Char Gar Gothakon: The Up-Date That Hath No Name

So August happened.  September happened.  Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been “away” from the blog for sometime now.  A bit of a break happened, too, I guess.  And – yes – we are okay.  Nothing is the matter.

In fact, I had a wonderful summer (didn’t even notice any “dog days” this August!) and  – so far – have been having an amazing fall.  There have been lots of changes happening in my life, starting with the immense changes in the lives of my kids.  Lou Lou suddenly (almost melodramatically “suddenly”) grew into being four.  She jumped ship, transitioning from being fulltime at home to being full day at JK, and with nary a hitch.  She’s started wearing a bike helmet and zooming around the neighbourhood on the strider bike she so recently inherited from her brother, locking it to the school gate upon her arrival there every morning.   Like her brother last year, she will soon swim away from me at the pool too.

She had a birthday, making “four” official.  We celebrated that weekend with a huge open house in her honour.

Lou’s birthday had a “Scooby Doo and the Wiki Tiki” theme.  I decorated the house right down to the grass-skirted buffet table, laden with trays of veggies, chip dips, and fruit in a bowl I carved from a watermelon (once again proving that no project is too silly when it comes to my kids).  We grown ups enjoyed ourselves, drinking sangria punch and Hawaiian beer and noticing – after some time – that all the kids had disappeared.  And it was…  Way.  Too.  Quiet.

I soon discovered the whole lot of them upstairs in Lou Lou’s room –  7 or 8 children ages 2 through 6, flaked out everywhere and quietly watching Lou’s newest Scooby Doo movie together.  Several were seated on the couch, while several more of them were sitting around on the floor, building with her new (birthday present) Lego sets.  No fighting, just sharing.  Hanging out.  I felt proud to notice that the bigger children seemed to be watching over the littler ones as they toddled around, enjoying the mess.  It wowed me to see them in disaster-free independence like that,  shades (I hope!) of the future – my kids and their friends as teens.  Already I sometimes feel like they don’t quite need us.  Not as much, anyhow.

And – of course – that’s the crux of what I’m going through right now, isn’t it?  Transitioning from being needed overwhelmingly all day (and sometimes all night!) long by two little  people (and often by one demanding big person as well), to – quite suddenly, as it turns out – being off the hook completely from 9:10 till 3:35.  As well as noticing that my two “little ones” are increasingly independent even when they are around.

Okay, the “witching hour” (2 or 3 hours between about 4:30 and 7:30 in fact) is still a bit of a painful stretch.  I earn my keep in those hours.   But still.  I have alone time now.  I can make the beds now. Unload the dishwasher now.  I get to see some of those list items getting checked off every day.  Going for a walk isn’t a problem.  I no longer spend hours a day getting milks, wiping bums or doing puzzles with anyone.

So.  What am I going to do with my life now, you may be asking?  Surely I’ve gauged made beds and having a tidy countertop as less than worthy goals in life when there are mountains yet to climb and novels as yet unwritten.  Or have I?

Turns out that being the mom of school-aged kids is still leaving me with a pretty full dance card.  So far, at least.   Six and a bit hours zoom by pretty quick by the time you unload the dishwasher, put away a load of loaundry, pick up some groceries, get dinner started, and maybe squeeze in a quick walk.  Sure, it feels a bit less chaotic for a few hours each day, but – so far – there’s still lots to do.

And evenings are busy.  Between afterschool playground time, getting them home and serving a snack and some milk (Lou is whiney and tired by then), and then finishing up dinner and getting it on the table (by now to full on howls from Lou Lou, who’s just realizing she’s exhausted and has an empty tank), it’s often after 7 by the time everyone’s managed to eat something and settle into “evening” mode.  And by then I notice I’m feeling pretty tuckered myself.  It’s hard to get that second wind started that sees me through getting the dishwasher loaded and going, tidying up (there’s always a few things that need hand washing plus everything needs a wipe down by then too), and packing the lunch bags for the following day.

By then it’s 8:30PM.  I just remember I didn’t have a shower again today and feel cruddy.  I take a quick bath and get my jammies on.

9:30 now.  Oops.  That’s pretty late.  I order the kids into the bathroom and get them to clean their teeth (well, I brush Lou’s, actually, but Booba does his own, which is a blessing) and change into whatever they’re wearing to bed.  Lou likes pj’s but sometimes my Tarzan prefers to sleep in his boxer briefs.

We all snuggle into Boo’s bottom bunk.  After my busy day and warm bedtime bath I can barely keep my eyes open, but Boo is raring to go on his favourite routine of the day.  It’s time to read.

We start with Go, Dog, Go.  Booba reads.  He’s in fine form tonight.  He reads on, quickly sounding out words, then recapping at the end of each sentence, for 8 pages.  When he’s tired from the effort, we smooth his green and gold Ottawa Gymnastics Centre participation ribbon against the page, shut the book, and place it on his night table.

“Now Treasure Island, Mumma,” he emplores.  I open the Robert Louis Stevenson and pick up where I left off the night before.

“Get me some milk, Mumma..” Lou Lou whines.

“In a few minutes,” I say.  “After I read this, okay?”

“Okay,” she answers softly.  She turns on her side and puts her hands under her head.  A minute later she’s sleeping.

I continue reading.  Boo’s eyelids are getting heavy and his speech is slurred a bit as he says “Keep reading, Mom.”  He is trying so hard to stay awake and listen.  Fighting sleep.

A minute or two later he is breathing deeply.  I put my bookmark – a pair of paper 3D glasses – in the pages and close the book.  Silence.  They’re both asleep.

I turn out the light and pull down my sleeping mask.  I lie in bed and feel amazingly grateful and blessed, cuddling my two kids.

I entitled this update “Char Gar Gothakon:  The Up-Date that Hath No Name” as a bit of a joke.  Char Gar Gothakon: The Beast that Hath No Name was a Mystery Incorporated episode about a novelist whose monster comes to life.  The episode and the novel shared the same title -a title I just loved.  A running gag in this episode was “How can the beast have no name when you just named it in the title?”  Understandably, the genius of the novel’s author (a professor at Darrow College) was a matter of some debate amongst his fans (and haters) at Crystal Cove’s local post secondary institution.

I started back to writing last week feeling like I didn’t know what to tell you about where I’m at with my life right now, where I stand in relation to where I stood when I started this blog way back in November 2012.  Ergo, a blog up-date that hath no name.  No topic.  A real Char Gar Gothakon.

Life is calmer now, in some senses.  It feels serene.  Happy.  Routines are good.  They’re old enough for routines now.  So, for me, there’s less urgency to spill my guts about everything I think and feel, less need to scream “I’m still here!  I’m not just a cleaning lady or a milk-getting machine.  And – by the way – don’t eye me like that when you catch any of us “having a moment” in the grocery store.  I am not my kids and my kids aren’t me.  Sometimes they’re going to act up or make mistakes.  It doesn’t mean I’m not doing a great job as a mom, ’cause I am!!!  Yeah – well – the urgency to say all that gets less (even though I just said it all – again) as your kids get a bit older and grow more independant.  As they go off to school and new activities (no longer “Mommy and Me” ones) and begin to learn and grow and stand alone as separate little people.

