Category Archives: nature

Urban Archeology

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I met Alex in one of the public urban gardens where I took pictures of the flora. Here some chive blossoms.

My life has become so busy that back in April (yes, April!) I decided that for my birthday I wanted to do more exploring of the urban jungle, my city’s back yard. It would be a bit of discovery, a bit of a lovely stroll with friends and a bit of unearthing what it is we leave behind.

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The first find; a glittery sequined pine cone.

Do you ever wonder what archeologists of the future will find when they dig through the layers of earth? Will it be a Pompeii, with so much intact from a sudden disaster that catches everyone unaware? Will it be like Roanoke, Virginia, where a whole town up and left suddenly (or so it looked) that dishes and food were left on the tables? These are some of the mysteries discovered when we sift through the dust and debris of yesteryear. What will those lost artifacts tell the future about how we lived?

I was inspired to try out some modern day urban archeology by friend and fellow writer Alex Renwick, who had several found objects cases in her place with an array of interesting items. There were the natural wonders she collected (shells, stones, sticks, etc.) plus pieces of glass, or dolls or other things lost and abandoned along the way.

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We did not dive into the dumpsters but chose from near them.

As it turned out, no one else thought this was a fun idea so Alex and I went on our own adventure, with Daniel and Anja joining us along the way. My goal was to pick up anything that wasn’t natural, in the alleys and streets we wandered. I soon decided that cigarette butts (the most common form of human debris that I found) and skanky rotting garbage didn’t count. I only gathered man made items, whether pretty or not.

Alex’s mandate was a bit different and she had an experienced eye for collecting. In fact, when she met me she had already found some sort of sequined bauble. She also gathered natural debris such as twigs, berries and stones, plus a plethora of flattened bottle caps. Her collection was definitely more arty than mine.

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Anja’s collection included a bright fuschia flower, nails, and a disc with an urban angel.Enter a caption

The first thing I found was that my romantic image of great old chair legs and pieces of dolls was not going to happen. All of Vancouver’s alleys are paved over and overall, Vancouver’s a very clean city. For the future there would be better areas for debris, such as along train tracks. I’ve discovered in my goal of walking more this year that there are a lot of homeless people who hang out and live under the elevated SkyTrain tracks but considering the squalor of those areas it’s probably better not to wander into that area.

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Daniel’s items centered on plastics and that silver pack is a David’s Tea bag.

We did two different areas, with a long walk through some urban gardens where there are old tracks, but not quite as destitute because people grow their plants and veggies along the way. In fact Anja found the most interesting artifact in this area, mostly buried into the ground; and angel plague.

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My objects, laid out like specimens, with the flowering begonia. fake flowers, broken glass, a toy mouse and plastics.

We had a lovely day for doing this, saw some great gardens and plants,explored various streets and spent time in companionship. Not to mention that we did a bit of recycling for the city. Once we’d gathered our various bits, we laid them out for documenting and then they were recycled. Alex and I both kept some of our pieces. I found a full flowering begonia in one alley and still have it, with a few yellow flowers, though the frost is coming so its days are numbered.

found objects, natural art, urban archeology

Alex’s treasure trove, including the sign that says Paperback Cellar. Lots of plant material and artfully arranged.

Since then I have found some of the thoroughfares have the most garbage; abandoned tags and bus tickets, plastic and Starbucks cup, numerous cigarette butts and a myriad of wires and string. In fact, none of these are in the collections shown here and was what I noticed in my walks downtown. But I’ve been inspired. I believe that next spring I’m going to start collecting some of these items, yes, even the cigarette butts. This means I’ll have to carry gloves and other containers for such disgusting castoffs. I have several ideas for making urban art, which will be both a social commentary on what we consume and what we throw away.

In the meantime, it was a fun way to explore the city and I hope we can do a few more urban archeology projects when spring returns. Below, a little slideshow of our day, with a yard that was designed on found objects.

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All photos copyright Colleen Anderson. Alex Renwick for Paperback cellar images.

 

 

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Sailing a Viking Longship

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The Munin is a half-size replica of the boat Leif Erickson sailed to North America. copyright 2015

Last summer a friend and I were walking along the beach, off to see an art barge behind the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The barge had wooden staircases and rooms built on it and a little shuttle ferry took you out to it. It was interesting if not fascinating and we noticed that the dock we left from was called the Heritage Harbour. There were about a dozen wooden boats, all with signs indicating their history and construction. Some were sailboats, some fishing trawlers, all relatively small (but what do I know about boats).

