Sunday, November 30, 2014

Niagara Falls

Image from Seven Natural Wonders

Three immense waterfalls are located on the Niagara River where it drops over the escarpment on its journey from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

On the US side, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are visible only from the Canadian side of the river, or from a viewing platform built for the purpose.

The Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, are shaped as the name suggests. This is largest of the three waterfalls at 792 m high with a 53 m drop. Visitors enjoy approaching the falls from a small boat called the Maid of the Mist.

Long a destination for lovers and honeymooners, Niagara Falls is also a magnet for daredevils. Though a hefty fine is now imposed on anyone who attempts to take the risk of dropping over the edge in a custom made barrel, many have attempted it. Most, but not all of these have survived.

Stuart McLean, raconteur extraordinaire, tells the astonishing story of Roger Woodward, who, thanks to the carefree attitude of a well-meaning boatman, went over the falls as a child and survived.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny

Image from Louise Penny

In Number 10 of the Gamache series, someone from Three Pines has to die. Not just a passing victim, but one of the major characters who has endured from the beginning.

Gamache, now retired as Chief of Homicide from the Surete du Quebec and living with Reine Marie in Three Pines, is bogged down in the midst of a mysterious poetry book. He sits on the Surprised by Joy bench above the village, unable to get beyond a certain page. There is a balm in Gilead...

Parked beside him on the same bench, the worried artist Clara Morrow waits for an overdue date with her husband. Why hasn't he returned? They planned this meeting date a year before, when they embarked on a trial separation. On the hill overlooking Three Pines, she sits beside Armand Gamache, unwilling to request his help. Until finally she does.

Beauvoir is still living and working in Montreal, handling his personal ghosts. When on a visit to his parents in law in Three Pines, he is asked by Gamache to help Clara find Peter, there is only one answer possible. Oui, patron. With some regret, he lets Annie go back to Montreal alone and joins Clara, Gamache and Myrna to seek the missing man.

Like Penny's other works, this is much more than a cracking good mystery. Its echoes probe deep into the human condition. Seeking humour in the midst of horror. Following one's calling. Facing oneself. Not mistaking movement for progress. Nole timere. Only after facing down the fear comes the salve, the boon, the peace.

Nole timere. Do not fear. The author will translate the Latin phrase. Or the French. Eventually. On the surface is the mystery, laced with humorous dialogue and gorgeous images of Quebec. This story is set amid the ferocious weather and landscape of a tiny settlement near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, on the remote Gaspe Peninsula.

The names of the fictitious villages, Agneau-de-Dieu and Tabaquen, the mythic characters of the ferrymen, fishermen, and art dealers conjure up the old Canadian nation of Quebec. Even he touristic eatery, La Muse, hints at something ancient and deep. The hardcover image is a painting by the iconic Quebec artist, Clarence Gagnon.

From the redoubtable Louise Penny, a book of many layered splendour. Again. She set out to do a series of ten books, but I doubt if Armand and Jean-Guy and Reine Marie and Annie are ready to bow out of the author's life -- or that of their readers -- just yet.

An obvious direction for future books would be to promote Beauvoir to main protagonist. A man now tempered by hard experience, he can forge ahead in the Surete. That way, Armand can step in from his retirement to help as needed.

Iona waterfall on Cape Breton Island

Image from digital journal

This is Saint Columba's Falls, on the Washback River Victoria County, on Cape Breton Island.

This is not a high waterfall, and it is easy to hike up and sit in the spray. The negative ions from a falls make us feel good.

At nearby Iona, visitors can also see the Highland Village Museum, which illustrates the lives of the early Gaelic settlers.

Nova Scotia was nostalgically named by them for their old country: New Scotland.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Unnamed Labrador waterfall and iceberg waterfall

Left: Image from travellocation

This forest waterfall, on the Eagle River in the Mealy Mountains, Labrador is too remote to have been given a name.

