Monthly Archives: August 2010

Aug 31 – Running back to Saskatoon

OK, not really running “back” to Saskatoon but all day yesterday as I headed into town, that old favorite from The Guess Who was playing in my mind. If you want a blast from the past click here  : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY0HIXt5IME

again, more prairie

Again, more prairie

I met Cori, Peter, Aiden, Eliot, and Jacob, ( and Jazz the something/standard poodle) and they welcomed me with open arms. Eliot even gave up his bedroom so I didn’t have to sleep on a couch. Cori is a member of La Leche League and the ACL for Saskatchewan. What fun it is to be a part of an active and growing family for a few days. I arrived on the day before school started and watched in amazement as everyone got ready. Wow! What a big job the night before a new year is.  I don’t remember it being so hecktic….oh wait, yes I do. It’s all coming back to me now.

Mendel Art Gallary and Conservatory

Mendel Art Gallary and Conservatory

If you know me, you know that I don’t often head downtown in a strange city but a visit to the visitor centre and Cori’s urging, helped me understand that I could have a great day if I did, so Karma, Vincent and I set off for the Mendel Art Gallery. Saskatoon is not a hard city to find your way around and I found everything I wanted and more.

Inside the conservatory

Inside the conservatory

The art gallary was showing something called “Vista’s: Artists of the Pacific Railway.” It was landscapes created by artists who took the train into the mountains in the late 19th and early 20th century. The galleries were filled with mountains. I stood in the middle over whelmed by the grandeur of the panoramas painted by the artists, some on huge canvases, and yet I stood in the middle of the prairie. It was a little schizophrenic.  It send shivers of delight up and down my back.  Whew. Another gallery c0ntained an exhibit exploring the impact of totem poles on popular culture. That was really interesting. Some of the poles I saw last year in Alert Bay and Skidegate were there, scaled down of course.

Kinsman Park merry go round, the best loonie you will ever spend

Kinsman Park merry go round, the best loonie you will ever spend

After I saw the art gallery I walked down to the dock and caught a sight seeing boat.  Saskatoon is beautiful from the river.

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The young tour guide told me that while she is attending University in town she is staying with her aunt and uncle who are couchsurfing hosts. Cool. My contacts here were not actually couchsurfers so I didn’t meet her relatives but that is the first time I have met someone who has actually heard of couchsurfing…changing the world, one couch at a time. I was thrilled. There were very few people on the cruise so I had her basically to myself and I had fun. She has encouraged me to visit Eyebrow, Saskatchewan. OOO I want to, but not this year.

My first pelican at the Weir

My first pelican at the Weir

The Weir, a low damn across the river. Apparently the current running over it is so strong that anything caught in it's grip, can't break free. The splash in the picture is a log, banging and diving against the damn and the current. The whole time I watched it, it could not break out of the down pull and get back into the river. They seriously discourage people from being in that area.

The Weir, a low damn across the river. Apparently the current running over it is so strong that anything caught in it's grip, can't break free. The splash in the picture is a log, banging and diving against the damn and the current. The whole time I watched it, it could not break out of the down pull and get back into the river. They seriously discourage people from being in the water in that area.

Oh, you know how much I love walking across bridges. This railway/walking bridge was a must.

Oh, you know how much I love walking across bridges. This railway/walking bridge was a must.

The steps up. They are those open metal steps. I felt disoriented on the way up and really gripped the railing. It is weird being able to see through the steps. Once up, it was fine and coming down is easy.

The steps up. They are those open metal steps. I felt disoriented on the way up and really gripped the railing. It is weird being able to see through the steps. Once up, it was fine and coming down is easy.

The path beside the track.

The path beside the track.

The view

The view

The weather man called for a cloudy, cool day but it was perfect. I had a relaxing day and got back home in time to enjoy a bit of the afternoon with Cori. I was also there for the first day of school homecoming. It was fun. I will miss this rambunctious house as I head for Lefleche tomorrow to meet my cousin for the first time in maybe 20 years. Talk soon.

