Monday 20 May 2024

Wow, A Chipmunk

    While I have lived here in the Robson Valley for over forty years, I still occasionally come upon an animal that I had never before seen on our property.  That happened the other day when I was coming around the greenhouse after a walk around the pond.  My eye caught a glimpse of some small mammal scampering away.  My first thought was that it was a young squirrel, but as I stood still, the animal came back into view which allowed me to see the white stripes on it’s back, and I realized it was a chipmunk.

    I had never seen a chipmunk on our property, although I knew they lived in the area.  Once when I climbed up to the rockslide, just below the rock bluffs that are situated high on the slope above our house, I did see a chipmunk, but that was the only time.  Last year, our neighbor Glen told me he had a pair of chipmunks spend the summer around his house, so maybe the chipmunks are starting to explore life at lower elevations.

    Chipmunks only eat seeds.  While they can sometimes be spotted “eating” berries and fruit, what they are actually eating is just the seeds inside.  Chipmunks dig two meter-long burrows where they spend the winter.  They stock their burrows with about 2 liters of saved seeds that they gather.

    Yesterday, Kona spent hours of time outside, staring down and chasing some small animal, and I wonder if she too, has now discovered the chipmunk.

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Sunday 19 May 2024

A Gathering at Froese's Farm

    Rick, who I referred to as “our Jam’s roadie,” always helped us put everything away when we were done playing, is moving away.  Mark and Irene Froese held a farewell party for Rick at their farm on Friday.  I had never been out to their farm before, and while I had heard about their amazing barn from friends, I must say I was totally blown away when I saw the beautiful structure for myself.  It is certainly a show piece.

    Mark and Irene raise bison on their farm, as well as other animals.  They are also Workaway hosts.  The Workaway organization enables people from all over the world, to travel and spend time in  interesting and unique places (like McBride), working while they explore their new surroundings.  It is an inexpensive way for the mostly young people, to see the world and to experience new situations and cultures.  Over the years, workaways from all over the world, who were staying at Froeses, have come to our Jam to watch or to join us in making music.

    Froese’s fancy barn is set up to be the home for the workaways during their stay.  The photo below shows the interesting kitchen area for the workaways.  I especially liked the upper balcony-like library, with the heavy-duty fishing net to protect them from falls.  

   After the outside potluck dinner for Rick’s farewell party,  The group gathered around a campfire to continue visiting with each other, as dusk turned to night.  It was a very enjoyable gathering, and I thank Mark and Irene for putting it on.


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Saturday 18 May 2024

Moving to the "Big City": The Village of McBride

    After living in those tiny places of the Silvacan Camp and Avola, we really felt like we needed to put down some roots in a bigger community.  We had traveled through McBride several times, and were impressed with its scenic beauty, and so, after I resigned from my teaching position in Avola, we made some trips to McBride to see what kind of real estate was available.

    We found a 5 acre “hobby farm” down a dirt road for sale, and although the house wasn’t that impressive, we loved the way the land was situated between two mountain ranges, and its agricultural base.  We bought the property for the $30,000 asking price.  

    McBride with its population of about 700 people, had no stop signs or franchised stores, but had a couple of grocery stores, a couple of hardware stores, several gas stations, some restaurants, an art community, and a library, but most important, it had a lot of people our age, who held the “Back to the Land” and “counter-culture” views and values similar to ours.  It was the first place we had lived in, where this was true.  It gave us a wonderful social life.

    Reading back through my diaries, I was amazed at how often we gathered with friends, usually several times a week.  There were dinners, parties, hikes, skiing, playing music, and watching movies (once VCR video tapes came out).  The tiny Village of McBride gave us the real sense of community that we had been seeking.


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Friday 17 May 2024

Avola: The Second Largest Place We Lived In Canada

    After we lived three years in the extremely isolated Silvacan Resources Camp, we had really had enough of the sacrifices that we had had to make, and we needed a bit more freedom of movement.  I resigned my teaching job in the one-room school, and I started looking around for another teaching position.  I found one as Head Teacher, teaching in a two-room school in Avola, BC.  

