I Inadvertently Drew an Invasive Species (and ended up reporting it)

Drawing of orange hawkweed

The invasive orange hawkweed

On a day off this week we tootled up to Squamish with our mountain bikes to ride Farside – a tight series of techy little trails strewn with rocks and roots that bounce you off in all directions if you’re not on your game, and tired, as we were.

It’s a pretty area though, as were the tiny orange and reddish flowers I noticed, scattered amongst the grass at the head of the trails. They caught my drawing eye and I couldn’t resist plucking one stem to take home. (Instant disclaimer here, I know that sounds bad, and it is, but it’s the first time I’ve ever picked what I thought might be a wildflower; they seemed daisyish, i.e common, growing in a semi-rural area behind a housing estate, so I figured they weren’t fully fledged precious wildflowers – however I admit I didn’t know what they were so the excuse is lame).

Once home I propped the stem in a jar of water and had to wait until the next day to draw them – the flowers had endearingly closed their petals for the night.

A couple of hours work the following day and I had my drawing. But I had no clue what the flowers were exactly. An exhaustive search on the internet revealed nothing at first (I was looking for native flowers) until I reframed the question and there it was, orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum): native to parts of Europe but considered highly invasive here in British Columbia. It’s a feisty plant, spreading rapidly, starving out space for native plants, thereby reducing foraging for local wildlife. Dog walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers are encouraged to report any sightings of the plant and its location. Sigh.

I dutifully fired off an email to the local Invasive Species Council, indicating where we saw the flowers and admitting I had a stem of the pests sitting in our apartment. I was surprised how quickly they got back to me, thanking me for letting them know and sternly (my guilty interpretation) directing me to place the flowers in a sealed bag and take them to a transfer station or landfill – most definitely NOT to put them in the compost.

Sometimes things become way more complicated than you expect.

They are pretty flowers though.

 

Our daily impact on the planet

What can we do to lessen the detrimental impact of our consumer based lives on this small blue planet hurtling through space, our sole source of nourishment and life?

It seems like a reasonable question to ask on Earth Day and one I’m almost constantly pondering lately. It’s basically a rabbit hole. The more you look, the deeper you go, the more there is to do, or undo. It’s overwhelming, but it seems pretty clear that we don’t really have a choice. I love to explore new places, but what’s the environmental cost of that indulgence? I appreciate two skiers/filmmakers who attempt to confront the question in this thought-provoking short film:

Another huge issue: plastic. As if large plastics in oceans, rivers and streams choking the wildlife weren’t bad enough (bottles, nets, toys etc) disturbing studies also reveal high levels of plastic microfibers, including in our drinking water. As it turns out my good ol’ fleece jacket  – which keeps me warm on cold nights sitting by a campfire as I listen to the wind in the trees – sheds a significant amount of microfiber each time I wash it. I’ve bought a Guppyfriend bag in an effort to address this problem, use only cold water and less detergent (mitigating the wear on fabric) and wash my synthetics less often – but that’s only a tiny part of the solution. I look for fair-trade, pesticide-free, natural fiber clothing, but apart from a few select suppliers and stores – which are often quite expensive – it isn’t always that easy, for now at any rate. I think I may have to learn to knit.

Back to the bigger plastics, such as packaging. We’ve been sourcing stores and markets where we can refill our containers. This has been somewhat successful as we haven’t bought bags or containers of rice, oats, flour, body lotion and laundry soap for a few weeks now. We’ve bought glass jars for dried food and have been using the original containers for laundry, dish soap and body lotion – at least it delays recycling the containers for longer.

I’m not sure how much good I’m doing, it feels like a drop in the ocean – so to speak – but you have to start somewhere.

Time we planted a tree.

Happy Earth Day.

An Apple a Day

Drawing an apple with coloured pencils

Apple. The kind you can eat.

I knew it would be challenging drawing an apple, reds are tricky. I rejected my first attempt, it looked like a red and green pumpkin. That had stomach ache. Relatively happy however with the choice of coloured pencils on the second try.

I Took a Snowball to the Face Today

Snowy forests, snowshoeing

Snowy delight

It wasn’t a soft, fluffy, floating gently away on a gossamer breeze snowball either – that would have been funny. It was a compact, hard, icy, mean one thrown with force.

It happened last Friday. I was on my way to catch my bus home after work, absorbed in  thought – or oblivious to my surroundings – when I felt something hit the left side of my face. I doubled over in pain, clutching my face with both hands. It’s weird when you have no idea what just happened but your brain is already trying to put the pieces together. Wet, cold, pain. An image of two young guys, twentyish, laughing. One throwing his arm back and forward, another swerving away at the last minute. And then bam!

