Archive for October, 2010


Big Sky over Cornfield


Big Sky over Woodland

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Our cold, wet weekend was followed by several very lovely, warm, sunny days, with the temperature reaching an unseasonable, but very welcome, 20 degrees (68F). The warmth roused an army of ladybugs. By mid-afternoon, the south side of the house was polka-dotted with the little beetles. They were also swarming on the ceiling of the greenhouse-stable, with dozens of ladybugs milling and flitting about. These ladybugs aren’t native, but rather Asian Ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis). Asian ladybugs were introduced to North America to control aphids on commercial crops and are now considered an invasive species, threatening the 450 to 500 species of ladybugs native to the continent. Large numbers of Asian lady beetles infesting homes as they seek overwintering sites were first reported in the early 1990s.


Asian Ladybugs are variable in color and are sometimes known as the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle. These couple of photographs illustrate some of the different colour morphs. Asian ladybugs can be differentiated from native species by their rounder shape (native species tend to be more oval) and white markings that typically define an “M”- or “W”-shaped black area behind the head.

The little children’s rhyme, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home” isn’t as cute when it’s your home they are flying to! However, althought they are capable of biting when provoked, they are mostly just a nuisance.


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As I was getting my morning coffee the other day, I glanced out the kitchen window and was surprised to see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) looking for his breakfast down by the river. I retrieved my camera and took a couple of shots. Can you see him in my window view, above? It’s not unusual to see a heron by the river, but they are usually seen farther down the stream, away from the house. They like their privacy.

Great Blue Herons in Ontario are generally migratory, flying south alone or in small groups of a dozen birds in the fall. Some seem reluctant to leave. It is nearly November, but as long as there is open water, they can hunt for food. According to the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001-2005, heron numbers increased from the late 1940s until about 1990, following the organochlorine pesticide era. Since 1990, however, a gradual decline has been noted. The cause is not well understood, but it may be linked to the decrease in many amphibian species, which are an important component of heron diets.

The heron population in Ontario was estimated at over 17,000 breeding pairs in the early 1990s. It always amazes me how few individuals there are of other species compared to our own. For example, compare that figure of 17,000 pairs to the population of humans in the Greater Toronto Area, about 5.5 million.

Here is a closer shot of the breakfast visitor, below. Safe journey, big bird.


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Here it is, Wednesday, and I am just posting about the weekend. My excuse it that I got into lazy mode on Sunday and haven’t moved on! Sunday was a cold, rainy, grey day. Having had a busy Saturday, I was content to spend Sunday curled up under a blanket on the couch, reading a book. I haven’t read very much all summer, and after a good break I was itching to get back into some winter reading. The book I had on hand was Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg.

Old City Hall, as any Torontonian knows, is the stately Romanesque Revival building that stands just to the east of New City Hall. It was home to Toronto’s city council from 1899 to 1966. Currently the building is leased by the provincial government and is used as a court house for the Ontario Court of Justice. The court serves in part as the setting for Rotenberg’s tale. As a criminal defense lawyer himself, Rotenberg is clearly familiar with proceedings there.


Old City Hall at dusk, courtesy Wikipedia


The story begins with Gurdial Singh, a retired engineer who brings purpose to his days by his timely delivery of the Globe and Mail every morning except Sunday. On this particular morning, when he reaches the apartment of celebrity talk-show host Kevin Brace, he finds that something is amiss. Brace isn’t at his usual post, waiting for his paper. When he finally comes to the door, he is bloodied and tells Singh that he has killed his wife. As the police begin their investigation, questions surface about the murder that initially appeared so clearcut. Detective Ari Greene, lawyer-turned-cop Daniel Kennicott, defense lawyer Nancy Parish and a host of other characters are introduced.

The story moves along at a purposeful pace and anyone familiar with the city will enjoy the many references to Toronto venues. However, it is the sympathetic portraits of the supporting cast that really draw the reader in. There’s Ari Greene, buying bagels for his father. Singh comments on the vagaries of the English language. (Why does heat come in waves but cold comes in snaps?) Parish observes that “When you work for yourself, your boss is an asshole.” In fact, the characters may also be the novel’s weakness. They’re all so darn nice. Even the murder itself is genteel, a single stab wound.

Old City Hall received some rave reviews when it was published in 2009. If you check it out at Amazon, readers have left comments like “Fantastic writing!” and “Astonishing first novel”. There were just a couple of less enthusiastic reviews, a “Good, not great…” and a “Curiously Unsatisfying”. I have to agree with the last reviewer. Although I enjoyed the read, I found the ending a bit muddled, with no clear, well-defined wrap-up, as if the author hadn’t quite come to grips with all his loose threads himself. It particularly annoyed me that several of the characters have sudden insights of the “Of course! Why didn’t I see that before?” variety, but as the reader, I had no idea what they were talking about. At nearly 400 pages, the novel also seemed a bit long. It might have benefited by a cut of perhaps 50 pages and a more tidy conclusion. I’ve got real life if I want muddled.

