Goodbye La Nina, Hello El Nino

We’re still here!  Sometimes I think that’s pretty amazing.

It’s definitely been a crazy spring and summer.  Life has frequently left me with more questions than answers.

So … to pick up from where I left off on my last blog entry … I had my computer hacked by a virus, which stole a bunch of passwords.  The only account the thieves managed to access was my Facebook site, and that was subsequently thrown into “Facebook jail” by the “authorities” because of something the hackers posted on it (I, the owner of the site, was never allowed to see what was posted).   I never really liked Facebook very much, and like them even less now.  Eventually, they locked up and deleted my account without allowing me to deal with the problem postings.  It was all handled automatically, and the system failed to recognize that the “Barbara Faggetter” on the id that I was required to submit was the same person as the “Barb Faggetter” on my account.  However, there are a number of my friends who cannot be reached by any other method, so I’ve set up another Facebook account and am hoping that I don’t ever have to go through this mess again.

The whole computer hacking episode left me feeling vulnerable, isolated, and violated.  Isolation is apparently becoming another one of the “ills” of our society, especially after COVID, and I certainly was feeling my share of it this winter.  Everyone hides in their little silos, no one reaches out anymore, and it seems like the only contact is with the inhuman … computer systems, AIs, automated answering services.  I’ve also observed that people seem to have less interest in the internet these days, and the hits to my blog site have been low.   As a result of all of this, I’ve had a hard time deciding whether or not I want to continue with my blog, or possibly do something else with my time and the web site …

Last year, I made a decision to begin my training as a Druid.  This is a 3+ year program that has so far kept me very busy.  It is a non-denominational form of spirituality (not dungeons and dragons stuff – check out OBOD, as an example) that is a mixture of psychology, eco-psychology, anthropology, history, mythology, and philosophy, and incorporates our modern understanding of science and the current state of the planet.  This particular program has been designed with the Celtic diaspora (ethnic Celtic people and their descendants who live outside of the traditional Celtic Nations) in mind.  Engaging in this program is a natural follow-up to the many years I have spent studying the music and history of my “ancestral” culture (I am Irish on my maternal side and Scottish on my paternal side), and also reflects an earlier exposure to Celtic Christianity.  Druidry fits well into my current world view, and is non-dogmatic and flexible, which I feel is very necessary in today’s circumstances.  It’s been very engaging so far, and has led to a lot of interesting research on a huge variety of topics … a good way to keep an agile mind!

More recently, I’ve temporarily become Acting Editor for the newsletter of the Druidry group to which I now belong, the NOD (New Order of Druids).  It’s been a good opportunity to refresh skills learned back when I was the Editor for the Association of Professional Biology’s newsletter, the BioNews.  I’ve also had a chance to do a bit of writing, something which sadly I’ve been neglecting this past year.

Rather by chance, some time after my decision to formally train in Druidry, a friend suggested that I read “To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger (not in relation to my interest in Druidry).  Diana is an Irish botanist, medical biochemist, polymath, and author, who was born in Islington, England and now resides near Ottawa, Ontario.  She has a unique understanding of modern western science and ancient Celtic knowledge, and was educated by her Irish elders in the Brehon knowledge of plants and nature.  Although I have never made contact with Diana, it seems that our lives have paralleled each other … scientists searching back to their ancestral roots to find answers for today’s problems.  The Tyee did an interesting series on her back in 2020 which is definitely worth a read.

This winter was another La Niña season, and hopefully the last for awhile!  The snow was heavy and spring was slow to arrive.  For some weeks, the temperatures alternated between -15°C and +10°C, a nearly 25°C range over a period of a few days as cold arctic air masses moved over us.  I worry about the native plants and animals, as well as our own perennial bushes and trees in the orchard, in these large temperature fluctuations.  Much of the life in the coastal rainforest is not well adapted to this sort variability, and I wonder what effects we will see in the long term.

