Monday, January 16, 2017

Deja View

It's been a long while since I walked the loop around my town and down along the sea walk.  Mitzi's not a fan of the seawalk - she didn't mind it when she had good vision and good hearing, but as her senses become more impaired, encountering large dogs and grabby hands on a boardwalk over the water is not her idea of fun.  But the seawalk was always a favourite walk for most of my dogs, and especially for my early risers like Oliver and Shiloh who enjoyed our alone-time watching the sun rise over the bay.  Mitzi's idea of early rising is getting up before noon.  No sunrises for that girl!

Shiloh's sunrise
(Not likely to ever be seen by lazybones Mitzi)

Today, as I'm still not able to return to hiking or swimming, and am badly in need of exercise, my friend Sally and I decided to do the loop - the long cold snap finally broke, the ice in town has gone (though not on forest trails), and the sun was trying to make an appearance.  I can't raise my right arm to my face to use the camera, but I took it along away and shot from the hip - or a convenient rail or post.  So..... not the best shots, but as I've not posted any of our bay for a while, I figured you wouldn't mind having a sense of deja vu view!

View from Crofton Beach, looking towards the mill and Shoal Islands

We spent some time watching the ducks enjoying the milder weather

Anchored sailboats, with Salt Spring Island behind.

Another sailboat at anchor, with cargo ship in background.
The mountains beyond are the North Shore mountains of the mainland.

And, lastly, the familiar view near the start of the sea walk -
old posts and broken wharf from days gone by. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Waitin' fer Spring

Hi, Mitzi here!  It's been a long cold winter on the island - long and cold fer this piece of west coast paradise, anyways.  I'z had to wear my red sweater, and sometimes even my big thick winter coat, every day.  Spring can't come soon enough!  It's been around freezin fer weeks now, and even though we hasn't had much snow, the frost is cold on mah paws and it doesn't melt even during the day.

Mama Jean gots a bag of spring bulbs from her friend Liz fer Christmas.  I dunno, there's sumthing I really likes about them.  I think it might be the colour:

I helped Mama Jean plant them on New Year's Eve.  She fed them some bone meal.  Dat made me laugh - DOGS like bones, not flowers!  Silly Mama Jean.  Still, it's a good thing she planted them when she did, cuz now she has a mangled wing she wouldn't be able to plant them very easily.  And I sure do want to see those spring flowers popping up through the ground, because that will mean the ground won't be frozed any more.  Mama Jean says they need 8-10 weeks in the cold dark dirt, so we might not see any flowers for a while.  At least they've gots bones to snack on unnerneath all that dirt. I think she should have given the dogwood tree some bone meal too.  DOGwood - BONE meal.  Get it?  I mades a joke!

These are mah flowers in mah pots.  I helped, so I gets to share them. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fan Tan Alley

On New Year's Day, I drove down to Victoria to meet with my brother and his partner for lunch - they were spending a few days in British Columbia's capital city.  Both the weather and the traffic conditions were mild, so the drive down took less time than usual and I quickly found a parking spot near the restaurant where we were to meet.  With time on my hands, I wandered around Victoria's Chinatown, and soon found one of the most picturesque and historic alleys in Canada - Fan Tan Alley.  

Fan Tan Alley was once the home of opium dens and gambling dens - the gambling dens being called Fan Tan Guan, from which the alley gets its name.  Today, it houses an eclectic mix of little shops, galleries and studios.  

If it looks familiar to those who have never visited Victoria, perhaps you may recall a certain chase scene in Bird on a Wire (starring Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson), in which the handlebars of the bike practically grazed either side of the brick walls.  At its narrowest, the alley is only 1.2 meters wide. 

Red brick reaching sky high, bold trim for doors and windows, sunlight streaming in through the narrow opening at the far end.  I love brick - always have - and I love cheerful colours, so I couldn't get enough of photographing this space. You might say I clicked away to my heart's content. 

Add a cat to the mix, and I am in animal-loving photographer's heaven.  

A passerby told me the cat lives there, but as the store was not yet open, and a gate to what appeared to be an inner courtyard was also closed and locked, kitty spend his or her time staring hopefully at the door knob, waiting for it to turn. 

