Wednesday, 31 October 2018


Autumn is a wonderful time to explore Vancouver. It is a riot of yellow, orange and green. The fallen debris you crunch through send up wafts of earthy smells that whisper of decomposition, the journey from leaf to soil.

It is a wonderful time to be out and about. I do love the mountain trails but must confess to loving our cultivated gardens for their colour and variety. 

We have some lovely native plants and trees and more than a few exotics at Vancouver's arboreal trifecta — Van Dusen, Queen E Park and UBC Botanical Gardens. One of those exotics, at least exotic to me, is the lovely conifer you see here is Metasequoia glyptostroboides — the dawn redwood. 

Of this long lineage, this is the sole surviving species in the genus Metasequoia and one of three species of conifers known as redwoods. Metasequoia are the smaller cousins of the mighty Giant Sequoia, the most massive trees on Earth. 

As a group, the redwoods are impressive trees and very long-lived. The President, an ancient Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, and granddaddy to them all has lived for more than 3,200 years. While this tree is named The President, a worthy name, it doesn't really cover the magnitude of this giant by half.   

This tree was a wee seedling making its way in the soils of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California before we invented writing. It had reached full height before any of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, those remarkable constructions of classical antiquity, were even an inkling of our budding human achievements. And it has outlasted them all save the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest and last of those seven still standing, though the tree has faired better. Giza still stands but the majority of the limestone façade is long gone.

Aside from their good looks (which can really only get you so far), they are resistant to fire and insects through a combined effort of bark over a foot thick, a high tannin content and minimal resin, a genius of evolutionary design. 

While individual Metasequoia live a long time, as a genus they have lived far longer. 

Like Phoenix from the Ashes, the Cretaceous (K-Pg) extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, ammonites and more than seventy-five percent of all species on the planet was their curtain call. The void left by that devastation saw the birth of this genus — and they have not changed all that much in the 65 million years since. Modern Metasequoia glyptostroboides looks pretty much identical to their late Cretaceous brethren.

Dawn Redwood Cones with scales paired in opposite rows
They are remarkably similar to and sometimes mistaken for Sequoia at first glance but are easily distinguishable if you look at their size (an obvious visual in a mature tree) or to their needles and cones in younger specimens. 

Metasequoia has paired needles that attach opposite to each other on the compound stem. Sequoia needles are offset and attached alternately. Think of the pattern as jumping versus walking with your two feet moving forward parallel to one another. 

Metasequoia needles are paired as if you were jumping forward, one print beside the other, while Sequoia needles have the one-in-front-of-the-other pattern of walking.

The seed-bearing cones of Metasequoia have a stalk at their base and the scales are arranged in paired opposite rows which you can see quite well in the visual above. Coast redwood cone scales are arranged in a spiral and lack a stalk at their base.

Although the least tall of the redwoods, it grows to an impressive sixty meters (200 feet) in height. It is sometimes called Shui-sa, or water fir by those who live in the secluded mountainous region of China where it was rediscovered.

Fossil Metasequoia, McAbee Fossil Beds
Metasequoia fossils are known from many areas in the Northern Hemisphere and were one of my first fossil finds as a teenager. 

And folk love naming them. More than twenty fossil species have been named over time —  some even identified as the genus Sequoia in error — but for all their collective efforts to beef up this genus there are just three species: Metasequoia foxii, Metasequoia milleri, and Metasequoia occidentalis.

During the Paleocene and Eocene, extensive forests of Metasequoia thrived as far north as Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island and sites on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's far north around 80° N latitude.

We find lovely examples of Metasequoia occidentalis in the Eocene outcrops at McAbee near Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada. I shared a photo here of one of those specimens. Once this piece dries out a bit, I will take a dental pick to it to reveal some of the teaser fossils peeking out.

The McAbee Fossil Beds are known for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species that lived in an old lake bed setting. While the Metasequoia and other fossils found here are 52-53 million years old, the genus is much older. It is quite remarkable that both their fossil and extant lineage were discovered in just a few years of one another. 

