Friday, August 30, 2019

Self-Sabotaging Writing Habits

Sunset at Lake Cowichan
 If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know that I am a writer. I haven't updated you recently on what's happening in my writing world, so, first the good news!

How the Novel is Coming Along

For the last few years, I have been working on a novel. Last November, I announced that I had completed a first draft of it. But then I changed my mind and re-wrote the ending. Then I read the whole manuscript through and made minor corrections. Then I was finally ready to send the manuscript out to beta readers.

What is it about, you ask?

It is a dystopian tale that takes place in the near future. A small group of survivors, all female, have survived cataclysmic events that have destroyed their city, and for all they know, most people on earth. Years later, two best friends in the shelter come of age and begin to wonder what is outside of their protected enclave. The ecosystem of their little world is beginning to collapse. Each of the two has to make a choice whether to listen to her conscience or follow her heart.

Over the spring, I received feedback from my five beta readers. All of them were very positive about the story: plot, characters, the futuristic setting, the social commentary, and the writing. Two of them recommended changing the ending (again), and I agree. I left things up in the air too much, and that was unsatisfying. My amazing beta readers also gave me lots of pointers about specific changes to make.

I have also read out many snippets to members of my writing group, and their advice is always constructive, gentle, and to the point.

So, the good news is that I've written a novel and I'm really happy with it.

The Revision Process

I spread out all the notes from the beta readers around my computer and began to work through the revisions. That has worked well, as long as I sit down in that room and at that computer. I have found that it is important to not leave too long a time period between each revision session, because then I forget all the details I was trying to hold in mind about what to change, and have to read through all the notes again. Successful revising, for me, appears to be dependent on how I organize my time, space, and written notes.

Before I wrote this novel, I wrote two other novels that I never finished. With the first, I got about 3/4 through a first draft. With the second, I finished a first draft and sent it to beta readers who made excellent suggestions. And then I became so overwhelmed about how to tackle the extensive revisions that I couldn't bring myself to do them.

I am happy to report that I am not struggling with my motivation to do the revisions on this novel. I am enjoying the revision process, and I love sitting down at the computer to work on it. And I really want to finish these revisions and get on with the next phase because this novel is timely right now and because...

It's Going to be a Series!

Yes, it's not going to end with the novel that I have just written. It's going to be a series of three books, and the completed one is the one in the middle. Right now the prequel novel is burning a hole in my brain. I have written copious notes for it, and the opening scene.


So where does the self-sabotage come in? Why am I not finishing the revisions?

I have no desire to avoid working on the revisions. I am eager to sit down at the computer and mentally jump back into the world of my story. I kind of dread the next step of seeking publication, but that is not why I haven't been working on the revisions.

I have always been a person who takes on way too much. They are all things that I want to do, like travelling to Crete, or going on an excellent 3-week vacation, or spending time with family or friends, or participating in art shows, or agreeing to do other writing projects. Or they are things that I have committed to do for others, such as volunteer work for my service group.

I am very disciplined about making myself follow through and actually do the things that I have promised that I will do. But the downside is that all those other things have specific more urgent timelines, so my writing time gets pushed into the background.

In the case of the revisions, my summer travels meant that I have had hardly any time to sit down at the particular computer where my revision notes are laid out. I was afraid to take the revision notes with me for fear they would get lost, and also because it takes long stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the head-space and work on revising.

In contrast, I was able to write background notes for my new prequel novel anywhere in any little fragment of time that I had. All I needed was a laptop or pad of paper.

There is a little executive manager in my brain who tells me how to allocate my time. The sabotage equation goes something like this: "I want to work on my revisions, but I've promised to do project X which is due [insert date coming up very soon] so I can't do my revisions until I have finished project X. But I don't really feel like doing project X right now, so first I'll [insert alternative activity such as do the laundry/go for a walk] to get myself into the mood to do project X, and at least [the laundry will be done/I'll get my 10,000 steps]. Oh no, the whole day has gone by and I haven't worked on my revisions or on project X!"

Or I'll be talking to a friend and the next thing I know, I'm meeting them for lunch or dinner, or to go on a bike ride, or X, Y, or Z.  