As I'm currently sidelined from both driving and photography with an arm/shoulder injury (but gradually getting back my ability to work at the computer for short periods of time), I decided to play about with my photo editing program a bit, using some of the more dramatic options to digitally alter one photo to give it many different looks.  Here's the original, followed by three of several variations of the same photo. 

Fan Tan Alley - original

"Curves" effect

HDR effect

Edge Sketch effect

Fan Tan Alley - not to be missed, if you are ever in Victoria, British Columbia. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First hike of year

Monday was the first hike of the year, and it was a beautiful day for it. We did the easy side of the Holland Creek Trail until it became too icy, and then we went to the Hermit trails in Chemainus, where the paths were free of snow and ice.
Unfotunately, I managed to fall on the only ice we saw, and have injured my right upper arm.  And yes, I'm right handed, and the arm is currently useless. So I'm typing this with one finger of my left hand to let you know I won't be able to blog for a while. Or email, or do facebook. Could be a couple of weeks, could be a couple of months - extent and exact nature of damage still not determined.
So this one photo will have to last you for a while - from along the trail shortly before I fell.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

As I puttered around the house yesterday, putting away Christmas decorations and saying goodbye to yet another year, I listened to the radio as commentator after commentator remarked how glad they are to see the end of 2016, listing all the sadness that the year had brought -  deaths of stars, deaths from fentanyl, deaths from war and terrorism.  I find myself asking "Was this year really any worse than others, or was it just made to seem worse through the advances of social media?" I am so tired of depressing news.

Sigh.  I turned off the radio and put on some CDs - gentle music to soothe, lyrical music I can sing with, rousing music to lift the spirits.

For me, 2016 was a good year.  Oh sure, my body feels ten years older with ten times the aches and pains, especially since tearing my meniscus this summer.  And I worry about money as costs keep rising. And I could have done without both the washer AND the printer needing repairs right at Christmastime.   And I often miss the family and friends of Christmases past.

But all-in-all, it was a good year.  On December 31, 2015, I wrote that I hoped my 2016 would include "more time with animals, more hikes, more photography, more time with family and friends."

And it did.

I spent lots of time with animals.  Lots and lots of time with lots and lots of animals - here's just a few of them:

Farm animals at RASTA and Hearts on Noses

The Little Dog Walking Group
(and Chrissy!)

And still more dogs
of friends and family

And more animals - wild and domestic

And more and more and more

I hiked so many places I hadn't hiked before!  Cabot Bay Trail and Dodd Narrows, Buttertubs Marsh, Morrell Nature Preserve, East Sooke Park, Hemer Park and several other ones in the Cedar-Yellowpoint area, Stoney Hill Regional Park, Heart Lake and Stocking Lake, and so many others:

And I took photographs galore.

My daughter and son-in-law came for a visit, my oldest nephew and family came for a visit, my sister-in-law and I went for a vacation at Saratoga Beach, and I visited friends and family on the mainland.  For someone with as small a family as I have, that's really pretty awesome!

It was a good year.  For me.

And now, as we usher in 2017, I do what I always do at this time of year.  I get an urge to declutter and organize.  Although I declutter all year round (I keep a box in the bedroom into which I put stuff I don't need, and when it is full - off to the thrift store it goes), there is always more to be done - old files to be cleaned out, knick knacks to be reconsidered, closets to be divested of the clothes that are too uncomfortable, too stained, or two small to make it to centre stage. Many items get held, put in the box, pulled out, held again, as my resolve to minimize fluctuates back and forth on the wings of nostalgia.

But if these are the most difficult decisions I have to make, then I am fortunate - for so many have to make decisions about whether to flee their war-torn country or stay, whether to spend their last few quarters on some real food or check out the dumpster once again, whether to go for that risky or unpleasant medical procedure or take a chance that they will survive.

If dealing with a sore back or bum knee or wonky hip is the most discomfort I have to deal with, then I am fortunate - for so many are dealing with far worse ailments, far more pain, far greater disability.

