I was a bit depressed when I went to bed on Weds night. During the day I discovered a small puddle of water across our bathroom floor, and after an investigation found that the source was our hot water heater. Luckily, the local hardware store had a new one in stock, but it fell to me to install it and I hate plumbing and was dreading waking up on Thursday to do the chore.
As it happened, I didn’t have to install the new hot water tank, because a new priority established itself overnight--SNOW, lots of snow. There was 15 inches (38cm) of snow covering everything. Since We were trapped in our house until the driveway was cleared, I spent the whole day shoveling our 80m ( 260 ft) drive. It was a horrendous job. I quickly ran out of places to pile the snow that I had taken from the driveway. By the time I finally had the driveway cleared, another 4 inches (10cm) had fallen on what I had already cleared, and the snow just kept on falling.
The huge snowfall was not the only problem of the day. At 7:30 that morning, our power went out and remained off all day and into the night. We couldn’t get information about the weather, since internet, radio, and television didn’t work. When I finally got the drive cleared, we drove into town to eat supper at a restaurant since our electric stove didn’t work without power. (Luckily, since we have wood heat and gravity feed water, we still had both of those vital things, even without electricity.)
We found McBride full of snow-covered transport trucks, idling and parked outside the restaurant because the heavy snow had pretty much made travel to Prince George or Jasper on Hwy. 16 impossible. We were told that the highway east to Jasper was down to a single lane. We sat in the restaurant, ate our food and watched through the windows as it continued to snow.
When we did get back home, we threw more wood in the stove and nestled in our dark candlelit living room, reading until boredom set in, then decided the power wasn’t going to come back on, and so we went to bed.
The next morning when I got up, I was happily surprised that our electricity had been re-established overnight, but we still didn’t have internet or radio. When I looked outside I was astounded to discover that another 15 inches of snow had fallen during the night, replacing all that snow I had shoveled from the driveway, with so much effort, the day before.
It was much colder out, -15C (5F) and it got colder as the day progressed, but the driveway had to be cleared, so bundled myself up in all my cold weather clothing, headed out and began shoveling (actually I use a big scoop which allows me to get a big bite of snow then move it away to pile.)
It was a much more difficult job than it was yesterday, because I already had high piles of snow on each side of the driveway and I now had to push the snow even higher to get rid of it. Despite hours of shoveling and pushing snow, I didn’t get the whole driveway cleared, but did get enough off to get the truck out. We drove into town because I had to use the internet in the library to send 2 cartoons off to the newspapers. McBride was having electrical problems to. Some places had it others didn’t. Luckily the library did and I was able to send my cartoons off.
Around 4:00 in the afternoon, when we finally got back home, our internet was finally back on and I used the opportunity to finally break down and order myself a “snowthrower” (what they now call snowblower machines). Joan has been urging me to get one for years, but I have resisted in my pigheaded way, preferring to shovel, but I’m not getting any younger and after this current snowstorm put 30 inches (76 cm) of the white stuff on the ground in a little more than 24 hours, I decided I can’t really keep up. Hopefully, the machine will arrive before another big storm hits.
Today we have both power and internet (that’s why you are getting this blog), but the news isn’t all good; the temperatures have plummeted. This morning the temperature was -33C (-27F) and I am not very eager to get outside to finish shoveling the driveway.
We are still trying to get used to the changes in our view-scape since we had the tops of our willow trees whacked off. One of the things that is more noticeable now is the view of the rock bluffs that are situated up on the mountain slope across the road from our house. They have been blocked from view for so long that it is almost a shock to look up and see them hovering there.
After we bought our house in the late 1970’s, I hiked up to the top of the bluffs and took some photos of our place. A couple of years ago I hiked up to the bluffs again to take some updated photos and after all that climbing, huffing, puffing, and sweating, I was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t even see our house because it was obscured by the lush foliage of the willows. Now that they have been cut back, I am sure the house can again be seen from the bluffs. I will have to do another hike up there in the spring and try again.
Yep, McBride is getting a new gas station. That means we will have two!!! It’s not open yet, and although they made the announcement half a year ago, I didn’t want to start bragging until I was sure it was finally going to happen. It is being built right across the street from the Husky station. The photo was taken last week, before the snow.
Back in 1977 when we moved to the area, McBride had 4 gas stations. I had it in my mind that there were five, but my present memory can only come up with 4. One by one, they slowly closed until the weekend when we actually didn’t have any, but fortunately someone quickly took over the Husky station and kept it running, giving us back the one station. There is a “Card Lock” in town where people who are a member of the Coop can get fuel, but that isn’t available to the general public.