Once I’d realized what had happened, I turned around and yelled. ‘Are you ****ing kidding me!?’ (not my finest moment). As they gathered more lumps of wet icy snow to throw at each other I yelled again: ‘don’t do it, it really hurt!’. I must admit, I sounded very Bridget Jonesy. In moments of stress my Englishness seeps out a bit more.

‘Sorry, sorry, hahahah!’.

They weren’t malicious guys, just oblivious, everyone loves a snowball fight/game, but still! Infuriatingly I had to put an ice pack on my throbbing face when I got home – by then my lower eyelid had started to swell up. I should’ve just rolled around face down in the snow outside our home.

Random stuff.

I was sick for nearly a month from mid-January into February. A whole month with the flu. This foul bug landed in my throat and sinuses and took up residence. A headache every night for two weeks, fever and chills – I could barely move. I felt decrepit, and weak. Missing playing in the snow, feeling any conditioning I had seeping away. I was a bit tentative on the first day back to any real activity since getting sick– snowshoeing last week on Hollyburn Mountain, a great spot for both cross country skiing and snow shoeing at Cypress Mountain Resort– but it felt good to move. And again yesterday in Cypress Provincial Park, a greyer day but still wonderful to feel myself puffing up a hill, pushing my body to work, breathing in snow scented air. It’s a great area to explore; quiet on the trails, stunning viewpoints with (at the moment) perfect snow conditions.

Hollyburn Mountain, cross country trails

Looking across cross country trails, Hollyburn Mountain

Snowshoeing Cypress Mountain

Happy to be snowshoeing, Cypress Provincial Park

Gray jay

A cheeky gray jay perched on a snowshoe pole

Steller's jay begging for food

Steller’s jay

snowy tree

Frozen needles

snow crystals

Snow crystals

snowy winter snow shoe scene

Fell over in the snow, this time the impact was fun!

Gilbert White, Selborne and a hangover

‘I feel sick’.

We stepped onto the station platform at Liss with our bikes, the sky a non-committal slosh of grey, damp air pungent with the possibility of some real rain. Ten minutes on the train had cut out an hour on busy main roads but I wondered if I might have felt better cycling, even with exhaust fumes blasting into my face. Probably not.

The combination of Chinese takeout the night before – I suspect msg – and mixing red and white wine had created the perfect storm of shattering headache and churning stomach that made levering myself out of bed unthinkable. But we were due to head back to Canada in two days and this was the last chance to head to Selborne, a pretty village (is there any other kind in the South Downs?) and lifelong home of the Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793), considered England’s first ecologist and revered ‘founding father’ of modern scientific recording – Darwin claimed he ‘stood on the shoulders’ of White. He’s probably best known for the Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, a publication that has never been out of print. That’s quite something.

‘I think I have to sit down’. Steps away from the station, we spotted a wooden bench set on a tiny triangle of grass. A scattering of trees swayed in the gentle breeze, a small stream flowed by under a bridge. Soothed, my stomach slowly settled down. Gingerly I remounted my bike and we headed out of town, looking for our turn-off to the village. We overshot it, but not by much, and once we’d doubled back found ourselves once again on narrow, quiet lanes.

English country lanes

Quiet lanes

Thankfully it was one of the easiest days of riding we’d had in over two weeks of cycle touring in England last June. The hills were gentle, the route easy to find, the temperature neither too warm nor too cold despite the low clouds. It was all very bucolic. We inhaled the scent of wild garlic growing in clumps by the road and occasionally stopped to look at the view across fields and woods. We barely saw any cars. A cyclist waved as he rode past in the opposite direction. Reassured by the relative solitude of our ride I climbed over a five-barred gate for a quick nature break in a field behind a sheltering hedgerow.

It was just as peaceful when we arrived in Selborne and stashed our bikes outside The Wakes,  once the home of White, now a museum dedicated not only to the pioneering naturalist and ornithologist, but also somewhat oddly to Frank Oates, a Victorian explorer, and his nephew Captain Lawrence Oates, a member of the catastrophic Antarctica expedition led by Captain Robert Scott. When a public appeal failed to raise enough money to secure the house as a museum commemorating White, Robert Washington Oates, cousin of Captain Oates, offered to buy the house on condition that there should also be an Oates Museum within the building. Somehow the juxtaposition of the two elements didn’t feel as jarring as it had seemed at first.

Museum of Gilbert White

Gilbert White's house and gardens

‘The Wakes’, Gilbert White’s home.

