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Meanderings of a Long Weekend

I took the opportunity for the long weekend of going to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands on the west coast of British Columbia. It’s a long finger of island that butts up to Mayne Island. Sturdies Bay is where the ferries dock, a one-hour trip from Tsawwassen terminal.

My friends aren’t far from Sturdies Bay, a five-minute drive, and their place looks out over the water to Little Gossip Island. There’s a little bit of rocky outcropping that’s submerged at high tide and has various birds from herons, cormorants, gulls and merganzer ducks visiting it. Little Gossip acts as a windbreak to that part of Galiano and when the winds were whipping up to 140 km/h on the ocean, it was a bit calmer where we were. Still, ferries were canceled, trees were downed and the power flickered on and off.

We worked out at the little community gym on Friday and although it’s small it’s quite well equipped with several nautilus machines, rowers, one elliptical, one stair master, one treadmill (broken), mats, balls and free weights. The power went out while were there but there was enough light that it didn’t matter. And lucky for us, we managed to get back before the rain began and the really strong winds. Trees whipped back and forth in the strong winds and parts of the island lost power as line were downed by falling trees. We heard a few things knocking about the place and the rain poured out of the eaves but we were dry and warm. Wood fireplaces are very handy.

Saturday we went for a five-mile hike along a lot of the road around the fatter part of the island and up to the Bluffs that look out over the strait. The day was slightly cloudy, with some sun and a big on the cold side so it was good that we walked fast to warm up. I work out three times a week and teach dance but I couldn’t keep up with my longer legged friend who does and hour walk every day during the work week. And I did get to find out which parts of my body are still not working right. My flexors (that join at the front of the thigh from hipbone down) were killing me by the end of the two hours.

Still it was a good hike which was mild as far as hills and gave me more of a sense of the island. Bill Richardson, humorous writer and past host on CBC radio was giving a talk at the town hall after their AGM. We were going to stay but instead did the hike. Lucky for us we did. We weren’t back and hour when it started to rain again. The winds picked up once more and at one point we even had hail.

The good thing about all that churned up water is that I thought I was seeing an odd-looking dog running by the house when I realized it was a sleek black otter that had come up from the shoreline to hunt around. As its pointy black tail went over the ridge I pointed it out. A few minutes later we saw it in the water and as it dove its tail popped up. I’m told they’re river otters and they’re definitely longer than a cat and like a smallish dog. I also got a chance to see a seal in the water and with the help of binoculars it wasn’t hard to see details.

I spent most of one day catching up on background notes for my novel. Because it’s on a different world I’ve had to do some extensive world building. I already have maps of the continents, rivers, marshes, forests and some towns, but I now had to actually figure out distances because my army is on the move. I had to figure out how fast horses can go and how fast people on foot. I think there will need to be some adjustment but it took figuring out how big my continent must be.

Admittedly long weekends are meant for naps and reading and drinking a bit of wine so my pace was slow. We’d also taken in a trip to the bookstore and the freecycle spots, where the island recycles everything down to plastics and papers and puts whole magazines and books out for people to reuse. (It’s called the Redirectory.) But I did spend most of Sunday re-reading my chapters, fleshing out some characters, finishing one chapter and moving on to another one. I managed about 5,000 words for the day which is a pretty good average. I’m hoping I can keep up the momentum and work away on the novel.

My approach to writing this one is much different from the first one of years ago (unpublished and languishing on the shelf). I have three main characters here and after an initial 30,000 words, I’m reworking the plot and writing through one character’s story arc before I move to another character. I’m sure that means that once all the chapters are written I’m going to have to do so rewriting so that they flow properly but in the meantime I find it the best way to keep track of the conflicts of one character.

Overall, my weekend was productive and relaxing. I wouldn’t mind more four-day weekends.

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Hated Winter: From Snow to Rainforest

I grew up in Calgary, where winters were defined by snow and snowsuits, giant mitts and yes, that Canadian thing, tuques. As kids our tuques (toooq) were balaclavas. They had an inner piece that could be pulled down over the face. Today they’re called ski masks and have a big opening around the eyes. Ours had two eye holes and maybe a mouth hole. Pretty much  only burglars wear them now. It was nearly worth the risk of frostbite not to wear these horribly uncool and unfashionable items, even at the age of seven, even before seven-year-olds were that fashion-conscious.

