The ice hasn’t been long off of the lakes and ponds, and already the toads and frogs can be heard croaking and chirping as they congregate to try to attract mates. It is another optimistic sign that Spring has finally arrived at the Robson Valley. I was feeling so good about that fact and then I put this photo up on my computer screen to tweak it and noticed in the water around the toad, mosquito larvae wriggling around.
After such a long time getting to Spring, it would have been nice to have a bit of a break before the mosquitoes engulf us.
Yesterday, Joan decided to treat herself to a muffin she had purchased. She carried the muffin into the living room and set it down on one of the round cork coasters that sat there on the coffee table. Once relaxed and settled in on the couch, she reached down, picked up the muffin (and unknowingly, the coaster that inadvertently clung to it), raised it to her mouth, and took a big bite.
When she started chewing, she immediately noticed that the muffin was a lot tougher than she expected. After a few chews, she realized that she had taken a big bite out of the cork coaster, so the muffin ended up providing a bit more fibre she expected.
This morning when Skye and I did our walk around the pond, I glanced out on the water and noticed a ripple where a diving duck had gone under for some food. When it got back to the surface I saw that it was a Barrow’s Goldeneye. When the female popped up, I realized there was a pair of them. Unlike a lot of ducks, they are pretty tolerant of having people around and don’t fly off or swim to the far side. So I got to view and film what happened next.
As I watched them, I noticed that the brown-headed female lowered her head flat with the water. This behavior I had seen before in female Wood Ducks, as a precursor to mating. The male must have got the signal, because he started acting weird. He kept raising one leg out of the water as he swam around her. This interaction went on for a while, then finally the male positioned himself behind the female and mounted her, pushing her down into the water and sometimes under the water.
Once on top of the female, he grabbed the back of her head with his beak, and then it was all over. It seems like the female always gets the worst of the deal, in this case being pushed under the water and having the back of her head pulled on. Oh well, I didn’t write the script.
It always makes me feel good to see ducks and other plants and animals doing their life roles on the pond. That is why I built it, I wanted to attract wildlife and create habitat for them.
Before all the other plants start to leaf out in Spring, the mosses have their time in the sun. I noticed this tiny little clump of moss growing in the middle of my pond outflow. It looks like it has all of its reproduction structures up so it can spread it’s spores.
This smartly written novel which takes place in 1947 and World War I, tells the story of two extremely different women who join together to try to find the childhood cousin and only true friend of Charlie, the brash pregnant teenager of a moneyed cold family. Charlie sneaks away from her status-seeking mother during a stopover in Britain in route the to Switzerland in 1947 where her mother was taking Charlie for an abortion.
The long lost girlfriend Charlie seeks disappeared in France during Nazi occupation and in an earlier inquiry about the disappearance, Charlie got the address of Eve, a swearing, alcoholic, crone who worked as a spy in France for England during World War I.
Charlie hires the verbally abusive Eva and her youngish handsome helper to drive the Lagonda, an old, sleek, antique luxury car, and once they are ferried across the channel the three begin their search in France. There Charlie seeks information about her missing cousin while Eve is forced to confront the life-long demons that began to haunt her while she was spying in the same locations in France during World War I.
The novel becomes a bit of a road trip adventure with unexpected things happening at each stop. It is well written and the interesting personalities of the kept me turning pages to see what happens next, both in Eva’s World War I spying adventures, Charlie’s pregnancy and her search for her missing cousin.
The Alice Network was just the kind of historical fiction I love to read. It was smartly written, well paced, had intriguing characters, a suspenseful plot, and was well researched in the time and subjects that it told about. I was sorry when it ended, because I had enjoyed the suspenseful romp.
I’ve mentioned before that Skye, our dog, would rather be on the bed than to go outside and explore. Our previous dog, Mac, was just the opposite, he loved to be outside sniffing around, checking things out, and going for a walk. We go on walks, both away, and around the property daily, and Skye grudgingly and slowly follows behind us, instead of being out front exploring.
Luckily, Lucifer our cat is always keen and up for a walk. The other day I thought I would walk Skye around the pond. She went out as far as the pasture, then planted her butt and sat there. Lucifer, however joined me and walked around the pond with me.
By the time I had circled the pond, Skye had disappeared from her spot and had gone back into the house, but Lucifer our faithful cat was still with me.