If missing my daughter who now lives far away is the greatest sorrow I feel, then I am fortunate.  For so many are watching their children struggle with illnesses that may one day take their lives - children with cancer, children with rare diseases, children with terrible injuries from accidents.  What those parents would give to have a healthy child again.

If tightening the belt and adjusting the budget is the most difficult financial challenge I have to face, then I am fortunate - for so many have no income, no home, no budget to manage.

As we travel into the new year, may your decisions be easy ones, your joys be many, your hardships be few, your loved ones be well.

What adventures will 2017 bring?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Dog, Lost - Crofton style

While many were celebrating the holiday, or searching for the best sales of the season, a community was out searching for a dog - my community, and a stranger's dog:

It was late on December 23rd when a message popped up on our community facebook page - a little dog was lost.  This is her story. Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Caramela is a little four year old min pin cross, a timid little thing.  No wonder - she'd experienced many upheavals in her short life.  A rescue dog from Mexico, transported to southern Vancouver Island, she had first been fostered, then adopted.  That adoption failed and she was returned to the rescue group.  Another foster home - and this time her foster mom, who we shall call 'Essie', fell in love with her and adopted her.  But about a year later, in the fall of 2016,  Essie died, and her good friend  - we'll call her 'Bee' - welcomed Caramela into her home.

Three months later, just before Christmas, Bee's daughter and son-in-law asked to take Caramela on a short adventure up island.  It was a long drive, and on the afternoon or early evening of December 23rd enroute back home, the couple stopped to pay a brief visit to another relative who lives between Crofton and Duncan. Caramela wasn't crazy about other dogs, so she remained in the car, her leash attached to her collar. During the visit, someone went out to check on Caramela and as soon as the car door was opened, Caramela fled.

She may have been small, but she was fast.

Super fast.

And she headed straight down the middle of the busy, winding, very dark road with forest on either side, towards Crofton.

A woman driving the road noticed the man chasing the dog with a flashlight and offered to help, but "No, I've got this!" he said.  She - and others who saw them - worried for the safety of the little dog and of the man as the road is notorious for speeders, visibility was poor, and the pavement icy with frost.

Before long, the man was knocking on doors along the first side road he came to - and someone in one of those houses posted on Facebook to share the news of the Little Lost Dog.

A little dog, lost, in unfamiliar territory, in very cold weather, in the dark.

And as readers of my blog know, one of my greatest frustrations is the number of dogs who go missing in unfamiliar surroundings - new fosters, dogs being transported, new adoptions, dogs on vacation. I feel so strongly about their safety, that I wrote an article about it which has been pinned to the side of this blog for some time now. So you can bet my antennae were waving, and my heart was in my mouth. And here it was, almost Christmas, when people had commitments, and search parties would be hard to come by.

The next morning, the morning of Christmas Eve, someone reported to the Facebook group that he thought he had spotted the little dog on a trail near the base of Maple Mountain, but she had taken off as soon as she saw him and his dog. The owner, 'Bee',  drove up over the icy, snowy Malahat to look for the dog, heartbroken and frightened for this little min pin who would surely be cold and scared, and was skirting areas where cougars and bears could be found.  There were no more sightings that day.  People started to spread the word, and several went out to walk about the town and the trails in the hopes of spotting her.

Christmas morning, another sighting - right by the post office in the centre of town.  Then another - out by the gas station, then the water station at the mill, then the hydro station north of town - all confirmed sightings as our little adventurer was running fast and dragging her leash.  She had traveled from south of town to north of town - a distance of  over five kilometers by main road, not counting diversions she may have taken. And every time she was seen, she took off.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, some of us with a history of involvement with rescues were trying to organize as best we could - liaising with the family, posting on other facebook sites, following comments to get the latest sightings, coordinating information, contacting lost dog organizations, providing information to community members on what to do and not do if they saw her.  ROAM (Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing), one Victoria-based organization that coordinates searches for lost dogs, very quickly made up posters that we could download, and community members printed them off and put them up.

The temperature was cold.  Light snow was falling.  The dog was small, with short hair, and not used to cold climates.  Time was of the essence.

And it was Christmas.  We needed a miracle.

