Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two wheels at a time.

It's good to have a bike.  When you're a kid, before you can drive, it gives you freedom. However, once you have your license, true freedom, it doesn't mean you want to rid yourself of your two-wheeler.  A bike is always useful.  It is healthy.  It is pure. Two clothes pegs and a hockey card--fun!

The only bikeless period of my life was when I was a graduate student in Toronto and lived in a small apartment downtown. There were subway entrances all over the place, allowing me to travel relatively easily underground, short or long distances. Pop down one hole, pop up from another.

I returned to surface life when I moved to California.  Public transit was okay, but I needed a bike for quick trips around the neighbourhood, or to the parking-starved campus and back.  After about a week, I went on a mission.  From  my sixplex in El Cerrito I walked to the main strip, San Pablo Avenue, and headed south.  I believed that, without checking the Yellowpages, which still existed but didn't come with the apartment, or asking a local, if I kept walking, I would find a bike store.  I would buy a bike, a helmet, and a lock, and I would ride home.  It was a good plan.

Eventually, before even a shadow of self-doubt crossed my mind, I came to El Cerrito Cycle.  See? Good plan. I walked in.  Within fifteen minutes, I was out for a test-ride.

The man in the bike store was suspicious of my Visa card, which was issued by a Canadian bank. I had to let him hold it while I was out on the bike.  He instructed me to ride on the trail beneath the BART track, which was just out back.  So I did.  After a few minutes I discovered that he was riding behind me, as if fearing I would head for the border, ha-ha, so long sucker.

He didn't really look like a bike-store worker, who should be young and fit, or older and sinewy from all those years of pedaling.  He was a bit heavy, and his knees poked out when he rode, like somebody's dad who hasn't ridden in twenty years.

I looped back past him and got to the store first.  I bought the bike.  Here it is:



It is a Catalina Park Pre. That likely means nothing to you.  It means next to nothing to me, except that those are the words written on my bike.  I rode my C-P-P, a few years of quick, reliable getting-around in the East Bay, and then moved to this province of rain and mountains, a very different, more challenging biking habitat.  I stopped riding.

Then I did maybe one of the worst things you can do to a bike.  I left it out on an apartment balcony, exposed to the elements.  The tires went flat.  The hand-grips dried and cracked, The rims and chain rusted. Shame on me. 

We eventually moved to Richmond, which is situated on a flat pan of silty, boggy land at sea level, at the mouth of the Fraser River.  It is ringed by dykes to keep the river and tides at bay.  It has a mild climate, with very few days of snow cover.  It is near perfect for biking.

Proof of that occurred during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The speed-skating oval was (and still is) in Richmond, which meant that the Dutch would come.  They did, located their Olympic pavilion here, and brought their bikes. For those two weeks, you would see orange-clad people riding super-sturdy commuter bikes along the dykes.  What could be more Dutch?


By this time I had successfully and guiltily nursed C-P-P back to health, and had ridden it for a year or so before deciding to upgrade to something a little comfier.  I bought a Raleigh Sentinel, which had shock absorbers on the forks and seat post, and was a joy to ride.


Raleigh was a famous, venerable British brand.  They started making their bikes in Canada too, in Quebec.  I believe my bike was built there, not long before the brand was sold to a Dutch company, which would seem a good thing, but the vortex of globalization sent production to Viet Nam, using parts from who-knows-where.  Not the same bike.  Telling youngsters working in bike shops that I rode a Raleigh no longer even rated a shrug.

I rode the Raleigh for 15 years, including to work and back every day that wasn't snowy or icy.  I figure I racked up close to 40,000 Km, which is almost the circumference of the globe.

But wear and tear.  It happens to bike riders, and to their bikes. I replaced the tires at least three times, the seat twice, the handle bars once.  There is only so much you can replace on a bike and still have the same bike.  All that remained from the start were the frame and the drive train, and eventually they wore out too.  The forks splayed slightly, making it difficult to reinsert the wheels when changing tires.  The chain and sprockets wore down, and no matter how I fiddled with the cables, the gears kept slipping.  I could no longer suddenly pump hard to get through a yellow light or up a grade.  My pedaling became the equivalent of lily-dipping, which is a disparaging canoeing term for paddling weakly with only the tip of the paddle, not the entire blade, as if you are passing through water lilies and don't want to become mired.

I was slow.  It was becoming hazardous.

I had to let Raleigh go.

This week I started a new relationship.  A G-T Transeo 4.0.  I don't know what that means. Those are the words written on my bike.

Transeo has graceful lines and goes like the wind.  We are young again.  

Well, one of us is.

Dutch person and bike, taking in the view. They clearly enjoy each other's company.
 The Dutch--they are a people who understand the bond between person and bike. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Owlet.

A friend said, "There's a raptor nest visible from the road. It would be good to know what kind it is."
Subtext is the province is widening the road because they want to put a stupid TEN-lane bridge onto our island and need somewhere for TEN lanes of traffic to hang out before the clog-up at the four-lane bridge at the other side of the island.

The nest-thing was fine with me.  Get away from a keyboard and tromp around in the woods for a while.

The woods are far from pristine.  The understory is mostly a tangle of invasive blackberry that will happily kill you with a million punctures. 

We could see the nest from a distance, and scrabbled a circuitous path to the base of the tree, a tall but not impressively old cottonwood.

