Sunday, April 5, 2020

And then, there's that.

That was Week 3, I think.
We're still mostly isolated. But our part of Campbell River appears to be mostly normal. Except for a distinct lack of kids in the park, no discernible gatherings in the neighbourhood, and many more walking couples than usual.
On Tuesday San went to do a grocery run to the Superstore, which is pretty much deserted after 6 when she goes.
On Monday I walked with Geoff as usual, except that we can't break the walk up with an exemplary cup of coffee at the Sundance, because it's closed. (Best Americano in CR!) It's a long walk for Geoff if we can't stop halfway, but the conversation is always good.
On Saturday, it started to hail and then it snowed at our house. (Of course I replaced the winter tires on Wednesday.) Fortunately, it didn't last, and other parts of Campbell River weren't affected at all: Robin and Mike, in Willow Point, were quite surprised to see the amount of snow on our car when I met them to walk behind the airport because they hadn't had any at all.
On Friday I was scheduled to walk with Paul, but had to cancel because I had developed a very sore throat overnight. Also, I thought perhaps I'd lost my sense of taste, because I wasn't getting anything from my morning coffee. And I know the symptoms.
So I went for a long one by myself, and felt much better afterwards.
On that walk I met Rodger and Barbara with their dog, Kona. I know them because Eli and I used to meet them quite regularly, and Kona, like Eli, being mostly husky, was one of the very few dogs we met who understood Eli's insistence on proper Husky Etiquette, and consequently didn't pose a threat. Anyway. I asked them how they were, and they said they'd only just recovered from something unusually nasty, which had all the externals of Covid, but couldn't be proven to be because they'd recovered, and consequently hadn't been tested. But it had laid them very low for over two weeks, and when I saw them was their first walk for some considerable time. Although they were walking, they weren't yet traveling at their usual speed. Kona, however, was just fine, and enjoyed browsing the long grass that was growing beside the road while we talked.
Speaking of Covid, my Twitter feed assures me Prime Minister Boris has been admitted to hospital for "tests"; I'm having to suppress my inclination to schadenfreude, and to hope for a speedy recovery... Though that seems unlikely, given Roger and Barb's experience.
Of course by now everyone knows that Sir Keir is the new Labour leader: my kind of Labour leader, although I could wish for a couple dashes more charisma. But my impression after listening to a couple of the speeches he gave was that he is a distinct improvement over his predecessor, both in policy and presentation. The most important principle of electoral politics is, of course, that a dogmatically correct position is no substitute for being agreeable and flexible enough that people will vote for you.
I'm always surprised when politicians like Corbyn and Sanders (and we've had our share in the NDP!) don't apparently get that.
On Thursday San needed to pick up a couple of exam books at Long & McQuade in Courtenay and I needed to get a prescription at Costco. So San picked up her books (phone ahead to let the sole attendant know you're coming, phone when you get there, stand back from the table in front of the door until the attendant opens the door and places the package on the table, retrieve package) and off to Costco. Room in the parking lot, and a few people at the door. Then a line all the way out the other end of the Costco parking lot and back out to the road. After 15 minutes of it not moving I phoned the pharmacy. No, they couldn't mail the prescription. To access that service you need to order through Costco.ca. But she'd noticed that the numbers fell off considerably towards the end of the day. So I left CR at about 5, zoomed through Costco picking up the entire list except popcorn, and was back in CR before 7. If we need to go back, we know what to do.
And that list of events doesn't even include all the SnapChats and Zoom conversations and...Leanne and Jay's Troops, who came over most days, just to talk for a while, us at the top of our steps and they at the bottom... All much appreciated.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Press just loves a good "Indian" story

The press just loves a good “Indian” story.
Last year it was the plucky and principled “Indian Princess” Jody Wilson-Raybould, dressed in her First Nations blanket, following “my truth”, fending off the nasty politicians and their minions of the Prime Minister’s office, including the Prime Minister himself! That trope ended badly for our former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General (although she was re-elected as an independent, and is still sought-after copy) and very nearly cost the government re-election. It almost certainly would have, had it not been for an incompetent and insensitive alternative.
This year we have the largely self-styled (as it turns out) “hereditary chiefs” of the Wet’suet’en, marching for the photo op in full regalia down the main street of Smithers BC, willing to engage with any member of the Press at the first sight of a microphone. 
Thanks to the diligence of the Press and their eager informants, we now know far more than almost all of us did before about real and imagined Wet’suet’en cultural practices, the structure of Wet’suet’en traditional society, the economic power of rail blockades, the traditional and ongoing grievances of a very vocal minority of Mohawk, and the abilities of various politicians and police to deal with on-the-ground realities. 
Some of these things are instructive, a few are important, and all of them are interesting. Which I suppose is why some of us still buy newspapers and read them diligently.
Unfortunately -- and this is admittedly very much my own opinion -- much of the information we have been exposed to on this issue is pretty-much irrelevant to the actual issue at hand.

