Monday 31 March 2014

Grist for the Mill

    In the little Robson Valley community where I live, I am usually introduced as “the guy that draws the cartoons in the paper.”  That seems to be my claim to fame.  One of the most common questions I am always asked is, “How do you come up with all those ideas?”
    It is a complicated question to answer, because there is no single answer to the question.  The ideas come from everywhere.  Things I see, things I hear, sometimes, things just pop into my head, and I have even gotten ideas in my dreams.   Most commonly, the ideas result from something that happens to me in my life.
    If you read my blog of Mar. 23 (Loving the Litter Box), you might be able to figure out where the idea for the cartoon above came from.  Basically, what happened was that our cat Lucifer was so eager to get into her fresh litter box, that she jumped in when I laid it down to take my boots off after cleaning it, not even giving me a chance to put it in its spot.  Usually, I just take a humorous situation, like that, and make it more extreme.  That is what I did in this cartoon.
    I used to do a cartoon every week for the local paper, then late last year, the other local paper asked me if I would do cartoons for them also, so now I am doing two cartoons every week.  This week I have to come up with three cartoons because one of the papers is doing a special issue on volunteerism in the Valley, and wanted two cartoons.  It’s a good thing I am retired and have free time.

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Sunday 30 March 2014

Something to Talk About

    Joan and I drove into McBride yesterday, actually Joan had started out to do it in the morning, but Mountain View Road was just to dangerous with a buildup of slushy snow, so she turned around.  Even though it hadn’t been plowed in the meantime, some of the snow on the road had started to melt in the afternoon, so we decided to try the trip again.
    Once in town, we made a couple of stops.  It seemed that every conversation we had, started with a complaint about the weather--and our fresh dump of snow on top of all the other snow that we still have on the ground.  Weather is always a good way to find consensus around here.
    I confess it is usually the topic I begin with whenever I want to start a conversation.  I’m not sure what I would say if I lived in one of those places that just get sunny warm weather, day after day, after day.  Fortunately, that is something I don’t really have to worry about.

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Saturday 29 March 2014

Wild Swans

    I was hoping that by the time I had gotten done with all of the chicken bus stories, that I would be able to report that Spring had arrived in the Robson Valley.  Unfortunately, I can make no such report.  Except for a few wind-blown fields, and a few pockets of open water, all is still ice and snow.  The lack of Spring conditions did not, it seems, deter these trumpeter swans from stopping in to take advantage of this small slough of open water beside the Highway 16, just east of McBride.
    I was pretty thrilled 30 years ago, when I first heard that wild swans stopped here on their way to Alaska and the Yukon.  I had never seen a wild swan before and they sounded pretty exotic to me.  Before yesterday, I had never been so close to them.  Usually, they can just be seen from a distance.

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Friday 28 March 2014

On the Chicken Bus, Part 5

    The photo above is of the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala.  While there, I stayed in a cheap motel at the nearby town of Flores.