I took the afternoon to have Christmas dinner with friends, and came home hoping I would read she had been found.  But such was not the case. No more sightings since morning.

Boxing Day.  Caramela has now spent three nights in the cold.  And there is another dusting of cold, frosty snow on the ground.  Bee braved the icy Malahat once again to come back up for another day's search, and I called her at the contact number I'd been given.  I had a sore back and a bum knee, so I wasn't sure how much actual searching I could do, but I had winter tires and I knew the area well, so when she asked if I could drive her around to show her the places where Caramela had been sighted (she didn't know the town at all), I was happy to do so.

Just as I was leaving to meet up with her, I checked Facebook one last time - in time to see that someone had just found fresh little dog tracks with a distinct trail of a leash being dragged, just a few blocks up my street where a trail heads up to Crofton Lake.

Footprints and leash trail in the snow
(Photograph posted to Facebook, used with permission of Lisa Gallant-Horvath)

It was good news and bad - good that she was still alive, that she had headed back south instead of continuing north of town, but bad that she was heading into the forest, into a network of trails where even I have managed to get lost.

I took Bee to the trailhead, and she practically ran along the trail following the paw prints and leash marks until it forked and the fresh snow became bare under the canopy of trees.

She returned to the car, and my intuition kicked in - if, IF as many lost dogs do, Caramela was circling back toward the place she'd become lost, then she might just come out on the Richard's Mountain trail a couple of kilometers down the road.  We drove to that trailhead, and together walked in a short distance to another fork - and there we saw it.  Distinct little paw prints and leash marks, coming down from the Crofton Lake trail, a short hesitation as it head back up the wrong fork, and then a quick loop back to head out towards the main road - immediately across from the very spot where she'd been sighted that first morning, and the very road on which she'd first made her escape.

She was one smart dog - she reached the main road and turned south again toward the point of her escape - running along the shoulder of the road, her paw prints and leash marks showing up each time there was a frosty or snowy area.

We knew we were getting close,  as the tracks were fresh and not diminished by the wind from passing cars or the light sleet that was falling. But would she come, even if we caught up to her?  A dog in survival mode often will not heed even an owner's call;  they operate on instinct, which is to run away, hide, run some more.

As we alternately drove and walked the shoulder of the road, another car slowed down - another searcher, Shannon, the same person who had seen the man chasing Caramela down the road three nights before, and who (coincidentally) had a dog adopted from the same rescue.  And she had a smartphone, which neither Bee nor I had.  There were more reports - people who had seen the dog up at the lake, down along the road, running up a driveway, back down, along the road,  and - less than twenty minutes ago - over by the mailboxes at Escarpment Way which was the road just beyond the house where her adventure began.

Bee and I headed to the mailboxes, while Shannon continued along the shoulder on foot, following the footprints, her dog Dolly following the scent.

And then Dolly the Dog pulled toward a driveway.  She was insistent - go here, go here.  Shannon called to us - we were just meters away - "Here!  She's gone this way!", and disappeared up the driveway.  Seconds later, she came running back to the road - SHE'S SAFE!  We've got her!"

And as Bee and I ran back along the road, I realized the driveway was that of the one where the car had been parked when Caramela escaped.  We learned shortly after, that Caramela  had run up the driveway, a woman in the house had opened the door just then, and Caramela had run right inside. Ironically, the woman did not know this was the missing dog, as there were several dogs living or visiting there and she thought this one must just belong.

So in the end, we did not find the Little Lost Dog -  she found herself.  She traveled at least 10 km in total, was on the run for almost three days, in an area that was totally unfamiliar to her, and found her way back to the spot from which she had fled, dragging her leash the whole time.  And the only sign of being any the worse for her adventure were some sores on her feet and lower legs.  

I'm not sure if she would have found her way back had the community not given up their precious family time at Christmas, given up Boxing Day sales, left their homes to go and search, reported sightings, posted signs, and  - yes  - sent positive thoughts and prayers for her safety.  Perhaps she would still have made it back.

But I would like to think that some of what we did kept her safe.  Or, perhaps, it was her former owner, the one who had so recently passed away,  whose spirit watched over her and guided her home.