It was a beautiful summer day so we read the information on each boat, figuring this was where owners of vintage boats could show off and attract additional attention for the Maritime Museum,which houses the Saint Roch, the first boat to sail the NW Passage, complete the sailing in one season and circumnavigate North America. We noticed two women stowing gear for a dark brown Viking longboat. The sails were down but it’s distinctive carved animal heads gave it away. I mentioned that I’d seen it out in the bay a few times.

Scandinavian Center, sailing, Viking longboat

The boat is out for repairs, and the heads are stowed for now but you can see some of the details.

It turns out that the ship is named the Munin (after one of Odin’s ravens) and for a donation you can reserve space on the boat for an approximate two-hour sail. That sounded fun, so we signed up. There is an upper and lower limit for sailing the boat as you need enough people to row the boat out of the harbor and not to many that there are no seats. Imagine a giant wooden rowboat and then imagine Leif Erickson sailing one to North America. The Gokstadt was the name of that historical boat and the Munin is a half-size replica at 40 feet long and 20 feet wide.

After I went out the first time, I had another group of friends who wanted to go so we went a second time. By the end of that trip, I was hooked and signed up to volunteer. I know nothing about sailing, or rowing for that matter, but I liked that sailing is outdoors, social and true exercise. Munin will sail in winter if weather permits and except for the bilge pump it’s all the way it was centuries ago. There are 10-foot wooden oars (approximately) and you must row in and out of harbor, then you can put up the sail.

hull, keel, longship, longboat

Some of the maintenance is check the boards for cracks and scraping the hull.

I’m learning the ropes, literally, and very green. I managed to go sailing twice more in the fall, with the last day being quite a challenge. The winds picked up and where the Munin usually goes no faster than 20 knots, I was told we hit 35. We had to row with the sail up just to try to get back to the harbor. As many hands as possible had to row that day. I’m still very new to rowing so my grasp of the oar isn’t very strong. Even my pinkies hurt the next day. The current and wind can grab the oar and slam you out of your seat. I wasn’t the only that got knocked over and we almost lost an oar once or twice. But it was exhilarating.

Now, we’ve had to pull the boat for the winter because the moorage is changing but more importantly the boat needs some repairs as it was taking on water. Part of volunteering is committing to the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. We are housing the longship at the Scandinavian Centre, (in Burnaby) where Norway House (one of the five Scandinavian houses) was the original sponsor for the construction of Munin 14 years ago.

Munin, Leif Erickson, Scandinavian, Norway

Even the captains scrape and clean.

Everyone who works on the boat or who is crew is a volunteer, giving time for free. Moorage is covered somewhat by people reserving for a ride and donations. But there are many costs. I worked at scraping the old paint off of the boat. The next stage is replacing the cracked or damaged boards, repairing other pieces, making sure the bilge pump is working, repainting the hull and then re-launching the ship. I learned a valuable lesson; when you’re scraping the hull of a boat, even if it’s been out of water for two months, the wood is still wet and there is wood, paint, dirt and who knows what else flying off. I didn’t have goggles (didn’t even know I should use them) and got debris in my eye. Now I’m dealing with a blocked duct.

I’ll be having more adventures once the boat is back in the water. I never knew that I would connect with my Danish & Norwegian heritage this way. In fact, I only knew the family name and the area in Norway where my ancestors came from.

Scandinavian Centre dinner, Munin ship. Viking longboat

Come out and support the Munin and meet the community on March 20.

To help support the continuance of this bit of history, the Scandinavian Centre will be hosting the Munin Ship Annual Pork Dinner. It takes place on March 20 and cost $30 for adults (cheaper for kids–clinic on the line above). You can support the Viking Longship, take a look at it, view the center, have a nice meal, and hear some seagoing songs by the band Corryvreken. I’ll be the MC and in traditional Norse dress to boot. Tickets should be bought by March 13, and it always sells out, so book early. Details:

Cash Bar 6 pm       Dinner 7 pm
Traditional Pork dinner with all the trimmings  
(gluten-free; dairy free choices)
Tickets from: Anne Haug     annehaug@eastlink.ca     604 943 0340

On another note, I saw this ad. You could go to Norway and get a summer job as captain of a Viking sailing ship. Too bad none of our crew is able. Imagine sailing the fjords as the Vikings once did. Here’s to more sailing and who knows what might be next, raiding and pillaging? Fair winds!

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Rainforest Writers Retreat

rainforest, Lake Quinault, writers retreat,

The Lake Quinault Rainforest was mossy and very green.

I just returned from five days at the Rainforest Writers Retreat in Lake Quinault, Washington. Lake Quinault is on the Olympic Peninsula, tucked away amongst trees, and why yes, a lake. Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press organizes these and does two a year, a week apart. I’ve been trying for three years to get in but it always sells out quickly. Last year, I finally got in but was on a waiting list (for about a half a day) because I had registered 24 hours later. Yes, it sells out that quickly and there are many alumni that return every year.

