Saturday, August 28, 2010

Discovery Day on the Thirty Mile River

Took a solo river trip this past long weekend. Across Lake Laberge and into the not so empty bush beyond. Had a good book to read, simple food and some crossword puzzles for the time it takes to make coffee in the morning. Weather was hot, but river was cool.

I stop in a familiar cove on the lake and climb the steep cliff behind the beach. The trees have grown. I am disappointed to not see my boat from the heights. From the rocky point down the beach I regain my composure.

My chair looks out over the river. I watch the reflection of river ripples on the curved sides of the boat, the mystery of their meeting at the prow blocked by a pine. I do not move my chair, today I prefer the philosophical wondering to the very slight satisfaction arising from observed fact.

I visit my favorite island in US Bend. I force myself to relax and read my newspaper 10 metres from a large and beautiful wasp nest. The prospect of being chased by angry wasps keeps me gentle and quiet. I read several articles and decide to leave while my luck holds.

The time is halfway between summer solstice and autumnal equinox, the shortening of daylight is beginning to accelerate. It is hot and sunny but I know the waterfowl before me are beginning their migration, the fireweed here are spent, the berries ripening and the number of yellow leaves in the forest are more numerous every morning.

The lanky spruce spiking the sky in the camp are stark against the morning sky. There is no wind, the buzz of a fly, the occassional chatter of a squirrel as it throws spruce cones down from the trees and the low quacking of ducks in the back water accompany the slow, almost imperceptable, oscillation of the tree tops. Perhaps it it is the rotation of the earth at work, a timeless natural opposite of Foucault`s pendulum.

A little hiking in the woods in the late afternoon and later I float out to the river garden in the back eddy beyond my camp. With the sun low in the sky I look down through the almost invisible water. Floating in the air above the plants is quite remarkable and I'm fascinated with plants breaching mediums and water bugs skittering around on the surface doing interesting things.

The return up the lake is fraught with a rising wind and stormy waves. It is though the lake is telling me to stay, to wait upon the forests and the river, to escape the town and wait for winter.

Project Management 101: #2 Site Preparation

With the corrected front and back frames completed it is time to locate the shed. I pick a spot down the hill by the boat shed, adding another architectural treasure to my compound. The site, on gravel, is backed by trees to the south and west minimizing solar exposure. I drag the rear frame orienting it to face the shed to the north. I bring down a spade and post hole auger in the wheelbarrow and make a starting divot by kicking vegetation out of the way. I place the auger and make the first turn. Owww, my wrist. I look, a wasp stings me again. Oww. Lots of buzzing, I abandon the tools and run away.

I return in the coolness of early morning and search the trees, no nest. Must be on the ground. More tools, rake, weed eater and lots of clothes - neck warmer, jacket, tucked in pants, gloves and my new Canadian Tire bug hat. I considered buying wasp poison but the instructions on the tin were so scary I decided to leave it in the store. After skimming the site with the weed eater, I vigourously rake the vegetation in short, fast sweeps, looking for the nest in the ground litter. After clearing most of the site I see a group of wasps hovering about a foot away from my divot. I back off and return to dump two cups of gas on the nest. I look for matches, opps, go back up to the house, get matches and a big pail of water. I chuck a lit match and watch the flames consume the nest.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Project Management 101 #1 Planning


A couple of weeks ago friends lost their cabin in a fire due to spontaneous combustion from paint rags. They escaped without injury and without anything else. We sympathized but I start thinking about "tinder" around our place. I've cleared scrap wood from near the house and also fire smarted, removed the trees downhill of the house. But there's also paint, boat gas, grease, propane, bear spray and camp fuel around. I decided to build a safe storehouse. An opportunity to demonstrate my professional project management skills.


My plans started with the four 8' long treated garden ties lying under the porch. I had used the same posts for my extraordinarily successful boat shed so the architectural theme was set. I headed off to the lumber yard to pick up some 2X4s and at the counter they asked how long and how many? Quickly I decided the shed would be 5' X 7' (real planners do this sort of thing on the fly all the time) and ordered up a bunch of 12 footers. I also bought lag bolts to assemble the frame, the brilliance of this would only become obvious later. On my return home I cut my lumber into 7 and 5 foot pieces. Then I drew up my plan.