    Foolish me, I thought I would skip the 5:00 AM bus out of Flores, and catch the later bus, at !0:00.  That would give a chance to sleep in.  Unfortunately, when the 5:00 bus came, it parked right outside my room for 15 minutes, with its loud diesel engine running and waking me up, so I didn’t get the extra sleep anyway.
   Yesterday, I ran into a couple from South Carolina at Tikal.  He was tall with frizzled hair and glasses and was wearing a purple shirt, and they both spoke with a heavy southern accent.  They had stayed at the fancy lodge there at Tikal overnight, whereas I opted for the cheaper motel in Flores.
    They were waiting for the 10:00 bus when I arrived.  I asked them about their night, which opened the floodgates to a tsunami of complaints about poor food, and terribly expensive costs for room and meals.  I was glad I opted for the cheap motel.
    We boarded the crumbling old bus to Belize.  I had to sit on a small portion of seat by the aisle.  The road was extremely bumpy, and the driver spent most of the time driving with wheels on one edge of the road, or the other, to avoid all the deep pot holes in the middle.  He just about hit a daydreaming motorcyclist, who kept drifting toward us as we tried to pass him.
    The farmer sitting on the engine hump in front of me had a 15-20 pound plastic bag of sugar, wedged between him and the driver.  The bag of sugar shifted and sprung a leak and the white stuff started slowly spilling out of the hole in the bag.  He didn’t know what to do about it other than awkwardly holding the bag with the hole facing up.  I was able to save the day for him by giving him the white plastic bag my laundry came in.
    I had heard that the area between Tikal and Belize was experiencing problems with rebelling Mayan Indians, and so wasn’t entirely surprised when the bus was stopped for a military roadblock, although seeing all the soldiers with automatic weapons made me nervous.  An armed soldier climbed on board the bus, and said that everyone must get off, so we all did.
    As we stood there beside the bus, he started collecting all the papers and passports.  He wasn’t very thorough in his collecting and completely overlooked me, but I volunteered mine anyway.  As I handed it to the solder, the girl friend of the purple-shirted South Carolinian, said with a most grating accent, “I heard that they sometimes don’t give them back.”
    This sounded a bit farfetched to me, since as Gringos we seemed to have a special status and usually received more considerate behavior than the locals, but I didn’t say anything.  The soldier walked away with his big handful of passports.  Then all of the males on the bus were hand searched.  The soldier turned me around, wedged his foot between my feet, and proceeded to frisk me.  He  found nothing, not even the pocket knife I had in my pocket.
    This was done to each of the male passengers from the bus in turn.  It took quite a long time.  I found it all interesting, but after a while I became bored, and longed to get back on the bus.
    The soldier finally retuned with our passports, handed them back, and we piled back on the bus.  I thought the whole exercise was over, but I was wrong.
    I noticed that Miss South Carolina, was still outside--she hadn’t been given her passport back.  The soldier didn’t know where it was, so Purple Shirt climbed back out of the bus to help his damsel out of her distress.  
    The soldiers clearly didn’t know what to do, and they all seemed puzzled.  The girl demanded her passport be returned.  Purple Shirt  whipped out his US passport, and showed it to the soldiers, so that they would know what to look for.
    The soldiers, still confused by this novel situation, came back onto the bus and demanded that everyone get off again for a re-search.  Miss South Carolina, didn’t know who she had given the passport to, “It was just a soldier.”
    When asked if it was “Before or after” Purple Shirt’s passport was collected, she couldn’t recall.  Everyone was milling around, discussing the situation in small groups.  No one knew what to do.
    Purple Shirt got back on the bus to  see if he had a copy of Miss South Carolina’s birth certificate in his pack.  He opened his pack, and what do you think he found?----Yep, it was the passport.  Miss South Carolina was suffering from a sudden brain lapse, and had never given it to anyone.
    The soldiers all rolled their eyes, as did I, and as did, all the Guatemalan men, women, and children who were standing around.  One of the higher ranking soldiers who had been brought into the fray when the passport incident started, walked over the Miss South Carolina, stood right in front of her, and  gave her a very serious look.
    He reached for a pencil in the chest pocket of his uniform, took it out, and then bonked Miss South Carolina lightly on the head, in mock punishment.
    This drama being concluded, we all piled back on the chicken bus and it began, once again weaving down the dusty jungle road.  Everyone was cheerful again.  Everyone, except Miss South Carolina, who I suspect, was still reliving in her mind, her most embarrassing moment. 

    That concludes my adventures on the Chicken bus.

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Thursday 27 March 2014

On the Chicken Bus, Part 4

    The photo shows, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  Today’s blog tells of leaving this area after a couple of days of exploration.  

    My first surprise of the morning came early.  I stepped out of the shower, and realized that the hotel I was staying in hadn’t left a towel in my room.  I was too wet to go to the desk to get one, so I ended up drying myself with the pillowcase.
    The young guy at the desk told me the bus to Chimaltango comes by at 10:00, first coming up the street, then returning.  I waited and sure enough, it came at 10:05.  As I waved, the guy on the bus shouted something back to me that I assumed meant that I was supposed to wait until it returned.  I waited.   At 11:00, I was still waiting and beginning to get nervous about the bus not returning, so I caught a mini-bus up to Solola.
    There, at the plaza many buses were waiting.  All of which looked like they should be condemned.  The “gringo’s” who rode with me on the mini-bus, all got on to an old green school bus, so I wandered over to it, and asked the bus helper, “Antiqua?” which was my destination.
    He nodded and said, “Change, Transfer..”
    I handed him my bag, and watched it as it was thrown up to the helper who was arranging bags on the roof of the bus.  Since the bus was already full of passengers, I was directed to walk around to the rear of the bus, and there I found that the back door was open, so I climbed in.  All of humanity already inside, filling the bus, but there was one place left to sit on the back row of seats, and so that is where I sat down.
    I was feeling sort of uneasy, with never really knowing what exactly was going on, or if I had the right bus, and just the whole business of not really being able to communicate, and now there was something else that was causing my unease to mount--the smell of excrement.  As I nervously sat there, I wondered why the bus smelled like shit.
    The bus, now full, and the door behind me closed, ground its gears, and headed down the highway.  While rocking back and forth as the bus traveled, I tried to calm my unsettled and insecure state of mind, when suddenly, something under my seat, brushed against my leg.  I jumped.  My first inclination was that there was a giant snake under my seat.  Startled, my calf was then hit again, this time with an accompanying snort.
    Nervously, I bent down to see what was under my seat.  To my great relief, it wasn’t a boa constrictor, but a live pig in a bag.  I exhaled deeply, and suddenly, was no longer apprehensive, even through I still wasn’t sure where this bus would let me out, or if I would be able to catch another bus before nightfall.
    I really didn’t have to worry, although the Guatemalan buses seemed to me to be so unorganized and haphazard, they somehow always managed to get me to a place where I could catch a further bus to my destination.