So that's how I have been sabotaging my revision process. I've been avoiding project X (which is actually a very interesting project and I'm sure I'll enjoy it once I'm actually working on it again), and not allowing myself to work on my revisions until project X is finished. 
Floaters on the River

Never to Old to Ride on a Swing
The other thing is, I've been too busy having fun! I have inserted a couple of photos from my excellent summer vacation to whet your appetite for my next blog post.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Blogging, Friendship, and Community

News Flash! Bloggers Converge on Vancouver Island!

Originally, that was going to be my title for this blog post. That was way back in late July, when the event actually happened and when I intended to write this post. The weekend of July 19, I had the chance to meet with five amazing bloggers, only one of whom I had met in person before. They arrived in the little window of time in between when I returned from Crete and just before I left on my next amazing summer adventure (which I hope to write about soon -- because, you know, pretty soon it will be Fall).

But maybe the delay has turned out to be a good thing, because as the topic rolled around in my mind during my August travels, it shifted in focus a little. I started thinking about how we make friends, how we deepen friendships, and how blogging is one part of all that.

The Big Event

But first, the blogger meetup.

From left: Donna, Ann, Erica, me (Jude aka Dr Sock), Janis, Kathy
The plan was hatched by Donna of Retirement Reflections, who put her head together with Janis of Retirementally Challenged and Kathy of Smart Living 365. The three of them coordinated a plan for Janis and Kathy and their partners to holiday in Canada this summer, and to arrive in central Vancouver Island in late July. Before I knew it, Donna invited me to be part of the get-together, and then Erica of Behind the Scenery and Ann of The Unretired Life joined in too. Of the six of us, two of us were from the central part of Vancouver Island, one from the south Island, one from a Gulf Island, and two from different places in California.

You might have already read about our gathering. Donna wrote about it here, Janis wrote about it here, Erica wrote about it here, and Ann wrote about it here. Kathy cleverly got us all to write lists which she compiled and discussed here.

Donna hosted the weekend (which stretched into several days). She put a huge amount of planning into it, researching activities and excursions for us to join in with, suggesting accommodations, providing meals, soliciting ideas for blogging discussion topics, and herding cats (that's us!). Thank-you Donna!

On Friday evening, we all went to see Deafaids - Beatlemania, a Beatles tribute band that put on a free concert in the community park.
Music in the Park: From left, Donna, Janis, Ann
Saturday was the more structured, blogging-focused part of the meetup. We met at Donna's house and talked our heads off about blogging through the morning, lunch, and afternoon. Yes, there was wine.

We Talked Blogs, For Hours

Look How Serious We Were

 On Sunday, the gang (spouses too) came over to my place for lunch, a tour of my art studio, Notch Hill Art, and a hike. Fun was had by all.

After Our Hike
Tour of Notch Hill Art

10 Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started Blogging

Kathy asked us to each put together a list of ten things we should have known or wish we had known before we started blogging. (You can read everyone's lists here.) I started blogging a long time ago, before blogging communities were "a thing." Things like differing purposes of blogs and blogging etiquette that seem quite obvious to us now were not so obvious more than a decade ago. I was very lucky to have entered the blogosphere just as the phenomenon of blogging was taking off, and it has been fascinating to see how the practices of blogging have changed. In particular, the development of blogging communities of people who share their ideas with each other has been wonderful to observe.

As a blogger, I've changed too over the years. Kathy published a short version of my list on her blog. Here's a longer version.

First a bit of context. I started a blog 11 years ago to get familiar with the process and technology of blogging, for a work-related purpose. I created a blog to use temporarily as a practice blog before building the actual work blog (which is now long gone). I had no expectation of keeping Dr Sock Writes Here going, yet here I am more than 11 years later, still blogging faithfully 1 to 3 times a month.

1. I wish I had known I was going to keep on blogging for years and years, because then I would have given some thought to my blog's name and URL, which were just some silly things that I pulled out of the air because I needed a name to set up the practice blog. The original Gideon Sockpuppet was an actual hand puppet that I made of a a sock in a puppet theatre workshop when I was a teen. If I can ever find an old photo of Gideon, I'll post it on the blog. Gideon (the actual puppet) was a very opinionated fellow.

2. Once I committed to keeping the blog going, I wish I had given some thought to the purpose of my blog. It has shifted over the years. At various times, it has been a technical learning experience, a way to immerse myself in blogging culture, a writing blog, an art blog, a retirement blog, a chronicle of what I have been doing, and a soapbox for my opinions about things. Presently, it zigzags between all of those things.

