Spring in the Peace

I am working with Stage North again on a restaging of the Alcan Craze for the 75th Anniversary of the Building of the Alaska Highway. It is an original play “about the impact of the construction of the Alaska Highway on the homesteaders and natives of Fort St. John in 1942.”

“Written by local playwright Deborah Butler and directed by BC Actor and Director Michael Armstrong, this play depicts the amazement and fear of the colorful characters of Fort St. John when they saw the thousands of American soldiers and the huge machinery barreling through the wilderness in a rush to build 1500 miles of road to Alaska in 8 months.” This co-production of North Peace Cultural Society and Stage North Theatre Society will have 6 performances from Sept 29 to October 7. Below are some screen shots from a History channel documentary on the buidling of the highway.

Sue Popesku, the very first person I met in FSJ and a cultural mover and shaker, is producing the play and I will be creating projections and helping with set design. Deb Butler (below: photo Alaska Highway News), the playwright and also a singer/songwriter, is updating the work for the 21st century and I am really looking forward to working with these folks on what promises to be another exciting theatrical venture!

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In addition to the play, an Alaska Highway Road Trip guide, two calendars with historical information and photographs, and a CD of original music celebrating the highway have been produced. Here is an interview with Deb about her play. Currently, I am doing research for the videos, watching documentaries on the highway construction, reading newspaper articles, and looking at historical photographs. Sue has put together five huge binders worth of material from the FSJ Museum’s collection of memorabilia. And in an interesting twist, my boss at Community Bridge is the writer of many of those 25 year old articles. She is also the daughter of the photographer who came to town in 1942 to document the construction and whose photographs are in the Museum’s collection. Truly a small world! If you’re interested, here is a bit more info about the highway.

Little did I know, when we took the photo above at Mile One of the highway in Dawson Creek back in August, that I would be involved in its 75th Anniversay celebration.

As a further development related to these celebrations, the author Lawrence Hill, writer of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal, is doing a Northern road trip of readings to support his own research into the Black American soldiers who built the highway, about whom he is writing his next novel.

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I was fortunate enough to attend his invitation-only evening reading at the home of Brian and Connie Surerus in FSJ (above) with an enthusiastic crowd of local art and history supporters, including folks I had met the other day at the Museum.

Strangely, given that it has not rained here in months, we had five days of steady rain the second week in May and with it, the environment has become significantly lusher and greener. I am amazed at how quickly things environmental change up here. Seemingly overnight, it now gets light at 4 am when Ty is driving home from night shift, and stays light well into the late evening. The trees that were bare just last week have sprung leaves and small wildflowers carpet some areas of the hillsides. Since the photo below was taken on an overcast day, it’s a bit hard to see them but tiny pink crocuses cover the hills at my friend Sandra’s place fronting the Beatton River.

I had only ever seen her place in winter with a snow cover, so it was fascinating to see it now at the beginning of spring, with so many shades of green, yellow, brown, and gold.

Here is a panorama looking from the top of her property east to the river.

And, yes, it is true that one cannot count on being snow-free until the end of May. Yesterday on May 14 I woke up to this:

A hopefully-final for this year sprinkling of snow.

Now, about a week later, the trees are even lusher, the aspens’ leaves an almost glowing brilliant yellow green. Back at Sandra’s over the sunny long weekend, we practised some vinyasa flow yoga on the platform on her grassy knoll overlooking the Beatton River – glorious. And amazingly, her dog Kaiser just sat quietly and kept us company while we were executing our up- and down-dogs.

I wanted to take more pictures of her various bodies of water, and discovered the names and purposes of each of them (they all had looked the same to me, but they are not the same). The one below is a “dug-out”:

This pond is near the front of her property and is a small man-made lake dug out for the purpose of cattle drinking. It can also be used by her grandkids as a natural swimming pool. Below you can see her home in the distance.

The one below, at the bottom of the “draw” (a small ravine), is also a dugout and is on the border between her and the neighbours’ property.

We followed the game trail down and across the hill and walked through the brush down to the water’s edge.

Sandra pointed out all the various plants and animal tracks on the way; there are many varieties of small edible plants here and lots of animals come here to drink.

Below are pockets of moose poop, found abundantly around the property, and moose tracks in the mud.

From the top of her ridge you can see a number of cycling, biking, and ATV tracks on the hills across the river. The Blizzard Cycling Club uses these trails lots, as do hikers.

The second kind of water body that rural people have is a “lagoon”. When I heard that term, I immediately thought of Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. But the northern lagoon is for sewage treatment; rather than having a septic field or tank that needs to be pumped out, here the sewage is piped into large lagoons where it takes care of itself ecologically, so to speak.