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Wednesday 26 March 2014

On the Chicken Bus, Part 3

    The area around Huehuetenango is very dry and reminiscent  of Kamloops, BC.  As we pulled into town I saw what I assume was a funeral parlor whose name was something like, “El Ultimo Adios”.  The bus made a half an hour stop here in Huehuetenango.  
    I was very hesitant to get off the bus, because I was afraid of loosing my seat, but when I saw the helpers make an old lady, who didn’t want to leave, get off, I knew everyone had to, so I got off.
    I found a restroom and had a coke, then looked up, discovered that the bus was gone.  I knew it would be back, and when it returned, there was a mad rush for the door, and one of the helpers yelled and tried to get the teaming millions to move back onto the sidewalk.
    He pointed to me and motioned me back onto the bus, while threatening the mob with police, if they didn’t stay back.   All of the “Gringos” were let back on, as they filtered out of the building.  
    Then the bus employee put his young girlfriend and her kid, and their portable black and white TV set on, seating her beside me.  A man from the Condor bus office came out with a paper full of names, and stood blocking the doorway, reading out a name, then letting that lucky person onto the bus.
    Once all of the names were called, he just picked among the multitude of pleading faces.  The bus was again, very tightly packed.  The helper, then came onto the bus and had his girlfriend and I stand up.  He then, unhooked the seat cushion we had been sitting on, from the frame, and shifted it over about 8 inches (20 cm), away from the wall, and toward the aisle, .  This allowed another passenger, who was standing in the aisle to sit, but it also mean that since I was the one sitting next to the wall, I was left with just half a seat cushion to sit on.
    So there I was, squeezed against the wall, next to me was the girlfriend holding her black and white TV set, next to her was her 3 year old kid, and next to him, sat the lucky passenger, who now had a part of a seat.  This is how we spent the next 4 hours.
    After a while, my knees became tender from being buffeted against the partition in front of me, and the muscles of my buttocks began to complain about the restricted position they couldn’t escape from.  I shifted my weight as much as I could, but the relief was only temporary.
    The bus made another radiator stop at another creek, and I was able to stand in place for about 3 minutes, but then had to resume the sardine position.
    As we climbed toward Solola, we passed through some beautiful countryside.  Near-vertical barley fields, (I think), clinging to the steep volcanic slopes amongst the pines.  Everything is brown and green, accented with golden piles of straw along the road and the pinks, purples, and reds of the Mayan Indian women.
    The Guatemalan countryside seems cleaner than Mexico, not as much litter along the roadsides, at least in this area.  People graze there sheep right along the road, which keeps the grass short and neat, with no weeds.  
    Mexican towns seem so funny;  Everyone is always  outside the buildings washing and sweeping the sidewalks, but at the same time, everyone is always throwing trash on the sidewalks.  You can never find a litter barrel or trash receptacle.
    More Chicken Bus tomorrow.

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Tuesday 25 March 2014

On the Chicken Bus, Part 2

    Already the bus was packed solid.  People, shoulder to shoulder, squirmed in their seats, and the aisle, from as far back as I could see, up and including the steps beside the driver, was crammed with standing passengers, jostling and swaying in unison, as the bus maneuvered one curve after the other along the mountainous road.
    I was squeezed into a seat beside the side window in the front row, my knees against the waist-high aluminum partition that separated the seating area from the steps that led down to the door.  As I looked forward, trying to see out of the windshield, I had to peer over the head of a grizzled old Mayan man in a well worn cowboy hat, sporting a thin mustache, and wearing fancy old female glasses, complete with jeweled wings, who faced me, as he stood on the steps, clinging to the handrail bar that ran across the top of the partition.
    The bus, speeding down the highway, was traveling with the door open, with one of the helpers standing on the lowest step, hanging on to the rear view mirror.  Another helper was totally outside of the bus, clinging to the open window beside me, I had no idea what he was standing on.
    We passengers, were packed like sardines.  Beside me, on the front seat, was a farmer, and beside him, next to the aisle, sat another man holding a young girl on his lap.  The girl was clutching the top of a woven plastic bag that squawked each time those standing in the aisle squashed against it, while trying to maintain their balance on the curves.
    A little into the trip, the bus helper who had been hanging on outside, forced his way up through the crowd standing on the steps, to the aisle.  Then grabbing the vertical pole that stood beside the aisle at the end of the partition, he swung his leg around, putting his foot on top of the metal handrail that ran across the top of the partition.  Shifting his weight and lifting himself, he somehow managed to put his other foot on top of the handrail pipe that ran along the top of our seat back.  
    He ended up hovering above me, his butt wedged against the curved wall above my window, his back against the ceiling, and one foot on the partition in front of me, and the other resting on the top of our seat back.  Once in this position, he looked down on us and began hitting people up for their tickets.  Once he had finished with our row, he carefully moved on, straddling the row behind us.  He collected their tickets, then he worked his way back again, straddling row after row to the back of the bus, with his feet on the seat backs and hovering over the passsengers.
    At this point, I noticed the head of a small chicken poke out of the little girl’s bag.  Once it saw how ridiculous the situation was on the outside, it ducked its head back down into the bag, and I never saw it again.
    The bus continued, at a good clip, swerving back and forth, and up and down, along the snaking highway.  Suddenly, at a low spot, the bus driver pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.
    I assumed that it was going to let someone off or to pick up passengers, but there was no one there to pick up, and no one fought their way toward the door.  I couldn’t figure out why we stopped.
    The helper, who was still at the bottom step in the open doorway, started yelling at all of the passengers standing on the steps, and worked his way up toward the driver.  Once he had managed to move most of the people out of the way, he began rooting around amongst the packages, bags, and machetes, that were piled up, beside the gear shift, until he was able to free a blue plastic bucket.
    Bucket in hand, he jumped out of the bus, scrambled down through the vegetation along a creek, dipped the bucket into the creek to fill it full of water.  As he did this,  the other bus employee, who was now outside, had walked around to the front of bus, lifted the hood, and with a cloth opened the radiator cap.
    Water from the bucket was poured into the steaming radiator, the cap screwed back down, the hood slammed shut, the engine began to once again roar, and the last helper grabbed the mirror and swung himself into the open door, of the already moving bus.  The Condor was, once again, soaring again through the Guatemalan mountains.

