From Canola to Art

Yellow canola fields here are a revelation! I remember watching the first episode of the British version of detective show Wallander, featuring vast fields of electric yellow against a brilliant blue sky, not knowing what the crop was.

Well – canola! Apparently the fields are only yellow like this for a few weeks before harvest. I took these pictures of the fields along the Montney Road north of here, on the way to an art day at Lorna’s farm overlooking the Montney valley.

During the summer the Flying Colours Art Group does a lot of plein air painting and Lorna invited us to her hacienda and farm in Montney to see her little piggies and paint. Their property is on the crest of a hill and below is the view from her gorgeous front veranda, a panorama out over the Montney Valley. The three photos below are a panorama of the valley from Lorna’s veranda, a large porch that surrounds the hilltop house on three sides.

Lorna and her partner are getting out of farming, so they rent out their fields; right now the fields are in peas; this is the brighter green you can see behind the line of spruce trees. They still have some pigs, though, and we all were treated to an inspection of the pigpen and piggies as she fed them. Below some of our group traipsing across the field to the pen.

And the pictures below show the hungry critters at the trough.

Here Lorna and Miep are checking them out more closely.

Here is a photo of the garden area around the house, with the potable water tank (the water is trucked in) surrounded by pink flowers.

Along with art, we consumed a lovely lunch provided by the group, most of whom made their contributions – wonderful food!

These pictures of me in action on the veranda were taken by Miep.

As were the photos below of Lorna and Sasha on the trampoline and the piggies in their pen enjoying a mud bath.

When I saw these guys, I was momentarily amazed at the size of their ears, but then I remembered the pigs ear treats that Brubin used to consume …

After enjoying our time with the pigs, we set up shop on the veranda overlooking the valley to draw, paint, and carve on what was a lovely sunny summery day. Ken, a retired school administrator and teacher, has taken up relief carving and works on wildlife images.

Most of the others favour landscape; below Diana is giving her plein air kit a workout.

Sandy specialises in landscape and was sketching the valley in preparation for an acrylic on black canvas painting that she later completed in the Gallery when she was Artist-in-Residence.

Round hay bales are everywhere on the hills here, and more pictures of the brilliant yellow canola fields on the drive back to town. I could not resist stopping every once and a while to document this vision.

Back at the Gallery, our second artist-in-residence Sandy spent two afternoons painting and interacting with visitors. Here she enjoys a visit with Audrey Bodnar, one of the pioneering painters in the area who has been involved in the arts her entire life. Now 92, Audrey is back in FSJ after many years down in Kelowna and interested in getting back into painting.

Painting in acrylic on black canvas is one of Sandy’s trademarks and she very generously showed Audrey and others how it was done.

Below is the painting she is executing from the sketches done from Lorna’s veranda.

She managed to almost complete two paintings while in the gallery, the landscape from the deck of Lorna’s house, and a 12 x 12 inch sunset-scape, pictured below. Sandy is going to give a workshop on this painting style at the Cultural Centre this Fall.

Ty and I joined Sandra, Sharla, and others for a birthday BBQ in Sharla’s backyard, where we sampled steak and ribs, and the joys of patting Sharla’s old tomcat. (Ty & I are both missing our animal family)

 

On a variable-weather Sunday a group of us headed out to Beaverlodge, Alberta (about 2.5 hours east from here) for the Euphemia McNaught Homestead Festival, a day of art, food, music and more at Euphemia’s country estate. Before coming up here I had never heard of either Beaverlodge or Euphemia McNaught but Euphemia painted with the Group of Seven and left her farm and all its buildings to the Province to be restored and kept as a place for arts and culture events. Below is her painting studio which Miep, Charlie, and Mary set up to display prints.

Lorna, Mary, and I had a table in the sun to display prints and printmaking paraphernalia.

Below is my end of the table with a couple of lino and wood blocks and some mixed media works.

Other artists were there, too, including Dan Arberry, a painter from Grande Prairie, who chats below with Irene, Lorna, and Mary.

Along with art was an owl; a wildlife officer brought his barred owl to the Festival; she only has one wing so can’t be returned to the wild but what a beautiful bird. Lots of people were very interested in her.

Another fun part of the day was riding in the old homestead wagon out to the lake on the property, where a group of folks had fundraised to build a boardwalk and bird-viewing blind.

We rolled slowly through the hay fields, drawn by two large horses.

The boardwalk travels out over the wetlands and culminates in a viewing platform, from which one can see, if lucky, many varieties of waterfowl, dragonflies, butterflies, and … mosquitoes.

Two telescopes have been donated and people took turns gazing with them out over the lake beyond.

I saw a Bohemian Waxwing, the yellow and black bird below, and was able to get a couple of pictures of it.

Later on in the afternoon the clouds rolled in, the wind came up and, seeing rain approaching in the distance, we rolled back to town. Below is a view of Dawson Creek and fields from the truck bypass road.

And a view of the Peace River Valley coming down the highway into Taylor, about 20 km from FSJ.

The landscaping around our neck of the woods is slowly, very slowly, coming together, as is the elementary school being built around the corner from us.

Another day, another trip into the countryside: Sandra invited us to come along on a fishing trip and visit to her property at Upper Halfway, a remote valley about 2.5 hours north along the Alaska Highway – here’s a view from somewhere along the way.

Below is the Halfway River that comes into the Peace down by Hudson’s Hope at Bear Flats.

While we waited to rendezvous with other members of our party, we took a walk through one of the recreation areas up here; Ty points out a board nailed onto two trees for campers to put their food out of the way of bears.

Sandra’s old dog Kaiser enjoyed snapping at the river’s waves.

After cruising along through valleys, fields, and woodland we arrived at the property which Sandra had described as having a “cabin”. I imagined a tiny very rustic wooden shack … well, this cabin was an enormous fully-furnished log house with two smaller outbuildings. The furnishings included quite a few animal heads on the walls.

