Out and About in June

Summer in FSJ: Dust Advisory

About half an hour north of here is Rose Prairie, a small homesteaders’ community where some of the people that I’ve met here grew up. 15 human members and 3 doggos from the Sunday hiking group headed out there last weekend on a beautiful warm, sunny day to explore the area.

Sandra grew up out here and it was her family’s land, now belonging to her brother, that we hiked through. Here she is unloading one of the two dogs with one of her daughters and grandkids. There are lots of new animal babies around the place, including these small cattle.

Northeast BC is oil and gas country and most of these plots of land have small pumpjacks on them; these ones still have melt water around them.

Since we were walking through private land, there were lots of wire fences to make our way through.

At the bottom right in the picture above, and below, you see Gus, a 13 year old black Miniature Schnauzer who accompanied us, a lovely little dog who reminded me of Brubin.

After we left the road, the first part of our hike was bush-wacking through the trees and underbrush down the hill towards the Beatton River from the high ridge where we began, looking for a cave that Sandra remembered from her past.

The white flowers that you see here are Saskatoons, from which many Saskatoon berries will emerge at some point. I’m hoping that someone I know is a good baker and will make some berry cobbler!

The underbrush was quite thick and it was a bit tricky to navigate, especially as we came closer to the cliff edge and it was quite steep.

We stayed back a safe distance from the edge, noting that the ground had sloughed away in places from the heavy rains this past year.

After coming close to the edge of the cliff and not finding the trail down to the cave because it was too overgrown, we headed back up and over, through the aspen trees and deadfall back to the ridge along the top of the valley.

This trail was a beautiful open scenic walk with the river below.

At this point poor old Gus had disappeared from the group; he had gotten lost in the underbrush and his human, with several others, went back to find him. (Gus was found, exhausted but otherwise ok, and those folks headed back home). The rest of us carried on down to the river, accessed by a looonnnnng trail down through more aspen trees.

Once at the bottom the valley opened up and we walked along the river’s edge, with lots of freshly deposited soft gray sand, to a shady, sandy spot beneath the trees for lunch.

It is true what “they” say about the northern mosquitoes; they are everywhere and enormous (the size of small birds!), although quite slow-moving at this time of year. Industrial applications of Deep Woods was necessary to try to keep them at bay. I keep trying my selfie shots but the optimum picture continues to elude me – I look somewhat deranged here but this was the best of the lot.

Another day, another walk: Pro Tip: when deciding to go for a walk in Northern BC, do not go into the forest – ever – without massive doses of Deep Woods. I forgot that important point when Eliza and I went walking north of town the other day. My forearms were bare and bug-spray-less when we ventured in and by the time we quickly beat our escape out again I counted 18 mosquito bites on my forearms alone – yikes!! Eliza showed me the spruce tips that she was going to make jelly with.

Fish Creek is still running very high for this time of year.

We passed by the old truck graveyard, previously seen only in the snow. Now that I’ve been doing research into the Alaska Highway building of 1942, I recognise that these vehicles are that vintage and probably came up here with the highway. However, I still don’t know what exactly they are doing in the trees here.

Across the East Bypass Road at the edge of town, Eliza showed me the path to another part of Fish Creek that I had not seen before. Here the creek is even wider as a result of several beaver dams.

As we were walking Eliza pointed out a tiny frog on the path.

June is Arts Month in FSJ: below is a report on what’s happening from the local news source.

(An artist works on a sand sculpture at Sand Sensations B.C. in Taylor back in 2013. File photo energeticcity.ca.)

As part of the North Peace Cultural Centre’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations next week, Peter Vogelaar returns to Fort St. John to create a huge sand sculpture in the centre of town. This sculpture will be 16 feet long and 10 feet tall, and will be built during the week of June 3rd – June 9th in the corner of the NPCC parking lot. Fellow sand carver Denis Kline will be doing the finishing touches on Saturday, June 10 during the Big Print Day Art Market from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

On Wednesday, June 7, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm the NPCC will be welcoming the public to come down and witness this masterpiece take shape. The event will also feature a demonstration by chainsaw carving artist Ryan Cook, who will be competing in the Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Competition the next day.

The sand sculpture is slated to be finished for the Bright Nights Gala Reception and Performance on Friday, June 9 at the NPCC.

The Big Print

In the studio folks are working on their big woodcuts for Jun 10. Here they contemplate Miep’s howling wolf.

This project has had a big learning curve for people; the scale, the logistics of carving an MDF plate, and the whole inking and printing process remains to be figured out. Below are some of the tools that Miep has been using, discovering that the large electric drill with diamond tips was better by far than the small hand woodcut tools. Since I’m sure you will be interested to see how it all turns out, I will report on these arts events in my next blog post.

Irene, Regula, and I headed south on a beautiful sunny Friday evening to Dawson Creek for the opening of the Peace-Liard Regional Arts Council’s 35th Annual Juried Show, held this year at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery. On the way, we made a quick side trip to the Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, a curved wooden trestle bridge built in 1942 that used to be part of the main Alaska Highway.

This show is open to artists who live in the Peace Liard Region – Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Fort St John, Hudson Hope, and Fort Nelson, and it travels to a different community every year. Possibly the weather helped, but the turnout was great for the opening; the event included a great spread of nibblies, live music, a welcome and drumming from Treaty 8 First Nations representatives, and awards and speeches by local sponsors.

180 or so works were included and the diversity was breathtaking. Many landscapes, as was to be expected, but also some very interesting conceptual pieces, including the one below by Mary M,

and “Something for Leonard”, below, by Barb Daley, a wonderful mixed media homage to Leonard Cohen. On a Chinese kimono base, the piece includes 8 layers of material, each of which can be lifted up to view. Each of the layers deals with a different aspect of Leonard’s life; the materials include all sorts of fabric, stitching, photography, paint, beeswax, and actual objects such as feathers and the like.

I really love everything about this piece. Other interesting works were the blue Picasso with aliens, below, and

this beautifully-done landscape oil painting by Peter Shaw,

and this very strange wizard with pipe and squirrel piece. The figure reminded me of Ty.

Now that he’s shaved off his beard, leaving only a goatee, the resemblance is not quite as striking but with the full beard – yes, definitely, Ty in a cape.

A number of awards were handed out, including major cash prizes, and I was very glad to see Barb’s work recognised as the Best Conceptual piece. In addition, a number of pieces were sold; the community really supports its artists in this part of the world.

This past sunny Sunday saw a small group of intrepid hikers and one dog make their way to Battleship Mountain, a climbing area between Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd. Leaving at 8:30 in the morning, we first went to the Bennett Dam to try and access the site, but the road over the dam was closed for repair. We then had to backtrack to Hudson’s Hope, then head for the Johnson’s Forest Service Road on the way to Chetwynd. This logging road is a 67 kilometer gravel treck from the highway into the bush, with loose rocks and lots of sand – sort of like driving through snow, especially on the corners. Luckily, we only saw three other vehicles while we were traversing it; each kicked up a huge plume of dust that blanketed everything from sight. Along the way we passed two burnt-out vehicles in a grassy clearing.