Metasequoia was first described as a new genus from a fossil specimen found in 1939 and published by Japanese paleobotanist Shigeru Miki in 1941. Remarkably, the living version of this new genus was discovered later that same year. 

Professor Zhan Wang, an official from the Bureau of Forest Research was recovering from malaria at an old school chum's home in central China. His friend told him of a stand of trees discovered in the winter of 1941 by Chinese botanist Toh Gan (干铎). The trees were not far away from where they were staying and Gan's winter visit meant he did not collect any specimen as the trees had lost their leaves. 

The locals called the trees Shui-sa, or water fir. As trees go, they were reportedly quite impressive with some growing as much as sixty feet tall. Wang was excited by the possibility of finding a new species and asked his friend to describe the trees and their needles in detail. Emboldened by the tale, Wang set off through the remote mountains to search for his mysterious trees and found them deep in the heart of  Modaoxi (磨刀溪; now renamed Moudao (谋道), in Lichuan County, in the central China province of Hubei. He found the trees and was able to collect living specimens but initially thought they were from Glyptostrobus pensilis (水松). 

A few years later, Wang showed the trees to botanist Wan-Chun Cheng and learned that these were not the leaves of s Glyptostrobus pensilis (水松 ) but belonged to a new species. 

While the find was exciting, it was overshadowed by China's ongoing conflict with the Japanese that was continuing to escalate. With war at hand, Wang's research funding and science focus needed to be set aside for another two years as he fled the bombing of Beijing. 

When you live in a world without war on home soil it is easy to forget the realities for those who grew up in it. 

Zhan Wang and his family lived to witness the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, then the 1937 clash between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge, just outside Beijing. 

That clash sparked an all-out war that would grow in ferocity to become World War II. 

Within a year, the Chinese military situation was dire. Most of eastern China lay in Japanese hands: Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing, Wuhan. As the Japanese advanced, they left a devastated population in their path where atrocity after atrocity was the norm. Many outside observers assumed that China could not hold out, and the most likely scenario was a Japanese victory over China.

Yet the Chinese hung on, and after the horrors of Pearl Harbor, the war became genuinely global. The western Allies and China were now united in their war against Japan, a conflict that would finally end on September 2, 1945, after Allied naval forces blockaded Japan and subjected the island nation to intensive bombing, including the utter devastation that was the Enola Gay's atomic payload over Hiroshima. 

With World War II behind them, the Chinese researchers were able to re-focus their energies on the sciences. Sadly, Wang was not able to join them. Instead, two of his colleagues, Wan Chun Cheng and Hu Hsen Hsu, the director of Fan Memorial Institute of Biology would continue the work. Wan-Chun Cheng sent specimens to Hu Hsen Hsu and upon examination realised they were the living version of the trees Miki had published upon in 1941. 

Hu and Cheng published a paper describing a new living species of Metasequoia in May 1948 in the Bulletin of Fan Memorial Institute of Biology.

That same year, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide. 

Today, Metasequoia grow around the globe. When I see them, I think of Wang and all he went through. He survived the conflict and went on to teach other bright, young minds about the bountiful flora in China. I think of Wan Chun Cheng collaborating with Hu Hsen Hsu in a time of war and of Hu keeping up to date on scientific research, even published works from colleagues from countries with whom his country was at war. Deep in my belly, I ache for the huge cost to science, research and all the species impacted on the planet from our human conflicts. Each year in April, I plant more Metasequoia to celebrate Earth Day and all that means for every living thing on this big blue orb.  



Monday, 29 October 2018


Phylloceras consanguineum (Gemmellaro 1876) a fast-moving carnivorous ammonite from Late Jurassic (Middle Oxfordian) deposits near Sokoja, Madagasgar, off the southeast coast of Africa. (22.8° S, 44.4° E: 28.5° S, 18.2° E)

This classical Tethyan Mediterranean specimen is very well preserved, showing much of his delicate suturing in intricate detail. Phylloceras were primitive ammonites with involute, laterally flattened shells.

