Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Hike to Newton's Falls, Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa, at the end of the road on the Banks Peninsula on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, is one of a dozen small rural communities scattered on the slopes of a set of ancient volcanoes. The outside of the peninsula has a series of lovely sand beaches in deeply incised coves. Akaroa is in the caldera of one of the volcanoes. Every direction is a steep climb up. The hike to Newton's Falls conveniently starts right at our front door.

The Banks Peninsula has a number of environmental and cultural bodies dedicated to the preservation of landscape, flora and fauna and the maintenance of walking paths. Often these are through land purchase, but there are also several land owners who have accepted or chosen to place conservation covenants on their lands. The result is a community with a strong place consciousness. One example is the Hinewai Reserve - membership includes the hand written newsletter with colourful original artworks by the resident biologist. Another family has established a penguin reserve on their farm.

Along the track there are a number of rustic accommodations, some perhaps beyond my comfort zone. However all are gloriously festooned with flowers and trees and well settled into the landscape.

Plenty of people, though with the winding we see them only briefly as we pass. About half way up the track narrows and becomes a trail through the native bush - another of the protected elements of the place.

An old wool shed speaks to the continuing presence of sheep in the district. Howard, our farmer friend says "We look after the sheep the year round and get 2/3 of the sale, the shearer spends two minutes with each sheep and gets 1/3."

Cool and shadowy at the falls, we take time to relax and enjoy the gentle sounds of the water and watch it twist its way down the creek we've followed uphill.

The silvery stream of water drops some ten or more metres, the origin lost in the mosses and foliage above us. Eventually we straighten our stiffening knees and b egin the trek back home.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Early Morning Visitor

It was the cat that made that woke us up early Monday morning - loud shrieking calls and moans. I got out of bed, then heard Andrew wake up and turn on the lights. I decided to go back to bed. The cat was mewling by the south windows and Andrew peered into the early morning darkness. Everything seemed quiet and an hour later we were up and Andrew took me to the airport for my trip to Dawson.

I returned on Friday afternoon and looked out the window. At first I noticed nothing but after a minute I wondered why the lines that hold the bird feeders 4 metres above the ground were slack. I looked again and I wondered where did the bird feeders go?

Both of us pulled on our shoes and looked around, one bird feeder was lying on the ground some way down the hill and even now, three days later, we haven't seen a trace of the other one. Our investigation expanded and we noticed unusual markings on the trees.

It looks like a bear had developed an appetite for bird seed as there was none to be seen.

Today, I started up the hill trail through the bush to go and watch the lunar eclipse. I was running to make sure I didn't miss anything when I stopped in my tracks. There was an enormous mound of bear crap in the middle of the trail - a mound well peppered with bird seed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Easter at the beach in a Coastal Fort

Friends from the lower mainland invited us to join them for the Easter weekend on Puget Sound. We started with a two night stay at Fort Wardon, a Washington state park. The park, one component of a set of four forts guarding the entry to Puget Sound, was built between 1897 and 1902. With some one thousand coastal artillery soldiers, plus the wives and children of the officers, the fort was really a small town. The state park now operates the site as a conference centre and has an interesting and varied array of rental properties available to visitors.

We opted for one of the more luxurious officers quarters, three large bedrooms, and a small single bedroom for the servant. Unfortunately we forgot to bring our servant with us so that room remained empty. The main floor included a modern kitchen, a grand dining room and a comfortable sitting room with a working fire place. The large veranda was a treat.

Our Easter Dinner party
The view from the veranda was brilliant. A broad sward of grass sloped away from the house and opened a view to the beach and lighthouse beyond. Further away yet we could identify familiar mountains in our own country. From here as well we could watch the ferries and freighters connecting Seattle to the wider world. Even so it wasn't hard to pretend that we were still comfortably ensconced in the pleasant, self-satisfied western world that, in 1910, still thought itself the highest order of world civilization. A half century of brutal global warfare was still unimaginable. What bliss.

The massive blocks of concrete acting as the base for the large guns (removed and sent to France in WW I) sprawl around the perimeter of the large hill anchoring the northeastern corner of the Olympic peninsula. An early morning stroll through these silent monuments allowed the imagination plenty of scope. Squads of young men marching along the road, the efficient machinery of iron and steel swinging about at the orders of peak-capped officers and the sudden explosion of sound and air pressure as the guns are fired.