3. I wish I had steeped myself in blogging culture a bit before starting my own blog. I had hardly ever read a blog before I started one. But then again, my approach allowed me to do my own thing rather than running with the herd.

4. I wish I had known that there are people out there who actually read blogs. At the beginning, I threw words into the ether with no expectation that anyone would ever read them.

5. I wish I had learned the principle of reciprocity a little faster. That is, if someone comments on your blog, it is polite to respond to their comment. And if a person who regularly comments has a blog, it is courteous to read some of their blog posts and comment if you feel inspired by what they wrote. (If you have time! There is so little time to read all the wonderful blogs in the world.)

6. I wish I had known that bloggers aren't just strangers on the other side of the world, but real people -- people with shared interests -- that you can actually meet in real life. But now I know that!

7. I wish I would have known how much enjoyment I get from regularly reading selected blogs. You can learn a lot about people, their interests and lifestyles, and other places through reading blogs.

8. I wish I had known how much time blogging would begin to take up in my life as I became more integrated into a blogging community. I presently limit how much blog writing, reading, and commenting I do so that I have time for all the other important things in my life, including my other writing, and my real-life friends and family.

9. This is not an "I wish" point, but an observation. I am endlessly fascinated with ordinary people's everyday use of writing, images, and videos on the Internet to represent themselves to the world, express their point of view, interact with other people, and form communities. Blogs are a great example of that.

10. Oops. No number 10.

Why I Blog

Why we blog and persist at it was one of the topics that we kept returning to in our conversation about blogging at our meetup. That is a big question with lots of answers. I think each of us has more than one reason that we blog. Here are a couple of my reasons.

Having a place to write down my thoughts and combine that writing with visual images was what drew me to blogging. The idea that *anyone* could have a platform for publishing that was not blocked by gatekeepers, high costs, and genre rules was appealing to me. Blogs have democratized publishing. I also like the interactive, evolving nature of blog writing.

Another big reason, and the last one I'll talk about here, is that blogging is a way of forming community. This reason brings us back to the theme of this blog post -- friendship and community.

Making Friends; Deepening Friendships

In these challenging times, we need to form communities. We need to make friends and hang onto our existing friends.

In our expanding social world, one's peer group is no longer just the people living on the few streets nearby, but potentially can include people all over the world who share work interests, hobbies, skill sets, or social concerns. It is wonderful that through online technology we can meet fascinating people whom we never would have known in earlier times. Yet, managing a whole world full of potential acquaintances can seem overwhelming. As we turn away from looking for friends among the acquaintances right around us to seeking human relationships through a much broader sphere, the process also can feel isolating.

Making friends means putting yourself out there: being in places where you'll have a chance to interact with people; taking the first step to start a conversation; engaging with someone by doing something jointly together; helping people and accepting help. Writing a blog is a way of putting yourself out there. Commenting on someone's blog is a way of socially engaging.

In the case of our blogging meetup, we took it one step further. We all knew each other to a certain extent because we had read each others' blogs. But because most of us hadn't met in person, there also were lots of things we didn't know about each other. One thing that all have in common is that we blog. The topic of blogging provided a touchstone, a shared focus that we could all weigh in on.

The topic of blogging provided an excuse to get together, just as doing yoga together, or being in a service club with others, or collaborating on a work project, or cooking together with others to prepare a holiday meal provides a way to get together with people and to come to know them better. 

Ultimately, I believe that it is not blogging per se that builds a community or develops friendships. Blogging is just a technology that extends the reach of our relationships. Rather, it is the process of sharing something of ourselves with each other, being there for each other (e.g., reading, commenting, and keeping in touch), and doing things together (in person) and for others that builds friendships.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Two Very Different Cretan Cities

Well, "cities" might not be quite the right word.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I have just returned from a yoga retreat in Crete. As well as meditating and doing lots of yoga everyday, we went on a number of excursions to explore historical and fascinating areas of Crete. The first two excursions were to the Palace of Knossos and to Matala.

The Palace of Knossos

The Minoan city of Knossos on Crete is thought to be the oldest European city. It is located only a few kilometers from Heraklion, the largest contemporary city on Crete. Probably inhabited from neolithic times, this bronze age city was the centre of Minoan civilization. The first Palace of Knossos is thought to have been built around 2000 BC, and at its height, the palace and surrounding city had a population of 100,000 people. The total inhabited area was 10 square kilometers. The palace was abandoned around 1300-1100 BC.