As a “newbie” there were many things I didn’t know about the retreat structure but Patrick gives pointers on the website on what to bring, and near the time of the retreat we’re all on a yahoo list where we can ask many questions. I picked up another writer on my drive down from Canada and we did the leisurely, longer Pt. Townsend ferry route to the Lake Quinault Rain Forest Resort. Neither one of us having been before, nor secure in our direction sensing abilities, we did make one wrong turnoff, not to mention somehow taking that different route on Whidbey Island (I have driven there numerous times but it’s easy to take the wrong turn–still it’s an island so you eventually get to the same spot). We arrived Wednesday evening and got our rooms in the hotel.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Patrick Swenson, writing,

Writers writing in the lounge. The guy in red is writing by hand!

The resort has cabins, cabins with fireplaces and motel rooms. I had no clue as to what was good or not so ended up in the motel room. The cabins are more costly. The rooms are fairly basic, sort of rustic woodsy toned. Mine had an odd smell and faced the back but the bed was comfy and I wasn’t in it much. I guess these ones get shut up more in the off season. The restaurant and lounge is where the writers congregate, and besides the lodge being open for dinner in the evenings, we had the run of the place night and day. Being off season, Patrick made special arrangements. Most breakfasts were included but lunch and dinner were on our own. There is “Cabin 6” where spare munchies, some sandwich makings and the word count board lived. The other good thing is there is a homemade soup and grilled cheese sandwich day in Cabin 6 and then we have a party on Saturday night.

writing, revising, writers retreats

The Albertan contingent entrenched near the fireplace. Dead things decorate the walls.

The word count board is where everyone writing lists how many words they’re creating. Some people go into the negatives if they’re revising. I was working on revising a novel so while I did add about 4,500 words I also got rid of some as well. The main thing is to write and everyone does it differently. You can go off to hide in your room or to Cabin 6 or you can stay in the lounge or dining room, in a group or by yourself, though others will filter in and out. I went to write and write I did. By the end of the weekend, the winner of the word count had written over 32,000 words, and between the 37-38 of us there we created over 300,000 words. That’s a trilogy right there.

books, writing, short fiction

The bookstore is set up in the lounge, for writers or locals.

Most of the people are at different pro levels though some are newer writers, but I’d say the majority were working on novels. There were several, optional one-hour discussions given by Nancy Kress, Louise Marley, Daryl Gregory, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead and a panel discussion with Nancy, Jack, Daryl and Ted Kosmatka talking about outlining. Many of the discussions aren’t necessarily about things we writers don’t already know but it’s always good to chat about them, be reminded about them and hear how others do it. Outlining went from those who don’t even know how their book ends when they begin writing, to those who bullet point the details. There is no right way, just many ways.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Lake Quinault

It’s chilly enough to encourage people to write, but worth a walk to see some of the area.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Fairwood Press, writing

Rainforest Writers. Big sweaters, booze and laptops.

As well, on Saturday night the University (of Washington) Bookstore sets up with books of all the writers present. It’s very evil and tempting and I’d wished I had more money. Writing, perhaps of all the arts is probably one of the most solitary. We sit alone at our desks and write. At the Rainforest Retreat, there was the lovely (if chilly and cold–it IS February) rainforest to explore that also has the world’s largest Sitka Spruce. It didn’t look that big until you walked up to it and realized you could put six people up on its trunk. There’s a store that sells various items including Sasquatch poop. We also sat quietly typing away or taking a break and talking with others. But it was actually really nice to look up and just see others doing the same thing; a camaraderie of our group writing solitary together.

forest, rainforest, Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula

The land of super mossy trees. The setting was inspiring for writing.

I made it through 50,000 words of revision on my novel, fixing some things as I went, that I’d woken up to through the talks. I got to know some of the writers a little better, and everyone would take a moment at some point to geek out and talk about “their story.” It was thoroughly inspiring, productive and fun. I’m not sure if I’ll do the retreat next year but like the group that comes out from Alberta every year, it could very well become an annual pilgrimage.

I won’t mention that I drove home through an unexpected snow storm, with the heater not working in my car and how I had to stay in Bellingham the night. No, I won’t mention that because I had a great time even if I was a popsicle by the time I got home.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: John Bell

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

CA: Leaving Cape Roseway speaks to a primal feeling. Do you think that feeling takes on a supernatural quality when we are confronted with the unfamiliar?

A few years ago a veteran lobster fisherman, who grew up on McNutt’s Island in Shelburne Harbour, took me out to the island and showed me the remnants of a once thriving community. As we toured the abandoned buildings and the ruins of fortifications, I wondered how Poe or Lovecraft might respond to this place and its emptiness, transforming a Nova Scotia landscape into mindscape and dreamscape. However, I didn’t want the sense of dread to be too overt. Instead, I aimed for a more subtle evocation of fear and its contours.

