Posts tagged outdoors

Forecast Interpretation 101

Today was a leisurely Saturday. This morning, without an alarm set, we eventually made our way downstairs to enjoy delicious home-roasted coffee and indulge in a few chapters of our books (typical weekend fare at the Queendom). Before the morning slid by, FM pulled up a local weather forecast and announced that a big wind storm was headed our way. With predicted wind gusts of over 100 km/hour, we decided that we had better head out soon for a run and enjoy the dry, overcast weather while it lasted. We figured that we could get a few hours of trail running in before heading home to brace for the imminent power outage and fallen tree event.

As we ran, the weather began to change and we were both soaked to the skin by the end. As we drove home, we noticed occasional snowflakes accompanying the rain on the windshield.

Funny. Snow was not part of the forecast.

Soon after arriving home, stoking the fire and donning dry clothes, the snow flurries truly began. With the temperature hovering just at the 0° C mark, rain and snow seemed to intermingle for the whole afternoon. But there was barely a breath of wind.

Twelve hours later, there were about 5 cm of snow accumulations on the ground and still no wind. 36 hours later, we had another 5 cm layer of snow but still no wind. The torrential windstorm that had forecasters running for shelter never materialized. Instead we have been treated to occasional snow flurries punctuated by crystal clear skies.

This type of forecasting seems to be typical here in The Valley. For two years we have searched but not yet found an accurate place to check on the upcoming weather. We have found four different sources of weather forecasts which often predict different weather, but none is ever accurate. One site even claims “A poor time for outdoor activities” every single day! Really!

The good part is that most forecasts err on the dismal side. They show a week of rain coming our way but, in reality, the rain never comes or comes in short spurts.

When we lived in the Lower Mainland, the forecast always predicted rain and it was always right. Rain clouds would roll in and would actively rain for weeks at a time. But here, on the island, in the valley, the weather is completely unpredictable. No one is able to predict the amounts of snow, the gusts of wind or the number of  beautiful sunrises each week.

The lesson is, if you want to know what the weather is, look out your window. If you are heading out on an adventure, prepare for everything, because that is what you will get. Don’t wait for some website to claim that it is a good day for outdoor activities because you will never leave the couch.

So with candles, snow shovels and raincoat at the ready, I am off to stoke the hot tub fire in anticipation of the storm! Or maybe we’ll get a glimpse of that fabulous full moon!

** next day update ** While we soaked in the hot tub last night, the stars came out and the moonlight brightened the snow-covered grass but still no wind storm. Some forecasts still predict its arrival but, I for one, am not holding my breath.

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Dreams DO Come True

A hot tub.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a nightly soak in a hot tub, in my backyard, under the stars with my FM. I have dropped hints, both subtle and flamboyant, but a hot tub never seemed to be high on the priority list. This desire began long before the Queendom was a twinkle in our eyes. In fact, my first suggestion of a hot tub came over 10 years ago when we first bought our home in Delta. Having chosen a house with no hot tub, I thought that the addition of one would be a fantastic 10th Wedding Anniversary gift to ourselves. But our nuptials that year were celebrated in high style with a running adventure across Peru and no funds were left for a backyard  tub.

It has become a bit of an inside joke between FM and me. We allude to it as we do our ‘five year plan’ or other future improbabilities (like raising goats, acquiring a back-hoe or taking a hot-air balloon ride). But when we moved to the Queendom, suddenly a hot tub became a real possibility. Our home has a lovely wrap-around deck, under the eaves of the roof, where we can chicken-watch, barbeque and admire the pond, but it cries out for a more expansive deck where we could dine and lounge in our spare time (haha!). But more than anything, it NEEDS a hot tub.

Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, FM directed my attention to a hot tub website. Alumi-Tubs are wood-fired hot tubs. The tubs are made of aluminium and have a deep firebox which is set in the water with heat-exchanger tubes, a safety fence and a chimney. It has cedar panelling around the exterior, giving it the look of a cedar tub but with none of the maintenance. It requires no electricity and, best of all, it is made in Sechelt, BC – only about 90 minutes drive and two ferry rides away from us.

This is not our place but it is the type of tub we just acquired!

By the end of the day, it was decided. We would pick up our new tub two weeks later, during our weekend adventure in that area, and bring it home with us on our flat-bed trailer. Eric and Wendy, the owners and manufacturers of the tubs, greeted us at their home and gave us a quick tutorial on setting up and using the tub. Together we rolled it onto the trailer and were on our way.

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A perfect fit! Homeward Bound!

When we got home, we simply rolled it off the trailer onto our driveway and filled it up with water. About halfway full, our water shut off and we realized that we had completely emptied our well (oops!). Giving barely a second thought to the repercussions of that problem, we soldiered on with the task at hand. We managed to fill the rest of the tub with water from our pond. (And now we know that our well holds approximately 250 gallons of water) By the end of the day, we were soaking in its luxurious warmth! (we only managed to raise the water temperature to about 97F so it wasn’t really very warm!)