There was just no way anyone wanted to wear these things. When nostrils started freezing shut and the air cut as we inhaled, and eyelashes froze our eyes shut, then we would reluctantly pull these things over our faces, dealing with the ice encrusting around the mouth hole every time we exhaled.

I didn’t have a snowsuit but I think there were thick pants over tights and two pairs of socks. Imagine being a kid of six, not particularly tall, struggling through a foot of snow and looking like the Michelin tire man. In my first grade I was late every day for a week because I just could walk any faster through all the snow. That was back when children were allowed to walk to school from grade 1 through 12 and the only ones that were driven were the teenagers who drove themselves.

Winter. How I hated it. My sister and I shared a bedroom in a split-level house, which mean all but three feet of our room was below ground. And the air vent didn’t really work. And the floors were cold linoleum on concrete. Cold. Icy icy cold. My sister and I both hate cold to this day. She has other reasons as she has arthritis as well.

In Calgary we would listen to the radio every morning in winter to find out the temperature and whether the schools were closed. They usually only closed them when the temperature, combined with the wind chill factor, got below -30.  Yeah, we were hardy little buggers. Walk or freeze. My mother would load our little metal lunch boxes with a thermos of hot chocolate and some sort of sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and a fruit or a cookie and off we would go.

I somehow don’t remember winter that well in my teenage years. By then I completely refused to wear those horrid balaclavas. Losing my nose was a risk I was going to take. I had a big puffy downfilled coat and some sort of hat or tuque but without the face part.

In art college I remember the tops of my ears being frostbitten one day because I walked from the college across a very major street to the shopping mall where I worked. I had my hair braided back and it was probably spring. That exposure was enough to do the ears in. My toes were also frostbitten when I got a ride by the Calgary hot air balloon club, in exchange for pictures. Again it was spring and the snow had disappeared from most of the sidewalks. In my runners I rode the balloon and everything was fine…until we landed in a farmer’s field still covered in snow.

The cold I hated the most was the one that seemed to freeze the marrow. Doing photography I would go out and shoot until my camera froze up. There are oils that are in the body for the gears and the lenses so that the focusing ring can be turned easily. When I could no longer easily focus I would go in. On days like that there was a cold beyond shivering that really felt like it was in my bones. It was a terrible deep ache that I could only alleviated by immersing myself in a very hot bath.

It was enough to get me to move to Vancouver, land of green grass and ivy in winter. But Vancouver was a different climate from Calgary. Calgary was dry. Vancouver was humid. I moved here and found mold growing in my shoes at first. Every time I crawled into bed it felt like I was in wet sheets. My face broke out in all these little bumps. After seeing a dermatologist, it was determined that I was using too much lotion, having come from a drier climate.

But Vancouver was warm, and sure it rained like it was time to build an ark, but it was nice. Yes, nice. I’ll take a two-week long deluge anytime. So when it snows here I whine. I whine a lot. Snow is for the mountains, not the city. If our temperature drops below 0, I whine. We’re not supposed to get temperatures that cold and believe me, our pipes are not that deep underground. Last year’s hideous, snowy winter caused my kitchen pipes to freeze. Luckily they’re plastic and we could thaw them with a space heater.

I was born in the clime of true winter but I never took to it. Perhaps my ancestors’ genes had some influence. But one half was Danish and the other Italian. It seems my sister and I take after the Italian side, while my older brother and my mother (born of Italian parents) would prefer to be of the Danish side when it comes to climate.

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Weathering Vancouver

What I often hear when friends think of coming to Vancouver for a visit, or for why they could never live here is “the rain.” And yes, we do get rain. After all Vancouver is in a pacific rainforest, though the forest has receded to this hills and mountains in places. Still we’re a pretty green place and that’s evident when flying over the land.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved because I hated the cold and I hated winter. The only snow I liked was the very first snowfall, when it was dry and fluffy and sparkled like diamonds in the lamplight. Walking back from my friend’s in the evening, my footsteps would be the first to make an impression on that scintillating carpet and everything was muffled and magical, with only the sound of a car or a dog in the distance. Then day would dawn and it would just be cold and cumbersome.

I was always cold, sometimes to the point that it felt like my marrow was freezing in my bones, a numbness that would only go away with a hot bath. So, winter especially was not my favorite month. I visited Vancouver three times in one year and all of that was in summer. Vancouver is very lovely in the summer and has the mountains and the ocean so close to the city. I fell in love.