Below: This waterfall off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador drops from an iceberg. Image from icebergfinder.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Montmorency Falls, Quebec

Image from wikimedia

Located a short distance from Quebec City, this 83 m waterfall is 30 m higher than Niagara. Parc de la Chute Montmorency is located on the Montmorency, a tributary of the St. Lawrence.

Tourist facilities at this site include a cable car, a suspension bridge, footpaths and stairs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Athabasca Falls

Image of frozen falls from wikimedia

Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park is as interesting for its rock formations as it is for the waterfall itself. It lies a short distance off Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway.

The headwaters of the Athabasca River arise at the foot of the Columbia Icefields near the continental roof. This major Alberta river travels 1500 km across the province, draining into Lake Athabasca. The Peace River also flows into Lake Athabasca; as the waters of these two rivers mingle and flow into the lake, they form a huge wetland called the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

From the enormous lake, the Athabasca waters flow north to eventually join the 1800 mile long Mackenzie and flow into the Arctic Ocean through another vast delta at Inuvik.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hunlen Falls, Tweedsmuir Park

Image from hellobc

At 401 metres, this waterfall in Tweedsmuir Park in the Chilcotin country is the highest in BC, and the third highest in Canada.

Perhaps the reason this astonishing waterfall is not very well known is its remote location, deep in the back country.

One way to see the falls is by taking a 20 minute float plane ride from Nimpo Lake. It's also possible to land on Turner Lake. From there, the trail to the lookout is only a kilometer long.

Turner Lake is part of a popular back country canoe circuit. But be careful! You're in Bear Country.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Small waterfall in the Callaghan Valley

This waterfall is located up in the back country of the Callaghan Valley a short distance south of Whistler.

I photographed it on a spring Bear tour in the month of May, when the bears were foraging on the spring growth and the creek was full of snowmelt.

And yes, that is a skiff of snow on the ledge of the viewing platform.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shannon Falls

Image from jagged pixel

The world is full of wonderful waterfalls, and many of these are located here in British Columbia.

A couple of hours north on the Sea-to-Sky, Highway 99 to Whistler, Shannon Falls cascades into the forest. The third largest falls in BC, it drops 335 metres from Mounts Habrich and Sky Pilot into the lovely Shannon Falls Provincial Park.

The park has trails that go into an adjacent park. Stawamus Chief Provincial Park features the Chief, a huge cliff face of international interest to climbers, and offers a view over Howe Sound and the town of Squamish.

Before or after picknicking at the foot of Shannon Falls, the intrepid hiker or sightseer can ride the Chief Gondola.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Non-native bird species

The other day I was walking in Bear Creek Park and saw this pink feather on the trail.

I've read enough detective stories to know what it suggests.

A feather of this brilliant hue is not from a native bird species; therefore, a strange and exotic bird passed this way.

Either that, or someone wearing a boa was taking a stroll in the autumn park. Any detective worth her salt can see that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blogging as part of a writing life

Image from

Five years ago today I created my first blog post, which happened to be a poem. This blogging venture began with a Brazilian friend, Silvia Pandini, who did a guest post on Dec 17. We promised one another, "I'll start blogging if you will." By the end of the year, I'd logged ten posts and was enjoying myself. Silvia is still blogging too, in Portuguese.

The second year, I realized this short form writing was habit-forming. I kept getting sudden ideas for posts, and that year I posted about every two days.

In 2011 I entered the year-long Writer's Studio at SFU and decided it was time to step up and take my writing vocation more seriously. So I set myself a task of posting on a daily basis. To make this feasible, I often wrote several related posts at a time, and scheduled them to come up daily.

Wondered when I would run out of ideas, but I needn't have worried. As one series wound down, another suggested itself. More and more, I was taking pictures specifically to illustrate upcoming posts. By the end of the year, I'd logged 371 posts, more than the 365 I'd promised myself.