Fort Worden, Battery Benson #2 Gun Firing, 1915 (University of Washington Archive)
But this morning it is quiet. The sough of the huge spruce trees and my footsteps on concrete stairs are the only sounds.

Each battery is named. Major Amos Stoddard was an artillery man who died during the Shawnee/British/Canadian siege of Fort Meigs Ohio during the War of 1812. Col. Percy M. Kessler, at whose home we stayed, also had a small battery defending New York harbour named for him when he died in 1939. The military acknowledges the service of soldiers, instilling pride in many veterans. The extensive and detailed contemporary websites outlining the history of coastal artillery units and their fortifications is one sign of this. And the material remains of each battery thus becomes both a dealer in death and a memorial to service in this act.

The most spectacular structure is Battery Kinzie. Completed in 1912 it was the most expensive and included the largest guns in the fortress. Mechanical hoists were needed to to safely lift the heavy shells and powder charges from the well protected magazines. A sophisticated roof tram rail system up top ensured a steady stream of ammunition to the guns.

On the top of the battery I met a contemplative man with his silent dog. He stared into the forest and parried my Easter morning greeting with a reproof that he was thinking. I apologized and moved on. It was an excellent place to do some thinking.

Perhaps he lives in a city and cherishes his time with trees. I live in the forest so turned about and settled myself further down the concrete monstrosity and settled in to think about the sea.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Paddle

On a Saturday in early May Andrew and I paddled from town back home. Along the MacIntyre Creek confluence we ran into swans. Around the corner we stopped at Ben's camp and snoozed in the sun after failing to make much of a dent in The Guardian crossword. And then onwards.

We put in by the boat launch downtown, after dragging the canoe over 100 metres of ice to the river's edge. Even there the ice was still about 50 cm thick so it made a nice, if somewhat wet and slippery dock. The float was beautiful, sunny, warm and with a slight south wind.

Passing by the old dock piles indicates how much the river drops over the winter. It is a good time to see where the sandbars have moved over the past year.

Along the way we pass the site of the World War II oil refinery and oil storage yard. Remediation of the soil and the placement of metal casing is supposed to prevent any further migration of old petroleum waste into the river.

The water is low. Sandbars and rocks, all still thickly armored with sheets of ice, towering out of the water. At last snow, we pulled into shore, and listened to the dripping melt and the tinkling of the stream meandering under the ice sheet, peaceful and zen like. 

Around the corner we see the complete beaver lodge, even down to the winter entry tunnel which is now a couple of hands above the water line. Nearby, another flock of swans.

At Takhini confluence we paddled against the current along the left bank, the usual sweepers well above our heads, but large blocks of ice filled the channel. We were able to navigate amongst them but as one or two slid under the canoe, they heaved us unevenly upwards as the ice didn't want to sink any further. The wallowing of the canoe was uncomfortable in the dark grey green water full of sharp edged blocks - swimming would be no fun. As we attempted to pull out of the last eddy for the charge up towards the bridge the current and ice grabbed the canoe and we spun back down stream. A quick recovery, we regained the eddy and decided that the danger of exiting the river over the ice hanger was less than getting whacked by the ice flow. And we were out and, like the start, we dragged the canoe over  a couple of hundred metres of ice to the launch and home.

The Big Box Store

Earlier this spring I visited Winnipeg, a southern Canadian city. One aspect of a Northerner trip south is the desire to see stores, big stores with lots of stuff in them. We used to pack an empty suitcase down to haul back "treasures" but now we limit ourselves to an annual renewal of our maple syrup cache. Still, I couldn't resist the lure of an expedition to a big box store.

In the old fashioned downtown department store, laid out in the familiar prairie survey grid, you went directly to the "department" which had your pants or hardware. The big box store is different. Entering the store requires sophisticated route finding skills. The store map, vague blobs floating on white, doesn't tell you where to go, rather it outlines your Quest. After passing through the one way gate there is no return. You can only go onwards.

First you must pass through the awesome hall of rooms. A maze of Nordic dining suites, kitchen cabinetry and living rooms demand your attention and lure you from your quest. Maybe what I'm looking for is in one of these rooms. While I meet no monsters neither do I find my treasure.

