Reading the Leaves

Leaves in a bowl with reflections, photo by June Hunter. ©junehunterimages2018

Words are important.

But sometimes there seem to be too many of them. Too many we’ve heard, spoken, written and read. This week has begun to feel like one of those times.

Whenever I’ve passed through the garden in the last few days — to do a little yard work, or on my way to the studio — I’ve felt drawn to this bowl.

It feels, somehow, as if it might hold answers. Wordless answers.

It does contain a kaleidoscope of fallen leaves.

The complicated leaf patterns compete with reflections of the very trees they’ve recently fallen from.

The bowl looks quite different at each visit. New leaves are added its miniature world, but  it’s the ever-changing light that makes the biggest difference.

Each day, it seems to hold a different message.

Words like “augury” and “scrying” and “oracle” pass through my mind.

But we’re getting back to words again, and we agreed we’ve had too many of them this week.

Plus, it’s actually not a crystal ball, but Geordie’s outdoor water bowl. He wonders why I’m letting it get so full of floaty bits, so I guess I’ll have to empty and clean it soon.

I’m still almost sure there are answers in there, even if I’m not qualified to interpret them fully.

I do know it’s very calming to stand there and wonder for a few moments — which is why I’m sharing my gazing bowl with you this week.

Mavis, the Oracle of East Van

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Trick or Treat

Marvin poses on our fence, adding some corvid authenticity to the Halloween decorations.

Halloween in East Vancouver.

Chills and thrills, colour, crows and a bit of junk food thrown in for good measure.

It gets pretty spooky around here in late October. Being only a few blocks from  “Fright Nights” at Playland, every night-time dog walk is accompanied by eerie sound effects and piercing screams floating on the chilly breeze.

In writing a corvid-centric Halloween post, I’m in no way agreeing that crows are even slightly creepy or scary.  They’re so much more comforting than everything I see in the news these days, that I continue to mull the idea of a children’s book about them.

Things continue to be rather stressful around here as I, and neighbours, spend many hours writing letters to City officials in an effort to save the local poplar trees (and Marvin and Mavis’s nesting site) from destruction.

As a bit of diversion from truly terrifying international news and local activism, I’ve been pursuing a rather silly project.

My restorative therapy — training Marvin and Mavis to pose on pumpkins.

At first the orange alien was too intimidating to explore.

Marvin rejects pumpkin

Motivation was needed.

Matching the colour scheme of the season, Hawkins Cheezies were the answer.* *Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that crows and raven share our human weakness for these fluorescent orange snacks. I’d tested this theory in previous years and found it to be  true. Since I share their weakness for these splendid morsels, I rarely buy them. At Halloween I make an exception because you can buy them in the tiny Trick or Treat size. That way, if you only open one bag, the nutritional disaster is relatively contained.

Plus, most will be given to neighbourhood children.

Honest.

Marvin was the first to brave getting up close and personal with the newcomer.

Pumpkin Landing

Pumpkin feet

It only took him a few minutes to get quite comfy with the new landing platform.

M and M with pumpkin

Mavis is a lot more cautious than Marvin and, for a couple of days, she watched wistfully as he scored all the Cheezies.

Finally, yesterday, she gathered her courage and made her “moon-landing equivalent.

Mavis on A Pumpkin

Pumpkin Stride Mavis

One small step for Mavis, a great step for crow-kind.

 

 

raven cards ad

 

Sadly for them both, today is Halloweeen, and the pumpkin has to be carved and the Cheezies offered to the local children.

Maybe I’ll hold a bag back for them. Maybe two, so we can share them.

And perhaps a few Coffee Crisps, just for me …

Happy Halloween everyone.

Sppoky Marvin

Boo!

*PLEASE NOTE: while crows will eat almost anything and, like humans, have a weakness for junk food — Cheezies should not form a significant part of their diet (or yours.) Generally I offer my corvid visitors more wholesome snacks like unsalted peanuts, good quality cat or dog kibble, occasional chopped up boiled egg and dried grubs (from Wild Birds Unlimited.)