This brave new world is a real Char Gar Gothakon to me.  I don’t quite know what to expect of this new phase of my life yet.  This week, depressingly, I have contractors here again – still messing up this house, keeping me from privacy or quiet, and even making it impossible to enjoy the smallest of my new little freedoms, like going out for an hour, child-free.  They make me feel like I’m being bullied, hiding in a room with no right to do my own thing in my own house.  But I will get through this and get on with the new things I am, slowly but surely, planning to add to my own life this year.

For one thing, I got myself an exciting new job (more about that later  – I’ll save it for another post!). For another, I will continue (as always) to give some piano lessons.  But I’m doing less of that – less piano – this year.  I’m trying harder to be here for our evenings.  Evening is SO important.  Bedtime is so important.

I’m also seeing that the kids get to all their new “bigger kid” activities.  Boo and Lou are continuing to swim this year, have replaced gymnastics with Ukrainian dancing – think Daddy was as excited as the kids about this one – and, on top of all that, I will be bringing Boo to Camerata Music once a week for his very own piano lesson with Auntie Laurie.  At school, Boo continues to be a French Immersion student and has also expressed an interest in participating in the Primary Choir (now that he is a Mighty Grade One he is old enough to join).  I’ll keep you posted as all these new things unfold.

And – of course – I’ll keep you posted too on how my newbie to the world of being four makes out with fullday kindergarten.  ‘Cause that right there is the hugest change for us all.  Lou has taken the first step on the road to being a full-on adult member of society some day.  She’s added her little shoes to the pile that have to go somewhere! every day.  She’s off to the races… School!  Her first “real job” in life


Big girls go to school!


And I’m so proud of her.  So proud of us all.  We made it here, wherever “here” is.  Char Gar Gothakon.  So far, so good.

All for now,


Gratitude, to the tune of “Gravity”

I was tagged in the “5 Days of Gratitude” campaign that’s going around (amongst my friends, at least) on Facebook right now.  And, in one of those weird synchronicities of life, my husband made this video yesterday.  It’s so amazing that I had to share it.

There are so many things in this life I’m grateful for.  The presence of three of the things I’m most grateful for (my son, daughter, and the filmmaker – my husband) are very obvious in this short film.

There are other things which I – occasionally – stop and feel a sense of gratitude (and wonder) over.  Air with oxygen.  Green grass. Sunlight.  Gravity.  Our planet, that provides just the right amounts of all these things for us to live and grow  (wow – that’s awfully amazing if we stop and consider it for a sec).

Being a member of a nurturing species that runs along beside our helmeted young on bikes with training wheels and that’s intelligent enough to reflect on a concept like gratitude in the first place.  Having leisure enough to write about it.

My children, who are healthy, make me laugh every day, and wow me with the new skills they’re acquiring.  My son Boo learned to kayak in a half-day this week.  Last week he got his first big boy pedal bike (no training wheels).  Dad took it out of the car.  My son got on it and rode away.  Simple as that.

Likewise, both my children have figured out enough applied physics to make the swings go.  Our amazing brains.

There is so much to be grateful for in this life.  Try to get out there and enjoy our planet a little today.  It’s amazing and wonderful that we exist in such a place.  And, yes, it makes me feel a little gratitude from time to time.  We are so lucky to be here.

Music for the video, btw,  is from the 2013 movie “Gravity.”  A new family fav.

All for now,


P.S.  RIP Robin Williams.  It’s unbelievably sad news. Felt compelled somehow to say so.


The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part III: Batchelor Buttons and Confusion

Back to the flowers of Newfoundland now for a bit.  Next up, an interesting constant – a wildflower (AKA “weed”) that is commonly found in both Newfoundland and Ontario.  Everyone knows what a Batchelor Button is, am I right?

To me, it’s Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (isn’t that a musical name?), more commonly know as Oxeye Daisy.  That’s YOUR Bachelor Button too, right?

Well, right.  And NOT right.  It turns out that, although most of us share a similar affection for identifying a certain wildflower as a “Batchelor Button,”  which flower we would choose is a matter of some debate.

My mom consistently identifies this showy white daisy-like Newfoundland weed as Batchelor Button.   So I grew up believing that was its name.  Yet, since I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve learned that my mother also consistently identifies Musk Mallow as  “Columbine.”  I’m also increasingly uncertain that she can tell the difference between Forget-Me-Not and Stout Blue-Eyed Grass (fairly uncertain whether I can tell this difference myself!).

Wood Forget-Me-Nots.  They belong to the family Boraginaceae.

Wood Forget-Me-Nots. They belong to the family Boraginaceae. Imagine from Wikipedia.


Praire Blue-Eyed Grass. They’re actually irises.  Take a good look at those flowers. They’re pretty similar.

I’m a big girl now, and I guess I figured out a while ago that my parents don’t always know everything (they already knew this, it’s their adoring daughter who took longer to figure it out).  In fact, for a while now, it’s been more a case of them asking me about plants.  So I was starting to figure that a) they were often incorrect, and that b) I was the family expert.

In this humble spirit, I started my investigation into Newfoundland’s Batchelor Button.   First up, I googled “Batchelor Button.”  Here’s a picture of what I got back:


Yup.  Apparently – for Mainland Canadians – a “Batchelor Button” is… Chicory.

Chicory is pretty common around here (goldfinches seem to LOVE it), but – to the best of my limited recollection – it seems to be LESS common in Newfoundland.  Although I’m a big admirer of those almost periwinkle blue flowers and the equally technicolour birds they attract, I was a bit taken aback that these were somebody else’s “Batchelor Buttons”.  They certainly weren’t mine.  Who’s going to do the whole “He loves me, he loves me not…”  thing with THOSE petals?  Am I right?

So, were my mother and I just plain wrong calling Oxeye Daisies  “Batchelor Buttons”?  Keep reading…

In the name of investigative journalism, I dug a little deeper into this issue.  For starters, I was pretty sure the plant we (and, I assume, all Newfies) referred to as Batchelor Button had another common name, Oxeye Daisy (I’m going to go with this identification for now, but they could be Scentless Chamomile, or even Shasta Daisies.  Which I doubt – Shasta Daisies always flop over.  Which I despise.).   My next stop was to check what Wikipedia had to say about “Batchelor Button.”   I was, of course, looking for Oxeye Daisies to be there somewhere.  Here’s what I read:

Bachelor’s buttons is a common name for several plant species:

- Wikipedia, under Batchelor’s Buttons

Okay, so the link is there, but I’ve literally transcribed the entire entry.  That’s  ALL Wikipedia has got for “Batchelor’s Buttons.”  If you’re curious, you can  follow the links to all the species.  Try to find “MY” Batchelor Button.  Did you find it?

