Monday, October 08, 2018

Beauty in Ashes: Our Trip To Alberta

As I reflect this Thanksgiving season, I decided to post our trip to Alberta. We were on a mission this vacation. To visit family and spend time away from work. To focus on things of importance: peace away from our hectic work schedules, to visit loved ones and to spend time in nature.

Here's our experience; seeing what Alberta has to offer:

To start, the weather was dank and cloudy - raining off and on. Still remarkably beautiful.

I hadn't been to Alberta since 1990. I distinctly remembered lush green foothills and the base of the Rockies covered in evergreen forest. I was looking forward to seeing all that again.

As you can see, the view didn't disappoint! As we drove through Canmore, on route to Banff National park, the weather cleared.

Photo by: renZo Cattoni, Lake Louise

Quite chilly, yet totally breathtaking.

Lake Louise was busy - filled with folks from all over the world. Taking lakeside photos, you couldn't help but here all languages spoken in the background.

Walking off the beaten path here and there, we found so many beautiful vistas. I couldn't stop looking down and taking photos of the plant material too.

Photo by: renZo Cattoni

Wolly Pussytoes - Antennaria lanata

Alberta Wild Sunflower

My scope of appreciation stems from the differences between Ontario and Alberta. I loved seeing birch trees clustered - perfectly uniformed.  In southern Ontario, you barely see healthy copse of birches in such numbers.

Our next stop was Writing on Stone Provincial Park. Deciding on where we would go, this park sounded so geographically intriguing, we had to make the trip south. You'd never know it existed until you approached the valley closest to the foothills. We felt we were entering another part of the world.
Photo by: renZo Cattoni

Photo by: renZo Cattoni

Every other step, you'd find Opuntia cactus. Watch your toes!!! It thrived here! 

Salicornia europea Glasswort - unique soil/climate conditions make for unique plant material popping up out of no where.

As we were still in the south, we wanted to traverse the southern foothills. No better place to hike than Waterton Lakes National Park.  As we approached the mountains, I was so excited.

I was ready to ascend and take in the views. We started the hike from Cameron Falls to Bertha lake.

Cameron Falls

As we turned a corner to ascend to Bertha Falls, I went into shock and tears began to well up.

Photo by: renZo Cattoni
There had been a devastating forest fire in Waterton Lakes National Park in the late summer of 2017. Living in Ontario, I heard various reports of forest fires in 2017 - only to hear of more BC forest fires this summer as well, but it doesn't really sink in until you see its impact close up.

This was the map we looked up as we left Waterton Lakes. So much of the park was closed off. We didn't realize the full impact of the fire.
Courtesy of Parks Canada - Important Bulletins (Sept 2018)

Hiking over 10km to Bertha Falls and then on to Bertha Lake, we witnessed such damage and charred remains. I really had a hard time in absorbing the view. With every step looking up, all you saw was blackness.

Photo by: renZo Cattoni

Photo by: renZo Cattoni

Photo by: renZo Cattoni

I pushed forward, only with the hope to see a great lake at the top. Thankfully we arrived at Bertha Falls - only to see it had been untouched by the fires. The water and falls helped to preserve the trees close by. We were relieved to see this pocket remain preserved through the charred devastation.

 Bertha Falls

We continued to ascend, looking down with each step and within the ashes - LIFE appeared. It had been exactly one year since the forest fire ripped through ridge towards Bertha Lake.  Reemerging through the soot and blackness was life. A different form of flora, but nonetheless green.

Fireweed, which only emerges after a forest fire.

The sadness I felt left. Evidence of renewal and adaptation was all around.

The park ranger we spoke when we left, mentioned botanists were taking records of plant species they had not seen on the mountain for over 50 years.

Makes me think about life. Our lives. We have ups and downs and through the mud and mire, we take the good and the bad. Sometimes, out of the bleakest and darkest times, hope springs eternal and a new beginning takes place.

The hike became a more and more healing for my spirit.

If it were not for the charred tree remains:
  • I would not of seen Clark Range or any of the other valleys/ridges from our ascent.  
  • I would not of seen the wildlife and butterflies that were dotting all about. 
  • I wouldn't of paid attention to each tree trunk and it's beautiful bark peeling. 
  • I would not of seen Fireweed in it's full glory. 
  • I wouldn't of seen the various wild flowers popping out of no where. 
  • I would of not seen animal tracks and birds flying around.  
Life carried on and survived - flourishing in a different capacity. The evergreens may have gone, but it was far from dead. It was STARTING OVER.

