Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bird life discovered

Having recently revitalized our hummingbird feeder, we're now receiving multiple visits from several of these sweet little birds.  At one point this morning there were two of them circling and dipping their beaks into the little nectar cups.  We feel so lucky to be able to watch them feed, and it's happening many times a day.  This is the one that comes most often.  She's quite large and not particularly colourful.  I haven't identified the type of hummingbird she is yet.  But she is very sweet don't you think?

It even looks as though there may be a nest in the plum tree outside our kitchen window.  We haven't actually spotted the nest but I can hear the hummingbird sound coming from the tree--a distinctive clicking chatter.  Plus they seem to fly up to the feeder from the tree and then return to it.   

Now that we've started watching the plum tree we're also seeing other birds hanging around in it.  Today there was a beauty with a striking yellow colour on its neck and wings.  And then there's a big fat chickadee that hops around from branch to branch plucking caterpillars off the leaves.  I'm all for that.  

I think it's time to get a bird book and find out more about local birds. What an honour for us to be able to observe part of their life from our window.

Calendar crowding

When we arrived back home in Victoria my calendar was empty.  In fact I didn't even have a calendar (and let me tell you it wasn't easy to find one in April!)  But now it's chock-a-block full of appointments and commitments and reminders.  Some of these are catch-up appointments from our five month absence, others are new commitments like our experiment with Tai Chi twice a week.

But this week I've also been busy with with arrangements for our Citizen Canine annual dog walk and pooch party.  This is the seventh year we've put on this event and it's a lot of fun--and a lot of work.  Each year the organization goes more smoothly but there are a lot of little details for all of the people on our committee to take care of.  I'm looking forward to next week when things will be a little calmer and I'll find a little more space in my calendar.  What was that about smelling the flowers?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dog psychology

My dog Geordie is eight years old and to put it mildly, he's a handful.  He's also a beautiful and spirited and smart dog  but we've had been managing his pushy, aggressive, fearful and reactive behaviour for many years with treats and commands and leashes and kennels.  He is never off the leash because he's unpredictable when it comes to squirrels, other dogs, and children.  And when people come to our house we have to put him in his kennel until they learn the rules of meeting Geordie.  (Don't look at him, don't lean over him, wait until he comes to you.)  We learned these management techniques through consulting with various trainers and behaviourists over the past years of Geordie's life.

But now things are beginning to change.  We recently went to see an animal trainer named Gary Jackson who lives up in Cobble Hill.  His theory about dogs is somewhat different than others I've heard.  It's based on the concept that domesticated social animals like dogs exist in an infantilized state and the best way to control them is the same way that the mother dog does--through looks, growls, and snarls. 

After working with Geordie last Saturday, Gary prescribed a program where we (the humans) take ownership of everything in Geordie's life--his food, his water, his access to outside, to toys, and even to affection.  And you know what?  It's working like a charm.  An example: we've been trying to get Geordie to stay away from the dishwasher when we're loading or unloading it for a number of years now.  Like most dogs he's a food addict and we've been training him to stay on a pillow while we load it up, with a treat as a reward.  It kind of worked, but not really.

But since we've starting acting like the mama dog and giving a little growl when he comes too close, we've seen a huge change.  Now he doesn't even come near the dishwasher.  In fact when we open it he heads upstairs to his kennel.  It's amazing. He's quite quickly turned into a dog that wants to please instead of a dog that tries to get away with things.  The theory is that if we take control of all these things, he will then begin to trust that we can also take control of scary situations like other dogs and kids. 

The changes that we've seen in Geordie in just a few days are quite miraculous and so far they seem to be sticking.  Today I had Geordie in the park on a long rope and he was very attentive to me even when another dog came past.  Next week we'll go up to see Gary Jackson again and find out about the rest of the program (which also includes a hog!)  I'll keep you posted

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oak Shadow - Uplands Park

Today being Shadow Shot Sunday over at Hey Harriet's blog, I'm presenting this photo taken at when we were walking with the dogs last week at Uplands Park.  If you look closely you can see some of the Camas and Bluebells alongside the path.  Uplands is a large natural Garry Oak meadow right in town and it's a lovely walk in April when the trees are just coming into leaf. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I love tulips

I just love tulips.  As you can probably see from these photographs of some of the glorious blooms in my back yard.  It's hard to stop with the camera.  I've been trying to reduce them to their essential tulipness with tight cropped images.  What cheeky flowers they are!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Maquinna Line

The Maquinna LineMy brother is a journalist and he's been doing some editing work lately on a manuscript written many years ago by a woman who had a fascinating life and a wide-ranging creative career in Canada and the USA.  Norma Macmillan was born in Vancouver and later lived with her husband in Hollywood in the 1960s. As well as acting and writing she did voice over work, most famously as the voice of TV's Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost.  She began work on her novel,  Maquinna Line, then, often traveling to remote areas of Vancouver Island to write.   The book is set on Vancouver Island from 1871 to 1945 and it traces the lives of five families, including two descendants of Chief Maquinna, who met Captain Cook on his arrival.

Although there was some interest in the manuscript at the time, it was never published, and was found at the back of a closet by Norma's husband after her death in 2001 at the age of 79.  He asked a friend (my brother) to help revive it and find a publisher.  My brother spent months editing it to a shorter, tighter version and the book was published this month. Tonight we're going to attend a reading at a local bookstore. I haven't started the book yet but from its background and a quick perusal I think it will be a fascinating read.  If you want to know more, here's a link.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Agave shadows

Today I've been reviewing some of the photos from our Mexico trip and I realized that I probably have fifty or so of the agave plant.  The agave is is a beautiful succulent with many varieties, each of them beautiful, but the ones that captivated me are the big Agave Americana, also known as the Century Plant.  They have strong curving leaves edges with beautiful regular spines and in the Mexican sun the shadows create lovely sculptural forms.

