Nature Scene: A Walk to Eagle Creek and Squint Lake

The last day of 2018 was sunny, which made a nice change from the rain that we’ve been getting lately. For my daily walk, I decided to follow the trail that travels beside Eagle Creek and goes to Squint Lake. As usual, the walk was enjoyable. There are always interesting things to see and photograph in nature. I took all of the photos below on New Year’s Eve.


English holly against a winter background

English Holly

The predominant colours of nature in winter here are dark green, brown, very pale yellow, and grey. It’s so nice to see some brighter colour in the form of holly berries. English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is classified as an invasive plant where I live, so I shouldn’t admire it. Its glossy leaves and bright red berries are such a cheerful sight in winter, though, especially during the Christmas season.

The species is dioecious, which means there are separate male and female plants. I see both types on my walk to the lake. I have to admit that they do seem to be spreading because I’m seeing more holly bushes than I used to, including some very near to the start of my walk along the Eagle Creek trail.


English ivy on a tree trunk

English Ivy

English ivy (Hedera helix) is another plant that is sometimes invasive in my part of the world, though like holly it isn’t a major problem in my neighbourhood at the moment. It’s an attractive plant that grows on tree trunks and over the ground, but luckily not excessively. Cultivated varieties of the plant are popular in gardens. The familiar, lobed leaves represent the juvenile and vegetative stage of the plant. The stems of the adult and reproductive stage produce oval leaves with a pointed tip and don’t climb.


The western sword fern is common where I live.

Western Sword Fern

Unlike the previous two plants, the western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is native to my area. The fern often grows in the understory of coniferous forests. Like English ivy, it exists in a cultivated form as well as a wild one.

The fronds of a western sword fern grow in clumps and emerge from a common structure in the ground. The result is a very noticeable plant. The leaflets or pinnae of a frond have a lobe at their base. They are attached to the stipe, or stem, at a single point instead of by the whole base of the leaflet.

Rows of round reproductive structures can be seen of the underside of the leaflets. Each one is called a sorus and contains multiple sporangia, or spore sacs. The sori (the plural of sorus) are pale green at first and turn brown later. The sporangia and spores are interesting to examine under a microscope if one is available.


A bridge over Eagle Creek


A crow watching me from the other side of the bridge

Northwestern Crow Beside Eagle Creek

Northwestern crows (Corvus corinus) are common where I live. They are confident and clever birds and are always interesting to watch. It would have been nice to have gotten a better photo of the one above, but I didn’t have a camera with a telephoto lens with me. I tried to use a slow and non-threatening approach to get as close to the crow as I could.

Several thousand crows roost in the trees by another local body of water. It’s awesome to see a mass of crows flying to their roost at dusk, especially when they’re backed by a dramatic sky.


Douglas fir cones and leaves

Douglas Fir

When I reached the lake, I found a couple of Douglas fir trees that had dropped their cones and a few branch tips, enabling me to get the photo above. The scientific name of the Douglas fir is Pseudotsuga menziesii. The tree is a conifer. It has leaves in the form of needles and bears cones. The needles are relatively soft and surround the stem. Male and female cones are borne on the same tree. The three-pronged bract above each scale of a female cone is distinctive. An old tale says that the bracts represent the legs and tail of a mouse hiding in the cone. The tree is not a true fir, despite its common name.



Squint Lake in winter

Squint Lake

Eagle creek drains into Squint Lake. The creek continues at the other end of the lake and carries the water to a much larger body of water called Burnaby Lake. Squint Lake is small. In fact, before the golf course was created, the local people used to joke that the lake was so small that you had to squint to see it. This gave the lake its name. The public can still visit the lake, even though the far side lies next to the grass of the golf course. They can’t walk on the grass unless they are golfing, though.


The fountain at Squint lake

The photo above shows the golf course and the fountain in the lake. In spring, summer, and autumn, attractive landscaping is on show at the golf course. Mallards can be seen all year on the lake and crows often pay a visit. Other types of ducks can often be seen on the water during summer as well as a wider variety of birds in the trees. Although the area around the creek, the lake, and the golf course is more attractive at other times of the year, even in winter it’s interesting.

The Opera Walk in Vancouver’s Italian Garden

The Italian Garden is an attractive site in Hastings Park, which is located in the northeastern part of Vancouver. The garden contains some interesting features in its relatively small area. One of my favourites is the opera walk. The walk is bordered on one side by sculptures representing characters from famous Italian operas. On the other side are flower beds. In summer, these contain beautiful masses of black-eyed Susan flowers and purple and white coneflowers. The garden is a great place to take photographs. All of the photos in this post were taken by me during my walks in the Italian Garden.