The Palace of Knossos is in the Middle of a Wide Valley
The Palace of Knossos was rediscovered by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Excavations began in the early 1900's. Today some sections have been restored. My photo below shows the restored north entrance. There is a fresco that depicts a charging bull partially visible behind one of the columns.

Some Sections of the Ruins Have Been Restored
The Palace of Knossos is famous in Greek mythology because of the legend of the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a creature that was half man and half bull who was kept at the centre of a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus underneath the palace on the orders of King Minos. Theseus entered the labyrinth and fought the Minotaur. Theseus was able to find his way out of the labyrinth by following the thread given to him by Ariadne, the king's daughter. Then Theseus and Ariadne fled from Crete.

A Painting of the Minotaur
I can't believe I was actually there, in this historic place I had read about in books!

On the afternoon we were there, it was very hot, or so it seemed to this northern gal. After we had wandered all over exploring the ruins, Theo gathered us together in the shade and led us in a meditation. He had us visualize entering the labyrinth. For me, this and the subsequent meditations were powerful experiences.


A few days later, we travelled to Matala on the south coast of Crete. The cliffs of Matala have many caves, ranging in size from small ones that could fit a couple of people to the ones the size of a large room. It is not known how the caves came to be there, but it is most likely that humans dug them out to use for habitation. In the 1960's hippies descended on the community and lived in the caves.

We made use of one of the caves for our daily meditation session, much to the consternation of some swallows who had nests on the cliffs.
Climbing Up to the Caves of Matala
After we came down from the caves, our group split up. I went with three others to have a cold drink in a beachfront bar. Then we explored the little town.

The hippie presence was everywhere, from the colourfully painted sidewalks, to VW vans parked all around and represented in murals, to tributes to John Lennon painted in the square.

Goofing Around with Nura

Exploring Matala

We had a lot of fun browsing in the shops. But at this point, we didn't dare buy anything because we had no suitcases in which to bring stuff home! (Click to read about the lost suitcases.)

After shopping, we went for a swim in the Libyan Sea (the part of the Mediterranean Sea south of Crete). The water was so refreshing -- a wonderful feeling on a hot afternoon. Theo's tent provided some welcome shade. 

Our Tent on the Beach with the Caves Behind

We ended the day with a beautiful dinner at the Sunset Taverna, so named because it offered a spectacular view of the sun going down. After dinner, we walked back to the beach and I took the photo below. Idyllic.

A Beautiful Sunset
But, the day was not over yet. We still had a long drive back in the dark to the place we were staying, over mountains and around hairpin turns. We stopped high on a mountaintop and all got out of the cars to look at the stars. It was an amazing day.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Retreat in Crete

Circle on the Sand
A Yoga Retreat

I have just returned from a yoga retreat in Crete. I went with my daughter, K, and it was absolutely fabulous.

I loved Crete, which I have never visited before -- the beautiful rugged island, the generous people, the turquoise water, and the delicious food. I loved the retreat, which included daily yoga practice in the morning, brunch, excursions to beaches and historical sites, daily meditation, and dinners featuring excellent local food.

Nura (our yogi) and Theo (a psychotherapist from Greece) were our fearless leaders, instructors, and tour guides. The seven participants travelled from Canada and Switzerland to take part, and they were a warm, wonderful, fun bunch of people to spend a week with. And, best of all, I got to go to Crete with my daughter!

In Crete with my Daughter
Where's The Luggage?

The first thing that happened is that our luggage did not arrive on Crete. Apparently, there was a baggage handling problem at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and 60% of the people on our flight arrived at Heraklion in Crete without their luggage. We were among them.

We arrived at 8:30 in the evening after 24 hours without sleep, to discover that our bags were not on the carousel. Theo and Nura were at the airport to pick us up, but we couldn't leave because we had to stand in a lineup for two hours to file a lost luggage report.

The next day, the luggage did not arrive either, and our yoga retreat group was leaving to drive across Crete to a remote village on the south side of the island to our retreat location. We were wearing jeans, T-shirts, socks, and running shoes from our flight the previous day that were none too fresh. Although we'd each had the foresight to put a couple of spare clothing items in our carry-on backpacks, we did not have hats, sunscreen, sandals, or light summer clothes, and it was hot there! We also didn't have our yoga clothes, yoga mats, toiletries, or bathing suits.