    We had never been there, and I took the job over the phone, hoping it would be an okay place to live.  It was at least on a highway, so we could at least drive places, unlike the Silvacan job.  The first time we drove into Avola, we were met with threatening dark clouds and heavy rain; an indication of what our future there would be.

    Avola, wasn’t much.  The unincorporated community with a population of about 50, had a gas station, a motel, a pub, and a convenience store, but that was about all.  The school district provided us with a teacherage to live in.  There were very few people in the community that we could relate to or that shared similar values, only a retired couple with a small farm, who held the social and environmental views.  

    While we enjoyed a lot of new freedoms (being able to drive places, regular mail delivery, and television and radio reception), we found ourselves still isolated in many respects.  If we want to buy groceries (or other supplies), go to a library, or do our laundry, we had to drive an hour to Clearwater, BC, which was a larger community.

    My teaching job was horrible, with terrible kids.  In most places, the majority of kids are normal, with just a couple of “bad apples”, Avola offered the reverse.  As a result I resigned after that first year, and we looked around to find a more suitable community to live in.

  The pinkish house is the teacherage where we lived in Avola.  The log building with white windows was an old heritage school building. 

   Tomorrow:  Moving to McBride, BC


Thursday 16 May 2024

Blog Interrupted By This Special Weather Report

    I was going to blog today about Avola, BC, the second largest place we lived in after immigrating to Canada, but instead I am happily going to report that we have gotten RAIN!   The precipitation is supposed to continue for the next couple of days.

    Readers know how worrying it has been for us so far this spring, with our drought, and the extreme forest fire hazard it has caused.  Certainly the moisture we have gotten and will be getting, will lessen our fire hazard several notches, and also our worrying.

    Yesterday, I was given by the McBride Fire Department, two sprayers that attach to the outside of my house to lessen the fire danger.  I also bought three additional ones at the hardware store.  I now have to figure out where the most advantages spots are, to attach them.

    On these rainy days, everything looks so green and the sweet smell of spring intensifies.  I had planted most of my garden, and had been shocked at my soil.  It was like dust.  Hopefully now, the rain will encourage those things I had planted to grow and poke through the soil.

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Wednesday 15 May 2024

Tiny McBride is the Largest Place We've Lived, in Canada

    When we tell city folk that we live in the Village of McBride, they often wonder how we survive in such a tiny place.  I then surprise them by saying that McBride is actually the biggest place we have lived in, since immigrating to Canada.  

    We were able to immigrate in 1973, because I had taken a job teaching in a one-room school located in the wilderness of Central British Columbia.  The school was in a lumber mill and there were no roads into the camp, it was only accessible by plane, a very slow train, or the “water taxi”.   There were just a few families that lived in the camp, most of the workers flew in and out on a DC3 plane that the mill owned.

    The Silvacan Camp was the first place we lived in Canada. The photo above shows the Silvacan Camp in the lower right.  We lived there for 3 years.  There was no television reception, and only rare radio reception on some nights.  For the first year and a half, there was no store in the camp.  Because of the school schedule, we were only able to leave the camp at Christmas, Spring Break, and Summer Vacation (other than medical emergencies).  

    That first year I had no school building and had to I teach in the camp’s recreation building with it’s pool table and coke machine.  That yellowish building in the photo below was our new school building, which was moved in during my second year.

    The photo at the bottom shows the camp during our second year.  The plywood building on the right is the camp “store” that enabled us to buy some groceries.  During our first year we ate at the camp’s dining trailer.

    Tomorrow, I will show you the second place where we lived in Canada

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Tuesday 14 May 2024

Remembering the Fire Escape Chute

    For some reason, lately I have been thinking a lot about Highland School, my old elementary school.  I visualize how the interior looked, and the layout of the rooms.  The most distinct memory I have of the school was the metal fire escape chute that was attached to the side of the 1923 brick building.

     I could find no photos of the chute that was attached to Highland School, but I did find the photo above on the internet, that pretty much matches the memory I have of Highland’s fire escape.  However our chute was bit shorter and didn’t go up quite so high.

    Our fire escape chute was a very attractive temptation to us kids.  We were not allowed to play around it or try to climb around inside it, but of course, if we happened to be on the school grounds on a weekend for some reason, with no teachers around, we enjoyed trying to climb up inside the structure and slide down.