    Another chicken bus story tomorrow.

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Monday 24 March 2014

On the Chicken Bus

    In February of 1987, I had to burn off some time I had built up at the Forest Service, Joan had to work, and so instead of facing the cold February without much to do, I decided to take a solo jaunt through Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.  After flying to Mexico City, I planned to do the bulk of my traveling, like the poorer natives--on the “chicken bus.”  These were older public transit and school buses, who got the name by carrying the farm folk and often, their livestock.
    Here is my diary entry for Feb. 22, 1987, when I was leaving San Christobal de la Casas in the jungly Chiapas state of Mexico:

    Another early start to the morning, I beat the alarm, which I had set for 5:45.  Again, I woke to rumblings in my lower digestive tract, but the Lomotil, seems to holding things together.  It was a cold misty walk with my bags, through the dark streets, empty, except for the odd guy on a bicycle, and an old Mayan woman, scampering across the street toward the lit facade of an old cathedral.  
    I waited at the bus station for twenty minutes, before finally being able to board an older model bus to Cuauhtemoc, which is at the Guatemalan border.  The first part of the trip was picturesque with the dawning sky, lighting the low lying smoke, that hung between the limestone hills and Indian huts.
    The mad-man bus driver, screamed down the highway, dodging everything in sight--horses, trucks, old ladies with their grandchildren, honking his horn, and de-accelerating each time the 95 km warning beeper went off.  
    Things got a bit confusing once we reached the Mexico/Guatemalan border.  A Mexican official took my Mexican tourist card, then I had to walk across the border, a bit apprehensive, because I didn’t know exactly what to do, or what to expect.  The other Gringos (about 5 of them) followed.
    A Guatemalan official gave me a Guatemalan card and asked me some questions (How long was I going to stay?  What was I going to do?)  I paid him 2,000 pesos, then, when I was done, went outside, where a soldier motioned me over toward another official, who looked at my passport and gave me another card of some kind.  He also asked me if I wanted to exchange some money.  I gave him a US $5, and 2000 Mexican pesos.  I think I got about 14Q in return.
    Then, I just wandered out onto the street, not knowing exactly what to do.  The autobus that brought us to Cauauhtemoc was gone, there was however, an old white and grey school bus sitting there named “The Condor.” 
    I went over to ask the man standing there, if it would take us to a town where we could catch the autobus, but he just motioned me inside where the driver, a small man with glasses, wavy hair, a very sparse long beard, took my luggage and stuffed it into a small space beside the gear shift.  I was sort of hesitant to part with my bag, but since I was sitting right in front of it, in the front row, I didn’t put up a fuss.
    The other Gringos filed in to the bus, and their luggage went onto the top of the bus.  The bus was practically empty, with just a handful of people, three of which seemed to be working or the Condor Bus Company, as they just hung around talking to the bus driver.  Finally, the Condor started moving down the road, stopping to pick up 20 more passengers, who appeared to be peasant farmers.  The bus helpers made the new arrivals leave their machetes at the door.
    We drove on a bit further and stopped at a road blockade.  An armed soldier with a green polyester uniform got on, and one of the bus helpers motioned that I, and the other Gringos, had to get off, and he put my green suitcase on my seat by the door.
    Bewildered, and not knowing what to expect, I stepped off of the bus, only to be met by another official, who looked at my passport and cards.  As he dealt with me, I watched a large crowd of people enter the bus, and my luggage go out the door and onto the roof of the bus.  When I returned to the bus, it was unbelievably packed with people, but my place in the front, had been saved for me.
    The bus started on its way again, honking at vehicles, and people walking along the side of the road.  I wondered how far we had to go before we came to the next town--and a regular bus to Guatemala  City.  Then an amazing thing happened--the bus stopped and picked up more people.
    I will continue the ride on tomorrow’s blog.

