Archive for July, 2010

Bower Trails, July 26

A full summer day in Bower Woods. Bright sun, and many folks taking advantage of it. Parents with kids, couples young and old, joggers and bikers, elders with powered scooters, and kids with aluminum folding ones, teens on skate-boards, and twenty-somes  with in-line skates- the works.

However I think my day at Coyote Creek rather took the bloom off the day for me.  I was acutely aware of the fact that for all the green growth this was a rather “disturbed” environment basically given over to opportunistic invasive plants.

The mosquitoes were back in full force, but also, for the first time this summer, brushing through the taller grass disturbed many small and unobtrusive butterflies that fluttered up and then disappeared again with wings folded.

There were many Police Car Moths (gnophaela latipennis) around.  In the States they are also called Forget-me-not-moths. I saw them feeding on a total of four different  bold invasive weeds.

One clutch of bright red- I assume poisonous Baneberry berries gleamed in the undergrowth.

A couple of pluses though.  Like this lovely unassertive flower that grows face down.  It took maneuvering from below to see it’s face.

and, yes I intend to go out and pick a first ice cream pailful of Saskatoons tomorrow.  Some patches won’t be ready until the weekend or later but some are interesting now.


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Thistle Soup

And how bland life would be if we all agreed.

Over the past few weeks I have been tracking the growth of Canada thistle plants on my walks, so today I thought I’d consult my flower books and do a little net-surfing to find out more about them.

The articles would do a thesaurus proud when it comes to a choice of adjectives appropriate to describe this plant: injurious, invasive, competitive, noxious, pernicious. Some used phrases such as  “aggressively spreading,” nuisance weed,” and “nasty little plant”.

And all articles propagated in Canada were quick to point out that it is indeed not native to this continent but was rather introduced from points abroad as early as the 1600’s.  That makes it a great deal more Canadian than most of us, I daresay.

They all agree that Cirsium arvense is a perennial plant with not only a taproot but a spreading lateral root system from which new plants sprout. So even if you can cut it down before it seeds it can still come back to haunt you next year.

On the plus side, many butterflies and moths feed from the flowers, Goldfinches like the seeds, and best of all the plant is humanly edible- leaf, stalk, and taproot. (though the taproot contains an indigestible starch that can ferment and cause gas).

So should thistles irritate you overly it is possible to take revenge, and benefit at the same time.  This link, lavishly illustrated with full-colour photographs, will walk you through the basics of harvesting, and cooking  thistles for Thistle Soup,  It generally speaks up for “this nasty little plant.”

And I, I will provide you with photographs for identification for whatever purpose.

First the bud

Then the first hint of coming purple

And finally the flower- plus fan

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Flowers at Coyote Creek

Classy Glass

Went out to the Chapel at Coyote Creek and spent the day washing walls and playing with kids who needed someone to play with and looking with eyes widened.  Didn’t take any pictures.  But in the late afternoon I walked across to the meadow area in front.  There the flowers grew in profusion- so different from hunting them one by one in the urbanized woods of Red Deer.  I took a bit of refuge from processing the day to just marvel at beauty.  I’ve just included a selection of the flowers.  My friend told me she had counted twenty-seven different flowering plants there.

Vista and meadow

Three-Toothed Cinquefoil

Strict Blue-eyed Grass

Varileaf Cinquefoil

Yellow Avens

Indian Paintbrush



Grass going to seed

So much we just can't see unaided

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Picea pungens Engelm

Okay- it’s not exactly a native Alberta tree, but hey, we love it’s pyramidal shape and that cool blue shade, so here’s to the Colorado Blue Spruce.

Besides which, it lives for as long as six hundred years- three times the lifespan of the White Spruce in our back yard.  Doesn’t topple over as easily in a strong wind either. And it is resistant to drought, and cold to forty below.

Somewhere I must not have been paying attention in Biology class because I didn’t know until this year that spruce and pines and others of related ilk have both male and female cones.  I’ve sometimes seen the male pollen cones and wondered how those fragile things grew into the woody seed-bearing ones I recognized as mature cones.  The answer is- they don’t.  The males produce and disintegrate.  The female cones are tough and resilient and last.

And how can one be so unaware of cones on a tree, and why don’t Christmas trees come pre-decorated with the things?

Well,  Blue Spruce don’t start producing cones until they are about twenty years old, and they don’t hit full stride until they’re fifty. By then the cones are produced above eye level.  Female cones are produced on the top third of the tree, male cones are produced on the second third down, and we walk past the lower third.   Furthermore, only every second or third year is a good cone year.

Perhaps you are like me and have never thought much about Blue Spruce except for the colour.  Here are some pictures to start you looking.

Female cones on the top third

Female cones close up

Male Cones part way down

Just real true blue on the bottom

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Also known as the Western Snowberry, (I presume for their white berries- still green at this date)  these small bushes are all over the ravines.  I’ve often been disappointed to find out that what I was hoping were low-bush Saskatoons were only these.   If you are desperate and don’t eat too many, or cook them first to destroy the saponins, you can eat these berries in case of famine.  If you get greedy you could end up with vomiting and diarrhea but apparently you’d have to eat a lot to be really sick.  Moral of the story- if your toddler pops one in his mouth don’t panic.  It’s bitter so he’s also not likely to go for a repeat of it.