    When I was in the third grade, my classroom was on the second floor of the school building, and in our classroom was the short double doors that opened up onto the top of the chute.  Again, our teacher never allowed us to mess around or open the doors, but I can still visualize those doors, because they provoked a potential adventure in my young mind.

    Thinking back, I remember doing fire drills (as well as tornado drills and atomic bomb drills) during my stint at elementary school, but unfortunately, we never got to do any fire drills using the chute.   That would have been quite exciting.

    Below is an old photo of Highland School, as it appeared in the 1920‘s, shortly after it was built.  By the time I attended the school the landscape had changed, but the building itself looked the same.  The fire escape chute was on the left side.   After about the third year of my attendance, an addition was added on to Highland which included a new cafeteria and additional classrooms, but the old original school building continued to be used for classrooms and for the gym.

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Monday 13 May 2024

Yikes, What Does That Mean?

    Yesterday morning, we heard the “Thump, thump, thump” of a large helicopter getting ever closer to our house.  I went out to investigate, and saw the chopper come through the trees, then hover over the Fraser River, which is just below our property.  After hovering for a while, it rose, and I could see below it, dangling from a longline, a Bambi Bucket.   A Bambi Bucket is a large collapsible bucket used to collect water from a lake or river, which is then dumped on a forest fire.

    Ever since the forest fire we were evacuated from last year, our paranoia about fires has increased.  On Friday, over our mobile phones we heard the evacuation alert for Crescent Spur, the closest community west of McBride.  It is 25 miles, as the crow flies, from our property.  That fire, which was caused by a spark from the railroad, spread, jumped the Fraser River, and has burned 220 hectares (550 acres).  It is still not contained, according to the latest information from the Forest Service.

    When I saw the Bambi Bucket yesterday, I assumed that it was getting water out of the Fraser to fight the fire in Crescent Spur, but then the helicopter turned around, and flew east, instead of west.  This was very worrying, because we were not aware of any fires east of us, and the fact that it was getting water from the Fraser, close to our house, seemed to indicate that there was a fire nearby.  

    The helicopter, flying east, disappeared behind the trees, leaving us very concerned.  About fifteen minutes later, we heard the helicopter again approaching.  However, this time it was flying higher, still with the Bambi Bucket in tow.  It didn’t stop over the Fraser to fill the bucket, but continued heading west at good clip.

    I then assumed that the first time we spotted it, it was just testing the Bambi Bucket, and then once it was clear that it was working, it headed for the Crescent Spur fire.  

    Just as I was writing that last sentence, a helicopter flew by.  I went out on the balcony to see it.  It was a smaller helicopter with no bucket, probably heading to the Crescent Spur fire to check what it is doing.

    The area we live in is presently under “Extreme” Fire Danger, so I guess we have the right to be concerned and suspicious whenever we see something like a helicopter with a Bambi Bucket, picking up water in the river just below our house. 


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Sunday 12 May 2024

A Memorable Hike to the Natural Arch

        In 1977 upon moving to the Robson Valley, I was, of course, very eager to explore the wild and pristine mountain landscape that surrounded us.  Once, while traveling along Highway 16 between Dunster and McBride, a local resident pointed out the Natural Arch, that could be seen from one particular spot along the highway.  The Arch was very distant and high upon a mountain, but with careful examination, it could be seen.

        I was immediately intrigued with the stone arch and put it on my bucket list of places I wanted to explore more closely.  In my early days of discovering landscape photography, I had been very impressed with photos of some of the natural arches in the US Southwest, showing the reddish stone structures arching against the deep blue sky.  I longed to get up to the Natural Arch and take a similar photo.

        In 1990 I got a chance when I joined a group of hikers who planned a trek up to the arch.  There were eight of us that met up for the day hike.   The group was made up of members of the Ozalenka Hiking Club, with one exception:  Harry Barber, the District Manager for our Forest District.  I was surprised that he showed up for the hike, but that was no problem.

    We started up the trail at 10:00.  The trail was a fairly unrelenting grunt up the steep incline.  About 1:00 we had reached the viewpoint where we could see the Arch.  After a very grueling hike to get to a place where the Arch could be clearly seen, the Natural Arch itself was a bit of a disappointment.