Yup.  Wikipedia does have our Bachelor Buttons (Yay, Mom!  You go, girl!).  And they said they’re… Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew).

Now I’m not expert on plants (I’ve mentioned this, right?) but I AM curious.  I also know when it’s time to run to my books.  ‘Cause I’m pretty sure Tanacetum means “tansy” in everyday speak.  I’m also fairly sure tansy is yellow stuff.  Just plain yellow stuff (no white petals).  I’ve mentioned my favourite (although there’s a small pile growing here now…) wildflower guide before – it’s Ontario Wildflowers: 101 Wayside Flowers by Linda Kershaw.

Linda Kershaw sounds (and looks – I love the photo of her, with her hubs and two grown sons, at the back of the book!) like a person I would like.  A person I  should have respect for.  Already she’s someone whose opinion I value a lot.  And Linda Kershaw DOES NOT call Chrysanthemum leucanthemum “Feverfew.”  She saves THAT name for Tansy, a wildflower she doesn’t even mention in Ontario Wildflowers.  I had to hit Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada to find it.

Back to my Wikipedia Entry.  Here’s the first paragraph under the  Tanacetum parthenium entry:

Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) is a traditional medicinal herb which is commonly used to prevent migraine headaches, and is also occasionally grown for ornament. The plant grows into a small bush up to around 46 cm (18 in) high with citrus-scented leaves, and is covered by flowers reminiscent of daisies. It spreads rapidly, and they will cover a wide area after a few years. It is also commonly seen in the literature by its synonyms, Chrysanthemum parthenium and Pyrethrum parthenium. It is also sometimes referred to as bachelor’s buttons or featherfew.[1]

So Tanacetum parthenium is the same thing as Chrysanthemum parthenium (NOT leucanthemum) Uh, okay.  The picture next to the article looked a LITTLE like my Batchelor Buttons, but not quite.  The petals are more roundy on this plant, plus the leaves look kinda wrong.  More importantly, mine are no bush.  And I don’t remember a “citrus-y” scent.

Wikipedia's Batchelor's Buttons.  Also known as Feverfew (Linda Kershaw might not agree!), Featherfew, and Tanacetum parthenium.

Wikipedia’s Batchelor’s Buttons. Also known as Feverfew , Featherfew, and Tanacetum parthenium.  But – to be sure – you should check with Linda Kershaw.

I rush back to Linda Kershaw now.   After a bit of (more patient!) reading I finally get that Tanacetum parthenium is also known as “Feverfew,”  but looks a fair bit different from Tansy vulgare, which basically looks like the flower centres but with no petals.

So, okay, THIS is tansy (T. vulgare).  From what I understand, it is NOT called Feverfew (that's the one with the petals).  I think I got it now...

So, okay, THIS is tansy (T. vulgare). From what I understand, it is NOT called Feverfew (that’s the one with the petals). I think I got it now…

Okay, now it’s about time to unveil my own pictures.  These are MY Bachelor Buttons.  What do you think?

Bachelor Buttons at Sandy Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bachelor Buttons at Sandy Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador.


Was going for art more than science that day. Now wish I could get a better look at those leaves!


Well, at least I can say one thing: My Bachelor Buttons are definitely in the Chrysanthemum family. And they are definitely (!) not Chicory.

It turns out my whole story today is about my inability to make a certain ID of a familiar plant.  There are a couple of lessons here:

  1. It’s not always easy (or possible) to get that positive ID of a wild plant.  Many species look similar and like similar habitats.  Further, look-alike wildflowers have a nasty habit of growing close to each other (that one hemlock in a field of wild parsnip!), making sorting them out from one another a literal game of teasing them apart.
  2. What we call something is a game of semantics.  The same name may be used for different plants in different places.  Or the same plant may have different names, even in the same place (and it does – at the VERY least it’ll have both a common name and a scientific, Latin name!).  Heck, in Newfoundland “dinner” is the meal you eat at noon.  It’s all a matter of context, isn’t it?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Similarly, my mom’s sweet and sour chicken tastes just as good leftover at dinner/lunch the next day as it did at supper/dinner the evening before.
  3. This botany stuff can get confusing!
  4. I’m not ready to eat any wild plants yet.

My Bachelor Buttons are probably Oxeye Daisies, but they might be Feverfew (T. parthenium).  Heck, they might even be Scentless Chamomile or Shasta Daisies.  But, in Newfoundland, they’re Bachelor Buttons.  At least I’m positive about that!

All for now,


P.S.  Talkback time!  Do you call a certain flower “Bachelor (or Bachelor’s) Buttons”?  Ever played “he loves me, he loves me not”?  Which flower is YOUR Bachelor Button, and which species do you think mine actually are?

Copyright: cbenjasuwan / 123RF Stock Photo

“The Blog of Dr. John H. Watson”

I’m still walking in the mornings.  I’m really proud of myself.

Today I was up at 6:30 AM (before the rest of my family), having gone to bed by 10:30 PM (also before the rest of my family!), the night before.  I like some coffee and a nibble of something to eat before I go, so I did that.  Also put up my hair, used my “mineral salt” deodorant crystal thingie (try it – it feels great and is aluminum-free!) I’m into these days and threw on something quasi-decent.  Laced up my pink sneaks just so and off I went, into the breezy cool morning air by 7:30 AM.  I still felt a sense of accomplishment at having made it out while everyone else was sleeping.

A lot of parenting gurus say that tucking your squirming, squealing monsters into bed with a storybook at 7:30 PM is the parenting secret to getting that blessed hour of “adult alone time” which I’ve recently come to the realization that I just plain really, really need.  But I gave up trying to get Boo routinely to bed any time before 11 PM AGES AGO  (he’s s a natural night hawk, and doesn’t appear to need – unfortunately – any more sleep than I do).  Lou, on the other hand,  is self-regulating and falls asleep wherever and whatever, and usually at a reasonable hour.  But, thanks to Boo, a reliable hour of “adult time” (perhaps with my husband) each night is just not happening.

Last night, Lou came to bed with me.  Boo went off with the Boy Genius a little later.  Sure I missed an hour of late-night family tv time, but I got my sleep, plus now I am out in a nice breeze with my sneakers on.  And I am blessedly alone – Hurray!!!

Suddenly this fact – that I am alone, somehow weightless, child-free – walking at 7:30 in the morning hits me like a ton of confetti.  I am alone!!!  Perhaps, nobody even knows where I am.  This is a sensation I haven’t had since some solitary moment when I was about twenty years old, with no responsibilities in those days except the ones I owed to myself.  I feel it again right now.  I feel..  euphoria.

Copyright: <a href=''>antonioguillem / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

“I’m FREEEE! WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I am free.

I am free and  I am walking.  I  feel like running and jumping for joy.  It almost doesn’t even bring me down when I pass the first stop on my daily “wildflowers of Ontario”  exploration of discovery – a derelict lot where one of our neighbour’s homes unfortunately burned to the ground two years’ ago – and find it vandalized.