The issue is a natural gas pipeline, the kind that already criss-crosses BC to provide natural gas to BC homes and industry. Here’s the company description: Coastal GasLink Pipeline Limited is building an approximately 670 kilometre pipeline from the Dawson Creek area to the west coast of B.C. The pipeline will transport natural gas to the approved LNG Canada facility near Kitimat. The approved Coastal GasLink route was determined by considering Indigenous, landowner and stakeholder input, the environment, archaeological and cultural values, land ...” You get the picture; there’s nothing remarkable about this infrastructure, except that the gas is for export and that the line, in order to get to Kitimat, is pretty-much obliged to cross Wet’suet’en territory. 
In the distant past this would not have been an issue: the government would have approved, and the company would have just built the line, possibly consulting the Wet’suet’en bands, possibly not. But in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada, in a decision called “Delgamuukw vs British Columbia” declared that the two tribal groups in the area, the We’suet’en and the Gitksan to their north, had aboriginal title to most of their claimed traditional territory. And that changed everything.
What Delgamuukw did not specify, however, was how the various boundary claims would be reconciled, how those decisions would be reached, or by whom. That was left for a future agreement or legal decision. And that part hasn’t happened.
So Coastal GasLink, having made the necessary accommodations with government and the designated regulator, made deals with all the elected bands on the proposed route and started building.
And that’s when the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan, and we were treated to the famous photo op in Smithers. Eight “hereditary chiefs” declared that the bands (that is, the actual Wet’suet’en people and their elected representatives) could only decide for reserve territory; outside of those reserves only the “hereditary chiefs” could give permission. They and their supporters call that “Wet’suet’en Law”. They didn’t give their permission.
To me it’s absolutely mind-boggling how many otherwise rational fellow Canadians saw the logic of this: for example, the entire Green Party of BC got on board! What is it they don’t understand about Canada and democracy? What am I missing?
Because as far as I’m concerned, in a democracy people have a right to have an equal voice, and to make decisions in matters that effect them. And, as far as I know, Wet’suet’en people are Canadians, and, just like me, get to vote in Canadian elections and to participate fully in BC and Canadian institutions. The only difference is that, as aboriginal persons, they have a few extra rights, like the communal rights that come with their traditional territory, among which are the right to be consulted and the right to be compensated.
Those rights have been satisfied, so I’m confident that the pipeline will be completed. 

Of course, for most people who feel passionately about this, it’s not really about the Wet’suet’en and their protection of “the land” at all. It’s about the export of natural gas and the fracking that produces it. Those are real issues, and we shouldn’t pretend natural gas isn’t a fossil fuel, and that producing it and burning it isn’t bad for the environment. They are, and it’s not useful to minimize those facts.
That acknowledged, we also have to note that companies paid many millions of dollars to the BC government for the right to frack in the BC northeast, and to extract the gas. So that’s going to happen; no democratically-elected government could prevent it. We in BC already use about as much of that gas as we can; for example, ours is one of the few houses our neighbourhood that isn’t hooked up. (and we burn wood for heat, so we don’t get to gloat about our environmental superiority) That gas is going to be used somewhere, and so far a lot of it has, ironically, gone at cut-rate prices to the Alberta oil sands to release bitumen from its sand. Personally, I’d rather see it exported, hopefully bringing a better price and more jobs and revenue to British Columbia. 
So there’s that.
The other issue is the “land defenders” argument. I believe it when people say the Wet’suet’en people have a strong connection to their territory. But it’s hardly pristine, as a recent post I found on Twitter of an overflight of the relevant part of the pipeline route demonstrates. There has been intensive logging there for decades. Of course: the access for large parts of it, the pipeline route, in fact, is via the Maurice River Forestry Road. The one the activist blockaded before the RCMP did their duty and took it down.
And that’s where all of this started.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A very Canadian irony


Well, that’s pretty ironic:
— Everyone knew SNC-Lavalin was guilty of fraud, corruption, and bribery. 
— The Prime Minister and his staff couldn’t convince the government’s Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to issue a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, which would have  fined the company a large chunk of cash but would have allowed it to continue to bid on government projects.
— Wilson-Raybould was removed from her position in the next Cabinet Shuffle and, when she continued to protest, also removed from the Liberal Party. 
— That Party took a significant hit in opinion polls, as did the Prime Minister. 
— The Conservative Party started to smell electoral blood, and in the subsequent election campaign made the Prime Minister’s “failings” a major part of their strategy.
— When the dust settled, the Liberals had formed a minority government and Prime Minister Trudeau was still Canada’s Prime Minister. That government is going to be relying on the NDP and/or the Bloc Quebecois to pass any legislation. Which is potentially, if past history is any guide, the Conservative’s worst nightmare come true.
— Wilson-Raybould was re-elected in her Vancouver seat, but as an independent member of Parliament. This is about as insignificant as possible, and she’s left fighting and losing a battle with the Speaker about offices.
— The Conservatives won the Prairies, but lost almost everything else. Then they lost their leader, who also happens to be Leader of the Opposition.
— SNC-Lavalin makes a deal with the Crown to drop 4 of 5 charges, plead guilty to to one count of fraud, pay a very large fine, and continue to have access to government contracts.
— Which is almost exactly what the purpose of the proposed DPA was. 
—In  fact, the only difference is that now SNC-Lavalin has been officially pronounced “guilty”. 
-- Which, as I pointed out initially, everyone knew all along.

And as is usual in these cases where greed and political advantage intersect, the only winners are the lawyers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Election 2019: reflections from the actual West


Some time ago we decided that Telus was rich enough and didn’t require the subsidy represented by our landline. So we dropped it, and have reaped benefits ever since, the most recent being that nobody got hold of us to help scrutineer the election results. 

We finally got to watch an election broadcast all the way through!
This was also significant because that watching included, for the first time, our eldest grandchild--just back from watching his dad vote--whose Grade 5 class has been studying the Canadian political system all year. After careful consideration he had decided that he was a “Vert”, but the rest of us, all orange to the gills, didn’t hold that against him: we were just delighted he was so passionate about the process.
Those of you who watched CBC will probably agree with us that, at least until the election crossed the Rockies, the coverage was excellent, and Rosemary Barton was a superb ringmaster. (We especially enjoyed how she managed to keep Andrew Coyne from doing most of his usual Andrew Coyne shtick, but that may be just our household!) 
And then came the results from BC. The Liberals had already been declared minority winners so the tension had pretty-much evaporated and the entire focus appeared to become “how was the returned Prime Minister going to deal with “the West” and its rejection of him?”