        The photos that I had imagined I would take of the arch standing against a blue sky, were just not feasible, because the arch was situated across a steep valley with another steep slope behind it, and wherever I went to take a photo, instead of sky, I always just got the arch in front of the similarly colored slope which didn’t really make for a stunning picture.  The surrounding area was very steep, and so I couldn’t really get very close to the arch, it could only be viewed it from a distance.

    When everyone had had enough of viewing the arch and it was time to hike back down to the vehicles, the group split.  The females among us chose to go down we way we had come, while us guys, chose to hike further up through the snow to the ridge above the arch, then trek to the nearby “Barker Ridge Trail” and go down an old Caterpillar tractor trail that had been made during an old agricultural experiment to encourage sheep grazing the the alpine.

        As us guys began to descend downward, we left the alpine and entered the forested area of the trail.  That is when things turned horrible.  

    The steep “cat” trail was nuts. We were suddenly surrounded by an explosion of mosquitoes.  There was no way to escape them.  We just had to continue non-stop downward.  It was exhausting, my legs began to really hurt, but there was no resting; stopping meant being attacked by the unrelenting aggressive mosquitoes.  

    At one point, Harry Barber, the Forestry District Manager (and the big  boss at Forestry, who had just weeks before warned me I could lose my job if I didn’t quit my environmental activities) twisted his ankle, so he had to make his descent down the steep slope very carefully and slowly.  He could walk, but not very quickly.  He became mosquito food.  I’m afraid the torment of the seemingly thousands of mosquitoes, prompted the rest of us guys just to leave Harry to his slow and miserable descent, while we continued down as fast as we could, to escape the hungry pests.

    Once we had arrived at the parking area at 7:00, we were surprised to discover that the females had not yet gotten there.   We hung around in the mosquito-free area where the trucks were parked, relaxing from our ordeal.  Eventually, Harry made it down, and then a bit later, the group of females arrived, and we all headed home.

    Our hike to the Natural Arch had certainly been a memorable one.  I could hardly walk for the next two days because my legs ached so much from the hike.  That, coupled with the Attack of the Killer Mosquitoes, forever dampened my enthusiasm for ever returning to the Natural Arch again.

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Saturday 11 May 2024

Eventful Night

    Last night was a fairly eventful one.  I had heard about the likelihood of there being an aurora, and checked the sky around 10:00, but couldn’t really see anything, so I went to bed as normal.  I was just about to slumberland, when my mobile phone went off with an Evacuation Alert in Crescent Spur, due to an approaching forest fire.  In McBride’s extreme isolation, Crescent Spur is considered in the “neighborhood” even though it is 35 miles (56 km) away, so it didn’t really effect us.  

    At this point my sleep cycle has been interrupted, but I turned out the light anyway, to try to regain it.  I was just about there, when I got a text message from a friend up the road, who said the aurora was pretty good, so I got up, put on some clothes and went outside to see.  At our house, there really wasn’t much to see, because of a light cloud covering, but I could make out a faint bar of green light that arched up from the trees.

    I had just read an article saying that even if you couldn’t see an aurora, newer cell phones could often pick them up, so I got my cell phone out, aimed it toward the sky and took a photo.  The photo showed a pinpoint of light from the moon shining through the trees, but the rest of the photo just looked black, so I didn’t spend any more time taking photos.

    This morning I took another look at the photo and started tweaking it using the “Edit” function.  Sure enough, doing that did bring out some faint color of an aurora.  (Photo above).

    After all those interruptions, I made a third attempt to go to sleep.  This time I was successful and was snoozing peacefully until 2:00, when our landline phone rang.  Half asleep, I groped for the phone, and answered it, but there was no one on the line.  

    Since I was awake, I went down to the bathroom, then on my way back up to my room, went out on the balcony to check the sky again, but there was nothing to see but darkness.  I shuffled back to my bedroom, and fortunately, did eventually get back to sleep.