Atfer unpacking our gear, we drove through the fields down to the river where Ty and Heinz set up shop to fish while the rest of us hiked through the fields.

Sandra has given this property to her four children and their kids: it is 161 acres of fields and pasture along the Halfway river. Below Gus the dog, Sharla, Jane and Sandra walk through one of the pastures, heading south-east. Long grasses and tiny flowers cover the ground here; poor old Gus was just about able to see over them.

Lots of goldenrod plants here, very attractive to these black and white butterflies.

The old RV in the pasture below was used as a game blind, where hunters could set up shop hidden from the various animals that come through here.

Below Sharla carries her container of bear spray, very prudent considering the bear skat evident in the fields.

Along with flowers, the fields have wild strawberries, tiny and delicious red berries almost hidden under the plants’ leaves.

Amazingly, to me, the guys did catch some kind of river trout which they BBQ’d for lunch.

After a lovely lunch we cruised back towards the highway, making one additional turnoff to a riverfront property somewhere south west along a gravel oil road to visit one of Jane’s friends and see her food garden. This property, in the back of beyond as far as I can see, used to be used as an oil and gas camp, its flat field a former air strip for small planes and helicopters.

Marcia works this garden everyday, giving its produce away to charities such as the SPCA.

Below is a picture of the area that was formerly an airstrip.

While there, we took a walk around the perimeter of the place, stopping to check out the wildlife viewing platform that Marcia and her partner have built.

It looks like a tree-fort but is actually quite a large space from which to see out over the fields and trees.

In the trees below we saw a grouse and two babies.

Tiny pink and purple flowers carpet the area. Being an urban character as I am, the feeling I get from being out here in what I consider to be an extremely remote area is a bit of anxiety. Not sure whether it’s a kind of agoraphobia or claustrophia – maybe both!

Back in town, Irene Gut, an encaustic artist originally from Switzerland but here in northern BC for about 28 years, was our Artist-in-Residence, letting people in on the magic of painting with wax.

She demonstrated how she creates works with a hot iron, cubes of beeswax, and specially prepared paper, melting the wax on the iron’s surface, then running it over the surface of the paper, then scribing into it or using paper to make textures in it. She is making a Swiss mountainscape triptych at the moment.

Our weather has been very variable this month, from very hot, dry and sunny, to monsoon-like downpours and lightning storms, to dust storms in which we have to run to close all the windows so the soft sand particles do not settle themselves on every surface, adding to the already dusty ambience in our home.

But the other evening we enjoyed a lovely mellow evening in the garden at Linda and Rick’s Charlie Lake abode, dining Tuscan-style in the garden.

Photos below are by Famous Amos: Two moose in a canola field and sunset over a canola field in northern Alberta.

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See more of my photos here.

Gallery-Going and Walking in July

On a Monday day off, Sandra, Ty & I headed north to Rose Prairie for a visit to Beatton River and the countryside north of FSJ. The fields are lush and green with growing crops, including wheat and canola, the latter’s yellow plants just starting to flourish.

Although there are some large farms and ranches in this area, like the one pictured above, most of the farms are small family or hobby farms. We took a right turn somewhere out there and found ourselves on a narrow, deeply rutted dirt track through a farmer’s property leading down to the Beatton River south of where we had hiked the previous month.

All along the path were plants that I thought were Queen Anne’s Lace but turned out to be the related Cow Parsley. We parked at the top of the ridge and walked down towards the river under a canopy of aspen trees.

Sandra pointed out these cool large orange mushrooms growing at the side of the path.

A ways downhill is this very steep slope that some folks use to tobaggan down in the winter – yikes!

Wild pink roses are also plentiful in this part of the world.

Although the road was mostly clear of litter, Ty did stop to pick up some garbage on the way down to pack out.

You can see how deep the ruts are in the photo below, the result of trucks and heavier vehicles driving right down to the river.

In the background of the photo above is the ubiquitous burned-out derelict car in a field – I don’t get that. A closeup below.

Once down on the flats the woods opened up onto the river bank, dry and also scarred with narrow ruts. Apparently the “island in the stream” in the photos below never used to be here … the river and its banks are always changing according to the weather conditions.

We staked out a spot riverside to have lunch and enjoy the afternoon sun which came and went behind the clouds drifting by.

On the other side of this fast-flowing river, atop the bank, you can see where the ground is sloughing away beneath the stand of trees.

A while later we headed a bit north to the riverside property of one of Sandra’s brothers to enjoy a beer on his deck. Strangely he has some sort of odd electric golf cart stationed deckside which of course I had to try out, zipping around the property quite speedily.

This property is beautiful, many acres riverside and along the banks, with crop fields and gardens as well as untouched aspen forest. It would be fantastic for an artists’ residency in the summer …

As you know, I have been hired as the Peace Gallery North’s manager and my first order of business was to hang and open the Elizabeth Harris show. A few people were kind enough to volunteer to help in that process; below Linda is assisting in unpacking and getting the ceramics ready for display – she was also kind enough to touch up the rather battered plinths with black paint.

It took Elizabeth and I the whole day to unpack, place, and re-place the works, including painting, fabric art, ceramics, and photographs, for display.

A new project for Elizabeth, who is known for her lively and colourful animal paintings and ceramics, is the Canadiana apothecary bottle series below.

One of the guests exhibiting with Elizabeth is Catherine Nicholls, whose fabric piece detailed below I love.

Elizabeth grew up on a ranch outside Fort St John before going south to study and work and her family, who came out for the opening, still lives in the area.

It was great to see friends Sandra, Patrick, and Niki come out, on what turned out to be an incredibly stormy evening of torrential rain, thunder and lightning – a veritable summer monsoon.