After taking a lot of time off teaching to do the Studio, I had to work full-time again, so I decided to let myself off the hook and go back to a couple of posts a week. But ideas kept coming and I finished that year with 228 posts.

Last year, I was only 19 days short of a post-a-day tally. This year, I retired from my teaching work in the spring and threw myself into finishing my novel. Still blogging, though, and on track for a similar tally. I've thought about quitting, but somehow, I keep on. Through this daily discipline, it' been useful and illuminating to discover favourite topics areas. The top three of the twelve headings under which I classify my posts are Books and Writers, Canadiana, and Cultures and Civilizations.

One more benefit: as I prepare another draft of my 120,000 word novel manuscript (Working title is The Habit of Secrecy), these simple, short and imperfect bits of non-fiction provide a fine counterpoint to the fiction task of keeping all those characters and story lines in my head.

It's good editing exercise too. As the pre-scheduled posts go up, I check for accuracy, brevity and visual appeal. But even if at some much later date I discover (or a reader does) some egregious error, I can go right back and fix it. Hallelujah! Recently I added a picture to a post done long ago.

Most popular posts to date:
Ammolite (2013) This simple post about a gemstone that has been officially adopted by the City of Lethbridge and the Province of Alberta has been read by an astonishing 4583 viewers. Go figure.
The top five posts also feature Chauvet Cave art, the Orient Express and Roses wild and tame, and a light bit of humour on the terminology of street signs, British and Canadian.

No idea what the above info tells me. Should I press on? Are my thoughts worth sharing? Am I learning? For now, I think I'll celebrate the five year effort by taking tomorrow off. Maybe. And then I may turn to waterfalls, or Canadian River Systems for inspiration.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tepees at Soda Creek

The presence of Dave on the left shows the size of this enormous central teepee; the others on the site are smaller.

These contemporary versions are made of canvas in the city, as the label below left shows. Mukwa Teepees are made in West Vancouver.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New pit house at Soda Creek

Left: Dave Johnson stands beneath the skylight.

On the edge of Soda Creek, a few miles off Highway 1 north of Williams Lake, a demonstration village has been set up to illustrate some of the traditional lifestyle features of the aboriginal group who occupied this area before the arrival of the Europeans.

This modern pit house is built around the natural shape of the wood. It is a large and spacious shelter, with this small tunnel entrance that leads from the external slit door to a large round space lit from above by a window opening.

Wooden platforms line the edges and the central fireplace is placed to allow the smoke to escape through the top.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Old pit houses at Xatsull Village

This pit house, located at Xatsull Heritage Village near Soda Creek, BC, has aged and fallen into disuse.

Newer and larger demonstration models have been built to illustrate the features of these fascinating and practical traditional dwellings.

Xatsull Village is open for tours, demonstrations and interpretive talks by elders.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sweat lodge at Soda Creek

This sweat lodge is part of the Xatsull Heritage Village located on the bank of the Fraser near Soda Creek.

The sweat lodge ceremony is a healing tool used by many aboriginal peoples.

In addition to conferring the physical benefits of cleansing toxins through the skin, this sauna-like outdoor steam room is also used to confer spiritual benefits, purifying the mind and soul along with the body.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Traditional village at Soda Creek

The Xatsull Heritage Village flanks the Fraser River a few miles north of Williams Lake.

A few weeks ago, my brother and I visited this place, following the narrow road that leads steeply down from the highway.

As well as teepees and a large central shelter, pit houses, both old and new, can be seen, along with a traditional sweat lodge roofed with cedar boughs. This fascinating town gives a glimpse of how Shuswap people lived before.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Afghan storytelling evening

"Peace bears" wear traditional Afghan garb

Last night a non-profit organization called Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan hosted a storytelling evening in Surrey. This group works to promote education for Afghan girls and women.

Activities include training teachers, providing libraries and school equipment and hosting a Centre of Research and Innovation for Afghan teachers at the University of Kabul.

