Thursday, August 04, 2016

Better late than never

It seems strange to me now, back living on Vancouver Island after an entire adult life away, how much I missed of my surroundings, growing up, halfway in the bush as I was. I knew the berries, which to eat, which to avoid. I knew that the coiled tops of springtime ferns tasted of nuts, a good nibble as I followed the trail to school. I knew the taste of Douglas fir tips in the spring, and how to peel thimbleberry stalks for the first greens of the year, how to make pancakes with elderberry flowers in the batter. I waded in creeks lined with bleeding hearts.

I fished for "minnows" on the tide flats, never wondering what fish they grew up to be. I teased crabs and starfish, knew how to eat a clam on the beach, banging it on a rock to open it like the gulls did. I caught perch and red snapper from the wharf, and watched gulls fight over our leftover food, set out for the dog.

And I don't remember seeing mushrooms at all, ever. There were garden plots near two of our homes; there were daffodils and roses and some blue flowers that now I recognize as hydrangeas; back then, I didn't think to ask their name. The rest of the flowers and other plants in the area slipped by me, unobserved. And I never, ever saw a hermit crab or learned the names of the multi-coloured anemones on all the rocks.

Wasted opportunities. I'm glad that now I have a chance to fill in some of those gaps.

Piggyback plant, Tolmeia menziesii.

I always thought these were houseplants; now I learn that they are native to our west coast. This clump was growing at the campsite on the Leiner River.

It's growing on a moss-covered log.

The little plantlets growing at the base of the leaf will drop off and root in the soil beneath the parent plant.

False bugbane, Trautvetteria caroliniensis. Another native. From the Leiner River trail.

Two-leaved false Solomon's seal, Maianthemum dilatatum. I remember seeing these berries long ago, and knowing only that I shouldn't eat them. Leiner River trail.

Foamflower, Tiarella trifoliata. I missed this one on the trail, but it turned up in several of my photos. Very tiny, and usually only seen as spots of white on a thin stalk.

Silverweed, Argentina anserina. On the banks of a lake between Gold River and Tahsis.

We have a local silverweed here, that grows on the seashore; it's salt tolerant. A. anserina prefers inland soils.

Twisted stalk, Streptopus lanceolatus, with berries. Usually there is one per leaf. The extra one here looks like it will fall off, unripe.

This is another that I only knew as, "Do not eat." This one was on the banks of the Campbell River, just out of town, but they showed up in Tahsis, as well.

And this, I have trouble understanding; how did I ever miss seeing lichens in all those years? In a field by the Leiner River.

Lichen and nail on fencepost.

These photos taken here.


  1. Your idyllic upbringing reminds me of mine. There were a number of plants and wildlife I grew up with, whose names I never learned but would recognize immediately. My thing was grasshoppers, that I wrongly grouped into grasshoppers and locusts (I called the grey ones locusts since they would be capable of hovering in the air). The names don't really matter though...what I think is valuable is how your/my observations have sculpted our view of the natural world.

    1. Knowing the names (or a name, even invented on the spot) helps, though. It differentiates a specific plant from generic "green stuff", settles it in memory, and helps to notice it again in future.

      Nice distinction between not-really-locusts and grasshoppers; now that you've brought it up, I'll notice the next time the hoppers burst from under my feet; do they pop like popcorn, or do they hover?

    2. (the following is just my 8 year old self's description, and not meant to be zoologically accurate)
      Grasshoppers can direct their flight, but only in a forwards direction. While their velocity would exceed that with which a 8-year old legs could take chase, their stamina was low enough that one could watch where it landed, and sneak up to it.
      Locusts did not seem to fly in a straight line, even when startled, but their saving grace is that their stamina enabled them to keep off the ground as long as a I was tailing it. Eventually, they'd fly into a rocky patch or onto a neighbour's property that I wouldn't be able to easily reach.

      Male grasshoppers would call to their prospective mates by rubbing their hind legs against their wings, in an almost inaudible way. Large grey (or sometimes red) locusts would flutter in the air with their dazzling black and yellow wings to attract mates (so my theory went). Smaller red and yellow-winged locusts would be capable of a distinct crackling sound as they hovered in their mating flight. It would be the red/yellow-winged locusts that I would be most proud of capturing - they featured the escapability of the larger black/yellow-winged locusts, were just as camouflaged in the arid gravel of the okanagan, less approachable (their smaller size meant that they could take off and manoeuvre more easily than the larger black/yellow-winged cousins). To top it off, their charismatic crackling making them the most audible daytime critters, and increased their allure to an inquisitive child. Typically, their crackling only happens during their mating dance. Their escape flight is silent.

    3. Wow! That's a lot of detailed observation! I'm going to be watching grasshoppers a lot more carefully from now on.


      Here's a yellow winged variety, but I'm quite sure I saw red ones as well. I've heard them on the gulf islands, and will almost definitely be on the drier parts of Vancouver Island.

  2. Good hearing about your connecting back where you grew up.


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