Winter sun and snow

There is a quality to the light and it’s effect on the forest that renders the result nothing short of beautiful.

Walking through the quietness, with no other sounds but the tweet of a chickadee or the rapping of a woodpecker, if you listen carefully you might hear the sleushing of water next to the sleeping river.

And you see how the afternoon shadows distort the body of Skye-dog…

She is on a diet, but she’s not *that* gigantic!

And I’m not that tall and skinny!

I often pass this majestic butternut tree, on this day basking in the sunshine.  I have seen it for about twenty years now; it has been in slow decline due to ‘butternut canker’ (a fungus that enters through a wound and slowly kills the tree from the lower to upper canopy).

These Paper Birch trees will probably also succumb; their nemesis is the bronze birch borer.  This is the reason why most nurseries have pulled back on selling these species of birch (Betula papyrifera and B. pendula) in favour of the supposedly borer-proof and native, River Birch (Betula nigra).

There are little surprises in the snow…

… and then there are big surprises.

Rolling woolly desert!

Look what I did today!

This succulent and cacti planter was commissioned by the plant-loving owner of MediaStyle, Ian Capstick.   Ian and I first met when he worked as a ‘barista’ at our local Starbucks when I ran Hortus Urbanus.  Little did I know that while I was forming a personal attachment to non-fat, decaf lattes, Ian was developing a profound love of plants.

So when he was looking for inspiration for his new office space in downtown Ottawa, he contacted me.   Ian had already purchased a 2′ x 2′ woolly planter from these people, called Lil’ Meadow, and I had to think of a way to plant it up that would be striking and different.

Because their new office space had floor to ceiling west-facing windows, I thought a mini Arizona or desert garden would be interesting.  I used a selection of succulents and cacti, including some Haworthia, a Kalanchoe thyrsiflora and an assortment of my favourite succulent, Echeveria.

This planter will require very little care:  a little water, no significant fertilizing, bright light and hardly any tweaking (no falling foliage and few spent flowers).  I completed the project by finishing it off with a mulch of peastone.

And Ian was thinking ahead by placing it on a rolling platform so it can be turned this way and that, always seeking out the sun.

Snow and surprises…

There is something to be said for very clear, very cold winter days.  Something other than “it’s d*mn cold!”

Yesterday, the snow came down.  Hard.  And with very big flakes.

Covering everything and making a wonderland.

But amidst all this quiet, I heard fluttering and a familiar sound.  It was the sound of robins.  Lots of them.

Well of course you can’t see them (try clicking on the photo for a closer view) but take my word for it — a veritable gang of robins nibbling on the shrivelled fruit of buckthorn thickets and then taking a cool drink from an adjoining stream…

And then more — a pair of these birds.  Can you spot them?

Zoom in and see if you can identify them:  they have yellow breasts and a tuft on the tops of their heads.

But the real thrill came the day before while walking next to the river…

A beaver!  Right on the ice, like it was the most natural thing in the world — shouldn’t he be hibernating?

Tipis and odalisques: what is real history?

On one of our winter walks Skye and I came upon this tipi.  Traditionally the poles are made from cleaned and stripped pine …

… and the fastenings are also made from wooden stakes.

Skye sniffed to see who else had been inside this modern tipi, with a covering made from stitched canvas.

There is a quiet majesty associated with a tipi.  Even this one that is located in a small clearing on the grounds of Carleton University in Ottawa.  The many footprints indicate that others have found it enticing as well.  You can’t help but enter…and by doing so, into the past.

For this iconic dwelling has the power to transport you.  The famous American photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) captured this Sioux tipi on film around 1908 and called it ‘The Winter Camp’; it can be found here, on the Library of Congress website.

This print, also by Curtis, is entitled ‘The Village Herald’ and for me evokes romantic childhood images of Hollywood-ized ‘cowboys and Indians’.  It is hard to say how many of Curtis’ images were staged and dramatized for the camera and his non-native audience; some of his photos were clearly ‘parlour’ shots:

This man is from the Zuni tribe in what is now the south-western United States and he is shown essentially as a reclining nude in the grand odalisque style popularized by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.  This photo dates from around 1903.

If I’ve piqued your interest about tipis and their rich history, you can find a comprehensive bibliography here.