Following a delicious dinner prepared by the Afghan Chopan restaurant, poems were read, songs were sung and storytellers spoke on a variety of subjects. Accompanied by slides, these tales educated and inspired the audience. 

Lauryn Oates, Programs director of the organization, talked about its history and emphasized its important goals of building human capital in Afghanistan by educating girls and empowering women, as well as educating and engaging Canadian women as world citizens.

One passionate young judo expert described the benefits gleaned from the judo she learned with other girls and boys in Kabul. A communications engineer described the current state of cell phone and wireless internet coverage.

A retired geologist showed and described Band-e Amir National Park and other astonishingly beautiful geographical features of his mountainous home country, and showed slides of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, already faceless after damage inflicted by Genghis Khan. Deliberately destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, these remarkable and ancient works of art were recalled by a Canadian woman who saw them on a youthful trip to Bamiyan in the 1970s.

A young Afghan woman spoke about Afghan music, past and present. I learned that Kabul Dreams is a popular contemporary band and Afghan Star is a televised talent show "like American Idol."

The next annual symposium of this valuable volunteer-run organization will be held in Banff next October.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mary's Wedding recalls First World War Cavalry battle in Moreuil Wood

Image from Peninsula Productions

Stephen Manicotte's one-act play is currently running at the Black Box Theatre in White Rock, and the first matinee was sold out.

With a simple stage set that suggests in turn a barn, a horse, a war zone and a formal tea, the cast of two carries the audience back to WWI.

The play's time line goes backwards; "Tonight," the young actor tells us, "is just a dream" that "begins at the end and ends at the beginning."

Young players Julia Seidlanowska and Harrison Macdonald move from humour to pathos to romance and carry it all off beautifully. Playing until November 15, this is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Biker Dogs at White Rock

On Marine Drive in White Rock, two biker dogs wait outside Whitby's Coffee House for their human.

Somehow, these pups look too small and timid to fit the bill as Biker Dogs, but that's what they are.

There's a good story here -- I just don't know what it is. Yet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Learning history by reading fiction: Joseph Boyden, Kate Grenville and Diana Gabaldon

Book cover image from the National Post

At a panel presentation at the recent SIWC, writers of historic fiction agreed that many people learn their history through fiction. How do novelists imagine the past, not as painted by the whitewash brushes of history, but as it really might have been? Research, imagination, memory.

The latest novel of Joseph Boyden unfolds a poignant and utterly believable account of the troubled personal interactions that ensue when a Jesuit priest from France lands joins a group of Hurons at war with nearby Iroquois. The author is descended from both Anishinaabe and Jesuit roots.

In The Secret River (2005), Australian author Kate Grenville portrays a colonial society that began as a penal colony. In this novel we follow a poor London couple following a brush with a harsh legal system which allows a prisoner to escape hanging by agreeing to be transported to Australia.

Once there, protagonist William Thornton must pay a high personal price for land and freedom; this casts a long shadow on his eventual success. "The great power of fiction," says Grenville, is that it's not an argument: it's a world. Inhabit it for a while...and you're likely to come out a little changed."

We definitely learn a lot about history by entering the fictional worlds created by good writers. In fact, I learned more as I drove home from the SIWC listening to Diana Gabaldon's latest novel. Her tale portrays the complex and shifting loyalties that characterized the North American colonial period preceding the American Revolutionary War. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Weird and wonderful cloud

Maybe it's just me, finally slowing down enough to notice.

Or maybe we really are getting more amazing cloud formations.

This one, on the Cariboo Highway, was a real cake taker.

So thick and substantial you'd think something big was concealed inside it. A spaceship, maybe?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

In the eye of the storm

It smells like bubble gum, and the colours resemble that too.

Being surrounded by the strange suds feels like being a storm chaser in the middle of a hurricane. It also sounds a bit like a waterfall.

