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.

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.

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.

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.

Winter in November

Already halfway through November and the time seems to have gotten away on me – I had hoped to do an update before this! Well, we both took at least a week to recover from the Buddy Holly play – so much fun but needed to rest and relax after that. Everyone I spoke to said the play was fantastic, the most successful production that Stage North has ever done, and the best thing in Fort St John ever, and that was nice to hear. Since then, I have gotten a part-time job working 2 mornings a week at a local social service agency a three minute drive from our place, as their social media and training assistant. I update their various web pages and keep track of training modules and other duties as assigned.

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One of those other duties was to help prepare the building for their annual Haunted House, in which the whole place is decorated to be scary and spooky. Along with a few others, I taped black garbage bags to the walls to create dark tunnels along the hallways. Various local companies sponsor some of the rooms and this year about 950 brave souls made their way through the display. Ty & I thought that we’d probably have quite a few kids come through our complex for Halloween so we stocked up on quite a few boxes of tiny chocolate bars. It was snowing that night and we did not get a single kid … so, of course we had to consume those little goodies ourselves!

The artist group that I’ve joined spends a few days a month in a studio out at Charlie Lake, about a half hour drive along the Alaska Highway into the country from our place. The last time I was out there, the beginning of November, quite a few folks were there painting and making prints.

Mary, from Dawson Creek, was introducing a couple of people into the joys of linocut, very successfully.

Others were working on their tree portraits, the results of a painting workshop on the use of veils and glazes and other “old master” painting techniques by Sandy.

Since the results of this way of working are very cool, another group in Dawson Creek decided to have Sandy repeat the workshop there and I was lucky enough to be able to take it, too. We have completed the first day of the two day workshop and will finish it in December. I am pretty excited about the possibilities! Although I was trained as a painter many moons ago, painting has always been a bit problematic for me. The most difficult thing about it is deciding when a painting is finished – I don’t have that problem with printmaking, photography, or film, for some reason.

Here’s what I’ve done so far – it is ready for the next layers of colour.

I’ve had some success with my short films lately: The Fire Ceremony is an official selection for the Leicester City Film Festival this November and a Semi-Finalist for the Los Angeles Cine Fest, while Requiem for the Birds is an Official Selection for the 14th International Short & Independent Film Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh from Dec 3 – Dec 10, 2016. I’ve also been selected for a photography show at the Grant Berg Gallery in Grande Prairie in January so I am working on stuff for that.

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Eliza and I had a great snowy walk a week or so ago with her old lab Tensing in Beatton Park, also at Charlie Lake, where a group of local people have made 15 kilometers of biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoe trails through the forest. Eliza knows these trails like the back of her hand but I got completely turned around and lost; I haven’t figured out the lay of the land here yet. In between the trees, in the shade, there was still quite a bit of snow and ice.

Ty has begun shift work and has completed his first 14 days of night shift pretty successfully – we set up one of the bedrooms as a “dark room” with blackout curtains so that he’d be able to sleep during the day and that seems to be working pretty well. The transition to days off was a bit rough but he seems to be figuring it out. Below is a picture of the “super moon” rising out beyond our complex.

I’m still going to yoga but not as much – working is cramping my style a bit! I also signed on to do a volunteer project with the BC Seniors Advocate. They are interviewing every resident in long term care in British Columbia with an eye to improving care services for seniors. Along with about 10 others, I attended an all-day training session and have done 2 three hour shifts at the local residential care facility so far. Some of it is pretty heartbreaking. Our senior cat Aran is adjusting well; he was skin and bones for a while with the trauma of the move but he has resumed eating and seems pretty comfortable now.

I forgot to mention last time that at the art auction we attended there were several door prizes that we bought tickets for and, unbelievably, I won the last and best door prize – a helicopter ride for 4 over the area which can taken anytime in the next year! We will wait until warmer sunnier weather to give that a whirl.

Take note of the temperature … minus 9 – 10 now. My new snow suit is getting a good workout! On our walk a couple of days ago, in the beautiful new, and cold, snow that had descended on the city overnight, we saw a large hawk at the top of a tree – magnificent!

At first I thought it was a bald eagle; it had a golden head and a dark feathered body. I was able to take a few pictures of it before it hopped away from tree-top to tree-top looking for its next meal. On that walk both Ty & I realised that certain parts of our bodies were not warm enough: at -9 Ty’s feet were freezing and so were my hands! So we headed to the Mall and he got some snow and rain boots good to -40, I got a pair of very nice mittens, and we both got snowshoes so hopefully we should be good to go for the winter! We shall see …

Please take note of the snow on the bench here … about 6 – 8 inches, I figure. On our walk through the Fish Creek Urban Forest yesterday, Ty regaled me with tales of glorious woodsmanship, how to avoid getting caught in the bite and crushed by a falling tree, how to sidestep down the hill so as not to tumble on the ice, how to go around the base of a tree without grabbing hold of it and causing it to topple on top of me, etc. All good to know!