Right now, it is sitting where we first placed it, in our driveway, since we have not quite built the fabulous deck I spoke of earlier in this post. We also have not put on the cedar-panelling or made a proper, insulated cover. These things will take time and our design ideas are numerous. Perhaps next summer?? Luckily it is quite portable and we can simply empty it and roll it anywhere we fancy. We purchased a submersible pump and water filter so that we can easily use our pond water to fill it, rather than our precious drinking water from our now replete well.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

We are willing to push the 'trailer trash' look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We are willing to push the ‘trailer trash’ look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We have used the hot tub every day since we got it, save one day of terribly inclement weather. We have almost mastered getting the water to reach 104F in the late evening after lighting the fire upon coming home from work. We have even had a few nights where it was too hot! FM has expressed his surprise at how much he enjoys our evening star-gazing sessions. It took twenty years to convince him but now the fun begins!

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Build It and They Will Come

Last year, we had a flock of swallows pass through the Queendom, but their stay was short. I really only remember them visiting for a day or two, swooping and eating thousands of bugs during their short visit. I was ever-hopeful that they would stay and eat pond insects all summer long. But alas, they carried on their migration and weren’t seen again.

Definitely a Violet-Green Swallow on the hydro wire.

Definitely a Violet-Green Swallow on the hydro wire.

This year, once again, they made their stop at the Queendom, but this time FM was ready to take action. The day that we noticed them darting around, FM headed into the shop with swallow nest box measurements and, as quickly as you can say “Are those Violet-Greens or Trees?”, he had produced the ideal nesting box and had mounted it at the roofline of the workshop.

Within an hour or two, a couple of pairs of Violet-Green Swallows were checking out the new digs. One would hang out on the exposed roof rafters while the other went inside and peeked out to report.

This is a one-bedroom fly-up loft with a fabulous view and its only a short flight to fine dining.

This is a one-bedroom fly-up loft with a fabulous view and it’s only a short flight to fine dining.

We were sure that our new neighbours had come to roost. But, unfortunately, they didn’t jump at the opportunity. A week went by with barely a sighting.

Swallows

Awaiting residents

Just yesterday, while having some quality Chick Time, I noticed that the swallows were back. And this morning, there is a flurry of nest-building going on inside the new house. In fact, it seems that two pairs of Violet-Green swallows are getting very territorial about the new real estate. FM has plans to build another nesting box to accommodate the other couple. We are very hopeful that a new crop of insect-eating machines will hatch just in time for mosquito season and that they will return for years to come. Stay tuned!

And we have take-off!

And we have take-off!

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Left For Dead (almost)

It was a glorious sunny Saturday and we spent the entire day outdoors, either reading and sipping coffee on the porch, admiring our free-ranging chicks or puttering about the Queendom. But all afternoon, we were bombarded by the screeching of two adult Ravens. The screeching seemed to be mostly taking place over the back fence of our property but these ravens circled and cried from a wide variety of treetops in the neighbouring properties as well.

Around 4 pm, FM went on a fact-finding mission. As he wandered along the back fence, the ravens’ cries became much more alarmed. As expected, we soon spotted a baby raven, a fledgling, hopping along a pile of fallen trees on the far side of our pond. Taking heed to its parents warnings, it hopped and attempted to fly away but ended up in the pond. With wings a-flapping, it managed to climb onto the shore and hid at the base of a tree. FM skirted widely around the fledgling and retreated to the house. We surmised that the little one must have either fallen out of her nest or was just a slow learner when it came to flying. The screeching calls lessened as the evening wore on and we didn’t give it much more thought.

The next morning, I awoke from a lovely lie-in and looked out onto the pond just as FM, in his house coat, was walking purposefully across the island bridge, carrying a big black bird by one wing tip. It was the baby raven. FM had been trying to read on the front porch but those adult ravens were cawing so ferociously, it had caused one of our resident mama ducks to panic. FM went to investigate and found the baby raven completely submerged in the pond with only part of her head out of the water. He pulled her from the pond and found that she was completely stiff and most likely drowned.

As he set her on our kitchen porch, we tried to figure out what had happened. We looked for a wound or some indication that she had been killed by a mink or raccoon, but we could find nothing. She was completely rigid, as if rigor mortis had already set in. Her neck was at an unnatural angle, tilted up so high that her head lay on her back. We looked at each other, both thinking “what do we do with a dead baby raven?”.

And at that moment, her wing twitched. She wasn’t dead but she was well on her way. She must have accidentally flown back into the pond either last night or this morning. We can only guess how long she must have been stuck in the pond water, struggling to swim to the edge and eventually submerging with exhaustion with her wings fully spread. She had managed to keep her beak above the water level but that made her neck cramp and stiffen as she became hypothermic.

FM picked her up and we walked far away from the pond, onto a grassy section of our front yard. We set her down, got a micro-fibre towel and focused on drying her chest down as much as possible. Then we left her, upside-down, stiff and spread eagled, in the full morning sunlight in the middle of the grass.