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Sunday 23 March 2014

Loving The Litter Box

    Lucifer really loves her litter box.  I was reminded of this fact yesterday, when I took the box out for cleaning.  I usually walk it out to our sewage lagoon, and dump the clumps out there.  Yesterday, I grabbed the litter box, opened the front door, and set the box on the bench that sits on the front porch, then I walked back through the house to the carport door to get my coat and boots on.
    Once dressed, I walked out the back door and outside, around to the porch, to pick up the box from the bench.  By the time I got there, Lucifer was already trying to get into it.  I shooshed her away, then took the box, and carried it out to the lagoon.  There, I sifted through the litter with the little yellow slotted shovel, and threw out all the clumps.  I brought the box back to the carport, where I poured in some new cat litter to replace what was taken out. 
    Then I opened the back door, walked into the house, and put the box down on the floor, while I took off my coat and boots.  While I was doing that, I couldn’t believe it--Lucifer, who was now back in the house, was already climbing into the virgin litter to try it out.  Not only did she pee, she also pooped into the box.
    While I waited for her to finish, so I could put the litter box in its rightful place, I grabbed my camera and took the photo.

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Saturday 22 March 2014

Artsy-Fartsy Photos

    The other day, I was lying in my bed, and I happened to glance over to where my tomato plants and grow lights were.  I found the scene very surreal and sparse, but for some reason, very appealing.  Here are a few photos of it.

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Friday 21 March 2014

Tomatoes To Be

    It always seems so counter-intuitive to be planting seeds while it is cold, and there is still so much snow on the ground, but if I want to eat fresh home-grown tomatoes and chili peppers in the summer, I have to plant the seeds now.  The tiny tomato plants are just now starting to peak through the soil, the chili seeds will take a few extra days to germinate.
    Right now, I have these plants in my bedroom under a grow light.  It will be a couple of month’s before my greenhouse will be warm enough for them, so that means a lot of work ahead for me.  First, transplanting the growing plants into bigger pots, and then later, as they get bigger, dragging the pots back and forth, so they can be out in the greenhouse sunshine during the day, and back inside a warm house at night.  
    Its a long process, but I love tomatoes, and having juicy ripe ones to eat is worth the trouble.

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Thursday 20 March 2014

Ah, Springtime!

    As I sit here writing this, as of 5 minutes ago, Spring officially arrived in the Robson Valley--not that you would have noticed if you looked outside.  Fortunately, things outside are not quite as grim as in this old cartoon, but it does seem pretty un-Springlike.  
    The there is a solid grey cloud cover, and still about a foot of snow on the ground.  We have been getting some above freezing temperatures during the day, and there are a few patches of grass peeking through the snow at the edge of the driveway, where I have shoveled, over the septic tank or close to the house, where a lot of heat is generated, or on some of the south facing slopes that get really direct sunlight, but alas, the rest is snow.  See the photo below.

My photo-realism style paintings can be seen at:

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Come Rain or Shine

    The wind was howling, spitting snow and rain, that stung my face, but we were out at the airport walking up and back on the runway.  Why were we placing ourself in such unpleasant conditions?  That’s an easy question to answer--our dog.
    Having a  dog always seems to channel us toward outdoor activity, no matter what the weather is doing.  I doubt if we would be out there, being blown around at the airfield, if we didn’t have Skye, and it’s strange, because its not like Skye is shut in the house all day long, she can go outside whenever she wants, its just that we have gotten into the habit of taking the dog for a walk twice a day, and so we do it rain or shine.

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Tuesday 18 March 2014

Bear In The Window

   No doubt you have asked yourself the question, “What does he do on Monday nights?”
    Well, maybe you don’t, but I am going to tell you anyway--I help Nadia write her book, “Bear in the Window.”
    Both Czech by birth, Nadia and her husband, George, have lived a pretty interesting life, and Nadia, wrote the book several years ago in Czech, and it was published there.  She wanted to get it published in English, and asked me if I would help.  She, of course, does all of the translating, since my Czech is not very good, (that was a joke, its non-existent).  My job is to smooth out the English, and with the help of my iPad, put it into digital form.
    Since I didn’t really know their life story, writing it all down is not a chore, since it is all a new and fascinating tale to me.  Both Nadia and George worked in mountain resorts in Czechoslovakia, and made a daring escape from the Communist country, via Yugoslavia, then to Italy.  There they asked for asylum and survived the bedbugs in the refugee camps, until they were accepted as immigrants into Canada.
    Sharing a love of the outdoors, wildlife, and mountains, they moved from one community to another, with the goal of finding the perfect mountain home, eventually buying raw land in BC’s mountainous interior, where George built a log home by himself.  Along the way, they had lots of adventures trying to understand their new country of Canada, as they experienced life in a lot of different small communities, punctuated with a lots of wildlife encounters.
    So far I have 50,000 words down, and Nadia told me last night, next week we will be starting on the last chapter.

