Coming up with my 99th post has been very difficult!  For the past several days I have struggled with finding a proper theme, something witty to say, something appropriately commemorative. And last night I even dreamed about the number "99" . First there was Wayne Gretzky (famous Canadian hockey player) and then, sadly, that old camp song nugget, " 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, if one of those bottles should happen to fall, there'll be 98 bottles of beer on the wall." As I woke, I was actually humming this! I even googled "ninety nine". There's a lot of odd things called  '99':  Women Aviationists; a Korean slasher video; a  not so famous rock group....nothing too exciting actually, which is probably a good explanation for why I have had such a time of it! Maybe it's the 33 threes that make up the number that means it's dull and avoid it.

 I live in a picture postcard world these days, and there's no getting around it.
I regularly walk out my door and am immediately awed by what nature has
done during the night.

 There are more than 99 branches on this tree.

This is just one of more than 99 poses that my daughter can strike while she counts how many branches there are.

The snow will likely cause this oak leaf, and 99 million more just like it to finally shake their mortal coils, and fall at last to the ground.

There are at least 99 shades of white and blue and gray and red in this pretty as a picture scene.

I look at this river at least 99 times a day. And I never tire of the view- which changes at least 99 times a day.


It's Not the Night Before Christmas

It’s the night before the night before
and all the wrapping’s done.
The cooking and the baking,
and the tree is decked for fun.

The money’s spent, the larder’s full
the music is all set.
The lights are on and turned down low
the deadlines are now met.
The potpourri, the chocolates,
and lots of peanut brittle
Battle for my senses but I’m stuck
here in the middle.

It’s all so good and it’s been so long
leading to this day
that now to sit and soak it up
Is going to lead the way.

A little glass of eggnog, and maybe
more than two
We can linger a little longer
‘Cause there’s nothing left to do.

So here’s to me, and here’s to you
May your Christmas be quite merry
And may your burdens be the kind
That you can easily carry.

May your year be filled with laughter
and happiness and hope
And if problems come from time to time
I  know that you will cope.

Take time to cherish the little things
that come along each day
and treasure those few moments
when things are going your way.

Live well. Laugh often. Merry Christmas.


The Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas bird count was started in 1900 by the Audubon Society as an alternative to a disturbing tradition of a Christmas bird hunt with the aim of shooting as many birds as possible. Just because they could. The first count involved 27 people. This year the Audubon Society expects more than 50,000 people to take part in counting more than a million birds. The data collected during the count is vital for conservationists, as it provides a picture of the population of birds over time and space for the past 110 years. It helps develop strategies to protect birds and their habitat - and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.
Apart from the scientific benefits, it is a lovely way to spend the day…wandering around a geographically defined area, and counting any bird you see. It means you drive very slowly, with the windows down listening for any birds; you walk quietly, pishing from time to time to draw small birds like nuthatches and chickadees out of the woods towards you to be counted; and you wait with anticipation hoping to see something spectacular and unexpected. Whether you do or not really doesn’t matter, because it’s the Christmas Bird Count,
and that’s what really matters.
This was my fifth year. When I left the house at 8:00 am, it was -19C and the snow crunched underfoot. My section is just a few kms from home, so within minutes I was making the turn onto Church Road and heading west towards the road to Chapeau. Within my section there are four main roads, and a few little lanes. There’s a lot of fields and farms and forest, and I have begun to know them all quite well. This year, as I drove towards the little farming cluster of homes on Lapierre Road, I suddenly remembered that the one large barn is a great resting place for lots of pigeons. Today was no exception. Rock Doves – 50.
And where there are pigeons, there are usually crows – check: American Crow -15.
From Lapierre Road over to Great Plains Road, where there’s a monster pig farming operation, I recalled being caught in a storm of Snowbuntings last year. Amazingly enough – there they were again, almost exactly where they were a year ago!
Snowbuntings – 200, check.
Up and down the roads, quietly and steadily watching. It was so cold that there weren’t very many birds about for most of the morning. Who can blame them? When it’s -19C forget flitting about! Stay warm! But the cold also meant that the sky was exceptionally blue, and there was hoar frost over the land that was the most amazing I’ve ever seen! Jack Frost indeed – he and his frigid friends had spent the night painting with their crystal brushes, and the results were no less than spectacular.
There’s one little side road, near the cemetery where last year I spotted a Bald Eagle. So, off I went. I parked to the side to adjust my boots which were too tight. As I bent over I heard the Ka Ka of a Common Raven, and looked up to see not one, but three drifting overhead -black shiny wedges against cerulean blue. But what was
that following closely behind? Immature Bald Eagle -1. Check!
Amazing -again, same place as last year.
There was magic in the air today.
By the time I was done – tired, hungry, getting chilled to the bone, my numbers were: 10 species, 360 birds. A bit higher than last year in fact. My numbers will be added to all the other counters numbers, and they will be sent to Audubon, and soon the grand totals will be in. Knowing that my 360 birds, my Bald Eagle, my Snowbuntings, will be part of the international tally is a small precious gift, from me, to me.
 I count. It counts.

Learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and the Audubon Society at: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/index.html


Ice Blanket

Contrary to popular belief, a frozen river is not a quiet river. As the temperature plunges, the water is loud in its protest. Groaning, wailing, screeching its resistance to being chained by frozen  molecules.

As dawn reddened the horizon this morning, the bay revealed its new winter skin, with tracks and trails of mystery spreading straight off to the other side, where the lingering currents are still putting up a misty, hoary fight.

They will not win this battle with winter. They never have. The swift water is stilled, and what lies beneath is sleeping.

See more photos of today's world at http://skyley.blogspot.com/


Some Things Money Can't Buy.

In my yard, just outside the side porch, there is a picnic table. You will rarely find me sitting there, but you will often find me nearby, with camera in hand. And chances are, you will see shelled peanuts and  a Blue Jay...

...or two, or three...

If you stand there long enough, there will eventually be five or six or seven or eight. Fiesty, flighty, squabbling, bickering brothers and sisters. Perhaps that's why I like them so. Just like our family!
I've written about Blue Jays previously, but now that it's winter my affection for them grows. They make landing in the snow look like it's fun.
As I write this it's -12 C (or +9 F) and no matter which way you put it, it's cold out there! It's dark and windy and snowy. I'm sitting in a warm home, with a crackling fire and music and a glass of wine. The Jays are nestled under a pine bough, hoping that by puffing up their feathers they will survive this night not fit for man nor me!
And they will too.
The shelled nuts, black sunflower seeds, nijer, finch mix and suet came to $59.50 at the farm feed store on the weekend. It'll last about a week. And it'll be worth every penny of incredible pleasure these feathery jewels give me that I will never own nor wear, but simply look at, if allowed.
As I filled the feeders on Sunday, I pished for the family of Black Capped Chickadees that are usually nearby. One appeared out of the lilac bush at eye level with me, not a foot away. So I held a few sunflower seeds in my hand, and he did it!!
He landed on my hand, quicker than a wink, lighter than a butterfly kiss.
I can't buy a gift like that, which is why I consider it priceless.



Birds flock. Cattle herd. Bees swarm. Whales school. All creatures seem to do it. But none more so than people.
People gather in groups for many reasons...weddings, funerals, graduations, anniversaries. These all tend to be family oriented functions. Story telling time -the good kind and the bad, and the nothing good happens after midnight kind.

People also come together for other, less celebratory functions...protests, marches for a cause, anti this, pro that. These tend to be political in nature. Wars lost and won. That sort of thing.

Once in awhile they gather to share a cultivated interest with others, be it music, art, dance, literature, nature, science. These tend to be primarily educational gatherings. All kinds of things taught and learned.

And every two years, they gather to share a collective dream - to celebrate mankind's quest for perfection -to be the fastest, fleetest, biggest, strongest - to be the best athelete in the world.

These tend to be Olympian gatherings. But since the first gatherings in ancient Greece, in the town of Marathon, this celebration of the runner has morphed into a celebration of spirit.

Last night in my town, you could catch that dream in the eyes of children as they jostled for position so they could catch a glimpse of the Olympic Flame. You could hear it in the cheers, whoops and whistles as the dancers flew across the stage to the fastest fiddle music in the world.

You could see it in the smile on the face of our Special Olympian, who was chosen to carry the flame the last 300 metres up to the waiting cauldron. And that smile took over his entire face as the flame caught and leapt upwards to the sky.

The crowd roared their delight, and burst into spontaneous singing of
our national anthem, O Canada.
For one very special night, people gathered together en masse to share a dream, catch the spirit, and believe that anything is possible. Even if just for one  night...one special night.

