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Meeting Mennonites

Canada #29 St Jacobs

There was so much to see as we trundled along quiet country roads in an old horse drawn trolley. Our heads turned from one side to the other as we passed grain crops ready for harvest, farmhouses and outbuildings and the occasional buggy heading home from the markets.

We’d joined trolley driver Bob and his beautiful horses for a tour of the rural Mennonite community of St Jacobs. Our destination was a mixed production farm owned by the Martin family.

Along the way Bob, a Mennonite himself, explained the history of the local community, their beliefs and their way of life. He described the Old Order family we were going to visit and made sure we understood the courtesies of visiting a Mennonite property. We were welcome to take photos of the farm but not of the people.

The farm’s main product is maple syrup. We drove through the maple sugar bush, where sunlight filtered through the densely planted maple trees.

We saw how the sap was tapped in times gone by before going into the processing plant where today’s modern machinery processes the syrup.

Near the barn, chickens wandered at will while contented pigs and dairy cattle lingered close to the fence. In the apple orchard, birds flitted in and out of the bird houses on the fence.

A visit to the farm would not have been complete without calling into the farm quilt shop. Here the farmer’s wife presided over an array of jewel-coloured jams and preserves, local honey, home made candles and, of course, beautifully stitched quilts. She told how the quilts for sale are created by several local ladies who gather regularly to stitch together. I told her I too am a quilt maker and we smiled together; our shared passion was an instant connection.

On the return journey, we continued to look both left and right. With a little more knowledge of the Mennonites, we wanted to catch one last glimpse before leaving them behind.

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Knowledge Gained

Canada #18 Grouse Mountain

Part Five

We made the most of our day on Grouse Mountain by taking part in every activity. As well as Breakfast with the Bears, we went to an Owl Interpretative Session, a Birds in Motion demonstration and a guided eco-walk.

Each time we discovered something new and, at the end of the day, we left with more than we came with. This is what we learned:

In the still of the night, a barn owl can hear the heartbeat of a frightened mouse as it tries to avoid detection.

A bald eagle reaches speeds of up to 160 km per hour when diving to snatch up its prey.

A turkey vulture uses its keen sense of smell to detect carrion more than a kilometre away.

Tiger swallowtails love to feast on the pretty purple flowers of the mustard plant.

Native azaleas and rhododendrons are much smaller and more delicate than their hybrid cousins.

Salamanders can live for up to 55 years in the still waters of Blue Grouse Lake.

Phil, our eco-walk guide, explained how the coastal First Nations peoples lived as one with nature. They brewed the bark and needles of the amabilis fir trees to make medicinal drinks.

Made from cedar, the traditional híwus Feasthouse on the shores of Blue Grouse Lake was a meeting place for family celebrations, gatherings and story telling through dance and music.

All of these new facts are fascinating, but what was the most important thing I learned?

I came away from Grouse Mountain knowing I never want to come face to face with a bear!

Patience Rewarded

Canada #17 Grouse Mountain

Part Four

We waited for a very long time before seeing hummingbirds on Grouse Mountain.

At an elevation of 1,100 metres, the hummingbird monitoring station on the mountain is the highest in British Columbia. In a program designed to gather scientific data on hummingbird populations in western North America, the birds are banded, released and observed in their natural habitat.

We gained a new appreciation for the work done by members of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network after standing near the hummingbird feeders for what seemed like hours.

Eventually our patience was rewarded when two birds arrived. They darted to and fro, constantly flying to the feeder and then taking refuge in the surrounding trees before returning to the feeder again.

Even with our cameras on fast motion settings, it was difficult to get clear images of these tiny birds. With careful timing and plenty of good luck, we managed to capture a few nice photographs.

It was worth the wait to see hummingbirds on Grouse Mountain.

See more December Squares with Becky #timesquare

There’s a Bear in There!

Canada #14 Grouse Mountain 

Part One

After our fleeting glimpse of grizzly bears at Whistler, it was guaranteed we would see bears on Grouse Mountain – we’d booked a date with them!

We met our first bears at the base of the mountain, in a beautifully detailed wood carving.

Once on board the Skyride gondola we quickly rose up over the forest where early morning mist clung to the treetops. At the top of the mountain, we emerged into brilliant sunshine.

Bear tracks led away from the Peak Chalet uphill to the Grizzly Bear Habitat. We took note of other wildlife we might meet, and hoped that a cougar wouldn’t cross our path.

As if they knew we were coming, Coola and Grinder were waiting outside, enjoying the sunshine in the grizzly bear habitat.

While they munched on chunks of sweet potato, our wildlife ranger Natasha told us how both bears were found in 2001 as tiny cubs, orphaned and starving. They were brought back to health at Grouse Mountain, where they live as close to a normal life as possible in their spacious enclosure, complete with a stream, large pond and forested hideaway. In winter, the bears hibernate inside their comfortable den.

We watched entranced as the bears devoured their breakfast.

Our breakfast was served inside the Grizzly Lookout Café. Leaving the bears to theirs, we enjoyed a delicious buffet which included pastry bear claws and gingerbread bears.

Later in the day, at the end of a nature walk with ranger Phil, we returned to the Grizzly Lookout and he told us more about the bears and their life on the mountain. They have never been tamed and still have all the instincts of wild bears – bad luck for unwary squirrels who manage to get over the fence!

