Spring in the Peace

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

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

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

AHsongs

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

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

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

Untitled

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

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

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

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

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

A hopefully-final for this year sprinkling of snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As well as a miniature horse named Dash,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But everything is beautifully green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more here.

Walking, walking, walking … and art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Below is the view looking west.

And this one is looking east toward Alberta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we were let loose to try it ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more pictures here.