Friday, December 23, 2011

Parihaka - Maori Passive Resistance

The trace of the sap leading up to the Pukerangiora Pā.
There are distinctly different contact histories between Indigneous and Newcomers in western Canada and New Zealand. The Riel Resistance of the 1880s is a brief counter point to the long drawn out blood lettings of the New Zealand wars. Dave Rogers took me to the site of one of the first encounters, where a group of Maori fighters dug in on an old site to stop the advance of British troops and local militia. “A loss, one of many that followed,” says Dave. He then takes me to the Pukerangiora , where a British force was soundly trounced by the Maori early in the war. A subsequent attack by a new commander, one not completely convinced of the colonial government's policies, ordered a laborious siege. His troops dug a two kilometre long sap, with eight sizeable earth and timber redoubts regularly spaced along it. This kept his troops busy for months and those on both sides relatively safe. Once the sap approached the walls of the Pa, a truce was agreed and the battle ended, this time a Maori defeat. We ended the visit with a brief discussion of a Maori community tourism venture to introduce this history to cruise ship tourists.

The New Plymouth museum exhibit of the Pakeha settlement of Taranaki opens with a cannon and survey instruments, the colonial takeover tools. Further in, we get the domestic and farm stories along with the rugby sweaters. There is no denying the violence that allowed this story to start and flourish. With outstanding claims against the Crown, the Taranaki Maori Iwi still harbor some hard feelings about this history. Dave, although a Maori in a community leadership position, is upbeat and positive about situations that look much more difficult than those I see in the Yukon. Always good to have the chance to look over the fence.

After a sunny drive between Mount Taranaki and the coast I visit Parihaka - an iconic place of Maori resistence and adaptation. The leadership there in the 1860s started a passive resistance campaign and forwent the guns and fighting that carried on around them. Nevertheless the New Zealand colonial government through aggressive road building projects disrupting Maori farms and the erection of the Point Egmont lighthouse closed in on the community. Men, then elders, and finally boys, built fences across the roads and plowed surveyed settlers' lands as a protest. Mass arrests followed and the seized men were removed from the area. The government eventually gathered together some 1600 armed troops and in November, 1881, they invaded the town, brutalizing women and children, trashing gardens and burning down the houses. All of which looked pretty much the same as the Pakeha farms that the soldiers were supposedly defending. It is a tragic story. Now it is being used by Taranaki Maori as a beacon of hope for a better future of peaceful living together, with some justice to be gained.

The centre of Parihaka
I visit Parihaka, a small and quiet rural community and sit on the steps of the now gone guest house looking at the monument. Reflecting upon my own Mennonite pacifism I wonder how it compares to this Maori display of passive resistance. My Grandmother's told me stories of our peoples' suffering during and after the Russian Revolution. Armed groups of anarchists and bandits roamed the Ukranian countryside for two or three years pillaging villages, killing, raping and stealing the horses and food of my ancestors. Some of the communities armed themselves and fought back, briefly, but were soon overrun and ransacked. Most however kept their faith, accepted the visitors, fed them, freely gave them what they had and took the abuse without revenge.

I grew up in a community where I had lots of older aunties, many of the uncles murdered during the revolution. Most of the survivors, my grandparents among them, abandoned their land and left for Canada. My parents went back during Perestroika in early 1990s. Everything was taken over by others, there was no thought of regaining lost places. But that was only 70 years after the events. Perhaps after 130 years it is possible to regain a place, to be a part of the land again. My ancestors left and made new homes on the other side of the world. I've no appetite for reconnecting to that place, though my Grandmother surely would have, if it were possible. I know her home as a young woman almost as a fairy tale, a place once in history and now seemingly gone for ever. I am deeply impressed with the fortitude and determination of the Maori Iwi who have toughed out this hard time, who have kept their heart and land bound together and who are bringing the Pakeha to the table to make things right.

It was great honour to have Dave Rogers share his stories and places with me. While I still have my language and the culture of my faith, my brothers and I have lost all track of the intimacy of spiritual and physical connection to the place where our ancestors are buried. For reminding me that there are people who have not lost this and who are working hard to retain it, I am grateful to Dave.

