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.

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.