Pure. Real. Magic.


City Hall

Looking through some files this morning, I came across these photos of City Hall that I've taken in the past year or so...

and it occurs to me that City Hall has as many faces and moods as the people who visit it.

Visit more places by visiting


Think I'll Go Out to Alberta

If you've ever been to Alberta, you'll recognize this scene...cold, blustery winds, white outs threatening, and  fields that roll on to forever.

Things are changing so quickly in the southern prairies, settler's original log dwellings are  being taken back by the land, relentless in its pursuit of memories.

The Rockies beckon, a frozen promise...

Mountains that command respect with the simple act of being.

and Gray Jays wing through winter charming the frost away.

While the golden poppies are waiting, on the shores of Lake Louise.


Play Misty For Me

Driving in the early morning, in such a hurry to get there, I realize suddenly, that I am here.
In the middle of the mist.
Nothing is as it seems.

If I were driving fast and past, I wouldn't have notice the tree that has figured out
how to leverage its own weakness. And become stronger.

And when I look, really look, the most amazing things appear that I didn't realize were even there.
That hawk I dare not try to identify is just sitting there, in the mist,
waiting to take wing.
Hidden from his prey, for now.

In each droplet is a universe. Life as we don't know it.

Is the fence defining my view of the world?

Can I overlook the obvious  and see the world beyond?

And what will I discover as my world branches out...like this porcupine.
The mist is playing with me, and I like it.

To my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving.
I'm a better person for knowing you. Thank you!


Hold Your Horses

I have always loved horses. When I was nine years old, my parents sent me to Pioneer Ranch Camp near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. It offered  swimming, crafts, archery, and horse back riding. I was so excited! First day of arrival we were given our horses...and lo and behold, there before me stood my mighty steed - Crash. Who names a mighty steed Crash? I won't belabor the fact that I hated camp with a vengeance, was desperately homesick, and never did make friends with the bow legged, sway backed, big bellied old nag they had saddled me with! Crash's sole mission at camp was to unseat me. And this she did successfully at least twice a day.

I couldn't wait to get home.
Oddly enough, I stuck Crash in a forgetaboutit compartment with all the other hateful old nags, and  retained my love of horses. At university I was fortunate to have a friend who had a boyfriend who had a father who had money...and lots of it. And he also had Tennessee Walkers that needed regular exercise. These are magnificent animals with five gaits- walk, trot, canter, gallop and a special fast walk that makes them excellent  horses that you can ride all day without having your innards completely jiggled away. They're used by the judges in competitive  bird-dog trials. I never owned one, but I decided upon graduation that once I was settled I would have  my own horse some day.
That day eventually arrived, and I was so excited! Perhaps I was guilty of putting the cart before the horse, as I really didn't know much about quarter (or whole or half) horses, and when I met this crusty old horse trader (who I must say, was a bit of a horse's arse),  he promised me that Cinder was an excellent horse...maybe a little long in the tooth, but this was a one horse town, and I was champing at the bit. Cinder came home with me. I lived in an old, square timber cottage at the time. Cinder lived, uh, outside. As we didn't have a barn or anything. What was I thinking??

This horse of a different colour was dapple gray and as gentle as a lamb with any child that came near  her. A two year old child could sit on her back for hours, and never, ever be in danger. But an adult? Hah! Memories of Crash, and then some! Cinder simply would not submit, nor go gently anywhere if a human weighing more than 50 lbs was on her back. This deplorable situation lasted about a month. As fall was approaching, it became imperative to find her a barn to live in for the winter, and a local farmer who just happened to love horses, offered  to board Cinder. He took her out into the bush almost daily, had her hitched to a wagon that we used for sleigh rides, and just generally gave her a life she loved.  Come spring, rather than pay for her room and board, I got off my high horse, and gave her to him.
I still  love of horses, but now that means riding them on occasion, and taking pictures whenever I happen upon them. Like the wild horses of Assateague, that we saw this past October in Virginia, and the draft horses that I found just down the road last weekend.



Good Morning

It is a good morning. Southern breeze, northern geese. I wake up and sigh.

They write words on the water while I listen to their clatter chat.

A lone Scoter is as rare as this morning in November. I linger.

View more at http://www.skyley.blogspot.com