On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Rewards of an Annual Retreat on Island Lake

For the past several years I have had the honour of joining fifteen to twenty inspiring women at Island Lake a few hours northeast of here. Golfing at the course in nearby Athabasca is the official reason for this 3-day, 2-night  gathering, but it is not the reason I go, far from it in fact. I seldom golf and am not good at it, but there are bonus’ to the sport in the lovely landscapes visible from this course beside the Athabasca river and the wildlife that have found sanctuary within its woods.

This young whitetail deer was completely unconcerned about our presence.

We spotted a doe and new fawn more than once on and near the fairways, and the youngster above crossed within metres of us on the tee-box. They and good human company made the frustrating sport in blistering heat worthwhile.

Our hostess’ cabin is nestled in the woods above the lake. The women are friends of my mother-in-law, who sadly could not join us this year due to a recent operation from which she is recovering well. This year there were 16 of us, the youngest was aged 49 but most were in their 70’s and 80’s. There is nothing like a group of women who have vast combined life experience to grab your feet out of the air and plant them firmly on the ground. Rampant laughter, abundant food, enlightening stories, unclocked time, lovely scenery and busy wildlife all make the sojourn a well-anticipated little holiday.

This brazen red squirrel kept us entertained as he carefully traced a new route from his larder each time he returned to load a new peanut in his mouth from the 4 that were placed on this stump for him.

Bird houses and feeders surround the cabin. Last year we were treated to a family of seven little wrens that fledged one afternoon while we all watched. Perhaps it was the sweltering heat that slowed down the traffic to the feeders this year but we were thrilled to see a few brilliant American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbirds and Blue jays.

A brassy bluejay, mid-bath.

Unusually and unfortunately I slept in both mornings and missed the early sunrise over the lake, but I did manage a few morning pictures and had to tear myself away from the dock from which I watched grebes, blackbirds, coots, loons and herons. Always a thrill, the loons called a few times and I was proud to recognize the distinctive call of a sora, a relative of whom I got to know a little last month on a marsh near my work.

Smoke from northern fires lent some colour to the 8am sunshine.

A large family of red-necked grebe siblings floated out on to the lake at intervals until their parent called them back into the shelter of emergent vegetation, to be fed perhaps, or maybe to ameliorate the effects of the rare +35 degree heat.

“Come to Mama”

Red-necked grebe coming in for a landing

In the evening, a few of us walked through the little village of cabins, each nestled in the woods along the lake, to a public boat launch where a pair of grebes floated among the water lilies and a coot rested with her newly hatched chick on a floating nest among the reeds.

Only one little ball of fluff was visible and only movement identified it as a chick, but the parent seemed quite unconcerned that the nest was very visible from a public, though very quiet boat dock.

A common loon created a beautifully symmetrical reflection as it took a sharp turn over the water, speckled with poplar fluff.

A red-winged blackbird pauses on a lily pad to give instructions before resuming his constant gathering of food for his noisy brood hidden in the shoreline vegetation.

I believe this is a red-winged blackbird nestling, trying to appear invisible as it perches on a cattail leaf. Please tell me if you can help me ID this adorably homely chick.

Typically, I forgot to properly anticipate this annual retreat as, in preparation, I scrambled to keep up with my copious obligations at work and at home, sometimes even resenting this extra demand on my time…but thankfully, I did not cancel and was rewarded with rest, rejuvenation, inspiration and motivation to finally steal another afternoon to record this experience here.


22 comments on “Rewards of an Annual Retreat on Island Lake

  1. Bob Zeller
    July 13, 2012

    A great post, Cindy and wonderful pictures. When I used to golf, I usually carried a camera along for the reasons you mentioned.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 14, 2012

      Thank you, Bob. I will need to get a smaller camera if I am doing this sport much. We had to use a power cart so the camera wasn’t a problem, but it’s a bit awkward when walking, which I prefer.

      • Bob Zeller
        July 14, 2012

        Oh, I forgot, I only took the camera when I rode in a cart. 🙂

  2. Kia
    July 13, 2012

    Gorgeous photos and a beautiful post. It’s like we were there with you. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 14, 2012

      Kia it’s so nice of you to stop by when I’ve been so neglectful. I’m hoping to have more time for a while, so will visit your blog and I even hope to get back into Flickr.

  3. Red
    July 13, 2012

    Haven’t seen you post for a while so I had to go back and take a look to see who this was. Athabasca river sounds familiar.
    Enjoyed your post and pictures.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 14, 2012

      Hello Red. I do take the chance of being completely forgotten when I don’t post for so long, don’t I? Luckily my family and friends still know who I am. 🙂 I wish I had more time for blogging, etc., and maybe someday. Thanks for staying with me, I appreciate it very much.

