Saturday, November 26, 2011

Beau' iful Plumage

As I was driving last week on a country road I came upon a recently deceased pheasant lying in the snow.  It was about to be consumed by magpies. I stopped and went over to it and it was so beautiful I had to take some pictures.
It amazes me how many colors there are in nature. This bird has so many colors: cream, brown, a dusty teal blue, a dusty green, royal blue, scarlet, milky white, various browns, and iridescent reds and purples.
The teal feathers appear on the lower back from the shoulder down to the tail.

Look at these, each feather has an eye painted on it. These are the feathers of the shoulder.  

This is the wing. Notice the dusty blue patch of feathers, just at the point where the shoulder joins the back.

The head, with its green cap, white brim, scarlet eye patch, iridescent purples and greens. The breast has brown feathers that become red when moved against the light.

These brown feathers near the collar have little black tips that turn royal blue when the light glances along them.

Finally, here is a family portrait taken behind my shoulder while I wrote this. Kylie is snuggled in the love seat with the little orphan Daisy, and foster Dad Chewy watchful on the carpet. The group is doing great. Chewy loves playing with Jenny and Daisy, he especially loves having Jenny to sprint with since Kylie, being a lady, is more sedate in her walks.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fruits of Winter

This was the view of the front yard on Thursday, through the frost of the window. It snowed almost all day and was gloomy and cold. We got about 10 inches of snow that day, and the temperatures went down to minus 30 last night. Today is allegedly warming up to minus 12, and it may even get to plus six on Tuesday. But right now it's cold and the sun is shining.

When I went out to shovel off the front deck I looked back into the doors of the kitchen and saw my tomatoes growing from a new vantage point and so I took this photo in the shadow of my snow shovel. These tomatoes are delicious, the most delicious tomatoes I've ever eaten. The variety is "Sugary" and I got them from T&T seeds out of Manitoba. They are a miniature plum tomato, and they are sweet, not acidic at all, and have an intense tomato flavor. I can't describe them adequately, they are sublime. I think they are best eaten raw, with basil in a salad, on Greek salad with feta, or just alone like grapes. They make you believe that tomatoes are fruit, not vegetables. And I'm not really a tomato fan per se, but these have shown me what tomatoes are capable of tasting like. Compared to these, any tomato I've tasted from a store or a market is as succulent as cardboard.
I brought in all 10 pots of them before the frost, and as you can see they are doing well in the southern window, and even better in my west window. Some of the plants are blooming.


 Uncle Chewy had to do some watchdogging this morning, there was something crunching around in the snow.

 Then it was back inside where Jenny claimed a spot in the sun. The poor girl can't stay out too long in this weather, her feet freeze easily, she lifts her paws up within only a few minutes of being outside. I know what that is like, I froze my fingers and toes very badly on my one and only ski trip to Banff. I went with the philosophy department at the university when I was about 19, and had never been allowed to ski before (I was in ballet at the time and we weren't allowed to do any activity that would possibly risk breaking a leg or we would be finished). Anyway, philosophers are not very practical people, or they weren't with me, and after one day on the bunny hill they took me up to the top of the advanced run (the top of a mountain really, about 6 chair lifts up) and abandoned me there to find my own way down. It was sometimes terrifying and it took me hours to get down. Because I was in rented equipment I wasn't prepared to be outside in minus 20 degree weather, and so the tips of my fingers, toes, ears and nose froze. They turned white, and then looked like they were burned. When I got to the ski lodge finally, I had to endure what felt like burning metal clamps squeezing my fingers and toes for about six hours. Now whenever I am out in the severe cold I get the same feeling within minutes of exposure to the air. It's very painful and so I sympathize with poor Jenny and her sore toes.

And Chewy was back in to wait for some bacon and scrambled eggs. Kylie is off somewhere chewing on a bone.

