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Skunk cabbage aka swamp lanterns among alder trees.When skunk cabbages rise in roadside ditches still wet from winter rains, my pulse quickens. The bright yellow flowers appear almost overnight and are like bursts of sunshine signalling that a re-awakening is near. Shortly after, spring sneaks around the corner.

I love seeking out quiet nooks adorned by wildflowers. Sometimes I am rewarded by a clutch of calypso (aka fairy slipper) orchids, one of six orchids found in the Gulf Islands. Sadly, they are rapidly being lost and I hold their locations a close secret.

The broad-leaved stonecrop is usually perched on a rocky cliff or outcrop. It staCalypso orchids on Pender Island.rts as a low almost moss-like plant, but then a yellow flower bursts forth and it grows much higher, towering over the leaves below.

To see chocolate lilies, I head to a grassy meadow near Gowland Point on Pender Island. Although quite rare, for a short period, hundreds of these lilies are scattered here like jewels amongst the grass.

Near Boat Passage on Saturna Island with a sparkling early morning sun, I stood among dozens of white fawn (aka Easter) lilies, still wet with dew, their white flowers dangling from slender straight stalks.

Chocolate lily at Gowlland Point, Pender Island.In late spring, the foxglove grows up to 2-metres high with the purple and sometimes white flowers lining up like small bells. I love to watch bees humming from flower to flower, often burrowing right of sight.

In springtime, the bright yellow flowers of Scotch broom are ubiquitous. Though a lovely sight, the broom is a rampant invasive with prolific seed production, up to 18,000 seeds per plant. The plant can live 15 years, and on hot days you can hear their seed pods popping open like popcorn. Each seed has the astounding ability to lie dormant for up to 30 years before germinating.

Fawn lilies at Boat Passage, Saturna Island.Who cannot admire a rose, the very symbol of love? The Nootka (aka wild) rose sports pink flowers and can reach as high as 3 metres, favouring open habitats such as meadows, roadsides and shorelines.

Native plants are excellent for gardens because over the centuries they have adapted to the regional weather and soil. They need minimal fertilizer, very little watering, minimal Wild rose lying on board walk of forest trail.weeding and no pesticides. Best of all, they attract birds, bees and butterflies, providing colour and movement that soothe the soul.

 

What better way to enjoy a libation than watching the setting sun transform the horizon into fiery mauves and oranges in the beautiful southern Gulf Islands. To prepare for the summer sundowner season, I tackled a tough mission: sampling all the craft wineries, cideries and breweries in the archipelago.

I started on Pender IsSea Star Estates wine bottles on Mount Norman Pender Island BCland at the Twin Islands Cidery sippping a Baldwin & the 3 Pippins 2018, which combines four heirloom American and English apple varieties. The server explained they harvest from over thirty heritage orchards on Pender, Saturna & Mayne Islands to make traditional cider and perry (from pears).

Farther up the road I entered Sea Star Estate Farm & Vineyards where an eclectic art show was in progress. Not only does Sea Star produce sought-after wines using local grapes, it has become the art centre of Pender with a busy slate of weekend shows. I gazed at abstract watercolours, listened to live fiddle music and savoured a crisp Ortega.

Beer is not made on Pender, however Hope Bay Sign and bottles at Twin Island Cider, Pender Island BCHop Farm contributes to Hoyne Brewery in Victoria. The hops are picked in one day by a crowd of volunteers and ferried the same day to Hoyne, where they are immediately made into Wolf Vine Ale, hoppy, delicious and, of course, very fresh.

A short ferry ride carried me to the Mayne Island Brewing Co. It’s small — two 140-litre batches weekly — but the beer is tantalizingly good, every batch is unique and many of the ingredients are foraged locally. I sipped a Belle Chain Ale, admiring the craftsmanship.

Mayne Island Brewery, Mayne Island BCLater, I kayaked to Saturna Island and strolled among the 44 acres of vines at the former Saturna Vineyard, which stopped production in 2012. The winery has recently been purchased by the owner of Pender’s Sea Star Winery, and I was pleased the long rows of unkept vines would soon be revived. I can’t wait for the first vintage.

The Galiano Wine & Beer Tasting Festival, the only such event in the southern Gulf Islands, will take place on Saturday, August 10. Live music will play and many dozens of quality BC wines and ales will be available for sampling. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it.