Flying Colours friends Sandy, Miep, Linda, Mike and others also braved the rain to support Elizabeth’s show.

A fun part of the evening was the “Harris Singers”, Elizabeth’s family playing a round of Ian Tyson’s Canadian classic song “Four Strong Winds”, joined in by all the gallery-goers present.

Since the show was so bright and colourful, I wanted to wear something that would complement it, so out of the closet came the Turkish shalvar pants that I’d purchased in Gumusluk a few years back.

Good old Ty was recruited to play bartender, a role he does very well.

See more from the opening here.

A wonderful colour reduction woodcut workshop was held at Miep’s studio over one weekend mid-July; even though I was exhausted from working so much, I just had to take that in and got a second wind as I dove back in to the joys of printmaking. Below Sara Norquay, an artist from Edmonton, led us in cutting and printing four colour prints on Japanese Shina wood blocks.

The workshop was very well-attended, with 15 of us taking up all possible spots in the studio to create our pieces.

Although some of these folks have done lino before, I think only one or two had tried woodcuts, a slightly more difficult relief printing medium, in that the blocks are harder to carve and require sharper tools. I had unearthed my cutting tools from the depths of our garage storage unit, where they had not seen the light of day for years so of course they were dull, dull, dull. Sara was kind enough to allow us to use some of her sharp tools, so I took advantage of that.

This process involved cutting two blocks (or in this case, both sides of one block) printing them in two different colours, then cutting away more material from the same two blocks and printing another two (different) colours to complete the image.

I also cut two smaller blocks that I intended to print on parts of my image (below). I decided on the spur of the moment to do something abstract so this composition, which I entitled Energetic Radish Heart, somehow appeared at the end of my gouge.

Not too get to much into the details of this process, I will just say that it’s a bit tricky figuring out how much wood to cut away and where on each of the two blocks to get the optimum results.

Charlie decided to do a portrait piece; above you can see the image he’s working from at the bottom left and below the first block with its colours inked up, red for the eyes and blue for the top.

Mary opted for an image commemorating her RCMP daughter’s trip to Vimy Ridge this spring for the memorial: here you can see the preparatory drawing, one of the blocks, the tools, and the first two colours printed.

Below Sandy is working on a colourful bear piece, with a rainbow roll sky.

After the first day we drove out to Linda and Rick’s place at Charlie Lake for a BBQ on what turned out to be a blustery evening.

Their property is very interesting, with lots of stone structures built by Rick by hand, including rock walls, garden beds, and the combination greenhouse, alchemy lab/storage room, and guest house below.

Sculptures by Rick and Linda are dotted around the property.

They also have grape and kiwi vines growing along some of the wooden trellises that Rick has made.

Inside the greenhouse portion of the building, Linda has many different plants growing, including tropical varieties.

While we toured the property, the guys barbecued the dinner.

Our second workshop day was spent finishing up the printing of our editions of 10 colour prints; Charlie was very happy with his piece, called Zombie.

I printed my first block yellow and the second a brilliant magenta red, seen below.

Below you can see the first two colours, printed by hand on Japanese mulberry paper.

Here are some of the works in process drying.

My third colour was a lovely lilac-pink, below rolled out and inked up.

One of the smaller blocks was also inked up in a deep transparent pthalo blue.

Below are two inking variations, the one of the left with the first yellow colour and the one on the right without it.

Linda, a biologist by training, made a puffin for her first ever print.

Some of the people opted to experiment with varying their colours, as in the landscape example by Sherry below.

My fourth colour was a frosty, minty green which I printed on a couple of the pieces, since I was not yet sure that’s what I wanted.

Linda’s turtle is coming along nicely, printed in transparent shades of green and yellow.

Above is Bev’s hummingbird, below is Mary’s completed Vimy piece and Sandy’s bear.

See more from the workshop here.

I have instituted a Gallery Artist in Residence series; our first artist this past Saturday was Lindsay, who looks very happy to be ensconced in the Gallery and painting up a storm!

Playwright and musician Deb and her husband Mike dropped by and we had a few laughs with them. Deb and Mike have a country-flavoured band that gigs around town.

Lindsay, who loves Emily Carr, created this treescape, as well as worked on two other pieces during the time she was in the gallery. It was great having her there.

With Lindsay below is Ronnie Roberts, a local writer who has a new science fiction novel coming out in August.

Sandra and I did the Fort St John Horticultural Society’s Annual Garden Tour this past weekend. Each of the six homes was out in Charlie Lake area, three out the end of Old Hope Road and the other three on the eastern side of the lake itself (near where Sandra used to live when her kids were small).

I had just met the couple who own the first place we visited at the gallery opening the other night: this place is 161 acres, with a large main house, a 2500 square foot shop and studio,

a corral for horses, several dugouts and a pond complete with small island, and a view out to the mountains west of here. It’s also for sale, so if you’ve ever fancied the northern life, here is your chance!

In one of the rock terraces that surround the garden a cast of an Icthyosaurus, cast from one of the local museum’s fossil collections, is embedded – very cool!

And a replica Easter Island head, brought north from Vancouver Island, presides over the front lawn.

Helen is an architect, painter, and potter, and I loved her enormous studio space, two rooms of which are pictured below.

The studio is three and a half times the size of our condo. I continue to be amazed at the amount of property and “stuff” that people up here have; it really boggles the mind – a very different lifestyle that I’m used to.

The second home we visited, “only” ten acres, had a tent of watercolour cards and small paintings, as well as potted plants, for sale.

The roosters below are for Maggie.

The couple also have a lovely rabbit, found by a neighbour hopping through their yard and now provided with a large mesh hutch here in the back yard.

Just down the road was the final garden on this part of the tour, owned by someone who is a bit of a comedian, apparently:

I really enjoyed the metal-and-wrapped-fabric sculpture of a heron standing around in one garden bed.