For the next 30 minutes, we kept our distance, sipped our coffee, watched her and listened to the wild cawing of her parents. They were keenly aware that we were touching their baby but they never dive-bombed us. We looked up to see the baby on her back, still stiff and spread-eagled, but kicking and struggling to move. When we got closer, we could see her eyes looking sharp and bright. FM got a small cloth and covered her eyes in hopes of reducing her sense of panic. Her down had dried and she was looking much more bird-like. She had a bit of mobility in her wings and, with help, was able to fold them. Again we left her to warm up in the sun.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

Soaking wet and completely stiff with cold, we set her down in the full sunlight. We towel dried her as much as possible and covered her head in an attempt to calm her while her feathers and down dried.

A while later when we checked on her, she was clawing at the air and flaring her tail. As we approached, she made her first noise – a loud and alarmed caw. She was unable to right herself and kept rolling onto her back. Her feet were flailing around, trying to get a hold of anything. I put my finger on her foot and soon found that her grip was very strong! I picked her up and repositioned her but she was still unable to hold herself upright. I tucked the various blankets under her breast and managed to prop her up, manually placing her feet under her. Her position wasn’t stable and I thought that she would probably topple over so we left her to get a larger towel that could support her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

45 minutes later, we found her mostly dry but upside down and panicky. She was unable to right herself so we propped her up on the towels and got her feet underneath her.

From the kitchen, we could hear her calling out and soon her parents returned and began call back. Before we could even get a towel, she began hopping away.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

As we watched her from the kitchen porch, she suddenly stood up, started calling out to her parents and hopped across the grass, down the driveway and across the road.

She hopped towards taller grass and small shrubs and then began her trek down the driveway, with her parents encouraging her all the way. We last saw her at the end of our drive on her way towards the 25 acre property across our not-busy street.

What an amazing thing to witness! Surely she would have died if FM had not pulled her from the pond. Her miraculous recovery, from drowning and hypothermic to regular chick, took all of two hours. That’s another win for the Queendom!

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A Makeover for Our Pond

The pond is the crowning jewel of the Queendom. Our front room looks out over it and, from the comfort of our couches, we can watch the birds, ducks and other beasts who frequent its tranquil waters. It is approximately 1 acre in size and is home to salamanders, water scorpions, at least three species of frogs, thousands of aquatic bugs and, most recently, a red-eared slider turtle. FM and I have spent many a summer evening floating around it in our inflatable dingy, enjoying lemony G&Ts.

When we arrived, there was a pathetic-looking sunken dock that the previous owners built to encourage swimming and launch kayaks. The dock was fixed to the shore and could only be accessed by negotiating a steep, slippery bank. As the water level changed throughout the year, the dock varied in its level of submersion.

Barely Afloat

Barely Afloat (no surprise, considering the downpour!)

Sometimes it appeared to float, tempting you to venture out onto it, only to have your weight cause the entire far-end to sink and cast you off balance. From quite early on, FM and I decided that the dock was a hazard and we chose not to use it.

Neither useful or beautiful, this dock had to go.

Neither useful nor beautiful, this dock had to go.

But the dock had one redeeming feature – ducks and birds love it. A mama Mallard taught her brood of 13 to clamber up onto it and preen in the sun.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A kingfisher used it to spot salamanders.

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A female Kingfisher rests between feedings.

A Lesser Yellowlegs rested there during a migration.

A sandpiper stopped by on his migration in 2012 and 2013

A Lesser Yellowlegs stopped by on his migration in both 2012 and 2013

An enormous American Bullfrog sunned himself there (until he was humanely evicted).

This is an invasive species of frog that is descimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

This is an invasive species of frog that is decimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

The fact that the dock was water-logged, sat barely at the water level and a bit of an eye-sore made it useless to us but enticing to many others.

On a sunny day in the fall, when the pond level was low, FM somehow managed to pull the dock out of the pond. We let it sit on the bank and dry out for sometime. Next, the decking boards were removed from the frame in the beginnings of a complete demolition. But, as it sat there on the shore and we kept looking at it through the winter rains, we realized that the dock frame was the right length to make a perfect bridge over to our inaccessible island.

By using a number of round pencil posts, I was able to roll the whole dock frame over to the narrowest crossing and, together, we were able to muscle it into place without falling in. The decking boards were reattached and *alakazam* we finally had access to the island.

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

In no time at all, we were digging up that colony of alders, tending a bonfire and making plans for an island sitting area.

But what about the ducks and birds that used the dock? FM had the ingenious idea of building a waterfowl viewing platform that we could see from inside the house. Initially he attempted to pull out the one post that had secured the dock but he was not able to extricate it from the muddy clay bottom of the pond. He decided to build a simple cedar plank platform with a hole in the center which fit over that post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

Et voila – the waterfowl viewing platform came to be. Already we have had a family of wood ducklings and another family of Merganser ducklings snuggle and sleep there under their doting mothers.

A female Wood Duck with 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

This female Wood Duck with her 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

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The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:

Pros

unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined

Cons

unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

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