After an hour of bumping along, finally we saw the trailhead sign just past the Carbon Lake Recreational area and pulled over to park. We had left at 8:30 and it was now noon; the sign indicated that the 10 km roundtrip hike to the top would take 6 hours … I was thinking that we had started too late in the day for that. But anyway, after having loaded up our packs, we headed off into the bush for the steep climb upwards.

The route was pretty well marked but STEEP – I was worried and not sure that I could make it. But, having started, I just put one foot in front of the other and ascended, stopping every so often for a rest, my heart pounding and breathing laboured – the ol’ aerobic conditioning was not as good as it should have been for this route!

Luckily, there were few mosquitos and the trail led up through the forest so it was not too hot. Periodically, a nice stiff breeze cooled things down as well.

You can’t really get a sense of how steep the climb was from these pictures, because I could only take photos when we reached places where I was not scrambling up with my hands as well as my feet. The group was very kind to me, stopping and waiting while I recovered my breath.

After two hours of steady upward, we were rewarded with this great view of one arm of Williston Lake.

We paused here for a bit to rest and enjoy the view. I got somewhat nervous when the dog – aptly naked Bear – got too close to the edge.

Speaking of which, all of us had bear spray – I was terrified at the beginning of the route at heading into bear country wilderness but soon forgot about it – just too difficult to actually walk to think about getting eaten by bears!

From this viewpoint, I imagined that it would take not much time at all to get to the alpine lake from which the summit ascent began … wrong! First, after another quite long walk still upward through damp areas and snow, we came to what Sandra called “the swamp”, the first small body of water.

I was quite excited, thinking that our labours were at an end but it was not to be … off we trudged, again upward through water and snow, towards the unnamed lake which, since I was very tired, I began to think was an apparition, like those desert oasis mirages that ever recede into the distance.

But, after an additional hour, lo and behold – the lake!

The hill in the distance is the summit of Battleship and I was glad to hear that everyone thought we did not have enough time this day to attempt it. I would not have been able to do it.

We enjoyed our lunch of cheese, nuts, fruit, and protein bars lakeside.

Bear the dog looked pretty tired, too.

I am so glad to have met these folks and joined in on the hikes; I’m seeing a side of British Columbia that I never would have seen otherwise. And they are all really lovely people.

For more info on the Battleship Mountain hike, click here.

For more photos, click here and here.

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!

AHsongs

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.

Untitled

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.

Walking, walking, walking … and art

The last couple of weeks the weather has been beautiful: warm, sunny, and a gorgeous blue sky, sometimes dotted with cumulous clouds. I have felt like walking more, now that the weather is more conducive to being outdoors.

There are many bullrushes here, always in or near the ponds that have been created in the housing developments – I wonder why? Do they serve a particular purpose? Quien sabe?

The two blues in these two photographs above and below are among my very favourite colours, cerulean and ultramarine.

Fort St John has two cemeteries, one right in town on 100th Avenue (below), and the other at the north edge of town near the Urban Forest. Some of the trees in this cemetery have died and not been replaced. The spruce, especially, look the worse for wear, with red, dead branches.

Even with a couple of weeks of warmer weather, pockets of snow still persist and the melt-water ponds make the ground very wet and squishy.

Driving around the other day, I came across a place I did not know existed: Toboggan Hill Park on the east side of town near the high school. When I saw this relatively smooth path through the park, I was excited – a place to inline skate! But it was not to be – the path only goes through the centre of the park, not the whole way around it. Too bad.

From the hilltop there is a nice view out over the city to the west and the foot hills of the Rockies beyond. And a nice salutation on the back of this bench from one of the disaffected FSJ youth who would rather be elsewhere.

 

At the southern extremity of 100th Street is a viewpoint over the Peace River. I wonder if the person who wrote the message above also inscribed this – the writing looks similar.

Below is the view looking west.

And this one is looking east toward Alberta.

I was inspired to take pictures of the various businesses on 100th Street the other day as I was waiting for the yoga studio to open. Below is the advertisement gracing the window of one of the gyms here, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

And below the window of a German/Russian deli with a very eclectic display of artifacts, including animal skulls, Bavarian beer garden cutouts, a perpetual Christmas creche, and three ride-on model motorcycles.

Below is the Woodlawn Cemetery next to the golf course; I find it peaceful to stroll through these spaces.

Desperate for signs of spring, I have been gazing hopefully up into the trees as I cruise around the city. The aspens are budding; some have small soft grey pussy willow-like protrusions and others have longer yellowish droopy buds.

Also north of town, Kin Park has baseball diamonds, a bike track, and an outdoor fitness circuit with various machines (on the right below). The ground is still too soggy to do much other than walk around the perimeter at the moment.

Begun in 2009, the city has paved walking trails in various areas; hopefully, one of these days they will all be linked. A nice path runs around the back of the hospital and connects with the trail bordering the Eastern Bypass Road.

A farm borders the southern edge of the hospital property, with three beautiful horses resting in a field.

From the Eastern Bypass trail there is a beautiful view out over the farmers’ fields to the Beatton River and beyond. It used to be possible to drive down to the park on the river’s edge but the private property owner through whose land the road ran has closed it because park patrons continued to leave such a mess behind. Now the Beatton River Park is apparently only accessible by boat and I have no boat …

Close to Stage North’s rehearsal space is another farm, with cattle and hay bales; it’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of these beasts with the suburban houses behind.

Moo to you, too! As soon as I stopped to take a picture, the cows’ heads popped up and swiveled toward me; then, in slow motion, they all started to walk toward me … I was a bit nervous.

As I was walking a while back, I stopped a cyclist to ask about getting down to the Beatton River and she advised me to drive north then east towards Cecil Lake to access the river. I gave it a shot and the drive out that way was pretty spectacular.

The hills that just a couple of weeks ago were brown and dry are now starting to become green; the ground cover now looks like olive green velvet.

As was to be expected, given that the road runs through a river valley, it was a windy, hilly drive. It reminded me of the drive to the Okanagan along the Crowsnest Highway (although much shorter).

At the bottom of the hill, along the river bank, there are dirt access roads where ATV riders and cyclists park their vehicles. But most of the property, maybe all of it, is private, as evidenced in the many No Trespassing signs along the way.

I saw these two ducks waddling along the path north of town, looking a little bit out of place.

In the distance in the image above you can see one of the new subdivisions that have been built here in the last couple of years. Like the suburbs down south, they consist of many enormous houses with 3 and 5 car garages and parking for gigantic RVs, all of which is foreign to me, living as we have in 700 square feet for 15 years. (Some of these RVS are almost as big as our apartment). Big dramatic sky this day!

We thought that the building below might be a church way back when it was first begun; still not sure about it. But the property does have 4 garages, one of which must be for an enormous truck.

Right now Ty is on his week off and we’ve decided that we’ve got to keep on rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ through the forest. He selected a walking stick big enough for a giant for our trek through the Fish Creek Forest.