The little village of McBride is located in the middle of the lonely 400 km (200 mile) stretch of Hwy. 16, halfway between Jasper, AL and Prince George, BC. In the winter it is the only place to get gas between the two locations. It would be a really long drive for people traveling between the two places, if McBride wasn’t sitting there, 2 hours from Jasper and 2.5 hours to Prince George. It is nice for the traveling public to have somewhere to stop, fill up, and load up on some junk food for the road.
I guess this new station will hurt business for the Husky station, but it is too much to wish for that there will actually be “gas wars”, since I am sure that both stations will always have the same price for fuel. The new station is however, an optimistic sign that maybe McBride’s future may not be total decline.
Yesterday, I spoke with my mother and sister who live down in southern Indiana. As I looked out over the brown grass in our yard, I felt embarrassment when they told me that they had a big snowfall, deep enough to close the schools, while here we sit up in the interior of BC without any snow on the ground. Well, a minor overnight snowfall, changed that, and we can now hold our heads a bit higher. At least now when we look outside, things are white. The weather forecast for McBride is for snow or flurries every day this week, so after a slow start, the winter snows might actually be here.
On our walk this morning I noticed the “scary woodpile” that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. It consisted of alder wood that I cut. Usually when you cut alder, the wood turns orangish, and I was surprised at the time, that it didn’t. I assume that it was the cold temperatures that prevented the wood from oxidizing. After a few days of above freezing temperatures, the ends of the wood has finally taken on it’s bright orange hue. Below is a photo.
McBride’s Christmas Fair was yesterday. As usual, I was there hawking my calendars, and was fortunate to sell most of them, (at times worrying that I would run out) but as I sat there, behind my table watching the exchanges of money and merchandise, I was struck by how much of a social gathering the fair was. People were visiting and having conversations with their neighbors and acquaintances, catching up on news and remarking about the lack of snow for this time of year.
I did a lot of catching up on news too. I found out that the slender and pretty daughter of a friend who went up for a job in the Alberta oil patch to do first aid, is instead, now driving a hundred ton truck and a D-6 Caterpillar tractor. I talked to another friend’s son who I hadn’t seen since he was a kid, stood with his young daughter and told me about his job working as a park ranger up in the Yukon. I learned a lot at the Christmas Fair.
I am always touched by the generous compliments given to me, “How do you come up with all these ideas?” and “My son called the other day and told me to make sure I bought him a calendar,” and “I had to come to the fair just to get one of your calendars.” One woman told me my calendars were popular in Finland. Her brother got one for Christmas last year and insisted on receiving another. All these comments made me feel good. I even enjoyed seeing people who didn’t buy one, leaf through them and laugh at the contents.
It also makes me feel good just to watch the friendly interaction of the community as they make laps around the high school gym, looking at all the impressive hand-made goods and stopping to visit with friends and vendors.
Today is the McBride’s big Christmas Fair which is at the Secondary School. I am organizing my calendars for the sale and for the first time, Joan is going to sell some of her beautiful knitted hats. She spends a lot of time knitting these intricate things, and she decided that before the pile gets to high, she is going to sell some. It so before they disappear, I thought I would show you some of her work.
Even though there is now ice covering my pond, in one little area, the water from our water system, which continually flows in, keeps a small spot ice-free. Here is a photo showing the ice patterns that formed around the transition area between open water and ice.
The other day when the tree trimmers where busy on our willows, I was running around with my camera trying to get interesting shots of the operation. In our back yard I came across our comfrey plant and was struck both by the subtle colors and the texture of the frost on the leaves. I forgot about the tree trimming and took some shots of the comfrey. Here are a couple of them.
Every time we walk outside now, we are shocked at how light it is. We were so used to having the willows, even without the leaves, partially filter the light of the sky, that it is really noticeable now that the branches have been cut back. I have even noticed the difference at night, when I go out to get firewood, we can see so many more stars twinkling in the sky.
One of the secondary reasons for getting the willows shortened was to provide more light for our garden. Even though the trees were some distance away, they blocked the amount of sun getting to the garden and greenhouse until 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning. I am hoping to see some improvement in my crops as a result.
Another result is I have several big piles of firewood that will give me a head start on next year’s supply. I also now have a huge pile of wood chips that I plan to use to cover muddy sections of our trails and can also be used on other such landscaping projects as they arise. The chips would have otherwise been taken to the dump.
Of course, the poor trees now look pretty pitiful, more like cactus, than trees. They will probably carry this look, until they develop more branches in a couple of years, but I am breathing a lot easier now, glad that we eliminated the danger of the big heavy limbs falling on the house.