They were smooth, with very little ornamentation, which led researchers to think of them resembling plant leaves and gave rise to their name, which means "leaf-horn."

They can be found in three regions that I know of.  In the Jurassic of Italy near western Sicily's Rosso Ammonitico Formation, Lower Kimmeridgian fossiliferous beds of Monte Inici East and Castello Inici (38.0° N, 12.9° E: 26.7° N, 15.4° E) and in the Arimine area, southeastern Toyama Prefecture, northern central Japan, roughly (36.5° N, 137.5° E: 43.6° N, 140.6° E) Dōitashimashite ; )

Saturday, 27 October 2018


Rhacolepis Buccalis, an extinct genus of ray-finned fossil fish in carbonate concretion, Lower Cretaceous, Santana Formation, Brazil. These nektonic carnivores swam our ancient seas 122-109 million years ago.

Le premier et unique géoparc mondial UNESCO est situé dans le Cariri du Ceará (géoparc Araripe), dans l'intérieur semi-aride de la région Nordeste, Brésil

Friday, 26 October 2018


Goats, Capra hircus, are a domesticated species of goat-antelope typically kept as livestock. 

They were domesticated from wild goats, C. aegagrus, from Southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. 

The goat is a member of the animal family Bovidae and the subfamily Caprinae, meaning it is closely related to sheep. 

There are over 300 distinct breeds of goat — one of the oldest domesticated species of animal. The archaeological evidence places their earliest domestication in Iran at 10,000 years ago.

Goat-herding is an ancient tradition that is still important in places like Egypt. Goats have been used for milk, meat, fur, and skins across much of the world. Milk from goats is often turned into white, crumbly goat cheese known as chèvre. If you love your palate, consider trying the Spanish take on slightly musty, velvety Garrotxa, a dense, aged explosion of flavour for the senses. You will taste some lemony tanginess with hints of toasted hazelnuts and aromatics of scrub brush and grasses growing in the foothills of the Pyrénées.

Female goats are referred to as does or nannies, intact males are called bucks or billies, and juvenile goats of both sexes are called kids. Castrated males are called wethers. While the words hircine and caprine both refer to anything having a goat-like quality, hircine is used most often to emphasize the distinct smell of domestic goats.

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Brewericeras hulenense (Anderson 1938) a fast-moving, nektonic (no idle floating here!) carnivorous ammonite from the Lower Cretaceous (Albian) of Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands), British Columbia, Canada.

Ammonites belong to the class of animals called mollusks. More specifically they are cephalopods. and first appeared in the lower Devonian Period.

Cephalopods were an abundant and diverse group during the Paleozoic Era. This specimen is just over 12cm in length, a little under the average of 13.4cm. There are several localities in the Queen Charlotte Islands where Brewericeras can be found (six that I know of and likely plenty more!) This specimen was found on a trip a few years back done with the Vancouver Paleontological Society and a few of the members of some of the Island paleo groups. The preservation is quite remarkable!

Brewericeras are also found in Albian deposits in Svedenborgfjellet, Ulladalen, Norway (Cretaceous of Svalbard and Jan Mayen - så fin!) (77.7° N, 15.2° E: paleocoordinates 66.6° N, 13.6° E) and Matanuska-Susitna County, Alaska, 62.0° N, 147.7° W: paleocoordinates 57.3° N, 85.6° W (112.6 to 109.0 Ma.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


One of the most beautiful areas of Vancouver Island is the town of Port Hardy on the north end of the island. 

Just outside Port Hardy further south on the west coast is the area known as Fort Rupert or Tsaxis. 

It was here that the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Rupert both for trade with the local First Nation population and the allure of potential coal deposits. 

I headed up to the north island this past week to stomp around my old haunts, visit with family and get in a bit of late season kayaking. The town was much as I remembered it. There have been changes, of course. I lived up on Wally's hill above the reserve at Tsaxis beside the old cemetery. 

