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Persevering through Pain

Persevering through Pain

I was quite delighted when our new stationary bike arrived recently. Our gym closed over a year ago, and though it opened for a short time over the summer, we didn’t feel comfortable returning. Like many others, we eventually opted to purchase an exercise bike…

Overcoming “Motivation Malaise”

Overcoming “Motivation Malaise”

“The call to simplicity and freedom is a reminder that our worth comes not from the amount of our involvements, achievements, or possessions, but from the depth and care which we bring to each moment, place and person in our lives.” – Richard A. Bower Winter…

My Alpine Love Affair

My Alpine Love Affair

I have loved landscapes and flowers for as long as I can remember. I think my love of alpine landscapes was born during a mountain hike with my father, in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. I was probably about 11 years old. I remember the pleasing feeling of crossing loose shale, enjoying sinking and sliding ankle deep in the shards. It was also the first time that I noticed wildflowers, because my father stopped frequently to take photographs of them, while I waited impatiently. 

Alpine Paintbrush

My second experience in the alpine was quite memorable, and almost disastrous. I was on an “out-trip” from a summer camp at age 14. We climbed a mountain in the Kootenay Plains area of west-central Alberta.  Our leader wanted us to learn how to use a pickaxe to glissade down some late-lying snow. When it was my turn, I positioned myself on my makeshift sled, a plastic bag, and pushed off with the axe. My speed picked up fast and I was quickly out of control, and too inexperienced to deploy the ice axe to slow my descent. Luckily for me, the leader was able to catch up to me, stopping me just before I headed into a rocky outcrop!

Plain of the Six Glaciers (above Lake Louise, Banff National Park)

My third encounter was a year later on a three-day “out-trip” from the same summer camp. This time we hiked up to the alpine hut above Bow Lake in Banff National Park. It is about a 5 to 6-hour hike and quite a steep climb. We were carrying heavy packs and I recall feeling quite light-headed and head-achy prior to reaching our destination. In retrospect, this was likely altitude sickness. I had a cup of tea on our arrival and learned how restorative it could be! We spent the next couple of days learning how to climb glaciers safely (thankfully no near misses that trip). I remember the excitement of making it to a mountain summit of over 10,000 feet. We spent the last night camping, learning how to choose a semi-comfortable campsite and how to construct a lean-to shelter. Looking back on this experience, I am incredulous that I got any sleep, but I think we were so tired from all the exertion that we slept soundly.

Sunshine Meadows, Banff National Park

The alpine didn’t see much of me while I was raising four children and working. However, in 2000, I started hiking again with my partner, David. We were both working as reclamation/revegetation specialists, with a focus on restoring natural landscapes. David had been involved with reclamation at the Lake Louise Ski Area, Banff National Park, for many years. I loved spending part of my summer vacation working with him in our outdoor office over the next 15 years. The views from the ski hill over to famous Lake Louise are stunning at any time of the year! 

The view over to Lake Louise from Lake Louise Ski Area, Banff National Park

Retired now, we still love going back to our favourite spot and are glad for the summer gondola to assist with the hiking…my knees are less forgiving on downhill slopes these days. Not surprisingly my favourite photographic subjects are alpine landscapes and wildflowers. Now others wait on me while I painstakingly take my photos! Then during our long Canadian winters, I am learning how to translate our world’s natural beauty into acrylic paintings.

“Alpine Glory” a 30×30 inch acrylic painting by Heather M. Sinton

I used to wish that I had had the energy to pursue these interests sooner. However, on reflection, I realize that my creative seeds were not dormant in earlier years, they were just growing in different directions. At work, I tried new and different approaches to solve difficult problems. At home, I had to do the same while raising my children. I also learned to sew, to can fruit, to cook and bake and come up with inventive ways to entertain children. So, for those of you reading this and longing for time and space to be more creative…there are ways to nurture our artistic nuggets along life’s winding pathways. It is good to stop, reflect and realize that creativity is likely already woven into our life’s tapestry. It may change form and shape but we can express our artistic selves in every chapter of our life.  

Helen Lake Trail, Banff National Park
Give the Gift of Education this Holiday Season!

Give the Gift of Education this Holiday Season!

The holiday season is fast approaching and as your thoughts turn to gift giving, consider purchasing unique gifts for your loved ones while also supporting a worthy cause. Sprig of Heather Artistry donates the proceeds from website sales to humanitarian and environmental projects. This blog…

Season of the Soul

Season of the Soul

Autumn is a lovely extravaganza; a cornucopia for the senses. It is the year’s grand finale; tantalizing us with dancing sunburnt leaves, delicious bounty, crisp air and honking geese. Autumn is usually a season of the soul, bringing reverence, thankfulness and calm reflection. The fluttering…

Retirement Reflections

Retirement Reflections

It’s two years now since I retired, leaving my scientific and planning careers in other capable hands. Having enjoyed my varied career immensely, I surprised myself when I decided to pursue artistic activities in retirement. On reflection, I have realized that creativity was always an important part of my work life. I was always happiest when forging new paths, trying out new ideas and finding better approaches to tackle the wicked problems that we face today. I loved challenges and still do. 