Being careful not to make the same mistake twice, we wore our big boots this time – good thing because the hillsides were still covered in snow and ice in spots where the sun does not penetrate the tree cover – a bit tricky to navigate with my very slick soles, though!

There are lots of large melt-water ponds to satisfy my latest photographic obsession – reflections! The orange-yellowish tinge of the ponds is a result of the minerals in the very hard water up here.

Lots of bright green moss is growing on the trees now.

Seeing all the fungi on the tree stumps here reminded me of collecting them as a kid in North Vancouver, where the bush at the end of our road was a treasure trove of botanical specimens for the ardent seeker.

The creek is running very high, and, in his continuing series of tips for the novice backwoodsperson, Ty advised me that, if I heard a huge rumble, I must instantly run for higher ground because it meant a flash flood was coming our way. I wasn’t too sure how I’d run for higher ground in boots that had no traction through icy, forested terrain …

I have an idea for a sculpture project that requires branches or small aspen trees, so we brought a test branch back from the forest. I mentioned to Ty that the next time we come out, we have to bring a saw so that I can cut down some of the already fallen aspen into smaller chunks … He didn’t think it was a good idea to head into a park with an saw. We shall see.

A few days have passed and we are back in the forest; even though we thought that the past few days of sun and 20 degree heat would have melted the ice and snow, we did wear our big boots.

Good thing! Parts of the forest are still snow-covered.  Areas down near the creek itself are very muddy, as Ty discovered when his gum boots sank a foot deep into the muck. This journey prompted a few more words to the wise from Forest-Ranger Ty, with respect to “the bite”; that is, never get caught in the bite.

From the Loggers’ Slang compilation: “Bite – The area around any piece of haywire which is attached to either two pieces of machinery or from a log to the machinery moving it. The sudden slack jump when the line is tighten could inflict injuries or kill a hapless logger who was standing close by.”

To expand on that: the bite is a situation in which a person could be crushed or killed in various horrible ways, due to lack of care and attention to all potential hazards near them while out and about. In this case, I had unwisely stepped in between two logs, either one of which could potentially have moved, trapping and crushing my foot. I quickly extracted said foot and nimbly clambered over these silent killers to safety.

The slide area was quite tricky to traverse, since there have been more mud slides and big trees crashing down since we were last in here.  It’s too bad because it will be too difficult to clear this area of debris and it has made the path down to the water almost impassable here.

A sign in the creek pointed out what to watch for in terms of beaver activity – we did not see any beavers, though.

However, we did see evidence of bears in the form of the tracks through one very muddy area.

I have to say that this did make me nervous, and we beat a quick retreat out, making a lot of noise as we left!

Artist Kathy Guthrie was up here last weekend for the opening of her show at the North Peace Gallery and a 2 day mixed media workshop with the Flying Colours group, held at the Gallery.

Her show, entitled Love a Memory, is a series of lens-based mixed media works focusing on her memories of her sisters and growing up in 1960s Canada.

I really like her square format works using a photo of one of her sisters as impetus for explorations of memory and disappearance. The photo is modified in various ways through layered interventions of mylar sheets, paint, ink, calligraphy and other media.

I took one day of her 2 day workshop, in which Kathy showed us how to execute Bookhand calligraphy in the morning and mixed media mylar layers in the afternoon.

I really like calligraphy but have never tried it myself. This style is relatively easy, compared with some, but needs the right tools (which, of course, I did not have). I tried to replicate it with a felt pen and construction paper, neither of which was well-suited to the job. I also tried writing on tracing paper, which worked better since the ink did not spread as much.

A few folks did have the right equipment, as well as experience in calligraphy, and their lettering was much better.

I enjoyed watching Barb’s work progress, a homage to her mom Marie-Jeanne, who appeared in the guise of a young child in a bonnet at various points in her images.

We also went next door to Kathy’s show, where she described in detail how some of the images were made.

She showed us the progress of a demo piece through various stages of paint, ink, and lettering:

And then we were let loose to try it ourselves.

We had been asked to bring black and white photographs to work with and I had some difficulty reconciling the black and white and my predilection for bright colours … I did get some ideas for future projects that I’m interested in trying, though.

Another day, another hike … Ty & I were back to Charlie Lake Provincial Park to check out the trail that we had to desert last time. This day it was drier, not as wet and muddy, but still needed the big ol’ boots to traverse.

I just can’t get enough photos of aspen trees, apparently.

Here is Ty taking a break lakeside; he’s wearing prescription safety glasses which change colour according to the available light:

I was a little worried, as usual, about the possibility of bears but there were a few other people and dogs around so no sign of any.

And, finally, for this post, I’ve become a volunteer for the Fort St John Museum; I will be working in the gift shop a few hours a week and as a tour guide.

The main building houses a number of historical exhibits and artifacts; other smaller structures on the property, a chapel, a cabin, and a homesteader’s house, among others, are only open in the summer. Volunteers have been getting them ready to open this week.

Most of the exhibits inside the main museum are of rural life in the early part of the twentieth century. The photo below, of an early northern dentist’s office, is for Barb:

The one below, of a woman who has just given birth, is for my nurse friends:

And this one, of a rural one room school house, is for all you teachers out there:

There are also a number of stuffed animals displayed, including this lynx:

And finally, finally, below is the latest creation on the painting table; I am still working on this one.

See more pictures here.

60 Seconds Or Less Video Festival

I’m very happy to announce that my film The Fire Ceremony II: Metamorphosis has been selected for the 60 Seconds or Less Video Festival in Maryland, US.

60 Seconds or Less…and now more! In addition to showcasing great works that are 60 seconds or less, this year the Festival is also screening short films that are longer than 60 seconds, but no longer than 30 minutes. The 60 Seconds or Less Video Festival embraces short-form videos in all genres. Sponsored by Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, the festival offers awards and screening opportunities for an international audience.

North and South: spring creeps in slowly

Is anyone out there a cat whisperer? I need some suggestions to help me with my old orange tomcat who plagues me nightly. I have tried Marsha’s “cat-spooning” moves with no luck and am getting tired of his mad dashes up onto the bed and onto the middle of my stomach at all hours of the night. Even though he has food and water in the bedroom, these don’t seem to interest him; neither does lifting the covers of the bedclothes so that he can come under and curl up with me interest him. All he wants is to vocalise all night long and blow bad cat breath into my face. That, and be served with cold, running water from the bathroom taps anytime anyone heads in that direction.

Here is the culprit in the morning, all tuckered out and snoozing after he has spent a hard night farting around and meowing.

 

Spring in Fort St John: dirt, dust, mud, wind, brown everywhere, dirty black patches of ice and snow not yet melted, big ponds of water on the road, flooding water, rocks on the road everywhere (used instead of salt), pickup trucks covered head to toe in dirt. The dumpster in the parking lot outside our building continues to be a source of irritation to me.