My wee childhood home is still there and I am very pleased to see that the earthly home of my ancestors is well maintained. The cemetery is groomed and cared for but the land surrounding it is overgrown and it took me a few minutes to orient myself to see where things used to be. Where the old Hudson's Bay Company Fort and its iconic chimney were in relation to the graveyard. 

A lifetimes worth of memories came flooding back. Those from my earliest years and then later when I returned to kayak, fish and scuba dive in these rich waters.

My plans of blissful days kayaking and taking photos of the scenery were altered by hurricane-force winds. Still beautiful, but chilly and choppy.

The beachhead here was clocking 120 km winds so I did a brief visit to the homestead, the graveyard and Jokerville then headed home to light the fire and hunker in as the storm blew through. 

Port Harty and Fort Rupert have an interesting history and how you read it or hear it truly depends on the lens that is applied. This has been the ancestral home to many First Nation groups. Mostly they were passing through and coming here to dig up delicious butter clams, roots, berries and other natural yummy goodness. Years before Port Hardy was settled at the turn of the century it was the home to the Kwakiutl or Kwagu’ł and part of my heritage. 

Alec and Sarah Lyon operated a store and post office on the east side of Hardy Bay. A 1912 land deal promoted by the Hardy Bay Land Co., put the area on the map and increased its population. By 1914, 12 families had settled, built a school, sawmill, church and hotel. 

The community of Port Hardy is situated within traditional Kwagu’ł First Nation territory. It is also home to the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation. In 1964 all the First Nations communities were amalgamated and forced to relocate from their traditional territories by the federal government, for administrative reasons. 

The First Nation families were told that it would cost less for education, easier for medical help, and the government would help with housing, but it turned out to be a hidden agenda designed to assimilate the various groups into Canadian society — or face extermination. Several years of threats and promises later, the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw reluctantly gave in to the relocation, but the government didn’t keep their promise for adequate housing. 

There were five homes for over 200 people on the Tsulquate Reservation. The Gwa’sala traditional territory is Smith Inlet and surrounding islands. ‘Nakwaxda’xw traditional territory is Seymour Inlet, the Deserter’s Group, Blunden Harbour, and surrounding islands.

There was limited access to the community until the logging road connecting Port Hardy to Campbell River was paved in December of 1979.

Port Hardy’s population grew to a little over 5,000 residents during the Island Copper Mine years (1971-1995). The former mine site is located 16 kilometres south of Port Hardy on the shores of Rupert Inlet. The open-pit porphyry copper mine employed over 900 employees from Port Hardy and the surrounding communities. Today, the former mine has been transformed into a wildlife habitat and pit lake biological treatment system (BHP Copper Inc., 2010). The Quatsino First Nation manage the property and their Economic Development Board is exploring options for its use. 

The Quatsino First Nations have conducted several feasibility studies around the implementation of a puck or brickett mill onsite, utilizing the existing infrastructure, which includes six industrial buildings.

Today, Port Hardy serves as the crossroads for air, ferry and marine transportation networks, and serves as the gateway to the fast-growing Central Coast, the Cape Scott and North Coast Trails, and BC Ferry’s northern terminus for the Discovery Coast run and Prince Rupert. It supports several traditional and emerging sectors and remains rich in natural resources and community spirit.

Every corner of the Port Hardy region is enriched with culture and history. Starting with the two welcome poles in Carrot Park, both carved and replicated by Calvin Hunt, a Kwagu’ł artist who is based in Tsax̱is. 

From here and along the seawall are interpretive signs with Kwak’wala words for various wildlife, such as salmon, bear, wolf, and orca. At the end of this walk is Tsulquate Park. 

From here you can see across Queen Charlotte Strait; the ocean highway and lands of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw. Port Hardy was named after Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (5 April 1769 – 20 September 1839) who served as the captain of H.M.S. Victory in the Royal Navy. 

He served at the Battle of Trafalgar and held Lord Nelson at the end of that battle where Nelson died in his arms. Though he never visited this island community, it bears his name today. 