Anyway, some reflections on the result:

--The West: I am so tired of Toronto pundits referring to Alberta and Saskatchewan as “the West” that I wrote an (unpublished) letter to the Globe about it: Living, as I do, on an island on the west coast of Canada, I'm getting really tired of Alberta and Saskatchewan, increasingly proving to be very different from BC, constantly being referred to as "the West" in news stories and opinion pieces. What's wrong with "the Prairies"? I would have added, had I thought of it in time, I promise to stop referring to Toronto as “the East” if you stop forgetting BC exists. 
Besides, that characterization of the Prairies as terminally out-of-step with the rest of Canada is seriously defective, although Jason Kenney and Scott Moe would like us to believe it: over a quarter of Albertans voted NDP or Liberal in this election; nearly a third of Saskatchewan voters voted either NDP or Liberal. What’s seriously out-of-sync with the rest of Canada is the temporary and increasingly-illusory pursuit of wealth represented by their petro-economies.
--The Pipeline: Half-way through the election some Conservative activist decided that, should the NDP or Greens be required to prop up a minority Liberal government the pipeline to the Coast was dead. I even saw some NDPers and Greens make the claim. But that’s 100% guaranteed bogus, because if the NDP and Green caucuses (and Bloc, as it turns out) try to leverage their influence that way, Conservatives can be counted on to save it. I simply cannot conceive of Conservatives trying to campaign in a future election on the premise that, because the Liberals had to be defeated they allowed the NDP to kill the pipeline. 
I don’t like it one bit, but the pipeline is a done deal once the court challenge barrier has passed: the government has passed the required legislation, the NEB has had its say, and it cannot be stopped in Parliament. The best we can hope for is stalling until the economics no longer make sense. Although some economists (https://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/10/05/news/nebs-kinder-morgan-pipeline-expansion-boost-based-outdated-info-economist)  (https://thetyee.ca/News/2017/05/31/Kinder-Morgan-Forget-Economic-Windfall/) are already saying that point has been reached.

--Liberals:  Pundits who are determined to see this as an election where everyone loses except the Bloc (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-bloc-quebecois-leader-yves-francois-blanchet-emerges-as-the-only/ sorry: it’s behind a paywall) are ignoring some really important facts: yes, Liberals lost their majority, but by fewer than 20 seats; they still have the most seats in Quebec; in BC they had the second-best result in the last 50 years; they won the three largest cities big-time; and they have both the Bloc and the NDP to partner with, which means that they have lots of room to manoeuvre. Liberal Prime Ministers have done very well with minority governments in the past, and I believe this prime Minister is politically smart enough and has learned enough in the past 4 years to be one of the great ones. He probably needs to retain Gerald Butts. He needs to avoid putting rookies in charge of essential portfolios, like, say, Justice. Even if they are female, and aboriginal.

--Wilson-Raybould:  I don’t think Vancouver-Granville did itself any favours on election day. An independent's only ability is to assist her constituents with federal matters, and she's already poison to the bureaucracy and her former party. She may be able to get herself out of this conundrum, but she'll have to modify her natural inclination to intransigence to do it. She'll also have to curb her instinct to be the Member for the AFN, or her constituents, who are not members of the AFN, will tire of her,  her lack of influence, and her inability to “do politics differently” very quickly. 

--NDP: Jagmeet Singh proved to be a considerable voice for the NDP during the campaign. However, there are still major issues to overcome: 
...the Bloc took most of the NDP seats in Quebec and they’re not coming back. There are people who will blame Singh’s turban, but although I believe that’s a factor for a minority of Quebecois who previously voted NDP, it’s unlikely to be the killer. Even Mulcair couldn’t hold the vote, and Mulcair is much more tuned into Quebec and its values than Singh. Layton took Quebec seats because the idea of the “besieged Quebec” surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, collapsed. Bill 21 resurrected that idea, and until it goes away again the Bloc prospers and the NDP loses.
...finances are an issue. Until large numbers of people like us start funding the federal infrastructure and not just local candidates, it will continue to be an issue. I’m prepared to be persuaded, but there are issues to overcome.
...I hope he loses the politics of disparagement. That’s a Conservative/Republican tactic, and doesn’t fit either him or the NDP well. Especially if we mean to influence the agenda.
...So delighted with the Vancouver Island result! Especially Victoria.

--Greens:  They are correct to think that they will not make progress until we get some form of Proportional Representation. The BC and PEI experiences should be instructive in this regard; I wish them well in that campaign. But I deplore Greens putting all their efforts into unseating NDP members (eg Victoria) when their present leader beat Gary Lunn, a Conservative, for her seat. Paul Manley doesn’t count, because his father was an NDP MP, and he actually tried to score an NDP nomination before he was successful with the Greens.

--Facebook and landlines:  After the 2015 election I wrote a blog post in which I covered the influence of Facebook, as we experienced it in that election. (https://occasionaljustus.blogspot.com/2015/10/reflections-on-historic-election.html)
How quickly things change! In this election there was hardly any political exchange between participants on my feed, but there were lots of Conservative ads. I do not know who the Conservatives thought they were aiming at, but the ads were, frankly, a bit of a disaster: repetitive, uninteresting policy statements, ad hominem attacks on “Trudeau”, and never funny or even catchy. The few Liberal and NDP ads were less offensive but not more effective. I’d say that Facebook can stop fretting about influencing anyone politically in Canada.
I’ve already alluded to the other major change, which is the absence of landlines. The traditional phone campaign is clearly dead. Door-knocking, anyone? Apparently not, at least in our riding, where--let’s face it-- because of distances it has never really been much of an influence.

And lastly, 2nd choice: the Conservatives can attribute their lack of federal election success directly to being almost nobody’s second choice. That's a sure recipe for permanent opposition!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Wasn't that a party?