The rural landscape of the Parihaka lands today.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Te Kōru Pā - Taranaki's complicated history

Dave Rogers included a visit to his hapu's Owae Marae - Manukorihi Pā at Waitata, Taranaki.
I met Dave Rogers, the Taranaki Area program manager for the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) visitor services/historic sites, for a two day tour of his responsibilities. Dave also contributes personal time to assisting in the governance of his Te Atiawa Iwi. In our conversations Dave was passionate about the value of DoC's work. Especially important for him was the opportunity to have a Maori voice present in both DoC's strategic planning and the guidance of the front line face of parks in meeting community people.

The Marae buildings date back to the early 20th century and remain important elements of Dave's community.
Dave has worked for DoC for more than three decades, starting as labourer, but working his way upwards taking on more responsibility in order to help shape the organization with his Maori perspective. He also took on voluntary work for other iwi,who he is also affiliated with, contributing to the preparation of their claim for redress against the Crown through the Waitangi Tribunal. These parallel duties demanded much from him, and his family, not unlike the sacrifices made by many Yukon First Nation individuals and families engaged in the negotiation of their Umbrella Final Agreement with Canada at the same time. My time with Dave was enriched by his overlapping work histories.

Myself and Dave at the top of Te Kōru Pā overlooking the river which bends around the pā.
The history of Taranaki is difficult. The region was the main area of Maori-Pakeha (white settlers) conflict through the 19th century. Dave is troubled by the historical amnesia exhibited about these colonial wars by many New Zealanders. He is annoyed by the lack of remembrance of the confiscation of Maori lands in Taranaki and Waikato and especially insensed when these conflicts are referred to as the Maori Wars. “Maori Wars! They're not our wars, they attacked us.” The general ignorance of the fighting and land confiscations in Taranaki and Whanganui, and the consequent destruction of Maori communities in the region through the resulting scattering of their people by political exile to and incarceration in the South Island and as economic refugees following the seizure of their lands have been hard on his community. “We have more of our Iwi in Australia than in Taranaki.” This dispersion also led to their loss of both the Maori language and the knowledge of land skills. Dave makes an explicit connection between language retention and the continuing practice of the traditional arts of weaving and carving.

Te Kōru Pā is unique in the extraordinary stone work building up the natural character of the site. Vegetation threatens to gradually pull it apart and DoC staff work strategically to control the damage.
Our first visit was to the Te Kōru Pā where a DoC work crew was cutting back vegetation, ensuring the site was accessible and visible for visitors. Dave finds the site a challenge. In spite of the interesting history and character of the site, it has few visitors. He has been working with the Taranaki Iwi connected to the Pā but they have been careful, a little wary, of engaging with DoC. Dave understands this may be connected to the preparation of their submission of claims against the Crown through the Waitangi Tribunal. The pā was a fascinating place. It spirals up a steep hill with different levels devoted to gardens, a fortified entry and supporting bastions, the Marae - the social and sacred centre of the community, food storage caves and access to the river. Dave walks me through the site describing each area's function through the history of the site from the mid-14th century to its abandonment after being stormed by elements of the Te Atiawa Iwi in the early 1800s. Dave has questions about what to show visitors, how to preserve the important features from vegetation growth and possible increased visitor use. He encourages, and waits, for a time when the Taranaki Iwi is interested in taking the lead on answering these questions, perhaps even owning the site.

Mahsi cho for the great visit Dave.
In the evening I return to the coast to revisit the site of a Pakeha (white settler) redoubt built in 1880 to guard their coast road and the iron lighthouse, both constructed as symbols of their expanding control over Maori lands. It is an unhappy history beautifully detailed in Rebecca Buchanan's recent book, The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget

Mount Taranaki overlooks the cast iron light house at Cape Egmont.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kiwi Rhetoric

Railway crossing on the highway to Taranaki
 Public signs and personal conversations in New Zealand are peppered with colloquilisms, adding colour, sharpening definition and confusing visitors. One of the most common is the use of the word “as” to denote a decapitated superlative. “It's hot as.” Fill in the declarative of your choice, another evocation of the modesty and accommodation of the Kiwi for their neighbour. Many phrases also reflect the gently self-deprecating nature of the New Zealander. This was especially apparent two years ago when I watched the sub-tropical Auckland-based television sportscasters enthusiastically reporting on the Vancouver Olympics. They gleefully described and reported on winter sports that neither they nor the vast majority of their viewers had ever heard of, never mind seen. Colourfully decked out in Olympic toques and the red mitts they randomly applied their familiar cricket and field hockey terminology to different events, always humoursly acknowledging that they didn't really have a clue what was going on. The important point was that New Zealand was there.