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Monday 17 March 2014

Death Along the Trail

    I apologize for the graphic photo, but I think it is good to, every once and a while, touch base with the reality of nature.  What you are looking is a discovery I made the other morning, when I was walking the trail.  I saw some tuffs of hair on a small rise beside the trail, and walked over to investigate. I found this carcass of a deer, I assume it was killed by a cougar.  A couple of weeks ago, Joan heard reports of a cougar being in the neighborhood.
    Of course, death is always sad, and especially when it is the death of a seemingly gentle, plant-eating animal, but this is the way nature works, and in the long run, it is good for the deer population that the weaker members be eliminated, and their numbers, kept in check.  And on the other side, cougars have to eat too.
    Despite knowing all this stuff, it was still a shock to come upon this grisly scene, down below our house.

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Sunday 16 March 2014

More River Photos

    Here are a couple more photos that I took during our walk along the Fraser River.  Above, in a small section of open water, you can see a nearby mountain reflected.   Below, you can see some of  the iron stained sand patterns below the surface of the water, and the blue of the sky and white of the snow on the ice in the upper part of the photo.

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Saturday 15 March 2014

Down By The RIver

    When temperatures begin to freeze throughout the late fall and winter, the glaciers stop melting, and all the precipitation that falls is tied up as snow or ice.  As a result, the amount of water which flows into the rivers is greatly reduced and the river levels drop drastically.
    Yesterday, Joan and I decided to take Skye for a walk down on the wide expanse of sand that makes an appearance as the usually, mighty Fraser River level drops.  The thin strip of white you see on the right hand side of the photo above is the ice-covered Fraser.  During the summer all this sand, is under water.
    Below, is a shot taken in the opposite direction, which shows the Highway 16 bridge that crosses the Fraser just east of McBride.

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Friday 14 March 2014

End of an Era

    The Schmidt Greenhouse has been a landmark on Evansville’s Darmstadt Road for one hundred years.  It was owned by my grandfather when I was a kid, then was passed on to my uncle.  It was a commercially successful agricultural business which supplied Evansville grocery stores with fresh lettuce and tomatoes.
    As the economics changed (price of heating rose and the competition from growers in warmer climes increased), the greenhouse could no longer compete, and finally ceased operations.  It has stood unused and deteriorating for several decades now.  My uncle has tried to get it demolished several times, hoping someone would be able to reuse the glass and iron heating pipes, but they always fell through.
    He thought that he had found a solution when he was approached by a man, who said he would tear it down for the materials.  Unfortunately, the man turned out to be a con man, who was only after the iron pipe.  He started out by taking down a wall, but soon just started stripping the pipes away (many of which were supporting the building), and ignoring the glass, leaving the structure in a very weakened condition, and very dangerous.  Later, my uncle caught the man stealing aluminum irrigation pipe from the barn.  
   The greenhouse, which in the summer is filled with lush green vines and other wild plants, has been a popular backdrop for wedding photos and was often used as interesting subject matter by photographers.  Once when my uncle returned from vacation, he discovered that the whole front wall had been stripped of glass by someone taking advantage of his absence.  I don’t know if you can tell by the photo on top.
    Well, it seems the greenhouse is finally going to disappear, as arrangements have now been made to take it down with a backhoe.  I spent many an hour playing as a child, and working as a farmhand, in the greenhouse, and the property will look pretty empty the next time I see it.
    Below you can see some of the weeds, vines, and trees, growing wild inside the greenhouse.

You can view my photo-realistic paintings at:

Thursday 13 March 2014

Wrinkled British Columbia

    I have always loved dynamic topography, and dramatic landscapes, it is one of the reasons I live in British Columbia.  It is always a treat to be able to view the expanse of mountains from the air.  While making the flight between Vancouver and Prince George, you can really get a feel at how scrunched-up and wrinkled BC is, as you watch the Coastal Range of mountains jut upward along the Pacific Coast and continue, range after range, as far into the horizon as you can see.  I have often wondered just how big BC would be if you could stretch all the mountains out flat.
    It was around 7:00 in the evening, as I left Vancouver and made the flight the other day.  The sun was setting in the west, and I was sitting on the opposite side of the plane in a window seat, so I could view the ranges all stacked up against each other.  Below me coastal towns were squeezed between the towering mountains and the narrow shoreline.
    Eventually, it registered in my brain, that maybe I should get the camera out and take a few shots.  Here are a few that I took before, the ebbing light and cloud cover obscured the view.

I am back home now, so you can read this blog and view my paintings at:

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Decaying House

     I'm not sure what the attraction is, but I have always drawn to old abandoned houses that are slowly deteriorating.  The one in the photo lies down a lane and belongs to my uncle.  In my childhood, I remember an older kid, whose name was George lived there, and while I always liked to eat popcorn, George was the first person to show me how to make it, and I remember being quite amazed to find out that a non-adult could do such a thing.
     The house hasn't been lived in for a few decades.  Just getting close to it was a struggle with all of the honeysuckle and blackberry bushes creating a near impenetrable obstacle.  I found the concrete block basement wall buckling and the east wall of the living room completely gone.  I took some photos of the lonely empty interior walls.