The canola crops are just coming in here in the fields, their yellow carpet an amazing contrast with the blue sky.

About half way through the tour, the weather turned stormy and began to rain, too bad! The last two places we visited in what became a torrential monsoon downpour.

The final stop on the tour was set up for vendors and had tents for refreshments; unfortunately, when we were there it was too wet and cold to stay outside for long and we beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of the car.

And, the ever-present wrecked car, this time a VW Bug in the weeds.

See more pics here  and here.

 

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.

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.

Spring? … Maybe

Right now it’s about 10 degrees above and feels like Spring is here; however, we have been warned that, from the time when it first seems like Spring, there will be 6 snowfalls until Spring actually and completely arrives. It’s definitely thawing, though; the snow is melting, huge ponds are forming everywhere, mud is proliferating, and dust is blowing – freshet!

Here are a couple of photos from the beginning of March when it was still deepest winter; snow on the ground and cold with the wind chill factor.

On Ty’s week off we headed out to Charlie Lake again, to take one last walk on the still-frozen, beautiful white snow-surfaced lake. On our way down to the water we saw the tracks of a snowshoe hare being chased by a predator of some kind – fox? cougar? quien sabe?

Once again, as before, we were the only ones out there; the sound of us marching along breaking through the icy crust started to worry me as I wondered whether the ice was thin enough for us to break through into the icy cold water below.

We survived the walk, although Ty was quite bushed and had to have a little rest … haha.

We have been very busy at the studio this month; several shows are upcoming in this area for the Flying Colours Artist Association and everyone was trying to get work finished for display.

Mary did a couple of classes on linocut with stencils and brought in an abundance of beautiful coloured stencils, papers, and other odds and ends to make prints with.

A really fascinating thing we participated in on March 3 was the annual Rod and Gun Club Fundraising Dinner and Auction. This was an experience totally out of my usual sphere and much of it made me feel quite queasy.

Where the art gallery auction had only taken up half the Pomeroy Hotel ballroom, the Rod and Gun Club took up the entire space, with a huge amount of stuff related to the catching and killing of animals: a silent auction, a regular auction, bucket draws, door prizes … And I must say, the buffet dinner was expansive and excellent.

Lots of guns, including junior rifle sets for the kids; butchering equipment, shooting tables, big boys toys for chasing and transporting game, clothing, guiding packages, and the like. Also, art work by members of the Flying Colours.

Below, a volunteer is holding one of Sandy’s donated paintings aloft for bidding. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of money being spent; the bids on everything were huge – they must have raised tens of thousands of dollars, maybe a hundred thousand dollars, putting the art auction haul to shame. It’s too bad that folks can’t get as exited about art work as they do about guns and animal hunts … Charlie told us that Fort St John has the highest number of millionaires per capita in BC and perhaps in all of Canada, 4.75 per 100 people – who knew?

Somewhere around the first week of March the days became longer quite abruptly. Rather than getting light at 9:30 am, it now gets light around 6.

While it was still cold, Ty had to wear two hats rather than just one. Here he puts his woolen touque over his BC Hydro camoflague cap.

Here I am at Fish Creek Urban Forest, the last time I wore my snow suit. I have to say that I am pretty happy not to have to wear the ol’ snow suit again this year!

Irene Gut, below, is an encaustic artist who was preparing some pieces for inclusion in the North Peace Gallery’s Points of View show coming up in a week.

She uses a small iron to paint with, rubbing tiny chunks of coloured beeswax onto its surface, then runnning the iron over a smooth plasticised paper to create her works.

The coloured chunks of wax look like candies.

I have not made prints for quite a few years but I got inspired by Mary’s demos to make a mixed-media linocut for the print exchange on the theme of Our Home and Native Land. Ten artists are participating and the show is travelling around to several galleries in the Peace region of BC and Alberta. At the end, we will each get a portfolio of 10 works from the other participating artists.

I made a linocut of flowers, printed on origami paper collaged onto a collograph support, in progress above.

Carolyn is hard at work on her moose painting for the Points of View show, based on Miep’s wildlife photography, opening at the North Peace Gallery next Friday night. This moose, inspired by one of Miep’s photos, appears in quite a few works to be displayed.

We still walk along the trail north of town; just recently these condo buildings have risen from the dirt; they follow on the same design as the one we occupy; however, they are selling for considerably less than ours was going for a year ago. Such is the economy here, very dependent on the fortunes of oil and gas.

Another day, another art work … Here are a couple of my works in progress; above linocuts on origami paper and below, digital images collaged onto wooden cradle boxes.

The piece below isn’t finished yet but so far it is textured acrylic paint and collage on wood, featuring endangered birds of the Peace region and Miep’s Canada Goose photo, made small and colour-manipulated.

My home workspace is getting more and more crowded; somehow, things always seem to get out of my control and proliferate – will have to have a purge one of these days. But putting the card table in was an excellent idea so now I can work on pieces while standing – I get very tired of so much sitting!

Ty and I took a walk last weekend out along the Eastern Bypass Trail, its concrete length mercifully free of most snow and ice. My hiking boots, very warm for the dead of winter, unfortunately have very slippery soles so I have to tread extremely carefully on the still-remaining slick pockets of snow and ice.

Sandra, freshly arrived home from a month in Australia, invited me to come with her and some friends out for a hike to the Hudson’s Hope steam vents west of Fort St John. We set off about 8 in the morning for the 2 hour trip up into the Rocky Mountain foothills past Hudson’s Hope on a beautiful sunny and relatively balmy day.

On the way out we stopped at a rest area to take some photos of the Peace River Valley, soon to be inundated by the Site C dam. Fog was lying low across the river; before coming here, I had no idea that rivers could be foggy. We stopped somewhere along the way to pick up Sandra’s friend Debra, who lives with her husband in a large wooden-beamed cabin and riverside acreage far from the madding crowd. Ross hunts and collects antlers, into which he will be carving various scenes.