In the same line I was browsing through a real estate brochure for Plimmerton, an ocean front bedroom community of the capital, Wellington. Amongst the pages of small photos and descriptions the agency highlighted some of the premuim properties with half page ads. One hilltop estate overlooking the beaches was described “As rare as rocking horse droppings.” I interpreted this to mean “wooden shit as” and straight 'way reached for the phone.

And not all of this is in English. At one of the history conference sessions I attended earlier in November, one young Maori academic spoke of the social and cultural difficulties of researching and writing a thesis based upon her own community. The research had gone well enough but the defence and presentation of the final paper had put her in the position of being an authority, an awkward situation as she represented her work to the Elders who had guided and sustained the work. She rattled off a Maori phrase, translated as “Kumera (a kind of potatoe) doesn't speak of its own sweetness”, recognizing the importance of community relationships over the personal thus reframing her work as contribution rather than achievement.

Finally, the railway crossing sign had me trying to remember the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Was he driving the whale? Was he in the whale king with 15,000 followers? I was stumped, not actually certain that the sign had anything to do with trains at all. Maybe it was an Old Testament “Jesus saves?” Later I asked Stacey, my knowledgeable New Zealand friend, for details. He reported that Jonah Lomu, a left winger with the All Blacks, 115 kg and 6' tall, was the archetype of rugby players. Playing in the 1995 test match with England Jonah was running for a try. Mike Catt, a defending English player attempting a tackle, was simply swallowed by Jonah's stride and size and bulldozed out of the way. So the sign was a wet dream for Kiwi rugby coaches.

Now I'm sorted as.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rangitaiki River and Ruatahuna

Bus travel is inexpensive, reasonably comfortable and relaxing, if you don't try to go far in a day. However from Whakatane eastwards, bus service loses these advantages. A car offers flexibility in route choice, some responsibility (alas, nothing is free) and I pick the forestry roads up the Rangitiaki River valley. The bottom of the valley is now made into rich pasture and new crops divided by the river with hill ranges not far away in either side. However, the valley bottom climbs steeply, the ridges close in and many slopes are rough scarred with timber cutting, others show the precise lines of commercial reforestation, while still others are now recovered with thick pines ready to be harvested. These hills stand in stark contrast to those few still covered with the diverse and uneven native vegetation. Above the local school at Te Mahoe the course blasted rock surface of the large earth filled dam fill the sky and hold back the river. Immediately adjacent a rock quarry reverbrates to blasting and loading of stone trucks. The diversity of the natural is matched by the varieties of economic exploitation in only a short distance.

A big rock fill dam. A sign on the other bank notes the past presence of a Maori cemetary.
Half way up the river my planned route is closed off by regulations and a piece of missing road, washed out by the recent spring storms. I stop at the Dept. of Conservation (parks) visitor centre where staff turn me south east towards Te Urewera National Park and the Oputau Marae home of Richard and Meriann White in Ruatahuna.

I meet Roger, Richard's brother sitting on the back deck, “Merianns working at the school and Richards gone off to drop some hunters in the park. Do you want some tea?” We sit and chat about why I'm there, interested in hearing more about Maori and land ownership, and Roger's sheep shearing days, “I could shear a sheep in 45 seconds, mind, some were much faster than that. Australian sheep, they take longer, they're different shapes.” Richard returns home and talk turns to the national park, resource management, community initiatives and the family's cultural tourism venture.

Ruotahuna in morning mist
The Maori Iwi living in the region of the park wish to have ownership of the land returned to them. There are a range of opinions amongst the people about what this might look like, a few radicals wish to close off the land to outsiders altogther but most are perfectly happy to share the park area with all New Zealanders. Te Urewera has attacted visitors to its wild lands, the shores of Lake Waikaremoana especially popular, since the 1920s with both tourists and the regional hydro electric development promotions board which successfully convinced the government to harness its potential roughly a century ago.

The lake was formed about 2200 years ago and Maori villages were scattered along the shores. Colonial authorities removed the people from the lake during the New Zealand wars of the mid 19th century. Neverthelessthe area retains its reputation for stubborn resistance to outside authority. Richard tells me, “We were the last to be reached. Other Maori say, Oh, you don't want to go in there.”

