Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dinosaurs Not Extinct!

Sinornithosaurus millenii - long lost cousin to the T-Rex?

Sounds like a National Enquirer headline doesn't it?  Well, it is actually true - Dinosaurs aren't really extinct when you consider that modern day birds are the surviving relatives of creatures as massive as the infamous T-Rex. This tidbit was one of many we learned when we took in the Royal BC Museum's special Dinosaur exhibit.

Notice the feathers on Sinornithosaurus millenii
130 million years old - Yixian formation Liaoning China

Microraptor lived 130 million years ago
Yixian formation Liaoning China

The interpretive thrust of the exhibit was the role technology and new site discoveries play in aiding researchers in their never ending quest to learn more about the creatures that awe us no matter what our age.  

For instance, new technology in computer modeling can help researchers determine not only size and speed of movement from a footprint, but give insights as to how particular dinosaurs traveled and why. Did they move in packs or were they solitary? Did the young stay close to their mothers as in modern day herds?  Did Dinosaurs migrate?  New dinosaur bed discoveries in Liaoning, China, were particularly suitable to preserving remains and are providing scientists access to entire skeletons of some Dinosaurs for the very first time. These new fossils pose far more questions than they answer and are generating many new theories. Previously, scientist's believed that the bony plates of the Stegosaurus and the horns of the Triceratops must have been used for protection. Now, with access to more fossilized samples, they know that the plates and horns were thin and not very strong. The new theory? That there most likely use was for display in mating and identification rather than defense - just like many of our modern day animals!

Size comparison of young and mature Triceratops skulls
70 million years old from the Western U.S.

With a face only a mother could love, Stegasaurus stenops may have had
 to rely on its very colorful plates to attract a mate!
150 million years old from the Western U.S.

65 million years ago
inland seas covered South Dakota
Have any of the new discoveries changed scientist's theories as to the cause of the dinosaurs extinction 65 million years ago? Yes and no. While it is still believed that a six mile wide comet or asteroid hit the earth, it is now theorized that that changing sea levels, huge volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis played a role in wiping out half of all species on planet earth.

It seems ironic that the further in time and history we move away from the period when dinosaurs ruled the earth, the more we develop the means to understand their world. 

Only about 30 T-Rex have been discovered leading researches to theorize that
as a top predator on the food chain there just weren't that many compared to other types of dinosaurs

We may never think of birds the same way again...

Only one T-Rex print has ever been discovered!

While nowhere near as old as the dinosaurs, the Museum's full size Woolly Mammoth
was just too cool not to share.  They roamed BC 25,000 - 12,000 years ago.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Harvest Time - Busy as the Bees

Close up of blackberry bunch on branch
Blackberries are everywhere!

The spiders love to make webs
in the dense berry bushes
Vancouver Island is an agricultural paradise of small and large farms.  The year's season is coming to a close and there are but two more weeks of Saturday farmer's markets left.  The fall colors in the fields of pumpkins, rhubarb, and squashes signal the change from the summer colors of tomatoes, corn and berries.  

The bees are busy gathering pollen
to make honey
We've picked blackberries almost every day since we arrived. Everywhere and free for the picking, we can't resist.  Pick one, eat two, pick two, eat three...our fingers are stained purple.  

We're enjoying them so much that we've become blackberry hoarders.  We rinse them, let them air dry, spread them out on a cookie sheet and then freeze them - we're not going to run out anytime soon.  All this berry picking has made us more creative in working them into our diet - salads, desserts, and pancakes are all adorned with these plump purple beauties.  The bees aren't the only ones who've been busy in the berries! 

Is there a 12 step program for berry hoarders?

With raspberry sherbet and a dollop of thick Greek yogurt - this has become our daily dessert

Blackberries adorn a green salad
Salad for lunch (so it's okay to have the sherbet and yogurt every night, right?)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Victoria's "Forbidden City" Chinatown

Gate of Harmonious Interest Victoria BC
The Gate of Harmonious Interest

We'd picked up a walking guide created by the Heritage Legacy Fund of British Columbia, called the "Secrets of the City."  Part of a series, this particular walk focused on Chinatown in Victoria and was called the "Forbidden City Walk."  Our brochure promised to "take us back to a time when a collision of cultures defined the secret city within a city."  Who could resist that bit of marketing?  Well, to its credit, we did feel immediately transported to another time and place as soon as we crossed under the Gate of Harmonious Interest into Chinatown.  
First Chinese Public School

The first Chinese came from Guangdong Province to Vancouver Island for the Frasier River Gold Rush in 1858. Those that stayed made their living farming and supplied fruits and vegetables to the stores in Victoria. Over time Chinatown evolved into its own little city with temples, benevolent associations to help each other assimilate, shops that sold medicinal herbs, markets, and brothels.  (You can't have a gold rush without brothels can you?)  By 1909 the Chinese were well established in Victoria but their children were still banned from public schools unless they spoke English.  So, the Chinese community created the first Chinese Public School. Today the school is a cultural center that teaches children Chinese traditions and, ironically, how to speak Chinese!