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Friday 10 May 2024

The Fish Survived

    On February 2nd, a tiny section of ice around my pond’s inflow had melted.   I looked with dismay to see the corpses of about a hundred Redside Shiners, pale white and floating on the surface.  Redside Shiners are small, minnow-sized fish (about 3 inches, 7 cm long) and the only fish I have in my pond.  When I saw the tiny corpses, I feared that I had a fish die-off caused by the lack of oxygen, due to the ice blocking oxygen from the air, while decaying aquatic plant used up all of the oxygen in the water had caused all of my fish to sufficate.  

    This fear stayed with me for months, because once all of the ice on the pond had melted, I still saw no fish swimming around, even though normally I saw myriads of them darting around in the spring.  I was left saddened every time I walked around the pond. 

    Years ago I had netted the shiners at a local lake, and introduced them into my pond, and they thrived.  There seemed to be thousands of them in the shallow water along the shore.  They attracted diving ducks and Kingfishers to my pond, which I had built to attract wildlife.  I was afraid without them, those birds would no longer come to my pond.   I started thinking about making an expedition back to the local lake to capture some more.

    Yesterday we made one of our trips up to Prince George to replenish our supplies.  As always, the hours of driving left me exhausted.  In an effort to regain normalcy, Kona and I walked around the pond.  I had pretty much given up looking for fish, accepting the fact that they had all died, when I happened to glance down into the shallow water and there I saw about 25 Redside Shiners darting and chasing each other around.   I was so happy to see them.

    Wildlife is so important to me and watching the rapid decline in worldwide wildlife populations, because of the destruction of their habitat, leaves me with an ongoing worry about their survival.   Seeing all of the dead fish in my pond in February and then not seeing any for months, made me fear the worse for my Redside Shiners.  I am so happy I was wrong.

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Wednesday 8 May 2024

HelpLine Cartoon

    The fact that the only bank in McBride is closing, has caused me to do a lot of shifting around with our money.  Inevitably, in doing so, problems arose, and the online computer “ChatLine” robots couldn’t even understand what my problems were, so that meant trying to find a human being and calling the “HelpLine”.  

    As I sat there, and sat there, and sat there, with the phone in my hand, trying not to listen to the irritating music coming from the receiver, I thought of all the other useful things I could have been doing with my time, instead of waiting and waiting for a person to talk to.  

    The “Please stay on the line, your call is important to us,” recording, repeated the message over and over again.  One would think that a big corporation with billions of dollars, who was really concerned about their customers, might invest a few more dollars to hire some additional HelpLine Personnel, so that those customers wouldn’t have to wait on the phone for 30 or 45 minutes before even getting to someone to help them with their problems.   

    I often, after so long a wait, and full of frustration, just gave up and hung up to get on with my life, but of course, I still had the problem, so later, I was on the phone again, trying to get to a human.

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Tuesday 7 May 2024

Greening Up

    Every day now there is more and more green in the valley.  The leaves are erupting from the branches and the perfume of the Cottonwood trees is noticeable whenever we go go outside.  The grass is beginning to grow in its haphazard way; getting too high in some places and just peaking through last year’s dead blades in other places.

    Some of the early flowers, like daffodils are in full bloom, while other flowering plants are yet to develop their buds.  I planted my peas a couple of weeks ago and their green sprouts are just beginning to poke through the soil.

    Spring is such a time of rapid change, with new life optimistic, and fighting for their time in the new warmth provided by the strengthening Sun.

    It's a glorious time.

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Monday 6 May 2024

Mike: A Tragic Turn of Events

    First of all let me say that none of this tale is from firsthand knowledge.  I have pieced together the story from a couple of sources and I think this is what happened.

     Immediately after our forest fire last year, everyone was very curious about how it had started.  Slowly, after filtering through all of the different speculations, this story came out.

    I didn’t know Mike very well.  I once gave him a couple of chargeable batteries for a drill, that I no longer needed.  Mike was always a very friendly guy, who raised, trained, and sold purebred German Shepards.  He and his wife lived surrounded by bush on the slopes of the mountain.  

    It seems that Mike had done some clearing and last May he decided to burn the debris.  His fire got away from him a bit, and help came to help him put it out.  Some of these people, who I think had equipment, offered to continue to help Mike, but he declined their help.

    The next day, May 5th, a strong wind came up and re-ignited some still smoldering ash on Mike’s land and the fire spread, turning into the full-blown forest fire that swept across the slopes of Teare Mountain and McBride Peak.