The area has been a tourism centre for most of the past century. The national park, a Great Walk, and the associated boat service on Lake Waikaremoana, have brought people to the area. There area number of recent tourism ventures, providing transport, guided hiking and hunting, accommodation and trail biking. Some, like Richard and Meriann's Ahurei Adventures, are local Maori owned, while others are run by non-local Pakeha, a source of some local annoyance. Ahurei has struggled to develop its tourism market niche in one of the most difficult to access communities in New Zealand. The road to Ruatahuna is so spectaculary steep, narrow and winding that I found myself looking out the side window of my car more often than the front windshield in my efforts to stay on the road.

A local tourism venture faces challenges. In the nearby tourism centre of Rotorua, aka RotorVegas, there are quite a few Maori cultural offerings. Although sometimes dismissed as “plastic Maori”, most appear to deliver an authentic product. Two tourism offerings by local Maori families out of Rotorua to Whirinaki Forest Park, an original native forest reserve, do day trips and some limited overnights. Richard and Merrian offer hunting and back country hiking. But the place is isolated and people ether want it cheap or complain about the level of service. The conundrum of remote place tourism.

Ruatahuna is at the far edge of the district council's responsibility. The community felt they were not being well served and have independently worked to obtain services. They are especially proud of the locally developed, built and maintained drinking water system. Roger had pointed it out to me when I arrived and Richard has a schematic of the system tacked on the wall of his lounge.

I am invited to stay for dinner. We're making boil pot, “My favorite” pips up the grandaughter...” This is bones with meat on, watercress gathered from the river with flour dumplings and boiled potatoes on the side. Although the ingredients vary, it comes together much the same way we make borscht. With a salad of eggs, local avocado, cucumber and sprouts we join Rachel in her favorite.

I stay in the modest breeeze block motel alongside the general store in the village. There is a swimming pool, long abandoned as a frivoulous luxury, and a classic kiwi bbq in the back. Overnight the strong wind blows weather into the valley. Through the morning mist I watch the Iwi bus pass by with the children going to school.

Bulletin board at the Ruatahuna store.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Ohope Beach

Ohope Beach stretchs east for about 10 km beyond Te Rangi Point, before folding back on itself to reveal one of the largest harbour bays in New Zealand. I ride the Beach Hopper bus from Whakatane to the end of the line, the last houses on Ohope peninsula, and walk through the long grasses, native trees and wild flowers of a Maori holding to the bay shore. Mid-morning - the sun is hot and in the lee of the peninsula, the water is calm, there is no wind. The beach, with the tide just returning, is a wide, empty space of fine hard sand.

James casts into deep waters, next cast is into the police force.
Around the first bend I meet James. A recent undergraduate from Otago University, James stands by his bucket and two long fishing poles, the lures expertly cast far out into the channel before us. He claims it is an excellent spot for fishing, regaling me with stories of long days and beach fires for an evening fry-up. Once he caught a big skate, “Ehh, now what! The barbed tail was whipping 'round, piece of wood on the tail and another to flip him back in the water.” James is on a break to “get fit.” He wants to make some money and his cousin told him if he could pass the recruitment tests for the national police, he would make $30,000 just for attending the 13 week training course, and if that went well he'd start at $65,000. His future looks sweet, especially through the lens of another couple of weeks on the beach fishing and getting fit.

I head back into the dunes, a native bird preserve. The vegetation is thick. There is a high profile campaign to protect vegetation to ensure the stability of the dunes and permanence of the splendid beach. I stir up some pheasants but it is otherwise still while I patrol through the shrubs. Gradually the sound of waves floats over the dunes and I return to the beach.

The bay channel reaches the ocean, wind, sand and spray.
The bay channel ends and the roll of the Pacific Ocean against the shores of this small island reminds me how far I am away from home. The wind is powerful and runs straight down the beach into my face. There is a constantly shifting flow of sand blowing past my ankles. To the west I see Motuhora which marks the beach at Whakatane. But there is not much to see beyond the details immediately before me; broken shells, beautifully wind-polished bits of wood and one set of bare foot prints proceeding me. I take off my shoes and head for the water. The shallow water is warm, it swirls cross the rippled sand, blown by the wind and crazing my view of the sand and shells just covered by its sheen. It is very relaxing and I move slowly through this liquid vision.

66 mediates the batt;le between Mother Nature and local access.
Eventually the beach front sprouts houses and I wander up the dunes to see the neighbourhood. I approach a bare chested, white-haired man weilding a hammer. We acknowledge each other and he asks, “How old are you? I'm 66 and still out here working in the sun and wind.” And he was hard at it, replacing posts and boards marking out one of the infrequent paths through the protected dunes to the beach. He tells me its important to help out Mother Nature and make sure we don't lose the dunes, but he he says its always a balance, you also have to please the people who want ready access to the beach. “Too far either way and its ugly.” Barely are the words out of his mouth when a spry, elderly woman approaches us.

