Summer Life Learning

tree frogs

Taeven’s tree frog photo won first prize at the Fall Fair

I often get asked if we continue to “home school” in the summer.  I understand why I get asked; since  “school” suggests a scheduled time frame while “home” implies a year round location.  In my attempts to explain our tendencies towards seasonal life learning, I reflect on how summer is often even more intensely full of focused learning and play.  This summer my kids have done a week of sailing camp, a week of family music camp, soccer camp, and 4 days of kayaking around Pender Island.  A number of distant family members and friends came to visit, we had music festivals to attend as well as to host, and in between, endless bicycling around with neighborhood friends.

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

Our pond often became the local swimming spot for children and parents at the end of a hot summer day, and we continued with going to our community beach potluck every sunday.  We also constructed projects and crafted entries for our local Fall Fair, and these days, we are busy harvesting and processing apples, pears, and plums as well as keep up with other gardening activities.  Our time spent actively moving, socializing, learning with different teachers, and challenging our (I should say “my”) organizing abilities in a summer mode of spontaneity and relaxation.

I could of course, put up a million great photos of all I have just described, but really, what I am wanting to capture is the essence of creativity in a season of outside living and free time.  Our unscheduled time in between activities was, of course, intensely chill- with a late afternoon position of myself, the kids, and a few other neighborhood friends sitting by the side of the pond, soaking up the stillness of a slowly fading heat, watching dragonflies, hearing crickets, and generally being present for this wonderful life we have.

Together with a great friend that moved to the neighboring island a few years ago, Taeven and Cedar spent hours one day creating these pond side idyllic living spaces from what they found all around them, imagining a whole other world in which to be.  There is a lot of detail in each photo, which the kids took, so enlarging them might be more inspiring.

Tree Frogs, Lillies, and Dragonflies Emerging

These are a few photos of the life around the pond.  Lots of pacific tree frogs are now making their way further from the water and into the surrounding flowers and grass.  If I was a tiny frog, I would definitely choose to nestle inside the petals of a water lily on a hot day…

lily reflection lily frog OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA tree frog in lily

We also have lots of dragonflies.  In the late spring, the water larvae of the dragonflies climbs up out of the pond on stalks of vegetation, where the skin on its back splits open and the adult dragonfly emerges, expands and dries. The empty larval skin (exuvia) remains as a reminder of the larva’s aquatic life.  We were lucky to have witnessed one such dragonfly as it stretched out it’s new wings, making it’s transformation from water to air.

dragonfly emerging dragonfly emerging 2 dragonfly emerging 3 dragonfly emerging4

Weaving for Art In The Orchard

saori spring wrap

A saori spring wrap

This past weekend, I was very pleased to be involved in the annual Art In The Orchard here on Pender, an island where artists and orchards abound.  Twenty some artists working in diverse mediums displayed their work throughout one of North Penders oldest orchard and heritage farm house, Corbett House B&B, dating back to 1902.  Paintings, print making, pottery, sculpture, wood working, jewelry, photography, stained glass, and fibre arts were all beautifully tucked under apple trees and framed with zig zag fencing while goats and sheep grazed on the other side.

Last year I had only a small collection of woven fabric that I hung up on the clothesline.  At that time, my journey into the art of saori weaving had just begun, and my available time was limited as we had many building projects on the go at our property.  This year, I found that the pile of weaving has indeed stacked up, and shows a pathway of explored techniques as I tried out new tings and made observations about texture and fibre qualities.  I was honoured to hang up my creations among so many other amazing Pender artists.

 

Pottery Sessions

Every two years, we have invited a local island potter to come and play with our Spring Leaves kids.  Nancy Silo has been working with clay since the 1970’s, and her enthusiasm for sharing her skills with our group is always a special treat for us.  This year, Nancy led us through the steps of making bowls in a very surprising and delightful way.  Photos taken by Kenta Kikuchi beautifully illustrate the two days we spent working on them- first decorating and shaping, and a few weeks later when we glazed the bisque fired bowls.

After rolling out a flat piece of circular clay, the kids decorated their clay with a variety of stamping materials, as well as freehand drawing into the clay.  Then Nancy demonstrated a very surprising and delightful way of making the flat clay into a bowl- by laying the slab on a piece of foam, placing a bowl on top of it (there were two sizes to choose from) and pressing down hard into the foam.  When the bowl was released, the clay slab underneath had been pressed into a ripple edged bowl of varying depth.