Two frames, a front and a rear, would be prepared and installed on site. I could then add the side framing and the shed would come together. I measured and drilled holes for the lag bolts and began the assembly. I completed one frame and was getting the second ready when I noticed I had built a right side and not a front. My shed was now going to 7' X 5'. I quickly removed all the lag bolts and built a front and a back.

During this process I wondered how big are my jerry cans and how many do I have to store? I pulled out one can from under the porch and discovered a 3' deep shed would be fine while my eight jerry cans would nicely fit the 7' width. My plan was complete. Well, at least for now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mooshide Gathering

It's a long drive to Dawson. But with convivial conversations amongst witty friends punctuated by wildlife sightings along the way - a black bear sow and her cub, a grizzly bear, eagles, a fox with prey and two without, and grouse aplenty hopping into the bushes as we approached - there was plenty to keep us amused.

Moosehide dock below St. B
arnabas Anglican Church

We were going to attend the bi-annual Moosehide Gathering. Since 1993 the Tr'ondek Hwech'in (a Yukon First Nation whose homeland is the Dawson area) have organized and hosted this huge public event to celebrate their return as full and active players in Yukon society. Although never absent their tough fight against Canadian colonialism kept them busy from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s. The settlement of their treaty with Canada was celebrated with a potlatch during the Moosehide Gathering in 1998. This year's Gathering is honouring those Elders, now passed on, who worked so hard to preserve and carry forward their traditions.

Isaac stays cool on the waterfront

Ronald, Art and ... stay cool at Moosehide

It is cool in the brief early morning, warm during the day, getting darn hot by mid afternoon and sunny all the time, though grumpy locals complain of a damp and rainy summer so far. Judging by all the vegetables available in the Saturday morning riverside Farmer's Market however it hasn't impaired the happiness of the brocolli, lettuce and cabbages.

Finnish student volunteer at Moosehide

Getting to Moosehide means a short trip down river from Dawson. There is almost always a wait. I stood in the boat line-up for an hour, never far from the front, but the Tr'ondek Hwech'in always honour Elders and they get priority, after a life time of work you get to take the short cut. I'm getting close to being an Elder I suppose but take photos, meet more friends and enjoy the companionship of the line. Besides, it's always a pleasure to spend time on the river bank.

Victor watches Sabastian head back to town

Madeline, Tr'ondek Hwech'in dancer

At Moosehide, the sunny southern slopes are crowded by a relaxed crowd. I spend a long afternoon visiting yet more friends, and enjoying the performers. The Han singers and drummers open the Gathering program. The Yu'pik Miracle drummers and singers, regular Alaskan visitors from the mouth of the Yukon River get the audience to their feet and Carcross's Art Johns, with his gravelly soulful voice, sings country western tunes of loneliness and longing. And Vuntut Gwitchin's Boyd Benjamin, once of the Fiddlehead group of youthful fiddlers and now an air charter pilot, is here to play northern jigs and reels. Eventually the hot sun cooks my brain and I return to my shady tent to read Robert Stead's prairie epic, Grain.

Dakhk'a Khwa'an Inland Tlingit Dancers

Kylie getting ready to make bannock

Watching the river flow, waiting for dad to get the boat ready

I volunteer on Saturday afternoon, driving an 18 foot rattling green tin river boat with a 50 hp outboard, back and forth between the beach at Dawson and Moosehide dock. There is a noticeable tide of people. In mid-afternoon there is always a long line-up on the beach as people head to Moosehide for the free dinner - one night its bbq salmon, the next its moosestew. We stockpile the life jackets on the Dawson dock and hustle people into the boats - mine, one of the mid-sized boats, takes seven passengers. Then turn downstream, look to see where the car ferry is, and throttle up to full speed, hit the ferry wake at an angle to reduce the bumps, skim along under the high cliffs of the Midnight Dome and turn into the line of boats waiting to drop off passengers. Keep the life jackets in the boat, pick up one or two people heading back into town, cross the river and run back upstream past the riverboat graveyard, the folks relaxing on the campground beach, check to see where the car ferry is and turn into the Dawson dock to pickup another load.

A couple of hours later this tide ebbs and reverses. There are no life jackets at Moosehide, a boat runs back to Dawson empty and returns piled high with bright yellow, red and blue life jackets of all sizes. Although many people are waiting, at 8:30 after its dinner cruise, the Klondike Spirit arrives to pick up almost a hundred passengers for the slow trip back to town. The rest of us small boats keep running, almost midnight before the last passengers are sleepily climbing the town dike and slowly walking home to bed.

Sacred fire