I’m like one of those nosy old ladies who peeks through the curtains at the sound of her neighbours moving around – but, it’s the sounds of people throwing bags of garbage into the bin and missing that gets to me. I’d rather not look out my window and see the garbage bin overflowing and bags of trash blowing in the wind through the complex. Ah, the joys of semi-communal living. (BTW now, about 2 weeks later, the bin has been moved to a different location and it is emptied three times a week, rather than two – my prayers were answered! Or maybe it was those photographs of overflowing garbage that I emailed to the management company …)

We woke up to a flooded garage the other day – damn! The big pile of unmelted ice that’s been hanging around the end of our building started to melt with the higher temperatures and, since we do not have a resident building manager, there’s no one to keep track of what needs to be done; in this case, to dig trenches so that the melting water flows out to the street and not into our garages. Here Ty is trying to remedy the situation with a less-than-satisfactory tool (since we do not have a shovel).

And, a design or construction flaw also hampers the water management; since the cement area between our buildings is higher than the garage floor by a few inches, the water flows down into the garage and not into the storm drain … Because the garage is also a storage area, not just a place to park the car, I was pretty upset about it and, to top it off, after I had spent four and a half hours to squeegee out our garage, water kept flowing back in through a small hole in the cement between our unit and the one next door where the absent neighbour’s garage was still full of 5 inches of water. Ty solved the problem with a bunch of sand bags which I pressed into that corner.

More signs of spring – the trees continue to bud – I am hoping for actual flowers soon!

In further art news,  Miep’s studio has aquired a new embossing-like press, handmade by a local fellow – here Charlie demonstrates the intricacies of its operation.

Some of the group attended a weekend workshop in Dawson Creek with David Langevin and were practicing his tips, still using the subject matter of spruce trees. This time, though, the colours were different than those I used when I tried this exercise back last Fall: pinks, purples, and yellows instead of golds and Indian yellows. I prefer this palette (no secret, I guess!)

I enjoyed watching Mike work on his piece; he is an oil painter and this is one of the first times that he has worked in acrylic – a master, for sure! Below you can see the progression of his landscape.

I am participating in the Flying Colours group show Points of View at the Peace Gallery North – here is the poster for it:

All the works are based on Miep’s landscape photos; the idea is that people will be able to see the variety of artists’ points of view, all beginning from the same original source starting point. Below is the piece of mine that I like best; it is a combination of digital photography, collage, and acrylic paint on wood.

And this one, unfortunately a bit out of focus: digital infrared photography and collage on wood:

Below, in the corner, are two others, both acrylic and collage on canvas, along with some other examples featuring Miep’s lovely female moose. (Since I did see one moose last Fall – at least its back end disappearing into the trees – I felt like I could include a moose or two in my paintings)

The opening was well-attended and the crowd enjoyed Charlie’s introduction to the display, as did the artists, particularly his comment that “This is a good opportunity for you to use your credit card” to the assembled masses.

Because I am a newcomer to the group, the local arts reporter for the Alaska Highway News spent a bit of time talking to me about my work and experience here; her article was published in the local paper last week. Here is the article, if you’re interested.

In other art “news”, I am working on some new landscape pieces, acrylic and collage on wood – these are in progress at the moment:

And here is the logo that I designed for Print Artists North (a group of printmakers up here who are having a series of exhibitions and a print exchange over the new few months, and the poster advertising the shows (not designed by me).

On Ty’s last set of days off, we headed out to the far side of Charlie Lake for a walk in the Provincial Park there, thinking that it was spring. For the first time since last August, I had my street shoes on and Ty had his soft-sided ordinary boots. Well, we only got about 100 feet into the trails when we realised our mistake – there was still snow and a foot deep of mud everywhere. So we gingerly backtracked, swearing to always carry our snow and mud boots in the car with us after that. No walk for us that day!

The crystal formations in the melting snow were very cool, though (literally and figuratively!)

On the lake itself remnants of the winter ice fishing season were still there in the form of charred wood patches where the fishermen had sat keeping warm while awaiting their catch.

The lake isn’t nearly as beautiful in its melted state as before with a gentle covering of pure white snow, alas.

Eliza had shown me a beautiful photo she took in one of the local parks of trees reflected in melt-water ponds; I was inspired by it to photograph reflections on my walk along the pathway north of town a week back on a sunny Sunday. One of the really nice things about the north is that it is almost always bright and very often sunny – I love that!

I think it would be very striking to blow these up room size and cover the wall with them – life size trees to walk through in one’s own home.

These photos could be from anywhere; they remind me of an art piece called Leviathan by Kelly Richardson that I saw at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver a while back. It was a huge photo/video piece taken of a Louisiana swamp displayed in a darkened room – I was very impressed by it.

Here is a photo of that piece:

You can see a short video of Leviathan here. I love her work.

We had a whirlwind Easter long weekend trip to Vancouver and quick visits with some dear friends and family. The weather mostly co-operated; some spitting rain, some dramatic cloud formations, and a bit of sun were all on the weather menu.

On a morning walk up Main Street, I took pictures of the mural art on buildings.

I am not walking as much as I am used to up here in the North, mostly because the snow and ice make it difficult in the winter (not to mention the cold). And, since Brubin died, I miss those three daily walks we used to take around the neighbourhood in Vancouver. (I miss Brubin). But I love walking around on Main Street – always something interesting to look at.

I keep trying to get in to see the shows at the Burrard Art Foundation on Broadway when I walk past, but I’m never there at the right time and it’s always closed.

Our old neighbourhood looks mostly the same, with the exception of the two gigantic towers that have gone up in the next block in our absence. They tower over our stubby little building.

One thing we did notice while walking around downtown a few times is the number of empty storefronts, more than ever. With the price of real estate and the rise in property taxes, soon there will be nothing but condos in Vancouver. Most businesses will not be able to afford to be in business anymore if this keeps up.

We stopped to take a look at one formerly ugly back alley near the waterfront which has been tranformed with a colourful coat of paint. I fear that it will take more than coats of paint, though, to make this city livable for anyone other than the rich in the not too distant future. It was lovely to see the kids playing in that alley – would love to see all the downtown alleys tranformed with art.

I really miss the greenery and flowers of the south coast, so beautiful even in the constant rain!

Of course, while we were in Vancouver we had to walk the seawall, sit on “our” wooden bench, and take a ride on the little False Creek ferries. This is the bench that we used to stop at when taking Brubin for his afternoon walk in the summers.

In the picture below it really wasn’t the liquid lunch it looks like! We were hydrating while waiting for Christine to join us for brunch.

I am now officially obsessed with reflection pictures; the bottom image is Granville Island reflected in the mirror taken from Jill’s seawall condo kitchen (essentially the reverse of the image above taken through her front window).

Leaving Vancouver, Burrard Inlet was on golden fire with the sun; the mountains are stunning from above, all snow-covered and gleaming miles into the distance.

Back in FSJ to a foot of new snow! One of the folks up here had told me that there would be 6 snowfalls between the first springlike day and when spring really arrives for good – so far we are on the 5th in the time we’ve been back since Easter! (Now, a few days later the 6th snowfall is here). Here’s the view coming into the Fort St John airport:

Since there is no greenery or flowers up here yet, Ty & I took a trip to Dunvegan Gardens, a big plant nursery up the road and spent a bit of time wandering through all their greenhouses.