Aug. 28th and 29th – Vermillion

p8280024 I drove away from Vermillion this morning. It is a pretty little town, tucked into the rolling prairie on the banks for the Vermillion River.  The town was started in 1905 and named after the red mud in the river. I was staying with Howard and Carol who really made me feel welcome. The two of them have moved throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan during their years together while they raised their kids and followed work opportunities, so they have lots of stories to tell.

p8290026Yesterday we got up early, ate a hearty breakfast and piled into the truck for a good old fashioned crop tour. I haven’t done that in years and enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the truck rubber necking while the two of them spun stories of the people and places we visited.

Farm yard

Farm yard

We saw massive farms, crops and live stock and a historical cemetery set on a hill that had a spectacular view of the region. We saw coulee’s over full with water and very happy ducks. They also took me through town and told me a bit of the history of the area. It was like having my own personal tour. I enjoyed it.

While we were out there Howard explained some something that has been mystifying me for the last week or so. Although I am not really a farmer, I have lived in the country long enough to recognize ripe grain crops. I realize that is a time, just before harvest, when farmers cross their fingers and pray for good weather. The heavy grain heads, almost ripe, are fragile. A heavy rain or gust of wind can level a crop. Knowing all of this, I have wondered long and hard when I could see ripe fields filled with tire marks of a big tractors driving through methodically trying to reach all areas of the field. I wondered what would make farmers go in and drive through so close to harvest time. Howard told me that if the weather is iffy and the crops need to finish ripening in a hurry, the farmer will over spray the whole crop with Round Up. This kills the weeds in the field as well as speeds the ripening process. He said this is called “dessicating the crop.”  This year with all of the rain, the crops needed a little push and so that must be why I have been seeing tracks those tracks.

Really? That is amazing. Round Up is used to kill grass and weeds in the field before planting…and it can also be used to rush crops along. Doing a google search, it seems that people do it with pumpkins too.  Really? I had never heard of such a thing. I feel blessed to be in a situation where every day I learn something new.

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Later in the day, Carol and Howard invited family over to meet me and they fed me an amazing Alberta steak, done to perfection.  It was a great day, topped up by a walk in the Vermillion Provincial Park which surprisingly is right in town.

I left this morning after another great breakfast, heading for Saskatoon where I will be staying with a La Leche League family. The kids out here are being packed off to school tom0rrow, so I will be there for that dreaded last day of summer.   How can it be over so soon?

You can tell by looking at my pictures that my love affair with the vast skies has not dimmed in the weeks I have been here. I just keep stopping the car and pulling over for just one more shot of the clouds interacting with the big blue. It is beautiful. Wish you were here with me.

Talk soon.

Aug 26 and 27 – a perspective shift

New library/ rec centre and pool

New library/ rec centre and pool

It is late. I should be sleeping, so what else is new. I will try to keep this short. I am in Fort McMurray staying with couchsurfers Barry and Helen. I arrived in town just after lunch yesterday and, well,  Fort McMurray is not exactly what I was expecting. What was I expecting you ask? Well, think of all of the news reports that you have heard and what do you think you might find here. I had really decided to give the place a miss. I was told several times that it would be dangerous to come here alone and so I decided that I would only come if I had a solid couchsurfing connection.  I was also a little concerned that I not fall victim to perceptions that I couldn’t verify so, I took the drive and I am glad it did.

Oil Sands Discovery Centre

Oil Sands Discovery Centre

I came into town on a highway that reminded me of the 4o1. 4 lanes of steady traffic to and from town. The first thing I passed was the Oil Sands Discovery Centre so I headed in. I spent about 3 hours. The subject and displays are fascinating.  Hey, Gail, I tried to get a picture of myself with one of those big truck tires like you suggested, but my arms are not long enough, so this picture of a big truck tire beside a pick up truck tire will have to do.

p8260053Just a note: Helen says they are always looking for truck drivers here…and if I would come and take the course, I could probably drive one of those big trucks for a while. I have always wanted to drive heavy equipment.