      W: “So what are you working at here?”
66: “Oh, I'm replacing the posts, wire and board on the walkway.”
      W: “Doing this on your own are you?”
66: “No, no. Working for the district council. District council owns the walkway. Where do you live then?”
      W: “#26 over there” nodding down the street.
66: “So do you know Jim Mason then?”
      W: “He lives right in behind.”
66: “Ahh, he's my mate.”
      W: “Well, it's not like I've had drinks with him, you know.”
66: “Yeahh, he's my good mate.”
      W: “Well, I'm off then.”
66 turns and grins at me.

The modernist curved architecture of the 1920s and 30s is a prominent part of the North Island's housing stock.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hiking the Kapu Te Rangi Trail, New Zealand

Kapu Te Rangi Ridge and Whakatane.
Whakatane (pronounced fuck a tonie, like tonic) has a dramatic sea front location behind a long timber-strewn sand beach with the river running between town and the dunes out of a lush interior of farms and paddocks. The Whakatane land and sea scape, dotted with arrested volcanic eruptions, reflects the igneous origins of this land and the fiery conflicts between peoples that still simmer today.

The trail is currently being upgraded by a class from the local Trident High School. Their accompanying signs, modelled on a NZ beer brand's popular adverts, adds a bit of humour to the trail.
No dogs allowed, this is a kiwi reserve. No exceptions for dogs with certified kiwi aversion training. There are even contests for canine kiwi aversion. Not sure how they work, how far away does your dog run when it sees a kiwi? Besides, poison and killing traps for stoats are also scattered through the reserve. I later learn that a bite of bait kills an animal within 4 metres.
There is a hiking trail that follows the great rocky ridge that separates Whakatane from the Ohope beach to the east. A steep climb to the top of the ridge back of town, the refuge place in case of a tsunami, and then one heads to the higher ground of the ridge's central spine where I visit the first of the three pa (fort/settlement) that dominated this regional landscape for almost a thousand years. The first humans to the islands of Aotearoa were Maori, the name applied by newcomers to all indigenous peoples, who arrived in their waka (canoe) in 1100 according to the logo of the Whakatane District Council. The waka are one of the key identifiers of the diverse groups represented by the present day term Maori, each iwi (tribe) being a descendent from one of the waka that settled the islands over a period of some 400 years. Waka papa means geneaology or lineage. At the conference I attended last week most presenters, Maori and Pakeha (newcomer) alike, opened their papers with a brief waka papa in Maori. I did the same, but in English, when I gave a lecture on the Yukon treaty to the grad students at Te Whare Wānangao Awanuiārangi (indigenous university) yesterday. Nobody will bother to listen to you if you don't know who you are or where you come from.

The Whakatane River enters the Pacific Ocean from behind the beach.
For almost a century there was armed conflicted either amongst Maori or between Maori and Pakeha. This history of killing, rape, relocation, and exile still lingers in Maori memory. There was time when children were named after the suffering of their parents and grandparents, the mark of these hard times built into the waka never to be forgotten. In Whakatane today however there are signs of coming together. A set of display panels, in both English and Maori, around town speak to the long presence of the Maori and their distinct relationships with the landscape that Pakeha have moved into. The benches in parks and along the river walk are shaped like the waka that brought the first humans to this place.

Capt. Cook, killed by Maori, and Te Tahi O Te Rangi from the first waka in 1100, ride their inter-sectioned canoes at The Bean coffee shop in downtown Whakatane.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trans-national Auckland

The Ferry Building, Auckland
Meeting people speaks to the trans-national character of Auckland, the Pakeha - Polynesian metropolis of the south Pacific. On the way into town I share a shuttle with Jonathan, a wine merchant who represents New Zealand with the country's finely fermented grapes. Jonathan lives in a small city in the South Island's wine district but he travels widely in the Pacific world marketing New Zealand wines. Alberta, Canada is just beyond the bounds of his success in the western world, while Singapore and China in the east are his main markets. The Chinese have become keen wine buyers, though Jonathan noted their preference for wine's investment value. “They'll buy a complete shipment of really expensive stuff and sell on half of it to pay for the lot.” His work gives him insights into the world of the 1%.