Either way, Caramela has a Guardian Angel.  Or a whole community of them.

And if not that, then she is - as one of her family members said - a dog "with horseshoes up her ass".

Have a great life, Caramela.  We're all so glad you are home.

(I apologize for the scarcity of photos with this post. During this adventure, the furthest thing from my mind was capturing it on camera for a future blog post.  But I thought the story, even without pictures, was worth the share.  I hope you agree). 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Dinner Hosts

I have another blog post ready to go - just waiting for permission to use one of the photos in it. Meanwhile, so you don't think I've disappeared, here's a few shots of my hosts for Christmas dinner. Or perhaps they were the entertainment. Thanks, Pat and Guy, for sharing your table and your critters with me.


Lexi and Beamer

Okay, enough already!
Quit pestering us, Auntie Jean! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Twas the night before Christmas at our house

Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house
Ms. Allie was playing
With her new catnip mouse.

"Go to bed!" yelled your scribe,
Who was trying to sleep.
"It's one a.m.,  Allie!
Now QUIET!  Not a peep!"

Ms. Mitzi was sleeping
All snug in her crate,
With visions of stealing
Some food from mom's plate.

The fridge, it was full,
And the tree was so pretty,
The house was quite quiet
(Well, except for the kitty).

The computer was off,
Facebook was dead,
Though some music played softly
From a CD by the bed.

The stockings were filled -
Santa was smart.
Canada Post is much safer
Than a flight in the dark.

As I drift off to sleep,
Cat now on my chest,
I wish friends and family
Only the best:

A day full of joy,
A year full of peace,
Good friends and good health -
May these gifts never cease!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sometimes you just need a little magic.....

One of the perks of volunteering at RASTA (Rescue And Sanctuary for Threatened Animals) is the opportunity to engage in one of my favourite hobbies - photographing animals.  Whenever the weather is appropriate, the camera is in my pocket as I scoop poop or fluff straw or clean the barn or fill the waters,  ready to appear when something - or someone - catches my eye.

Whose snout is that?

While I usually take the photos for my own pleasure, sometimes Lucie assigns me a task - preparing some images for a presentation, or capturing some pleading faces that we can use to promote our fundraisers, or - as was the case the past few weeks - taking a photo of a particular animal to give as a thank you to a local business who has taken on sponsorship of said critter.

Sanctuaries aim to find sponsors for their animals as a way to ensure the basic needs for care are met - the donation of a set amount monthly,  based on the species, to help cover  routine expenses related to food and shelter.  Most animals become sponsored by individuals, but some - like Harvie who is sponsored by Impulse Pizza in Chemainus, and Pirate, sponsored by Cafe la Vie in Duncan - are sponsored by local businesses. For those, we try to provide a framed and signed photo that they can display so their customers see how they give back to the community.  Good business for them, good exposure for us.

And most animals at the sanctuary are pretty easy to  capture on camera.  Harvie was:

The equines are:

Hai!  Wanna take my picture?

Theo isn't camera shy in the least.

Here, let me clean the lens for you!

Ducks and geese and turkeys and chickens and roosters have all cooperated when I wanted to take their photos.

Is this my best side?

 And most of the pigs are quite happy to play along.

Even Jacob, one of our most senior pigs, comes strolling out to say hello.

Except Pirate - our orthotic-wearing, quickly growing, full of mischief, Berkshire-Tamsworth farm pig who may one day weigh 700 pounds or more. You briefly met him, and his brother Prince, in this post back in September.  Pirate came to us as a babe, one rear leg far shorter than the other, with the joint fused at a 90 degree angle.  His spine was twisting as he attempted to move about on three and a half legs - and unlike dogs, pigs are not well-structured for life as a tripod.  Back then, when he first arrived, he was very timid.  He backed away from me, ever watchful, and this allowed me to get a few good shots.

Stranger danger! Stranger danger!