The flowers are just beginning to bud and were just being brought out into the light that weekend.

For those of you who follow photographers, I’m doing an Andreas Gursky with the photos below:

Below is one of Gursky’s photos (the only difference between his and mine is that his are worth millions and mine aren’t … hahaha).

Here Ty is choosing a few small plants for our living room (which we haven’t managed to kill yet, although came close this week).

On Ty’s last set of days off, in addition to our aborted walk through Charlie Lake Provincial Park, we also set out on what I thought was a drive to a beautiful lookout point over the Peace River Valley on the road to Hudson’s Hope, only to discover to my disappointment that I’d taken a wrong turn along the way and we were heading for the Yukon on a nondescript highway journey with no beautiful views of any kind to be found. We stopped at the Shepherd’s Inn, Mile 72, for lunch before turning around. They still had those round glass coffee pots and white ceramic mugs that I have not seen since the 1970s.

All for now – See more photos here.

Quantum Dreaming selected for the Roma Cinema DOC

I’m very happy to announce that my short film Quantum Dreaming has been selected for the 2017 Roma Cinema DOC, a monthly film festival based in Italy featuring the best short films, documentaries, and web series from around the world. Every month, Judges award the best films in each category. Every winner is given the distinction of Official Finalist in the annual festival event which will take place October 2017 at Cine Detour, Via Urbana, 107, 00184 Rome.

Spring? … Maybe

Right now it’s about 10 degrees above and feels like Spring is here; however, we have been warned that, from the time when it first seems like Spring, there will be 6 snowfalls until Spring actually and completely arrives. It’s definitely thawing, though; the snow is melting, huge ponds are forming everywhere, mud is proliferating, and dust is blowing – freshet!

Here are a couple of photos from the beginning of March when it was still deepest winter; snow on the ground and cold with the wind chill factor.

On Ty’s week off we headed out to Charlie Lake again, to take one last walk on the still-frozen, beautiful white snow-surfaced lake. On our way down to the water we saw the tracks of a snowshoe hare being chased by a predator of some kind – fox? cougar? quien sabe?

Once again, as before, we were the only ones out there; the sound of us marching along breaking through the icy crust started to worry me as I wondered whether the ice was thin enough for us to break through into the icy cold water below.

We survived the walk, although Ty was quite bushed and had to have a little rest … haha.

We have been very busy at the studio this month; several shows are upcoming in this area for the Flying Colours Artist Association and everyone was trying to get work finished for display.

Mary did a couple of classes on linocut with stencils and brought in an abundance of beautiful coloured stencils, papers, and other odds and ends to make prints with.

A really fascinating thing we participated in on March 3 was the annual Rod and Gun Club Fundraising Dinner and Auction. This was an experience totally out of my usual sphere and much of it made me feel quite queasy.

Where the art gallery auction had only taken up half the Pomeroy Hotel ballroom, the Rod and Gun Club took up the entire space, with a huge amount of stuff related to the catching and killing of animals: a silent auction, a regular auction, bucket draws, door prizes … And I must say, the buffet dinner was expansive and excellent.

Lots of guns, including junior rifle sets for the kids; butchering equipment, shooting tables, big boys toys for chasing and transporting game, clothing, guiding packages, and the like. Also, art work by members of the Flying Colours.

Below, a volunteer is holding one of Sandy’s donated paintings aloft for bidding. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of money being spent; the bids on everything were huge – they must have raised tens of thousands of dollars, maybe a hundred thousand dollars, putting the art auction haul to shame. It’s too bad that folks can’t get as exited about art work as they do about guns and animal hunts … Charlie told us that Fort St John has the highest number of millionaires per capita in BC and perhaps in all of Canada, 4.75 per 100 people – who knew?

Somewhere around the first week of March the days became longer quite abruptly. Rather than getting light at 9:30 am, it now gets light around 6.

While it was still cold, Ty had to wear two hats rather than just one. Here he puts his woolen touque over his BC Hydro camoflague cap.

Here I am at Fish Creek Urban Forest, the last time I wore my snow suit. I have to say that I am pretty happy not to have to wear the ol’ snow suit again this year!

Irene Gut, below, is an encaustic artist who was preparing some pieces for inclusion in the North Peace Gallery’s Points of View show coming up in a week.

She uses a small iron to paint with, rubbing tiny chunks of coloured beeswax onto its surface, then runnning the iron over a smooth plasticised paper to create her works.

The coloured chunks of wax look like candies.

I have not made prints for quite a few years but I got inspired by Mary’s demos to make a mixed-media linocut for the print exchange on the theme of Our Home and Native Land. Ten artists are participating and the show is travelling around to several galleries in the Peace region of BC and Alberta. At the end, we will each get a portfolio of 10 works from the other participating artists.

I made a linocut of flowers, printed on origami paper collaged onto a collograph support, in progress above.

Carolyn is hard at work on her moose painting for the Points of View show, based on Miep’s wildlife photography, opening at the North Peace Gallery next Friday night. This moose, inspired by one of Miep’s photos, appears in quite a few works to be displayed.

We still walk along the trail north of town; just recently these condo buildings have risen from the dirt; they follow on the same design as the one we occupy; however, they are selling for considerably less than ours was going for a year ago. Such is the economy here, very dependent on the fortunes of oil and gas.

Another day, another art work … Here are a couple of my works in progress; above linocuts on origami paper and below, digital images collaged onto wooden cradle boxes.

The piece below isn’t finished yet but so far it is textured acrylic paint and collage on wood, featuring endangered birds of the Peace region and Miep’s Canada Goose photo, made small and colour-manipulated.

My home workspace is getting more and more crowded; somehow, things always seem to get out of my control and proliferate – will have to have a purge one of these days. But putting the card table in was an excellent idea so now I can work on pieces while standing – I get very tired of so much sitting!

Ty and I took a walk last weekend out along the Eastern Bypass Trail, its concrete length mercifully free of most snow and ice. My hiking boots, very warm for the dead of winter, unfortunately have very slippery soles so I have to tread extremely carefully on the still-remaining slick pockets of snow and ice.

Sandra, freshly arrived home from a month in Australia, invited me to come with her and some friends out for a hike to the Hudson’s Hope steam vents west of Fort St John. We set off about 8 in the morning for the 2 hour trip up into the Rocky Mountain foothills past Hudson’s Hope on a beautiful sunny and relatively balmy day.

On the way out we stopped at a rest area to take some photos of the Peace River Valley, soon to be inundated by the Site C dam. Fog was lying low across the river; before coming here, I had no idea that rivers could be foggy. We stopped somewhere along the way to pick up Sandra’s friend Debra, who lives with her husband in a large wooden-beamed cabin and riverside acreage far from the madding crowd. Ross hunts and collects antlers, into which he will be carving various scenes.

Along with their main house, Debra and Ross also have a wooden cabin, currently occupied by a friend and her dog.