    I can only feel sorry for Mike.  I am sure he was personally devastated having been responsible for causing the forest fire that spooked the whole community, leaving a huge scorch on the very visible mountain slope across from McBride.  

    I seems that Mike had a heart problem and had been in the hospital in Prince George.  I am not sure whether that was before or after the fire.

    A few months after the fire, Mike’s cows had gotten out, and made their escape down to the valley bottom.  Mike, desperate to retrieve them, was running around after locating them, in an attempt to round them up.  Mike must have exerted himself too much in that attempt, and he had a heart attack and died.

    I often think of Mike when I see the scorched side of our mountain, and I feel really sorry for the unexpected bad turn his life took.  

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Sunday 5 May 2024

A Year Ago Climate Change Became Very Real

    A year ago today, I was at our Writer’s Group at the library.  At 3:00 I left, got on my bike to pedal home.  When I turned off Main Street, onto the highway, the photo above shows you what I saw.  I immediately increased the speed of my pedaling, because I was suddenly in a rush to get home.  Although still distant from the forest fire, our house is on that mountain.

    Once home, my wife and I immediately began gathering and packing our prized possessions, because we knew there was a great possibility that we have to evacuate.  We began stuffing the boxes and tubs with our important possessions into our car and pickup truck.   I periodically went out into the pasture to monitor how close the fire was coming to our house.  The threatening smoke appeared to be was behind the ridge.  (Photo below)

     We were soon visited by a member of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), who told us that we were to evacuate immediately.  We packed Kona and Lucifer into our already overloaded vehicles and drove away from our house, not knowing if it would still be there, when we returned.  We spent a couple of worrying days with friends, but fortunately the weather changed.  The wind that was blowing the fire toward our house, changed direction, and we got a heavy overnight rain that really dampened down the fire.

    When we were able to return to our house, it became evident that the path of the fire had burned upslope, and from our house, we could not see any of the burnt area caused by the fire.  

    The photo below shows a charred small cone of a tree that had fallen onto our sidewalk.  That is the scary thing about forest fires:  The wind-blown ash that blows and can land some distance from the actual fire, igniting another fire in the dry grass or dry wood.

    We were extremely lucky.   Last year’s fire was a wake-up call for our community.  I have spent a lot of time since, clearing flammable debris from around our house and buildings, and trimming the low branches off of conifer trees.  I just applied to the Fire Department to receive some of the free house sprayers that attach to the roof of the house, to further protect it from forest fires.  

    It is not that we weren’t aware of the possibility of forest fires occurring around our house, but we generally received a lot of precipitation, living in what is classified as an Inland Temperate Rain Forest and I did work 23 years for the BC Forest Service, so I was very aware of forest fires, but climate-wise, things in the Robson Valley have changed.  Our area is now suffering under a Category 5 Drought (the highest classification) and things are still unusually dry.   The snowpack on our local mountains was lower this year, than they have ever been since recordings have been kept.

    These conditions are unprecedented and scary, and I can only hope that we will be as lucky, next time something like this happens.

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Saturday 4 May 2024

Oh Great, Another Hoop to Jump Through

    We don’t have mail delivery to our house in our isolated rural community.  If we want our mail we have to drive into McBride, go to the Post Office, and get it.  Because we do this so often, the Post Mistress knows who we are, and most of the other people in our Village.  

    Yesterday when I was in town, I went to the post office, unlocked my post box and saw that there was a card in there that indicated that we had a received a parcel.  So I went to the counter, gave the card to the Post Mistress, in order to pick up the parcel.  The Post Mistress was embarrassed when she told me that Canada Post had a new rule, and that in order for me to get the parcel, I now had to show a piece of photo ID.

    She apologized for making me do it, because she has known who I was for years and years, but she now had this new rule that she had to follow.  

    I dug into to my pocket, pulled out my wallet, and got out my drivers license to show her.  She nodded her head to indicate that the new rule had been followed, then went into the back room, got our parcel and gave it to me.

    I understand the need for security in our new world where there are so many people out there trying to rip off everyone, but it sure seems stupid to have to go through this photo ID thing, when the Postal clerk already knows who I am, and has known who I was for years.

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