Canio and Turandot in the Italian Garden

Hastings Park

Hastings Park is a large, multi-use area near residences and close to Burrard Inlet. It was willed to the province of British Columbia by its owner in 1888 with the intention of preserving the park as a wilderness area. The plan didn’t work. Today Hastings Park contains many buildings and other constructions. Some of the buildings belong to the Pacific National Exhibition, an organization that runs an annual fair in late August. The park also contains the Playland amusement park, the Hastings Racecourse, and multiple parking lots.

The process of re-greening sections of the park is in progress. Streams that have been covered for many years have been opened up and green areas and walking trails to the inlet have been established. Today Hastings Park contains several smaller parks (defined according to the true meaning of the word) as well as gardens. The situation is much improved with respect to the existence of natural and semi-natural areas, though the buildings still exist.

The Italian Garden

One of the gardens in the park is the Italian Garden, or Il Giardino Italiano. It was created by the local Italian-Canadian community and contains features of a traditional Italian garden. The main entrance is located on Renfrew Street, though it can also be reached from inside Hastings Park. It’s free to enter except during the annual two-week fair at the PNE, which is a sore spot with the local residents. When the fair is in operation, a barrier exists along Renfrew Street. This means that the only way to enter the garden is to pay to enter the fairground.

Like Hastings Park as a whole, the Italian Garden contains several smaller areas. These include a section containing ornamental fountains leading to water channels. The water is a popular play site for children. The garden also contains areas that are ideal for gentle walks and contemplation. One of my favourite sections is the opera walk. The sculptures on the walk and the ones that are an integral part of the fountains were created by Ken Clarke in 2001 and 2002.

The Sculptures and the Operas

The sculptures along the opera walk represent leading characters from six famous Italian operas. More than one sculpture of a particular character can be seen along the route. It’s interesting to note that although these sculptures started their existence as identical copies, the environmental conditions in their immediate surroundings have changed their appearance in different ways. The characters and operas that are represented are briefly described below. As in many traditional Italian operas, the plots all involve love. Four of them also involve death, another common theme in classical operas.



“Pagliacci” was created by Ruggero Leoncavallo and first performed in 1892. In the opera, Canio is an actor who often plays the role of a clown in the plays performed by his troupe. The plot describes the competition for the love of an actress (Canio’s wife) and the death of the woman and her lover at the hands of Canio. The deaths occur during a comedy performance by the troupe and create a dramatic climax to the opera. The last line in the opera is famous. Canio turns to the shocked on-stage audience (and at the same time to the real audience) and says “The comedy is over.”

In the sculpture of Canio, one side of his face is smiling, which represents the clown that he often played. The other side is crying, which represents the sadness of his real life.


The Barber of Seville

“The Barber of Seville” is a comic opera written by Gioachino Rossini and first performed in 1816. Figaro is the barber referred to in the title. The plot involves love, disguises, and schemes. Rosina loves Count Almaviva, who is disguised as a poor student named Lindoro. Rosina is the ward of Bartolo, who wants to marry her in order to obtain her dowry. Figaro helps Rosina and Almaviva in their efforts to become a pair. After many incidents, Rosina and Count Almaviva are married.



Sir John Falstaff is a character in some of Shakespeare’s plays. “Falstaff” is a comic opera about the character written by Giuseppe Verdi and first performed in 1893. As in “the Barber of Seville”, the plot is quite involved. It involves the effort of Falstaff to attract two married women in order to gain access to each of their husband’s money. The women—Meg Page and Alice Ford—discover what Falstaff is up to and decide to teach him a lesson.

Another strand in the plot involves the love of Nannetta Ford (Alice’s daughter) for a man named Fenton. Nannetta’s father disapproves of the union. After many twists and turns, the opera reaches a more-or-less happy ending for everyone.



“Rigoletto” is a tragic Giuseppe Verdi opera that was first performed in 1851. It tells the story of a hunch-backed and often scorned court jester named Rigoletto, his beloved daughter Gilda, and a very unpleasant duke who commits an atrocious act.

The opera ends with the sad death of Gilda, who sacrifices her life for the sake of the duke. Her father picks up a sack containing the dying Gilda, thinking that the duke is the person inside. He is horrified when he learns the truth. I’ve written an article describing the opera in more detail.


A Masked Ball

“A Masked Ball” is another Giuseppe Verdi opera and was first performed in 1859. The plot is set in the United States. This might seem strange for an Italian opera, but the censors of the time demanded changes in the setting and the characters. The original opera seemed too reminiscent of the death of King Gustav lll of Sweden, who died from wounds received at a masked ball.

Riccardo is the Governor of Boston and is organizing a masked ball. He is delighted to discover that Amelia will be attending the ball. She is the woman that he loves, but she’s married to his friend Renato.

After various events, including a prediction by a fortune teller, the ball is held. Renato has discovered that Amelia and Riccardo love one another and has decided to kill Riccardo at the ball. As the governor dies, he says that Amelia has never been unfaithful to Renato.