Since this is the 20th day of April (the 4th month) it has been pegged as “4:20” Day, a day to celebrate marijuana. It all started back in California in the 1970’s when a group of high school students would meet after school at 4:20 to smoke pot. “4:20” eventually became a code word for smoking pot, and thus today’s designation.
BC has long been a hotspot for marijuana. Back when I was working for the BC Forest Service, back in the 1980‘s in the coffee room I heard this story:
A guy from McBride was holidaying in Hawaii, and one night was in a bar. He started talking to the man next to him. The man asked, “Where are you from?”
“BC,” was the reply.
“Where about in BC?” was the next question.
“Just a small village called ‘McBride’” was the answer, figuring that would be the end of the subject.
“McBride, that’s close to Longworth, isn’t it?”
While McBride is a tiny place, Longworth is microscopic in comparison. It is just a former railroad stop with nothing but a few houses.
This really surprised the guy from McBride, because, who ever heard of Longworth, except a few ( and not many locals), so he inquired, “How do you know about Longworth?”
The fellow at the bar answered the question by saying, “They grow good pot in Longworth.”
Because BC has always been such a pot-friendly place, there are many medical marijuana dispensaries in its big cities, even though the law prohibit them, and the police don’t really arrest people for smoking pot. This summer pot is going to be legalized in Canada, which I think is a really good thing because it will take it out of the hands of organized crime.
Even though I don’t use it, I know that it has beneficial medical uses, (epilepsy, glaucoma, and appetite enhancers for cancer patients, and recent statistics show that it helps stop dependency on alcohol and heroin). I know I would much rather be around someone smoking pot than someone drinking.
One last thing about 4:20; there is always a big celebratory gathering on this day in Vancouver, and this year the school districts in BC made a big mistake by unknowingly giving the kids a day off today, so the teachers can have a professional development day, so I suspect a lot of students won’t have to skip school to attend the 4:20 Day in the park.
For some unknown reason, yesterday I started thinking about my childhood and the well on my grandparents’ farm. Their well was a fascination to us kids. We were constantly being told about the danger it posed, but at the same time we were rewarded with a cold metal cup of water from it, on those hot summer days.
It was the process of getting that drink of water that was so interesting to us. There was a pulley suspended from the roofed structure that sheltered the well, and hanging from both sides of that pulley, down into the darkness of the well was a long chain, with a metal bucket on each end.
To get water, an adult would pull on one side of the chain, which lowered one of the buckets down until we could hear a splash. Then the other side of the chain was pulled, hand over hand, until the bucket of fresh cold water was raised up to the top of the brick wall that surrounded the well. The chain would be secured with a hook, so that the bucket couldn’t inadvertently fall back down into the well.
A metal cup was then dipped into the bucket of water and the fresh cold drink was given to us kids. It was just cold water, the same water that come out of my grandparents’ tap, but somehow seeing it come directly from deep in the earth and the whole process of drawing it up made that water taste really special.
While I was thinking about it yesterday, I realized what a unique experience that well had given us kids. I bet there aren’t many adults alive today who grew up in the US that had that same experience. Often we kids would get a pebble from the driveway, sneak over to the well and drop it in and wait for the delayed splash when it hit the water. The well is one of those treasured memories to me now.
The well still exists at my uncle’s place, although it has been renovated. It was made of brick, like the new version, but its shape was square instead of round. The roofed structure was more ornate and painted white instead of the more earthy look it has today.
Even though large Horseshoe Lake is now ice-free, my pond is still covered with ice. This always seems illogical to me, because I would assume that a small body of water would melt before a big one, but obviously, that is not the case.
It seems like Spring is really slow in coming this year, probably because about half of our property still has snow on it, but it is starting to disappear rapidly. In checking back I discovered that my pond melts anywhere between March 27th and April 22, so I guess this year is not that unusual.
The photo shows a pair of Mallards swimming in the little bit of open water that can be found along the edges of my pond.
One of the most important things to me when I read a novel is believability. Sometimes it happens that one incident in a novel makes me start to question its believability, and then I start seeing other dodgy things in the plot and soon I find that I have lost most of my interest in the story.
This novel takes place in Nazi Germany. It begins with two separate storylines that later join. One follows Noa, a Dutch girl who is kicked out of her home by her father when he discovers she is pregnant, after having a secret affair with a German soldier.
Alone with nowhere to go, she ends up in Germany, where, because she has strong Aryan features, is able to enter an institution set up to care for pregnant girls to produce Aryan babies for the Third Reich. Unfortunately for Noa, when her baby is born, it has dark features and is confiscated and she is forced to leave, again with nowhere to go.