We sidestepped down a long narrow trail through a slide area of fallen trees to the river,

then up again to the flats, only to see at the top a sign declaring that trail closed …however,  there was no sign to be seen at the other end where we had entered, which I thought a bit odd. The forest was beautiful with its variety of trees – spruce, aspen, willow – and meandering stream not quite yet fully frozen.  The landscape is beautiful – it reminds me of my childhood in North Vancouver when we got snow every winter. Although it’s -9, it does not feel as cold as Vancouver at 5 above – it’s a dry cold rather than a heavy, wet, piercing cold.

Last night, with new friends Sylvia, Danielle, Tina, and Patrick, we piled into Good Old Daze, an ice cream parlour-restaurant-live-music-venue, to catch the return of Deere John, a local country music band, featuring Jim, our fearless media and microphone leader on the Buddy Holly show, rockin’ out on the keyboard. Good Times! (And a wee bit chilly for this new-to-the-north-newbie!).

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Here’s a couple of short videos of their tunes:

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https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipOyLyS87QuvHExLdVZfMoqTBfnCCFWvVc_Ydqo_pI23WBVcUuXECMSZ3_rIIhit4g/photo/AF1QipPwqdVw7J4Pi_m4X8Zs-145VVEDzxNp1dNFT_Sv?key=Q2FLQkNodkpFMjMyWnhvVFVoWENSNFFOZ0p3aUl3

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See more pics here.

Fun in the Snow and the Theatre

We have been so busy with the Buddy Holly production that I’ve only been able to make it to Miep’s painting studio once in the last little while. I’m working on a mixed media painting inspired by the northern landscape; here’s a work-in-progress picture of it. The studio is on the outskirts of Fort St John, near Charlie Lake, in beautiful countryside – here’s a photo of the road along the way.

It has been cold, snowy and sometimes icy almost consistently since the end of September, very early for here according to locals.

The above photo was taken from the highway just outside Taylor, a small town about 20 or so kilometers from FSJ on the way to Dawson Creek. We passed through it on the way to Dawson to buy me a snow suit; while FSJ has a lot of outdoor clothing outfitters, they only cater to men. We could not find a woman’s snowsuit in the city.

The snowy landscape is beautiful when the sun comes out.

Here are a few photos from one of our regular walks on the northern edge of the city.

Our friend Marsha gave me the advice to “Look up!” at the big sky – it is great. No tall buildings to block out the expanse of blue and the rolling clouds.

Kathryn had asked us to make her a snowman, so I obliged by adding a head to this big body already made.

I saw hoar frost for the first time, too – stunning first thing in the morning on a sunny day.

These trees are just a few blocks down the road from our place.

Eliza, an artist friend up here and a keen walker and hiker, took me out for a snowy walk in the woods.

Beavers live here in the Fish Creek; you can see evidence of them everywhere in the forest here.

We came upon two old 1940s vehicles abandoned among the trees, driven up here when the Alaska Highway was built – not sure why they’ve been left here but it was very cool to come across them.

Ty and I went to the big annual fundraising art auction for the North Peace Gallery at the Pomeroy Hotel near our place. It was a masquerade affair, so everyone wore masks.

I had never been to a live auction before and the fellow calling had a bit of difficulty with some of the “art terms”; possibly he was more used to auctioning off cattle …

It was lots of fun; we bid on and purchased two artist handpainted masks, one of which Ty’s wearing here.

We have been working on the Buddy Holly story now for about two months and it opened this weekend to thunderous applause. But, wow, what an enormous amount of work about 50 people have put into getting this show together, all the way from building and painting the sets, transporting them in multiple vehicles to the theatre, dissassembling and reassembling the sets to get them in the door, and setting everything up again inside.

Below is Director Blair Scott and Music Director Mike O in action, directing Buddy and the Big Bopper in the Clear Lake concert scene.

Ty and I worked hours trying to get our screens and projections to work, encountering quite a few issues beyond our control, such as problematic computer ports and projector signals. Below Ty is setting the screen, rolling it up to the rafters and putting the quick release, a chopstick attached to mason cord run along the pipes and down through half a pop bottle to the computer, in place.

Here Ty is working booting one of the Buddy videos up.

Sound man Jim looks on from backstage at the Apollo theatre scene.

I was asked to be Jim’s assistant, helping him take on and off the various microphones needed for the musicians – a very complex set up that he looked after admirably, flying around the set plugging and unplugging cords and adjusting amps.

Here you see all three screens deployed and all three videos working – this was a major accomplishment.

Below is my two computer set-up, roped off with ribbons and “Do Not Touch Under Pain of Death and Destruction” sign. Our contribution to the play, a Buddy Around the World video that takes place on the big back screen in the first act, and three videos on three screens of Buddy, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, at the very end, after their death in a plane crash has been announced, was quite a complex undertaking and has caused me an enormous amount of stress to put together. At the appropriate moment, after the deaths of the three artists is announced, Ty and I each pull the rip cord to dislodge the chop stick and unfurl the side screens, then hit the play button on the videos. But, when it finally worked, it was a beautiful thing.

The show has played four days last week and will have its final four days this week.

Here are some photos taken at one of the performances by Show Case Photo, a local photographer.

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Here is a video I took from backstage at Saturday night’s performance, a fantastic show in which everything came together; the audience went wild with thunderous applause and a standing O for all these very talented folks.

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When this play closes, I will sleep for a month! See more photos here.