Somebody’s given all the fireweed they could get at (without hopping the temporary plastic fencing) a brutal haircut.  My corner of 6 foot tall fuchsia pink wildflowers is… gone.

And it’s one of those neighbourhood things – you know what I mean, right?  I mean I basically can tell you exactly who did this, without having actually witnessed a thing.  And I can feel the waves of bad vibes it’s giving off.  I literally can.

Somebody’s an idiot.  The plants were, well, gorgeous.  The wild growth wasn’t hurting anybody.  On the contrary, it was beautiful and natural.  The awful pruning shears hatchet job left behind is ugly and, as I said, gives off a hateful dis-regard for other people’s sensibilities.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only neighbourhood walker who’s going to notice it.  Oh well..

I’ve noticed before that walking has a funny effect on me.  Overall, it makes me feel a lot better.  Energized and calmer.  More centred. But – like playing the classical accordion or practicing transcendental meditation perhaps – walking doesn’t necessarily give me the results I want straight away.  Oh no – it’s not yielding up the secrets to its power so easily.  I need to practice to get there.

When I walk, my blood pumps harder.  My lymph fluid starts to move, bathing my joints as it flows.  My thoughts, too, flow – a sensation (sometimes an unpleasant one) that I am learning to live with.  Like an actor or musician practicing the Alexander method, I try hard to just “let” my body relax into its motion.  To “let” my mind relax into its thoughts.

And, so, in addition to admiring Ontario’s flora, doing a little people watching, and writing my next blog update in my head, I find myself reliving the past and fretting over the future.   I find myself despairing at the state of the world.  I sweat out bitterness and indignation like toxins as I walk.  I feel myself getting angry, taste its bile for a moment, and let it pass.  I feel glad I am walking alone.

“This, too, shall pass.”  Or so the old saying goes.

A few years ago I would not so readily have opened myself to this process.  I would have blamed the walking and not the walker, as it were.  Chaulked it up to a surge of adrenaline instead of taking a deeper look at what (heavy stuff!) I’m carrying inside myself.  But I’m okay with it now.  I’m not stuffing these feelings back inside, like demons to be kept hidden in the closet, any more.  Not any longer.  Because I’ve finally reached the point where I’m starting to get that the real demon is misunderstanding.   And I think I somehow have the strength (finally!) to deal with that one.

So I’m walking this morning and I’m thinking about ways I could deal with the Misundertanding Demon.  Having several big “clear the air” type discussions with a bunch of people about a bunch of things?  Nah.  I’m liable to get too hot and bothered (or come across that way, anyhow).  Then people wouldn’t hear what I was saying so much as how I was  saying it.  Defenses would start going up.  People wouldn’t hear me anymore.  And I’d so much love to be heard now.

Besides, some of the people I understand at last or need understanding from finally are dead.  You can’t have a real two-way discussion with a ghost.  Believe me, I’ve tried.

As I’m thinking all this and doing my quick stride, a rabbit darts across my path scarcely two feet in front of me.  I see his tiny legs and the vivid white fur on the underside of his (barely dirty!) long feet.  He’s just a baby.

Copyright: <a href=''>subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

If you’re looking for a truly innocent creature, here’s one. Unless you’re lettuce.

The rabbit is as startled by my sudden presence as I am by his.  He scurries off the path, but the cover he picks is really a large, low clearing, grown over only because of some small trees.  He freezes against a tree with his back to me, the animal version of a child’s “You can’t see me if my eyes are closed” logic.  It makes me smile.  I’m tempted to say “Peekaboo, Baby”  but from the side view of his cranium I can detect his large eye orbiting in fear.  I keep walking instead.

Obviously, for me, the key to defeating the Misunderstanding Demon is my blog.  I know many people would be completely uncomfortable with this means of dealing with something so private, but for me somehow it’s better.  Writing and just “putting it out there” works for me.  I’m not ashamed of anything I have to say, and – anyhow – finding out who’s still “with you” (as it were) after reading it all is the best “people-filter” ever.  If you don’t like it, well, you don’t really like me.  Besides which,  if you don’t like it, maybe you should ask yourself“why?”

‘Cause I’ve noticed the things that are the quickest to bring a knee-jerk reaction from us all are, more often than not, the things we need to explore further.  Jealous of somebody?  You probably won’t have to look far to figure out what they have or are doing that you envy.  Anger’s like that, too.  It begs us to do some further reflection.

Copyright: <a href=''>AlienCat / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Demons: I’m learning that the things we’re quickest to be judgemental and arrogant about are often the things in life that we should reflect on a little longer. Our judgements can be fear or jealousy, masquerading as something else simply to keep our own defenses intact.

I don’t know how many of you watch the BBC series Sherlock.  I just started following it myself fairly recently.  Do you remember the very first episode?  John Watson (Martin Freeman) is sitting across from his therapist, a professional-looking black woman, who says “Are you still writing your blog, Dr. Watson?” at the same moment as we see a blank page on a computer screen.  Across the top of the page, in an elegant font,  it says The Blog of Dr. John H. Watson.

He’s written nothing.

Next the doctor says “If you write down everything that happens to you, Dr. Watson –  I swear – it WILL help you.”

“Nothing happens to me,” Watson replies in a monotone.

Which isn’t true.  A moment before we’ve seen this vet, this medic recently returned from Afghanistan, waken from his dreams.  Dreams of action.  Of combat.  Of fear.  And pain.  And loss.

This man is full of trauma.  Full of Demons.  And yet he says “Nothing happens to me.”

I love that moment.  It encapsulates so much.

Because a therapist can take a person apart, but  – maybe – somehow have that person leave in an hour not put back together.   Because, if your defenses aren’t somehow in tact, you’re not liable to be very functional.  But writing – blogging – ahh, that’s a little different.   Soon Dr. Watson discovers that – the more he writes and comes to NEED his blog – the less he needs his therapist.

What am I saying?  I don’t have a therapist.  On the other hand, I do need my blog.  Yah yah yah, it’s confessional and that’s not for everyone.  But it is for me.  People who love me and understand me should be able to celebrate that –  for whatever reason –  I am different from them in this respect.

So I’m walking, and I’m thinking about the ghosts now, but also about the other people who knew and loved theses ghosts.  The other people I know and love.  People I don’t want to alienate, but want understanding from.  People I want to cry out to – “I want back the respect and trust that I deserve from you!”, “I want back the place in your heart, in your inner circle, that is rightfully mine!“, and “I’m not crazy, I’m not a failure, and please don’t talk about me behind my back.”

Now I’m walking and tears are squirting out of the corners of my eyes.  Tears are rolling down my cheeks.  I’ve planned out a great blog post in my head, but I’m not at all sure I’m brave enough to write it.

Shit, shit, shit!!!  This is NOT how I want to feel during my walk.

And that’s when I see the notebook.

It’s placed ever so casually on the park bench, as if its owner may be back for it at any second.  Only thing is, it’s inside a Ziploc bag, as if to protect it from the elements.  Further, a note is attached on top of the book with an elastic.