“Turandot” is an opera written by Giacomo Puccini and was first performed in 1926. He died before it was finished, but it was completed by Franco Alfano. The opera is set in China. Its leading character is the cruel Princess Turandot. The plot involves the efforts of a prince to pass the tests that she sets him so that they can marry as well as the test that he sets her. Though the music is often admired, the opera is controversial today, in part due to the cruelty in the plot and the ethnic stereotypes. Some people say that the opera should no longer be performed.

Enjoying the Sculptures

The sculptures in the Italian Garden can be appreciated without any knowledge of their background. It’s interesting to study the faces that are depicted and to ponder their possible meaning. The names of the relevant operas are written under the sculptures, but in many cases they are hard to read. Knowing a little about the operas that are represented by the sculptures gives an additional meaning to the opera walk and a visit to the Italian Gardens.

Black-Eyed Susans: Remembering the Beauty of Summer

It may seem strange to be writing about glorious black-eyed Susan flowers in the last few days of December. Signs that nature is in the very early stage of awakening have appeared where I live, however. In the southwestern corner of British Columbia, the alder catkins began to emerge before Christmas Day. They are growing longer on a daily basis. I know from experience that willow catkins will appear before too long.

Black-eyed Susan flowers won’t appear until June, but I enjoy looking at photos of the plants and thinking of the beauty to come. The indication that nature is stirring is encouraging.


Black-eyed Susan flowers and a bee; photo by Linda Crampton

Rudbeckia hirta

The scientific name of the black-eyed Susan is Rudbeckia hirta. It belongs to the sunflower family, or the Asteraceae. The word Rudbeckia is derived from the name of Olaus Rudbeck, a Swedish botany professor who taught Carl Linnaeus. People who have studied biology likely know that Linnaeus created the system of assigning scientific names to organisms (though other people contributed to the endeavour) .

The black-eyed Susan is endemic to eastern and central North America and is naturalized in the western part of the continent. It’s both a wild and a cultivated plant. The flowers are often displayed in groups in gardens and landscaped areas. They create a lovely splash of colour and are a magnet for bees, including honeybees. Their nectar also attracts butterflies and beetles. The insects are important agents of pollination. 

The black-eyed Susan plant has a basal rosette of oval leaves. The leaves have a pointed tip and wavy edges. The flowering stalks rise up from the basal rosette. Their leaves are narrower and more pointed than the basal ones. The flowering stems may be as tall as three feet, though they are generally shorter.

The flower head is actually an inflorescence made of many smaller flowers. The centre of the flower is a dark brown to purple-brown dome bearing the disk florets. The bright yellow “petals” are actually the ray florets. 

Black-eyed Susans and relatives that also contain domed centres—such as species of Echinacea—are often known as coneflowers due to the rough or spiky appearance of the dome. The petals of coneflowers sometimes point downwards, which makes the “cone” more obvious. I often see Echinacea purpurea, or the purple coneflower, planted beside black-eyed Susans.

Rudbeckia fulgida

Rudbeckia fulgida is another plant that grows in the wild in North America and is also cultivated. It’s often known as a black-eyed Susan, like its relative, but it’s also called the orange coneflower. It’s frequently preferred for gardens and landscaping because it looks very similar to its relative but is a herbaceous perennial. R. hirta is usually an annual and occasionally a biennial. Both species of Rudbeckia exist in the form of multiple cultivars.

An annual plant lives for only one year, producing flowers and seeds before it dies. A biennial produces leaves the first year, flowering stalks and seeds the next, and then dies. A herbaceous perennial produces its leaves, flowers, and seeds in one year and then appears to die. Its below-ground parts continue to survive, however, and send up new shoots to repeat the life cycle in the next growing season. 

The South Dakota State University reference given below say that although some people say that R. hirta can be a perennial, it rarely is. It says that the new plants that appear where the previous ones grew last year most likely came from seeds.

Who Was Black-Eyed Susan?

The name of the plant apparently comes from an English poem written by John Gay. (1685-1732). Gay is best known for his creation of “The Beggar’s Opera” in 1728. The poem refers to a fleet of ships that is about to set sail. William is one of the sailors. Susan is in love with William and is searching for him in order to say goodbye. When she finds him, William tells her not to worry and promises that he will return safely from the voyage.

All in the downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
“Oh where shall I my true love find?
Tell me ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.”

It’s thought that English colonists carried the song from the old world to the new one. They were probably reminded of the poem by the flower’s dark centre (which does look black under some light conditions) surrounded by the contrasting and beautiful yellow or orange petals.

Black-eyed Susans are popular landscaping plants near my home. I’m looking forward to my first sight of them in the upcoming year. 2019 might well be the year in which I start growing them myself.


Growing black-eyed Susan from South Dakota State University Extension

The Black-Eyed Susan poem from the Bartleby website