A lot of our plants and trees got damaged by frost, although only a few actually died completely.  Just as the snow drops made an appearance, we got over a foot of snow.  Strangely, the worst plants I have for suffering frost damage in the spring are the evergreens (rosemary, rhodendrons, etc.) and the haksaps.  The fig tree got frozen down to ground level last year, but re-grew itself, and last year’s cold spring weather completely killed our hydrangea.  Most of the other plants seem to be smart enough to keep their buds closed until later in the season. 

Magically, when the snow finally melted away and spring made another attempt at showing up, the snow drops and crocuses were still there, alive and happy.

Snowdrops hidden amongst the oak leaves.
A single perfect snowdrop flower.
A cluster of white crocuses huddled together after the snow.
Sunny yellow crocuses.
Royal purple and gold crocus.

All our plums, apricots, and cherries burst forth in bloom, but with the cold, wet spring, pollination was poor, and it is unlikely we will see much of a crop later this year.  It was nice to see the blossoms, though!

Last summer’s heat wave caused a massive die back in the grass around the cabin, and our yard was just carpeted with moss after the snow melted.  Finally, as the weather warmed up, the grass took off and grew like there was going to be no tomorrow (who knows??), although some big mossy patches are still reminders of the last few tough years.  It looks like I will have to plant some more clover and grass to stabilize the soil.

Most of our little trees started showing signs of life … I think maybe three out of fifty died, which ain’t bad!  The herb garden took quite a beating with the heavy snow.  The rosemary and most of the thyme and sage were killed.  Strangely, some of the worst damage was on our older trees, some plums, the old apricot tree, and one of the most productive red currants were badly damaged.  We planted some new trees, mostly chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, a butternut and a red oak, and a couple of those look like they have also suffered frost damage and didn’t survive (not sure if they were damaged before I bought them or when they were sitting out in pots waiting to be planted).  Definitely been three tough winters.  I’m hoping for a milder one this year with the oncoming El Niño.

We headed down to Comox/Courtenay at the tail end of March.  It was my long delayed eye exam (I was supposed to go in November, but the weather was most definitely inclement).   Fortunately, my eyes passed the exam with good grades … it looks like the epiretinal membrane is stable, neither getting worse nor better.  It remains a bit of an irritant, particularly at night with light reflections, but I won’t need any surgery as long as it doesn’t change for the worse.  The eye doc says I only need to come into Comox once a year now for checkups instead of biannually, so I’m happy about that!

We found a place in Courtenay called the “Modern Outpost” which supplies all sorts of nifty new solar power gadgetry.  We had decided to set up a second solar panel system, partly as a backup to our current panels, which are now almost 10 years old, and partly to have a panel in a slightly different orientation to the old panels so that it gets sunlight at a different time of the day as the sun sweeps around the big trees on our land.  The new panel is much more efficient than the old ones we have … a single panel, about half the size of all four of our old ones added together, will produce more power.  The long and short of all that is that we put down $1400 and bought a whole new system, including controllers and other electronic gadgetry, as another part of our Comox trip.  The owner of the store had pretty wide eyes as he watched us strap a 6’ x 3’ solar panel to the top of the Blue Rocket … too bad we don’t run the truck on solar power.  We managed to strap the panel to the stays on the Awen for our trip home, which turned out to be pretty rough, and got everything packed up to the cabin, and hopefully still in working order.  The panel now resides in my “She Shed” awaiting more supplies (lumber and electrical cable) to finish the project.

We also spent some time with Ken’s sister and partner while we were in Courtney … we stayed at a 2 bedroom AirBnB which had a fenced in backyard for Brennan.  Pretty economical, all things considered.  We ate a lot of our meals using the kitchen that came as part of the suite.  Eating at restaurants has become very pricey.  We did become “civilized” and shared a few meals “out”, but we had to be pretty choosy about finding places we could afford, and often ended up sharing entrees to keep the price down.  Still, it was good to hang out with family, something we don’t get to do very often.  Brennan wasn’t terribly impressed with city living, even with a yard to run around in … he’ll never become a towny, that’s for sure.  It took him two weeks back home to get over being upset about his total loss of freedom!

Red huckleberry flowers in the early spring.
Amazing and bizarre view of an oriental poppy flower.
Flowering pea vines.
A good harvest of snow peas.