On the weekend I turned 75. 
How is it that the years have become shorter? It seems only yesterday that, instead of us spending my birthday on the ferry from Bella Coola to Port Hardy we were driving back up that famous hill to the Chilcotin Plateau (wind, apparently prevented the ferry from leaving the dock in Bella Bella) to end the day in a motel in Cache Creek...
Anyway, I’m no longer surprised by turning some age that seemed purely theoretical only a few years ago. And 75 is no longer freighted with the meaning it had when I was growing up, when I literally didn’t know anyone that ancient. Also, I’m getting used to the various minor frailties that appear as one gets older.
But to cut to the chase: when I turned 72 I evidently thought some philosophical comments combined with practical suggestions were in order, so I wrote a blog post about it (https://occasionaljustus.blogspot.com/2016/09/reflections-on-turning-72.html)
I ended that post with the following: 

“7. I think I may break the habits of a lifetime, and throw myself a party when I'm 75.
No I won't: I'll guilt the children into doing it. Surely that's one of the privileges of older age!”

I confess I cannot have been thinking clearly, because, in the heat of the moment I miscalculated: Of course I knew they would eventually read the post, but I guess I assumed that if I didn’t raise the topic, it would go away. Or maybe I would.
In any case it didn’t, and I didn’t, and I should have known better, should have considered the fact that our children have, since they became adults, liked nothing better than an opportunity to mock their parents and their foibles. I should probably have worried. 

By way of example, here’s a little something that Enid dug up for me on the occasion of my 75th. Years ago she and Robin had gone to visit Nora in Istanbul, where she was teaching, and, while there, hiked at least a part of both the Lycian and St Paul’s trails. One night this is apparently what they discussed:

You get the idea.

But it turns out I was right not to worry.
The Troops did organize a party. It was held in the local curling rink. There were no speeches and no presents. (Although I’m left with good number of cards and more than a few bottles of wine!) 
My birthday turned out to be the excuse that brought together literally dozens of people of three generations, most of whom we have known for years, a significant number since they were born. There were friends I had taught; there were friends from out of town; there were friends we know through our children. My brothers both left their islands to attend. 
Leanne had made all the “supercousins”, many of whom are into Harry Potter these days, black capes, so there were flocks of black-robed creatures and their contemporaries flapping and racing around, to the considerable amusement of adults who hadn't seen the flock in action before. We all got to catch up with people we haven't seen in a long time…
It was pretty much perfect.
And I’m very grateful for our exceptional family and our exceptional friends.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Beer


Some years ago when we were both much younger, Grand-dog Eli and I regularly walked one of our favourite logging roads, Pidcock Main, which follows the Oyster River into the foothills. One summer there was logging well beyond what we could reach on foot, and the trucks came by only occasionally, loaded and unloaded logging trucks, and pickups. But mostly, because this road isn’t on the way to anything except bush, we were uninterrupted. 
Which is perfect when you are walking an inquisitive dog who isn’t intuitive about traffic.
The beer cans were obvious, the first time we walked there, probably because there they are, staring at you: shiny and incongruous in the setting. And of course one notices small things when one is walking distances, watching the dog do his thing in the clearcuts, and considering what to photograph. 
Well, to make a months-long story very short, once beer cans intrude on your consciousness, they’re everywhere. I eventually packed out two large shopping bags in one 12-km ramble after they had started to become a bit of a fixation.
And well may you ask, “What do people who toss beer cans onto logging roads drink?” 
In my experience, that depends on where you are and who is doing the tossing, but on the Pidcock Main, in recent times, it was overwhelmingly Bud Lite and Lucky Lager. 
Actually I’m pretty sure, on Vancouver Island at least, Lucky Lager features heavily in most places beer cans are tossed onto roadways. It is a beer that is undistinguished by anything except – correct me if I’m wrong – price. And it is consumed in considerable quantities here.
I must have consumed some in the form of “draft” in the beer parlours of my youth, but I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, and certainly in those beer parlours the ambiance was a lot more interesting than the beer. Lucky is not, in any way, a memorable beer.

I actually remember my first beer. I had it in the officer’s mess of the Bay Street Armories in Victoria in October of 1963, when I was in my first year at what later that year became Uvic. I had just turned 19, which is only remarkable because the drinking age in BC at the time was 21...everywhere except in military establishments where, following Quebec’s lead, the legal age was 19. I had just become an officer cadet in Her Majesty’s Royal Canadian Navy. There was a significant drinking culture among naval officers of the time, but this had very little impact, mostly because, while I was as impressionable as the next apprentice naval officer, I had almost no money and a university education to pay for. But I do remember the terrible beer in Nova Scotia, the first taste of bitters in England, and the temporary joy of drinking Heineken on board ship in Rotterdam, until sea-sickness on the way back to Halifax made that enjoyment impossible.

When I qualified as a teacher Sandy and I moved to Quesnel. The less said about the beer culture of Quesnel in the early 70’s probably the better, so I won’t, except to note that “pounding browns in the Billy B” of a Friday after work was a custom not unfamiliar to members of my staff. We tried making home brew; it was awful. I made wine, which wasn’t good but was at least drinkable, so we went with that. Ben Ginter had a brewery that you could smell all over Prince George at the time (the very brewery featured in that Canadian classic, “Strange Brew”!) but although the beer had character, it was less than good.