She finds a job doing custodial work in a lonely train station at Darmstadt, where the train cars that are used to ferry Jews to the camps, are parked. One winter’s day, she follows a sound and discovers an abandoned boxcar full of dead and dying babies. Still personally traumatized from losing her own boy, she rescues one of the living infants from the boxcar and escapes into a snowy forest. There she struggles, baby in arms, until exhausted, she passes out and collapses.
The other plot line has to do with Astride, a Jewish German woman who was married to an SS officer, until he forced her out of their home because of fear of his job and Nazi retribution. Before her marriage she had been a trapeze artist in her family-owned circus. With nowhere to go she returns to her family’s circus wintering home, only to discover her family has disappeared without a trace.
She is offered a job as a trapeze artist by a rival circus owner who knows she is a Jew, but also knows how well she performs. It is at the circus headquarters that she meets Noa, who has been discovered in the forest with the infant. The circus owner upon seeing the found girl and child, suggests Noa be trained on the trapeze, because they needed another performer. Astrid is very opposed to this, because Noa has neither the build or past experience for the dangerous job.
It was this part of the book stretched creditably. It seemed ridiculous to me that a circus owner, finding a down-and-out woman and an infant in the woods, would immediately offer her a job as an aerialist, without even knowing if she was in good health or afraid of heights.
Noa does accept the job and challenge and is trained by skeptical Astride on the trapeze. Noa fights her fear and eventually is able to fly from her trapeze into the hands of Astrid on another. As they slowly open up about their past lives to each other, their bond grows. Both have been kicked out of secure situations in the past without warning, and both have reasons to fear the Nazis, Astrid, because she is a Jew, and Noa, because she had rescued a Jewish baby.
The circus begins its tour of Germany and Vichy France with the two women front and center in the show, which puts both of women in severe danger from Nazis and informers, but they remain faithful to the circus despite their danger. Amid those dangers there are love interests for the two women.
I found the first third of this book interesting, but after that things increasingly lost credibility for me. The antagonism between the two main characters seemed forced and out of place, and I felt they were added to sustain drama and to just lengthen the story.
In the life and death situation of Jews trying to keep a low profile in Nazi Germany, characters kept making stupid choices that endangered themselves and others. Their behavior didn’t seem rational considering the circumstances. Again, it seemed these things were just added to build suspense, which is alright in a novel, but in this case, it just seemed like there were just too many irrational acts, that I didn’t find credible.
I did stick it out to the end of the novel and although I no longer felt much connection to the characters, the epilogue did tie things together and fill in the blanks of the hard to swallow story. It wasn’t the best historical fiction I have ever read.
Even though my pond is still covered with ice, it didn’t stop these water lilies from sprouting and growing. I spotted their leaves the other day, all green and vibrant. The pond is starting to have some open water around the perimeter, but it has a way to go before it opens and we will be able to see the sunlight sparkle on the water ripples.
The waterfowl are beginning to stop in at Horseshoe Lake as they take a rest during their migration. The lake itself is still mostly frozen and so they can be found in the many pools of water that have formed from the snowmelt.
I always have a hard time figuring out what birds I am seeing so I end up taking a zoomed in photo then when I get the photo into my computer and can blow it up, I can see what it was that I saw. The large white birds in the photo above are Tundra Swans.
The photo below shows a Sandhill Crane winging its way to the lake. Some Sandhills do stay during the summer and nest in the Robson Valley.
I have always been fascinated by the power of dark colors to absorb heat. As a child I had one of those lightbulb-shaped things with a unit with little flags, inside sitting on a pin. One side of the flags were white and the other black. When you put it into sunlight, the unit would spin, powered by the difference in pressure caused by the the white and black sides of the flags.
The photo above shows a hair-like piece of lichen that blew down on the snow. Because it was black, it absorbed heat from the sun, enough heat to cause the snow around it to melt, making a hole in the snow. It’s incredible that such a tiny bit of black lichen could generate so much heat to melt a hole in the snow.
Below is a photo of a twig that did the same thing.
I can’t believe that we still have the winter snow on the ground. It is slowly melting, but there is so much more to go. This morning when Skye and I walked around the pond, on half of the trail I was walking on icy snow, and on the other half I was actually walking on grass and dirt. The icy part of the trail is very treacherous and uneven, but luckily in the morning after nighttime freezing temperatures, we can walk on top of the snow surface beside the trail which makes for easy going.
