Category Archives: Visual

Mother’s Day Skull Walk

Ah, Mother’s Day. A leisurely sleep-in, to be woken at a civilized hour by an adorable jammie-clad child bearing a pancake breakfast on a tray, with Dad clearing up heroically in the kitchen. Then, flowers! A much-cherished homemade gift from the adorable, small child, mis-spellings intact. According to the television commercials, a meal later on at a restaurant is also de rigeur, and maybe jewelery, and certainly no housework.

I did get much-cherished homemade gifts from the adorable small child, all low on capital outlay but high on capital thoughts. And a very nice boy did stop in with flowers in the afternoon. We even bought KFC for dinner and ate it on paper plates so I would neither have to eat nor clean (I acknowledge that it’s not the most environmentally ethical thing but, you know what? It’s one day a year).

On the other hand there was laundry and groceries and skulls.

Umm, yes. Skulls.

Why yes, this IS a dead animal after it's been thoroughly cleared out by carnivores, scavengers and insects

It happened like this: Frances and I wanted to see if we could find frogs and tadpoles in a very large pond near our house, and one of Frances’s little friends decided to come along. Frances and I wore our rainboots and the friend wore mudshoes and I had my camera and off we went.

We got to the pond all right, but once there found the water too silty and dark to see if anything was in it. No frogs along the shore. Some fish jumping in the water. Lots of red-winged blackbirds, some robins, a hawk of some kind, and a lot of walking around the pond hoping for frogs and tadpoles. And then, what’s this? Teeth and an eye socket coming out of the ground?

“Hey Frances,” I said. “Come and see!”

Wouldn’t you know it, but these two seven-year-old girls thought a buried skull was THE MOST COOL THING EVER and demanded that I dig it out and clean it off. (Done.) And of course we had to put it in my backpack so we could bring it home. (Done.) Then since Frances had one her friend had to have one too–and after much scouting about, we’d found a bunch of leg bones, a duck skull (bill attached) and foot, and a couple of carnivore skulls of some kind, one of which was fairly putrid and still attached to whatever it used to be, half-buried in muck. The friend got her skull, though–a different one–and I got to be the cool mom who goes for a nature walk with the neighbourhood kids and brings them back a bunch of dead animals for their parents to pretend to be impressed with.

I’ve been told a bit of peroxide will clean ’em up right pretty. In the meantime, I wouldn’t trade my Mother’s Day for any other, even if it did include less relaxation and more body parts than advertised.

a long and lustrous winter

I love the way snow turns blue at dusk, and how everything looks beautiful with the escarpment in the background.

These are a few weeks old now, and the snow has melted and frozen and snowed again since then. Groundhog Day is meaningless here; we’re lucky if spring beats Easter and we actually get a chance to dress our daughters in those lovely pastel-coloured dresses in April, let alone a mere six weeks of white stuff following February 2. But it’s coming. We’re halfway to spring.

In the meantime, winter gives us plenty to love.


Because Dennis Lee deserves a wider readership, and because I am finishing up a post about decision-making and scientific literacy.


Was a one, was a
once, was a nothing:
mattered and gone. And how cleanly

our floruit will fade into
moteflicker, starcycle, eddies of
gloryfit ex. Where

nothing will
sing of us; build on us; blazon our
hubris & only


floruit is a noun meaning “the period during which a person, school, or movement was most active or flourishing.”

From Dennis Lee’s fabulous 2003 collection un. Which I got today in the mail, and finished today, and sticky-tagged all over. What I love about his apocalypse poems is the way he rips into and reconstructs words that can mean only one thing, that have a heavy emotional evocation without any history whatsoever. Like un itself: not just a removing or destroying but a negating; they evoke skin-crawling horror at what we’ve done in a way that the best environmental prose rarely does.

Open Blog

Look! Pretty! (Taken at the Butterfly Conservatory)

Welcome to anyone who’s wandering over from either Support for Special Needs or Heritage Toronto. Please poke around and ask any questions you may have. (Look at me–I’m conducting my blog like a public meeting open house. Hi! Do you have any questions about what you’re reading? Is there anything I can help you with? If you’d like to give me your contact information I can follow up with you when I have an answer. Thanks for coming!)

New Neighbours

And how often do you suppose this happened in Toronto?

fawn near Dundas Valley Conservation Area

Just hanging out on the path near the local park along with mom and a few aunts. They might be skittish, but they’re not at all afraid of humans.


As you can see.