In a very English manner we refuelled with quiche, sandwiches and a pot of tea in the genteel Tea Parlour before wandering around the house and gardens. The sense that this was a home that had been much loved, unpretentious, lived in and peaceful permeated throughout. Sweeping lawns flowed down to grassy fields, themselves backed by ‘hangers’, ancient wooded hillsides. Vegetable patches, flower beds and an orchard made up the rest of grounds – with design curiosities tucked away here and there, like the ‘statue’ of Hercules, actually a picture painted on board.

cardboard cutouts for statues, Gilbert White

Ingenious ‘statue’ of Hercules

Gilbert White gardens

A very English garden

We spent a peaceable time ambling around the grounds, quietly exploring in a way that I silently speculated to myself White would have approved of. Inside the house we read about his life, peeked into his sparse bedroom and at the original manuscript of a Natural History of Selborne on display. We paid a visit to the local church just across the road from his home where White is buried. A simple grave in a simple churchyard overlooking the countryside White loved so much.

Gilbert White's bedroom

Bedroom of Gilbert White. The embroidered bedspread and bed hangings were stitched by his aunts.

It was an unhurried visit to the home of someone who lived their life with great sensitivity and a keen observation of their surroundings. By the time we left for the ride back I felt restored. A day spent riding country lanes and wandering around a garden will do that.

A statue in the gardens of Gilbert White

‘Hercules’ backed by a hanger

It is, I find, in zoology as it is in botany: all nature is so full, that that district produces the greatest variety which is the most examined ~ Gilbert White

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B is for Beetroot

Drawing of a beetroot

Beetroot

I’m jumping all over the alphabet here, not that I considered drawing in any kind of order, that would be expecting a bit too much of myself. I’m chaotic at best with my illustration workflow, something to get to grips with (perhaps) as the New Year begins. It would be fun to eventually draw an A-Z of fruit and vegetables. I’ve covered a few letters: C for carrot, or P for prune plum for instance. Some I’ve been happier with than others of course, but that’s par for the course. The important thing is to keep drawing – and writing, taking photographs and playing in the great outdoors – that’s my aim. In the meantime it’s time for a cup of tea and a fresh-baked ginger cookie, or two, straight out of the oven.

Happy New Year!

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Tofino, British Columbia

‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin’-William Shakespeare.

Photo album of a two night visit to Tofino, on the West Coast of British Columbia.

This is just a small selection of photos from far too many I took. We just got back from Tofino and I’m already missing the rhythmic sound of ocean waves at night, the cool damp air, the mulchy squish of forest floor underfoot. No traffic (I realized the constant sound of traffic makes me angry). Surfers braving the frigid water. A fireplace to read by as we sprawled out on the sofa in our cosy suite. Spray from blowholes off the shoreline indicating the presence of whales. Wolf and bear territory. Nature.

Kelp on Long Beach, Tofino

Kelp on Long Beach

Sea vegetation, Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Sea vegetation, Mackenzie Beach

Sea anemone, Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Sea anemone, Mackenzie Beach

Tree lichen, Tofino

Tree lichen

Driftwood, Chesterman Beach, Tofino

Washed up tree rolling around in the waves at Chesterman Beach

Author at work taking photos

Sneaky shot of me by Scott

photo of photograher poring over camera

And I took a sneaky one of him!

shorebirds on Long Beach

Shorebirds on Long Beach

Seagull flying, Long Beach

Seagull in flight, Long Beach

Beach and sky merge, Long Beach, Tofino

In the other direction beach meets sky, Long Beach

Evening sun at Long Beach, Tofino

Late afternoon at Long Beach

surfers, Long Beach, Tofino

Low-key surfing as the sun sinks, Long Beach

Taking photos of waves at Florencia Beach, Tofino

Taking photos at Florencia Beach. Photo by Scott

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Carrot and Stick

The stick was my admitting that I needed to get drawing again – once I’d said it publicly I felt compelled to get on with it, knowing I would feel guilty if I didn’t. The carrot is, well, the carrot. I’ve started to draw again and it feels good. Or maybe the carrot is the number of new coloured pencils I felt were necessary to treat myself to. Either way.

Drawing of a carrot

Carrot

There’s a quote attributed to Jim Davis, but I’m not sure if it came directly from his mouth or via that of his creation, Garfield: ‘vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie’. I like it.