A Puzzlement of Crows

It’s taken me a ridiculous length of time to get to this simple little blog . I’m just trying to update you on the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of the local crow families. But it’s complicated!

I tried writing it all in words and it was confusing even me, so I decided we needed a map. Voila!

Honestly, I did feel as if I could use something fancier, like the opening credits to Game of Thrones to do the situation justice but, alas, the budget is limited and so the map will have to suffice.

In the post-summer corvid reshuffle, you can see we have four families vying for hegemony* in this little corner of East Vancouver.

Let’s have a look at the protagonists in this little neighbourhood drama.

MABEL

Normally, at this time of year, George and Mabel would have returned from their nesting area at the west end of the block to reclaim our alley way and my back garden.

Since the sad death of George this summer, Mabel seems happy to stay in the nesting area with the junior crow that she and George fledged the summer before last. They claim the elementary school end of the block and the alleyway to the south of our house.

ERIC & CLARA

Eric and Clara are sticking to their traditional territory which includes the south side of Notre Dame School (including the highly prized school dumpster in the parking lot), the east end of Parker Street and points west along Parker to Rossland Street. Of course, their jurisdiction includes the all-important ceremonial fire hydrant.

Sometimes they will make a sortie to my front gate if they see me coming out with the dog, or going to the car. They will also venture part way down “Mabel’s” alley, but turn back at “her” Hydro pole.

Eric takes his Block Watch duties very seriously.

They didn’t have any baby crows this spring. The nest they were working on blew away in an early summer windstorm and they didn’t seem to have the heart to start over.

THE FIREHALL FAMILY

The Firehall pair, on the other hand, had a very successful baby-raising year.  They have three surviving adolescents — quite an achievement, given the long drought and tough conditions this summer. Their little population explosion has been one of the major factors causing a fluctuation in the customary corvid boundaries.

The Firehall Triplets

I imagine the three young ones will soon go off and start their own little empires elsewhere but, for now, with five mouths to feed, they’re venturing out of their usual stomping grounds.

Crowded up there on the Hydro wires.

They’ve even had the nerve to go and try pinching peanuts off Eric’s fire hydrant. Such audacity is met with firm resistance. They also come to my back fence sometimes. They’ve never done this in previous years and their visits have led to some minor scuffles with Marvin and his mate.

MARVIN & MATE

In the summer months, when George and Mabel would abandon my garden for their nest site to the west, a notice must immediately have gone up on the Corvid Craigslist. I imagine it read something like: “Temporary vacancy in well-appointed garden with well-trained, peanut-serving human.” This year our summer tenants were a crow with paint on his neck and a  companion with the colourful feathers of a younger crow.

I believe that the crows that are most often coming to the garden now that it’s fall, are these same two — but it’s hard to tell for sure as the late summer moult took care of the  easy-to-spot painted and the colourful feathers, leaving us with two anonymously glossy black crows. I think, from their behaviour, it’s the same two. I’ve called the formerly painted crow Marvin after Lee Marvin, who starred in the movie, Paint Your Wagon, many years ago. I haven’t yet got around to a name for his mate. Indeed, I don’t really know who’s “he” and who’s “she” for sure at the  moment, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

We’re beginning that fun “getting to know you” routine, which involves a lot of “risk/benefit” calculation on their part. You can almost hear their brain cogs whirring as they try to figure out how close it’s safe to get to this crazy human and her dog.

They don’t look too dangerous …

How about from this angle?

I feel safer up on the roof.

Hmmm….

Gradually, they’re getting bolder. Or possibly just more desperate as the weather takes a turn for the worse and they settle in for the winter. I think we’ve even got to that cosy stage where they blame me for the weather.

So, for now, things are a bit fluid — and I don’t just mean what’s coming from the sky. When a crow shows up in my garden at the moment, it’s a bit of a guess as to whether it’s Marvin & co, or a Firehall visitor, or even Eric and Clara, testing the northernmost limits of their territorial boundaries.

This time last year I was pretty sure who was who, and now it’s like starting the puzzle over. But, hey, I figure it’s good exercise for my aging brain. I’ve never tried Sukuko, but examining and sorting all of the corvid “who’s who, and where?” clues has to be almost as good.