Along with their main house, Debra and Ross also have a wooden cabin, currently occupied by a friend and her dog.

Our route took us up past the WAC Bennett dam, seen below (this dam created one of the largest lakes in BC, Williston, the expanse of white in the middle of the image below) and onto a logging road up the mountain.

After pulling over to the side of the road, we strapped on snowshoes, just in case we needed them on the way back if the snow had melted too much to hike the trail.

The valley is beautiful and it was very nice to see some mountains once again.

The trail to the steam vents is marked in spots, although I’m not sure I would have been able to find it on my own. Much larger coniferous trees occupy this area, along with some larger aspen.

A covering of about 4 inches of snow still obscured the trail, making it quite slippery to traverse in spots; below Dora is navigating down a muddy trench.

One we emerged from the forested area, the land dropped off to the Peace River canyon. The ground was quite green, with a variety of green, orange, and yellow mosses and small groundcover.

To get down to the steam vents requires picking one’s way along a steep, narrow track that hairpins down the hillside. I made my way very carefully in my heavy boots, putting one hand on the hillside for support. I definitely did not want to trip over my feet and roll down over the cliff!

In 1793 before settlers reached the Hudson’s Hope area, Alexander Mackenzie explored the Peace River and described this geothermal area with its ever-emitting steam coming from burning underground coal seams in his journals. These steam vents reminded me of the Chimera ever-burning hilltop flames that we visited in Olympos, Turkey.

The two doggies who accompanied the group plagued us for food, always on the lookout for any dropped morsel. I was a bit worried that one of them would go over the edge in their excitement but luckily that did not happen.

The view was spectacular!

I’m not sure how long the hike is; it took us about 2 hours to hike in and a bit longer to hike out again. I was very tired after about an hour of the trip back and struggled a bit with my heavy pack and heavy boots, each one feeling like it added ten pounds to my feet. Sandra and Debra very kindly helped me out by carrying my pack and snowshoes for the last little bit. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and collapsed on the couch almost senseless. But what a great day it was!

Below is an example of some of the media things I am doing for Community Bridge, a wooden plaque with a collage thanking one of our sponsors for their support of our 2016 Haunted House. I have created four of these plaques so far – fun.

Here’s another (not very good) photo of what the plaques look like:

See more photos here.

January snow and sun

As some of you know, I was down in Vancouver in January and it seemed that I brought the northern winter with me! It was sunny, cold, and icy for much of the time but was it ever beautiful! After being up north for six months in a landscape that is somewhat barren, although beautiful in its own way, everything about Vancouver seemed gorgeous: the trees, the mountains, the plants, the people, the architecture … I think I must have been starved for aesthetic experiences!

Especially the snow-covered mountains – I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.

Here’s a mural message that hits home on a building at Main and 10th: the Present is a Gift. After a very stressful January, that really resonates for me!

I was happy to be able to connect with some of my dear friends while I was there – these two cuties:

And these three:

Others I don’t have any pictures of, but it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

I signed up for an introductory month of yoga at the YYoga studio in Kits and captured this fabulous end of day burst of golden glory after class one day.

Even just walking around Granville Island, which I’ve spent so much time on over the years, was like something new and wonderful after having been away.

While out walking I stopped in the middle of intersections to take yet more pictures of those fabulous mountains.

Ty & I caught the Collectors show at the Vancouver Museum, a display of the wild and wacky stuff that some people are compelled to accumulate – made me feel like not so much of a hoarder!

If I think about the psychology of collecting curiosities, it seems partly linked with acquisition and consumption; finding something “other”, alien, or exotic fascinating and wanting to absorb it into one’s own psychological or physical environment. Placing such an object in a collection or curiosity cabinet immobilises it, but also leaves it accessible to scrutiny or wondering about or appreciating (in that old sense of art or music “appreciation”). It may be that collecting objects is a way of filling a gap or fulfilling a lack … It is true that the historical curiosity cabinets or Wunderkammer did focus on the exotic and unfamiliar, at a time when everything seemed to be available for gathering and containing.

Back in 2009 when Ty & I were on Libong island in the Andaman Sea south of Trang, Thailand, I gathered up quite a lot of shells from the beach one night, making sure that they were empty. I put them on our deck, lined up in order of size – I was going to do a painting of them. The next morning, I was quite disappointed that several of them were gone and I thought that someone had come by in the night and taken them away. Later that morning I saw the line of missing shells, not empty as it happened but occupied by hermit crabs, making their stately way back to the beach – the flow of the marvellous is all around us.

I was happy to have been able to participate in the Vancouver Women’s March while I was there, a large and lively gathering of folks from all walks of life. After having been passed by while standing at the bus stop to go downtown to the march by several packed-to-the-rafters buses, one finally stopped for us – it was absolutely full of pink-hatted protestors heading to the march. I felt a bit underdressed without a pink pussyhat.

We all gathered at the Olympic Plaza waterfront and, after waiting for quite a while, headed off for the Trump Tower on Georgia.

I loved the sign below, a riff on the now-famous Baroque painting of Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

I knew my friend Beatrice had also gone to the march, but hadn’t seen her there. When I downloaded my photos, there she was in the middle of the picture below.

Before heading back up to the frozen north, Ty and I took the opportunity of relaxing and decompressing in Puerto Vallarta for a quick, much too short, hit of sun and warmth. Since we went at the absolute last moment without having planned anything, we weren’t able to find any suitable accommodation to book on line. So we hit the road and just walked in to several hotels in old town, where, on our third try, we found a great room on the top floor of the Posada Lily with a wrap around balcony. A great location at the epicentre of old town at the corner of Basilio Badillo and Olas Altas, the Lily is half a block from the beach and across the street from a coffee shop with great java – perfect!