So, we tore around Heraklion to try to buy a few essentials, as the area where we would be staying for a week did not have stores. But it was Sunday, and everything was closed, except for a few tourist stalls. Nevertheless, we managed to find some light clothes, and, amazingly, the last store we looked in also sold bathing suits and underwear.

I had just finished publishing a blog post in which I announced that I was imposing a clothes shopping moratorium on myself. I think the universe was laughing at my good intentions!

The wonderful people at our yoga retreat were so kind, lending us yoga pants, other clothing, sunscreen, and yoga mats. I accepted that I would never see my suitcase again. I was managing to get by just fine with the little I had, and I wondered why I had thought I had needed all that stuff I'd packed in my suitcase.

And then, four days later, our suitcases showed up, having been delivered by taxi from Heraklion. A surfeit of clothing!

A Beautiful Place To Be

We stayed in a family-run inn in a tiny hamlet. It was situated across the street from the Mediterranean Sea.

Our Accommodations
In the photo of the inn above, our room was the middle blue-painted one.

Water Tap in the Stairwell
Inside our Room, and my Feet
 Every morning at 8:00 or 8:30, we did 1 1/2 hours of yoga on the terrace under the bamboo umbrellas. Then our hosts served breakfast at a long table under the umbrellas. Some days, they set up the tables right beside the sea, under the shade of big trees.

Breakfast on the Terrace
The Yoga and Meditation Sessions

I attend a weekly yoga session with Nura Madjzoub (and I also go to a yoga studio in my neighbourhood once a week). Nura takes a holistic approach, which really resonates with me. I am still a beginner, and I find that yoga has added an important dimension to my life. 

Several times a year, Nura offers yoga retreats in international locations. I was thrilled when my daughter and I committed to attend. I have never done anything like this before.
Theo Making a Funny Face

Nura collaborated with Theo Kyriakos to offer the retreat. Theo is presently based in Greece, and he was our cultural guide as well as our meditation instructor.

Nura in Front of the Temple of Apollo

Nura and Theo organized the retreat around the theme of harmony, specifically the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

They were also great fun to be with, as you can see from this photo of Nura hamming it up in front of the Temple of Apollo, and Theo making a funny face for the camera.

That's Me Doing a Headstand!
After six consecutive days of 1 1/2 hours of yoga, I was a little sore, and very tired. But I loved every minute of it.

Partner Work
After yoga and breakfast each day, we went on an excursion, either to the beach or to a historical location. After fun and frolick in the waves, Theo led us in a guided meditation. We explored our shadow side. I found the meditation experience very powerful. The meditations left me with lots of images and ideas to explore further.

Most evenings, we ate a late dinner at Taverna Kriti, a local family run restaurant, where we sat at a covered patio beside the Mediterranean. The food was fabulous. The last night, George made us a longtime family recipe: goat with wild artichokes, simmered all day in an egg yolk and lemon sauce. He raised the goats. He picked the artichokes himself up in the mountains. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of it.

I leave you with one final image that says it all: eating watermelon in the sea.

Watermelon in the Sea

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Shopping Moratorium

Tomatoes and Herbs on the Deck
Yesterday, I heard something I hadn’t heard for a long time. It was the sound of raindrops pattering down on the roof.

For the last six weeks, we have had no rain. We have been experiencing a drought. The grass outside is yellow and crunchy. The arbutus trees have been dropping their leaves. When I walk along the parched trails, I kick leaves underfoot as if it were autumn.

We live in a coastal rain forest, not the desert. So the rainfall was very welcome.

As a consequence of the drought, our area has water use restrictions. We can only water our yards and gardens for a few hours every second day. (Vegetable gardens are exempted.) We are asked not to use water to wash cars or to hose off driveways.

We have installed soaker hoses to water the shrubs. We don’t water the grass or use a sprinkler. We’ve used lawn clippings to mulch the gardens.

This is the third consecutive summer of drought in this area. Although I haven’t lived on Vancouver Island long, local people tell me that this weather pattern is atypical. The fire risk as at a high level and it is still only June.

The recent hot dry summers in this area are most likely a consequence of climate change. A recently released report on the changing climate said that Canada, especially the more northerly parts, can expect more degrees of warming than the world average, due to the climate crisis. One reason is that as the glacial ice and snow in the arctic and on the mountain tops melts and is not replenished, light from the sun will be absorbed rather than being reflected by the white snow. That will warm the land and air, causing the remaining glaciers to melt even faster.