The note says “Read me.”   Inside the bag there is a ball-point pen and a (broken) pencil.

I pick it up as I pass.  I’m about to continue my (Mom-inspired) clip when something about the simple caps makes me stop.

READ ME.  In pencil.  Nothing else.  Left on the park bench.  This note, and its book, belong here.  I suddenly realize I’m not supposed to take this book home.

All at once I feel like Alice.  It’s an invitation to fall down the rabbit hole.  To shrink and fit through the door.

Copyright: <a href=''>vicnt / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

An amazing discovery gave me an “Alice in Wonderland” feeling for a moment during my walk today.

I am intrigued.  I sit down and open the notebook.  I’m half expecting the words “Drink Me” or “Eat Me” to materialize on the page.

“Hi There,”  it says on the first page.  It was the same friendly looking caps, inscribed in pencil.  “Thanks for stopping to read me.  How are you today?  I usually bike by on the bike path and don’t come down here.  I came down today and I’m glad I did – it’s such a lovely spot.  Right now I am watching the clouds roll by…”

The note  – dated the evening before at about 8 M – went on for 2 or 3 of the book’s small pages, and described the experience the writer was having at that moment (mostly peaceful and enjoying the view along the river).  It ended with an invitation for a response.  I turned the page, expecting to write my reply.  There was another entry.

Again in pencil.  “Hi There!  Well, I was certainly surprised to find this!  My wife and I walk here each evening and watch the sun set along the river.  The walk takes away all the thoughts and stresses of the day and keeps health problems at bay..”  This entry, again, went on for about 2 pages.

I turned the page again.  Another entry.

And another.  And another.

One person, obviously touched by the found notebook, left their email address.  Another left their phone number and suggested the originator might want to get together with them to talk about Jesus.  One entry read only “What a lovely discovery! – the 6 Walking Woman.”

Almost all the entries read like of stream-of-consciousness appreciations of nature – the river, the air, the view, as well as of the peace and solitude and healing that people felt there.  One person wished that there was less litter and traffic noise.  Several read like poetry.

All were confessional.  And left for the stranger who’d shared his thoughts (and his notebook!) with us.  At some point, the pencil had evidently broken and someone had donated the pen.

No one had disrespected this person’s sensibilities.  No one had thrown this book into the garbage can.  Or the river.

I dated my entry 08-AUG and wrote the time: 8:25 AM.   At 8:31 I put the little book back into its baggie and walked rapidly away.  I had shared my moment, but I still preferred to keep my privacy.  I wrote something like:

“Hello.  I get up early and leave before my hubs and kids awake, if schedule allows.  As I walk I enjoy all the wildflowers (test yourself:  how many can you ID?) and the river.  The quiet.  Today as I walk I am thinking of family and friends far from me.  Happy-sad stuff.  This is a lovely idea – I love all the thoughts people have shared.  Do you have a blog?  Will this be a post?  Please send me a link, I will try to read it [I left my blog address]  Well, I will just say Namaste (I do not sell Jesus), Butterfly.”

It’s probably all very stupid and juvenile.  I know several people who would think so (where’s you sense of adventure, guys?).  I have friends who would never have written in this book.  After all, who knows who did this.  Or why.  On the other end, I sense someone young.  Someone with a kindness bucket list, or an “I make art out of being an explorer of the world” thing going on.  And this reminds me of several young people I “know” in my virtual community.  It makes me smile and feel older, yes, but hopeful too.

It makes me way less alone this morning.  As I make a bladder-related pit stop at the Westboro beach facilities, I feel a sudden twinge of anxiety for the notebook, as though it’s one of my children.  Fear it will come to some harm if left alone.

Copyright: <a href=''>frenta / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Suddenly, I am full of anxiety for the little notebook, and the lovely, gentle thoughts and feelings it waits to share with its originator.

But, of course, being left there alone is what it’s all about.  It’s an exercise in trust.  An experiment in the good still present in humanity.  Kind of like my blog.

On different days this blog is for different people.  Sometimes it’s for the mom out there who just wonders what to do about bed-wetting.  Or poop.  Somedays it’s for my friends Janet, or Kim, who like it when I make them laugh.  Sometimes it’s for Marzenka, who “likes big books”.  She’s willing to read those long posts, where something profound maybe comes out of something “everyday”, something banal.  I love that about Marzenka.  It says something beautiful and profound, in return, about her (don’t you think?).

Other days this blog is for Laurie.  My dear friend.  She reminds me – always at the best moments – that I am talented and brave.

Today I am thinking of my Patchipaw Pa, who’s far away but knows who I mean.  I’m looking forward to hugging him again.

As I wind my way home today, I pick up pine cones for the Littles.  Rememberships of the long journey I’ve somehow just been on.  The same rabbit crosses my path quickly as I pass through the same small woods again.   This time I contemplate the possibility that he is the rabbit from Wonderland.   I don’t notice the desecrated wildflower lot this time as I climb back up my street.

Mr. Pruning  Shears may not know it, but Fireweed roots grow deep.  The flowers and I are laughing.

All for now,


Copyright: surabky / 123RF Stock Photo

Lou Lou’s Dragon

Canada’s shortest season continues to pass and – now that the Littles and I are back from Newfoundland –  my husband and I have been getting Boo and Lou back into the rhythm of summer vacation, Ontario style.  While we had some rainy, cool weather the first week after we got home, this past week  summer’s heat and humidity returned with a vengeance.   Meaning it was time for some outdoor adventures, with Family Canoeing topping the list.

This year’s been a funny one, what with all my Bucket List-style road-tripping and the many things the Boy Genius himself has been juggling between work and home.  It seemed a bit like canoeing, that intrinsically Canadian pastime which means so much to us both, had fallen by the wayside.  In fact, by the end of July, Boo and Lou had only been out ONE TIME with BG.  And that was a day that – thanks to my own (part-time) career – couldn’t even join them.

Now – to frame this story – I guess I should tell you that the Boy Genius and I have our ears open constantly, listening for tips about new and (hopefully) pristine places to go canoeing.  Places with clean water.  Places to swim.  Places with wildlife.  The whole “getting-away-from-it-all-and-making-a-campfire-if-we-(damn)-want-to” thing.  Places we can go and take the kids, places close enough for a day trip (because it’s hard to plan, pack, and execute a trip that’s any longer in one canoe with a family of four aboard).

In short, we’re on the hunt for great canoe spots within a two-hour drive of urban Ottawa.  And no one who knows a place like that is eager to share the location – they’re keeping this information to themselves.  So this looking out for places is a tricky job, and it’s one that I admit has fallen one hundred percent on my husband’s (broad) shoulders.

This day I couldn’t go canoeing was a day my husband had selected to venture out and explore one of these hard to come by new places.  Because I’m all about sharing information, I’m going to let you in on it (although I will add that – if you have a big dog, drink a lot of beer, are going to the wilderness to play the radio loudly, or just generally are not a “zero trace camping” sort of person – I’d rather you didn’t actually go!).