CA: Eileen Kernaghan’s poem is of another forest, yet you both have drawn on the power of nature. Once humans created gods and beings to comprehend this power. Do you think we have lost that in our modern age?

Yes, I think we have to some degree; however, our response to nature remains primal (that word again). I think my poem and Eileen’s both speak to a yearning to reconnect with nature, to be enveloped in the natural world. It’s a feeling that combines wonder and fear – maybe even panic. (I’m sure the Germans have a word for it.)

CA: Would you ever wish to truly meet a supernatural or magical being or be in such a place?

 I once published a poem, “Loup-Garou,” in the Canadian magazine Dark Fantasy , in which the narrator runs in terror from such

poetry, fear, primal feelings, power of nature, nautre, mystical, speculative writing

John Bell embraces the mythic in nature and lives in Nova Scotia.

an encounter only to discover, in an EC-Comics-style ending, that he has become the supernatural being. I, too, would probably run in terror.

CA: Do you think the animals of the fields and forest live their lives in a world that is magical or in one devoid of anything but the search for comfort, sustenance and shelter?

I believe there is magic in the natural world for all creatures to experience in their own way. For instance, no one can convince me that crows are not living in a magical world. Just watch them.

CA: What themes do you like to explore in your writing and what other projects do you have on the go?

I am currently editing a book that collects the wartime diary and letters of my wife’s great-uncle, a working-class guy from the north end of Halifax who served as a gunner in the Canadian Army during the First World War. Although he worked all his life as a mechanic, he was also an aspiring writer (his middle name was “Byron”). In fact, his papers include several story manuscripts and rejection letters from pulp magazines such as Adventure. I hope to honour his service and fulfill his literary ambitions.

John Bell was born in Montreal and grew up in Halifax. After a long career at the National Archives in Ottawa, he returned to Nova Scotia and now lives in Lunenburg. He is the author or editor of nearly twenty books, including Invaders from the North, a ground-breaking history of Canadian comics. A former editor of the poetry magazine Arc, Bell has contributed to numerous anthologies, among them Ark of Ice and Nova Scotia: Visions of the Future, both edited by Lesley Choyce. In 1981, Bell and Choyce co-edited Visions from the Edge, one of the earliest Canadian SF anthologies.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Dominik Parisien

fantasy poetry, speculative fiction, myth, death

Dominik Parisien tells a tale of magic, madness and mystery.

CA: “My Child Has Winter in His Bones” has the three Ms: magic, mystery and madness. Do you think there is a fine line between true madness and magic?

For me, the poem has a great deal to do with grief, which is a powerful form of madness in many cases. That being said, in this day and age, “madness” and “magic” almost feel like two gradients on the same spectrum, in that they’re both used to qualify things we can’t properly understand, albeit one is viewed as negative and one as positive. If something feels irrational, irregular, we call it mad. If it feels joyful, overwhelmingly special, we call it magical. And what’s magical to one person can be utterly mad for another, and vice-versa.

CA: The climate has been said to play an integral part to the Canadian mindscape, though that could be said of other places as well. Here, you use a different way of personifying winter. Would you say that people often see the elements in a personal or human way?

Personalization of the elements is, of course, nothing new. The Green Man, The Winter Queen, elementals, etc. I think personifying the elements was and is an effective way to facilitate an understanding of them, to explore their significance and our relationship to/with them in various ways. The fact that such personifications occur throughout time and cultures illustrates their importance to us as human beings, both as storytelling modes and as symbolic signifiers. Applied more specifically to CanLit, I think the richness of our landscape and the radical variations in our climate do lead to effective uses of personification and pathetic fallacy, and that’s it’s more or less a natural tendency given where and how we live.

CA: While you wrote this as a poem, could the tale be told as a story or do you think you would lose the

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

feel that only poetry can give to an image?

I find there’s an immediacy to poetry, a jarring emotionality that resonates more strongly with me than with prose when I’m writing. It isn’t always the case when I’m reading someone else’s work, but when I’m writing my emotional engagement with the subject matter tends to dictate the form. So, in this case it probably couldn’t have been a story. I’d been tinkering with the idea of conveying it as a story, but I kept being drawn back to poetry.

CA: Do you use mystery and the elements in your other works? And are you surviving winter?

I think I focus more on the numinous than mystery in my work, although mystery informs that. I think it’s a mistake to believe that we can understand the world in purely empirical terms. There are things that are unexplainable. Our understanding of the world is always informed by our personal biases, our beliefs, etc., and when we’re introduced to a view that is different from ours, there’s a bit of mystery to that. A bit of magic. And there’s always mystery around us, in one form or another. I like to explore that.