A few weeks later, after Nancy took the bowls home and bisque fired them, the kids glazed them with a selection of glazes that Nancy brought in with samples of their finished colour and shine.  When she returned a few weeks later after their last firing, we finally got to see the end result.  Often with pottery, there is a bit of surprise all along the way, as the variations between the elements involved in the process take on their own actions and results.  Thank you, Nancy!  Thanks also to Kenta Kikuchi for taking and sharing the photographs.

finished bowlsdetails

 

 

 

glazed bowlsspring leaves group

Nettle Soup Campfire Style

a basket of stinging nettles

a basket of stinging nettles

Some of the earliest Spring plants that we can gather and harvest as food here on the west coast is the abundantly nourishing stinging nettle.  One of our favorite things to do as a group involves cooking by campfire, so a few weeks ago, when the nettles were still small enough for harvesting, we went down to Limber Lost, built up a nice fire, and went for a walk to collect nettles.  I love the fact that these stingy, rash inducing plants are actually so very tender and full of nutrients, that their seemingly angry stings are in fact so easily persuaded otherwise with a bit of heat or crushing.  There is even a growing understanding that the sting itself can help alleviate internal discomforts- muscle pain, joint pain, arthritis, tendinitis and gout.

Mostly, though, we like to eat it.  So with gloves and clippers and bags and baskets, we came back to the fire and a huge pot of boiling water.  Everyone had brought some veggies and seasonings to add to the soup, so we got them chopped and cooking before adding the nettles at the very end.

It was so delicious!  With everyone helping a little bit, we had a tasty and abundant lunch accompanied by various spontaneous games in the forest.

Snorkeling the Gulf Islands

snorkeling in the gulf islandsOne of the only drawbacks that I have experienced from living in the Gulf Islands is that the water temperature remains, all year round, at a chilly 7 degrees celsius, making it a rather uncomfortable experience for swimming, even on the hottest day of the summer.  Other beaches around Vancouver Island and small islands further north enjoy warm summer swimming in areas of wide sandy beaches, but here, we have lots of rocks and cliffs that dive down deep into fast moving currents.  Apparently, this boasts incredibly well for diving, providing some of the most life abundant waters thriving in the refrigerator that is our local ocean.  It is a frustrating thing to live so close to the ocean and never have the chance to really get in it.  Colin and I have spent many years surfing the West Coast of Vancouver Island, so we have outfitted ourselves with cold water wetsuits for years, but it has only been recently that I realized the simple and beautiful activity of snorkeling around the many bays, inlets, islets, and cliff edges that we are surrounded with.

Pender Penguins snorkeling in January

Pender Penguins snorkeling in January

In January, I put out a call to a few friends, and we started meeting at a local bay to test out wetsuits and snorkel gear, new and old, to see what we had that works and what we need to explore further in comfort and safety.  My 5mm suit with hood, and warm boots and gloves worked quite well with a new snorkel set.  However, while searching for a suit for my daughter, who now is determined to join us in the water, I found a new zipperless Patagonia suit made with 25% merino wool on sale for half price, so I have upgraded from my 15 year old suit.  I figure this will last me the rest of my water-immersed life!5mm wetsuit

We have seen many beautiful things- so many different types of sea stars, anemones, a buffet of seaweeds, crabs, chitons, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and unidentified splendor of all types.  A local diver, Derek Holzapfel, has created a marine species photo database on his website that I have often referred to find out about what I am seeing and what there is to look for.  It is a big learning curve from knowing nothing of what lives below the low tide line, to seeing what thrives by staying deeply submerged.  Getting to swim through swaying bull kelp in sunlit waters has been a dreamy highlight, as well as skimming over shallow rocks covered in feathering barnacles, floating out over a steep drop off of turquoise greenness, then turning to face a wall of life reaching out into the passing fresh currents.

cliffs and kelp beds

cliffs and kelp beds

Every swim is different, even when we visit the same place, and amazing things can be huge or tiny, like the discovery of the giant pink star, (almost 2 feet across!) and sea cucumbers as long as my arm, or the tiny 4cm long white nudibranch tucked in amongst the seaweed jungle.  The visibility has changed as we move into spring, filling the clear winter waters with a “snow” of floating stuff.  Our last swim was down at Drummond Bay, on South Pender, and we had the use of a GoPro camera to swim with.  Joanne, fellow Pender Penguin, has edited the footage into a beautiful video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VctRs2hHdTg

kids exploringOur snorkel excursions have also created a wonderful afternoon or morning of beach time for the rest of our families and friends who are not in the water.  Our kids spend the time doing what they do best at the beach- exploring.  They often follow us along the shore.  We have taken kayaks with us so they can take turns paddling with other adults.  We have often had a warming beach fire, and food and tea to enjoy.  Coming out from the cold water and the underwater world seems to leave me in another state of being- slower and floaty, present and grateful, calm and joyful, out of body and entirely in body.  It is difficult to finally declare the chill to be great enough to leave the water, but there is also a deep sense of returning to land as being a place of home.  A re-start button gets pressed in my brain while I play and float and breath in the cold water, feeling the gentle push and pull of waves, and the responding push and pull of my body with that of the seaweeds- a floating meditation.

what lives beneath that glassy surface?

what lives beneath that glassy surface?