Passages are packed with towering stacks of menacing upholstery, each piece tempting me to touch, to lie, to sleep, perhaps forever.

Onward into the chamber of children's toys. On first approach they appear innocent if numerous. However as I pass by their convolutions induce vertigo and I am drawn into their spell.

While fighting off their spell I am accosted by a triad of wheelie trucks clearly bent on my demise. Happily their inability to leap from the shelf allows me to escape their clutches and I move onward, lost in the cornucopia of fantastical domesticity.

Next, I fell into the quicksand pit of utensils. Hordes of neon noodle rakes, spatuelae, ladles, spoons, knives and whisks barred my way. I panicked and ran.

A new vista opened. With relief I noted the square grid pattern, my old navigation skills might still help me. I looked at awe at how the many wonders I'd viewed in the upper world of the Quest were now compressed into neat flat cardboard boxes. Here at last there was order, the chaos of plenty captured and controlled.

But rounding the last corner I saw the exit before me. There was but one final gauntlet of special items, sales pieces and the last chance hot dog stand to run through. Clutching the soon to be mine Jansjo "Uses LEDs, which consumes up to 80% less energy and last 20 times longer" lamp, I bounded to the counter, presented my magic plastic card and made a break for the crisp spring air outside.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Visiting Dad

 In mid-March my youngest brother Dick and I visited my Dad in Winnipeg. The get together was mostly road trip - an attempt by my nostalgic brother to visit every hockey arena in rural Manitoba that he ever played in. And as it was his birthday we headed north to Gimli where we could get a big basket of fried pickerel cheeks, the traditional Lake Winnipeg birthday meal.
The post-season holy sanctuary of the Teulon hockey arena. The ghostly sounds of skates, clashing sticks and cheering crowds echo silently in the rink. Quite a different story from the shouting and excitement in front of the playoff games on television at Dad's place in the evening.

Mid-March is fishing season on the lake, though the boats are stacked up in the snowy yards and all the fishermen use Bombardiers to get to the nets. The road out onto the lake from town, not really closed. But on rounding the first corner we decided that staying on the beach wasn't such a bad idea.

Curiously the next day when we headed south into southeastern Manitoba we couldn't really tell the difference between Lake Winnipeg and the prairies, both previously the bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz.

And instead of pickerel, we found a pig setting sail in a dumpster on the snow waves as in a rather dysfunctional children's book.

In Vita, just north of the US boundary line, we visited the cultural icons of the tidy little community. Decades ago a friend and I dallied with the notion of buying a farm south of Vita. The farm, buried deep in the poplar woods and almost on the border, was for sale by an older Ukrainian couple and their grown children. They'd decided it was time to sell up and move to the city. An ancient poplar log barn slouched on the edge of the field behind the house, itself small, cozy and hospitable. Over some thick borscht and home made bread, we had a lovely conversation about dreams of different places - us in their's and theirs in our's. My buddy and I didn't actually have near enough money to buy even this isolated place, but I hope they found a buyer and were satisfied with their new urban home.
After a wide swing through the border lands we arrived in Steinbach - Mennonite central - in the southeast. We all ordered farmer sausage and verenikha with cream gravy. Settled, we launched into our tasty meal strongly reminding us of the lunches made by our Groszma and Mother when we were all younger. Opa, nearly 92, kept right up with us, both in appetite and memories.

This winter has been long, cold (as usual) and snowy (way more than usual) in Winnipeg. As we left and returned to town we noticed the eruption of new mountain ranges. At regular intervals around the perimeter of the city there are enormous mounds of snow, some twenty or more metres high. These continuously growing ridges, each several kilometres long, are especially dramatic at night when the snow haul trucks in long lines drop ever more snow along the bottom slopes. Below florid pinkish and yellow flood lamps, bulldozers, like giant dung beetles, push the snow ever higher up the slope, recreating the tectonic forces raising the prairie's own "seasonally adjusted" Rocky Mountains. I must have lived too long in the Yukon - I couldn't figure out why the Manitoba Alpine Club hadn't started a climbing frenzy to see who could scale and "bag" all of these new mountain ranges before they disappear into the mosquito-laden flood waters of a prairie spring.