On the Half Moon Ferry into downtown I meet Llangand, a young commerce student going to Auckland University, “its one of the world's top 50”, to write the last exam for his degree. He's lived in Auckland for the three years of his studies and complains that its “a boring town, there's nothing for young people to do, no festivals, no nothing.” When I ask Llangand where's he's from, he pauses. He finally says he grew up in South Africa but notes that means nothing. He then goes on to speak of his identity as a Portugeuse/Sri Lankan. His mother raised him in Singhalese and, in addition to English, he is fluent in Portuguese. But none of this seems to matter, he has relatives in the United States, in New Jersey. “That's the best country in the world. I will to go there.” As we leave the boat he attempts to slip by without paying his fare, but he falters at the exit and joins the line-up. Even global citizens have to pay the piper. I wonder if he will be banker.

On my return trip I chat with Ruby, a ruddy cheeked woman who grew up on the shores of a then rural Half Moon Bay in the early 1950s. As we pass down the developed shoreline of the estuary she provides an affectionate reminiscence of her youthful adventures, “it was all farms and wild lands then.” She points out the site of her house on top of a ridge now covered with bayview mini-mansions spreading like an invasive species. “And over there (pointing to the quays of the yacht club), we played on the beach, and that little knob, right there, that's Pigeon Mountain. It was completely bush in those days. I climbed it with my brothers once.” And we continued so until the ferry docked and Ruby went off to take photos of the old spots for her mother in Nelson.

My hosts in Farm Cove are relatively recent immigrants from northern England. Charlie and Candy arrived in Christchurch in the 1980s, an eager young couple. Charlie was the last of his family to abandon Britain for this new world, parents and siblings already well settled by the time he and his wife arrived. But when they came they worked hard at fitting in. Both attended Maori lessons for several years, gaining language skills, but more importantly developing a sense of the different cultures of New Zealand and the challenges of living in a place with multiple myths of origin and purpose. Their sensitivity to this has led them along living paths that weave between Maori and Pakeha ways of being.

Waiting for my last ferry trip, I stop at the shipping container coffee shop to get my latte. Waiting by the window are four Maori women; mother, grown daughter, auntie and friend. They've just ordered 14 expresso coffees and chocolate milk and are giggling with anxiety, hoping the drinks will be ready before the Waiheke Island ferry leaves. They have three cars packed with kids and Elders at the landing, everyone wants a treat before heading over to the island for a funeral. They're worried too that their order will cause me to miss the ferry. Did I have a ferry reservation? Was I coming to the funeral? I am swept into their world and as the expressos come through the window we all run to the dock in turn, each returning to our own world of myth and meaning. I smile with the pleasure of having touched, and been touched by, this other world.

Some worlds are large,
and some worlds are small.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Freeze Up

The Takhini River confluence with the Yukon River, early November sunrise.
The first signs of Yukon winter show in late August. The tops of the mountains across the valley whiten with what we call "termination dust." Coincident with the dropping of the last blossoms from the top of the fireweed stalks, this first high altitude snow, and its gradual descent down the sides of the mountains through September, signals the coming end of camping trips and marks the time to start some serious thinking about the wood pile. Other signs appear in the woods around the house. The leaves drop from the bushes and we find the squirrels have placed the dried caps of this summer's plentiful mushroom crop in the branches. We also find them elsewhere. When I took my truck in for winterizing, the mechanic forecast "pissed off squirrels at your house." When checking the air filter he found that the connected air channels were packed with dried mushrooms, "a whole box full." The air filter was fine.

We used to have picnics on these beaches in the spring before the water rises.
As precipitation turns from rain into snow through the fall the rivers start to dry up. Water flows on the Yukon River drop to less than a fifth of their summer highs. On the Takhini River behind the house we watch the thin strand of fine summer sand expand into huge beaches, now rimed with ice.

A major fall activity around here is hunting. And with hunting there is always the question of what you do with your moose guts. One woman wrote a letter to the newspaper complaining that hunters were just dumping them in the woods that surround most of Whitehorse's subdivisions. She railed against this practice describing how her dogs had come across them and returned home covered in offal and suffering digestive issues (making them unpopular in the house). Within a few days a hunter had replied railing against dog owners who let their dogs run free to cause trouble. This is how Cabin Fever starts in the Yukon.