I moved in June and spent the summer getting to know the city and getting a job. But fall and winter came and my shoes were growing mold in them. I always felt like I was crawling into damp sheets and it felt clammy to me. Compared to Calgary’s very dry climate, Vancouver was moist and humid (I hadn’t yet experienced Toronto or Singapore where that’s real humidity). My face broke out in little bumps, not pimples nor really a rash. After seeing a dermatologist it was determined that I was using too much lotion; for Calgary it had been the right amount.

Eventually I acclimatized to the weather. Vancouver does not get blazingly hot in the summer. It’s a rare day that it hits near 30, and because of the ocean and the mountains nearby it will cool down faster in the evenings. While we don’t get as hot as other cities in the summer, we also don’t get the freezing temperatures in the winter. In fact, most pipes for the older houses especially are not far below ground. That and the high water table (we are by the ocean) means that if it does freeze, the pipes are in jeopardy of freezing as well.

Last winter was a brutal exception to Vancouver’s winters. Whereas normally we can expect rain and may be a bit of snow that will melt in a day, we had huge dumps of snow (over 18 inches at one point when I measured) that lasted for weeks. There was so much snow that at first it was that dry snow that other places get, the type that is good for snowballs and building snowmen. But then as temperatures rose, we had the slushy, slippery stuff where everything gets soaked instantly and getting grip, whether by boots or tires, is nearly impossible. My landlord shovelled out more than 13 people in a week, me included.

But the white stuff is rare, and truly hideous when it happens in a city ill-equipped for it. The city is getting more equipment as global warming brings more upheavals in the climate. However, that ubiquitous rain that we always have. Well, yes, there have been a few truly icky and gray summers. But usually they’re quite nice. Winter and fall can vary. The past few years have had winters that weren’t that bad. A bit of rain but periods of sun. Of course the snow last year, negated the rain.

This year almost seems like the old winters here. I heard yesterday that we’ve had 23 days of rain. That doesn’t mean that it rains 24-hours a day but that it is raining every day. Today, it’s actually partially sunny but scheduled to rain some more. When the sky is deep gray all week long and the rain is dripping off of everything, and the grass, if you step on it, slides off the mud below it, then yes, it’s gruesome and depressing. I spent most of the day in bed last weekend because it was so miserable and I felt down.

The Olympics come in February and it looks like they’ll have enough snow for the events. Even in Whistler there are years where it can be a problem. But it could also be raining a lot in February, one of the notorious months for bad weather. But even in winter, usually, it’s not every day of rain. Being someone who has suffered from depression, I can understand the reluctance to live in a place depressed by rain. But then it’s a matter of spending time with friends and in bright light, even if it is artificial. I would still rather take the rain over snow and slogging through the cold every day.

 

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Let it Snow, Oh No, No No!

Okay I’m not yet  done whining about winter, or describing snow. This is seriously the biggest long term dump of the white stuff in a very long time. Many years ago we had a blizzard on Dec. 23rd. I was going to Tacoma for Christmas but on the 24th I couldn’t get my Honda Civic out of the parking spot. The snow was up to the tops of the doors. I did go, catching a taxi and then the Greyhound over the border (an experience I never want to repeat because customs officials treat you like a street person if you take the bus).

Last year, we had several small snowfalls, that melted in between, and then froze, making the streets look deceptively clean but with the thinnest sheet of ice that denied traction. And it was cold. This year, a week of freezing temperatures with snow and then Saturday and Sunday’s big dump has made this more unusual. Yesterday it continued to snow steadily, and for most of the day it really was like someone shaking a big sugar shaker as the snow fell straight down. No wind whatsoever.

My landlord shoveled the walks twice and this morning there was another four inches of snow. It was snowing when I awoke, or maybe raining as it was very light. My back patio is snowed in and everything carries large caps of the white stuff. My round patio table looks like a giant cake with white frosting.

I have a little tuxedo cat named Venus. She loves her territory and hisses fiercely at most interlopers. She also tends to like the comforts of home more than the outdoors ( a direct opposite to the late great Figment who loved his outdoors and would have been out  exploring in the snow.) Yesterday, I picked Venus up and put her out the door, under the eaves where there was still some loose dirt. She does tend to like the great outdoors for doing kitty business. But no way. Since the snow and cold last week her fuzzy butt has not touched the ground.

All the lines and tree lims now have about two inches of snow sitting on them. When it starts to thaw (and I did here dripping from the eaves this morning) it will be really messing with big snow splats falling on our heads.