A ten-minute drive from downtown Port Hardy, in the neighbouring community of Fort Rupert, is the village of Tsax̱is. This is the current home of the Kwagu’ł First Nation. Here lies elaborated totem poles and the big house; a venue where First Nations ceremonies take place, such as the potlatch. 

The potlatch is a First Nations constitution that determines our politics, our government, our education, our medicine, our territory, and our jurisdiction. Potlatch is a complex event with several ceremonies, which are still practiced in buildings like the Tsax̱is big house.

On the front porch of the village of Tsax̱is is Tayaguł (Storey’s Beach). Along this waterfront were several villages, which are depicted on map (pictured below) by Mervyn Child, a Kwagu’ł artist. 

Across the way and middle of K’ak’a (Beaver Harbour) are Atłanudzi (Cattle Island), Ḵ’ut’sa̱dze (Peel Island), Ḵ’a̱msa̱x̱tłe (Shell Island), and Uxwiwe’ (Deer Island). Once the words are broken down and translated; the names of these islands are unique to their environment, as they’re part of a story that belongs to the Kwagu’ł.

Where: Port Hardy, British Columbia. 50°43'27"N, 127°29'52"W

Friday, 12 October 2018

Friday, 5 October 2018


A lovely Dactylioceras ammonite from the Lower Jurassic Upper Lias Holderness of the Yorkshire Coast. This beauty measures over 8cm with especially attractive colouring.

Holderness is an area of the East Riding of Yorkshire, on the east coast of England. An area of rich agricultural land, Holderness was marshland until it was drained in the Middle Ages. Topographically, Holderness has more in common with the Netherlands than with other parts of Yorkshire. To the north and west are the Yorkshire Wolds.

Geologically, Holderness is underlain by Cretaceous chalk but in most places, it is so deeply buried beneath glacial deposits that it has no influence on the landscape.

The landscape is dominated by deposits of till, boulder clays and glacial lake clays. These were deposited during the Devensian glaciation. The glacial deposits form a more or less continuous lowland plain which has some peat filled depressions (known locally as meres) which mark the presence of former lake beds. There are other glacial landscape features such as drumlin mounds, ridges and kettle holes scattered throughout the area.

The well-drained glacial deposits provide fertile soils that can support intensive arable cultivation. Fields are generally large and bounded by drainage ditches. There is very little woodland in the area and this leads to a landscape that is essentially rural but very flat and exposed. The coast is subject to rapid marine erosion.

The Geology of Yorkshire in northern England shows a very close relationship between the major topographical areas and the geological period in which their rocks were formed. The rocks of the Pennine chain of hills in the west are of Carboniferous origin whilst those of the central vale are Permo-Triassic.

The North York Moors in the northeast of the county are Jurassic in age while the Yorkshire Wolds to the southeast are Cretaceous chalk uplands. The plain of Holderness and the Humberhead levels both owe their present form to the Quaternary ice ages.

The strata become gradually younger from west to east. Much of Yorkshire presents heavily glaciated scenery as few places escaped the direct or indirect impact of the great ice sheets as they first advanced and then retreated during the last ice age. This beauty is in the collection of the deeply awesome Harry Tabiner.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018


One of the fairytale creatures that I was pleased to see truly exist is the seahorse. These marine lovelies are any of 46 species of small marine fish in the genus Hippocampus. Hippocampus comes from the Ancient Greek hippókampos (ἱππόκαμπος) — a cobbling together of híppos (ἵππος) meaning horse and kámpos (κάμπος) meaning sea monster. A delightful albeit tad sinister name for these charming wee sea monster horses from our world's shallow tropical and temperate seas.

Having a head and neck suggestive of a horse, seahorses also feature segmented bony armour, wee tiny, spiny plates from tip to tail. 

They bob about in seagrasses, gripping with their curled prehensile tails when they want to stay in one place or using their dorsal or back fin to help them move up and down to swim about. Along with the pipefishes and seadragons — Phycodurus and Phyllopteryx — they form the fused jaw family Syngnathidae.