Above is the road down to Charlie Lake on the way to Miep’s studio; as you can see the lake is now completely thawed and a beautiful blue. Below is a picture of Miep’s lagoon; when I didn’t know better, I thought it was a natural swimming pool. Surrounding it are the ubiquitous, but now dead, bullrushes:

While out at the studio to work on a new painting, I was also treated to the frantic rubbings and splashings of the many frogs copulating in Miep’s lagoon.

In addition to the frisky frogs, Miep has several sled dogs, chickens (in the coop above), two pet dogs, and a greenhouse full of plants. And cows with babies across the road.

To celebrate Bright Nights in June, a month of non-stop arts events up here, the Print Artists North have put together three hand-made accordian books into which the artists have put small original prints to be given to local dignitaries. If you know my work, you will be able to recognise which ones mine are …

The print artists are also one of the many exhibits being shown in town over the summer for the annual downtown Art Walk; their display is on the walls at Whole Wheat and Honey, the town arts cafe and social hub.

In addition to being a venue for visual art, the cafe also hosts Vinyasa and Vino, yoga and wine with Candace, our yogi, and live music nights. The folks below are planning the next arts event, Lift Off, featuring the art and music of local teens.

Many of the people we have met here live on gigantic pieces of property, several hundreds of acres. Several have “sections”: a section is an area nominally one square mile (2.6 square kilometers), containing 640 acres (260 hectares). Karla, my boss at work, invited me out to her place just outside of town and showed me around her acreage fronting Fish Creek between FSJ and Charlie Lake.

She and Ed live in a hand-built log house with an enormously high cathedral ceiling and an always-burning fireplace.

Karla’s an avid gardener and is just getting her greenhouse up and running for the summer.

They also have a large root cellar for cold storage of the vegetables they grow, allowing them to be almost entirely self-sufficient.

This is the property that she grew up on as a child; now the creek is more like a lake in this area because of the beavers and their dams.

As well as a miniature horse named Dash,

Karla has a dog and a large building containing rabbits; Ed breeds two different kinds of these beasts.

Here Karla is demonstrating good northern attire: fleece, jeans, and the obligatory gum boots.

The gallery curators at the Peace Gallery North, Alan and Barry, are leaving town and Barb and her partner Brian hosted a lovely send-off potluck gathering on a beautiful long weekend evening at their place out by the airport. Poor old Ty was working nights so not able to join us – boo.

It’s definitely Spring: sandals, bare legs, and short sleeves are sported by many. Although it’s warmer, I’m still wearing my long pants and fleece, my one concession to the season being that I no longer wear my Russian cossack hat, just my little summer peaked cap. If it gets up into the high 20s, I may break out the Bermuda shorts.

Today, the last day of the May long weekend, I went hiking with the Sunday group to a fellow named Alex Shaman’s ranch property accessed from Meek’s road off the Hudson Hope road.

Eleven of us, plus one small dog with his own backpack, did the 4 hour round trip hike from the bison corrals to the bluffs along the river and back again.

The first bit was along the gravel road and then we headed off across the fields along a ridge over looking the Peace River Valley.

The small dog did well, and was lucky enough to have his owner carry him up the hills using the handle on the back of the pack.

It was quite windy on the first ridge we stopped at, and after a good look around, we headed back to a different, equally windy but more scenic spot, above the river.

On the second ridge was an outcrop of sandstone hoodoos high above the valley.

A number of our group climbed up for picture taking but not me, being afraid of heights.

Heading back, we bushwacked through a stand of fire-blackened trees from the wildfires that had blasted through here last spring.

I could still smell the charcoal, and as we walked ash from the burnt vegetation billowed up from our feet in clouds.

I saw what looked like animal corrals beneath the tree cover but these turned out to be burnt and fallen trees, lying in horizonatal stacks of charcoal.

As we rolled back to the cars, we saw the bison herd in the far distance. A great walk and fascinating to see the burnt and regenerating forest.

This week it feels like summer and the lakefront area at Beatton Park was flooded and closed because of high water and the excess rain that we had a while back.

But everything is beautifully green.

Hard to believe that not too long ago we were walking across the frozen surface of this lake.

Fish Creek Forest is now devoid of snow and ice; the only remaining hazards are mud and moose and bears …

We saw a tiny squirrel and butterfly enjoying the day, sunning themselves amid the trees and foliage.

We finished up Ty’s week off with a beer on the sunny patio of Jackfish Dundee Pub out at Charlie Lake.

And here’s one of those things that make me shake my head … a combination rifle/backbone tattoo on a young woman’s arm.

And, finally for this post, I will leave you with some photos of the animals to be found on rural property in these parts: the fox and moose below were taken by Miep on her property.

And the photos below are by Irene Gut, taken over the past months out at her property at Cecil Lake, about 40 kilometers north-east of here.

See more here.

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