Well, I guess I’m going to call it the summer of 30-30 … 30°C temperatures and 30 knot winds (at the same time). 

Pretty much at the beginning of May our weather went from cold, wet and miserable to hot and dry.  We had no rain all May, and only a couple of showers in June and July.  I’ve been watering everything since the beginning of May, and it looks like I’ll be at it all summer or until our water runs out, whichever comes to an end first.  If our vegetable garden hadn’t been in barrels, it wouldn’t have survived so far.  Even the trees are stressed.  The ones that were frost damaged this spring have had a terrible time recovering.  One of last year’s plantings, a three-year old walnut, just suddenly wilted, possibly from lack of water or root damage, I don’t know which.  We’ve had horrific winds.  What little fruit that set this spring mostly fell off in the drying winds.  So we didn’t have much of a crop on anything.  We did have strawberries, half the size of normal, and the raspberries, which were frozen off to ground level, bore fruit on canes that were only two or three feet tall.  However, we’ve had no fires closer than 16 miles away, so in that sense we’ve been very lucky!

The wind has been really bad … it sometimes blows northwest day and night.  It adds to the drought conditions, especially when the temperatures are above 25°C.  In places where we walk, the soil in our yard has turned to dust.  The grass is mostly dead … some of it didn’t come back after being frosted out earlier this spring, the rest turned brown sometime in early June.  Even the clover died back. 

Our reservoir dried up in July, and we had about 1500 gallons of water in reserve in storage tanks to keep everything watered.  There were a couple of tense weeks, but finally we got two days of steady rain and were able to refill everything.  Hopefully, we’re now good until fall.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent most of the summer dreaming of rain …

Surprisingly, even with the dry conditions, a few things did well.  I  harvested currants for weeks, making lots of jam and fruit leather (mixing them with ground up dried apple).  Amazingly, we’ve had a few bowls of cherries, and the strawberries, although very tiny, were exceptionally sweet and tasty.  The gooseberries outdid themselves, and I actually dried some.  They turned out much like green sultana raisins.

So … here’s a few more pictures:

Raspberries are a little stunted by the drought and winds, but still producing a small harvest.
The gooseberries put on a major crop this year … they almost seemed to enjoy the hot and dry summer.
In spite of an early fruit drop from high winds, we actually got a few bowls full of sweet ripe cherries from the orchard.
Blueberries just ripening in time for Lughnasadh.
Barrel garden in the early summer.

Our “barrel garden” was a real salvation once the rains ended in April.  We had enough stored water in our three 1100 gallon tanks to keep the barrels watered, and sufficient to water our young trees.

Another angle on part of our barrel garden early in the summer.

Note how dry the yard looks.  Most of the grass and clover has been killed off by the early frosts followed by the long summer drought.

Beans and corn in barrels.
Beans in full flower.
Scarlet runners with lots of beans on the vine and sunchokes (taller than my head) in the background.
Barrel garden growing in wild abundance.
Pumpkin flowering in the barrel.
Pumpkin ripening on the vine.
Barrels full of potatoes.
Oca, aka “Irish potatoes” (due to the clover-like leaves).
Wintergreen in barrels doing well beneath the shady spruce tree.

This year has also been a year of things breaking down.  Last month it was the truck, which needed a $2000 brake job (all new calipers, rotors, and brake pads on the front).  I guess this is what we get for having to leave it parked in Kelsey Bay by the ocean.  The salt monster is gradually eating the truck away.  This month the tiller arm on our little outboard motor broke while we were on a little “adventure”, and we had to be towed ignominiously home by a friend.  Ken’s still working on that one to figure out what it will cost to repair.  The old chainsaw needed a serious overhaul, and it looks like we will have to buy a new generator.  Everything seems to be getting old at the same time!

So, the adventure goes on!  We’re still here, and that’s pretty amazing!  We’re looking forward to the arrival of El Niño, although I don’t know if it will be any better than the La Niña was, but at least it will be a change.  And while we are having our struggles this year, I still thing we are doing pretty good, and an awful lot better than many people in the world these days.