      Athabasca River is has played a very important role in Alberta’s history and is now in the news because it is being adversely affected by the oil sands operations at Fort McMurray in the north of our province. That may be how you know of it.

  4. From Moments to Memories
    July 15, 2012

    Beautiful photos! Enjoyed your story!

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 15, 2012

      Thank you and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Hope to see you back to blogging soon, but I can totally relate to ‘life’ getting in the way. Just trying to appreciate it as it comes.

  5. farmhouse stories
    July 16, 2012

    The “peek” through the cattails at the nestling is my favourite, but they are all amazing. You sure are putting your lens to good use!

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 16, 2012

      I am really enjoying the lens and learning lots in the process, since I seem to have to use it on fully manual. It doesn’t talk to my camera the same way the kit lens did. I was amazed at how ‘tame’ so many of the critters were at this little lake, how close they were to regularly visited places. I’m used to them scattering long before I even lift my camera! Thanks for visiting and for the compliment, Cait. I always appreciate hearing from you.

      • farmhouse stories
        July 21, 2012

        When I got my telephoto lens (sigma), I used it for months on manual focus without realizing the auto focus had just been broken out of the box. The company fixed it, though, and now it communicates with the canon camera body. You are getting such fantastic photos despite the extra work!

  6. mom
    July 17, 2012

    Great pictures, Cindy! You were lucky to get the birds to stay in place for you. I’m glad you enjoyed your little break! A great bunch of girls (?), always had so many laughs with them. I’m sure Shirley missed her annual trip.

  7. Cindy Kilpatrick
    July 17, 2012

    What a surprise! I’m so tickled that you have left a comment, Mum. They are a great bunch of girls, however many of them were having quite a time dealing with the unbelievable heat. It’s actually easier when it’s pouring rain, which it has once or twice.

  8. aubrey
    July 20, 2012

    Have you ever heard of a documentary called “Birders: The Central Park Effect”? It was about the birds that migrate through Central Park each year and the people that emerge to follow them and take joy in them. That doc and your photos make me want to go to the beach (no forests here) and look for egrets, grebes, the pelicans that dive and the seagulls that steal!

    This is not to disrespect, of course, Ms. Doe and her child – and the squirrlie as well. (although father hates squirrels: they completely destroyed his crop of nectarines…he was furious!)

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 25, 2012

      I have come across reviews of that documentary, Aubrey, but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it. If I had to live in a city, I know that I would be one of those people taking my nature fix in the parks and ravines where nature necessarily congregates. I hope you do go to the beach (I would do that too if it were a possibility). Beyond their aerobatics and grace, birds symbolize an independence and freedom that you can’t help but be infused with when you allow yourself to absorb their presence.

      I understand your father’s animosity. We keep a few horses and squirrels often play havoc with tack, buildings and feed. Saddle blankets especially, must be secured away, or thread by thread they will become extravagant lining for squirrel baby beds. One spring my husband was stunned when retrieving his boots from a perch in the shed, he poured a boot-full of horse feed onto himself. Each was full to the brim; an unfortunate choice of squirrel larder.

      Thank you so much for stopping by.

  9. Jim Rook
    July 23, 2012

    Kia said it all, “it’s like we were there with you.” Wish you had the time to post more often Cindy but I fully understand the limitations of time. So, don’t worry. We are always watching for new items on your blog.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      July 25, 2012

      Your support means a lot to me, Jim. I suppose it’s my own frustration as I let blog ideas slip away one after the other under the greater weight of obligations that I allow myself to be drawn into. I have always had a habit of biting off more than I can chew and in trying to balance my life right now, I have been ‘spitting out’ the impulse to write. I am very grateful for kind people like you who not only inspire me but will be still be checking in when I do manage to make this as regular a part of my routine as I would like

  10. Heather
    September 24, 2012

    I’m so behind on my reading, so I’m taking advantage of a lull caused by my cold to work my way through your summer posts. It’s kind of a nice way to relive the season. What an amazing weekend for wildlife you had and the human company sounds pretty awesome too. I have a lot of friends who fall into that age category as well (despite my being a bit younger that you) and I always enjoy learning and laughing from their experiences.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      October 13, 2012

      It wouldn’t have taken long to catch up on my summer posts. 🙂 So many ideas and so little time…I just read The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom. I picked it up on impulse at the Public Library and couldn’t have found it more ‘timely’. It’s all about how we have become slaves to time. “You marked the minutes…But did you use them wisely? To be still? To cherish? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?” It’s a wonderful little fable and a quick read and it reminded me to stop wishing for more time (which I do all the time and to be grateful that I have any. The time I spend with these wise women is time well-spent. Thanks for taking some of yours to stop by here.

  11. 47whitebuffalo
    December 7, 2012

    Green with envy! Now that’s a retreat worth treating oneself to all the time. Very beautiful place indeed, Cindy. thanks for the virtual escape.

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