Thinking back to my childhood days, I was entranced by colours and flowers. These loves were encouraged by the walks I took with my mother past lovely flower gardens and the window box full of flowers that my father added to our playhouse made of old crates. I love window boxes to this day, insisting that they be added to brighten the various homes that I have had over the years. Dad also got a multi-coloured revolving glass night-light for my sister and I. I can still visualize the revolving colours moving in soothing circles around our room.

As I grew older, he took my sister and I on hikes. I can remember complaining, and asking (as every child does!), “Are we there yet”? I also remember watching (somewhat impatiently) as he painstakingly took photos of wildflowers. Now I have become that hiker and photographer!

Dad gave up architectural training to be a doctor; I think he would have been happier in a creative career.  My mother loved history and English, becoming a professor in later life after an early nursing career. So it’s not a surprise that I was an “all-rounder” in school. I can remember playing school with my sister and thinking that I wanted to be a teacher. However, I have this feeling from childhood of stifled creativity. I can remember a total of two art projects in my whole school career and I was never encouraged to take art as a subject. As the oldest, I was expected to follow in dad’s footsteps and so my courses were heavily science-based. I became interested in marine biology and graduated in Zoology. Then I went to Nigeria with CUSO and tried teaching for a couple of years.

Taking my students on a field trip in Nigeria

The newness of vegetation in Nigeria intrigued me and I thought that I might pursue a botany degree on my return to Canada. Being practical by nature, I also wanted to ensure a job on graduation so I picked Range Management as a Masters pursuit, which combined my plant and animal interests. Luckily that turned out to be a good choice!

The finished painting that I gifted to my daughter for her birthday

Fast forward to having a family and spending a lot more time at home. I went to a couple of art classes but then life became too busy with a return to work and responsibilities at home. I was the family photographer and loved taking pictures on holiday, but that was the extent of my artistic endeavours. After I retired, I decided to take some more art classes, first watercolour, and more recently, acrylic painting. I have settled on the latter now and am loving painting beautiful landscapes. Photography is still a passion and the scientist in me has taken a strong interest in the macro details of life. I love finding inspirational quotes and interesting facts for the photos that I share with my social media audience. I have also discovered that I enjoy creative writing. So it turns out that combining my interests is a challenging, fulfilling and rewarding new direction.

The Intoxication of Spring

The Intoxication of Spring

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust Maybe it was the long winter and the slow spring, with COVID confinement as the proverbial “icing on the cake”… that all worked together to make spring…

Earth Day Reflections

Earth Day Reflections

I recently read a book by Richard Wagamese, entitled “For Joshua”. Richard is an Ojibway author who was cut off from his native roots at a young age and who struggled to find his identity and to understand his self-worth. He became a celebrated author…

Transformative Restoration at Butchart Gardens

Transformative Restoration at Butchart Gardens

The Butchart Gardens is a group of floral gardens near Victoria, Canada. These spectacular display gardens welcome over a million visitors each year and were designated a National Historic Site in 2004. Robert Butchart was a pioneer in the cement industry. He was attracted to Vancouver Island by the rich limestone deposits necessary for cement production and opened a quarry and factory at Todd Inlet. In 1909, the limestone deposits were exhausted and his wife, Jennie, started the transformation of the abandoned quarry into the lovely Sunken Garden, which opened to the public in 1921. Over time, the Butchart family added the Japanese, Italian and Rose Gardens. More recently concerts, night lighting, a Children’s Pavilion, Carousel and a festive Christmas display were added to this world-famous attraction. In 2004, two totem poles were introduced and dedicated in recognition of the rich cultural contribution of Indigenous Peoples. These were carved in the traditional Salish style by master carvers Charles Elliot and Doug La Fortune of the Tsartlip Nation and Tsawout Band, respectively. 

The transformation of an old quarry into a beautiful garden is one example of what is possible using reclamation and restoration techniques. Many industrial sites throughout the world see rebirth as productive lands or are reclaimed for another use. Key to this metamorphosis is the conservation of the key components that make redesign possible, especially preservation of living soil material. It may be necessary to remediate contamination and re-introduce appropriate plants and animals. The process can be lengthy and needs active monitoring and intervention. However, the results can be spectacular which is very satisfying for both restorationists and end users of the area.

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), https://www.ser.org, leads international efforts to promote the science, practice and policy that result in better restoration efforts. They have a number of very helpful publications and a conference library that currently has 356 presentations from the 2019 meeting in South Africa. With the rapid shift to online teaching and current physical distancing, SER is also offering Wednesday webinars focused on a range of restoration topics. These are free and you can register for the webinars on the website. A great way to find inspiration during difficult times!

Reflections from a Mountain Stream

Reflections from a Mountain Stream

“Babbling brooks fill our hearts with their merry song, tinkling like child’s laughter.”  Heather Sinton Taking time to reflect by the side of a beautiful mountain stream is medicine for the soul. I love listening to the sound of trickling water and we will soon…