Tag Archives: rainforest

Winter Wonderland

I hate winter. I’m a bonafide cold wimp and left Calgary many years ago, partly to escape hideous winter, and we had chinooks to temper the bluster of the icy season. When I was in art college, doing photography, I’d go shooting in the winter until the oil in my camera froze up. Those days, I’d get so cold that it felt like my bone marrow had frozen. There was this deep aching, numbing feeling in my limbs and the only thing that would alleviate it would be immersing myself in a very hot bath.

I’ve become more constitutionally delicate with cold, and sometimes can suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which causes the extremities to go through white, red and blood in coloration. It’s numbing and can feel like someone shoving needles into my hands. Luckily I don’t suffer it often but cold is a factor. So forgive me if I hate winter.

Yesterday, in Vancouver it was icy cold and clear. We’d had a small snowfall on Saturday (where I went no further than my neighbor’s) but the roads were clear and dry. All the foliage, of which Vancouver still has plenty of in winter, was a dark, crisp green. Just like the fridge when the temperature is set too cold and all the vegetables freeze into organic sculptures. There were many of those sculptures: the somewhat slumped and crunchy looking ivy, the ferns in perfect emerald stillness, the trees (rhodos) with drooped and pale leaves. You just know that when the weather warms we’re going to have a lot of sludgy slime.

But that’s just it. When the weather warms… Alas, predictions say cold till Christmas and maybe a bitter January and February. What? This is Vancouver, a coastal rainforest, temperate, not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. Usually only a day or two of frost but not freezing temperatures and snow. I’m wearing snow boots that give me blisters in minutes but at least I have a grip and won’t crash onto the ground, which happened two years ago, injuring my shoulder.

Gah! It’s -2 right now and snowing and snowing and snowing. What happened? Whoever’s weather we’re getting I wish they’d come and reclaim it. There is supposed to be more snow on Sunday. Sob** Vancouver snow is worse than Calgary’s ever was. In Calgary it fell dry and sparkly. My only favorite snow memory was always the first snowfall, when the city was blanketed in diamonds under the streetlight. The world was muffled in white silence and usually I could hear a distant dog bark or maybe a car. In the evening, (as a teenager) walking through it from my friend’s to my place, it would feel like I was the only person in the world, no other footprints yet marring the surface.

That was a good memory and even if the snow stayed, it was crunchy and you could get a grip on it, whether in boots or a car, and you could build snowmen and igloos (Yes, we built an igloo once, how fun was that?). Vancouver on the other hand, has the majority of drivers not used to driving in snow. And our cars don’t have snow tires. And the snow becomes this wet sludge that melts through the most waterproof boots and is slippery for any sort of tires. I hate it, a lot.

More worrisome than my whining is the fact that we’re getting this weather. It’s unusual, but not as much as it used to be. There is more snow and more freezing temperatures. That could cause a problem to the ecosystem with flora and fauna that are not used to surviving in such weather. I wonder what the birds do and I can tell you I haven’t seen any in the past few days. Not the murder of crows that always goes east to roost in the evening, not the ubiquitous sky rats, seagulls.

Many of the cats are staying indoors over the past few days, just like the humans. Many Vancouver homes tend not to have basements, or not ones that go below ground. Our water table is too high. This also means that most homes don’t have plumbing that runs that deep beneath the ground. We always have to worry about freezing temperatures and pipes freezing or bursting. Just like the ice toppling that gondola tower at Whistler, because water froze and expanded. We have a lot of water here, as rain, as constant moisture, which gives us those green winters.

There have been years that I saw cherry blossoms on New Year’s day. Those have also been unusual but not as much as this winter wonderland. Mostly I wonder why we’re having this winter. I hate snow and cold, a lot.

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The Ark: Spiders and Snails and Slug Trails

It’s raining here in Vancouver and some people might think that’s normal West Coast weather but we usually get a summer and intermittent periods of sun throughout the year. However this year, we had a particularly wet and cold spring, with the first ten days of June being the coldest on record. July was hot and dry and glorious.

And now…it’s raining like there will be no tomorrow. Time to build an ark. I mean, it’s torrential downpours lightening to heavy rain. Okay, so we are in a rainforest but still, there should be a good long summer. Back in 1998 I think we had a summer of no rain and no sun. It stayed cloudy and hazy the whole time. Plants barely grew and many yellowed and died in the ground because there just wasn’t enough heat or sun.

But back to that West Coast ark. The animals that would first board it, or slither onto it would be snails and banana slugs. There are the ubiquitous snails that crawl over our plants and the sides of houses. If one hankered for escargot (a fancy word for garlic flavored, butter dipped rubber), you could just pluck them from gardens. And slugs, when I first moved to Vancouver my friends in Calgary didn’t believe me when I said there were slugs up to a foot long. After all, the biggest a slug gets in Calgary is about two inches, if it’s massive. (They’re a different breed too.) But these natives to the coast are slimily large and have a high ooze factor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_slug 

The first banana slugs I ever saw were when we visited cousins in Kelowna. We were talking on the sidewalk as the sun started its descent and I kept looking back to the side of the stucco house. There were two large black things on it and I swore they had changed position. I finally pointed them out and my mother said, oh they’re giant slugs. She was joking but in fact they were and remain the longest I’ve ever seen, being each a foot long. Eyewww.

Then I spent a year upgrading hiking trails along the Baden Powell trail in North and West Van. That’s when I saw the rainbow of slimy critters. Sometimes they looked like glossy piles of pooh…until they moved. They were white, yellow, black and brown, sometimes with spots and averaged between 6-8 inches. I used to “accidentally” drop rocks on them. I was young and they disgusted me but I now realize they play an important part in decomposition and recycling of organic wastes into new soil. But they are so so slimy. Settle has had slug races in the past and you can buy life size magnets.

Slugs remind me of my younger brother’s wicked experiments when we were kids. He’d gather up a bunch of garden slugs and put them on the sidewalk in the hot sun. Then he’d surround them with a ring of salt. Death by salt or by sun. Usually they would try to swim the channel of white salt. They got their payback the day he was puttering in the garden. He went to take off his garden gloves and pulled them off with his teeth…getting a mouthful of slug. Hmmmm.

I also wrote a kids poem, a cautionary one about a slug that likes beer too much. You can leave a pot of it in your garden and they’ll just slide on in and drown drunk. Of course you’re left with the gooey stew to get rid of then.

I can’t forget that on this West Coast ark, besides snails and banana slugs, there would be wolf spiders. I once had arachnophobia (somehow cured by working those hiking trails) but wolf spiders still creep me out. They’re the size of small mice, have long eyestalks (okay it’s probably their mandibles but they look like eyestalks), are hairy and move fast, way too fast. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider I usually find one in the tub, it having gone for a drink and getting trapped by the porcelain sides (It’s not true that they come up from drains, and I have a hair catcher on mine, though I wouldn’t put it past the buggers to push that hatch over.)

The other night I caught a bit on the Discovery channel of a computer re-enacted piece on prehistoric times. When the oxygen was super rich and the planet super warm, there were dragonflies the size of eagles and spiders the size of your head. Yeee. Keeping that in mind, wolf spiders don’t seem so bad but they still give me the heebie jeebies.

I’m hoping we’ll get sun again because there has been so much rain that all of these denizens are creeping and slithering about. If I had to board an ark with them, they’d get their own hermetically sealed section.

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