Our route took us up past the WAC Bennett dam, seen below (this dam created one of the largest lakes in BC, Williston, the expanse of white in the middle of the image below) and onto a logging road up the mountain.

After pulling over to the side of the road, we strapped on snowshoes, just in case we needed them on the way back if the snow had melted too much to hike the trail.

The valley is beautiful and it was very nice to see some mountains once again.

The trail to the steam vents is marked in spots, although I’m not sure I would have been able to find it on my own. Much larger coniferous trees occupy this area, along with some larger aspen.

A covering of about 4 inches of snow still obscured the trail, making it quite slippery to traverse in spots; below Dora is navigating down a muddy trench.

One we emerged from the forested area, the land dropped off to the Peace River canyon. The ground was quite green, with a variety of green, orange, and yellow mosses and small groundcover.

To get down to the steam vents requires picking one’s way along a steep, narrow track that hairpins down the hillside. I made my way very carefully in my heavy boots, putting one hand on the hillside for support. I definitely did not want to trip over my feet and roll down over the cliff!

In 1793 before settlers reached the Hudson’s Hope area, Alexander Mackenzie explored the Peace River and described this geothermal area with its ever-emitting steam coming from burning underground coal seams in his journals. These steam vents reminded me of the Chimera ever-burning hilltop flames that we visited in Olympos, Turkey.

The two doggies who accompanied the group plagued us for food, always on the lookout for any dropped morsel. I was a bit worried that one of them would go over the edge in their excitement but luckily that did not happen.

The view was spectacular!

I’m not sure how long the hike is; it took us about 2 hours to hike in and a bit longer to hike out again. I was very tired after about an hour of the trip back and struggled a bit with my heavy pack and heavy boots, each one feeling like it added ten pounds to my feet. Sandra and Debra very kindly helped me out by carrying my pack and snowshoes for the last little bit. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and collapsed on the couch almost senseless. But what a great day it was!

Below is an example of some of the media things I am doing for Community Bridge, a wooden plaque with a collage thanking one of our sponsors for their support of our 2016 Haunted House. I have created four of these plaques so far – fun.

Here’s another (not very good) photo of what the plaques look like:

See more photos here.

January snow and sun

As some of you know, I was down in Vancouver in January and it seemed that I brought the northern winter with me! It was sunny, cold, and icy for much of the time but was it ever beautiful! After being up north for six months in a landscape that is somewhat barren, although beautiful in its own way, everything about Vancouver seemed gorgeous: the trees, the mountains, the plants, the people, the architecture … I think I must have been starved for aesthetic experiences!

Especially the snow-covered mountains – I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.

Here’s a mural message that hits home on a building at Main and 10th: the Present is a Gift. After a very stressful January, that really resonates for me!

I was happy to be able to connect with some of my dear friends while I was there – these two cuties:

And these three:

Others I don’t have any pictures of, but it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

I signed up for an introductory month of yoga at the YYoga studio in Kits and captured this fabulous end of day burst of golden glory after class one day.

Even just walking around Granville Island, which I’ve spent so much time on over the years, was like something new and wonderful after having been away.

While out walking I stopped in the middle of intersections to take yet more pictures of those fabulous mountains.

Ty & I caught the Collectors show at the Vancouver Museum, a display of the wild and wacky stuff that some people are compelled to accumulate – made me feel like not so much of a hoarder!

If I think about the psychology of collecting curiosities, it seems partly linked with acquisition and consumption; finding something “other”, alien, or exotic fascinating and wanting to absorb it into one’s own psychological or physical environment. Placing such an object in a collection or curiosity cabinet immobilises it, but also leaves it accessible to scrutiny or wondering about or appreciating (in that old sense of art or music “appreciation”). It may be that collecting objects is a way of filling a gap or fulfilling a lack … It is true that the historical curiosity cabinets or Wunderkammer did focus on the exotic and unfamiliar, at a time when everything seemed to be available for gathering and containing.

Back in 2009 when Ty & I were on Libong island in the Andaman Sea south of Trang, Thailand, I gathered up quite a lot of shells from the beach one night, making sure that they were empty. I put them on our deck, lined up in order of size – I was going to do a painting of them. The next morning, I was quite disappointed that several of them were gone and I thought that someone had come by in the night and taken them away. Later that morning I saw the line of missing shells, not empty as it happened but occupied by hermit crabs, making their stately way back to the beach – the flow of the marvellous is all around us.

I was happy to have been able to participate in the Vancouver Women’s March while I was there, a large and lively gathering of folks from all walks of life. After having been passed by while standing at the bus stop to go downtown to the march by several packed-to-the-rafters buses, one finally stopped for us – it was absolutely full of pink-hatted protestors heading to the march. I felt a bit underdressed without a pink pussyhat.

We all gathered at the Olympic Plaza waterfront and, after waiting for quite a while, headed off for the Trump Tower on Georgia.

I loved the sign below, a riff on the now-famous Baroque painting of Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

I knew my friend Beatrice had also gone to the march, but hadn’t seen her there. When I downloaded my photos, there she was in the middle of the picture below.

Before heading back up to the frozen north, Ty and I took the opportunity of relaxing and decompressing in Puerto Vallarta for a quick, much too short, hit of sun and warmth. Since we went at the absolute last moment without having planned anything, we weren’t able to find any suitable accommodation to book on line. So we hit the road and just walked in to several hotels in old town, where, on our third try, we found a great room on the top floor of the Posada Lily with a wrap around balcony. A great location at the epicentre of old town at the corner of Basilio Badillo and Olas Altas, the Lily is half a block from the beach and across the street from a coffee shop with great java – perfect!

Here Ty is enjoying his morning coffee on our balcony facing out over the city and watching the sun rise over the hills behind – beautiful!

We had a very low-key and relaxing time, mosieing (sp?) along the malecon

sipping cervesas and margaritas (pro tip: for a killer margarita, try the Redneck Bar at the north end of the malecon – deadly).

Some evenings saw us strolling along the beach, taking in the light show from the pier and all the sights and sounds of merry-making in the Zona Romantica.

One of our favourite places is the Isla Cuale, a green oasis of quiet, at least at the eastern end where the city cultural centre is located, and the Las Brazzas bar. This place is never busy; I really don’t know how they stay in business, but is a very pleasant place to rest on a hot day.

Behind one of the small galleries here a paper mache sculpture of the Donald as a giant pig was strung up to a lamp post.

We enjoy seeing the wares of local artists on display on the Isla; this woman is a watercolour painter specialising in images of black cats in compromising situations. We commisioned her to do a special orange cat for a dear friend.

Of course, we had to take in the South Side Shuffle, the every second Friday extravaganza of art and music in Old Town just down the road from the Posada Lily.

We had a nice chat with Nathalie, the fabulous proprietor of Art Vallarta, and her helper Michael, a performance artist, at their pop-up gallery in what used to be the ceramic studio of Patricia Gawle.

Nathalie is a great supporter of local artists and does a tremendous amount for the arts in Vallarta. In addition to the pop-up gallery and the Art Vallarta studio and gallery, another of her initiatives this year was a house installation of Tony Collantez’ work, an incredible collection of works on canvas and murals in a dizzying array of styles.