Anyway, after that I headed into town looking for a wireless internet connection. What I found was a modern, city (approx 100,000), clean, appealingly set at the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers, and very friendly people, most of whom have come from some where else. I was surprised by the diversity of the population, people from all over the world are here. There are many people working in the oil sands but I would say that the average population is very highly educated because so many people are here either to make the oil sands project work , to study how to get the oil out more efficiently or how to make it more environmentally sound.

Home sweet home, one of the worker camps near the mining site. It doesn't look like much from the outside but I am told that there are recreation complexes and everything the workers can want while they live here. The rules for behaviour or very strict though so it might be worse than living with your parents.

Home sweet home, one of the worker camps near the mining site. It doesn't look like much from the outside but I am told that there are recreation complexes and everything the workers can want while they live here. The rules for behaviour or very strict though so it might be worse than living with your parents.

Barry and Helen both work for Syncrude, and both had very balanced views on the impact of the place. Barry said two things that really made me think.

1) the coal fired generating station that is on the Don River generates far more emissions that the total tar sands project right now (maybe not so in the past) and that it could be cleaned up massively but….it is really expensive so there is not political will to do that. The fact is that we are not willing to pay the price for clean fuel and

2)  the tar sands people are working hard at finding new technologies to clean up their acts but all of the extracted oil is then shoved into airplanes, cars and what ever. He wondered if that should be taken into the equation when measuring the damage done by the project up here. That made me stop and think. If the tar sands shut down…would there be less fuel for cars, trucks than what we now used? These days, when calculating ‘real’ costs, environmentalists say that the cost of one can of coke is something like $300 dollars because you have to measure all of the water used, the impact of growing the corn for sugar, the power source , the wages paid to workers etc. So I guess we must measure the environmental cost of a litre of tar sands oil by its eventual uses too. Hard to know where to come down on this. As an environmentalist with a long way to go in my learning, I think  my ire is directed at those who want to use up all of the oil,  ignoring the implications, before the newer and cleaner options are truly explored. Not to mention the short sighted politicians who come down…nowhere, as long as they get re-elected. (sorry Barry, I know you said so much more, and so elegantly too…but between muddled thoughts being included, my memory and the need to paraphrase to preserve space, I hope I haven’t mangled your ideas too bad.)

River side. I wanted to see tar sands in their natural element. It does smell like Oil.

River side. I wanted to see tar sands in their natural element. It does smell like Oil.

So beautiful

So beautiful

Holding a clump of tar filled sand. It made my fingers oily.

Holding a clump of tar filled sand. It made my fingers oily.

I am glad I had an opportunity to visit.  I didn’t find it dangerous and think that if I could have found a camping spot that didn’t have a worker living in it full time, camping in the area would have been great. Again I am grateful to couchsurfing for giving me another opportunity I never would have had. Are you signed up to be couchsurfing hosts yet. Try it. You never know when something new will jump into your life.

Happy 33 Anniversary Fred. Miss you.

Off to bed.

Talk soon.

Aug 25 High Prairie to Athabasca

On the beach at Canyon Creek

On the beach at Canyon Creek

Tammy and I sat and looked at maps last night. She told me that I would be passing Alberta’s biggest lake, Lesser Slave Lake, during my drive to Athabasca. I was thrilled at the idea of driving along a lake shore, trying to keep my eyes on the road and the scenery at the same time, but no, Alberta does it’s best to hide this treasure. Only a few times did I actually glimpse the blue water over the tree’s. Most of the time It was hidden from view.

Hiding the lake

Hiding the lake

I didn’t have far to drive today so I stopped along the road many times and had a great stroll along the water.

Bridge in Athabasca

Bridge in Athabasca

Athabasca is a pretty little town on the Athabasca and Tawatinaw Rivers. It sits in the river valley and along the side of a hill far enough from the any big centres that it is has everything it needs.

Allendria, my couchsurfing contact,  is a reporter for the Town and Country Newspaper.When I arrived she was on her way out the door to a community pot luck dinner for a couple of crazy guys who are canoeing across the country in a birch bark canoe that they made themselves using traditional methods. She asked me if I wanted to go along. Free food and a chance to meet some REAL adventurers.  Oh yes. I had fun.