Cheers!Grapes protected by netting, Saturna Island BC

One day in April, I peered from a cliff down into an eagle’s nest balanced near the top of a Douglas fir tree. A bald eagle mother with a two-metre wing span and lethal talons and beak was ever so gently placing food into the tiny beak of her three-day-old chick. A touching scene.

We’re fortunate, for eagles are an iconic sight in the Gulf Islands. Their nests are near the tops of tall Douglas fir trees anHandsome bald eagle posesd usually within 100 metres of the sea. Over four months I watched as the eagle mom incubated two eggs and then lovingly nurtured the single chick (the other egg never hatched).

For four years I studied this eagle pair and bonded with them. I learned that eagles mate in February and usually lay two eggs around the end of March. The female incubates the eggs for about 35 days, with occasional help from the male. Once hatched, eaglets are fed by both parents; at six to seven weeks they start feeding themselves.

By the end of June chicks are as large as their parents but still have not left the nest. They are dark brown in colour, and do not develop the

Mother bald eagle stands guard on nest edge with two eggs, Gulf Islands BC

distinctive white head and tail feathers until they reach adulthood at about four to six years.

Finally, in early July, eaglets are ready to fledge although it takes some coaxing by the parents to get them to take that first flight.  Surprisingly, they are bigger than the parents because the initial, temporary feathers are larger to help them fly.

In September, most eagles leave their territories to catch salmon and socialize in spawning areas, returning later in the fall. Then the young eagles find their own territories and start the life cycle once more.

Mother bald eagle feeding three-day-old chick, Pender Island BC

 

Teeing up at hole 2, Pender Island disc course

Hidden away in the forest deep in the Magic Lake area is one of the finest — and least known — treasures of Pender Island: a disc golf course.

On a recent weekend the forest resounded to thumps, clangs and happy shouts as I arrived to play. With its hilly contours and stately Douglas firs, western cedars and gangling arbutuses, the course is considered one of the most picturesque in North America.

Disc golf is just like regular golf but instead of hitting a ball, you throw a plastic disc that looks like a Frisbee. Starting in the tee box, you keep throwing down the course until your disc lands in a chain basket or strikes a pole covered in metal so it makes a ringing sound. The objective is to take the minimum number of throws. The top players carry more than a dozen discs, using different ones for driving, putting and curving around trees, which have an annoying habit of getting in the way. Novices play along just fine with one or two discs. The game is totally casual. There are no waivers to sign, no tee-off times; you just show up and start to play. Best of all, it’s free (except for tournaments)!

Sign for Hart Memorial Disc Golf Course, Salt Spring Island BC

Sign for Golf Island Disc Park, Pender Island BC

Disc golf is played around the world and is particularly popular on the west coast. Courses are also found on Salt Spring Island and Mayne Island.

I joined three friends and started. With many errant shots my score climbed embarrassingly quickly. But it was a lot of fun.

After the game, I nursed a bottle of amber fluid and thought I detected the smell of a well-known BC product wafting through the forest. What a wonderful day!

                       Hanging tone pole at Hart Memorial Disc Park, Salt Spring Island BC

If You Want to Play

– Pender Island: Disc Golf Island is in Magic Lake

– Salt Spring Island: Hart Memorial Disc Park is at Mouat Park

– Mayne Island: Disc park is at Dinner Bay

I suffer from incurable islomania. I confess: I’m crazy about islands. They attract me and hold an immense power over me. They are addictive. I am in their thrall.

Off the southwest coast of British Columbia is an archipelago, a gaggle of glorious islands, that draws me like a super-magnet. Mother bald eagle feeds three-day-old chick in nest, Gulf Islands BCAlthough they are near major centres of population, these isles are largely undiscovered. The Gulf Islands bask in the balmiest weather in the nation, and are populated by odd characters ranging from artists to aging hippies. The islands overflow with good eats thanks to abundant organic produce and seafood, not to mention four wineries and a brewery. Furthermore, seals, killer whales, eagles, deer, pileated woodpeckers and more live here in harmony.

It is easy to see why I chose to settle in the middle of the archipelago on perfect little Pender Island. There is no better place to launch a kayak and laze on the water, letting the tidal currents gently carry you along. Or to sip a glass of wine while watching the sun turn the island-bestrewn horizon into breathtaking mauves, oranges and crimsons. I love living on Pender Island.

Here is photographic proof of paradise.

Kayaking on the Salish Sea BC     Sheep in winter mist, Pender Island BC    Sunset sparkles against driftwood, Pender Island BC