NOTE    * I have been waiting for 40+ years to use “hegemony” in a sentence. I believe I first came across it when reading about the foreign policy of Frederick the Great of Prussia for a very boring university essay in the mid-70’s. I knew it would come in handy eventually.

www.junehunter.com

A new project I’m working on — crow shapes with rust and other textures. Watch out for them in my online shop in the next week or so.

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Squirrel Safari

Every dog walk with Nina is an adventure these days. Our objectives are in direct conflict.

Nina’s goal: nab a squirrel.

My goal: avoid becoming airborne* — I hear the waiting list for new hips is long.

Nina is my daughter’s dog and lives with her, but Lily works long hours, so I do some dog sitting most days. My dog, Geordie, has a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards squirrels. Nina, on the other hand, considers it her highest destiny to one day catch one. This seems entirely unlikely as she’s a lot slower than a squirrel on the flat, and her tree-climbing capacity is negligible.

However, a girl can dream.

I know you’re out there …

Generally, we see one or two squirrels on every walk. I keep a close eye on the landscape and try to detour us away from dog/squirrel proximity.

At this time of year though, squirrels are everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. In the garden, outside of the window, velcro-ed to the neighbour’s stucco wall, up every pole and in every tree. Not only that — they seem fearless. They sit, waiting for us on the road, looking like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

Make my day, punk.

Many of the local trees are dropping hazelnuts and walnuts, so I imagine that thought is filling their little rodent brains. The microscopic danger posed by Nina and her ambitions are as nothing to them. “Must store nuts.”

One year, the squirrels in our garden “harvested” most of the LED bulbs from our outdoor Christmas lights. Our next door neighbour still occasionally digs one up in his garden. They didn’t do it the next year, so I presume that they remembered how disappointing that particular nut harvesting effort was.

Evasive action is pointless.

If I make a quick change of course to avoid one squirrel, there are three more, making each expedition with Nina a tense and exciting operation.

This baby squirrel got “stuck” on our neighbour’s “beer bottle stucco” house wall for several hours. Nina, of course, when bonkers every time we went outside, so we had to go out of a side door to go on walks until the squirrel finally figured out how to climb down and escape.

All of the squirrel photos in the blog were taken when not in Nina’s company. Geordie is quite happy to wait while I snap a squirrel. After all, he is now trained to be patient for my endless visits with the crows, so he probably just considers the squirrel another boring delay on his walk.

Looking down as Geordie takes a leisurely pee at the foot of this squirrel’s Hydro pole.

Going Up!

Going Down!

I was sure I left that walnut in there …

I’m not sure if the squirrel in the video below had hiccups, or was making some sort of garbled announcement with a mouthful of walnut.

* I do have past experience of being airborne on a dog walk. We used to have two yellow labs (brother and sister). One day they spotted a cat scooting under a skip full of rubble by the side of the road. The grass was muddy and wet and I lost my footing and was momentarily flying. Luckily I emerged from that adventure only muddy and slightly bruised.

 

www.junehunter.com

A few bonus Mabel buttons available with purchase of City Crow Calendar.

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Cloud Mystery

The clouds this morning made me really, really happy.

I was so happy, that I had to question what it was about them that made me feel so darn chipper.

Perhaps is because they made such a spectacular change from skies that have been either blue and cloudless or filled with sepia smoke for the past few months.

They weren’t just any old boring grey clouds, either. It was a symphony of mauve and lavender to begin with. Then piles of dark navy clouds budged up against  candy floss threads of peaches and cream.

The clouds seem to mark the change in the seasons more accurately than the falling leaves. It’s hard to tell if the leaf drop is a sign of autumn’s arrival, or the result of the long, hot, dry summer.

All day I’ve been thinking about why the changes in the sky and the season make me feel so excited.

Partly, of course, it’s because I’m a photographer, and intermediate and changing light is always more interesting that boring old sunshine.

But I think also has something to do with “in between” spaces where more interesting things seem to happen. There’s something about seasonal change that seem to open new doors.