And then we ended up in London, on exchange. I taught English in a school in Islington while Sandy got to spend her days with two toddlers in a Council flat that was brilliantly-located near Camden Town, but also cold and damp much of the time and always cramped. My staff had a cadre of “real ale” enthusiasts, who delighted in debating the virtues of various local ales, of which London and its surroundings had many. Every day at noon we trooped to a pub that sold an acceptable ale for lunch; every time there was need of a festivity, the connoisseurs on staff would bring in a keg to try in the 6th Form suite at the top of the school. I lost track of the number, but do remember that the consensus, at the end of the year, was that the best bitters to be had in London was Young’s from South London. Which was a great pity, because in order to enjoy a pint of Young’s one had to compromise one’s principles: Young’s was known to support right-wing causes, and we were definitely a left-wing staff. 
Unsurprisingly, the pint won out.
The other thing I remember concerning beer in London was the extravagantly-lit and loud pub right across the road from our flat, where the clientele was young and boisterous and drank Carling Black Label, as made in the UK.
In 2006, after I had retired, we returned, without the children (by that time all grown up) to London for a month. We had nostalgically looked forward to pub bitters, and weren’t disappointed: virtually all the pubs we fancied had become Young’s pubs! (And Black Label had become Carling. And the beer was a lot more expensive, but still delicious.) One of our projects was walking down the Thames, over several days, from Richmond to Greenwich, stopping for lunch and a pint at various riverside pubs along the way. Highly recommended; we may have to do something similar in the future.

As I said, I’m normally not much of a beer drinker. Except in summer, when the heat requires a beer. Consequently, I entirely missed the beginnings of the West Coast Craft Ale Explosion. However, at some point well before we were conscious of that explosion, we found we liked Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, and stocked the fridge with that regularly. Then Enid and Isaac moved to eastern Washington State, where summers are frequently intolerably hot; their local Safeway introduced us to the pale ale and IPA of the Deschutes Brewery, and I fear that was the end of Okanagan Spring in our affections. (The fact that they were bought by Sleeman’s which in turn was bought by Sapporo doesn’t help. Given the number of small craft breweries producing excellent beer these days we can be discriminating about corporate ownerships!)
We’re presently in what must surely be a golden age of beer: never has there been more choice; never have those choices been more reliably consistent and true to their promise.  Beach Fire Brewing recently started up in Campbell River, Courtenay has had Gladstone Brewing somewhat longer, Comox has two, Cumberland, Port Alberni, Nanaimo... and literally a baker’s dozen in the Victoria area. (My current favourite is Driftwood’s Fat Tug, but nobody has ever claimed I have impeccable taste, so don’t accept that as a recommendation: I merely mention it to assert my bona fides in this discussion!) And that’s just on the Island. Many of them are available in liquor stores, many can be had on tap in pubs and restaurants. And as Sandy and I proved in our recent odyssey to Ontario and back, there are not very many significant communities in southern Canada or northern USA where it isn’t easy to find a pub or restaurant that serves good food and an excellent ale on tap.
As I said: golden age of beer.
But I also said I’m not much of a beer drinker, and my tolerance for supplying our offspring, their spouses, and their friends (all of whom are enthusiastic beer connoisseurs) is limited. So these days, when we return from Richland we do so not with the 48 permitted bottles of fine beer, but rather with the alternate of 4 bottles of wine. 
Have I ever mentioned that Columbia Valley wineries make some of the very best wine in the world and that one cannot purchase most of it in BC? (And that, in the USA, you can purchase it at Costco as well as Safeway?!)


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

More self-indulgence: ...and back to the West


 On the road again
August 15: Sault Ste Marie:


Left Toronto nice & early, and avoided almost any traffic, to Barrie without incident. Formerly--not having a death wish and invariably, in those days, driving a slow vehicle--the road from Barrie to Sudbury had scared me. But Ontario has fixed it, and are busily 4-laning the part that isn't already. We chose to drive around Sudbury rather than through it but the environment looks just fine and today there was only the faintest indication of heavy industry in the air.

San and I had both really looked forward to the things we remembered from our drive from Sudbury to Sault Ste Marie on previous occasions, but that road has been made much more convenient as well, with the result that most of the towns we remembered have disappeared by virtue of being by-passed. And some of the things I "remembered" turn out to have been just wrong: we both remembered an Eddy Match factory in Blind River: turned out that factory in in Pembroke (which,as far as we know, we’ve never visited) and Blind River's industry is a uranium-processing plant! So maybe it was just a sign on an industrial-looking building. (There goes another good story, though, although maybe the reality is ultimately better.) We also both "remembered" the channel of Lake Huron that ran parallel to the highway. It's a river, called the Mississagi.

Anyway, got to Sault and found ourselves directed by what I shall insist is inadequate signage to the bridge into the USA, which didn't interest us, destination-wise. Drove around, me being made increasingly frustrated and cranky by the one-way streets and no motels. However, I finally managed to get back to the highway to Thunder Bay and eventually the Adams Motel, in which I am writing this.

But can you believe it? There are apparently no brewpubs or pubs serving food that have actual ales on tap in SSM. I have this on the authority of the clerk at the desk and some serious googling. So I think we're going to just walk down the street and eat Italian, hoping they serve a satisfactory Ontario wine... 


The photo requires an explanation: it was taken after I'd seen about a dozen similar ones after bypassing Sudbury. San hadn't seen them at all. Unless I'm looking for something specific, a place or 
a service or a product, I tend to ignore roadside signs, but these started to intrude on my consciousness, because I couldn't imagine a circumstance in which random signs with biblical themes would have any impact whatsoever, especially as one is clicking along at 90 (or over, mostly) when they appear. By the time we reached SSM I, who was now noticing them all, had seen at least a dozen more, unattached to any building or farm or anything....Local thing?

Supper at Gino’s 4 long blocks from the motel. Turns out they did have beer on tap, including Northern Superior (from SSM) black lager, just hoppy enough to suit us just fine.


 Long along the lake
August 16: Thunder Bay:

It's raining buckets, the Holiday Inn Express parking lot appears to be under water, and all our rain gear is in the car across that parking lot, so we're not going to find supper for a while...