Discovery Orchard

an orchard visitorLast fall, Colin and I decided to get going with planting an orchard of fruit trees.  Drainage ditches had been put in around our field the previous spring, transforming our sodden and squelchy ground into a walkable and plantable area.  Our ideas of October seemed well in advance of March, so we approached a local fruit growing expert, Bob Duncan, and asked for his suggestions for the varieties of apples to make up a cordon espalier orchard of about 40 trees.  We were interested in early, mid, and late season apples, with cross pollination dates and a variety of uses for the fruit, as well as a handful of pear varieties.  Bob has been growing fruit for 30 years on the Saanich Peninsula, and now has over 300 types of fruit on his property of less than 1 acre.  He specializes in dwarf apple trees, (over 200 heritage varieties of unusual and hard to find varieties), but also has over 80 varieties of pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes, kiwi, quince and medlar, over 30 varieties of citrus, and hardy subtropicals such as pomegranates, persimmons, loquats, feijoa, jujubes, and olives.  We know where to go when we are looking to expand our fruit harvest!

trees coming outBob put together a list for us and said we could pick them up in four months.  By mid February, Colin eyed up a bunch of trees on the perimeter of the orchard space and decided that they would need to come out first- small and unhealthy cedar trees that leach nutrients from the soil, and some fir trees sporting signs of rot.  A week later and the open field was littered with scrambling heaps of green branches, tops of trees, and a variety of thick and rotten trunks.  It was then that we got an email announcing the imminent pick-up dates for our trees, some of which were bare root and would need to be planted right away.

fencing the clearingWe spent the next two days clearing.  Our decision not to burn anything except in a fireplace left us separating all the debris into piles- the greenery and thin branches for the chipper, the thick branches to be cut up with the chop saw for firewood, and the trunks chopped into rounds for more firewood.  Colin picked up the trees, as well as metal fence posts, a roll of wire fencing, bonemeal, dolomite lime, an organic fertilizer blend, tree tags, tree strapping, a box of 16 post saddles, three bags of concrete, and a new shovel.  Luckily, there was a trailer full with two yards of sea soil sitting just down the road waiting to be sold, so we didn’t need to do an extra trip across the water to fill up with composty soil amendment.

post holesColin laid out the four rows, 2.5 feet wide and 35 feet long each, running north south and spaced with 5 feet between them, and began to dig four post holes in each row to support the wires upon which we would train the cordon trees.  We observed that we had about one and a half feet of nice topsoil, then a solid delineation of clay.  It rained quite a bit in the time of all this digging, and it became clear that the water filtering through the topsoil was hitting the clay layer and pooling, rather abundantly, in our holes.  This didn’t bode well for any tree roots that might be planted nearby, so we resolved that we would also need a drainage ditch running across the ends of all the rows and moving any water off to the side.  The gentle slope of the orchard area will help move the water towards the ditch.

We spent another day mixing concrete, filling the post holes and setting the saddles.  We hammered in the perimeter fence posts and ran the wire fencing around the outside of the rows, leaving a measured gap for an old garden gate.  Then we dug some more.  Colin removed the soil from the rows, a foot deep and two feet wide.  I amended the soil in wheelbarrow sized batches with sea soil, one cup of bonemeal and lime, and shoveled it back into the trenches, with a lofty 4 inch berm.  planting bare root treesThe bare root trees went in first- six pears, two peaches, a nectarine and an apricot- three feet apart with the main stems set at a 45 degree angle, pointing north.  (Except for the stone fruit.  These will be grown in a fan shaped espalier at the south end of each row, filling in the space created by the first tree planted at an angle.)  Our choice to train the dwarf trees in a cordon system was based on the understanding that this system results in a high production of fruit in a small space that can be attended to very easily.

apple treesOf all the 30 apple trees, there are 17 different varieties, most of which are a complete mystery to me.  The first apple tree that I picked out of the pile was named Discovery, and as I tucked it in I wondered what a Discovery apple looks like, tastes like, and what time of the season it would be ready to harvest.  In fact, knowing nothing about any of the varieties made me realize that this whole project was going to be one of immense discovery and learning; all the different flavours and timing and uses.  We have apples called Snow and Lodi and Karmijn de Sonneville.  I am familiar with the Gravenstein and Cox, but what will a Vanderpool apple taste like?  From getting these trees planted to pruning them, training them, and generally keeping them alive for the 3-5 years until they are in full production, (and beyond) will be a whole new subject of learning for me and Colin.

We still have posts to put up, and support wire, as well as a plastic roof system that will cover all the trees 2 rows at a time,  with Bob’s recommendation.  He has been struggling for 30 years to organically avoid blight and canker, and has come to the conclusion that it is all related to the high amount of moisture that we receive on the coast.  Adding the clear roof also allows us to put in those more water tender stonefruit trees (apricot, peach, and nectarine).  Bob Duncan can be found at Fruit Trees and More.

 

 

 

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