In the 17 years since the bears arrived on the mountain, scientists have studied their habits and lifestyle, gaining knowledge they’ve used to aid bears in the wild. With the help of infrared cameras placed inside the sleeping den, scientists have discovered that hibernation is not a state of deep sleep, as had always been thought. Instead, the bears become dormant, sleeping often but moving around several times during the day, sleep walking for a few minutes or stretching and turning in their beds. Scientists now believe bears remain active to retain their condition over the winter months.

Phil ended his talk on a positive note. Rangers and scientists are hopeful that, with what they have learned from caring for Coola and Grinder, they will be able to return other orphaned cubs to the wild. Long after Phil had gone we continued watching the bears as they splashed in the pond, using sticks like toys and watching us watching them.

On Grouse Mountain, we saw much more than a glimpse of these beautiful bears.

Feathers and Fur

An Australian Point of View #6 Healesville Sanctuary

Australia is renowned for its unique wildlife and we sometimes joke that international visitors imagine there are kangaroos jumping down our main streets. While estimates put the kangaroo population at more than 50 million, urban dwellers don’t tend to see them unless they leave the towns and cities behind and head into rural areas. Other well-known Australian animals like koalas, echidnas and platypuses are even more difficult to spot in the wild.

A beautiful place to see many of our native animals is Healesville Sanctuary, an hour’s drive from Melbourne in the Yarra Valley. A bushland zoo dedicated to Australian fauna, the sanctuary is home to those native animals with which we are all familiar and some others less ordinary.



Two walk-through aviaries, Land of Parrots and the Wetlands, have purpose-built hides where visitors can quietly observe native birds in their natural environment.


Flightless emus have their own large enclosure.

The zoo has an extensive conservation and breeding program for some of Australia’s most threatened or endangered species.

Native flowering plants bring seasonal colour to the paths leading through each bushland environment.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular exhibit is the Koala Forest, where raised boardwalks and platforms rise up into the canopy of the eucalypts. Here, the sleepy marsupials rest in the forked branches of manna gums, seemingly unaware of their admiring audience.

For a close up view of Australia’s unique wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary is the perfect choice – it’s easier than waiting on the street!

Join Jo for more Monday Walks

Slow Day on the River

Kevtoberfest #22  Nicholson River

Where there’s water, there are boats!

We spent a day exploring the Nicholson River on board Kevin’s vintage cabin cruiser Deeann J. A wide slow-moving waterway, the river flows south-east for 83 kilometres from the foothills of the Victorian Alps to Lake King.

From a small marina near the Princes Highway we sailed upstream, passing fertile farmland and weathered sandstone cliffs.

Dozens of opaque jellyfish floated just below the water’s languid surface and waterbirds near the riverbank basked in the sunshine.

When we turned and sailed downstream, the landscape changed from gently sloping green hills to grassland and marshes.

We sailed under an aged timber bridge, formerly a part of the Bairnsdale to Orbost railway line. Where trains once crossed over the river, cyclists and walkers now follow the path of the East Gippsland Rail Trail. 

At the point where river meets lake, white markers created an imaginary line across the water. Beyond them Lake King’s vast expanse of water stretched away to the distant shore.

Closer to us a tiger snake swam by, gliding swiftly across the water and passing just a few metres away. Luckily it was more intent on reaching the far shore than bothering with us.

After the excitement of Kevtoberfest, a slow day on the river was the perfect way to relax.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Liquid

Water Water Everywhere

Kevtoberfest #20 Gippsland Lakes

There’s a lot of water at Lakes Entrance. The name of the town in Victoria’s East Gippsland region gives a clue to its watery surroundings – it’s located at the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. A group of inland waterways covering an area of 600 square kilometres, the lakes are separated from the Southern Ocean by the scrub-covered dunes of Ninety Mile Beach. A man-made channel built in the 1880s connects them with the ocean.

To gain an understanding of the expanse of lakes and ocean, they are best seen first from above. Lookouts along the Princes Highway are perfect vantage points, with sweeping views of the town, waterways and shipping channel. On a clear day, offshore platforms in the oil and gas fields of Bass Strait are visible on the horizon.

Views of the lakes from ground level are just as impressive. At Lake King the calm water is crystal clear, and the opposite shore is a distant smudge between water and sky.

With all this water comes much aquatic activity, both of the human and natural kind. Sailing boats and motorboats make the most of the protected waters inside the dunes.

Fishing boats are moored in the marina after a night’s work at sea.

A model of the paddle steamer Charles Edward stands on the shore of Lake King, a reminder of a time when a day’s journey around the coast brought passengers from Melbourne to East Gippsland in search of gold.

Black swans and pelicans are common and, at the Metung Hotel, they compete for attention at feeding time.

Seagulls gather in the hope of snatching a treat from an unwary tourist’s fish and chips lunch, while rainbow lorikeets are content to feed from grevilleas growing near the water’s edge. Cormorants keep watch in the shallows.

The serenity of the lakes is in complete contrast to the ocean side of the dunes where the Southern Ocean pounds the beaches. At Eastern Beach on the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach the scenery is glorious but the water is deceptive. On windy days, rips and large waves can make swimming dangerous.

It’s best to enjoy the water views from the safety of dry land!