Make friends with fearsome creatures

rat snake in corner of hot tubLast weekend, I opened my hot tub lid to find this handsome fellow, a five-foot black rat snake luxuriating in the steam on the corner of the tub.

Later that morning, I was cleaning the chicken coop, and a garter snake wound its way from our barn to the back woods. After lunch, our resident water snake Sammy spent the afternoon with us curled up on the end of our dock. Clare and I avoided using the ladder so we wouldn’t disturb him and swam around him for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a three snake day.

Snakes are one of the most beautiful, misunderstood creatures on the planet. I remember years ago visiting a small zoo called Reptile World in Drumheller Alberta. The owner was from Australia. He loved snakes but was deathly afraid of cattle, which we found kind of funny since he was now living in Alberta.

It’s amazing how many people are afraid of snakes. In some cases, their fear stops them from doing the things they enjoy. And yet, nearly every species of snake in Ontario is completely harmless. We only have one poisonous variety, the Massassagua rattlesnake and it will only bite if threatened.

Most snakes are extremely timid, but will act aggressive if they are threatened. I’ve seen milk snakes in our garden raise their heads as if to strike when a dog is threatening them, but never strike. Some snakes will imitate rattlers by raising and rattling their tail, but it is almost always a defence mechanism and they don’t bite.

Snakes also are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They eat rodents and can even help prevent lyme disease since small rodents can be carriers of the debilitating disease.

water snake on dock

Sammy our resident water snake

We are very fortunate to live in a region where there are many species of snakes but most are now endangered or threatened, such as the black rat snake.

This week’s #HappyAct is to not let foundless fears get in your way of enjoying the last vestiges of summer. Make friends with fearsome creatures.

 

 

Watch for rainbows

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide”

We’ve had crazy rain this spring, in some ways a welcome reprieve from last summer’s endless drought. When the rain teams down, it can seem like eternity before the sun shines again.

But amidst the storm clouds and raindrops, if you watch expectantly, you might just see a rainbow.

A metaphor for life, really.

Here’s one of my favourite artists these days, Ed Sheeran singing The Rainbow Connection with Kermit the frog and some pictures of my favourite rainbow pictures, one taken over the lake this week.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch for a rainbow. Instead of wishing for a pot of gold, let’s all wish the sun shines strong for Canada’s 150th birthday next weekend.

Two women and a rainbow

My best friend Leslie and I discovering our pot of gold under a rainbow in Killarney Park in Ireland

Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

Tap into liquid gold

Clare tapping a maple treePing. Ping. Ping.

As the days get longer and the late winter sun grows stronger, families and farms in eastern Canada turn to a time-worn tradition: tapping trees.

Since moving to Eastern Ontario twenty years ago, I have spent many a March in the sugar bush.

In the early years, it was tapping trees and boiling sap in the sugar shack at my best friend’s farm in Parham. For the past four or five years, we’ve tapped a half a dozen maple trees on our property– something fun to make the endless month of March pass by quickly and to teach the kids about being sustainable.

Unless you’ve made maple syrup before, you can’t truly appreciate the work and effort that goes into making that precious one litre of liquid gold.

I remember one year, when the kids were just babies, Leslie and I wading through thigh-high snow, dragging the kids bundled up in snowsuits and scarves behind us on the toboggan to tap trees. We didn’t even make it halfway to the sugar shack before giving up because the snow was so deep.

Then there is the lugging of the buckets. On our property, the maple trees are down at the lake. We store the sap and boil off outside the barn. That means lugging heavy buckets full of sap daily up our big hill. I swear by the end of the season, my arms are about two inches longer than they were at the start of the season.

Finally, the hours and hours of boiling until you hit that critical moment when the sap thickens into syrup and you can sugar off. Most people don’t realize how critical the timing is. Wait too long, and you have crystallized candy on your hands. Sugar off too soon and you’ve wasted hours of boiling to create runny syrup.

Luckily, we learned how to determine the perfect consistency and exact time to sugar off from the very best—Audrey Tarasick, Leslie’s mother. Audrey would stand over the evaporator with her silver ladle, testing every five minutes how thick the sap was by seeing if the liquid formed a half moon drop on the end of the ladle. If it did, the sap was ready to sugar off.

For us, I’ve calculated it costs us about $80 in propane to get our 4 litres of maple syrup. Sure, we could buy it cheaper, but the fun and memories it’s given us over the years are priceless.

This week’s #HappyAct is to tap into some liquid gold this month. Little Cataraqui Conservation Authority’s Maple Madness runs this year from March 11 to 19 (March Break), and on the weekends of March 25 and 26 and April 1 and 2. One litre of syrup will run you $26.25.

Girl with sap bucket

One of our first years tapping on our property

tapped-trees