June 21, 2014

Stay calm. Messi on.

Game 2. Another difficult game for the Albicelestes and another brilliant winning goal by Lionel Messi. And a rare smile too.

We can all sleep well tonight.

Photo from La Nacion.

June 15, 2014

Crows ~ in our tree

We have a family of crows living in a tree just off our balcony. We started to see them in April as they began to build their nest. Twigs, string, bits of plastic and paper have all gone into the tree to build the nest. Often a family member will perch on another tree nearby to keep lookout.

The nest can't be seen, due to dense layers of leaves, but it is in there somewhere.

In early spring, crows build large and bulky nests, messy affairs actually. The female lays three to six or seven eggs that are incubated for about 18 days. The eggs are apparently blue with brown splotches. Once hatched, and we think our babies have hatched, the young crows remain in the nest for six to eight weeks as they grow their feathers.

Sometimes, if we listen carefully, we can hear what must be the sounds of the future fledglings. Otherwise it tends to be rather quiet around the tree, especially when considering the otherwise highly vocal and often noisy nature of crows. Sometimes one of the adults will kick up a fuss, or maybe it's a celebration, but most of the time you would never know a family of crows was in the tree. The adults slip in and out of the tree almost secretively, as though we might never notice.

Crows are very interesting members of possibly the most intelligent avian group: the Corvidae. Members include magpies, blue jays and ravens, which Sherry and I saw during our three months in Dawson City, Yukon.

Crows mate for life, have over 20 different vocalisations, are devoted to family and friends and, like Jeem, tend to eat just about everything and anything. They are also curious about what goes on around them, as are we of them and their new family, yet unseen by Sherry y Jeem.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 10, 2014

Crime and punishment in the Excited States

During our time in New York I heard the sirens of first responders far less often than I do at home in Vancouver. Almost raised on Hill Street Blues, I expected to see take-downs on every corner. It never happened.

New York City is an amazingly safe place to be in the Excited States. There is less crime here, of all kinds, than in most American cities. According to statistics from the FBI in 2012, the murder rate in NYC was 5.1 per 100,000 people. In Tucson the murder rate was 8.1, in Baltimore 34.9 and Detroit clocked in at an impressive 54.6 murders for every 100,000 people. In Toronto it was only 1.5 in 2012, which was actually lower than the Canadian rate of 1.8 murders for every 100,000. In Australia during the same year the murder rate was 1.2 per 100,000.

Policing makes a difference as do attitudes around punishment and class. New York's policing has changed dramatically over the past 40 years and it is often presented as a model for the rest of the nation. Serious crime in NYC is lower in almost every category when compared to other cities in the US.

Policing and a sense of community are important, but few things are better at telling us what a nation really cares about than how it spends its money, and in the Excited States, it's all about the money. By that definition, Americans like to punish.

In 2010 the US spent about $80 billion on jails and prisons, which is about $260 for every person in the country. On food stamps, something people from other nations have trouble comprehending, the budget was $227 per person.

In 2012, 2.2 million Americans were in jail or prison, which, by itself, per capita, is more than any other nation on earth. Yet another 4.6 million were under some sort of correctional supervision, for a grand total of almost 7 million.

Apart from violent crimes, to which the US excels, American crime rates are actually comparable to countries like Canada, Australia and the EU. What is different is the way the US chooses to imprison people for lesser offences. Over the past 40 years the nation has become ever more determined to punish its offenders; education, jobs, welfare and rehabilitation have all been left behind the desire to make people pay.

That push to punish has disproportionately impacted race in America as 11% of all black males between the ages of 20 and 34 are in jail or prison. Half the entire state and federal prison population is black, though African Americans make up only 12% of the population. Increasing economic inequality and the distinction of class is playing its role too. As the elite become ever more distant from the bottom 90, it's easier to be more punitive towards the poor.

Crime and punishment in the US is out of whack somehow, with the times and the rest of the world. How can this insanity be happening in such a rich and wonderful country? But then again, why can't the US do something, anything, about its gun problem?

Still, I hear more police sirens at night in Vancouver than I ever did in Manhattan. What does that tell us I wonder.
"Let's be careful out there."

Hill Street Blues image from NBC. 
Other photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 09, 2014

Colours of an early summer... and ducklings

It's the beginning of June, yet at times the air and the sky feel and smell like summer.

The ducklings, so precious just weeks ago, still precious, are growing each day. Mom gets some time to flutter.

