Painting Autumn in Winter – Local landscapes for #WordlessWednesday

‘Highland Colours’ 11 x 14 – by Karen Sloan

End of the Rapids 11×14 –  by Karen Sloan

Milkweed and Monarchs #ThursdayThoughts

What more can I add to the already enormous amount of factual information & interesting literature in cyberspace, stating why we should plant milkweed in the garden to help Monarch butterflies?!

Not much, I admit…

(Sharing those links below).

In any case, I’ll try to promote the idea by sharing here how this past summer, I let the milkweed roam & grow where they liked.

Did I mention their scent is lovely? Well, it really is. -> Next year, take a snootful and see (smell) for yourself what I mean.

Rarely, but on occasion, the ‘o.c.d./weeding/tidy up the garden’ gardener in me, reached in towards the flower beds in order to pluck a few out.

But, I came to my senses and resisted… then scolded myself in the process.

Glad I restrained myself, because when it comes right down to it, what is a garden really for?

Our personal enjoyment yes, but also to encourage and help the other beings on this planet thrive, be they insects, birds, or mammals.

At the end of the season I was duly rewarded with plenty of seeds pods that burst forth in a spectacular fashion! Truly, they are nature’s understated fireworks.

So, I collected many seed pods and dried them in order to scatter those seeds all around our property next spring.

Here’s hoping it helps our winged friends, even a little bit, and that many of them will visit me next year.

Just some thoughts on a snowy winter day. 🙂

Further reading

Nature Watch Canada

National Wildlife Federation


Monarch Watch

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Encounters with Deer

Deer have played a significant role in folklore and mythology, in partnership with cultures around the world, and throughout most of our known human existence.

Many European cultures equated deer with woodland deities, including Greece. Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness played the role of virgin huntress. One time, a man named Actaeon witnessed Artemis bathing nude in a pool. She transformed him into a stag and his own hounds tore him to pieces. Talk about revenge!

The Iron Age Celts also have stories of people and deities who took the form of deer. Finn mac Cumhail, leader of Ireland’s heroic band, the legendary Fianna, was out hunting, and his hounds cornered a beautiful white deer, but they refused his order to attack. That night, Finn was visited by the goddess Sadhbh who explained how she was that deer, under a magic spell from which the only chance of her release would come about by his declaration of love for her. A beautiful story, but a tragic tale.

Moving on to the 6th century, Saint Gregory of Tours wrote chronicles of the Merovingian rulers. His Historia Francorum contained a legend concerning King Clovis I, who prayed to Christ in one of his campaigns so they could find a place to cross the river Vienne. Considered as sign from the divine, a huge deer appeared to the king’s army and showed them where they could cross the river, and that’s (supposedly) what they did.

Deer appear in art from Paleolithic cave paintings , and they have played a role in mythology, religion, and literature throughout history, as well as in heraldry.

Their economic importance includes the use of their meat as venison, their skins as soft, strong buckskin, and their antlers as tools, including handles for knives. Deer hunting has been a popular activity since at least the middle Ages.

According to the many different interpretations of deer as animal messengers, including totem animals from the Native American traditions, a deer represents gentleness and suggests the use of kindness in each of our endeavours.

In addition to that, if a deer crosses your path, you are likely a compassionate person who gives and receives unconditional love.

In any case, it’s always wonderful to witness a visit from the deer, and to know what depth of their nature is revealed to us and included within each encounter.

The Year of the Fox

Early this spring I started a new job. The work I’m doing has absolutely nothing to do with any industry I’ve ever worked in before.

Being out of work for a couple months, I’ll admit without shame, that along with my computer skills, it was mainly nepotism that enabled me this means of employment.

This current position entails weighing vehicles, big trucks for the most part, in and out of a gravel pit.

My office is in a solidly build shed, and this “wee hoose” as I like to call it, has a view of the gravel pit, but also overlooks a lovely stream, a big pond, and a lush forest.

With three big windows, the office is bright, and contains comfy chairs, a big desk, some shelving, my kettle, the weigh scale for the trucks, a work computer, my personal laptop, an air conditioner, a heater, depending on the weather, and happily, it has the fastest internet connection I’ve ever experienced!

It has become my home away from home. : )

(Just a sidebar, someone I’d describe as a ‘frenemy’ said to me a few weeks ago, “I hear you’re working in a basement!” which was meant to be a snide remark & an effort to point out just how far beneath her she thinks I am.

– Moral of that story? These kinds of bullys are at all levels of society. Avoid them at all cost, but pity them, too! They’re unhappy with their own little lives and only seek to make everyone else around them just as miserable as they are.)

But I digress… 🙂

So, previously to this job, I’d worked with some wonderful ladies at a local flower shop. Hired to work there only three weeks after closing my own brick-and-mortar shop, the position was good on paper. It’s without ego that I’ll say I’m a good floral designer, and I like to work in a creative environment, making yes, pretty things with flowers. A good flower arrangement is a form of communication. It visually states what most people want to say, but may not always have the right words with which to do so. I can relate to that.