The place is called Morris Island Conservation Area.   Of course (because it was canoeing, and involved being with Daddy, eating chocolate pudding and being wet), our kids loved it.  But this outing was a little different.  The children returned home with a strange and childishly exciting story to tell.

“Mommy, Mommy!  We saw a DRAGON!  my daughter Lou burbled excitedly.

Now I should say that Little Lou Lou, at nearly four-years-old, still seems very… well, little.  The baby of our family, she’s MY “baby” as well,  and she still seems so childlike and precious (tiny limbs, baby lisp and all !) in the myriad ways her older brother, the Boo, is so rapidly out-growing.  So her story could be a day-dream, or pure babbling, and I listen to it the way parents listen to all the usual nonsense kids say all day long, even managing an enthusiastically non-committal rejoinder.

“Holy jumpin’s!”  I say energetically.   What I always say when I’m not really listening.  Not listening hard, anyhow.

But the story – of a hole in the ground and a loud and menacing hiss! as my husband and kids drew closer – was collaborated both by her older brother AND my (even older) husband.  Lou’s story, in short, was factual.

The kids found this all tremendously fascinating and mysterious, of course, and Lou Lou’s “dragon” (which I assumed must have been some sort of snake) remained a frequently recurring subject of conversation around the supper table.  And then – this past Sunday – I found myself at Morris Island Conservation Area.  And face to face with Lou’s dragon.

It was not a snake.

Now I’m going to back the story up several more paces and tell you that, for one thing, I am still without my Samsung Galaxy camera, a fact I am fairly cheesed off about.  As a blogger and Pinterest junkie, being without my “smart camera” – now that I’ve grown so used to having it – feels like I am missing an appendage.  I am irked about this product’s apparent software problems (my IT expert of a brother says the issues have been caused by something called the “operating system” :P), especially considering the big bucks I paid for this toy a scant few months back.  Right now, my camera’s off at Samsung, via Best Buy (thanks guys!) and I am mightily annoyed.  It’s been 2 weeks already.  I want my camera back now.

Before the days of my Galaxy, we had (and continue to have, as a  – whew! – back-up) a rather good but clunkily LARGE Panasonic camera.  Although I loved (and still very much like) this camera, I hated schlepping it places.  It is big and heavy, requiring a large-ish removable battery, a charger for said battery, and a cap for its (permanently protruding) lens.  In fact, we carry the Panasonic around in a big blue lunch bag singularly devoted to its containment.  The Samsung, in contrast, is small enough to slip in my pocket.  Yes, I bought a GPS case to keep it safe in, but the whole rig (case included) still fits easily into my purse.

In other words, I was really looking forward to having the new, highly portable, camera for something like, I don’t know say, a Family Canoe Outing.  And yet.  The day came at last and I found myself without it.  I resigned myself to being at leisure in beautiful nature that day, cameraless.

I stuffed my desire to take photographic samples of everything around me deep down inside and resolved to hold it in check for at least this one day out with my kids.  After all, Lou already has a bad habit of screaming “Put away that damn camera!!!” at the strangest times, while Boo ducks and covers whenever I turn it in his direction now.  So I’m getting the feeling my kids are not entirely mad about my photographic obsession.

Another aside, this again essential to the story.  While we were in Newfoundland, my cousin Shell “lent” me a cellphone (with, in fact, no plans on ever asking for its return).  She had a set of two such phones, with a plan that allowed them to call each other for free.  This was during her mom’s (my aunt’s) illness.  Sadly, her mom has passed.  The term of the phones was ending now, and – as I am one of the approximately twelve remaining people on the planet with NO cellphone – Shell gave me this phone so we could stay connected during our time together in St. John’s.  Shell at her hotel with Phone Number 1.  Me and the kids at my brother’s (landline-less!) little house with Phone Number 2.

When Shell flew home, she left Phone Number 2 with us.  Without a charger and with its calling plan expiring any minute, but I was free to claim this phone, somehow, if I so chose.  Or recycle it.  Shell herself bought a new iPhone 5 at the Avalon Mall the day before heading back to Iqaluit.  And, for my part, I completely forgot about the phone.

By the time we returned from Newfoundland, I found the (now utterly dead) phone still stuffed in the pocket of one of my bags.  Soon it became Lou Lou’s favourite toy, and everyone in Ottawa was treated to the spectacle of my daughter – who shows her girly side with an addiction to purses, shoes, and cellphones –  yammering away on it as we made our way around the grocery store.

After a while, Lou asked me why her phone was not working.

“The battery’s dead,”  I answered simply.  I decided to focus on the battery as it is, at least, something Lou can sort of understand (more so than cellphone carriers, wi-fi signals, and monthly billing anyhow!).

As we were in the grocery store line-up at the moment of this philosophical discussion, Lou retorted by simply holding out a package of Duracell double A’s.

“Put more,”  she replied.  See Mom, easy!

Somehow I got her home without buying yet more AA batteries (we have lots already).  Later, I conversationally mentioned our daughter’s wit and determination to having a real working phone! to her father.

“Show me the phone” my electrical engineer of a man replied.  He disappeared into the study, returning with a small black bag.

“This is a universal charger,” my husband explained.  He took the battery out of Lou’s LG “play” phone and promptly charged it.

Soon Lou has a really, working LG flip phone, with a Fido homescreen that reads “Unregistered SIM” across the bottom.  She can’t make any calls, but she does have her own camera now.  Suddenly my daughter is an amateur photographer, happily snapping away.  Even her big brother wants to have a turn with this terrific new plaything.

Lou takes her phone everywhere.  She even slips it into the front pocket of her little backpack on the day of our Family Canoe Outing.  And so – after a good hour or so of peaceful relative boredom, seasoned with a (strong) temptation to catalogue the somehow amazing variety of flora at this new location – I, Mumma, find it.

Soon, I am snapping away on my cousin’s ex-flip-phone camera, deleting excess blurry shots of the grocery store (there are an irritatingly large number of these) as I go.  I photograph the small weeds and wildflowers growing all around me – selfheal (love these!), evening primrose, and pearly everlasting (ooh, that’s new!) among them.   I photograph the large spider lurking in the rocks at the water’s edge.   I photograph our children, “swimming” (in life jackets) along a nylon rope my husband has tied between the rocks of our island and an adjacent small spit of rock.  They pull themselves along the rope – zipline style –  against the current, squealing with delight.

For good measure, I take a photo of my feet.

As I snap, I delete junky photographs that seem to have filled up this small phone’s internal memory.  The frequent screen alert “Memory card full –  Make space now?” constantly reminds me that little device is nearly maxed out.  Soon I am totally engrossed and no longer paying attention to what is going on around me.  I have found a camera to play with.

“Come quick – and be QUIET!!!” my husband, returning from some discrete business in the bushes, implores us, snapping me out of my stupor.   “I found the dragon!  Come see!!!”  Surprisingly, BG seems pretty serious about this;  my husband is really eager for us to see Lou’s dragon!  My curiousity is piqued.