The canoe. There are better pictures along with a description of the process on the website

The canoe. There are better pictures along with a description of the process on the website

Marc and Dan seemed totally sane but when I heard their story I had to wonder how much adventure two people could really manage. I was glad of Vincent’s dry bed and tendency to stay away from fast flowing rivers. Go to their website at www.paddleforsustainability.org to find out more.

After we ate and talked, we headed back to Allendria’s place where we set up my pull out couch bed and then we headed outside for a fire with a few friends who also work for the paper.  Around 11 we had a real thunderstorm and headed inside to write and go to bed.

Tomorrow Allendria will interview me for the paper. My adventure is feeling a little tame right at this moment but I can’t help myself, I just love to talk about it. Later on I will head to oil sands country and Fort McMurray.

I am looking forward to meeting the people I will be staying with there. I am actually giving myself a couple of days to see everything there is to see before I continue homeward.  Talk soon.

Aug 24 – and now for a commercial message

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Have you had one of these things yet? It is a cross between and apple and a plum. Can’t remember what it is called. The size of an apple but with the sweet, juiciness of a plum. Ummm. I wish I had bought more than the two that I did. Delish.  It had the feeling of something that could go horribly wrong…you know, the way peaches sometimes do, dry and hard, but these were spectacular. Well worth trying. Sorry for the commercial but I just had to tell someone.

My wake up call

My wake up call

I was awakened first thing this morning by a big purr and enthusiastic bounces on my bed. This is Indy, a 12 week old Manx kitten. She was so happy to have some one awake. She sums up my whole day yesterday, energetic and full of fun and the unexpected. (She is helping me write this, leaning over and watching the letters hit the screen…so she is my excuse for typo’s today) Yesterday I left Charlie Lake and headed into the prairie at wheat harvest time. What a great drive, sky and golden fields.

Combines come in threes out here

Combines come in threes out here

I am still amazed by the reaction that I have to the grand fields and skies that they manage out here. It is as overwhelming as the mountains.

They even make the bees bigger out her

They even make the bees bigger out here

I arrived in High Prairie and was greeted by Tammy who is in the middle of organizing the volunteers for a huge demolition derby and music event this weekend. I joined her as she ran around picking up a trailer to use as command central on the weekend and finishing up some details. Then off to pick up some amazing Chinese food and out to the High Prairie Gun Club to try out something really different for me.

Do you think that guy looks scared. Tammy says he is reliving his first shot. I am not so sure.

Do you think that guy looks scared. Tammy says he is reliving his first shot. I am not so sure.

Tammy took me trap shooting. I thought I was just going to watch, but she put a 20 gauge shot gun in my hands and stepped out of the way. Those clay birds were safe from me though. My biggest fear was that my shoulder would be lopped right out of it’s mooring. It wasn’t so bad. I didn’t even get a bruise. She said that is because the rifle fit me well.  It is true that this trip is fitting me with all kinds of new skills. It is probably also true that the safest place last night was right in front of me. It would take just a wee bit more practice for me to hit anything.

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Well, I am off. Tammy has given me a long list of places to visit between here and Athabasca so, it is likely to take me more than the two and a half hours it is supposed to take. I will be careful to watch for the signs though, and help little old bees cross the street.

Take care. Talk soon.

Aug. 23 – Liard Hotsprings

Board walk

Board walk

I’m back. I just spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday out of radio, internet and cell reach, soaking in the mineral and hot springs of Liard River 3 times a day. I feel relaxed and ready for the rest of the trip. Liard Hot Springs is different that most campgrounds I have ever been in. because it is a tad out of the way. People who stop there are on their way somewhere or back from someplace else. Very few people stay more than one night. Many people who drive the road frequently, truck drivers, construction workers and others, just pull into the day use area, pay the $5 fee and soak for 20 minutes or so before hitting the road again.

Heaven must look like this...and feel like it too. From mildly warm, to skin removing hot, somehow it is better than any bath or hot tub I have ever used. Maybe it is the constant pressence of the bears and moose. Maybe it is the friendly people. Probably it is the hot water though.