The little one curled up beside Uncle Chewy in the sun.  Everyone is doing great, the little one is as smart as a whip, she learns words very easily. Housebreaking is a bit of a challenge in this cold weather though. The dogs all get along very well, everyone shares (even bones) and no one snarls. The mastiffs are super foster parents. Chewy acts like a dad and intervenes when the little one roughhouses a bit too much. He also intercedes while the cats and new dogs get to know one another.*  Kylie sometimes plays with Daisy and lets Daisy put her head in her mouth where apparently Kylie has stashed some crumbs in her lips. Maybe you have to be a dog person to appreciate that.

This is what happens when I ask the dogs to vacuum the floor.

Peace be with you.

*It takes a while for a new dog to understand cat body language. For example, when a cat has his tail up it means he's happy and calm. When a dog has her tail up it means they are leading and asking you to watch them for signs that there may be danger ahead. So sometimes miscommunications happen when they're getting to know each other.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More About Dog Rescue

Today was horribly windy, grey and dreary, just so November. We had no relief from the greyness until sunset, when a sliver of sun shone through and glowed on the llamas on the hill. It lasted all of five minutes.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I rescued two dogs. The circumstances were these. I was driving down highway two, the old highway two that is a two lane highway up central Alberta. The "new" highway two is also called the queen's way or something (I refuse to use royal nomenclature since I believe the monarchy has no place in a democracy, but anyway). I was driving south on highway 2A when I saw ahead of me two dogs walking down the yellow line. People were slowing down slightly from 100 kms, but not much. Pickup trucks, semi-trailers and cars were zooming around these dogs.This kind of thing drives me bananas. I just can't stand to see animals loose near highways, it's an accident waiting to happen.

So I pulled over onto the shoulder, and when there was a lull in the traffic, I sprinted out and caught one of the dogs. They were together, I think mother and daughter. The mom came over to the passenger side, and the daughter scooted over to the ditch. The mom was easy to load, she just stood while I lifted her in. The puppy also came easily once she saw her mom was on the front seat.


This was on the outskirts of a First Nations reserve, so these dogs are probably two of the many strays that live there, wandering around without homes. There are programs here that capture them and put them into rescue, i.e. into foster homes until they can be adopted. These rescue organizations are volunteer based, and advertise the successful fosters on the internet. I think they do great work.

The black dog looked like she had been captured and spayed, she had stitches in her tummy, and a paper collar around her neck. The puppy is very young, and isn't housebroken at all, so I can pretty safely assume she didn't have a home. I will check to see if anyone advertises for them, but I doubt anyone would claim them. There are unfortunately too many stray dogs and cats. Sometimes city people even drive out to the country and just abandon their animals, drop them off and drive away. I have a friend who lives on a very quiet road and she says they get about a dozen animals a year dropped off at their place.

It will take a bit of training, but I think I can rehab these girls. I taught the little one "sit" and "come" today (she repeated them three times) so I know she's smart. The black girl is a bit older and loves to chase things so I'm assuming she's got some border collie in there. She will be a challenge to train, she has some wild habits that are pretty ingrained. For one thing, she won't come in the house easily, I have to lure her in. Another funny thing about her is that she is afraid of a camera. I've never seen that in a dog before. She's as bad as me for that. And both are very very competitive for food, you can see that they worry about their next meal all the time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Dusting of Snow

We had a little snow overnight. Because of an adventure I had on Thursday I've been taking the dogs out two or three times a day for walks. Our days are short now, and this was from our twilight walk tonight. It gives you an idea of how dark it was getting by 430.

This was the sunset over the pond where someone was shooting last month. I think hunting season is over now, which is why we ventured over to this fence.

The grasses make a pretty pattern. Really the walk was very beautiful. The light was very dim though and it was difficult to get good pictures.

On Thursday, I rescued this puppy and her mother. Both are doing fine, though it's a bit of an adjustment for Uncle Chewy. If I could put a cartoon bubble out of his mouth it would say "WHY?" The little one has just got her permanent teeth, they haven't completely descended yet. There is a housebreaking issue, which is why we are walking a lot outside. I'll have more pix of the new girls later.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What the Frack?