Left the motel in the Soo before 7, and headed down the road, expecting to find a place to make a coffee and have some breakfast. It was foggy, and cold, so we passed the first ones by. A couple of hours later we were in Lake Superior Provincial Park, where, when one drives into any "rest area" (location indicated by the pictogram of a picnic table) one is confronted by a sign featuring a large dollar sign, and another to remind one to get or have a pass. In the past, we've been camping in Ontario by this point, and consequently have had a pass, but this time we were merely annoyed, so carried on to Wawa.


Wawa means "goose"
There the place to get coffee (it was too windy to make it at the picnic table supplied by the Visitors' Center) is pretty clearly Tim Horton's, which was mobbed. But very efficient, so we had our two dark roasts in no time. Maybe it was because the time for the day's first coffee had long passed, but Sandy and I both found ours surprisingly good. (I may have to re-evaluate that particular prejudice as well: isn't traveling broadening?!)

After Wawa we discovered that the rather dicey road over to and along the top of the lake has been distinctly improved and that it's still energetically a work in progress. However, as we found out yesterday, improvement has consequences, so Marathon has vanished behind a bypass and we had already ignored the turnoff by the time we discovered this. And Terry Fox's shrine has left the highway. There are still signs pointing out where one may find both, but we didn't check. The tacky store selling rocks, minerals, and gem stones near Hurkett has also disappeared, but maybe that's just an indication of the vagaries of commerce.

Shortly before the Marathon turnoff, we stopped to photograph the mine buildings and waste rock piles associated with Barrick’s Hemlo operation,
Hemlo.The mountain of waste rock has been added since we were last here.
which we'd seen years ago when it appeared to be under construction.

And we also stopped at a federal government rest stop just down the beach from our favourite camping spot on this part of the trip. That's Rossport,
Rossport campground is part of the much larger Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, just up the highway.
right on Lake Superior, and it is still delightful.

Young lady at the desk, probed for information by Sandy, who is good at that sort of thing, suggested "The Forge" in downtown for supper. Outstanding list of Ontario beers on tap; I had a pale ale by Great Lakes Brewing in Thunder Bay and San had an IPA by New Ontario Brewery in North Bay. Both excellent. And the food was pretty good too. Better yet, we left before the music staarted! 

Badlands Inn, after a day on the Prairie.
August 18: Dickinson, North Dakota. 

Did we even try to find a pub in Dickinson?
Badlands Inn, Dickinson North Dakota
Not a chance; it appears to be the kind on town where one avoids the establishments that serve liquor. So we ate dinner at the unlicensed Perkins Restaurant and bakery, just across the street.
Yesterday we left Thunder Bay in a heavy fog, but the way to the border isn’t very interesting so we didn’t miss a thing, and by the time we’d been looked over there  by the Border Agent for about 30 seconds the fog had mostly lifted and by the time we had arrived at the first viewpoint,
Lake Superior south of Thunder Bay, partially in the fog
it was only occasionally evident. 
The way down the lake to Duluth is, initially, very unpopulated. That changes closer to the source of cottagers.  However, I can’t imagine that a cottage on Superior is much of a draw: the lovely red beaches are actually composed of pebbles and rock, the water is very cold, and in most places there’s nothing to look at except water. It reminded us of driving along the Black Sea, without the Turkish villages and tea plantations.
Then Duluth. We needed a road on the southern side, which involved a very different Duluth than the one on the way to Ontario: full of large, modern buildings, plus high speeds on a tangle of excellent freeways. We survived, found our exit, and carried on across on excellent secondary roads: first muskeg and forests, then small towns and small agriculture, then lots of small lakes and large farms. Mostly corn, some soy beans. Becoming mostly soy.
After an added hour of detours that made our Garmin quite exasperated (“recalculating! Turn right in 500 yards on 23rd Avenue... Recalculating! Drive 10 miles on...”) we arrived at Isaac’s parent’s place
The house between the lakes
(where we had last been just after Enid and Isaac were married) and were greeted effusively.

This morning we left quite early, and set off, again on excellent secondary roads, past lakes, corn fields, and soy fields.
view of the Minnesota River
I was sure I remembered much more grain the last time, and fewer lakes. There is water everywhere in this part of Minnesota; all the lakes are very full this year, and everything is very green. Probably too much water: you could still see evidence of the problems farmers had with water when planting.
first view of  the Missouri River
When the countryside started to dry up, in South Dakota, the soy was largely replaced by striking fields of sunflowers. The photo was taken just across the Missouri River, on the Standing Rock Reservation,
sunflowers, corn, and a butte
where the flat prairie is replaced by rolling hills and buttes: sunflowers and corn and a butte in the background.


A day on the freeway
Monday August 19.  Butte, Montana:

Got up this morning when my phone said 6:15. Some time later, looked at my watch: 5:45. I'd forgotten that my phone is on airplane mode because we're in the USA, and my phone won't update till we get back to Canada.

Literally everywhere we've picked up coffee, had dinner, or stayed since we left Minnesota has had a "help wanted" sign. We noticed the same thing in the States on our trip from International Falls to Ontario. The restaurant we ate at yesterday was so badly understaffed there was one waiter and the clean-up lady was seating people and running the till instead of clearing the tables. The young man who eventually served us explained that no one local wanted to work there because even menial jobs in oil and gas are far more lucrative. According to him, every employee was from out of state. The irony of this is, of course, that these states are serious Trump supporters and resist immigration vigorously. Haven't seen even one recognizable hispanic or asian person since we've been in the States so far. That will change dramatically when we get to Washington State tomorrow.

(Saw a billboard on the highway out of Billings saying, "Montanians love Republican values. Be Republican." It had no bullet holes in it that I could see.)