Heaven must look like this...and feel like it too. From mildly warm, to skin removing hot, somehow it is better than any bath or hot tub I have ever used. Maybe it is the constant pressence of the bears and moose. Maybe it is the friendly people. Probably it is the hot water though.

I have been testing my Big City Theory here. The theory is that if you are in a city, people are not as friendly as in small towns. When you encounter someone on the street or in an elevator, they don’t meet your eyes. That probably means they don’t want to engage you or, are unfriendly. So, here, in late afternoon all of the newbies pull in. They are just off the road and their licence plates say they are from all over North America. As they pass you, they avert their eyes. What is with that? However, after just one walk down that 700 metre board walk and a 20 minute soak, when you meet them again, they want to tell you their life story, where they come from, what brought them here and anything else that catches their fancy. It is an amazing turn around. Maybe the people on the streets of big cities just need an excuse to come out of their shells. Maybe they need a massive hot spring to ease their days.

Dragon transformations from silver

Dragon transformations from silver

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The water has an interesting smell, there must be sulpher in it, but there are other things too. I feel clean but I think the aura of egg surrounds me. My rings are playing games on my hands. My silver coloured dragon ring has been purple, golden, and blue. I remember from last year that the change does not last but the transformation is fun.It has been chilly here and I head for the pool wearing a coat and a sweat shirt. On the way back I carry the coat and watch my little heat, pinkened toes happily hitting the board walk. The water is hot. Much hotter than the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper, and it heats me through to the core. The only thing missing is a massage therapist to work those hot muscles when they come out of the water. The effect of bathing here is like having two or three glasses of wine. I feel light and floaty as I head back to the site.

Pink toes

Pink toes

This morning I got up and had one more swim. I thought I might not be fit to drive so I headed across the street to the Liard Lodge for an egg breakfast before I left. I am now in Dawson Creek at the visitor centre where I can check my email and send out a blog post. I will be in the Archie Lake campground tonight…again, no internet but I will have a phone. Tomorrow night I will be in High Prairie.

Every one is friends after a nice soak in the pool

Every one is friends after a nice soak in the pool

The water was making me feel so good that I decided that I could maybe rearrange my life again and reconsider going to the North West Territories. Today I realize that it is just not practical, so I am actually headed home. Oh, not straight home. I have a lot of stops to make and a lot of ground to cover but fall is obviously on it’s way and, my face is turned east.

Talk soon.

View after an evening dip

View after an evening dip

Aug. 19 – regret/excitment for things to come

I am sitting in library in Ft. St. John BC feeling regret. What am I doing in BC you say? Yes, me too.  I am not feeling well enough, I think, to head up that long, highway to the North West Territories. OOO so sad. I was so looking forward to finally getting back to Yellowknife and meeting the couchsurfing hosts who have invited me. Drat my body messages.

So, instead I am on the Alaska Hwy heading to the Liard Hot springs where I intend to camp til Monday and relax in that healing water until I feel like driving again. Lots of sleep, maybe some carving, painting or writing, definately some reading. When I leave it will be too late in the year to head north I think, so I will begin the long and winding road home, through northern Alberta, Saskachewan and Manitoba. I have couches booked for most of it so don’t need to rely on campgrounds.

I admit it, I am disappointed but, I am sure that this course of action opens the door to a different way to see Yellowknife. I am prepared to enjoy my camping experience though.

Update on the camera. Yeeha. It is working. Thank heavens….and you were going to get pictures but I forgot it in the care and am not going out again. It is time to go shopping and get supplies for a 4 night camping experience.

Liard Park is out of the way, no phones or internet. I will be without all of my technology and that is feeling good. I hope to be back online Monday or Tuesday depending on when I run into loose wireless, so have a great weekend. Talk soon.

PS Thanks Celeste for the treatment. I felt like getting in the car this morning.

Aug 17 – on the road again with no camera

Augh! Can I do a post without a picture. I am not sure, when people comment, it is the pictures they say they love.