In fact all parts of the bush are presumably toxic though the Blackfoot and Crees, I’m told, made an infusion of the leaves and inner bark to sooth sore eyes, and gave the liquid from boiled berries to horses as a diuretic.  Why would one give a diuretic to a horse though?

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Red Deer Trails July 21

Just a few highlights of my day in the Bower woods.

The creek is  still running fast, but the levels have dropped far below the highs of last week.  There’s quite a logjam left though where the creek passes under 32nd Street.

They trapped a beaver out of this area last year.  Looks like we have a pretty good beginning on a dam without one.

With all our cool rainy weather this is definitely the year of the mushroom.

On a more edible note.  The Saskatoons are coming along nicely.  Not enough ripe to think about picking but I did snack on a few.

Actually too much growing going on for one blog.  I’ll get back to you.

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Southern Gospel in Red Deer

Last Saturday I had a chance to expand my knowledge.  Friends had extra tickets and invited me to spend the day with them at a Southern Gospel Music Convention at the Westerner.

This is not a genre that I normally listen to but the folks that asked me are “special,”  it was Saturday, and the venue was a five minute walk away, so I accepted their generous invitation – to the morning chapel, the afternoon showcase, and the evening extravaganza.

The evening show was a smorgasbord of  music groups and went from six until eleven p.m.  I discovered that the classic form of Southern Gospel Music was embodied by a male quartet, attired, somewhat to my surprise,  in conservative suits, white shirts and ties.  Button up that suit coat, and don’t put your hands in your pockets!  A typical music set included one slightly jazzed up classic hymn, one hand-clapping crowd-rouser variant of “I’ll Fly Away,”  a thoughtful piece centered  on the death of Christ, and one or two other songs defining the group’s distinctives but staying within a narrow range.  Patter included news about upcoming releases or projected tours, gentle jokes,  members joshing one another, and some references to faith. Accompaniment was heavy on piano, with a sprinkle of drums,  saxophones and even a harmonica.  I don’t remember guitars being a feature at all.

I enjoyed the music well enough, especially in live performance, but didn’t rush out to buy CD’s.

I think I was just as interested in the audience and it’s interaction with the musicians.  It was, I would estimate composed almost entirely of white, card-carrying Christians  aged fifty-five  and over with a mere smear sprinkle of grandchildren and occasional exception to prove the rule. These were aficionados.  Appreciation was shown by many, many, many, partial and full, standing ovations.  Clapping was reserved for audience participation and occasional lukewarm receptions.

At the intermission a lady was introduced to me as- a Real Southern Gospel Groupie, who knows all the scoop.  Cool- I was already functioning in anthropologist mode. Long live participant-observation and all that.

I asked her for her favourite groups. Booth Brothers and Triumphant both ranked high.

I also asked her, “What makes a good group?” I was expecting her to say something about vocal qualities,  harmony, style, lyrics.  However both she and my friend immediately agreed. ” A good group has something to talk to you about when you go to visit them at their tables in the display area.  They share their lives, and their conversation is real.”

We discussed the Hunter Family, a top Canadian contribution to this basically American scene- parents and five sons ranging from seventeen to their late twenties, fresh  from the Saskatchewan farm.  While appreciating why my friends ranked the “Booth Brothers” and “Triumphant” high I must admit I was rooting for the Hunters.  I approved their  Hockey Jerseys, blue jeans, and Monty Python skit.  I liked  the way their presentation departed from the standard. I warmed to their Canadian take.

I noticed that the Canadian groups were somehow not quite part of the club.  They didn’t come from Nashville or attend Southern Baptist churches. After the last set, when members of various bands had come up the group on stage to jam with  the final crowd-rouser one specifically made a point of  inviting “the Canadian groups” to come up and join them.  That invite seemed telling to me.

The Groupie I’d been introduced to said,  “I believe the Hunters are breaking up after this year. The boys want to branch out on their own and change their music style. They feel that here they are preaching to the converted and not reaching out to youth who don’t know Jesus.”  Couldn’t have put my reactions better.   If this convention was typical of the Canadian scene,  it would appear to be a music style  passionately followed by it’s aging devotees but not attracting new ones.

As a contributor to the Hunter’s own web-site put it,  “Southern Gospel isn’t exactly what teen-agers are packing on their ipods.”

So, may my friends continue to be able to enjoy this niche music for their lifetime, and to add to their CD collections. May they  find genuine conversations at the booths, and be blessed for sharing their passion with me.  And may the Hunter lads find  a new avenue to do more than preach to the choir.  May their music find its way to many ipods.

p.s Just found this Ytube clip for those of you as uninformed as I.  The group was not at the venue but they exhibit many of the classic symptoms.

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