It is so good to be back home after spending two grueling days up in Prince George. On Wednesday I was sitting in a dental chair for about 4 hours and then on Thursday we had a major service done on the car, so I sat in their lounge for 6 hours, with periodic walks around the block in miserable weather with Skye, who we had taken with us. I don’t know what I would do without my iPad and a book to pass the time.
We returned home last night exhausted, and I am happy to now be back at home on my regular schedule.
We spent a lot of time waiting at the train station yesterday. Our friend Di, who came to visit with us for a few days, came on the train from Jasper on Friday, and yesterday she had to catch the train back. We took her to the station in plenty of time, under the ridiculous assumption that the train might arrive early. All during the morning Joan and Di continually checked the Via Train app, to keep track of its progress from Prince George to McBride. Amazingly enough, it seemed like it was going to be on time.
We have had enough experience with the train to know, deep down inside, that this was a ludicrous idea, but we didn’t want to take any chances. The Via train is not the priority on the tracks, freight is, so while it appears that the Via train is making good progress, eventually you see on the app that it is not moving, it is just sitting there in the middle of nowhere. Sitting. Sitting. Sitting.
And the Via app is not that reassuring either. It has two parts, a map showing the train’s location along the route, and a text that tells your where it is. Unbelievably, these two sources, which are supposed to be reporting the same thing, usually give two different locations.
As we sat at the station waiting, we visited with a few acquaintances that drifted by. We watched a huge flock of geese, there must have been a thousand of them, fly over us. We talked, I took some photos, and eventually I drove Skye, who had been waiting in the car, down to Horseshoe Lake for a walk. When I returned to the station, nothing had changed, Joan and Di were still there waiting.
Eventually we heard a train whistle west of McBride, and we all cheered. The train finally arrived, an hour or more late, it picked Di up, and proceeded east, down the track to Jasper.
Train travel is such a nice way to travel, but the fact that Via has to play second fiddle to all the enormously long freight trains, and its trips are so incorrectly recorded on the app, sure sours the whole experience for travelers.
We were honored by the presence of a moose the other day as we drove down to Horseshoe Lake. It was an unexpected treat to see the ungainly looking animal. We spotted the moose browsing on brush beside the road and we slowed to take a look. The moose stopped his eating to take a look at us, then hoofed it across the road in front of us and continued browsing on the other side of the road.
It was still there as we drove home after completing our walk. There has been a big decline in the moose population in interior of BC. Luckily, we still occasionally spot them. Although I didn’t see it, only the tracks left in the snow, we had a moose hanging around at the far end of our pond for a couple of weeks.
Our friend Di has been staying with us these last few days and we have dragged her out for our dog walks every day. Our first expedition was out on Jervis Road. As we walked down the road we passed a stand of aspens that separate the two pastures, unexpectedly to our left we noticed that the field was full of Canada Geese, I mean really full of them, there were hundreds.
The photo above shows just part of them, if you imagine expending the photo two the right about five lengths, you will get some idea of how many geese were in the field.
It was very surreal situation. All those hundreds of geese silently watched us, tense, and ready to explode into the air at the slightest unexpected movement from us. We slowly walked forward a bit, but I was afraid they would all take off, so suggested we turn around and leave them at peace.
All the lakes are still frozen, although the Fraser River is partially open. Even though Spring is slow in coming, the animals are arriving on schedule.
I always get a pissed-off when people in the art community try to make paintings mean more than what they are. Stereotypically, they are always standing around in front of a painting of a swirling conglomerate of colors, nodding their heads and stoking their chin contemplating, “What did the artist mean?” Usually when this question is thrown at the artist, they just throw it back to the questioner, “Well, what does it mean to you?” I have always suspected that there is a whole lot less meaning in a painting than is generally assumed.
I first ran into this pretension when I first entered a juried show for paintings. In 2005, I had just finished my first painting “Cabbage” and when I applied to enter it in the show I was sent a questionnaire to fill out.
What is the title of your work?
What are the dimensions of your work.
What medium was used?
Those were all valid and important questions, and I wrote down the answers on the form. Then I went on to the next question.
What does it mean?
“What does it mean???” I couldn’t believe the question, “It’s a painting of a cabbage, it doesn’t mean anything.” I can’t express how ridiculous the question seemed to me. I don’t remember what I wrote, probably that it was just an image of a cabbage.
I probably should have made up something like, “It symbolizes the development of the personality, with the solid core of beliefs tightly wrapped in the center and as the personality develops with age, experience causes older non-usable parts of the personality to break away from the core.”