Here Ty is enjoying his morning coffee on our balcony facing out over the city and watching the sun rise over the hills behind – beautiful!

We had a very low-key and relaxing time, mosieing (sp?) along the malecon

sipping cervesas and margaritas (pro tip: for a killer margarita, try the Redneck Bar at the north end of the malecon – deadly).

Some evenings saw us strolling along the beach, taking in the light show from the pier and all the sights and sounds of merry-making in the Zona Romantica.

One of our favourite places is the Isla Cuale, a green oasis of quiet, at least at the eastern end where the city cultural centre is located, and the Las Brazzas bar. This place is never busy; I really don’t know how they stay in business, but is a very pleasant place to rest on a hot day.

Behind one of the small galleries here a paper mache sculpture of the Donald as a giant pig was strung up to a lamp post.

We enjoy seeing the wares of local artists on display on the Isla; this woman is a watercolour painter specialising in images of black cats in compromising situations. We commisioned her to do a special orange cat for a dear friend.

Of course, we had to take in the South Side Shuffle, the every second Friday extravaganza of art and music in Old Town just down the road from the Posada Lily.

We had a nice chat with Nathalie, the fabulous proprietor of Art Vallarta, and her helper Michael, a performance artist, at their pop-up gallery in what used to be the ceramic studio of Patricia Gawle.

Nathalie is a great supporter of local artists and does a tremendous amount for the arts in Vallarta. In addition to the pop-up gallery and the Art Vallarta studio and gallery, another of her initiatives this year was a house installation of Tony Collantez’ work, an incredible collection of works on canvas and murals in a dizzying array of styles.

We took in the Tuesday hike from Boca to Las Animas organised by Calgarian Doug, along with about 35 other people who packed the bus heading south to the trailhead.

Some folks like to do this hike at super-speed; others, like us, at a more leisurely pace. After the first half hour, the crowd thinned out and spread out along the route.

While we were hiking the day was slightly overcast, which made the walk a bit more pleasant than doing it in the blazing sun.

Since I was now familiar with the route, it did not seem as onerous as the first few times I walked it.

Here Ty is happy that after two hours the end is in sight!

We enjoyed a great lunch at the usual spot, the Caracol restaurant, with the rest of the crew.

A surprise addition to the day was a late afternoon baseball game with the locals at Quimixto, the next village south along the bay where the folks from the restaurant live. Some of the hikers had brought down and donated baseball equipment to the village, including uniforms, bats, balls, and gloves, and had challenged the locals to a game. After lunch and a rest on the beach we all piled back into a panga and headed south for the 15 minute ride to the village.

The game took place at the elementary school field, an expanse of dirt with a view of the ocean.

Before the game proper got going, Ty played a bit of ball with the kids.

Since at this point there were about 30 people for “our” side, not all of us played; I sat it out and Ty played for the local team instead.

While it was a casual, pickup game, all of a sudden when things got going, the Canadians got quite competitive, practicing their most blazing throws in the late afternoon sun. Unfortunately, while everyone could throw pretty well, no one seemed to be able to catch …

All the local guys were heavy hitters, belting the ball into the far distance where our team scrambled without much success to catch and throw it back in.

After a few foul balls, Ty blasted one out to left field and got on base.

Even though we lost 12 to 1, the team were good sports, buying the happy winners a beer before we hopped back on the boat for the return journey to town.

By this time, it was early evening and the sun was setting, not the most optimum time to be on the water without lights or life vests …

We were luck enough to see two humpback whales frolicing on the way back.

I also had the opportunity to plein air paint with Angie, an artist from Penticton who spends much of the winter in PV.

Angie and her husband Rob have a place in old town, and Angie now has her own studio on the main floor of the building where she can paint and display her work.

We also enjoyed spending some time with friends Beatrice and Bev, in town for a few weeks from Vancouver.

One of the most fun things to do in the evening in high season PV is the Wednesday Night Centro Art Walk. Here are a few tidbits of artistic goodies that we saw:

This little guy reminded me of our beautiful departed dog Brubin:

Beatrice taking notes:

See more PV photos here.

One thing I have had reinforced this winter is that we must savour every moment and be thankful and grateful for good friends and family. Carpe diem everyone!

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.

Midnight Sun Art and Film Festival, Sun Peaks, BC

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ … into Kamloops, BC, then up into the mountains, destination Sun Peaks for the Midnight Sun Art and Film Festival August 7 – 9, for the outdoor screening of my video The Fire Ceremony II: Metamorphosis, an experimental short which opened the festival.

After arrival, the first order of business, as usual, was a beer on a patio, this one at the Cahilty Lodge, overlooking the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel, where we could keep an eye on our loaded Modo car while we waited for our room at the Grand to become ready.

Sun Peaks Alpine Resort, formerly Tod Mountain, is designed to mimic a Swiss ski village, with the gingerbread-like architecture of the buildings. Our Hotel was refurbished in the 1990s and was indeed a grand old dame; our room, on the second floor, had a commanding view of the parking lot … not exactly what I had imagined, visions of sweeping mountain vistas dancing in my head.

Joining us for the weekend were the two amigas, Barb and Christine, seen here ready to go for a whirl through the village.

Saturday morning, after a bit of a lie-in – very unusual for me since I am usually up with the birds before dawn – we were off up the mountain for a hike through alpine meadows.

In the summer season Tod Mountain’s ski runs become a hiking and biking paradise and the chair lift is well set up to carry everyone and their gear up the hill, with special chairs just for the mountain bikes heading up to the trails.

As we cruised up the hill, we could see some of the downhill bike trails below which an employee was grooming for the afternoon. It wasn’t possible to tell from below how high this mountain is; the chair ride was about 15 minutes long – so quite high!