Yesterday I wrote about making the hard decision to have our willow trees cut back. For two days the huge white truck, pulling the muscular wood chipper, carefully maneuvered itself down our narrow, tree-lined driveway. Out jumped Brendan Taylor, owner of The Source Tree Service, with Chris and Ivan, his two ground crew helpers. Soon Brendan was high in the air, chainsaw in hand cutting branches off of the willows, as Chris and Ivan bucked up the bigger branches into firewood and shoved the smaller branches into the powerful jaws of the wood chipper.
I was very curious as to how Brendan would deal with the limbs hanging over my roof. I spent the whole day watching how he worked. The idea seemed to be, cut off chunks small enough to be handled, which were then thrown onto safe areas of the yard. The bigger and heavier limbs where tied up, cut off, then carefully lowered by the rope to his ground crew.
Watching Brendan on the boom was fascinating. He had to be constantly thinking and figuring out the sequence of which branches to cut when, so that he could maneuver the boom through the maze of branches. I was totally surprised at just how tall our willows had grown. At times I doubted that the huge boom would lift Brendan high enough, but he always managed to get himself into a spot to deal with the top of the trees.
I watched as, little by little, the willows were brought down to the height I wanted.
Back in 1977 when we bought our place in McBride, BC, there were 4 small willow trees (about 4 ft (1.2m) high growing in the yard, that the previous owner had planted. We dug them up and transplanted them in different locations, because of our expansion plans for the house. The trees must have liked what they found in their transplanted locations because they thrived over the years, growing thicker, taller and more spread out.
We didn’t really pay much attention to them, but we appreciated the shade and coolness that they provided during the summer. Birds were flitting all over the trees finding food and resting. It was fun to watch the squirrels travel from one area of the yard to another, by leaping from branch to branch and tree to tree. What we didn’t notice in all my enjoyment was just how big the willows were getting and how many of their huge branches were arching over our house.
When I did finally notice it, I began to worry, because the branches were so big and heavy and if they came down, they would inflict major damage on our house. Last winter when there was a lot of snow on our roof, I decided to take some action and try to cut off some of the overhanging branches while the roof was padded with the thick snow layer. With the use of some ropes and my truck as ballast, I was able to cut a few of the thick overarching branches and gently lower them down to the roof, where I cut them up for firewood.
However most of the branches were just too high and more vertical, preventing me from getting a rope around them up high, so I had to let them remain.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a tree trimming crew working on a neighbor’s trees, so I stopped in and made arrangements for the crew to come and “top” my willows. They had a big truck with a boom on it that would lift the faller high into the air, enabling him to deal with my really tall willows.
Because we love our trees so much it was a hard decision to make. While “topping” a drastic solution and is really not very good for the health of the tree, we felt that we had to do something about the trees, and preferred topping to cutting the whole tree down. I was worried about how the operation would go and I was curious as to how the trimmer would deal with those high arching branches without damaging the metal roof on our house.
Yesterday, I made my annual excursion to Valemount, BC to sell my calendars at their Christmas Craft Fair. Every year I create a calendar which features my cartoons and trivia specific to the individual dates. I got 185 of the calendars printed up and so as I drove down Hwy. 16 on my way to the fair, I always wonder how many I will sell and if I will re-coop my expenditures.
Fortunately, I had a good day. I sold 60 calendars, and that pretty much pays for the printing--that was what I was hoping for. It is always an enjoyable experience selling at Valemount, visiting with people I usually only see once a year at the fair.
Next Saturday we have McBride’s Christmas Fair and a chance for me to move into the black and make a profit. I am always pleased that people enjoy them so much year after year (calendars are a good scam, because they always become obsolete after a year and people have to get new ones.) My calendars seem to have lots of fans. People often tell me the only reason they came to the fair is to get one of my calendars. That always makes me feel good.
I also have my calendars for sale in McBride’s Whistlestop Gallery.
The week long cold temperatures we have been experiencing in the Robson Valley has caused ice to start to form on the Fraser. Islands of the crusty ice have been floating down the river for a couple of days now. Before long the whole surface will be a solid sheet of ice and we will have to wait until spring to see the open water again.
The photo shows Skye bravely walking past the scary woodpile.
Wednesday afternoon I got out the chainsaw and cut down some small alder trees that were crowding the growth of some birch trees that were growing along the pond. I stacked them up in the pile so they could dry out over the winter.
Later in the afternoon all the people and animals in our household did a walk around the pond. When Skye saw the foreign woodpile she stopped dead in her tracks, planted her butt on the ground, and refused to move any further.
I was out in front of the parade and I called and pleaded with her to just walk passed the wood, but she would have none of it. Finally, out of frustration, I walked back toward her and stood in front of the stacked wood, then she rallied enough nerve to quickly shoot passed the terrifying pile of wood.