Yesterday the snow was still dry and powdery and the sky a silvery white. Today, blue is peeking through the clouds and the temperature is near zero. So that means everything is getting mushy. My car is pretty much buried in the ruts of the side streets with a good six inches or more sitting atop it.

So I took the bus but I had to walk along sidewalks thick with the overnight snowfall (on all walks) then up past the schoolyard and through the school parking lot. You can guess none of this has ever been shoveled. I was lucky enough to find a few tire ruts to walk in which made it slightly less tiresome. But I was panting and my legs hurting from walking on the sliding snow. It’s softening up and underneath those inches of gray brown sludge is still a lovely layer of ice. I was sweating by the time I got to the Drive.

The double length buses going south on Commercial got stuck. The back end would slide and pull backwards. Finally one bus made it to the stop. We trudged out through the muck because he couldn’t get close to the curb buried somewhere under the snow. We all sat at the back because the driver needed some traction. It sure is white here in Vancouver today. The streets are mushy and you have to dodge cars shooting past and sling the slime at you.

And why do people get this stupid grin on their faces and say, Looks like we might have a white Christmas after all. As if it’s special. As if it’s romantic. Some dumb song or two talking about snow in nostalgic terms does not make it better. Go backt to the mountains, evil snow, go. Go now. (Oh wait, BC is almost all mountains…sigh.)

But it’s warmer, though we’re still getting snow this week. Snow in our rainforest. Evil snow, herald of doom and darkness in all those fantasy novels. Come to think of it, Mordor might be welcome right now, for warmth if nothing else.

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Winter Wonderland

I hate winter. I’m a bonafide cold wimp and left Calgary many years ago, partly to escape hideous winter, and we had chinooks to temper the bluster of the icy season. When I was in art college, doing photography, I’d go shooting in the winter until the oil in my camera froze up. Those days, I’d get so cold that it felt like my bone marrow had frozen. There was this deep aching, numbing feeling in my limbs and the only thing that would alleviate it would be immersing myself in a very hot bath.

I’ve become more constitutionally delicate with cold, and sometimes can suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which causes the extremities to go through white, red and blood in coloration. It’s numbing and can feel like someone shoving needles into my hands. Luckily I don’t suffer it often but cold is a factor. So forgive me if I hate winter.

Yesterday, in Vancouver it was icy cold and clear. We’d had a small snowfall on Saturday (where I went no further than my neighbor’s) but the roads were clear and dry. All the foliage, of which Vancouver still has plenty of in winter, was a dark, crisp green. Just like the fridge when the temperature is set too cold and all the vegetables freeze into organic sculptures. There were many of those sculptures: the somewhat slumped and crunchy looking ivy, the ferns in perfect emerald stillness, the trees (rhodos) with drooped and pale leaves. You just know that when the weather warms we’re going to have a lot of sludgy slime.

But that’s just it. When the weather warms… Alas, predictions say cold till Christmas and maybe a bitter January and February. What? This is Vancouver, a coastal rainforest, temperate, not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. Usually only a day or two of frost but not freezing temperatures and snow. I’m wearing snow boots that give me blisters in minutes but at least I have a grip and won’t crash onto the ground, which happened two years ago, injuring my shoulder.

Gah! It’s -2 right now and snowing and snowing and snowing. What happened? Whoever’s weather we’re getting I wish they’d come and reclaim it. There is supposed to be more snow on Sunday. Sob** Vancouver snow is worse than Calgary’s ever was. In Calgary it fell dry and sparkly. My only favorite snow memory was always the first snowfall, when the city was blanketed in diamonds under the streetlight. The world was muffled in white silence and usually I could hear a distant dog bark or maybe a car. In the evening, (as a teenager) walking through it from my friend’s to my place, it would feel like I was the only person in the world, no other footprints yet marring the surface.

That was a good memory and even if the snow stayed, it was crunchy and you could get a grip on it, whether in boots or a car, and you could build snowmen and igloos (Yes, we built an igloo once, how fun was that?). Vancouver on the other hand, has the majority of drivers not used to driving in snow. And our cars don’t have snow tires. And the snow becomes this wet sludge that melts through the most waterproof boots and is slippery for any sort of tires. I hate it, a lot.

More worrisome than my whining is the fact that we’re getting this weather. It’s unusual, but not as much as it used to be. There is more snow and more freezing temperatures. That could cause a problem to the ecosystem with flora and fauna that are not used to surviving in such weather. I wonder what the birds do and I can tell you I haven’t seen any in the past few days. Not the murder of crows that always goes east to roost in the evening, not the ubiquitous sky rats, seagulls.