I was going to walk right past a garbage can of hiking poles, but then Ty mentioned their utility for hitting any bears on the nose and each of us selected one.

We had asked for advice at Guest Services and had been told to follow trails 5 and 7 to the top and back for nice views out over the valley.

The first part of trail 5 zig-zagged across the mountain side that fronts the resort; we could see the village sparkling far below us. As far as the eye could see across the valleys and mountain tops of the BC interior, there was no snow anywhere. I saw a patch of korek, those plants with which I made art installations in Turkey when I was an artist-in-residence there. Not sure what these are called here.

The first part of our hike took us up to and just short of the summit of Tod Mountain which we then skirted around in a quest for Tod Lake.

Surprisingly, as we walked deeper into the alpine area, a herd of cows was there, grazing on the mountainside. Ty greeted them with several moos, causing them to pop their heads up inquiringly. One large beast started to head in our direction so we kept on moving away from them.

Although many of the flowers in the alpine meadows were already finished, we did see some beautiful small blooms of lupins, fireweed, aster, and bright red Indian Paint Brush on the hills.

After walking for a few hours, we zigged when we should had zagged and had to backtrack to find trail 7 to the lake.

After a few teasers that turned out to be puddles not lakes, we did make it in to Tod Lake, where we, along with a few other intrepid souls, ate the packed lunch that Cafe de Soleil had prepared for us that morning. One small chipmunk joined us at the table, seemingly quite interested in our food.

The weather was perfect for hiking, sunny with beautiful cumulus clouds floating by, and not too hot. Trail 7 from the lake back down the mountain gave us a different view of the valley from the other side of the mountain and the trail itself was rougher, leading through brush and bush.

After five hours of fantastic hiking on the hill, I was tired and happy to head back down, glad that the only wildlife we had seen was the tiny chipmunk. There are bears in them thar hills and I admit that I did think about them as I was walking …

Our reward for finishing the hike was gigantic orange bellinis at Bottoms patio at the base of the chair.

Another fun summer activity on the hills is go-karting; a Tbar-like lift takes the cars up the hill and gravity brings them back down again. We will maybe check that out another time.

The Midnight Sun Art & Film Festival, organised by Dasha Novak, began with a wine tasting and live music event at Mantles Restaurant in the Sun Peaks Grand, where we listened to young local musicians play and sing. I had a very nice chat with one, the pianist Polina, from Russia, who is in Kamloops to study at Thompson Rivers University.

I was happy to see Darlene, a printmaking colleague from Thompson Rivers University, with whom I stayed the last time I was in Kamloops twenty years ago – we had a nice chinwag and catch-up. Unfortunately, the weather had changed and right up until the time the films were due to start we weren’t sure whether the show would go ahead. But the rain did stop and die-hard film enthusiasts did congregate at the gigantic outdoor screen, with their chairs and blankets in tow.

Not being too clued in to the realities of mountainside living, we had neglected to bring warm clothes, blankets, or chairs … so the viewing conditions were less than optimum. But I was happy to suffer for art to see my film The Fire Ceremony II; Metamorphosis projected on the enormous screen, and the sound system was fantastic.

In addition to my short film. two other feature length productions were screened, Reaching Blue, a documentary about the Salish Sea and Yakona, a poetic look at the life of a Texan river.

Sunday morning saw us enjoying coffee at the Mountain Cafe and taking in the Sun Peaks Farmer’s Market.

The village was busy on Saturday and Sunday morning, with three wedding parties and the Art Festival.

We decided to spend the afternoon on a guided voyageur canoe trip on MacGillivray Lake led by Campbell, a lively young man dressed for the part who drove us to the lake in a huge old rattling school bus.

Of course, Ty, in typical fashion, sat right at the back of the bus and coached me on disaster scenarios and how to survive if the bus should lose its brakes on the hill.

The first order of business was for Campbell to bail out the canoe and then the six of us were off paddling around the lake in a replica of the kind of canoes used by the early Canadian explorers.

Large fires had gone through this area several times over the years and many stands of trees had been killed; we could see their dry burnt skeletons lining the lake.

We were also lucky enough to see a Canadian loon lunching on a trout.

Sunday night the weather was better for the screening of All the Time in the World, a documentary featuring a family of five who spent nine months in the Yukon bush without electricity, and Queen of the Sun, about the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive. Barb managed to get us some blankets and foldable chairs, making this viewing experience more comfortable than the other.

It was a fantastic weekend, thoroughly enjoyable. See the Festival program Midnight Sun Art & Film Festival and my photos here. More info about Sun Peaks is available here.

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ II: Tet Paul Nature Trail, Soufriere, St Lucia

St Lucia is a “soft adventure” travel paradise, which means that there are hiking, walking, and biking opportunities galore here. We decided to check out the newish two year old Tet Paul Nature Trail, located in the farming community of Chateau Belair, since visitors had described it as having the most amazing views of the two pitons (peaks).

Most people take a tour bus to get to this place but, since we’re on a shoe string here, we decided to take local minibus transport; after all, a fleet of them are parked right outside our hotel every single day. After a filling cooked breakfast at the new coffee shop kitty corner to the hotel, we hopped on the old red van headed down to Vieux Forte in the south; after it filled up with 15 people, all crammed into a claustrophobia-inducing tight space, we were off down the incredibly winding main highway.

After a ride of about 15 minutes, we were deposited at the entrance to Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, and followed the signs all the way up a long, winding road to the top on which we found the Tet Paul entrance hut. Along the way we passed a couple of munching cows who lowed at us plaintively. Before entering into the site, we had a cup of coffee to cool down from the 2 mile trudge up the road.

