beak.

It's also a natural at posing, although it didn't like me getting too close.

Sharing with The Bird D'Pot.

Sharing with Saturday's Critters.
Sharing with Camera Critters.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday's Hunt v 2.8

It's Friday, so that means it's time to join in Friday's Hunt, hosted by Eden Hills.  As usual, we have 3 topics for interpretation this week:  the letter H, week's favourite, and single.

The Letter H
I'm a little bit off the beaten track with my choice today, but bear with me.  I blogged a few days ago about my visit to the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum.  When the carriage business began to decline as cars began to be available, the carriage factory added the funeral business to their services. The woodworkers who built carriages were able to build caskets instead, and other workers provided services such as transporting the deceased.  So, for the letter H, I give you, a hearse!

There were two hearses on display at the museum.  The one pictured above was for fine weather use, and the other, pictured below, was for winter use.  As you can see, the winter hearse is a sled style, designed to be used in the snow, whereas the summer one has wheels.

Both would be drawn by horse (of course).  The museum had some helpful information about horse harnesses too!

Week's Favourite
I have to say that my favourite thing this week was the fact that I finally brought my 2 sheep home again after their 2 years and 8 months in "boarding" elsewhere.  I am really excited to have them with me again, and I suspect they'll be regular blog fodder!  However, since I just blogged about them yesterday, here's another favourite - my little chipmunk friend who often amuses me.  I watch him (or her) from my home office window.  I think that at some point, this little cutie had a tail injury, but that doesn't detract from the cuteness!  I've been getting better pictures of the chipmunk now that I have the zoom lens.  I really love both these pictures.

For the letter E, a few weeks ago, I shared a photograph of my Echinops ritro.  At the time, it wasn't yet blooming, but has just started to do so.  So far, only a single one of the ball-shaped flower structures has started to bloom.  You can see it in the background of this shot - it has a purple hazy look to the top of it.  All the other "flower balls" are still waiting to open.

It's just starting out - the tiny blooms open from the top down.

When I was taking the picture, I noticed that somebody was trying to photobomb my shot!  A single tiny spider wanted to be part of the action.  Look closely and you'll see it - a lime green little spider towards the bottom of the photo.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I'm finally a shepherdess again!

After 2 years and 8 months of having my 2 sheep being cared for by others, they have finally come home.  I'm so pleased to have Tucker and Twilight back with me again!

I just love those woolly faces!

After putting in the fencing here at the new house, I was hoping to get the electric wires up as well, before they came home, but NB Power is taking a long time to install the necessary new connection to the outbuilding.  My friend who was caring for them really needs the space for her alpaca crias and my sheep were being hard on her fences too.  It was time for them to come back.  I really hope that they don't try any funny escape business before we can get those wires connected!

I managed to get a couple of welded wire panels, which are rare around here, to set up a temporary shelter for the sheep, and for their hay, until the barn can be put into place.  It's not perfect, but it gives them a dry spot to hang out in the rain, and keeps the hay dry, too.  It rained much of yesterday and they didn't seem to mind being in the rain, so their fleeces are still pretty damp today.

They have a fairly heavily forested area for their "pasture" now, so they will need hay all year round.  It's possible that once the goats come back (which will be soon), the trees may be affected, since goats like to strip bark.  Even Tucker seems to be sampling the bark!

Over time, some trees may be removed and that may add to the sunshine in the area, resulting in more grass growing there, but for now, it's just moss and some woodland plants.  I think they're settling in to their new woodsy environment.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Flight Blur

The photographs I'm sharing today are, essentially, "rejects" from the camera.  But, there is something I find captivating about them.  These are flight photographs, mostly of the chickadees, and they show a blur of feathers and movement that gives a sense of how quickly these little birds move. I try to catch them seated on my hand, but more often than not, I get a blur.  I was throwing out the blurs, but then I began to realize they had a certain charm.

Today, I share with you some of my favourite blurry chickadees and nuthatches!

Here's just a wing blur, to start.

Most of the pictures are "take off" blurs from the point when the bird leaves my hand.

This one has a real curve to it in the bottom part of the picture, adding to the sense of movement. Swoop!

I believe this one is a "landing blur" as opposed to a "take off blur."

Another landing!

This one is one of my favourites - I just think of it as a dancing bird blur!  It's a nuthatch.

Here's a nuthatch blur as the bird was going from upright to upside-down on the branch.  Really just a wing blur, but I love the way the individual feathers are visible, and yet the leaves are seen through the feathers too.

They just move so fast! 

Off they go!

Sharing with The Bird D'Pot!