Once she was clear of danger, she seemed to explode with exuberance as her pent up fear turned into energy. As you can see in the photo, this morning having overcome her fear of the scary woodpile, she courageously walked right passed it without a second thought.
I was a bit surprised the other day when I looked out of the window and saw this Hairy Woodpecker busy gleaning what it could from one of the soup bones Skye left in the yard. I always stereotype animals with what they are supposed to eat, so I am often astonished when I see them eat something else. Woodpeckers eat bugs hiding in a tree truck, right? But it seems they also like to eat marrow from bones.
I was a bit startled to see a squirrel eating away on a clump of beef fat I hung up for the birds. The deer love to eat peanut butter. Years ago I was watching a Great Blue Heron wading in the pond, fishing for small fish. A dragonfly happened to fly by and the heron immediately snatched it from the air and ate it. It seems animals are opportunists and are open-minded enough to take advantage of what they find. Either that or the animals around here are just so hungry they forget about the rules.
The overnight forecast called for -20C (-4F) but we were somewhat spared that indignity, and woke up to only -14C (+7F), but that’s cold enough for me. The skies are clear and the pond is now covered with ice.
Yesterday, as we were getting to the cold temperatures, I was walking around the pond and on one of the frosty planks that I use to bridge a low spot, I discovered the frozen corpse of a frog. I suspect that during the night as its body temperature and energy were rapidly dropping, it started across the board which was cold in itself, and by the time it got to the middle, the frog’s body totally shut down. It’s corpse was totally intact and it didn’t seem to have any injuries except being frozen as stiff as a popsicle.
I remember reading that some amphibians can survive being frozen, so I picked it up and dropped it into part of the pond that hadn’t yet frozen. It sank to the bottom and I don’t know if it will rejuvenate or not. If it doesn’t I guess it will provide supper for some other critter in the pond.
In our household we keep to a schedule. We eat breakfast, we go for a morning walk, and then I go to paint, Joan tends to her knitting, the cat snoozes in the box beside my computer, and Skye takes a morning nap on my bed. Yesterday after our walk through the rain, Skye was ready to jump up on my bed, but she was a bit wet, so I spread out the turquoise and purple woolen afghan on the foot of my bed so Skye wouldn’t get my bed damp. In order to keep her on the foot of the bed, I placed two patterned pillows from the sofa across the middle of the bed.
Skye jumped up on the bed, and curled up on the afghan and settled in to sleep, so I left her and when off to paint my square.
After I got my square painted, I glanced into the bedroom and discovered that in my absence, Skye had decided that while the afghan was an okay sleeping surface, it would be cozier if she moved up the head of the bed and cozied up in the space between my pillows and the pillows from the sofa. What a spoiled dog.
Yesterday afternoon while I was walking Skye through the rain at Koeneman Park, I glanced up at the valley between McBride Peak and Teare Mountain and was impressed by how cold and raw it looked, so I took this photo.
One good thing about doing a blog and living in British Columbia, is that if nothing else, you can always write about the weather. It always provides grist for the mill.
We have had a warmer than usual fall, but it has also been a lot wetter than normal. It seems to rain and rain, with short breaks which provide periods of high wind. This time of year we should be getting snow. It is unusual to see puddles forming in the bush Trails are getting muddy and slippery. I hate it. I always find it difficult to get motivated when it is dark and gray, so I haven’t gotten much done over the last couple of weeks. It is all very uninspiring.
One might think that I would be happy with the fact that the weather promises to change next week, but I am not cheered--it is going to get cold. We are expecting lows of -21C (-5.8F). I would find it easier to take if we had a nice layer of insulating snow on the ground before it got cold, but the weather never listens to me.
Here are a couple of shots taken in the same location. The one on the top was taken on July 5th and the lower one was snapped today, Nov. 6th. In July, the Robson Valley can be such a jungle of lush green, and once a couple of frosts hit, you might find it hard to recognize it as the same place.
I think scientists should do some research on the amazing properties of the shopping list. There are some truly unexplored powers that the shopping lists exhibit that need to be explained.
Since our closest merchants are in the tiny village of McBride (a place that only has one grocery store) we have to periodically make a trip up to the “big city” of Prince George in order to fill in a lot of the supplies that we desire. Because a round trip to PG takes up a whole day, we want to make sure that we get all of the things we need while we are up there, so we make a shopping list.
I knew I was going up to Prince George to pick up Joan from her recent trip, so I started a list of supplies for when I was up at Prince. The day of the trip, I folded it and stuck it in my back pocket, making sure I didn’t forget it and leave it at home. Along my drive, when I got to the Slim Creek Rest area, and was walking the dog, I reached back to my back pocket to make sure that I still had the shopping list.