But now - now, he knows that people are his friends and often have food or at least an ear scritch or a bale of hay. And he was my assignment for the past several weeks.  Pointing the camera at him, especially if the photographer is squatting down to get a nicely framed shot, merely invites him to barrel toward the camera in the hopes that it is edible. Taking photos from further away, or while hidden behind the side of a building, means getting a shot with his snout doing what hungry piggy snouts do - rooting in the mud, rooting in the straw, munching the hay,  - but never looking at the camera.

Num num num num num...
I can't hear you!
Trying to capture a frame-worthy image of Pirate was difficult enough, but Lucie had specifically asked not only that Pirate's cute little face be looking at the camera, but that the orthotic on his hind leg be visible too - a good discussion starter in a photo, as fundraising for the $2000 orthotic will be an ongoing extraordinary expense for the next several years as he outgrows one and needs another, possibly six or more times.

And now you can't see me!

Any attempt to redirect his attention, by gently calling his name, either results in being ignored, or in being run over, or a combination - Pirate ignoring me while others, at the sound of my voice, rush over to see if they can help.  Or if I might be offering treats.  Most likely the latter.

Excuse me, Maggie May - since when has your name been 'Pirate'?

I tried.  I really tried.  For weeks I tried.  But every photo either showed the face head on but not the leg, or the leg and not the face, or the whole piggy but with snout buried in mud or straw or hay.

What?  Don't you think customers would like to see
this photo of me drinking from a mud puddle
while they sip their coffee?

Finally, the other night, I'd had enough.  And that's when I resorted to magic - digital magic.  I used that earlier photo of Pirate looking at the camera, back in the days when he didn't think it was something to eat, and with a bit of cloning, some overlays, some erasing, some frosting, and some colour touch ups, I added his orthotic from a more recent photo.  It's not perfect, but it's good enough.

I matted and framed it today and delivered it to Cafe la Vie, a wonderful vegan restaurant in downtown Duncan.  And now that's finally off my 'to-do' list.

Photographer: 1  Piglet:  0

But I'm quite sure Pirate will outsmart me and even the score sometime in the near future.  And let's face it, any sponsored piggy is a winner.

If you or your business are interested in sponsoring an animal at RASTA, please check out their website at  You'll find the information on sponsorships here .

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rising moon

My friend a block over started a tradition a few years back in which she invites several of us "Christmas orphans" (people with no family nearby) for a pre-Christmas feast of turkey and all the trimmings, finished off with pie and goodies and a Christmas Carol sing-a-long.  Always, we are sent home with leftovers, a hug, a full tummy, and a big smile.  This year was no different.

At least, it was no different until I rounded the corner to my house and caught a glimpse of a huge orb of brilliant orange and red low over the bay, just rising above Salt Spring Island.

I dashed into my house, grabbed the camera, and almost shaking with the thrill of such beauty (or maybe it was with cold - we are having exceptionally cold weather for this area) I snapped as many shots as I could from my back yard.  I knew I had no time to get down to the sea walk for a better shot a, during the 30 seconds it took me to unlock my door and grab my camera, the colour had already started to change, and clouds were drifting across its surface with thicker, darker clouds moving in fast.

And so - a bit blurry and a bit less brilliant than my first look at it - this was the best I could do.  Not perfect, but the image is still embedded in my memory.  Good friends, good food, good music, and a jaw-dropping beautiful moon made for a Very Good Night.

Moon on Fire
Dec 16, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pretty as an old colourized picture

I was going to do a blog post tonight about a hike I did a couple of weeks ago around Hemer Park. But by the time I caught up on email and checked into facebook, I was too tired to edit and watermark and resize the photos, and it was already past my bedtime.  However, one photo in particular caught my eye - a small pond we passed, thick with iridescent green algae, pinkish-red twigs of leafless shrubs in the background:

For some reason, it reminded me of my parent's wedding photo - back in the days when colour photography was in its infancy and talented wedding photographers either used colour additives to provide some semblance of basic colour, or used the newly marketed 'tripak' with blue, yellow and red emulsions or layered filters.  Effective, yes, though often not quite accurate.

Mom and Dad, 1941

The photo of the pond at Hemer park,  while having more intense colour, seemed just as strangely colourized with not-quite-accurate hues of nature.   It appears that life does, indeed, imitate art.