It is an incredibly beautiful time of the year.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 06, 2014

Walking around Salt Spring offers everything ~ including the kitchen sink

Salt Spring Island is the largest island in the Southern Gulf Island chain. It is also the most populated. Different parts of the island offer a slightly different perspective on the wonderful island life. There are forests and shore lines, the amazing St Mary Lake, farms and fields, wineries and a collection of people as varied as the island itself.

At times it seems that everyone on the island is selling eggs by the roadside, and as the season progresses there will be fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, jams, jellies and more, all paid by an honour system.

And sometimes, perhaps after a nice coffee at the Fernwood Road Cafe, something appears along what would be considered a residential street...

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 05, 2014

Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island

We've walked and hiked around Ruckle Park many times, and we did on this visit to Salt Spring too. It is a beautiful park with 7 km of shoreline, rocky headlands and tiny coves and bays.

It is a mixture of forest, field and shore habitats that makes for one of the more productive wildlife viewing areas on Salt Spring Island. In the past we've seen whales in the sea and otter closer to the shore, as well as eagles and the odd wild turkey.

Irish immigrant to Canada, Henry Ruckle homesteaded here in 1872, marrying Ella Anna Christensen five years later. Their descendants have farmed this property for more than a century.

The park was created when the Ruckle family donated the land to the people of BC in 1972. The park is 572 ha in size. There are campsites for tenting people and a variety of trails, some easily accessible, others slightly more challenging, and incredible views throughout.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 03, 2014

Hiking through Mt Taum Ecological Reserve

One day while on Salt Spring, the writer and her consort hiked through part of Mt Taum Ecological Reserve. Established in 1971, which almost seems far too forward thinking to imagine for a government of this province (the most progressive government this province has ever seen didn't come to power until later in 1972) the reserve is rugged and unique.

Located at the southeastern corner of Salt Spring Island the reserve is about 4 km from Fulford Harbour and accessible in part by road and trails. The road deteriorates as one travels further into the reserve. Trails seem to start well enough and then disintegrate. Good things both.

The reserve covers an area of 362 hectares and an elevation ranging from zero to 420 metres. Jeem y Sherry did not hike the entire area.

We did discover the freshest tasting water on the island and some wonderful little waterfalls.

The site contains meadows, Garry Oak ecosystems (in BC, only 5% remain in near natural conditions) and maturing Douglas Firs forests.

The reserve is rich in life and full of subtle fragrances and the wonderful sounds of silence.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

June 02, 2014

Ruckle Farm ~ Salt Spring Island's oldest farm

Ruckle Farm, nestled neatly into Ruckle Provincial Park at the south end of Salt Spring Island, is the oldest working farm in the province still owned by its original family.

Henry Ruckle came to Canada from Ireland in the 1870s and found land on Salt Spring Island particularly attractive. The price at the time was the princely sum of about $2.50/hectare. In 1872 he began farming 80 hectares. By 1948 the Ruckle family owned almost 500 hectares of land on Salt Spring. Before the advent of Europeans, the land was used by indigenous people for settlement and shell fish gathering.

Today the working farm is back to its original 80 hectares, surrounded by over 500 hectares of park land. Visitors can see bits and pieces of the farm while hiking through the park.

Every year the farm raises about 150 lambs from 90 ewes. Lambing begins in December and carries on into the spring. On our week on Salt Spring at the end of May, Sherry and I barbecued lamb three times, all of it coming from Ruckle Farm. It was probably the best lamb I can remember eating.

Highland cattle roam the property freely and with some shyness as only befits Highlanders.

On our trip to the park and farm, wild turkeys were roaming about and there were some amazing displays. These are strange creatures indeed, and one can find them throughout the farm, and sometimes in the park area too. On this day the main attraction was a never ending display to attract females. Or so it seemed. Something is going on here and it isn't anticipation for Thanksgiving.

In 1972, one hundred years after its founding, the entire farm was sold by the Ruckle family to BC Parks with provision for the active farm and several residences to be maintained by the family through a life tenancy agreement.

The farm is organic in its operations and a member of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF enables people from around the world to work and live on active organic farms like this one.

The Ruckle family have always taken their stewardship of the land seriously and the farm and the surrounding park is testament to the conservation spirit of the family. Henry's son Gordon once said, "You can't own land, you can only preserve it for future generations." That they have.

Photos by Jeem.  Copyright 2014 by Jim Murray.