View looking north east from Mt Erskine area, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019 near hydro transmission line

Finding “Mossy Mountain”

“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”
Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

A while ago, I wrote a post about a special place that made a big impression on me when I was a kid. My name for this place at the time was “Mossy Mountain,” because of the (you guessed it) mosses that grew all over the rocks and added a kind of magic to the area. I still love moss.

On a cold and sunny day early in March, the Spouse, the Dog, and I took a delightful day trip to Salt Spring Island. Right after getting off the ferry, we drove the island’s narrow, winding roads to a nursery that sells rare and unusual plants, where I bought three hellebores and two blue poppies. Then we turned southward, toward the quasi-urban central part of the island, where I lived in the late 1960s. In many ways, the place hasn’t changed that much. The school I attended is still there, and the layout of the streets was familiar.

We followed roads I had noted on my virtual visit via Google Maps and Street Views, aiming for a major electrical transmission line I remembered. (It’s visible in the image at the top of the post, a view looking northeast across the north half of Salt Spring Island toward the distant Coast Mountains on the B.C. mainland.) There was only one problem — the snow that fell in mid-February hadn’t left this area. In fact, there was still close to a foot of it hanging around — hard, icy, crystalline snow. It certainly made the place look different from my memories, which were of sunny May or June weekends.

Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine, March 5, 2019
No walking up this hill!

Nelly Salt Spring Island snow March 2019
Nelly the Newf thought the snow was just fine.

But the topography and vegetation were much the same. So was the conglomerate bedrock, which I had forgotten all about, until I recognized it underfoot in spots where the snow had melted. The mosses were still there too, as well as the arbutus and fir trees, the ocean spray shrubs, and the leathery leaves of salal. I heard hummingbirds making their sizzling sounds and other birds singing. In an encounter with a fellow who lives nearby (now that’s new — in the ’60s, there were no houses up there), we heard a cougar had recently killed a deer, a chicken, and a duck. I actually thought this was encouraging. Even though development has crept up the mountain, at least there is enough natural environment left to support a cougar, deer, and wild birds.

Mossy bluffs and arbutus near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Moss-covered rocks and arbutus trees.
Salt Spring Island near Mt Erskine March 5, 2019, Holodiscus, Salal, Arbutus
Typical vegetation: salal (evergreens in foreground) and ocean spray (Holodiscus) bushes, with arbutus and firs in the background.
Conglomerate rock and mosses near Mt Erskine, Salt Spring Island, March 5, 2019
Conglomerate bedrock and mosses.
Arbutus trunk peeling bark, Salt Spring Island March 2019
Arbutus (A. menziesii) trunk showing typical peeling bark.

Because of the snow, it wasn’t possible to explore beyond the road, but a return visit is in order, most likely in May or June.

The Garden in January

I’ve gotten totally out of touch with my garden since the last bout of leaf-raking back in November. With the short days and winter laziness, I’ve spent almost no time actually working in it. Mostly it’s been “hello, goodbye” glimpses as I race off to work in pre-dawn darkness and come back in the early dusk. I haven’t written a garden-related blog post for a while either, being engrossed in reading, writing, writing about writing, critiquing, tinkering with prose and making amateurish but sincere book trailers.

The garden goes on regardless. That’s one of the wonderful and scary things about gardens — they have their own lives, in which gardeners may participate or not. The extent and type of participation shapes the garden, of course, but even when the gardener is absent all kinds of things are going on. Today I took a walk around my garden and found some of them.


Rosemary is blooming, a surprise because it’s such an old, gawky plant in a less-than-ideal spot under an apple tree.


The Corsican hellebores — increasingly indispensable in this garden — are starting to bloom, and the oriental hellebores, such as “Ivory Prince” (shown below), are thinking about it.



Mosses are at their best now, with no lack of moisture.


There is a preview of spring, in the form of Tulipa saxatilis poking up among clumps of black Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens.”


And through all weathers, this little Opuntia cactus, originally from Ballenas Island in the Strait of Georgia, just sits there, intensely prickly (rather like the gardener on a bad day). Maybe it will manage to bloom someday.

This year, instead of a separate page for garden photos, I’ve decided to do a monthly “state of the garden” post, complete with pictures. This, of course, is the one for January.