Many words of wisdom flooded my memories and my faith gave me words to remember:  "God takes our ashes and gives us Beauty".  This was made abundantly clear.

There is hope.

The summit didn't disappoint.  The best part: Bertha Lake and the surrounding trees escaped the fire and we saw nothing but preserved ground. It was euphoric and so wonderful to witness and see this untouched oasis.

Photo by: renZo Cattoni
Alberta has a lot to offer:

From the Coulees...

to the foothills and snowy peaks...

Alberta is amazingly beautiful!

So grateful for the memories, experiences and photos to share.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Rose Gall - Diplolepis rosae

Watering my garden this morning, I noticed yellowing leaves on my Rosa glauca. A sign of heat stress. Yet, as I looked closer, I saw a mossy mass which I've only ever seen once before.

I knew this is a rose gall, but I wasn't sure what was causing this gall.  Galls can 'grow' on all sorts of plants. Sometimes it's a sign that the plant is stressed.

I took my secateurs and cut the gall off with two sets of leaves at the base of the gall.

Mossy hard mass. Really cool.

Took my secateurs and cut the gall in half. Found several larvae in sections. Each within their own chamber.

They are in fact larvae from a wasp.

Non-native - an European introduction called: Diplolepis rosae.

The most fascinating aspect is: how the heck did they get in there?

Adult wasps lay eggs on the plant and once a larva hatches, it begins to feed on leaf bud tissue, and an amazing process begins. The host plant is stimulated somehow with the feeding, where cells from the surrounding tissue multiply, adding layers of tissue - forming this gall. The larvae within, creates a microhabitat, where not only they are protected and housed, but the chambers they indwell also become their food source.  A hotel with room service, if you will.

Pretty cool.

However, since it's an non-native intruder, I squished the gall and disposed of it. Removing and destroying it may sound harsh, but doing so before the gall dries out and the wasps emerge, will help to reduce the infestation. I fear if we don't handle these invaders properly, they will take over and cause major issues down the road.

Neat eh?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Creeping Jenny Eaten By Sawfly Larvae

What's eating my Creeping Jenny?

Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'), is a staple in any garden. Used as a perennial ground cover or trailer for containers and hanging baskets - it grows in sun or shade.

So when I walked through the garden this morning, something was awry. I noticed foliage had been eaten; nearly every leaf was damaged.

On closer inspection, these Monostegia abdominalis larvae were happily munching away. Grrrr.

Great, here's another alien insect, reeking havoc in Ontario. Another introduction from Europe we don't need.

These "caterpillars" are in fact sawfly larvae.  Check out this link by Kansas State University to see the difference.

In total, I collected 23 from this one spot.

They are known to feed on foliage within the Loosestrife family of plants, which Creeping Jenny Lysimachia is classified under.

No spraying necessary, it took me no more than 4 minutes to gather them. They are quite easy to find as their silver/grey coating is a great contrast to the lime green foliage. Do Note: once you touch them, they coil and drop off the leaves.  They are known to have 2-3 life cycles per season. These came out in late June, so keep checking your plants for any other generation that may come 'calling'!

One bonus, they became a great snack for our Koi fish in the pond.

Here's Wikipedia's taxonomy description:  Monostegia abdominalis

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tree Sweaters - Yarn Bombing

This post may not have true horticultural content, but I felt compelled to share.

I usually have many distractions walking downtown Toronto. There's so much to take in. Like today, I couldn't help but notice colourful, eye catching sweaters adorning tree trunks. Well, not actually sweaters, but crocheted/knitted items that were wrapped around trunks.

I must say, they are quite creative.

Some are simply granny squares, colourfully designed...

...others are whacky characters.

They certainly took a lot of time and effort to make. They also made many a passer by smile.

Part of me giggled, enjoyed and appreciated the effort and the skill the artist(s) demonstrated.

Part of me worries about what may lurk under these yard bombing sweaters.  You can be certain, many insects nest and hide beneath these crocheted items. I checked. I found earwigs, pill bugs and two egg sacks. That and moisture are not a good combination for the health of the tree. If the yarn stayed sopping wet, it would be the equivalent of wearing a bandaid around your finger all the time. Not the best way to preserve the tree's health.

I'm divided. I would say depending on the type of crocheted/knitted stitch, I think there could be a happy middle ground. The more air that a tree trunk receives the better. The more the community engages with trees, the better - as I hope this "art" achieves. 

To the artist - well done, but make sure you keep the best interest of the trees in mind first before any other intention.

What do you think?

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