Shortly outside Dickinson, ND, is a viewpoint
view of badlands, Theodore Rosevelt National Park
overlooking the Painted Canyon part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We've explored it before so we didn't go to or through it. Instead we made breakfast and carried on.

What can one say about a day of freeway travel? It's fast; the speed limit is frequently 80mph. The roads are generally good. The scenery from when one gets to the Yellowstone River until Butte is lovely, and well worth the drive.

Tomorrow we lose the freeway, go through some serious mountains, and end up in Richland. We're looking forward to that. 

Supper today at the very funky and competent Sparky’s Garage, which has some outrageous number (19 on the ad) of Montana brews on tap. San and I opted for a pale ale from Livingston which was simply excellent, and San’s Southern salad and my catfish fish&chips likewise.

Following Lewis and Clark across the Continental Divide to the Columbia River
Tuesday August 20, Richland: 

Left the motel in Butte and its dreadful coffee early, and headed down the freeway to Missoula. From there the route of the US12 is through downtown Missoula (second-largest city in Montana!) and out. We watched the signs carefully, even the counterintuitive ones, and didn’t have to repeat any of it.
The road to Lolo Pass, Idaho, and the Continental Divide is not very long, probably because Missoula is 978 meters and the pass is only 600 meters higher. But it’s twisty, narrow, and heavily forested. The way down follows a river, is even more twisty, but there’s more to hold the attention of passengers, who threatened to fall asleep on the way up, and consequently had to knit yet another winter hat for some lucky small child. There were trucks parked at regular intervals, indicating fishermen on the river. 
After the valley widened, there were a number of communities and the traffic increased substantially until Lewiston and Clarkston, which, to our eyes, hadn’t changed significantly since we were here in the spring. Except for the extensive renovation and consequent “roadwork” signage of the bridge over the Clearwater. 
The Snake River behind the Lower Granite Dam, near Clarkston
And then on to Richland, where Enid had just returned home and there was beer in the fridge.
This morning in Butte it was a lovely 8 degrees; in the area around Prescott in Washington, the car’s thermometer read 38.
It’s summer, and as Irv explained, places that have winter have only a short season suitable for road repairs. Consequently, we experienced many road repairs, every day. When bridges are involved, we discovered, automated traffic lights, powered by a solar array, do away with the need for a flagperson to do with enthusiasm what must be pure tedium. 
Sometimes a project is even announced without any evidence of progress. But today, on the way to the pass, we saw the best example of this yet: There were signs. There were lights. We waited for about 5 minutes until the opposing traffic appeared. Then we waited another 3 minutes behind the red light until a truck with a “pilot car” sign appeared. Then the whole line drove for 2 miles until the pilot car turned to allow us to pass. There was literally no sign of construction. Maybe tomorrow.

And that's it; we've done the rest dozens of times. 
It will be good to get back to BC, the Island, and home.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

All the way to Ontario. And back. In air-conditioned luxury


August 1:  Castlegar
Left the motel in Sidney before 5:30, and off to the ferry. Not, as it happened, very full (and only $32!) Breakfast of coffee and salads on the ferry.
Arrived Tsawassen before 8, slow to freeway, then top speed. To Princeton, fuelled ($1.44 for diesel, the most we’ve ever paid, I think). Lunch at Bromley Rock Day Use site. Straight on to Castlegar, where I decided I’d had enough, even though it was only just after 4PM. To the Home Hardware to purchase 2 fake ice (the ones brought from home proved inadequate in the heat) and a container for water. Tried the Flamingo Motel, recommended on some internet site, but it was booked solid. Very small. 
So we went up the road to a variant on the Best Western theme called the “Sure Stay” and were successful in booking a room.
Cartwright's Pub

Walked a couple of blocks down Columbia Street to Cartwright’s Pub. The theme here is pretty obviously stained glass windows. Terrible beer selection, but they did have OK Springs Pale Ale on tap. And San’s fish&chips and my Greek Pizza were more than acceptable. And the pub was mostly deserted, which suited us, though not so much the very pleasant server.

August 2:  Another day, another pub. 
This one in Medicine Hat, Alberta. We’re at the Baymont Inn, (right behind the Imperial Motor Inn, which we rejected because it has a pool and is close to the highway) having visited the local Superstore to purchase a pillow for San (she left hers at the Motel 6 in Victoria), plus spreadable butter and fake ice, (which we carefully left in the fridge in Castlegar). The motel is fine (another variant on the Best Western theme).
We got up this morning around 6, were on our way before 7. Through Salmo, and to the lake on the top of the Salmo-Creston for breakfast, where it as 17 and windy. Then on to Creston and beyond. Fuel in Fernie. 
the lake at the top of the Salmo-Creston

By the time we were in Alberta it had reached the high 20’s, and when we stopped (5:30 PM Alberta time) it had peaked at 36. Love that air-conditioning!
Coffee at a Starbucks in Lethbridge.
After some futsing around the Medicine Hat downtown, we found a motel off Highway 1 and checked in. They not only had room, but it was very reasonable. We didn’t care to do much exterior exploring, so opted for the VLT Lounge and Bar, which occupies the same building as the hotel and an Indian restaurant. Did I complain about the selection in Castlegar? This was much worse, and the wine we asked for with dinner turned out to be unavailable...what was available is pretty much undrinkable, so we settled for an unimpressive lager brewed in Airdrie. But the food was good: impressive hamburgers and fries. They obviously make their money on the 28 VLTs, which were packed the entire time we were there. The bar? Not so much. Country music played at some volume, but we found a seat where the impact was limited.

August 3: Why one might not be keen to live in Brandon
Up around 6, out before 7. Breakfast at the (closed due to the time of day) tourist information site entering Saskatchewan. Windy!