The more I educate myself about climate change, the more worried I become. The consequences of rapid warming for human civilization, animals, and plants are dire.

But there are positive changes taking place too.

People are now talking about climate change. It is a topic in the media now, whereas for so many years the topic seemed to be avoided. Now our national broadcaster, CBC, regularly reports on climate related issues as well as solutions that individuals, communities, and various levels of government are implementing. Cities, and regional districts like mine, are developing policies and plans to reduce their carbon footprint and take action to mitigate climate change. For example, my regional district has been very proactive in developing a solid waste management approach that diverts waste from landfills. Each household recycles, sorting their household waste into compost (food and yard waste), paper products, recyclable plastics and metals, and garbage (for the landfill).

Since I last wrote about this topic, I have continued to look for additional ways to do my part to reduced my carbon footprint. Here is a list of new I initiatives I have taken in the last two months.

1. I met with my financial advisor and divested my retirement portfolio of fossil fuels. I replaced those mutual funds with funds that are investing in green technology.

2. Reduced beef/lamb in my diet to once a week.

3. Now do most of my grocery shopping at the nearest store (3 km.) to reduce driving, and if I am in the nearby city anyways, I mostly shop at a locally owned independent grocer that offers local produce, meat, and dairy products.

4. To reduce our water usage, we bought and installed more soaker hoses, we mulched the gardens, and we don’t flush the toilet overnight (ewwww).

5. I convinced my service club to offer a vegetarian alternative at the next community pancake breakfast. Now instead of pancakes and sausage, people can choose to have pancakes and fruit instead.

6. When I put away my winter clothes a few weeks ago and brought out my summer clothes, I realized I have way too many clothes. So I have implemented a shopping moratorium for myself. I will not buy any clothing, footwear, ore jewelry for myself until 2020.

I believe that as individuals make personal changes changes, we will make a difference and also inspire ourselves to change policies and practices at a broader social level.

On a totally different topic, I am heading off on an adventure with my daughter. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about it!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Animals Around Us

Upper Pond With Lotus Bloom

A Haven For Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

As I have mentioned before, we purchased our home from people who were avid gardeners. The entire backyard is beautifully landscaped with shrubs that bloom from spring until the fall, and it also has two ponds and a mini waterfall. It has several birdhouses, a bee house, a bat-house, a bird feeder, and a birdbath.

Our yard is a haven for birds, bees, and butterflies. All summer long, the blossoms are alive with buzzing bees -- bumble bees, honey bees, and other types. I am not very knowledgeable about identifying butterflies, but in the last few days, I believe I have seen both Western Tiger Swallowtail and Pale Swallowtail butterflies in our yard, and a blue butterfly that might be a Blue Copper.

As well, we have many birds. We have a pair of humming birds, one with a green head and one with a red head (a female and male pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, I think). One day when I was out in the yard wearing a red shirt, one of the hummingbirds hovered only a foot away, trying to determine if I was a large red flower, I guess. The same day, a tiny bird of an unknown species that was perched on the rose arbour a few feet from me flew over and was about to land on my head. I felt the whirring of tiny wings just above me. It realized its mistake and continued on.

The birds I recognize include American robins, varied thrushes, juncos, chickadees, and sparrows. There is a yellow bird that looks like a canary (possibly the Common Yellowthroat?), and many other little birds. There are crows, ravens, and Northern Flickers. Just the other day, a Pileated Woodpecker came by and pecked at the trunk of a Douglas fir tree just beyond the back fence. Once a Great Blue Heron paid a visit to our pond. I ran out and counted the fish, but they were all still there.

Sailing past the Douglas fir trees, we frequently see bald eagles, hawks, and sometimes a pair of turkey vultures. Presently, we believe that there is an eagle nesting in one of our Douglas fir trees. We can't make out the nest, but we hear the eagle vocalizing all day long. We've also heard the call of an owl, red winged blackbirds, and ring-collared doves.

We don't use any chemicals of any sort in our yard, and I think that is why it attracts so many species. 


Other Species in Our Yard and Nearby

Vancouver Island Deer
As well as the birds, bees, and butterflies, there are a variety of other animals that share our space. The deer are so commonplace here that I never remember to take photos of them even though I see them almost every day in our yard or around the neighbourhood. The photo above is of a pair of deer at a new house under construction down the road from us.