Beautiful, aren’t they?

However, I am once again disappointed in my fellow humans, many of whom were running or cycling through in groups and somehow failed to notice the large herbivores on the paths directly in front of them. Talk about your invisible gorillas. If you just open your eyes and pay attention, there is always something worth seeing.

Monarch Caterpillar

A Monarch

Taken this past weekend at a friend’s cottage, walking in the woods, where a bunch of largeish monarch caterpillars are fattening themselves up on milkweed in preparation for metamorphosis. Look at the size of that thing!

Also, they’re soft, if you’ve never tried petting one. Velvety.

Given that it’s august and the monarch migration to Mexico begins in late August each year, this caterpillar will fly south thousands of miles after its metamorphosis is complete. No one knows how the migratory route is transferred from one generation to the next.

Milkweed plants are poisonous, and monarch caterpillars become poisonous from eating them–an advantage they retain after transforming into butterflies. This explains why monarch caterpillars have such bold colouring compared to the larvae of other species, which tend to be camoflauged. And while most adult monarchs will live for four or five weeks, those who reach maturity in the migration period can live for eight or nine months and won’t reach sexual maturity or breed until after the wintering period in Mexico.

This Hinterland Who’s Who page has some great basic information about monarchs. Evolution has done some amazing things with life on this planet, eh? There is no other insect species in the world thought to have this multi-generational migration pattern.

Regardless, kids love caterpillars. If you find a large stand of milkweed plants right about now, you stand a good chance of finding some, or maybe even a chrysalis or two. Or head to Point Pelee National Park in September to see the peak migration first-hand.

Summer Vacation

Niagara River, whirlpool

By which you might deduce, and correctly, that I was recently in Niagara Falls. It’s not quite the sort of nature shot I usually go for, being large and imposing and Charismatic, not to mention Touristified, but it’s not the river’s fault, is it? What I love about it is the colour of the river, not really done justice here: a deep, glossy, dark teal. Damn the sun for washing it all out again.

And on a much smaller, more local scale, another shot of Webster’s Falls, taken on another day:

Webster's Falls, July 2010, sunset

This while I work up a post on public consultation under Ontario Regulation 359/09, under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act. Which is distinctly going to be one of the steeper parts of the learning curve.

Not dead.

Just moving. Now the move is over, and Bell has decided to let me have telephone and internet service, and I finally got to get outside for something involving non-human nature.

Webster's Falls, Spencer Gorge Conservation Area

It was pretty awesome. Next time I go it’ll be dusk, so I can take some photos that aren’t automatically overexposed. All that sunlight-on-water washed out just about everything.

Childhood should involve catching frogs

In this case, green frogs and cricket frogs, with a net.

I took this at the pond where the Newtonbrook Creek trail meets up with the main East Don Parkland path. Juvenile frogs stick their wee heads out of the water like slightly oversized bubbles by the dozens. In one shot taken Saturday afternoon, I counted twenty frogs. Twenty!

Course now I can’t find them all again. See how many you count.

look at them all!

These are green frogs, identified by the double ridge down their backs, the pale green to dark greenish-brown colouring with spots, bands on the legs, bright green mouth, and mating call that sounds like someone badly plucking an out-of-tune banjo. Males have eardrums bigger than their eyes, like this one:

In which you can also see my reflection.

If you want to see green frogs galore, go right now to that pond and stare. At first all you will see is murky water with bubbles and algae and plants floating on top. Keep staring, and soon you will see that some of those little bubbles and plants have a pair of small golden eyes.

The big ones can’t be missed.

We also saw this lovely brownsnake, which might not a word you personally would apply to the brownsnake, but it was small and slithered in exactly the way a snake should. Brownsnakes, apparently, live in large numbers in suburban and even urban habitats, but are reclusive and quite small (this one was about 20″ long) so they are very rarely seen. This one certainly did not appreciate being photographed; several times it lunged at the camera lens, baring its teeth. Poor thing.

I am hip-deep in wind farm studies and the last of the packing, or I would offer you some more science to go with the photography. Consider this (another) IOU.

in lieu of an actual post, please accept this damselfly

I am so, so, so close to being done my Theory of Everything post. But–well, close isn’t done.

In the meantime–hey, look! Pretty.

It’s a bluet. These are the ones that beat their wings so fast they look like tiny blue wands being waved by invisible elfin sorcerors. Closely related to dragonflies, but capable of folding their wings when at rest and with eyes on either side of their head instead of joining in the middle.