As the walking guide promised, we did feel a bit like we had time traveled back into history, especially when we found the unmarked doorway leading up to the oldest Chinese temple in Canada.  We looked up the 52 steps and saw an older Chinese gentleman sitting on a stool.  He waved to us encouragingly to come up and then guided us around the small temple all the while speaking to us in Chinese.  Incense pots burned on every surface and a simple alter held a tea offering to the god Tam Kung to whom the temple is dedicated. Beautifully embroidered fabrics hung from the ceiling and ceremonial items and small shrines lined the walls. It was very peaceful and we felt honored to see this important place in the history of the Chinese who've made Canada their home.

Close up of Alter to Tam Kung in Canada's oldest Chinese temple
Alter to the god Tam Kung to whom the temple is dedicated.

Excerpts from Chinatown wall murals

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Threshing We Go!

antique steam engine operating a 1928 Red River Separator threshing machine
Steam Engine and Red River Separator

We have lived in rural places before but we've never had experience with farming so when we read that the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society was having their annual "Threshing Day" fundraiser we decided to see what it was all about. Well...the first thing we did was watch the threshing. The steam engine pictured above is more than 100 years old and it powered the Separator which was manufactured in 1928 and has threshed every year since. The photos below show the process but don't depict well the true intricacy of the machinery and all its smoothly moving parts - and this baby is 84 years old!

close up shot of antique dental equipment on tray
Antique dental equipment - open wide and pray!
After the threshing we spent several hours walking the Historical Artifacts Society property at Heritage Acres.  We could have spent days...they had everything.  Imagine every possession a pioneer family owned and then the evolution of every one of those items plus every new invention until about the 1950's. Tens of thousands of items ranging from antique dental equipment to antique cars, match box collections, cameras, a full room of old printing plates and typesetting equipment, dozens of sewing machines, lanterns, scales, bottles, clocks, radios, books, shaving kits, tea name it - they had it.  We've never seen anything like it.

There were barns full of cars, buggies, boats, equipment...

The tip of the iceberg (make that a glacier!)

We truly could not do this museum justice. One of the items we did come across that was quite interesting was this 1940's Barn Breeding log.   

Wonder what the "Service Dates" apply to?

One of the more amazing aspects of the Historical Artifacts Society is that it is entirely run by volunteers and many of the pieces of antique equipment donated over the years from farms, shipyards, and all manner of esoteric sources have been restored and are operable. These folks have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they have put to work to preserve their heritage.  They also graciously shared that knowledge with anyone who was interested...including a couple of city slickers like us!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Energy in Abundance!

Maggie and Geordie

We've been in Saanich, a community of Victoria British Columbia for a week now.  Our homeowners are having fun in Italy and we are having fun taking care of Maggie and Geordie, two Border Collies with seemingly inexhaustible energy when it comes to playing.  

The weather is beautiful and we take walks on nearby trails, throw the Frisbee, and run around the yard playing catch. Geordie is a master at leaping into the air catching the Frisbee.  Maggie runs circles around him, barking, jumping, and acting like she is 4 instead of 14!  

It's wonderful to be with dogs again.  They are always ready to have a good time and never seem to mind that we aren't the best Frisbee players or that Colleen throws like a girl...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Discovery Islands Whale Watching

Two Orcas "Killer Whales" in water near Campbell River Vancouver Island Canada
Mother and young Orcas hunting together

Did you know that "Killer Whales" are actually not whales at all but part of the Dolphin family?  We didn't, until we went whale watching out of Campbell River and our guide enlightened us. The ocean's top predator is actually a Killer Dolphin!  Imagine, Flipper with fangs...well, teeth actually. 

We were thrilled to see the Orcas in action.  Tides that flow around the Discovery Islands meet and create an upwelling of nutrient rich ocean water that draws the fish to feed.  The Orcas know this and they work the "tidal line" feasting.  At one point a large male swam directly under our boat, popping up on the other side, his breath spraying a plume into the air, his fin a good 6 feet in height! 

The big male is in the upper left corner, the other Orca is a smaller female

Our 6 hour trip was filled with spectacular scenery, sightings of birds, Stellar Sea Lions, Dall's Porpoise and, to top it off, every once in awhile one of these beautiful Lion's Mane Jellyfish would float by.  

Lion's Mane Jellyfish just below surface of water
You can see why these beauties are called Lion's Mane Jellyfish

One of our favorite shots of the day

Stellar Sea Lion Swimming, Discovery Islands, British Columbia
This Stellar Sea Lion is smiling because he had just devoured en entire Salmon

Discovery Island Scenery from water, British Columbia
The Discovery Islands