And, being a people pleaser, (but learning how to set boundaries, as you may have noticed two paragraphs above), I love creating products & making things that takes a personal occasion and kicks it up a notch, leaving people happy and with good memories of their event.

In any case, the daily round trip/drive of about 80 km/50 miles to this flower shop, especially during extreme winter weather, (which can be 5 months of the year here in Haliburton), good for skiing, but not for me as a driver, combined with having to make some floral deliveries in that same weather, (which I probably could have gotten out of if I’d only thought to ask), was creating extreme anxiety and panic attacks within me. I decided to leave.

Not exactly heroic, but there you go.

Fight or flight… I chose the latter.

In hindsight, having taken the floral designer position so soon after closing my own shop, when I hadn’t (yet) gotten over the closing of my own business, along with that belief that it was the only way to be head honcho of my own destiny, (plus having to see the pile of products, props, and shelving from my former shop, moved, and at that point, laying waste in my basement, yet to be sifted through and organized), sent me into a tailspin of depression.

Though I’d fully participated in this decision to take that job, I now found myself working for someone else, and in a retail establishment similar to my own former shop, and despite the wonderful women I was working with, I was truly unhappy, and I found it difficult to keep up a pretence of ‘being over’ something, when in fact I hadn’t even dealt with it yet, and I wasn’t sure how.

At that point, I still felt I had something to prove to the outside world. Believe me. I don’t now, and you don’t either! When you realize this as fact, it’s the most freeing feeling in the whole world.

But, at that time, I had suppressed my feelings of loss, and it was difficult to move on when many of the people, (this is a small town, remember), lovely former customers/friends who had previously frequented my own establishment, were now shopping there, and asking me (kindly) questions about why my shop had to close, and telling me how much they missed it.

I still missed it, too. And I was bitter when thinking about ‘what might have been’.

It was bittersweet too, because everyone was genuinely kind-hearted and well-meaning, wishing me well, but from my point of view, I was nothing but a big, fat failure.

This very personal admission was not at all intended to be the point of this post, (nor was putting my heart on my sleeve for all to see, being the private, introverted Scorpio being that I am!), but I can tell you that it is healing to purge (both emotions and tangible physical clutter), and at least for me, it’s a healing process.

Part of the process that has helped me get past those feelings of despair was admitting and embracing how I really felt.

This can feel like a breath of fresh air flooding in, when like me, you think you’ve lost your way, and what you may have thought was meant to be your life’s purpose, too.

Once I realized I didn’t actually have to prove anything to anyone, these feelings of inadequacy subsided.

Sure, I’m not perfect and never will be, and wouldn’t want to be, but when I feel some sort of negative thought coming on, even if it’s just about the weather, I realize that it’s just a thought and it has no power over me. It’s not something I have to cling to, like a lamplight in a storm. I can just recognize it and then let it go. Learning and practising this mindset freed my depressive state.

So, this mixture of circumstances, partly beyond my control, but mainly due to choices, (no finger pointing), led me to where I am now… A place in life where I can say (most of the) baggage has left the terminal!

Happily, working closer to home means less winter driving.. something I’ll not warm up to ever, pardon the pun.

So, I think I’ve found the best of both worlds, which includes way more time to spend tending to my own garden, (a good metaphor for life!), I’m not sunk in depression any longer and feel like my old self again, and by that I mean the one from years ago, when I still lived in Toronto.

Once again creating my organic products, (but not slavishly like I was at my old shop on main street), only selling them online, and without expectations, which by the way, will only let you down if you set the bar too high and they go unfulfilled.

By having a full-time day job that I enjoy, and one that offers not only a paycheque, but the absolute pleasure of witnessing a fox family in its natural habitat, (along with several other wild creatures), I’ve been able to see them grow from babies to adulthood, and was just what the doctor ordered!

That was the original point of this post! And for me, something to be grateful about.

Meeting the fox family took place in mid-May this year while getting to know my new surroundings. I  first spotted five of the cutest wee fox kits you ever did see and with their mother initially keeping a close eye on them, they would play in a sand pile across the way from where I work.

Grateful to have my camera on hand, I started taking lots of photos!

All of the kits looked pretty healthy, (as far as I could tell), but I noticed after a while that the mother Fox did not. She was scratching furiously all the time and losing fur at a rapid rate. Then I noticed a few of the kits started to scratch almost as much as her.

It turns out that they had a condition called Mange. This is a type of skin disease caused by parasitic mites who embed themselves in the skin of some mammals, including the fox.

It’s a horrible circumstance for any animal to find themselves in because not only do they lose their fur, (and look like they’re losing their minds with all the scratching they do), but eventually, their skin tightens up so much, (think back to your worst sunburn ever), that even their eyelids close over.