Bug at the Pond
There are many wild rabbits in the neighbourhood. A large white rabbit with a black spot on its eye and a smaller brown bunny spend a lot of time grazing in our yard. One day when I walked around the streets, I counted eighteen different rabbits on my walk.

One evening, I surprised two raccoons fighting (or mating?) in a nearby ditch. Our next door neighbour has been plagued by raccoons getting into her garbage but fortunately we haven't had that problem.

I've seen two different variants of garter snakes in our yard, and Rob spotted either a salamander or lizard in the garden the other day. Sometimes a little green tree frog shows itself. We have all manner of interesting insects, including June bugs, dragon flies and damselflies. As well, we have various slugs and worms, and in the pond there are snails and leeches.

Goldfish at Feeding Time
 Our lower pond has goldfish in it. I am fascinated with the goldfish, and spend lots of time watching them each day. This winter, we wondered if they had survived as we did not see them for months. But once the water warmed up in the spring, they reappeared. Most of them made it through the winter. There were thirteen fish when we first moved here two years ago, and we now have approximately twenty-eight fish. The goldfish have been having babies! The minnows are black, grey, or brown. As they mature, they turn orange. Some of the mature fish are orange and white, and one large fish is all white.
Canada Geese
I also see lots of animals in the forests around us, and in the nearby little lake and ponds. On a recent mountain bike ride, I paused for a break, and a skunk walked calmly across the path I had just ridden down. I stayed very still and watched the cute little cat-like animal stroll by. 

On my forest hikes, I often stand by one of the many ponds to see what I can see. The largest pond is home to many ducks (buffleheads, mallards). One day, the two Canada geese shown in the photo were there. They were disturbed by my presence and kept swimming back and forth in front of me, honking loudly. I went back on the trail and came out again at a different viewing spot. The two geese spotted me instantly and swam over to chase me away. That same day, I saw some Brant geese come to the pond. Brant geese are a protected species that migrate through this area in the spring. When the Brants tried to land, the Canada geese chased them away.

Clams at the Estuary
I have read that there are at least six cougar dens on this peninsula where we live. Although my son and my neighbours have seen cougars here, I haven't seen one. There is reported to be a resident bear. I haven't seen it, but I did see a bear this spring in nearby Coombs. It was on the bike path, so we took a little detour on our bicycles.

My Daughter and Oysters

Abundant Ocean

Our peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and its great abundance of life. Last week, there was a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) in the bay on the far side of the peninsula. I didn't see them, but a number of people posted pictures and videos.

There are many sea lions and seals here. In the spring and fall, from everywhere in the area you can hear sea lions barking. We have not gone fishing much, but when we went out on our friend's boat last week, Rob dropped a line. He caught and released a small ling cod. Last week, hiking along the shore with my daughter, I saw sea stars and sea anemones. We gathered some oysters and few clams.

Kate Takes a Breather
We don't have an oyster knife for shucking oysters, but we managed to shuck them using a screwdriver and one of Rob's sturdy knives. We each slurped down a couple of raw oysters, and the rest of the dozen went into a seafood chowder, along with a handful of clams. Delicious! Afterwards, we returned the shells to the beach. (Note that we carefully read the government website beforehand to make sure that we were gathering the shellfish in an area that was safe and permitted.)


The Pets

Oliver Sitting on my Legs
Of course, no blog post about animals would be complete without mentioning those important fur-covered family members, Kate and Oliver. Kate is our elderly Blue Heeler cross. She still loves her hikes and walks with me, but now I have to take it slowly and give her lots of rest breaks. She also likes to cool off along the way in a pond or the lake.

Oliver, our cat, also is elderly. He is quite hobbled with arthritis. He loves to bask in the sun, or sleep on a chair out on the deck. If we're in the yard, he follows us around. He's a very cuddly guy.


A Frog Story

A Frog in Our Pond
This spring, a frog appeared in our pond. I was thrilled to welcome this new pond resident. At first, every time I came near the pond, it jumped into the water. But after awhile, it became used to me and would just sit there blinking and sunning itself as I fed the fish.