It’s like the edge of something and edges are always a bit exciting. One thing ends, another begins, but they get to overlap and mingle for a while. When day is turning to night, night to day, summer to fall, winter to spring: these times, with their transitional magic, are my favourite.

Of course, the other great thing about clouds, is what they’re sometimes hiding.

I could hear a sound like laughing getting closer and closer. A pair of ravens burst out of the clouds over the North Shore, flipping, diving, air-wrestling and squabbling their way across the sky until they disappeared somewhere to the south.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Dishevelled Crows

My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.

If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”

I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.

They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.

Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.

This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and  constant appeals for food.

The Firehall Family

Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.

Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”

Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.

Eric and Clara

This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.

As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.

Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!

Mabel

Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.

Painted Crow

My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.

 

So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.

It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.

www.junehunter.com

 

 

Crow calendars now available online, or at the studio sale.

Autumn Crow Walk

If you’ve been wondering where Eric the crow is these days, read on.

After a rather long day in the studio I was faced with the choice of a “feet up with tea” break, or a short walk. Luckily the sunshine outside persuaded me to go for the latter.

I do love autumn. The special light, the sharpness in the air, the colours. All were on offer for my half hour walk.

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

I set out in the direction of Notre Dame School at the end of our street and to my delight, as soon as I reached the corner, there was my old buddy, Eric.

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

He used to be in my garden all the time last winter, but he moved his family over to the school, with it’s stand of tall Lombardy poplars, for the nesting season.

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Since then, my garden has been “claimed” by Vera and Hank who tried and failed to raise a family in the big tree just across the alley. They vanished some time over the summer to be replaced by George and his family, which includes an ailing baby crow. Recently there’s been a bit of a territorial conflict with George defending “his” space from other crows — which may include Eric. It’s hard to tell who’s who when they’re swirling about in the air. Much as I’d love to have Eric back in the garden, I pretty much have to leave it to the crows to sort out their own pecking order.

However,  I do try to visit the school corner once a week or so to check in and see if Eric is still there and looking well. And, I am happy to report, he is.

Eric, looking good!

Eric, looking good!

After a short chat with Eric (crazy crow lady alert!) and the donation of a couple of peanuts I found in the seams of my pocket, I walked south a bit and then west along Charles Street.

As you may know, I have a bit of a hydrangea obsession — particularly at this time of year when they are a bit faded, but displaying gorgeous moody and subtle shades.

Yet another version of hydrangea's autumn colour palette.

Yet another version of hydrangea’s autumn colour palette.

The long view down Charles Street, with the sun behind the maple and dogwood trees created an explosion of autumn colour.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

A bonanza of fallen berries on Penticton Street. When we had two Labs we had to avoid this street in fall, because they’d just stop to feast. With disastrous results later … Those berries always remind me of Molly and Taz.

A bounty of fallen berries

A bounty of fallen berries

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Gold and Scarlet - berries waiting to fall.

Gold and Scarlet

Finally, it was time to head home. At the corner of Parker and Slocan, I was greeted by  George. I knew it was him at once because of (a) the meaningful look and (b) the sick baby crow he was with.

Look, it's George. I knew it was him by the way he recognized me and by the presence of the sick baby crow nearby.

Hi George!

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George's magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George’s magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George followed me the block home. We walked (well, he flew) down the alley.

Now that the leaves are mostly fallen, you can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at raising a family in the spring. Hopefully they’ll succeed next year after this spring’s practice run.

Now the leaves are falling, I can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at parenting this spring.

Back at the garden, George settles himself on the studio roof, waiting for a few peanuts.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

I only had half an hour “off”, but I felt as if I’d been on a proper little mini-vacation!

You can see portraits of Eric and George and the other local crow characters on my web site in the Crow Portrait series. The current gallery is about to be retired (on Oct 31) and replaced with a new series.

My City Crow calendar features all pictures of Eric and his family, taken in 2014 and 2015.

Happy autumn. Remember to get out and take a walk. You never know what (or who) you might see.

logo with crow