All in all, it's an unusual sensation, felt only when we sit alone, with suds covering the windows all around us.

Inside the car wash!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fall masquerades as spring in Bear Creek Park

Like the goldenrod seen on White Rock beach recently, this rhododendron, blooming outside Bear Creek Gardens, suggests March rather than November.

Without the surrounding clues like fallen leaves and bare trees, it would be easy to think this was a spring bloom.

It probably was -- just decided to take advantage of suitable weather to produce a second round of flowers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Goldenrod undeterred by wintry weather in White Rock

The quantity of new growth on this clump of goldenrod growing on White Rock beach belies the lateness of the season.

It's full of fresh leaf buds and opening flowers.

Apparently, the plant thinks it's spring.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Truck camouflage

The neighbour's red pickup truck is hidden behind a tree of exactly the right shape and colour to camouflage it.

Except the wheels are a giveaway, of course.

Another way of looking at this picture is as if it were a 1967 Corvette Stingray, travelling in the opposite direction to how the truck is parked.

Why is it blurry? Why, the blinding speed, of course.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chinese Lantern Plant blooms on

It started its life with me as a small pot plant.

Two autumns ago, I bought it to display the bright foliage in front of the house in the fall.

Transplanted last year, it has now grown large and spreading. In some places, these plants are considered nuisance weeds, because they grow so fast and easily.

Since late summer, this one has been showing off its orange lanterns against the bricks of the barbecue.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mystery religion of marketing taken to the limit and beyond

Blueberry jam. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was a local product, from Abbotsford to be precise, as the wording on the jar suggests. Just an hour down the road from here, that town is full of berry farms.

But even though the blueberries are grown in Abbotsford, this jam is not produced locally. In fact, it was packed in The United Arab Emirates.

In time zones, that's 11 hours. Blueberries grown in the Fraser Valley were shipped halfway round the world, made into jam, and sent right back to where the berries grew.

This sort of thing is surprisingly common. Marketing, the international sacred mystery religion of our times, tells us it's okay to use our limited fossil fuel and pollute the atmosphere burning it to do this kind of nonsense.

There, I've ranted, and I feel a bit better. But I'm curious. Is it just me, or are others concerned about this sort of thing?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Autumn crocus

This tiny autumn crocus, purchased at the UBC Botanical Gardens was planted in September, and sprang into flower, as autumn crocuses do. In the spring and summer, they produce the greenery that strengthens the bulb; then this dies away to be replaced in autumn by a flower.

These brave flags made a row along the walk until the heavy rain came. Then they laid their heads down on the cement wall and gave themselves up to storm.

Yet a couple of days after the sun returned, another few brave blossoms followed.

I love the varied types of autumn crocus; their bravery and brightness in the face of heavy weather, and their promise of  spring and new life beyond the encroaching winter.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Seasonal shift in the temperate zone

Bear Creek Park is quiet now, with a definite autumnal look that defies the dramatic foliage of a banana tree. Since I took this picture, gardeners have bound its own leaves around the plant to protect it from the coming winter.

Since the umbrella blew off the deck in last week's windstorm, our unusual California-style summer of dry heat has definitely given way to autumn. It's the time of year to exchange clothing between summer and winter closets and put new flannel sheets on the bed.

As the Wallace Stevens poetically inquired,

"Is there no change or death in paradise
Does ripe fruit never fall?"

Oh the joys of seasonal change in the temperate zone.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Landmark Port Mann Bridge removed following replacement

Image: Yasemin Tulpar

Bridge technology changes, and bridges, along with everything else, have grown larger, higher and more elaborate.

The temporary span seen in the left foreground is being used to take down the old orange structure, half of which can still be seen.

The new Port Mann bridge is enormous. It has double the capacity of the old sixties vintage bridge, and at 65 metres, is one of the widest in the world. The bridge deck is high and broad, with ten lanes suspended from soaring cable towers and a thicket of white cables that meet overhead.