We took in the Tuesday hike from Boca to Las Animas organised by Calgarian Doug, along with about 35 other people who packed the bus heading south to the trailhead.

Some folks like to do this hike at super-speed; others, like us, at a more leisurely pace. After the first half hour, the crowd thinned out and spread out along the route.

While we were hiking the day was slightly overcast, which made the walk a bit more pleasant than doing it in the blazing sun.

Since I was now familiar with the route, it did not seem as onerous as the first few times I walked it.

Here Ty is happy that after two hours the end is in sight!

We enjoyed a great lunch at the usual spot, the Caracol restaurant, with the rest of the crew.

A surprise addition to the day was a late afternoon baseball game with the locals at Quimixto, the next village south along the bay where the folks from the restaurant live. Some of the hikers had brought down and donated baseball equipment to the village, including uniforms, bats, balls, and gloves, and had challenged the locals to a game. After lunch and a rest on the beach we all piled back into a panga and headed south for the 15 minute ride to the village.

The game took place at the elementary school field, an expanse of dirt with a view of the ocean.

Before the game proper got going, Ty played a bit of ball with the kids.

Since at this point there were about 30 people for “our” side, not all of us played; I sat it out and Ty played for the local team instead.

While it was a casual, pickup game, all of a sudden when things got going, the Canadians got quite competitive, practicing their most blazing throws in the late afternoon sun. Unfortunately, while everyone could throw pretty well, no one seemed to be able to catch …

All the local guys were heavy hitters, belting the ball into the far distance where our team scrambled without much success to catch and throw it back in.

After a few foul balls, Ty blasted one out to left field and got on base.

Even though we lost 12 to 1, the team were good sports, buying the happy winners a beer before we hopped back on the boat for the return journey to town.

By this time, it was early evening and the sun was setting, not the most optimum time to be on the water without lights or life vests …

We were luck enough to see two humpback whales frolicing on the way back.

I also had the opportunity to plein air paint with Angie, an artist from Penticton who spends much of the winter in PV.

Angie and her husband Rob have a place in old town, and Angie now has her own studio on the main floor of the building where she can paint and display her work.

We also enjoyed spending some time with friends Beatrice and Bev, in town for a few weeks from Vancouver.

One of the most fun things to do in the evening in high season PV is the Wednesday Night Centro Art Walk. Here are a few tidbits of artistic goodies that we saw:

This little guy reminded me of our beautiful departed dog Brubin:

Beatrice taking notes:

See more PV photos here.

One thing I have had reinforced this winter is that we must savour every moment and be thankful and grateful for good friends and family. Carpe diem everyone!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! Although winter only began Dec 22 or so, we have been in the depths of it since the first snow here on Sept 30. A white Christmas and New Year’s Eve here in FSJ! I have had enough snowy landscape to last me a lifetime!

Finally, it looks like the condo building just behind us in the Hudson development (FSJ’s second underground parking is its claim to fame) is just about finished – the men, trucks, and machines that have crawled over this bit of ground since we’ve been here have slowly disappeared, leaving a few trailers and metal fences behind.

Behold Ty’s Hydro truck plugged in; when the mercury dipped to -32 the electrical cord was deployed to the outlet outside our front door.

You can just see the end of the cord glowing faintly in the dark – this picture was taken at about 9:20 am one morning.

The Flying Colours Artists Association had a lovely Christmas potluck out at the Charlie Lake studio, complete with hot apple cider and baked salmon.

And art-making, including this beautiful landscape linocut by Mike:

And this painting of the surrounding fields by Sandy:

Here is a view of our neck of the woods from a slight hilly rise one evening on a walk:

I have been working on a small landscape painting for a while now; usually I am very impatient and end up creating something that I’m not very happy with but I have been picking away at this piece for a few minutes a day for a while now (and it is not finished yet).

Below are two of my digital images that were the original source material for the painting; they began as infrared photos of Charlie Lake, which I then manipulated, mutating the colour and adding ghost trees from Angkor Thom.

We have been enjoying Ty’s week off, taking advantage of the good weather to walk many places around the area. Christmas Day saw us heading out to Beatton Park and the frozen Charlie Lake.

On the way we pass the Wuthridge Quarry, one of Ty’s work sites.

We wanted to take a look at the toboganning site but no one was there when we arrived.

The lake has been frozen for months, and now the ice is deep enough for people to venture onto it. Although evidence of snow mobiles cutting across the ice was there in the form of tracks heading off to the horizon,

we were the only ones on the lake this day.

Snow to a depth of about a foot covers the lake and neither of us was light enough to glide over the surface without breaking through the crust of snow, making the walk a bit of a slog.

We finally made it to a place with a break in the trees and steps up to the road from which we could return to the park.

Since Ty unexpectedly was given Christmas Day off, he was able to join us at Eliza and Edward’s place for a wonderful dinner and celebration, with handmake Christmas crackers and flaming pudding.

On Boxing Day we saw our first moose; it was racing across the field near the College and dipped into the woods as I was trying to take some pictures of it.

Unfortunately, all you can see is its out-of-focus back end disappearing into the trees.

Although we thought that we had purchased enough cold weather gear for the season, Ty needed another pair of snow pants and a balaclava for those times when the extreme cold snow suit is just a bit too warm. Here I am wearing the balaclava for our walk in Fish Creek Urban Forest.

The creek is frozen so we walked along it, enjoying the sound of snow crunching and the small trickle of water running through frozen channels.

One evening we drove around town checking out all the Christmas lights.

This place, on 244th St on the ridge north of the city, is FSJ’s best-decorated house:

Rolling around the circular driveway reminded me of our visits to the Christmas train in Stanley Park.

Yesterday we walked the solar system with Venus, heading into the woods north west of the city.

Ty regaled me with advice about how to avoid “widowmakers”, as in the photo below, those precariously-perched dead trees which can come down unexpectedly, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to camp  beneath one, killing you while you sleep, or, if you’ve stopped under one, killing you while you gaze around oblivious to the danger.

To make his point, he kicked one such tree, bringing it down across the trail, while at the same time one of its branches sprang back and hit him in the forehead, leaving him with a small bloody contusion – point made!

We passed by an old International truck graveyard, with several rusted snow-covered 1940s and 50s vehicles abandoned among the trees.

Ty encouraged me to execute a snow angel – I obliged.

And I will leave you with a few photos of creativity in action to see out 2016!

Here is another painting I’ve started – who knows what it will evolve into:

Happy New Year, one and all!

And, now having experienced a real cold winter, a piece from the New Yorker mag – I can relate:

PREWRITTEN EXCUSES FOR CANCELLING PLANS THIS WINTER

“Sorry, I can’t attend your _____ because my glasses will fog up when I enter and I won’t be able to see and, for a few seconds, I’ll look like a big loser who doesn’t have any friends, until I use my finger as a mini windshield wiper. Then my glasses will be smudgy for the rest of the night, and I really can’t have that. You understand.

