Spring in the Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hopefully-final for this year sprinkling of snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As well as a miniature horse named Dash,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But everything is beautifully green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more here.

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

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipOyLyS87QuvHExLdVZfMoqTBfnCCFWvVc_Ydqo_pI23WBVcUuXECMSZ3_rIIhit4g/photo/AF1QipOQXKl9CgYU4IsGV_DLFnZiBBOr_Ipvfr1WvLFR?key=Q2FLQkNodkpFMjMyWnhvVFVoWENSNFFOZ0p3aUl3

See more pics here.