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Monarch of the Glen – Getting Inspired to Draw Again

‘Writer’s block’, a ‘dry spell’, ‘a creative slowdown’…..there’s multiple ways to describe periods spent unable or unwilling to write. But what’s the equivalent for drawing and illustration? ‘Creative block’ I suppose. There are so many distractions around and subjects calling for our attention that it’s easy to neglect those very things that nourish us.

I’ve been circling (ugh, no pun intended) around drawing for a while now. And feeling terribly guilty for not getting stuck into it. Not sure why, since I enjoy it so much once I get going. Probably because I also know it’s good for my psyche to do it. It’s like eating well, you know it’s good for you, it makes you feel much better for it, so when you go off the rails too much (I’m looking at you milk chocolate) you feel sheepishly guilty for letting yourself down.

It was a good kick in the pants then when I stumbled on an article on the BBC about Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen (a bit of a dispute about where he painted the iconic masterpiece). It reminded me of something I drew years ago in school during one of our weekly art classes, just practicing with a pencil. My mum found it stuffed in my art folder back home, the paper a bit creased, and sent along a photo of it. Reminds me of how I used to draw without thinking too much about it too much, not worrying if it was ‘perfect’ or not. I love that sense of looseness and freedom when you care about creating something but not so much that it stifles you. What you end up with might be a bit rough, but no less satisfying for it.

drawing of Monarch of the Glen

Monarch of the Glen

Time to pick up those pencils again…..

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Wild Camping (sort of) in the Nicola Valley

mountain biking near Merritt

Autumnal riding

‘Can you hear the coyotes yipping?’ Scott asked. I turned my head slightly from where it was buried in his warm shoulder, freeing my left ear from the sleeping bag pulled up to nearly the top of my head.

‘Yes, wow, there’s so many’.

Not only were the coyotes out in full force, but an owl kept up a consistent ‘whoo whoo’; good hunting I guess by the light of the three-quarter full moon. Or perhaps the wild creatures were less hesitant to make themselves heard, claiming back more of their territory as the camping season died down with the approach of late autumn. I snuggled deeper into the layers of sleeping bag, old duvet and mounds of clothes we’d thrown on top of ourselves in the freezing night. Dressed in fleece pants, thermal tops and socks we were just about warm enough in our tiny lightweight tent. The moon lighting up the flimsy grey nylon made it seem as if it was permanently twilight.

tent and bikes camping outside Merritt

Our tiny tent, and bikes, with loo roll attached! Biodegradable and burnable!

Earlier, as dusk started to fall, we’d heard what sounded like a curious cross between a grunt and a rasping cough. Spooked, we’d all looked around sharply at where the noise came from, just behind us in a small grove of trees. Images of bears and mountain lions padded through our minds but the odd sound came from high off the ground. Later we heard it from treetops on the opposite side from where we’d camped. Perhaps another owl?

We hadn’t expected it to be so cold, but it was beautiful. Looking out of the tent in the early dawn the creeping light glistened off a hard frost. I was glad of all the warm clothing we’d brought for wild camping in the backcountry, in mid autumn near Lundbom Lake outside of Merritt in the Nicola Valley of British Columbia. In an area significantly higher than sea level, I knew it would be chilly during the night at the very least.

We’d arrived early the morning before, following detailed instructions, and found my sister, brother-in-law and their two dogs warming themselves around a robust fire. Tucked up an innocuous dirt road away from a nearby forestry campground, we revelled in the space and quiet away from others. There was no rush to change into mountain bike gear – part of the reason we were out here was to discover flowy trails in more open country, very different from the coastal riding we’re used to. Eventually though, after chomping through some mammoth sandwiches and donning all the cold weather gear we’d brought with us, we set off on a thoroughly leisurely ride.

open grasslands, near Merritt

Sun peeking out

Gorgeous autumnal colours drenched the landscape – all browns, yellows and fading greens. We rode through soft dirt and stones, loosened by horses hooves throughout the year, the sun chasing the clouds. I could feel my lungs working a little harder, that above sea level thing again, plus we were both getting over a bad cold, but it was worth the raspy breathing and constant nose blowing we had to endure. I’d never been to this area before and I loved it. We rode for three hours, not long really but enough to give us a taste of this open country.

mountain bike trails, Merritt

Interesting mountain bike trail names

Huddled around a huge fire later as dark fell we ate far too much, washing the food down with a good bottle of red (natch) wine and several beers. Even with the moon we could see the Milky Way; we sat craning our necks for ages staring at the night sky, one of my favourite pastimes.

fire at night, camping

Relaxing around the fire

It was only one night away, but enough to fill up with the freshest of air. And good timing too, the evening after we left it started to snow.

 

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