I don’t really understand why a painting just can’t represent itself without making up some highfalutin BS about it.
When I did my show in Prince George last year, I entitled it “Color and Light in the Robson Valley” because I had to make it sound more academic than “Images from the Robson Valley” In the little printout done by the gallery, they wrote a whole lot of stuff about my work being transformed from digital images and all the squares I use in my painting were somehow related to digital computer stuff, which really wasn’t accurate, but they had to make the paintings somehow more than what they were.
Anyway, I hate all that pompous stuff, just take my paintings at face value--It’s just a cabbage.
Last night when I walked out of the library carrying my instruments after our jam session, I could smell wood smoke. It almost seemed like smoke from a forest fire, but I just put it off as someone’s wood stove. After packing up the truck I started driving home, and when I started down the highway between McBride and the Fraser River, I saw where the smoke was coming from. It was dark, but huge flames could be seen beyond the field near the river. There is a farm there and I figured it was the big barn burning.
I stopped along the lonely highway, I didn’t have my camera, but I had my cell phone, so I dug it out of the pocket of my padded iPad case, got out of the truck and tried to take some photos, none of them turned out very well.
As I stood there beside the truck, an acquaintance came by and stopped. As we watched the fire, she asked if I called it in. I was appalled at myself. While I had the phone in my hand, I hadn’t really thought of it as being a phone, I only thought of it as a camera. I felt a bit stupid, but even had I called in the fire when I saw it, it would have been too late. The barn was fully engulfed when I saw it, and it would have taken a while for the volunteer fire dept. to get too it.
Once I got home I told Joan about the fire as I lugged all the musical equipment into the house. When I prepared for bed I dug into my pack to get my iPad which I use to read the news before I go to sleep. To my shock, I discovered the iPad wasn’t there. I had it when I dug my phone out of the pocket of the iPad case so I knew I had it in the truck when I got out to watch the fire.
I frantically searched all around the house, but couldn’t find my iPad. I wondered if it fell out of the truck when I got out to take photos of the fire. In a panic I got into the car and drove back to the highway where I had watched the fire, hoping to spot the iPad on the edge of the road. It wasn’t there. Did someone stop and pick it up? I didn’t know.
I drove back home with a sick feeling in my gut over my missing iPad, which I really depend on. When I drove toward the carport to park the car. I saw a black rectangular shape in the snow beside the driveway. After parking, I mustered all my hope and with a flashlight walked up to where I saw the dark shape.
My iPad! It must have fallen from my pouch when I got out of the truck to unload my instruments. I was so happy to have found it.
This morning I drove out to the highway to check on where the fire was. Last night in the dark I assumed that it was the big barn that was burning, because of the huge flames, but this morning I saw that it was one of the smaller barns that had burned up. The photo below shows the building as I used to exist. I had been worried that if it was the big barn, may cows probably would have been killed, I doubt there were any animals in the smaller barn.
One of the huge benefits of seeing Spring arrive is the amount of light that we receive as the days begin to lengthen noticeably, but it is not just the amount of light that makes Spring desirable, it is also the quality of light that is special. I assume it is because the sun is higher on the horizon, and we are getting a more direct hit of it that causes this change in the brightness of the light.
After a long grey, low-light winter, having the intensity of the Sun increase, gives me more energy. I want to get out an do things, unlike in the winter when I was happy to stay inside and lounge around. It’s not just the warming of temperatures that makes me want to get outside, I think it is the quality of light.
I think I might suffer a very mild case of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) where the lack of bright light during the winter can cause a sluggish feeling or low energy. Severe cases cause depression, I don’t have that (except when I listen to the news), but it is often hard for me to get myself motivated during the winter.
This desire to get out and do things is somewhat frustrating this time of year because once I get outside there is not much for me to do. Snow still covers the ground, so I end up just walking around the pond with Skye several times a day, but I do revel in this Spring light.
A few cold mornings ago as the dog and I were walking around the pond, I noticed these tiny frost crystals that had formed on the twigs that were sticking out of the flowing water of the pond’s outflow.
This is also April Fool’s Day, but this isn’t a joke--it just doesn’t feel like Easter or look like Easter. Snow still covers the ground and the temperature this morning was -10C (14F). Today’s high temperature is supposed to be a “sweltering” -1C (30F). It looks like Winter has no intention of loosening its grip in the Robson Valley this year.