And yes, the elements do play a fairly large part in my work. Another one of my poems, “Since Breaking Through the Ice.” which was reprinted in Imaginarium 2013, explored a similar subject to “My Child…” and might be called a companion piece. One of my favorite pastimes in winter is walking on frozen bodies of water. While I lived near the Ottawa River I would regularly go for walks on the frozen river. I knew the dangers–there are drownings almost every year in the area–but I was careful, and the river and the sound of the ice hold a particular sway over me. A fascination.  As for surviving winter, I’m definitely missing snowshoeing opportunities on the river now that I live in Montreal!

CA: As a poet and a fiction author, do you favor one form over the other, or do they hold equal weight for you?
I tend to favor poetry in my own writing. Recently, anyway. I do write the occasional short story, but the poetic form comes to me more naturally. I tend to think in vignettes and snippets, and I enjoy the challenge of conveying story/narrative and character in a compact way, all the while toying with language and form. I also have a background in English Literature and have a particular fondness for poetry. I value and enjoy reading fiction and poetry equally, though.
CA: What other pieces do you have in the works right now?

I’m currently working on a poetry chapbook, comprising original poems and reprints. Otherwise, I edit poetry for Postscripts to Darkness, an Ottawa-based journal of dark and uncanny fiction and poetry. I also recently edited Mike Allen’s  poetry omnibus, Hungry Constellations, which will appear in 2014 from Mythic Delirium Books.  Finally, I work on various editing projects with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, such as the recently released Time Traveller’s Almanac from Head of Zeus in the UK and Tor Books in North America.

Dominik Parisien is a Franco-Ontarian living in Montreal, Quebec. His poetry has appeared in print and online, most recently in Strange Horizons, Shock Totem, and Ideomancer, amongst others, and has been reprinted in Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing.  He is the poetry editor for Postscripts to Darkness, provides editorial support to Cheeky Frawg Books, and is a former editorial assistant for Weird Tales.

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Tesseracts 17 Interviews: Eileen Kernaghan

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 will be out this fall with tales from Canadian writers that spans all times and places.

Today, I’m continuing the Tesseracts 17 interviews with Eileen Kernaghan, whose poem “Night Journey: West Coast” captures elements that have always been present in the Pacific rainforest. The anthology will be out from EDGE in the following weeks.

CA: Eileen, your poem “Night Journey: West Coast” brings out a spiritual and metamorphic quality to the forest. You’re a BC native. What do you find is the most magical aspect of the province?

Eileen: For me, it’s the forest. I grew up on a farm that bordered on  woods  and mountains.  The forest,  when I was a child , was a magical  kingdom, full of hidden groves and secret passageways.  It was where I spent a great deal of my time, and where I imagined a great many stories that have yet to be written.  But in the forest at night there’s a darker kind of magic.  I wrote “Night Journey”  after an unnerving trip from Courtenay to Nanaimo on the new island highway,  in darkness, fog  and driving rain.  Quite co-incidentally, we had the music from Twin Peaks on the cassette player.  I really felt that if we veered from that black ribbon of highway, we could vanish forever.

CA: Are you done exploring the land here in terms of fiction or do you think new ideas are sprouting from the rich earth all the time?

Eileen: I’m not sure about fiction, but I’m certain  there’ll be more poems.

CA: What other encounters have you written about that involve the forest or the supernatural qualities of the land?

women in writing, horror, dark fantasy, dark fiction

Eileen Kernaghan is an award winning writer.

Eileen: What comes to mind is my most often published poem, which  appeared in an early Tesseracts. “Tales from the Holograph Woods” compares an imagined future landscape where there are no more forests, with an “older physics” where the land was a living entity . (One of  the places where it appeared was Witness to Wilderness: The Clayoquot Sound Anthology, which rose out of the protest of 1993. ) As to personal encounters—several poems came out of a  visit to  Stonehenge, Avebury and Glastonbury,  where  the magical qualities of the land are inescapable.  My novel Sarsen Witch, which is about earth magic, was written before that trip, but when (thanks to a letter of permission from English Heritage)  I was able to stand one late evening in the centre of the Stonehenge circle, I knew that I’d pretty much got things right.