Our guide Pascal, a young local guy, took us through the six acre site, pointing out all the local vegetation and explaining how they work the plantation. An “antique house” – small wooden two room hut – and a cassava flour-making area also give an idea of local life back in the day.

From the trail are some of the most spectacular views of the South of the island, the Jalousie Bay, Petit Piton and Gros Piton, as well as Martinique and St. Vincent on clear days.

The gentle ascent features a variety of exotic fruit trees, (e.g. guava, soursop, avocado, pineapple, okra) as well as medicinal plants and trees. Work on the plantation is done by local rastas, one of whom was lounging in the shade as we passed by.

Two viewpoints in particular give fabulous views, one out over Gros Piton and the panorama of green to the Maria Islands offshore from Vieux forte and the other over the Jalousie Plantation and Petit Piton.

From the top of the “Stairway to Heaven” we could see the great Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy’s villa right below us, its huge blue pool glinting in the sun like a jewel.

The local community, with the help of landowners in the area and the Soufriere Foundation, worked for six years to get the funding for this nature walk and it provides employment for local youth who are trained in hospitality and tourism and given the necessary background to be able to conduct tours of the area.

After a tour of about an hour or so, we headed back down the hill to the main highway, intending to wait for a returning minibus. While there, I chatted to a guy also waiting; when a friend in a pickup truck stopped to pick him up, we also were offered a ride. Sitting in the back of the speeding pickup truck as it careened around the sharp switch backs almost did me in but we reached the turnoff to Jalousie Beach without incident. Just as we were clambering out of the back, another van rolled up whose occupants were kind enough to offer us a ride part-way down to the beach – huzzah! We didn’t make it to Jalousie, though, but back to Malgretoute and into the refreshing pounding surf. On our way back, we saw not just the usual mom and baby goat, but also another mom and two tinier babies, born not very long ago. The two very little ones, hearing us coming, tried to hide in a crack in the rock cliff but as we approached closer, were frightened into running back to mom.

A huge five masted sailing ship, dwarfing all the other anchored sailboats and catamarans, cruised into the harbour and anchored for the afternoon, which meant that the town was much busier than usual with both locals and tourists milling around the downtown area.

See more pictures here.

 

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ … in Soufriere, Saint Lucia, West Indies

We love it here! The day comes early in Soufriere: about 3 am, we hear the dogs start to bark; next, at 5, come the roosters with their strangled cries; then, about 5:30, the men yelling at one another across the plaza beneath our windows. By 5:30 all the fruit and vegetable vendors have their wares laid out on the sidewalks.

Needless to say, we are up at 6. Every day the weather has been the same, dark clouds atop the hills behind the town and a brisk wind blowing them seaward, where, just as they float above our hotel, they break up into tiny whisps and disappear over a cloudless ocean. Occasional rain bursts of a few minutes at a time freshen the air – wonderful! The temperature ranges from about 20 in the morning to 25 or so midday.

Soufriere is a poor town; quite a few folks hang out on the streets trying to sell transport or trips to various places. But these are very expensive. We’d heard that the water taxis stop right near the hotel and were imagining taking them daily to various places … Well, the reality is that we can’t afford them. A trip to one of the two most famous beach areas near here is EC$150. return for two people (that’s about $60). Paying $60 a day for water taxis is just not in the cards for us. So … walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ …

The second day here we saddled up the backpacks and headed off north in the direction of Anse Chastanet, one of the two good beach and resort areas around here. Along the way, we passed the town cemetery, in which a gravedigger was whistling while he worked, surrounded by holes in the ground and mounds of dirt.

Just past the cemetery, the road becomes a semi-paved, pitted, rutted one lane track that heads precipitously up into the hills that surround the town. It is steep!

As we walked uphill, a few cars and vans passed us, loaded down with tourists headed for the resort, the undercarriages of the vehicles just barely clearing the rough ground. Along the top of the ridge, several expensive villas sit, some with their grand walls, vases, and flowers reminding us very much of Fiesole, Italy. We could see Malgretoute Beach at the foot of the Petit Piton from the road. After about an hour, we arrived at Anse Chastanet resort, a four-star property on the small bay.

This place is extremely expensive; one night here will run you from $600 to $1,000 a night. And within this resort is another called Jade Mountain, a concrete bunker on the side of the hill that looms over the bungalows below.

We had a beer at the beachside bar and then rented a couple of loungers beneath a palapa on the public side of the beach (the larger beach area north of the restaurant is reserved for house guests of the resort).

Apparently there is pretty good snorkelling and diving here and all day long boats of various sizes came and went, depositing people from visiting cruise ships on the beach.

On this trip, we have seen hardly any Americans anywhere; now we know where they all are, on cruise ships in the Caribbean. It was actually strange to hear so many American accents in one place.

After several hours of fun in the sun, we packed up our gear and headed back up the road from which we’d come. Luckily, after walking not too far, a van stopped and offered us a ride back to town – huzzah!

Yesterday, our destination was once again Malgretoute beach, just south of town along what used to be a road and is now pretty much a goat track (literally!). We think that perhaps the road was destroyed in the last hurricane that ripped through here in October 2010. We enjoyed a quiet day of beach combing and snorkelling – lots of sea urchins here – a great lunch of creole chicken at the restaurant, and a chat with a visiting French couple.

Walking back, we purchased a small carved calabash pot from a local rastaman.

Goats, cows, pigs, and chickens roam freely here, running in between the playing kids and working adults.

Back at the Downtown ranch, we pulled our chairs onto our balcony and enjoyed a drink while listening to the sounds of the town below us and gazing out over the Petit Piton and the sea.

In the downtown area, there are three or four restaurants and a couple of bars. Mostly, tourists do not stay in Soufriere itself; they come on cruise ships to Saint Lucia for the day or they stay in expensive resorts out of town. Other than us, there may be 4 or 5 others staying here.

See more pics here.