Back in the Frozen North

All good things must come to an end and February sees us back up in FSJ, the land of seemingly perpetual winter. I really was looking forward to experiencing a snowy winter, not really having had one since I was a kid growing up in North Vancouver when the show drifts were 16 feet high and my first boyfriend zoomed around the neighbourhood in a skidoo. However eight months of it is 7 months too much!

While we were gone, the Hudson condominium building was completed and with it, the parking lot behind our place. I can tell that Spring is coming because, rather than getting light at 9:30 am, the sun now peeks over the horizon at 8 – huzzah!

I am back out at the Charlie Lake studio of Miep, where last week Mary was giving some enthusiastic artists a class on relief printmaking.

She often uses a technique called puzzle printing for her lino cuts; this involves actually cutting up the plate (as in the ravens below), enabling it to be used in a variety of different contexts.

I continued to work on the painting that I had begun before Christmas, adding some collaged aspen trees to the mix.

Friend Carolyn invited us to join her table at the annual Black History Month dinner, this year held at the Fort St John Curling Club. The food, prepared by the local black community, included a buffet of offerings from around the world.

Along with the buffet, we were treated to music and a fashion show by members of the local community who hail from parts near and far, including Nigeria, Kenya, South African, and Jamaica.

Among the participants was a lovely young woman who had taken part in the Buddy Holly production.

We had a few dances and enjoyed the festive ambience; however, Ty was working days, which means up at 5 am, so we weren’t able to last into the night.

We had our first visitor from down south, Christine, in town for work. She and I enjoyed a leisurely skate around the deserted skating oval.

Possibly it does get crowded here during public skate times, but whenever I’ve been there, usually I’m the only one on the ice. Yesterday I skated again while a couple of hockey games were played on the rinks below, the cheers reverberating as the local team won 6 – 2. (I’m afraid my selfie skills are not well-developed, as indicated by the evidence below).

Fort St John is hosting the Masters Speedskating Championships here in March and I’m going to check it out and hopefully pick up some tips.

While Christine was here, we took in some local colour at the Open Mic Night at On the Rocks nightclub and pub, where one of the guys from Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, was up on stage serenading the crowd.

And finally, for this month, I was the official event photographer-papparazzi for the Coldest Night of the Year Fundraiser to support Community Bridge and its programs to help the homeless, hungry, and hurting in FSJ. This fundraiser takes place in  many different cities across North America, all on the same evening. Participant teams sign up and collect pledges and local companies sponsor the event; we had 21 teams, 105 people and several local sponsors to the tune of almost $20,000 – a big success for the first year.

Thankfully it was not actually the coldest night of the year in Fort St John; that would have been back in December when the mercury went down to -41. At -13 with a light snowfall it was not too bad (although without gloves, my hands did get quite cold as I was taking pictures). I can’t believe that I actually said (wrote) that “-13 was not too bad!”

The event began and ended at lead sponsor Northern Lights College, with the 5 km turnaround rest stop down 100th Street at North Peace Savings & Credit Union.

Folk young and old came out to support the cause.

I was happy to take part, and even happier that the weather cooperated!

See more photos 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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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.

From Fall to Winter overnight …

Well, it’s been a fast and furious couple of weeks up here in the north country; we’ve gone from late summer to mid-winter between the middle of September and the beginning of October. The wind is strong in this part of the world, and if it’s blowing from the north, cold!

Although I don’t think anyone can accuse the city of FSJ of being beautiful, there are areas in the surrounding countryside that are lovely. And along the ridge just north of the city there are some places with beautiful views out over the Peace Valley.

On the bypass road that runs around the edges of the city, we found an abandoned farmstead with decrepit old wooden structures rotting in the fields.

Fall lasted about two weeks and the aspen trees turned yellow and gold.

We have been spending quite a bit of time with the cast and crew of the Buddy Holly Story, attending rehearsals at “The Space”, a quonset hut on the edge of town that serves Stage North as a rehearsal space.

Here is the Director Blair Scott in action, getting the Hayriders ready to go for their first song of the show.

Have a listen here. To plays the videos, first click on the image, then click again to start the video. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a problem with the sound on my video towards the end …

And here are Buddy Holly and the Crickets, going from country to rock ‘n roll.

Ty enters stage right carrying a keyboard. We are really enjoying being part of this production; it’s been great fun!

We are both working on the projections for the show, and have spent a fair bit of time in the theatre of the North Peace Cultural Centre where the show will take place the last two weekends of October.

We have put together two large projection screens from king size beds sheets sewn by the Sew it Yourself shop, four metal pipes, and lots of hardware. They will be hung on either side of the stage for videos which I edited of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper playing at the end of the show. This necessitates three laptops, three digital projectors, 150 meters of HDMI cord, and lots of metal hardware.

Oliver, the General Manager of the Cultural Centre, has been very generous with his time in helping us to put this all together.

Here’s a shot of the top of one screen, showing how it’s attached.

This is what it looks like with the big back screen and one of the side screens; the third one will hang down from stage right on the other side.

Here’s a little promo video I put together for the show.

Back when it was still Fall, we spend a bit of time getting to know the neighbourhood, strolling through the subdivisions around here.

This artificial pond has been made just down the road from our place. We are both amazed at the number of RVs parked in people’s driveways here; on some streets every home has a gigantic motorhome or RV next to the house.

I started taking bellydance lessons about a month ago at the Studio2Stage dance lesson emporium, with Suzon Tremblay, a very talented dancer and artist.

Unfortunately, my picture of her is not in focus.

Bellydancing is much more difficult than I thought, with hundreds of moves, some of which are difficult for this old, inflexible body. I am bad, but hope to get better during the course of the class.

Winter came early, very early – September 30, to be precise …

Here’s the view from our kitchen window. Although it’s no longer snowing today, there’s still snow on the ground and more expected tomorrow. We are having the snow tires installed this weekend. Already the temperature is hovering between 0 and minus 5 and it’s only the beginning of October. I wanted to see a snowy landscape, just not this early in the season!

I still need to get some serious winter gear; here’s a picture from the outside of the rehearsal space on the east edge of town.

Other than that, I am working on my landscape photo series and getting ready to do some painting. The landscapes are getting more fanciful – here’s a taste.

Aspen Landscape with Eastern Phoebe & Harvest Moon

Aspen Landscape with Phases of the Moon