I panicked because my back pocket seemed empty, but fortunately, I then felt it at the edge of my pocket. I had forgotten that I had folded it vertically, and so it didn’t take up much pocket space. Satisfied that I still had it, I relaxed and continued to walk Skye around.
When Joan finally arrived at the airport and as we were putting her bag into the back of the car, I checked again to see if I still had the list, and was again reassured when I felt it in my pocket. We had to get a service for the car, so we sat around at the Subaru dealer until that was done. Again I checked to make sure I had the list, but when I felt it, I started to think that if I was so worried about losing it, I would be better off just to put it in a more secure place, so I took it out of my back pocket and put it in the chest pocket of my down jacket, which I could zip shut.
When we pulled into the parking lot at Costco, our major shopping stop, it was pouring rain. I didn’t want to get my down jacket wet, so I took it off and put on my rainproof windbreaker instead. We grabbed our shopping bag an rain through the rain to the store.
Once inside the store, pushing the shopping cart around, I thought I’d better check what all we needed to get, so I reached into my back pocket to get the shopping list. When I found my back pocket empty, I remembered. “Oh yeah, I put it in my zippered coat pocket” and my hand automatically reached for the chest pocket on my jacket. It was then I realized that I was now wearing a different jacket and the shopping list was in my zipped down jacket, safe and secure in the car, out in the rain soaked parking lot.
I didn’t feel like facing the weather and going out to get it, so I just had to trust my memory. Fortunately, this time I did remember everything on the list, but I couldn’t help but be amazed at the ability of shopping lists to disappear when you most need them. If I had a dime for every shopping list that couldn’t be found when we needed it, I would be a very wealthy man indeed.
Driving in the Interior of BC during the summer can be a pleasurable experience. There is always the danger of a deer, moose. or bear jumping unexpectedly out onto the highway in front of you, but generally the good visibility, long daylight hours, and the dry pavement make driving fairly safe endeavor. Fall and winter however, present a different story. Night driving, animals on the road, and snowy slippery highway conditions always makes winter travel a throw of the dice.
Yesterday, was the first such scary trip of the season for me. Joan was flying in to Prince George, returning from her visit with her brother. Her plane was scheduled to land at 9:00 AM, so that meant that I had to get up at 5:30 in order to make it up to Prince George in time.
It was a bad drive. The first part of the drive was in the dark, plus because it had been raining during the night, and the temperature had then dropped below freezing, there was black ice on the road. Black ice is a thin layer of ice on the covering the surface of the road, which is very difficult to see, but you can sure feel it. Oh yeah, there was also fog. It all contributed to a long, slow, white-knuckle 3 hour drive.
Fortunately, there was very little traffic and I didn’t meet any animals on the road. I took it slow, and made it to the airport in time, but it wasn’t very enjoyable.
The Prince George airport is built in one of the foggiest places they could have picked. The whole area surrounding the airport was a blanket of pea soup fog particularly in the fall and spring. That prevented Joan’s plane from landing on time, and it had to circle around with 4 other planes for an hour before it finally did land, although it was still pretty foggy.
Joan got off the plane and had a happy reunion with Skye, once we got back to the car. It is always such a relief to finally arrive safely at home after such a trip to Prince George, particularly during the fall and winter months.
While my first reaction to seeing a heavy frost in the morning is, “Oh, No,” after I get outside and start looking around I always begin to see some unique possibilities for photos. That is what happened this morning. Here are a couple of images of lupine plants in the frost.
The photo above shows what most of the lupines look like now. They have reached maturity, let go of their seeds, and the brown empty pods still dangle from the dead stem. The photo below shows a lupine that got a really late start this summer and was still in flower when the frost hit.
I have mentioned several times how well mosses grow in the Robson Valley. Well, lichens also find the environment around here “growth friendly”. Above is a photo of an old fence post at the edge of my pond, covered with lichen.
Situated on the slope above our house is an old rockslide whose boulders are all covered with lichen. It is a pioneering plant that can establish itself in places where most plants wouldn’t be able to find enough nutrients to survive. Even my old green truck, that sat derelict out in my pasture, started to support lichen growth. The plant seems only to need a hard surface where it can collect some moisture and a bit of sunlight.
If I remember my botany, lichen are a combination of both algae and fungus. The fungus supplies the moisture and structure and the algae which can give the partnership food that it generates from sunlight. Over many many years of living in a spot they create enough moisture and nutrients that then allow other plants to become established.
Below is a photo of our lichen-covered picket fence.