Monday, August 7, 2017

Big orange sun.

It's been smurky (murky skies due to smoke) for five days.  The wildfires in British Columbia that have been burning for weeks are mostly hundreds of miles north of and inland from here, and their effects didn't reach the coast until the wind changed last week and started blowing westward. The following picture was taken two nights ago, 90 minutes before sunset.  Last night looked more or less the same, the sun an angry orange disk. At this time of day the sun should still be at a state where you wouldn't be able to pin down a colour, beyond "bright." It shouldn't look like a red-hot penny.

Our AQHI (Air Quality Health Index), a measure that includes fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns or less), ground level ozone and nitrogen dioxide, has reached as high as 7 out of 10.  Seven is bad, but other places have recently endured much worse. On Thursday, Kamloops, 170 miles northeast and near several major fires, was 49 out of 10, the greatest Spinal Tapping of any measurement system ever.  We, here, shouldn't really complain.  We haven't been evacuated, and our communities remain unscathed.

Nevertheless, this dingy sky is becoming tiresome. To illustrate present conditions:

Planes taking off from YVR (Vancouver) a few miles from our home, look like this at mid-day:

And on it goes. Every day the weather forecast from Environment Canada promises us sunshine tomorrow, but by the following morning it has turned, literally and iconographically, to smoke.

Here is what our August sky should look like:

Yes, sweet blue, and filled with large, fluttering butterflies.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone, or something along those lines.

Target was here, briefly.  It moved in, taking over many of the stores that had been Zellers, a Canadian discount chain, but its launch didn't go smoothly. As I understand it, they had difficulty adjusting their labeling and pricing system to metric measures and bilingualness, and opened with shelves lacking the range of inexpensive stuff Canadian cross-border shoppers could get at Targets short drives away. Target failed expectations, and shoppers pulled back, waiting for the company to find its feet, become the Tar-jet we had known.  It folded within a year.  Sigh.  Folks here really wanted it to succeed. 

The most conspicuous remains were the big red balls.  Outside each door, Target had cemented a pair of large, concrete, red-painted balls, one to the left, the other to the right.

At our local ex-Target, those balls have persisted, at least three pairs, in situ, until this week when one broke its bonds and went for a rumble through the parking lot.

Unfortunately, and metaphorically, lacking a long-term plan or guidance system, it ended up trapped within another, less conspicuous artifact of the lost retailer, a shopping cart return rack.  So there it languishes, waiting for the earth to tilt the other way.

These days, how many mall visitors even know what the big red balls mean?  The couple below, do they consider the ball before them and ponder its significance?  Do they notice its trundle-scuffed partner ensnared a hundred meters away?

Of course not.  They are blindly in love, unable to conceive of how awry a plan can go.

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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-- a people who understand the bond between person and bike. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017


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