Monday 10 March 2014

A Quiet Life Disrupted

     I spent about ten years of my early adult life, working in jobs where I was thrust into the exuberant world of childhood with its high-pitched shrieks and unbounded energy.  I worked as a "rec room" supervisor at a Boy's Club during my university years, then spent five years working as an elementary school teacher, so I know all about rambunctious children, but I have lived away from it for a lot of years now, and had forgotten what it was like.
      My life in British Columbia, is a pretty quiet one.  Lucifer, our cat doesn't make make any noise except for the mandatory "meow" of complaint, whenever we pick her up.  We didn't even think that Skye, our dog, could bark, until three months after we got her, and since then, she has only barked four other times, so we don't experience a lot of hyper-activity or noise in our house.  
      Once down here in Indiana, visiting with my mother, the quiet life I had been living, suddenly changed upon the arrival of my brother's family from Texas.  His two sons exploded into the house, running, and wrestling, bringing with them the accompanying cacophony and clatter, of exuberant childhood.  Later, the frantic commotion and hullabaloo doubled, when the two boys were joined by two of my niece's girls of a similar age, and similar energy level.  It seemed that I was transformed into a bystander at the edge of a noisy race track.
     I am not writing this blog as a complaint, because I know I was just as noisy and energetic at that age, and I must confess, that I even contributed to an increase in the chaos and noise several times last night, when I joined into the activities, playing the part of a monster and vampire, chasing the kids around.  What I am saying, is that, in living such a quiet life for so long, it was a bit of shock to experience the uber-noise and activity level that is the everyday norm for parents of young children--they have my sympathy.
     The photo shows my brother, Rob and his family, during a brief and quiet, unscheduled break in the play.

Sunday 9 March 2014


     One of my most securely cemented childhood memories, concerns grapevines in the woods.  A couple of the older neighborhood boys, had cut a grapevine that was attached to a big tree which grew on the slope of a ravine in the woods.  This enabled us to grab the dangling grapevine, walk with it up the slope, turn and run down hill, still grasping the vine, until we were airborne, and suddenly, we were transformed into Tarzan, as we swung out over the gully below.  
     We soon learned that we could modify our adventure by, upon reaching the apex of our swing, encircling an adolescent tree which grew there with our legs.  Then, instead of swinging back on the grapevine, we let go of the vine, grabbing the tree with our hands which we then slid down.
     That was a perfectly placed grapevine, and throughout my life, whenever I walked through one of these Southern Indiana forests, I searched for another such situated grapevine, but never found one that offered such a wonderful swing.  There were always plenty of grapevines on offer, dangling down from the big oaks and maples.
     On trips into the tropical jungles of Costa Rica and Guatemala, it was the multitude of vines, growing up the trees that reinforced the fact, that we were in a jungle, and after such trips, upon visiting Southern Indiana, I was surprised at just how "semi-tropical" the forests seemed, when I noticed just how many grapevines there were.
     I took the photo  of a young tree, already being burdened by two big grapevines, behind my sister's house.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Safe Passage

     My sister lives on Darmstadt Road.  Darmstadt Road is a dangerous place.  It started out as a meandering country road that snaked its way from farm to farm.  As the countryside slowly became suburban, the road kept its narrow width and curves, even though the amount of traffic increased tremendously.  Speeding makes the road even more dangerous.  A couple of speeders have  been killed in front of my sister's house, as well as a great number of deer and other wildlife.
     As I walked through Jane's yard yesterday, I noticed this trail which dissects her whole large lawn.  It has been made and maintained by a family of raccoons, who figured out that it was a whole lot safer, to go under Darmstadt Road, than to dodge the traffic, scampering across it.  
     Several generations of the critters use the drainage culvert that runs under the road as a tunnel which links the forest across the road to all the gastronomic treasures around my sister' house.

Friday 7 March 2014

Cypress Knees

     Cypress trees are usually associated with swamps in the southern part of the US, I am not sure if they were native to Indiana or not, but in the late 1960's and early 70's, the Indiana forestry department did make young cypress seedling available to landowners who wanted them, and my father took advantage of the offer, and planted some of the seedlings around the moist and wet areas on our property.  Many of those have now grown and turned into tall mature trees, one of which juts up  in my sister's back yard.
     I was walking around my uncle's lake yesterday, and noticed a cypress tree along the shoreline.  I don't know if my father had given him the tree, or whether he got some independently, but there was a healthy cypress growing beside the water.
     One of the unique and mysterious characteristics of the cypress, is its "knees."  They are rounded wooden projections that erupt out of the ground (or water) around the base of the tree.  Scientist are still mystified at them, and do not know what purpose they serve.  It was commonly thought that they provided oxygen for the tree, which often grows in the often oxygen-depleted wet soil, but research has shown this is not the case.  
     Early explorers of North America recorded cypress knees that were sometimes 10 feet (3 m) tall, but the ones around here only stick up about a foot (30 cm) or so above the ground.  The knees often have interesting gnarly shapes and I have seen them used as the base of table lamps.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Winter. Go Away