Rosenberg does offer Torontonians a special treat. He has the Leafs, after their 40 year drought, win the Stanley Cup! Now that’s fiction!


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Sky on Fire



Evening Glow

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The winter isn’t here yet, but for northern gardeners, it is time to think of spring. Now is the time to finish planting the bulbs that will bring forth the first flowers of the new year. Among the earliest to bloom are snowdrops. This week, I planted a few near the entrance to the house so that we will be able to enjoy these heralds of warmer weather as we come and go.

The scientific name for common snowdrops is Galanthus nivalis. Galanthus is from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower). Carl Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist, gave the genus its name in 1735. Nivalis means “of the snow”. The names, both the scientific and the common, are perfectly chosen. Snowdrops often bloom while there is still snow on the ground, poking their brave heads through little patches of bare ground. It’s a sight to warm the heart of any gardener after the long, cold winter.

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Buddy in a Box

Buddy is an utterly charming young fellow who devoted his summer to taking our hearts hostage. He arrived one day in the spring, a jaunty, devil-may-care rake with a handsome white tuxedo front accenting his grey striped coat. Our resident cat population was harder to win over than we mere humans. They didn’t take to this new kid on the block, and were especially put off by his confident tomcat demeanour.

Once it was clear that Buddy had checked us out and decided he was moving in, we hurried him in for a visit with the vet. Buddy was in no way discombobulated by this turn of events and gave no indication of being put out by his minor surgery. It did help to smooth the waters with the other cats, though. The veterinarian guessed Buddy to be about a year and a half old.

One of Buddy’s people-charming tricks involves boxes. Buddy loves sitting in boxes or napping in boxes. The photograph above shows Buddy curled up in a shoe box beside my computer desk where he keeps me company. I bet he wishes I wore a slightly bigger shoe size.

We don’t know where Buddy came from. It seems likely that he is the offspring of barn cats and was perhaps chased away from his home by the resident Tom. Buddy was lucky to find a new family. Many, many feral cats live short, tough lives filled with hardship. Animal shelters are often bursting at the seams with unwanted cats and kittens. The planet has way too many people and way too many cats. It’s difficult to solve overpopulation issues where humans are involved. With cats, the answer is easy. Please have your cat spayed or neutered and keep them at home where they are safe. Help make every cat a beloved indoor cat.


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Here’s my latest handicraft project, which I recently completed. I like one-piece afghans that don’t require sewing together once you have all the blocks done. However, in summer, it’s just too hot to have an ever-growing blanket draped across your lap as you add the next row. Once the weather began to cool down, I took up my crochet hook and started work on this wavy, double-crochet pattern. Since the last afghan I made incorporated pastel shades, I chose brilliant colours suitable for fall for this one. The lime green, purple and orangey-red are eye-popping, aren’t they?


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I don’t have any giant moose sculptures decorating my garden, but I do have a whimsical bird. Charlie was constructed by a local artisan with a great imagination. He is well adapted to his garden habitat because Charlie is made of garden implements! He has a trowel for a beak, a spade head for his back, a rake for a tail.


I especially like Charlie’s googly eyes and his bright red colour set off by yellow. Soon Charlie will be flying away to spend the winter in a warmer location, such as the basement. This morning there was ice on the horses’ water bucket.


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Here’s Ivory looking out the door while we wait for Ponygirl and Diva to finish saddling up. Doesn’t she look eager to hit the trail? We were treated to a beautiful fall weekend, cool but with plenty of sunshine, and we took advantage of the nice weather to go for a ride on Sunday. At this time of year, you never know when things might turn nasty.


As we move inexorably towards winter, the landscape continues to change. While there are still a few colourful trees to be seen, the rainy, windy days we had last week shook down a groundcover of leaves. Many trees now stand bare, their empty branches stark against the sky.


The dark green of evergreens now highlights the forest, holding firm when their deciduous neighbours have retired for the year.


As always, Diva led the way. There were no deer in the meadow on this occasion. Diva, so full of life and joie-de-vivre, spirit and heart, was thrilled to cut loose and gallop! Ivory and I stood quietly, content to watch Ponygirl and Diva run rings around us!




Watching Diva is a reminder that all Thoroughbred race horses trace their ancestry back to Arabians! Horses like Secretariat all sprang from three founding sires, imported into England in the early years of the 18th century: the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerly Turk and the Darley Arabian.


When Diva was satisfied with her run, we moved on, following the trail along the creek. The trees along the flowing water are popular with birds and a flock of robins was flitting about, to and fro-ing among the branches.


This is the time of year when all is revealed. As the trees lose their leaves, the hidden nests of summer birds are suddenly conspicuous. Can you see the nest in this shrub?


The tops of the goldenrod, so recent brilliant, are now wooly and silvered. Along the trail there are many patches of Old Man’s Beard (Clematis virginiana), the vines clambering over shrubs and up tree trunks. I love their charming, fluffy seedheads. Wild clematis is a moisture lover and is often found in damp places. Indeed, the trail was quite boggy in some sections.


After a pleasant tour, we turned back towards the stable and some well-deserved carrots for the horses.


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