Ice pans floating down the Takhini behind our place.
This week the river has been throwing ice. There are wide shelves of clear and suprisingly thick ice reaching out from both banks. But the river current still runs shallow and fast in the centre carrying with it large circular pans of ice. Ocassionally they jam on the shore ice and gradually build it up.

The nights are long now. Early one morning I noticed the window glowing green and went outside to see the first of this winter's Northern Lights.

Amost frozen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trio Bembe rocks the house

A couple of weeks ago, the Western Canada Music Industry conference was held in Whitehorse. While focused on discussions of marketing, recording and venue management, you can't have a music industry conference without music. Some 50 different bands and musicians came up to the Yukon to show their stuff. Every club, bar, public space in town had scheduled performances through most of the days and all of the evening of the conference. If you weren't at a PVL (industry talk for "performance venue location" or club, bar and public space, see I talked to these people) within a few minutes of 7 pm, you weren't getting in at all.

Rodrigo Munuz
Scott Senior
Amber Epp, of Winnipeg, got in touch with us and we offered to billet her Trio Bembe during their stay in the North. She, Rody Munoz and Scott Senior, all also members of the larger Papa Mambo, deliver Latin music with power, enthusiasm and a catholic sense of what Latin includes. They're looking at working up a Romanian folk tune to add to the repertoire. During the day they took in workshops and meetings and through the evenings they wowed Whitehorse audiences with their energetic performances. But in the morning through relaxed breakfasts they turned the house into a PVL, singing, strumming and using the pots and pans as the percussion section.

Amber Epp
The highlight of the conference was the Sunday night awards ceremony. Joy and I attended and sat through the opening jokes and reminiscences of the industry seniors, and then, YAHOOO, Trio Bembe took the award for best World Music for their album Oh my soul. A great finale for an exciting weekend of terrific music. Next time we're in Winnipeg we'll be looking for Trio Membe and Papa Mambo.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walking the Southwest Coast - Mines and Computers

Sennon Beach - one of the surfing destinations, cold water through.
The following days were sunny and we walked through one of the most intensively developed mining districts of Britain. From Roman times there have been tin mines in Cornwall. The invention of steam-powered engines allowed deeper mines and greater production. By the early 19th century the country side was littered with stone boiler houses, smelting furnaces, pit heads and the crowded hovels of the tens of thousands of miners, and their families, who lived life under permanently coal-darkened skies. Now, the mines are long closed, some are museums, the rest romantic ruins sheltered in World Heritage Sites and paddocks. The population of Cornwall is a small fraction of its mining hay day. However computer and business management firms remove here from London offering their employees lifestyle and affordable housing.

Little is left to chance on the trail. Signs warn of all sorts of dangers. My favorites were the 200 kg chunks of polished granite lying beside the trail near Lands End. Precisely chiseled into each block was a single word, highlighted with red paint, CLIFF. Beach front houses, too polite to say no trespassing,instead mounted well illustrated placards warning of "Poison Snakes."

But most locals are friendly. When Chris bought a shirt in Penzance the young clerk advised us to drop down into a small secluded beach some distance beyond Land's End. He explained that it was the site of his successful courtship of his now wife. Nanjizil Beach was indeed stunning and if the marriage is as spectacular as the cove it will be both passionate and prolific.

Nanjizil Beach
The Minic Theatre at Port Curno is a fine example of the eccentric possibilities of the English. It is an 800 seat theatre carved out of the sea cliffs providing open air drama through a 17 week summer season. And it is always packed. The result of the ceaseless labour of Rowena Cade who first arranged a gorse strewn cliff gully into a stage for "The Tempest" in 1932. Now managed by a charitable trust the theatre offers a dramatic venue for performances. Audience arrives early jostling for the open seating. Each group packs in wine and glasses, smoked salmon, fresh bread and cheese and fruit for a fine supper in the evening dusk waiting for the sun to go down and the curtain to come up.

"The Pirates of Penzance" played the night we were in Port Curno.Performed by the same Cambridge University theatre group we watched during our time in Cambridge five years ago.

The Celtic remains of a long ago Cornwall still adorn many fields. Standing stones and tumuli are widely dispersed. On our way from the Minic Theatre we stop at the "Merry Maidens" a circle of upright stones in the middle of a pasture. Our grandfatherly taxi driver tells us the dour church parsons of the past remonstrated that the foolish girls must have been dancing on the Sabbath and were turned to stone by the devil. A curious devil doing the Lord's anger. I suspect it was shepherds putting up dancing decoys hoping to lure maidens to their lonely stations.