     Everyone I have spoken to, both down here in Indiana, and up in British Columbia, are singing off of the same page in the hymnal--everyone is tired of winter and want it to just go away.  At least, here in Indiana, the weatherman is promising the trend of warming temperatures, 60 F (15 C), by early next week, but things are still ugly up in my home in McBride.
      I got a phone call from a discouraged Joan yesterday, and I listened guiltily, as she told of -22F (-30 C) temperatures, and having to shovel the drive, and expecting to have to do it again.  She said it was too cold to take the dog out on much of a walk, and both she and the pets, were getting really bored at being housebound.
     Unfortunately, even with all of our complex technology, we humans are still doomed to endure whatever miserable weather is being thrown at us.

Wednesday 5 March 2014


     People always think I make these trips, all the way from the middle of British Columbia to Southern Indiana, to visit with my mother and family, but what I really come for, are Stromboli's--just kidding, of course, but certainly, while I am down here, I feel deprived, if I am not able to go down to the Pizza King restaurant and bite into the fiery sandwich.
     Every time I do go to Pizza King to order a Stromboli and have to hang around waiting for it to come out of the oven, I am struck by just how boring, uninteresting, and unwelcoming the interior their restaurant is, but I'm sure it is not the "atmosphere" of the restaurant that brings their customers in.
      To geologist, "Stromboli" is a volcano in Italy, but ever since I took that first bite, as a university student, of Pizza King's spicy Italian sausage, tomato sauce, cheese, all surrounded with a warm, buttery, submarine-type bun, the term, "Stromboli" conjures up cravings of spicy tastes, and like Pavlov's dog, my saliva starts to flow. 
     I have seen TV shows about the foods that different cities are famous for, and for me, in Evansville, its Pizza King's Stromboli's and Wolf's Barbecue's sandwich that put it on the gastronomic map.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Why Weren't You in School?

     To avoid confusion right from the start, let me begin by saying that the photo shows the icicles on my uncle's birdhouse, after the freezing rain a couple of days ago.  It has nothing to do with the blog.

     Lately I have been doing some writing, with the goal of creating a memoir.  In an attempt to reboot some of my brain cells, I have been reading through the diaries that I wrote back in 1974-76, when I was teaching in a one-room school which was located in an isolated and remote part of British Columbia.  Here is an incident that brought a smile to my face.
     Darwin was one of my first graders.  He was of mixed blood, his father being a white mill worker and his mother, Hazel, the camp gossip and trouble maker, a Native American (Canadian).  Darwin was a dozy kid, a little slow off the mark, but he was a cute little guy that I liked, with big brown sleepy eyes and dark brown straight hair.
     On one particular day, Darwin attended school in the morning, but then didn't show up after lunch, for the afternoon classes.  When I shut down school for the day, and was walking back to the trailer where we lived, I saw Darwin outside playing.
      I walked up to him and asked, "Darwin, why weren't you in school this afternoon?"
     As I looked down into his big eyes, I could see the gears in the back of his head turning away, in an attempt to come up with an answer.  
     "I....," pause, "I...I had a headache."  
     This sounded like something he had heard his mother say, so with a firm voice, I countered, "You didn't have a headache, Darwin."
     Once again the gears in his head began to grind.   When his brain had generated a response, he replied,  "No, I had a stomach ache."
     I didn't want to tax Darwin's brain any further, so I just walked away shaking my head.

Monday 3 March 2014

Snow Day

     I'm sure that my Canadian readers will smile when I tell them that down here in southern Indiana, we just got three inches of snow overnight, and so all of the schools are closed.  As a kid, we used to look forward to these "Snow Days."  
     The photo above, shows where I would have been fifty-five years ago on a snow day--at the golf course with my sled, and a group of bundled up, neighborhood friends, all of us laying, bellies to the sled, streaking down the hill. 
     This was our favorite hill.  It must have shrunk over the years, because I remember it being a lot longer and steeper, as we tore down the slope headfirst, half blinded by the snow that flew up in our faces.  For extra thrills, we would veer our sleds to the right side of photo, and weave through some of the trees, at the edge of grove of pines.
     One year on a snow day, it was announced that the schools would be open for those who could come--fat chance that I would show up given a choice, so I stayed at home to sled.  The next day when school was once again open, and attendance mandatory, I was dismayed to learn that those of my friends who came to school on the snow day didn't have any classes, but got to play basketball all day in the gym.  I was so envious, and vowed to make sure I made it to school the next time we had snow and were given a choice.
     I'm sure you have figured out what happened--the next snow day, since the school buses weren't running, I rode in to school with my father, who dropped me off on his way to work.  Did I get to play basketball all day, you ask.  Not a chance--regular classes all day long!  And the same thing happened every other time I when to school on a snow day.
     It was one of the great injustices of my childhood.