12 February 2010


Unlike practically everywhere else in North America, winter has been gentle and kind to Southern Ontario. We've seen almost no snow; there have been a few bitter days but not too many in a row; we've had our fair share of sun.

Sometime just before Christmas, I was out in the woods with the dog. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground. We had just passed the winter solstice. There was sun sparkling on the snow. The sky was blue. I thought about how great it would be to take some photos.

Then the snow melted and the woods were a pleasant but boring brown colour for a long time.

Finally this week we got a few inches of the white stuff. We are just past midwinter / Imbolc / Candlemas / Groundhog day (yes, these holidays all occur on the same day!). In other words, we're on the downhill slope toward spring. So before there's a giant thaw and we get into some serious growing and sprouting, I bring you my midwinter photo essay (2010 edition), starring a bunch of trees and Dizzy the Boston terrier.

These were taken between 2:30pm and 4pm. I just love how even though it's relatively early in the afternoon, the sun makes long shadows all over the place.

Any Boston terrier will tell you that a walk just isn't meaningful without a really big stick to chew on.

Of course you must practice proper chewing technique at all times.

Make sure you spit out any wood chips as you go. You don't want to know what happens if you swallow them.

Proper chewing technique = pure bliss.

These trees are perched on the edge of a deep gorge. A waterfall created it over time. It's not much to look at right now because it's covered in snow, but the trees do look lovely against the blue sky.

I just love the way the sun is backlighting this tree and shrubs so that it looks like the tree is radiating light.

Lots of people use these woods all year round, so the path is well stamped for us.

This used to be an apple orchard. The trees have grown pretty wild, but they still produce apples. Hawthornes have grown in amongst the apples.

You have to search around a bit but there is the occasional touch of green in the woods. This moss is growing on a hawthorne tree.

You can tell by the spikes!

If you take too many pictures, Dizzy gets a little bit impatient.

Now we're out of the old apple orchard and heading into the wild forest.

There are a lot of huge old oak trees growing up on this hill. They always seem to me to be having a conference.

My favourite oak.

If you stand at the base and look up, you can see how imposing this tree is.

Some kind of large gall or growth has formed partway up this tree's trunk. It's almost perfectly spherical. I didn't notice it until after the leaves fell, so I'm not sure if the tree is still living.

There's a secret stream bed under all this snow. In a couple of months, water will be rushing through here.

At this point in the walk, the wind was blowing through the upper branches of the trees and making some pretty loud squeaking and squealing sounds. Dizzy sensed a disturbance in the force.

More noises.

What is it?

There are a few different types of woodpeckers in these woods. I once even saw a pileated woodpecker. Compared to the sparrows and chickadees that I usually see, it was huge! It seemed like a pterodactyl. Pileateds leave this kind of large oval hole when they drill into trees looking for food.

When you leave the woods, it's important to take a souvenir with you!

In the field, I found these tiny footprints. Each print was about the size of my thumbnail. Mouse? Rat? Some other hopping rodent with a skinny tail?

His future's so bright, he ought to wear shades.

Next we entered the bird garden. An ornithologist who I ran into on a walk told me that birds created this scrubby brush area by defecating here and leaving seeds behind. Almost all of the bushes that grow here bear some kind of fruit. This area has an amazing concentration of this kind of plant, and is next to an open field where there is very little of this kind of growth. I guess the birds knew what they were doing! You can find all kinds of different birds in here all winter long.

The path home awaits!

Very, very patiently.

Sort of patiently.

The sumac is beginning to look a little worn around the edges. I think the birds have been eating the sumac berries because I'm finding them scattered on the ground around the bushes. My friend Wendy tells me that sumac is edible for humans, too. You can nibble on it while you're on the trail if you rub off the tiny hairs that grow on it. You can also crush it, soak it in water, strain out the berries, and enjoy a drink that tastes a little like pink lemonade.

The white spots in this picture are gulls. Although there was no breeze to speak of close to the ground, there was clearly a lot of wind activity high up in the sky, because this large group of gulls were playing around in the sky. As I watched they flew higher and higher, appearing only as tiny dots like the ones you see here. They seemed to be swirled around by the wind, changing their positions and configurations with amazing speed.

Homeward bound.

Don't forget your stick!

Happy second half of winter, everyone!

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