 Out here in Alberta, we have fossil fuels below the ground, because as you know, we have fossils. Thousands of dead dinosaurs and plants lie far below the surface of our land. Their long dead bodies decay and with the addition of tons of pressure from alluvial deposits, the carbon in them turns to coal, which in turn becomes petroleum, methane, and natural gas.
As a result of this, we are forced to live with the effects of the methods of extraction. We don't like it, but as everyone knows, money talks, and as always the local population has very little voice against both government and oil.

What do we live with here? This rig popped up last night, less than a kilometer from my home, and right in the backyards of two neighbours.

Did you know that Canadians do not own the mineral rights to their land? This privilege was taken away by the government in the 1920s. All mineral rights belong to the Government of Canada, except in the case of old-timers who used to own their mineral rights, they were allowed to keep them and their royalties if they chose, even if they sold the property. These rights can pass down a few generations then they are taken over by the government. The mineral rights to my property are owned by the first owner of my place even though he is dead. The royalties are split between his heirs, which seems absurd.

Property owners still hold the surface rights to their land, which at least allows them to tell oil companies they cannot trespass.

However, this entire area was seismically surveyed years ago, so they all know where the deposits are already.

I was approached to see if I wanted an oil site on my place. I said "no way". So they went to a neighbour and directionally drilled 1/4 mile under my land to get the oil. I receive no money for this of course.
The neighbour receives about $3000 per year for having a station on his property about 60 feet from my fence line. Incidentally, that drilling poisoned my neighbour's well on the other side of my farm. The oil company "remedied" it by giving him a plastic tank which he has to fill (they used to fill it, but that contract expired) with water from town for both his house and his livestock. My well may not have been affected because it is very deep.
The rig pictured above is to extract natural gas or methane, and is a fracking unit. Fracking is highly controversial. Whenever I have raised concerns with the oil company, they say "restrictions are higher in Canada than the US, you should be alright".
However, according to former riggers I have spoken with, all kinds of chemicals are dumped down a well to get it to the deposit.
In the meantime, we put up with noise, dust, lights, heavy traffic on our gravel road. I can't imagine what it's like to live closer to it as two of my neighbours do.
Landowners do not have a say where these things are located. This is the price we pay as Albertans for this industry.
I have frequently seen snarky comments by the public in other provinces on broadcasters' sites about Alberta and our oil resources. Speaking personally, Alberta's "oil boom" does nothing for my own standard of living. It gives jobs to men, frequently men from other provinces, sometimes men with criminal records, often men who have or develop addiction problems due to the long isolated shifts they work. It is a boys' club. I understand that Fort MacMurray employs some women as giant vehicle operators because they are more reliable and better drivers, but for the most part, all jobs are done by men, and they are highly paid, even if they have a criminal record. It's not uncommon for a high school drop out with a few B & E convictions to earn over $120,000 a year for grunt work in this business. The hours are long though, and they do work away from home for a week or two at a time.

If I had my wish, our oil dependency would be eliminated and we would create a replacement industry based on solar energy.

Another feature of oil "exploration and development" is that it leaves industrial sites all around the countryside. A pristine meadow or field is now likely to have a metal excrescence sitting in it like an industrial turd. They are equivalent of men leaving their socks and dirty laundry lying about the floor. They are ugly, and large, about the size of 16 cars parked in a square with a big metal fence around them and a plastic tank sitting up above. I'll post pictures in a later edition so you can see what I mean. They are everywhere. The oil companies want them to be exposed for security reasons and they fly aircraft around everyday to check on them which is another annoyance. Gone are the days of the quiet countryside, man has infected even this last place with his own version of ugly utility. There is absolutely no concern for inflicting ugliness upon the land. This is one legacy the oil companies and our dependence on fossil fuels are leaving this country.

On a more positive note, here is a field (the one in the background) of frozen sunflowers. I took it as a reference photo for painting:
And here are some favorite trees. I like the shape of this old poplar:

And this old spruce tree which has seen its share of storms:

This was the sunrise in our valley last week. See the little muskrat house in the middle of the pond.