I can’t make it out tonight because my face is so cold that I can no longer tell whether or not I have snot dripping from my nose. Oh wait, I just touched my glove to my upper-lip area and, yes—snot. I have to go right home to think about how gross I am for the rest of the night.

I don’t think I can go to your _____ because the invitation indicated that the dress code was “festive,” so I’ll be expected to take off my new coat. I can’t. It’s a very nice down alternative and it is my only protection against the frozen horrors of the world.

I must skip your _____. My lips are so chapped that I look like one of those creepy little kids with permanent fruit-punch lip. Instead of going out, I must get into bed and apply Chapstick for a full hour.

I know I checked “going” on the Facebook invite you sent out for your _____, but I was under nine blankets in bed when I did that. Unfortunately, I just went down the block to buy toilet paper, and I must revise my R.S.V.P. to “absolutely no way in hell.”

I can’t go to your _____ tonight because I have crippling seasonal depression. I know that if I left the house, I’d likely feel a little less depressed, but what if I went through the whole hassle of pulling my jeans over my long johns, trying to tame my crazy hair-static, and schlepping all the way to Bushwick to see you, and then I didn’t feel better? I would resent you, and I don’t know if our friendship could take that strain. So, in order to be a good friend, I can’t see you tonight.

I know it’s your birthday, but I don’t care. It’s your own damn fault for being born in the middle of winter. Celebrate your birthday in October like a responsible human being.

I’m going to have to reschedule our _____ unless you’re willing to come to my home, and won’t make me change into something nicer than the four layers of Uniqlo Heattech long underwear I have on now. I promise that if you come here this time, I’ll go to you next time.

I know I promised that this time I would make the trek to your place for _____, but I lied. I’m not doing that.

New plan: let’s all just order Indian food by ourselves and Gchat each other from bed until it’s April. Cool? Cool.”

More pics here.

Snow, Trees, and Art

This just in:

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It does not get light here until 9 am and this little part of the world does not do Daylight Savings Time; the time never changes here in FSJ.

At its highest point this time of year, the sun does not come very far above the horizon, meaning that the shadows are always long, even at noon or 1 in the afternoon. That makes for good picture taking! Downside: we only get 7.5 hours of sunlight at this time of year; it gets dark at around 4:30 pm; upside: it’s often sunny.

When the sun is out, and it’s -17 (as recorded by my car’s dashboard), and the trees are covered in hoar frost and snow, the landscape is absolutely stunning.

I stop my car every second block and take pictures of the trees – I have never seen anything like it before. In the morning just as the sun was rising, the trees were gilded pink and purple.

I thought -17 was cold … and it is … but it’s going down to -31 in the next couple of days. This wonderful news gave me the incentive to empty, put away, and clear out our garage of all the still-packed boxes that we haven’t bothered to open since we got here. One of the reasons we decided to rent this place was because of its tandem garage, a garage that takes two vehicles in a row (those of you who saw Ty’s video of this place before we moved in will remember his joy about the garage …). Since it will be so cold, Ty’s truck can’t be parked on the road anymore; it needs to be plugged in if it sits outside overnight. So, now we have room enough in the garage for both vehicles.

The parking spots here are enormous, seemingly twice as big as the ones down south, making it much easier to park the ol’ car. This is because the big truck is king in this part of the world. (My friend Sandy told me that the truck is the sports car of the north). Amazingly, though, some people still manage to take up two spots when they park … (There actually is a Facebook page called “I live in Fort St John and I park like an a**hole” devoted to images of such parking jobs). Also, when the temperature goes down to -17 or below, people leave their vehicles running while they go about their business, some with dogs inside – coming from a “no idle” city, I have not gotten used to this practice – still find it disconcerting.

Eliza and I hiked through Beatton Park the other day on the snowshoe trails. These trails are maintained by the FSJ cycling club and the Whiskey Jack ski club, both very active in this area. We spent about two hours walking through the forested area and noticing how the vegetation changed from aspens to birch to spruce trees depending on the elevation and amount of light.

Eliza also pointed out strange bruises or craterous indentations in some of the trees; these were the marks left by moose eating chunks of the trees.

We also saw evidence of woodpecker holes in many of the trees. Apparently there are also snowshoe hares in these woods, although we did not see any this day. (Miep has seen moose up close on her acreage near the park – apparently they are enormous beasts).

Charlie Lake is frozen and covered with snow and its flat white surface is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not yet frozen deep enough to skate on but will be soon.

A friend from yoga invited me over to her place for lunch and a walk in the country near the FSJ airport. Sandra’s property is huge and fronts the Beatton River – on a sunny afternoon it was absolutely gorgeous.

Christmas time is busy in this part of the world with many craft and artisan markets. I took in three of them the other day, at the North Peace Cultural Centre, The Peace Gallery North, and 10,000 Villages above the MAC Thrift store. Lots of soap makers, wood workers, jewelers, bakers, clothing makers, and artists had their work out for display and sale for a bustling holiday crowd. I felt a bit sorry for the people whose booths were upstairs at the Cultural Centre, especially the soap vendor near the back, because most folks did not venture up the stairs.

Patrick, Ty & I took in the Canadian Country Christmas show at the Lido Theatre. Originally the town’s movie theatre, the Lido has been converted into a dinner theatre and show space with booths and tables on a tiered base.

We had seats right down close to the action, but on the side so we did not get blasted by the music speakers. Country legends (none of whom I knew, not being a country music afficionado) and a couple of local talents serenaded the sold out crowd with western music on a mightily cold – 23 night.

Sandy & I headed out to Dawson Creek for the second day of Sandy’s 2 day workshop of tree portraits a la David Langevin. We stayed overnight in Dawson with Mary and Charlie in their delightful wooden cabin-like house on 10 acres overlooking the city, a house filled with art and warmth.

Almost everyone we’ve met here has a house whose wall are covered with art – it is really great to see. Mary and Charlie are printmakers and have, in addition to paintings, an excellent collection of prints.

On the main floor Mary has her studio, with three presses – makes me want to make prints again! (Maybe I will …).

Oh, and three fat pheasants were roosting in a tree outside the house for the night. And there is a ski hill just down the road. And they have X country skiing and snowshoeing trails on their property.

The workshop was held in a decomissioned elementary school classroom that has been given over to the Dawson art group. Sandy showed us how to complete the trees we had begun last time.

I am sort of happy with mine – at a certain point in the process I just did my own thing instead of what I was supposed to do so I did not get the results that I anticipated. Below you can see it just after I added snow to the branches.

And here it is so far (slightly out of focus …):

However, I can continue to add layers if I want to, to achieve something more like what I was supposed to get. Or not – I haven’t decided yet. Part of the problem is that I did not put enough texture on my piece and I did not do some of the glazing layers correctly. My tree ended up being sort of a cartoon tree. But it is fun to be learning some new painting techniques after all these years.

And here it is more in focus:

Please take note of the weather forecast – going down to -32 but sunny for Ty’s week off …

See more photos here.