Saturday, January 30, 2021

Beech Holiday


 I miss going to our local Pacific Northwest Beaches.


I miss the meditation of walking on the beach.



When our child was small we stayed at a motel on the beach on the east side of Vancouver Island. It was called the Driftwood Inn and it was simple, clean and cheap. We walked on the beach and ate simple meals. My favourite kind of holiday. The motel closed down not long after we left. As if it was a magical chimera and hadn’t really every existed at all. 

We hardly ever went on holidays.




 On my walks I look for fungi instead of shells and today I found a crenellated pink fungus that looks like something you’d find clinging to a rock in a tide pool. There is something so human about its undulating folds. The fleshy texture relates to human skin, maybe an internal organ, frenula, vulva, the roof of one’s mouth, or the interior of a yawning cat’s mouth. I found it in a beech tree, along with insect holes and some shrivelled candlesnuff fungus reaching out with wizened fingers. There is one hole that had been filled with plant matter and then punctured by a parasite, leaving a smaller hole. 

This cavity is almost like a little altar in a decaying part of the tree. An offrenda of decaying leaves.


I’m drawn back to this tree and its treasures. I dream about it. It has cast its spell on me, whispered its secret stories and now I am its acolyte.




Thursday, January 28, 2021

Desire Paths: Following your wild heart



It was a magical moment: I saw this witch hazel bush blooming from one block away glowing in the winter sunlight. I felt drawn towards it as if pulled by my heart strings.


Talk about fireworks! These electric pompoms are dazzling. They also have a light and heady fragrance.I was so thankful for the gardener that planted this witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane') on a public boulevard.


At the base of the  shrub, the leaves have dropped in a neat pile, providing a lovely background to the lower branches.


The big question I'm asking myself there days is "how do you increase your capacity for forming relationships with the natural world?". 


As I go on my nature walks, I remind myself to keep my heart open for these kinds of magical encounters--to let myself have the luxury of following "desire paths" along the way. As an insect and herbaceous plant fan, I often find myself scanning the scene from eye level down to the ground, but since I've started exercising in parks, I am seeing things from different perspectives. As I kneel at the base of a tree to stretch I see small oval holes that insects have bored into the base of the tree. As I reach up to the sky to lengthen my spine I see the full height and majesty of the glorious cedar.



If I wouldn't have looked down, I would have missed the little "mouse tails" peeking out of the Douglas pine cones. If I hadn’t looked way up I would have missed the silhouette of their branches and pine needles against the sky. If I hadn’t turned my attention upwards today I wouldn’t have seen two bald eagles: an adult passing through on its way to false creek and a juvenile that perched in a nearby tree, alarming the neighbourhood gulls and crows.


I also need to keep the nattering inner thoughts at bay so I can hear what's around me: the soft mew of a spotted towee as he rustles in the leaves, the chip notes and "ring ring" of the dark-eyed juncos, and the wolf whistles of starlings. I need to take deep breaths and inhale the resinous aroma of the conifers, being careful not to wear too much perfume so I can really be aware of the subtle scent trails.



It's great to have some time walking quickly to get that heart muscle pumping, but it's also important to slow right down and examine catches your eye and piques your curiosity. You become nature's detective, deciphering mysteries and looking for clues. What's up there on that mossy roof?

How do you honour the land today? You kneel, you listen, you sniff, you wonder as you wander and you look waaaaay up, stretching your hands as if to reach for the stars.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Resources for Gardening for Bees

 I've been enjoying so many online presentations lately that I thought I'd start keeping a list of recommended viewing. There are so many wonderful webinars popping up, it's hard to keep track of all of them! I will pin this list and keep adding to it.


I highly recommend a presentation on Winter and Native Bees by Laura Langlois Zurro. Laura has a wonderfully biodiverse garden in Florida and she is an accomplished macro photographer and videographer. Her presentation really focuses on her close observations of bees in and around their nesting sites. Watching this will teach you about sensitizing yourself as a gardener to the life cycles of the bees in your garden. Laura's garden in warm enough that she has active bees in her yard all year, so she focuses on the seasonal changes in species she sees. You can follow her on Instagram (@ecogeekmama)

The Garden in Winter: Reading the Trees

Hello!  It’s been awhile! After a hibernation hiatus I decided it’s time to write myself back into the world again. I want to share some thoughts and images from my neighbourhood and also some strategies and resources that have been helping me through the lockdown this winter. You can also follow me on Instagram (@beespeaker) where I post on a more regular basis.



I am learning to deepen my relationship to this land I live and work in. I wake up and ask myself: “How will I honour the land today? How can I lighten my footsteps and “food steps” on this land? How can I fall more deeply in love with the natural world within my reach? I am challenging myself to get out in all kinds of weather and get down in the dirt on my knees with my camera documenting the gifts that I discover on my daily nature walks. It might mean more loads of laundry, but it’s worth it!


It’s almost February and getting close to the time when the earliest spring bees will emerge seeking nectar from late winter and early spring blossoms. I’m walking around the neighbourhood, seeking inspiration from people’s boulevard and front yard gardens. I need to take a measuring tape out and document the sizes and heights of some of my favourite raised beds. It’s lovely to see how many folks are growing food and herbs in raised beds during the pandemic lockdown. Artist Jenn Pearson has coined the term “ad hoc” gardens to describe the ways people have improvised all kinds of containers to grow a variety of plants. It’s also a good time of the year to look at the “bones” of gardens, to see how the gardener has used hardscaping and plants to shape the site in three dimensions.


I don’t garden in winter. I guess this is partly because of my prairie roots. In the winter, we put the garden to bed and wait until the spring thaw. Of course in Vancouver you can grow things all year round, harvesting leeks, Brussels sprouts and kale, but it’s best if you leave the garden alone as much as possible. There are bees overwintering in the ground, leaf mulch and stems. There are well-camouflaged butterfly and moth cocoons that need to be left alone. The soil needs to rest and replenish. Birds need to forage in the seed heads and scurry about in the soil digging for grubs. For these reasons, it’s best not to over-clean, over-mulch or over-prune your garden in the fall. Just “let it bee”. A light touch is all that’s needed. And in winter you’ll see that gardens with some of the wildness left in them are what’s best for wildlife.


In winter I peruse the bones of gardens and I also make friends with our local trees. At this time of the year when I’m not distracted by bees and blooms I can turn to the subtle beauty of the tree bark, moss, lichen, and fungi. And because we can’t hug many of our loved ones, I find the skin-to-bark contact a very important part of my mental health right now. I like to cozy up to a tree and give it some lovin’! I want to read its bark like a book, getting to know its surface and becoming attached to the subtle textures and how they change from week to week. I find myself wanted to revisit a tree to see how its fungi are transforming. I examine its bark like a lover’s skin, mapping it and marvelling at the rich textures and colour. Velvet Turkey tails emerge and then fade to a papery death. Jelly fungus pop up and plump up, only to shrivel, fade, and disappear. Mushrooms grow in number, height and width and then fall over and fall apart, chewed by slugs and torn by curious children.


Trees are dynamic! Landscapers often want plants that are static and function more like lawn furniture than nature. They like the cedar and yew hedges that stay put and stay green. (If you’re lucky.) We need to change that aesthetic to embrace plants that are ephemeral and ever-changing. What I’ve been noticing lately are the subtle changes I see upon closer examination. And in reading those changes, I deepen my relationship to the beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants I see on my walks. My gratitude for their beauty deepens too.