We craned our necks, raised our binos.  50 feet up.  No heads, adult or baby.  The nest seemed empty. It was too small, too enclosed  for an eagle,  It was too large for a Cooper's Hawk.  Red-tail was the probable owner.

"Or a Great-horned," I said.  They use old nests.  "But they should be fledged by now."

There was fresh white-wash (poop) on the ferns and blackberries circling the tree,  We started searching for pellets.  There were hemlock branches extending into the upchuck radius that could have deflected the pellets away from the trunk.  I skirted wider, and found, sadly, this.



I had a hard time mentally assembling it.  The head is upper right.  It's a baby Great-horned Owl, an owlet, starting to fledge.  Note the blue shafts of the pin feathers, lower right.




It was days dead.  I shifted it a bit so that the talons were visible. 




We have no idea how this one died. Siblicide is rare in Great-horneds, I have since read.  We had mixed emotions, contentment in figuring out the ownership of the nest, and sadness over a dead owlet.

We walked back to the car, a different route.  We couldn't possibly retrace our steps through the blood-letting blackberries.  We came across a log decorated with slime mold doo-dads. Life from death, death from life, a smelly, prickly circle, ugly and beautiful.  



Friday, April 21, 2017

Small birds, their big dream-home.

I came across a pair of Bushtits building their characteristic hanging-sock nest. Construction was well along, but there were still gaps in the weaving of moss, spider webs and other materials.


Here is the male, bringing carrying something soft and fluffy looking.  Lichen?  Innards of a lost stuffy?   He took it inside, and a few seconds later darted out.

He was followed by the female. (Notice the pale eye?  Males' eyes are dark.)  She was in and out in a flash


The male returned, carrying a...caterpillar?  There are young already?  Rearing while still building?  Renos are hard when there's Lego and Polly Pocket all over the place. (Speaking from experience.) 


A closer look shows the object in his bill isn't animal.  I'm not sure what it is, but it seems to more for building than eating.

On it went, taking turns, back and forth.  The nest was just off a trail in a park, about 8 feet up, not as secure as one would hope. I figured I had given them enough unwanted attention so wished them luck and continued on my way.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Porkchops gets the job done.


A male Northern Flicker with his scarlet pork chops is working on a tree, a fifteen-foot western hemlock snag in Paulik Park.  He is hammering away, keeping pace with the bap-bap-bap of roofers' nail guns in the nearby subdivision.  It must be hard, swinging your head back and forth inside a tree. Must be loud, too.  We had to chop out some of the concrete floor beneath the stairs when a pipe burst.  My ears ring just remembering that.  Much respect, Mr. Flicker.


Cleaning up.  No Shop-Vac.  You just close your eyes, and fling!



He has built a nifty home in a lovely dead tree, proof that a tree never really dies.  When Porkchops and his family move on, others will probably move in.  It's prime real estate, southern exposure in a quiet neighbourhood (once the roofers are gone).  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fun fun fun 'til the scary yellow centipedes.



We arrived in Hilo on a Big White Boat, and  the view over the side suggested that the  most in-demand car on the Big Island was Mustang convertible. You could have it in any colour, as long as the colour was black, red, or silver.

Why? Retired baby-boomers? 

Roof down, SPF 100 for when Panama hat blows off.



The Big White Boat eco-tour that took us to the Lava Trees also took us to the Pohoiki Hot Pond. This is a place where proximity to sea-bound magma heats the water and you can flop around like udon in a swimming pool-sized hot tub if the surf isn't crashing over the edge, which on this day it was. The surf was unusually high because of an approaching hurricane. No swimming today.  No matter,  No one wanted to swim. Everyone wanted to watch the waves.

There were other sight-seeing vans there.  All the sight-seeing leaders, themselves surfers, were agog--and disappointed. This surf was their dream, and here they were, driving around another load of tourists.



Surf raging through dead branches.  Not far away, red-hot magma is plunging into the sea, an explosive boil.  Heaven and hell. When it comes to OMG, Hawaii sets the bar pretty high.



Surfers gotta surf.  Many were there, more were arriving.  Look.  Real Hawaiians don't drive Mustang convertibles.



The waves were sprinkled with dots of hope and courage. The lineup.



Taking off.  I wistfully imagined these seconds.  All the way to Hawaii on the Big White Boat I had been reading William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. A Surfer's Life, trying to understand from his words what surfing must be like.  Well here it was.  Woo! (Wistful woo.)

Off to the side, newcomers were heading out from a wave-swamped bay.



Even with motorized assistance, it was a challenge.



Motorized assistance in the air,
.




Varying degrees of success were hailed by unheard cheers as the waves grew and washed farther up the shore, foaming among the black lava rocks were we stood, which had the unexpected effect of ...

Waking the centipedes!


A biblical number of scolopendromorphs was sloshed from its sleep.  The individual in the picture may not look very big.  Truth:  It was scary big, as were its friends. They bite mean, and hang on. William Finnegan never mentioned them.

They scuttled among startled flop-flopped surf-watchers, who shouted creative expressions during the scramble to safety.



Backed-up a bit, out of the centipede zone, surf-watching resumed.  Reluctantly, our group boarded the tour van and were on our way.  

(Saw no Mustangs.)

Here is the Big White Boat: 



Tuesday, March 28, 2017