This means they’ll eventually go blind and can’t hunt for food. Inevitably, they die.

Well, I had to help somehow!

After going online to find out more information, (because that’s what we all do nowadays), I was in touch with several veterinarians.

One vet, (who shall remain nameless at their request), offered me the medication for free, however I did end up donating some money to help out a bit. Like any medication nowadays, for animals or people, these pills are not cheap. They look like little cube-shaped kibble, which leads me to explain how I got the foxes to take them. – Cat food of course!

I bought a huge bag of cat food and took it to work.

Next, I put six piles of food out, (one for each fox, obviously) nearest to the place where they played or slept most of the day. And boy, do fox kits ever play! It is joy to witness, and I recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re down in the dumps.

Six piles of food. One pill on each pile. Me, standing not too far away, trying to determine which wee kit had its medication already and which one still had yet to take theirs.

Because of the dosage of the pills, I had to give each fox a pill at the beginning of the month, (early July), and another at the beginning of August, (so, two per fox), further meaning (in my mind), that I had to keep feeding them for that whole month of July just to make sure they’d stick around and receive that second dose in August. Otherwise, it would have been a futile effort for them, meaning I wouldn’t have helped out one bit. They had to have that second pill.

Because of this, I’ve gotten to know them fairly well! A fox family is a tightly knit group of playful and caring individuals, not unlike us!

There’s a definite hierarchy, and the play time is obviously to teach them skills for survival, but they’re intelligent, curious creatures who’ll eat all the things we humans can be skittish about, like snakes, mice, voles, and the like.

Each fox has its own subtly different fur pattern, and after a few weeks I was able to determine which kit was which, making the dispensing of that second dose much easier.

A couple of times I had to remove a pill from one pile and place it on another so one of them would not get a third pill. A bit hair raising at times, but I loved every minute of it.

Throughout all of this, it was never my intention to get overly close or try and tame them, (though a small part of me would have loved to pet one!), and I did my best to remain at arm’s length with these lovely animals.

They were curious about me, too. They’d come right up to my office door and peek in if it was open. I’d move ever so slightly on my chair, which squeaks a bit, and they’d run off, but not too far. Admittedly, the whole attempt has been a thrill, and to have this sort of connection with a wild animal is sublime.

Knowing that I have helped them in some small way is the best part of all.

Happily, I was able to get all of them their second dose, watch them grow, come and go, which happened more frequently by the time September rolled around. They were maturing, and likely out hunting for their own food by this time, so I’d see them less often each day.

As the have months rolled by, I’ve stopped taking so many photos of them. It was as if I knew them now, and felt somehow I was invading their privacy.

Speaking as a person who does not possess a cell phone, (some will think I’m nuts, but I don’t want a self imposed leash), and with all that technology out there today, perhaps we should still try to connect to watching nature in situ, with our eyes and senses, in real time, instead of through a lens to share later on. (Which is what I’m kind of doing now, lol).

Sadly, I know for sure of two foxes were hit by cars on the highway. I saw them both with my own eyes, and had a good cry each time, all the while hoping none of the people coming in to the pit would notice me blubbering away. If they did, they were kind enough not to mention it.

A third I believe was also hit, but has managed to survive so far. I first saw it limping around in late October, but I’ve kept feeding him. There was a big pink wound on his back knee, but he seems much better now, thankfully. The other remaining two are both of very healthy, beautiful animals, with thick gorgeous coats and tail, and without that dreadful mange.

Out of all of this, the reactions of some of the people visiting the gravel pit have impressed me most. Many of these people, mostly guys (without meaning to sound sexist or generalize too much), are truck drivers who’ve likely seen it all in life, but they became invested in this fox adventure with me.

Everyone had stories to share about a positive experience they had with a fox, (or some other animal), that had crossed their path and impressed them during some encounter.

It was lovely! Many would even share a bit of their lunch, (and still do), placing bits of their sandwich or whatever, off to the side of the scale house, in the hopes that they too were helping these animals, and also like me, could partake in this lovely interaction with nature at work.

Fast forward to December. Winter is upon us. I see the foxes, maybe once or twice a week. If not, that’s fine because I see their tracks in the snow when I get to work in the morning, so I know they were around.

I don’t hold expectations for next year, or dare hope to repeat this little adventure, (especially the mange part), but I sure do hope the foxes thrive over the winter, and that they might stop by once in a while. Maybe with kits of their own!

Maybe I’ve learned that nature is the best medicine.

Maybe I’ve shared way too much, here! But no matter… everyone has to shake the dust off from time to time. In any case, the year of the fox is one I’ll never forget.

The first snow of the year always feels magical

Why does the first snowfall of the year always seem magical? 🙂

The First Snowfall

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

~ By James Russell Lowell

(An excerpt from his poem, ca 1855)