As the kids and I scramble to join the Boy Genius at the edge of the mysterious woods, it crosses my mind that BG probably wouldn’t be expecting a snake to keep still that long.  I am still clutching the flip phone and think ruefully that – if, indeed, it IS a snake – I am not liable to get much of a picture.  The flip phone’s  screen is tiny, with the camera’s lens surprisingly low-set in the cover (I’m not used to this yet and keep taking pictures of people’s knees).  Also, this little camera has no zoom.  Lastly, I doubt the pictures this phone takes are very high-resolution.

As I hurry along now, I return from my camera-induced la-la land and tune into what my husband is saying.  The words “wild turkey”, “growling”, and “cave” catch my attention.  It sounds like the kids’ dragon is actually a large bird, perhaps wounded.  Whatever it is, it’s been there a while.  My family’s previous encounter with the beast was a full 43 days ago.

We hop from rock to rock.  It’s hilly and rubbly here.  Amongst the tall trees,  broken rock is interspersed with grasses and low evergreens.  The footing is tippy – the terrain is very up-and-down and the surface underfoot is a mixed bag of loose rock, scratchy bracken, and complete voids.  There’s no path.

Like walking in water, we scan ahead a few steps for rocks that look stable.  I hold Lou’s hand tightly, and stage-manage her hike with a steady stream of instructions;  I sound like an air traffic control tower talking a novice pilot in for a crash landing.  Boo has already fallen down back here once – about an hour ago – and given his knee a deep cut  (that oughta teach him not to run while eating a sandwich!).  My husband has run on ahead of us like an excited school boy.

Finally we catch up to the Boy Genius and he “shushes” us.  We’ve arrived at the dragon’s lair – a deep pit about ten feet wide, and tumbling downwards a good six feet or so, lined with moss and large boulders.   It’s a natural depression in the ground, perhaps the mouth of a cave.  And it’s an intimidatingly large one.  What’s more, from the mouth of this potential entrance to the underworld emanates an incredibly loud and reverberant HISS.

The dragon.

Even I’m feeling a little reluctant now.  The echoing, frighteningly loud hiss pulls me back even as curiousity inches me forward to gaze down into the pit.  Working my way around blind-spot birch trees and more poor footing, I let go Lou Lou’s hand as she draws back towards her father.  He’s keeping back – not out of fear, he just doesn’t want to scare away the wildlife inside.

Even as I get into the best position practical (under the circumstances) for snapping a photo with this zoom-less, low res camera phone (Damn you, Samsung, I want my toy back!!!), it does cross my mind that – whatever’s down there – it feels threatened.  The other-worldly growling that is interspersed with the now steady loud hiss (almost like someone left the gas on) is a clear warning.  Wild animals do, sometimes, strike when threatened.  Suddenly, I am glad the kids are, instinctively, keeping well away.

Inside the pit are two VERY large birds.  They don’t appear wounded, but somehow they do seem somehow, well, vulnerable.  The mix of fluffy white feathers with long, smooth black plummage gives them a weird, mutt-like appearance, while indicating to me (a very inexperienced novice birder!) that they are either molting or are chicks.  Their heads are greyish, bare.  I understand now why my husband called them wild turkeys.

The growling and hissing continue, hiking up a notch whenever I draw, apparently, just a bit too close.  The monolithic birds don’t even stir.  They stay so motionless that the noise  – which is probably bouncing off the walls of their crevice and being amplified somehow – seems to be coming from the passageway to the probable cave beneath rather than from them.

I take a few quick snaps.  The best angles I can get inspite of the trees and the threatening growl.  I curse, again, the lack of zoom.  I desperately wish I was holding my Samsung camera.

Then we get the heck out of there.  Partially for peace of mind (we have small children with us, after all), partially to give these birds their privacy back.

My husband and I quickly decide they must be turkey vultures (what else could they be?).  Together we’ve seen these birds when we’ve been farther up north (eating road kill, what else?), but never so near Ottawa before.  Also, it is unclear to me whether these two in particular are a breeding pair, or two chicks.  In any case – even if one actually IS injured – it seems they are doing well on their own.  After all, they are still there –  6 weeks later.  Neither has died of starvation or thirst.  Neither obviously injured in any way.  Just that whole mottled “molting” thing.

The next day, I look up the turkey vulture in my Lone Pine field guide Birds of Ontario.  Sure enough, they do nest “in a cave crevice or among boulders… no nest material is used.”  That definitely fits what we saw (√).  “ID info” includes the red head, which is grey in immature birds (√), with the birds being otherwise all black (these were mottled black and white, but the white looked like “chick fluff” that was falling out, so √ again).  Size 66 to 81 cm tall, with a wing span of 1.7 to 1.8 metres, so – basically – big birds (√ again!).

More:  under “voice” it says “generally silent; occasionally produces a hiss or grunt if threatened”  (√).   Under “Best Sites” it lists Beamer Point Conservation Area (Grimsby), Bruce Pennisula, Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Chutes Provincial Park, and Blue Lake Provincial Park.  It does not list Ottawa, although the Ottawa River area is listed as a good place to see some of the other birds in this comprehensive guide (some of them less common ones).  So, is what we saw something special?

I’ll leave that as an open question to all you Ontario birders out there for now.  Do you agree with my ID?  Novel for the area, yes or no?  Also, on the topic of wildflowers, although I’m fairly sure about the pearly everlasting I’m still suffering doubts about the selfheal.  Will be grateful if any experts out there want to weigh in.  Once again, I’ll make excuses for myself – afterall, I am not a native Ontarian (or a professional botanist!).  But I’d like to know.

Plus!  I found out lots more about these very interesting large “birds of prey” (err, sort of..).  Instead of summarizing lots of stuff you can read elsewhere, however, I’ll leave you with some shots from Shell’s camera phone, and close today with an interesting video on the turkey vulture.

Pearly everlasting.  Shot taken on my cousin's  flip phone camera.

Pearly everlasting. Shot taken on my cousin’s flip phone camera.



Nervously taken snap of turkey vulture chicks.  Shot taken using my cousin Shell's flip phone!

Nervously taken snap of turkey vulture chicks. Shot taken using my cousin Shell’s flip phone!

"Where Our Feet Have Been" - Mine and Lou's at Morris Islans Conservation Area.

“Where Our Feet Have Been” – Mine and Lou’s at Morris Island Conservation Area.

Not bad for a flip phone, huh?  Think this shot captures a nice effect with the trees on the water...

Not bad for a flip phone, huh? Think this shot captures a nice effect with the trees on the water…

And – last but not least – here’s that informative guide to the turkey vulture!

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.  Photo by Butterflymumma.

The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part II: The Lupin

Lupins have fascinated me since I was a little girl living (for a while) along the southern shores of Nova Scotia.  My parents still remember me practically shouting for them to pull over the car whenever I spotted any.  Passing these majestic wildflowers as they grew along the roadside – vividly coloured and with their impossibly up-right spikes – seemed anathema to me even then, at the tender age of 5.  I guess even in those days I was a butterfly.