 Eileen Kernaghan’s speculative poetry collection Tales From the Holograph Woods (Wattle & Daub Books, 2009)  draws its themes from science fiction, myth and magic, dark fantasy and fairy tales. Eileen is also the author of eight historical fantasy novels that reflect her fascination with other times and places, from the prehistoric Indus Valley to Victorian England. She was shortlisted in 2009 for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and in 2005 for the Sheila Egoff Prize for Children’s Literature. Her latest novel, Sophie, in Shadow, is set in India under the Raj, circa 1914. It will be published by Thistledown Press in spring 2014.

www.eileenkernaghan.ca     http://www.eileen-kernaghan.blogspot.com

 

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Traveling in Europe: Den Bosch Part I–Canals & Countryside

Den Bosch, moat, Holland, Dutch history, travel, culture, fortress

Den Bosch's ramparts and river served as a nearly impregnable fortress.

My last stop of four cities in Holland was Den Bosch. The full name is ‘s-Hertogenbosch and I think you have to be Dutch to pronounce it. Most people call it Den Bosch now and pronunciation seemed to differ between “den bos” and “den bosh”. Den Bosch is south of Utrecht and north of Eindhoven. It’s not large but considered a place to get away “to”. I probably would have missed it completely if it wasn’t that speculative writer and editor Jetse de Vries lives there and I emailed him to meet up.

cream puff, Den Bosch, profiterole, puff pastry, food, culture, Holland

Boschenballen; worthy of making a stop in Den Bosch

Once I started reading about Den Bosch it sounded interesting enough that I stayed for two nights, couch surfing with Will. Jetse and I played a bit of tag at the train station, trying to find each other. Once we met I put my luggage in a locker and off we went to a cafe where Jetse introduced me to Den Bosch’s own claim to fame, the Boschenballen. If you’ve ever seen a profiterole (cream puff), imagine one bigger than your fist, covered in yummy dark chocolate and inflated with creamy goodness.  I wasn’t sure I could eat the whole thing (and shhh, but I’m allergic to dairy) but I took a bite and another and somehow managed to polish it off. I certainly didn’t need lunch till much later.

North Brabant, Den Bosch, fortress, Holland, history, canals

A very larg cannon is housed in the structure atop the walls built in the 15th century.

By the 1500s it turns out Den Bosch was once the true mercantile center of Holland, with three rivers (Dommel, Aa and Maas) converging nearby. The Dutch are also masters of the water ways and trade came and went by land and water. It was second in population only to Utrecht. ‘S-Hertogenbosch means Duke’s Forest and the original Duke was Henry I, Duke of Brabant. Over the centuries, with fortifications increasing, Den Bosch was considered impregnable and nicknamed the Marsh Dragon. They had built a moat from the rivers and water ways; if invading forces came near, they flooded the lands around. Too deep to walk through and too shallow to put a ship on, the city’s defense’s held strong.

raft, canals, Den Bosch, travel, history, culture, The Netherlands

To get over one of the many bodies of water, there is a hand crank raft to take people across.

That is, until 1629 when Frederik Hendrik of Orange, using Dutch ingenuity and a goodly portion of purloined coins from a Spanish armada, built a dyke around the city with windmills and then pumped out all of the water. He managed to break through the one weak spot in the wall’s defenses and then rebuilt that section making it stronger. The ramparts still stand and are integral to holding back the waters. Den Bosch is considered one of the better fortress cities in Holland. A nature reserve now borders one side of the town, giving great pastoral views and nature walks.

canal, Den Bosch, polders, Holland, North Brabant, tours, travel

The underground canal tours are lovely and a great way to see the city.

Jetse had booked a canal tour and Den Bosch’s canals are unique in Holland because they’re mostly covered, unlike the open canals elsewhere. While the tour was in Dutch, Jetse was able to tell me much about the rich history of this small town. It seems people were not allowed to build outside the wall and as the city became more crowded they actually built over the canals. At one point the city was going to pave over the canals but instead the government made it a protected townscape, preserving the historical ramparts and the canals.

Heironymous Bosch, canals, Den Bosch, Holland, history, art, canal tours

Boschian fun on the canal.

The weather was perfect in late September, around 25-27 degrees Celsius. The tour went under the city and then outside around the ramparts. It ended with ducking into a darkened alcove where they showed a short film on Hieronymus Bosch, the city’s most famous painted. The water level was relatively high so we really did have to duck. And along the canals were large sculptures of some of Bosch’s strange creations.

canal, Den Bosch, moat, history, The Netherlands

Den Bosch's canals were very beautiful.

Even without understanding Dutch the tour was worth it for the sheer beauty and scenery. The following day I took a walk outside the city walls and got to see Den Bosch from afar. Of the cities I visited Den Bosch definitely felt the most pastoral, because of the flat fields and the winding river around it. In my next post I’ll talk more about the cathedral and other aspects but it was definitely worth the visit. I’ll also have the full album posted once Picassa stops being persnickety.