This last shadow is more like an echo.  You can clearly see the indentations left by adjacent leaves that unfolded away from the core.  Beautiful!

And here's a photo of the incredible flower that these plants produce (after many years).  This one was about 15 feet tall.  After it blooms, the plant dies; although smaller plants are produced from offsets at the base of the stem. 

You can see more shadow shots from around the world here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time to smell the flowers

It's been an odd week, well less than a week actually since we've been home.  I'm feeling myself resisting being pulled into things here, not wanting to be overwhelmed with my previous life.  It was kind of overwhelming at times, partly because I took on too many things.  Most of them were things I wanted to do but my life it got pretty hectic at times.

Being away from Victoria and its demands on my time has been wonderful.  Perhaps the holiday from the telephone was one of the best things about being in Mazatlan.  But now we're back and I'm feeling my way into my life and trying to save some time for me.  I'd like to have time to get a pilates or yoga practice going, time to invite a friend over for a cup of tea, time for a really long walk with the dogs (not just a perfunctory march around the block), time to do some water colour painting.  It's not easy letting go of things you're involved in but these few months away have given me a chance to rethink.  Wish me luck.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Home at last

We left Mazatlan two weeks ago and here we are today getting settled back into our home.  It feels fantastic.  We love our little house and yard and wonder why we've been away so much in the past couple of years.  Counting up we found that we've been on the road 13 months out of the past 28.  That's a lot! 

The dogs are so happy to be in their familiar surroundings again.  Although they were fantastic travelers they much prefer staying put.  Maggie was out rolling around in the grass with a blissful look on her face yesterday afternoon.  And Geordie's settled back into his resting places very comfortably.

We'll be comfortable too, once we get our stuff unpacked and sorted out.  About 1/3 of our household is in boxes in the garage and we'll be taking this opportunity to purge.  It feels like a good thing to be doing this week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Changing landscapes

For the past few days we've been driving north and west from Southern Arizona through Utah, Oregon, Washington and into cool and cloudy British Columbia.  Here are a few of the changing landscapes we saw on our trip.  Here's the desert in Arizona near Tucson.

Note the blooming wild flowers.

And this is what we saw in an arboretum in the high desert east of Phoenix.

Heading north we stopped at the beautiful Zion Canyon in Utah.

Just up from Zion we ran into snow.

Into Eastern Oregon there are areas of prairie.

This is along the Columbia river in Northern Oregon.

Heading west through more mountains into the mist.  The ambience went from warm and dry and light to cool and wet and heavy. 

The clothing changed from flip flops and shorts to socks and vests and raincoats.  This last photo was taken in Jericho Park in Vancouver.  The ground was soaking wet and spring is just beginning.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paulo Soleri's Vision

A  long time ago when I was in my twenties I first heard about Paulo Soleri, an Italian architect who was creating something innovative out in the Arizona desert.  He was designing a city built out of formed cement using sustainable practices based on the newly fashionable concept of ecology.  He called his concept “arcology” and worked with volunteers to create a demonstration city for sustainable living. My girlfriend and I were so intrigued that we thought about going down to Arcosanti in the summer to work on the site. We never actually did it though; life intervened as it so often does. And I had kind of forgotten about Paulo Soleri until our road buddies, Ches and Allison, mentioned that they were going there.

Soleri was not only a visionary, he was an artist as well and created molds for cast bronze bells and sculptures, which he sold to raise funds for the Arcosanti project.  There are actually two sites to view Soleri’s work in Arizona. There’s Arcosanti out in the desert and Cosanti near Phoenix, where the Soleri bells are made in a workshop built with his arcology techniques.  This is also where Soleri lives now, at age 90 with his wife.  The workshop and studio there is open to visitors so that’s where we ended up going.

I think when Cosanti was built there was nothing around it but open desert, however now it sits amid a very upscale subdivision in Scottsdale.  You pull off a residential street into a little parking lot and walk up into another world.  The buildings are very desert-like, made of formed cement with intriguing shapes and textures that do amazing things with the light and shadows. The beautiful cast sculptures and bells are everywhere, gently ringing in the gentle breeze. 
The whole area is built in different levels with cement pathways going up and down and around almost like a maze.  It’s really very lovely.
These next two photos are of the workshops where some of the bells are made.  Some are ceramic and some are cast bronze.  You can see that it's designed to be very practical for working in the Arizona heat.
The bells and sculptures were gorgeous.  Some of them were in the 3,000 dollar and up range, but the smaller ones were quite affordable. We bought a nice one for $85.
Soleri  has published and created all his life and he has many followers still working at Arcosanti. Cosanti as well seems to be a thriving business.  While we didn’t get to meet Soleri while we were there (he carefully guards his privacy), we did see a notice inviting young  women to model for him.  Apparently he’ll draw three poses and give one to the model.  It's clear that he is still a vital and creative man.   

It was fascinating to see the workshop and buildings at Cosanti and learn a bit more about Soleri's work. I’m sure it was ground breaking at the time but to me it felt like stepping back in time to the 1970s.  Some of the structures reminded me of the sets from futuristic movies of the time.  We might have been on the set of the city of Tatouine in the original Star Wars movie.  I almost expected to see Princess Leah or R2D2 come around a corner.   
That’s not to take away from his work and his vision, which is still being created at Arcosanti.
For a recent description of what's going on at Arcosanti, head over to Ches's alt build blog.  We'll be hanging our Soleri bell on our arbour up on Haliburton Hill as a memory of our visit to this special place.