La la la la,  Lovely.  La la la la, Luminous.  La la la la, Lilac.  La la la la Lupins at a sandy beach...

La la la la, Lovely. La la la la, Luminous. La la la la, Lilac. La la la la Lupins at a sandy beach…

Lupins are popular with gardeners.  There are many hybrid varieties, offering a rich array of colours (white, yellow, red, blue, pink, lilac, violet) to choose from.  I have read that the proliferation of this flower as a wayside attraction is due to its escape from cultivated gardens.  Although I do see lupins (usually as a garden plant) in Ontario, however, I don’t often see them growing wild here.  Perhaps there are more in other parts of the province.

Yet Newfoundland boasts rafts of lupins everywhere, much as I remember from those magical years in the Nova Scotia of my childhood.  And we seem to arrive as they are in full bloom.  Lupins are everywhere.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it was hard to stay focussed on the forward momentum during my morning constitutional with my mom.  I really wanted to stop and do some photo shoots with all that glorious Newfoundland flora.  Lupin eye candy was certainly a part of this.   So, to avoid temptation, I left my camera at home during our morning walks.

Luckily, I soon discovered that lupins were growing like mad at some of the places my children were so keen to spend their daytimes as well, particularly a lovely spot known as Sandy Cove Beach.  And so – for your viewing pleasure – here are some shots I took of what was growing (in pure sand) at this amazing beach (which, by the way, is owed a post of its own very shortly).

Lupins growing in what appeared to be very poor soil at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.

Lupins growing in what appeared to be very poor soil at Sandy Cove Beach. Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.

Lupins going to seed.  They are very successfully naturalized throughout the northeastern part of North America.

Lupins going to seed. They are very successfully naturalized throughout the northeastern part of North America.  I guess they spread well.

Like Sarracenia,  lupins too have an adaptive trick that makes them a success in an environment that other plants might shun.  Rather than being carnivorous, however, in lupins the trick is to suck gaseous nitrogen (N2) out of the air then “fix” it in the soil in a much more biologically available form – ammonium (NH4+) – in a process called nitrogen-fixation.

Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae – with taxa such as kudzu, clovers, soybeans, alfalfa, lupines, peanuts, and rooibos. They contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia within nodules in their root systems, producing nitrogen compounds that help the plant to grow and compete with other plants. When the plant dies, the fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants and this helps to fertilize the soil.

- Wikipedia, under entry for nitrogen-fixation

The nitrogen cycle.

The nitrogen cycle.

So lupins –  like their relatives beans, alfalfa, clover and peanuts –  have bacteria growing on them that work like little chemical factories, taking nitrogen gas out of the air and turning it into fertilizer?  That’s pretty cool.  Let’s hear it again for the toughness and creativity of plants, people!  Uh, and for bacteria too, I guess.

An important note, however:  Although lupins belong to the legume family, they are not an edible plant.  In fact, lupins are poisonous to people and livestock, with the seeds and flowers being the most dangerous parts (so – yes – the seeds look like peas and - no!!! – you shouldn’t eat them).

Unlike Newfoundland’s emblem, the Pitcher Plant (S. purpurea), lupins are abundant in gardens, as well as in the natural environment.  I have also read that they may be propagated by cuttings (haven’t tried this yet).  So feel free to pick some for bouquets or to steal some for your own garden.   Lupins would make a glorious addition to any garden, and fertilize your soil as a bonus.

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.  Photo by Butterflymumma.

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach. Sandy Cove, Newfoundland. Photo by Butterflymumma.


The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part I: The Pitcher Plant

Maybe not everyone who travels takes an interest in the local flora and fauna, but I suspect many people do.  As I mentioned last post, I was enthralled with the diversity of wildflowers as I walked each day on my recent trip to Newfoundland.  I noticed not only what seemed to be different from Ontario, but some interesting constants as well.   And, for fun, I thought I’d share my some of my trip photos of Newfoundland’s abundant plant life with you in some upcoming posts.

First up, the granddaddy of all Newfoundland flora (why save the best for last?) – the illustrious Pitcher Plant.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

The Pitcher Plant

The Pitcher Plant, provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I took this shot on my trip.  Sandy Pond, Terra Nova National Park.

The Pitcher Plant is the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  North American Pitcher Plants – of which there are 8 to 11 species – all grow in challenging environments, this particular one in the nutrient-poor, acidic soil of the Newfoundland bog, constantly wet (with the water, of course, carrying away all the nutrients), exposed to sun and weather (due to a dirth of tree cover on your average bog!), and dominated by the growth of Spagnum moss.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland's abundant wilderness.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland’s abundant wilderness.

Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant (S. purpurea) belongs to the genus Sarracenia.  These plants gain an advantage in their hostile environment by, in addition to their love of direct sunlight, their ability to gather nutrients from the insects they lure to their pitchers, drown, and slowly digest.

Yes!  In other words, Newfoundland’s provincial flower is a carnivorous plant.  I’ve always loved this particular little factoid.  :)  I feel sure a lot of thought went into the selection of this particular resident as an emblem of the province.

The insects are attracted by a nectar-like secretion on the lip of pitchers, as well as a combination of color and scent. Slippery footing at the pitchers’ rim, aided in at least one species by a narcotic drug lacing the nectar, causes insects to fall inside, where they die and are digested by the plant as a nutrient source.

- Wikipedia, under entry for Sarracenia

A close-up of the cup (or "trumpet") of a Pitcher Plant.  With labels, for the anatomically curious.  :)

A close-up of the cup (or “trumpet”) of a Pitcher Plant. With labels, for the anatomically curious. :)  The Operculum, btw, partially covers the top of the cup, preventing it from overflowing with rainwater, accidentally releasing any prey.

 This process is at once yucky and wonderful and I always feel a thrill of discovery whenever I come upon a Pitcher Plant during a walk.  It feels like I have stumbled upon a fascinating alien life form.  And their toughness and stubbornly creative determination to survive in this environment somehow mirror the hardiness of the people of Newfoundland themselves (the reason this “flower” was chosen as a symbol of the province, perhaps?).  So the very existence of these plants in this place makes me yet again proud to be a Newfoundlander (Seems to be a feeling I’m feeling a LOT this trip, huh?).

If you’re ever in Newfoundland, by the way, please don’t be frightened of these wonderful residents of the province’s unique ecosystem.  The Pitcher Plant’s mechanisms for both capturing and digesting the insects it feeds on are passive – there are no moving parts.  So don’t be frightened – Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant won’t bite you.   But be warned, however, Sarracenia in their natural habitat are a threatened species.  Please don’t disturb them.  Leave them alone, let them grow, and simply enjoy the priviledge of having observed this distinctive plant in the wild.

Sarracenia - they don't bite (at least, I don't THINK...).

Sarracenia – they don’t bite (at least, I don’t THINK…).