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Treasures in the Park: Geo Caches

Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver, Geocaching, parks, sun, ocean

Lighthouse Park

On Saturday I spent a great day at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver with a bunch of friends. It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, hot and perfect. We hung out near the water on the rocks, talking, playing drums and didgeridoos and wandering down a few trails.

geocaching, geocache, Lighthouse Park, hidden treasures

The Geocache

We’d been there quite a few hours, taking a breaking from the sun under a couple of trees when one of my friends said, “There’s a box here, hidden under some bark and leaves.

We looked and sure enough there was this scruffy dark green box. Speculation arose. Why would a person hide a box? And fear as to what might be in it. Being curious, I moved more of the bark and found that it said Geocache. That rang a few bells and we pulled it out.

geocaching, Lighthouse Park, treasures, hide and seekGeocaching is a game where people hid boxes of stuff in different locales all over the word and then with the help of a GPS, or GPS enabled phone one can track them down. You log your find in a log book, add something to the cache and maybe take something to deliver to another cache. Then there is the whole geocaching site where you list what you found.

geocaching, Strait of Georgia, Lighthouse Park, Daisy Duck

Daisy Duck looks out over the Strait of Georgia

Although we did have a couple of GPS phones, we’re not actually playing the game, nor registered. We pulled all of the trinkets out of the rather full box and looked at them all. I guess, as the game goes, we could have taken something. However, we logged our discovery, noticed that there was Daisy Duck, a special geocaching item in which you needed to log her journeys. Since she took extra responsibility we left her for those more involved in Geocaching but we did take a picture of her close to water as requested. She got to look out over the Strait of Georgia, which leads to the Pacific Ocean.

geocache, geocaching, hidden treausures, Lighthouse Park

The full cache spread out

We didn’t take anything from the geocache and did add a little purple glass bead I found in my pocket, adding to the treasures for explorers to come. One of

the interesting (read: scary) items in the cache was a trading card called “American Terrorist” with highly hyperbolic information on the infamous Charles Manson. And to think this was put out by the Piedmont Candy Co. Eat the candy,  kids, but don’t talk to murderers.

After we returned the geocache to its hiding place for other intrepid adventures, we continued our own exploration.

Lighthouse Park, parks, Strait of Georgia

The rocky shores of Lighthouse Park

Mine included taking many photos so It added a bit of unexpected adventure to the day, finding the cache and I can certainly see the fun of finding hidden treasures. I’ll end this with a few more pictures of the geocache, and the beauty of the day that we were lucky enough to have.

Lighthouse Park, parks, low tide, ocean

Low tide at Lighthouse Park

 

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Fun With Thunderstorms

Creative Commons: El Garza, Flickr

When I was a kid nothing was more exciting than a thunderstorm. The frenetic energy that charged the air electrified us as well. My mother, who grew up in a small coal mining town, insisted we unplug everything and go into the basement, turning off the lights. Sometimes the power went out so it was flashlights and candles. As we sat in the dark, not standing too near the window, which would just entice the lightning to find you, we watched Nature’s amazing show.

Grey and bilious green roiling clouds, sometimes tinged with yellow, pregnant with dark anger. Eye searing forks of lightning stabbing the earth, sometimes reaching out to grab a bit more. Angry voices cracking through the sky. It was amazing. It rattled windows, it shorted out power and sometimes it caused fires.

We never experienced fire but lightning and thunder were both thrilling and terrifying. I imagine this is why people go to slasher/horror/thriller movies; the on the edge-of-your-seat tension and terror, the relief that it’s not real, the huge adrenalin surge that tells you you’re alive.

Adrenalin is an intrinsic part of our physiological reactions and is called the flight or fight reflex. In intense or dangerous situations, as well as sports, it gives us that extra burst of energy to move faster, lift heavier weights, just survive a bit longer. We can’t control it.

When I was still living in Calgary, there was a massive thunderstorm one night. My boyfriend and I lived near the river and several streets back the terrain became a small cliff with houses upon it. We watched from our balcony window as the lightning streaked out of the sky. It was close, extremely bright, the thunder loud and booming all about us. The closer the sound of thunder to the lightning the closer in proximity to the eye of the storm. As kids we would count from the time we saw lightning (one thousand and one, one thousand and two…) and that would tell us about how many miles away the storm actually was. This site says count the seconds and divide by five to get a mile so maybe that lightning was always closer than I imagined. http://weathereye.kgan.com/cadet/lightning/thunder.html

Well, that night as we watched the dance about us we were suddenly washed in blinding light as a loud boom instantaneously raced through us. My boyfriend and I, devoid of thought, pure instinctual animals jumped and ran, and found ourselves across our apartment in seconds. The lightning storm had been pretty much on top of us and had hit a tree on that cliff behind. That adrenalin reaction was so mindless it made me realize that we are animals after all. That was the closest I ever got to lightning and that was close enough.