A few days ago, I went online to try to determine what type of frog it was. We have a serious problem on Vancouver Island with an invasive species of frog, the American Bullfrog, which has been taking over wetlands and killing native species of frogs. It is a voracious predator that can eat fish, mice, painted turtles, salamanders, ducklings, and other small birds. That's why I was so excited to welcome what I thought was a native species of frog to our pond. I believed our frog was not an American Bullfrog because it was smaller than other bullfrogs I've seen, and also because it didn't produce the easy-to-identify bullfrog croak.

So, I was horrified to discover from my research that our frog was, in fact, an American Bullfrog -- a female one. Rob set up a special USB camera with a computer so we could zoom in on it to make a positive identification. Females are unable to vocalize. They can travel quite a long way to get to a pond, where they will lay up to 50,000 eggs at a time. I frantically read websites about the history of the bullfrog's introduction to the area (one website said they were brought in by restaurant owners who wanted to serve frogs' legs and when the business failed, released into the wild), watched videos of them eating all manner of things, learned that they carry amphibian pathogens, and looked at maps showing that their territory is expanding. I had a sleepless night worrying that we were harbouring an invasive species and that our pond soon would be full of bullfrog tadpoles.

Meanwhile, Rob read the frog control website to learn how to exterminate it, and then calmly followed the instructions while I refused to watch. Invasive species or not, I had become fond of "our" frog. But culling it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Rob was willing to do it. We no longer have a bullfrog in our pond.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

So Where Have You Been, Dr Sock?

I haven't posted for so long that you might have thought I'd disappeared somewhere. I've hardly been keeping up on reading my favourite blogs, either.

Good Life, Good Food
Well actually, I've been right here. I made one quick trip to northern BC, but mostly I've just been here at home, living my life.

We've had some friends and family visiting over the past month.

My brother was down here for a visit in late April.We had a great time.

Trail at the Point
We showed him some of our favourite hiking places.

Also the beach, of course!

With My Bro

We also biked the Parksville to Coombs Rail Trail there and back, with a nice stop for lunch in Coombs at the famous Goats on the Roof. It was great to get out on the mountain bikes for the first time this spring. Since then, we've cycled the Rail Trail once more, and also the trails around Enos Lake.

Intrepid Cyclists
We had a visit from my son, who has just returned from a holiday in Barbados. We're looking forward to a visit from my daughter next week.

Our friend Cliff has been visiting too. Last week, we spent an afternoon out on Cliff's ranger tug cruising along beaches and around islands.

Ahoy Captain!
At the Marina
Livin' The Dream
Easter was a big hit with the grandkids. I can explain it in one word: chocolate!

Face Paint and... Chocolate!
My Booth at the Spring Showcase

The last weekend of April, my art group hosted a Spring Showcase. It was well attended and we had a number of guest artists join us this year. You can read more about it here.

The weekend after the art show, I attended a writers' conference. Several members of my writers' group went as well.

I've also been busy with volunteering activities. I volunteer a couple of times a month at my grandson's preschool. Our service group hosted a community Easter Egg Hunt. We also joined the Broombusters' initiative, and spent an afternoon cutting scotch broom around the community centre. Broom is an invasive plant in our area that suppresses native species, is toxic to other plants and animals, and creates a fire hazard. Invasive species are the second greatest cause of loss of species diversity around the world.

Rob Cutting Broom

During April, I spent three weeks participating in the Drawdown Eco-challenge. Participants' focus during the eco-challenge was to commit to making personal changes to reduce their individual impact on global warming. I chose two daily challenges: to eat two meatless meals a day, and to walk daily in nature. As well I completed several one-time challenges, including: creating a compost bin in my yard, mulching trees and shrubs, learning about electric vehicles, learning about heat pumps, and donating to purchase clean cook-stoves in developing countries. There were many options to choose from, including challenges that involved collaborating with community groups or communicating with local leaders to influence environmental policies.

The Drawdown organization eco-challenge that I participated in is not the only chance to get involved. There is a July challenge to go plastic-free. There are also a number of other groups doing great work to reduce global warming and to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as and Blue Dot. I plan to continue to educate myself and to make changes to reduce my carbon footprint. I have come to understand that the human race has reached a critical juncture and that we need to make sweeping changes now if we want to leave a liveable planet for our children and grandchildren.

I haven't been giving the garden the attention it deserves, but somehow it still manages to look beautiful. My potato, strawberry, and tomato plants are thriving, as are the pots of herbs. However, I can't seem to get the spinach to grow. Bunnies, perhaps?