Many of the cats are staying indoors over the past few days, just like the humans. Many Vancouver homes tend not to have basements, or not ones that go below ground. Our water table is too high. This also means that most homes don’t have plumbing that runs that deep beneath the ground. We always have to worry about freezing temperatures and pipes freezing or bursting. Just like the ice toppling that gondola tower at Whistler, because water froze and expanded. We have a lot of water here, as rain, as constant moisture, which gives us those green winters.

There have been years that I saw cherry blossoms on New Year’s day. Those have also been unusual but not as much as this winter wonderland. Mostly I wonder why we’re having this winter. I hate snow and cold, a lot.

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The Ark: Spiders and Snails and Slug Trails

It’s raining here in Vancouver and some people might think that’s normal West Coast weather but we usually get a summer and intermittent periods of sun throughout the year. However this year, we had a particularly wet and cold spring, with the first ten days of June being the coldest on record. July was hot and dry and glorious.

And now…it’s raining like there will be no tomorrow. Time to build an ark. I mean, it’s torrential downpours lightening to heavy rain. Okay, so we are in a rainforest but still, there should be a good long summer. Back in 1998 I think we had a summer of no rain and no sun. It stayed cloudy and hazy the whole time. Plants barely grew and many yellowed and died in the ground because there just wasn’t enough heat or sun.

But back to that West Coast ark. The animals that would first board it, or slither onto it would be snails and banana slugs. There are the ubiquitous snails that crawl over our plants and the sides of houses. If one hankered for escargot (a fancy word for garlic flavored, butter dipped rubber), you could just pluck them from gardens. And slugs, when I first moved to Vancouver my friends in Calgary didn’t believe me when I said there were slugs up to a foot long. After all, the biggest a slug gets in Calgary is about two inches, if it’s massive. (They’re a different breed too.) But these natives to the coast are slimily large and have a high ooze factor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_slug 

The first banana slugs I ever saw were when we visited cousins in Kelowna. We were talking on the sidewalk as the sun started its descent and I kept looking back to the side of the stucco house. There were two large black things on it and I swore they had changed position. I finally pointed them out and my mother said, oh they’re giant slugs. She was joking but in fact they were and remain the longest I’ve ever seen, being each a foot long. Eyewww.

Then I spent a year upgrading hiking trails along the Baden Powell trail in North and West Van. That’s when I saw the rainbow of slimy critters. Sometimes they looked like glossy piles of pooh…until they moved. They were white, yellow, black and brown, sometimes with spots and averaged between 6-8 inches. I used to “accidentally” drop rocks on them. I was young and they disgusted me but I now realize they play an important part in decomposition and recycling of organic wastes into new soil. But they are so so slimy. Settle has had slug races in the past and you can buy life size magnets.

Slugs remind me of my younger brother’s wicked experiments when we were kids. He’d gather up a bunch of garden slugs and put them on the sidewalk in the hot sun. Then he’d surround them with a ring of salt. Death by salt or by sun. Usually they would try to swim the channel of white salt. They got their payback the day he was puttering in the garden. He went to take off his garden gloves and pulled them off with his teeth…getting a mouthful of slug. Hmmmm.

I also wrote a kids poem, a cautionary one about a slug that likes beer too much. You can leave a pot of it in your garden and they’ll just slide on in and drown drunk. Of course you’re left with the gooey stew to get rid of then.

I can’t forget that on this West Coast ark, besides snails and banana slugs, there would be wolf spiders. I once had arachnophobia (somehow cured by working those hiking trails) but wolf spiders still creep me out. They’re the size of small mice, have long eyestalks (okay it’s probably their mandibles but they look like eyestalks), are hairy and move fast, way too fast. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider I usually find one in the tub, it having gone for a drink and getting trapped by the porcelain sides (It’s not true that they come up from drains, and I have a hair catcher on mine, though I wouldn’t put it past the buggers to push that hatch over.)

The other night I caught a bit on the Discovery channel of a computer re-enacted piece on prehistoric times. When the oxygen was super rich and the planet super warm, there were dragonflies the size of eagles and spiders the size of your head. Yeee. Keeping that in mind, wolf spiders don’t seem so bad but they still give me the heebie jeebies.

I’m hoping we’ll get sun again because there has been so much rain that all of these denizens are creeping and slithering about. If I had to board an ark with them, they’d get their own hermetically sealed section.

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