But along with thunderstorms, we would often get hail, and this post today is inspired by the fact that we had little pea sized hail falling this morning in Vancouver, which is very rare. We might get a thunderstorm this afternoon.

Hail in Calgary was often an event in and of itself. I remember that it hailed so hard one July that we were playing in two-foot hailbanks afterward. The hail could flood areas and would be fast and furious, biting holes through plant leaves and cold enough to turn your hands blue. Being pelted with little chunks of ice was never fun.

One hailstorm that happened shortly after I left Alberta dropped golfball sized hailstones. Everyone’s car was badly pocked by the hail and people ended up with good goose eggs and bruises if they’d been out in the storm. Hailstorms are even rarer in Vancouver than snow, and that’s uncommon enough. I don’t miss hail as much, though it’s fascinating to watch but I do miss thunderstorms. And I still thrill at the charged air of a good storm.

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Traveling in India: Toilet Terrors

Ancient Greeks had it rough but not that rough.

I have had some pretty interesting toilet adventures when traveling. Mexico City didn’t flush their toilet paper but had open garbage cans beside the toilet for people to put the soiled pieces into, which was especially disgusting. Singapore required you to squat in the right direction and if you didn’t flush they would fine you. Britain used something akin to parchment paper with the absorbency of stone. But India was perhaps the place where I experienced the most travails. I was there for two months and on top of that, contracting dysentery meant I had many intimate moments in the can.

Toilets (or ditches, troughs, or trenches) could always be found but if you’re of a culture used to sitting, the other style can be a challenge. Squatting is something that takes more work if you don’t continue to do it from childhood. The muscles and tendons shorten and it’s not as easy to even achieve a full squat without having the feet jutting out at 45 degree angles. In Nepal, while on the bus, we’d pass people on the side of the road, just squatting right down, arms wrapped about their knees and doing their business, watching the cars go by. I presume they used their hands to wipe as they do in some Arab countries but I never asked. And after seeing one man walking along and blowing a booger into his hand and then flinging it, I didn’t want to know, nor shake anyone’s hands.

On one trip, there was a little shack where they served up rice and dhal bat (some sort of lentil stew that I can’t eat because of food sensitivities.  Behind that brick shack was an old piece of cloth over a very short vestibule. At the back of this was a thin culvert (about six inches wide) of water running through. You squatted over that culvert of water and did your business. Toilet paper isn’t something the locals use and they probably shake their heads at our finicky ways.

My time in Meghalaya was fine since every home had flush toilets with seats and the Khasis tend not to squat at home though I’m sure they’re used to the squat version too. By the time I made to Delhi I was desperately sick with dysentery. I didn’t know if I would puke or have diarrhea or both at the same time. The worst version of toilet is the one that combines the squat with the Western style. These were porcelain toilets with no seats that people squatted over. It’s much easier to squat full to the ground, than halfway as if you’re skiing. And if you’ve ever been so sick that you just want to lay on the floor and hang onto the toilet, well, there was no way to do that with this style of toilet. The floors were filthy with everything including the grunge from using a toilet. And the porcelain rim, without seat was just as mucky. What to do (as they said in India). Try being steady when you feel like fainting and vomiting into the fecal void. I hated this toilet style most of all.

The most adventuresome one was taking a train from Delhi (it might have been Varanasi) to Calcutta. It’s a long train ride and eventually you’re probably going to have to use the toilet. I waited as long as I could, partly because I didn’t want to leave my pack alone. But eventually I had to go. I wore long skirts a fair deal in India because they were cooler and because it was culturally more acceptable. On the train, the toilet is only a hole in the ground, where you can watch the tracks shooting by beneath. In fact, you’d never want to walk along the tracks there because everyone defecates onto the tracks. I can’t imagine it being pleasant at all.

So here I am in this darkish metal box, bunching my skirt up about my thighs and squatting down. What does a train do when it moves? It rocks, so there was a bar to hang onto. But being a Western person I also used toilet paper. One hand is holding up my clothing, one is hanging on to the bar. How do you wipe yourself? It took some judicious bunching of fabric and balance. My fear was I’d fall onto the disgusting floor and contract a disease.

But I managed. And I brought my own toilet paper know it’s not something used by all cultures and it’s a good thing I did or I would have been using my hands. And after seeing the Ganges River, with ashes from the burning ghats, dead cows, marigolds, people washing clothes, themselves and doing spiritual ablutions, there was no way I was going to touch the water. I was raised in the cushy Western society and I’m not used to other styles of toilets. But if I had grown up in Asia  I would probably sport a limberness that aid me in other ways. I still wonder what happens when a person gets too old and rickety to squat though.

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