Yesterday I bid a tearful goodbye to the Whitehorse crew. Christopher and Story took me to the airport and waved me off. The plane ride was great and I got lots of spectacular mountain top pictures. When I got into Edmonton, Vincent and Bettyanne greeted me enthusiastically. It was nice to be back to Bettyanne’s down to earth home and great to take her dog for a long walk along the river. Rain was predicted but the sky was blue except for a few clouds.

She lives in a  great area of Edmonton. We walked for an hour before those clouds joined forces to sprinkle on us…and then pour. By the time we got home we were wading  through rivers rushing down the streets at us. I was soaked. It had been fun and warm enough to be pleasant…until I got home and pulled my camera out of my pocket. It was drenched. My first impulse was to turn it on to see if it still worked but some intuition told me not to. I opened it up to pull out the battery and memory card. They were standing in water. I knew that it was done for. I only hoped I could get my pictures of the kids off of the card. I got some advise from friends on facebook (thanks everyone) and ended up drying it thoroughly in rice (unco0ked). I was told to leave it there for a few days before I actually tried it. So, no pictures today. No images of the four RCMP Musical ride trailers parked and open for a break and to let the breezes in to the horses. (OK, it impressed the heck out of me) None of the rolling prairie and the heavy grain almost ready for harvest or the change in the land as I came near Grande Prairie. Sigh. Oh well… at least you know that I am on the road again.

Tonight, I am in Grande Prairie with my brother’s son and his partner. What a great young couple. Funny, I have watched my kids grow to adults (always babies to me) but somehow Zach has stayed the same age that I last really saw him…a moody sixteen or seventeen. Today, he is a funny, ambitious, thoughtful, caring grown up with a really nice life. How does time do that? Honestly, it is disconcerting and wonderful at the same time. We had a great evening and I think I will stay one more night before heading out.

Talk soon.

Aug 14 Whitehorse

Blue Blue Blue

Blue Blue Blue

Wow, the Yukon has my kind of weather. Since I have been here it has been warm (not too warm) and blue skies. We have been taking walks and playing outside. It has been great.

Cohen enjoying the great outdoors.

Cohen enjoying the great outdoors.

Girl in a Barbeque box

Girl in a Barbeque box

I am enjoying my time here and it is going so fast. It is a long weekend here, they don’t get the first weekend in August but Monday is Discovery Day and so everyone is enjoying the weather and the extra time to play. I will be leaving Monday morning and headed back to Vincent in Edmonton.  It has all gone too fast. Talk soon.

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Eagles don't say "cheese" for tourists to take pictures. They won't even look.

Aug 7 – Is it me or is it just luck

Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River

Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River

Is it me or is it just luck? That is the question today. I had a great drive from Hinton to Edmonton. I stopped in a few small towns and treated Vincent to an oil change and some topped up fluids along the way so he was feeling pretty sleek. Then Karma took us on a tour of the city, unintentional I think, I missed a turn she intended me to take. When we finally arrived at Annie’s place, I was ready to just relax.

I was welcomed like an old friend by cats and dog.

I was welcomed like an old friend by cats and dog.

We had tea and muffins and later dinner and a great walk. Annie is a Reiki practitioner and is on an amazing spiritual journey.  Meeting her reminds me that we are all traveling in so many ways.

What a place to walk every day

What a place to walk every day

Annie has offered to babysit Vincent in her beautiful garden while I am in Whitehorse. That is a relief. I was worried about leaving him with strangers, and that means that I will spend another night with her when I get back to Edmonton on the 16th. That won’t be too hard to take. When I look at the people I have met, I feel so blessed…lucky even. It is true I think, that truly special people sign up to be couchsurfing hosts but I have stayed with friends and family of friends and family too. Maybe it just means that there are a heck of a lot of good people out in the wide world and I am being privileged to meet a lot of them.

Thanks to you for all of your support too. Talk soon….or on August 17th. Which ever comes first.

Foot bridge across the river. This is a really long, high, construction. Very cool. Some places take their walking paths very seriously.

Foot bridge across the river. This is a really long, high, construction. Very cool. Some places take their walking paths very seriously.