Flat day today, featuring nothing over 32 degrees, and a serious thunderstorm. (Serious mileage too!)
Coffee at a Starbuck’s in Swift Current around noon.
Time change, so we ended up in the Travelodge in Brandon just after 5. It's fine; our room overlooks the Andrew's Field baseball diamond. There are presently two teams playing, but it's hard to make out much, looking into the setting sun.
Andrew's Field

Did some research on places to eat in Brandon that aren't fast food, but most of the interesting ones appeared to have closed. Finally found a decent pub in "downtown" Brandon. They had beer from BC, Winnipeg, and Ontario on tap, plus, of course, the standard Pabst, Coors, and Millers. 
Where "The Dock" is, in the heart of the old downtown, appears pretty desperate. The only people we saw outside of the white people in the pub were guys smoking in groups and women of colour mostly decked out in hijabs. Most of the houses, Prairie architecture from the 1930s or '40s, look rundown. Once you get out of downtown, into the newer business section where the hotels are, walking isn't an option. There appear to be some nice walks in parks along the watercourses, but we didn’t explore them.

August 4: Into the USA
At the Super 8 in Eveleth, Minnesota. Finally.
We had planned to find a hotel in Virginia, Minnesota, but the one we found had about 20 middle-aged frat boys checking in, and all the others appeared to have disappeared. At least, they eluded us, even after two tours of the place. So eventually we carried on down the highway, finding this place. The lady at the desk suggested the Boomtown Brewery across the road. Bingo! Excellent beer and food, good pub ambiance. And full, suggesting a clientelle from further afield than Eveleth, which at least appears to be quite limited.
Boomtown Brewery


We had started the morning after 6, left around 7. Breakfast near Portage La Prairie, in a park supporting the water treatment plant. Complete with pelicans.
near Portage

On to Winnipeg, then fuel in Richer, Manitoba, and finally Kenora. Thought we’d catch a coffee there, so drove off the highway in. Mistake: the city was mobbed with people celebrating “Harbour Days”. Nowhere for them to park plus roads covered in ambulatory and celebratory tourists, so traffic just crawled. We eventually managed an escape, and found our way back to the bypass highway.
Onward to the highway to Fort Frances where we arrived without incident. 
Fort Frances features a smelly pulpmill. International Falls doesn’t, but gets to share the smell and smog. We weren’t impressed positively with either.

(Correction: Irv Arnquist, who has lived there, tells us the Fort Frances pulp mill is dormant, and that International Falls does have a mill, and it’s responsible for any smell. I extend apologies to Ft Frances for implicating it.)

Crossed the border and motored down the straight but rather dreary highway to Virginia. 
Super 8 in Eveleth



August 5: Mackinaw City is a tourist Mecca...with all thereby entailed
We had breakfast (?) in the hotel, and were out shortly after 7. After that it’s a lot of the same until one gets to Duluth: endless trees, more trees, small hills, more trees, no towns, no rock. Turns out, rather to our surprise, that Duluth is very presentable if approached from this side. But the part one drives through after the bridge looks really sidelined and old.
the bridge into Duluth

On the outskirts before Duluth we missed a turn of the highway. Happily, in correcting this mistake we saw a “Cariboo Coffee” place, so were able to deal with the lack up till then.
Ashland is very pretty,  though: a real tourist town on the lake (Superior). Then it’s a lot more of the same, with added muskeg, until one gets to Escanaba on Lake Michigan, another tourist town. Occasional views of the lake, and very picturesque sand dunes in the stretch before the bridge. 
Across the bridge to Mackinaw City, through a packed downtown, to the Super 8, which had room. Expensive @$165 US before tax, etc, but we no longer cared after nearly 11 hours of car travel.
We think they were trying to emulate Fort Mackinac

We attempted a recommended restaurant, but it was packed with a serious lineup, so we passed, and went on to the “family restaurant” around the corner. Their IPA came in cans, but it was a fine version of the “American IPA” from Bell Breweries in Comstock, Michigan. San and I both had the blackened whitefish sandwich, which was fine, and turned out to be a fish burger.
view of the Mackinaw Bridge


August 6: London: Back to where the natives aren't armed
part of the back garden chez  Dawes
This morning we drove the freeways from Mackinaw City to the bridge to Sarnia. Uneventful, fast, and beautiful if one likes the trees of this part of the world. Which we do.

One discovery en route: because we knew that one could buy wine in grocery stores, and because the best selection is in large ones, we left the freeway in search of one. We passed miles of big box stores, and were starting to despair of finding any place that sold groceries when I spotted a huge store that said, "fresh" and "Maijer". Turned out to be large by even Superstore standards, and did indeed sell an amazing selection of wines. So now we know, should we ever be driving in Michigan in the future.

We arrived at the border just as the car ahead of us was leaving, so were through in less than a minute. But people traveling in the other direction, mostly semi-trailer rigs, were lined up for at least a couple of kilometres. 
Less than two hours later we were in London, following Garmin's strident directions, and relaxing chez Dawes. 

To be continued...



Sunday, June 9, 2019

Scatological post


    Did you know that something out there finds dog poo so irresistible that it has created an entire economy based on this fact?
    I didn’t either; in fact, I never gave the whole dog poo issue much thought until I started noticing the unassailable evidence that there were forces at work in the woods collecting the stuff. For simplicity,  I call this entity or force the “poo fairy”.
    What finally made the penny drop? Well, for years I’ve been walking various of my dog companions. You cannot make a dog go to the toilet before they walk, so invariably they would save their poo until we were safely on some forest byway. Most of the time they would discreetly mosey into the underbrush beside the trail to accomplish this, but sometimes the poo ended up on the trail or within sight of it. My response has invariably been to find a stick and sweep the poo into the bush. Out of sight, out of mind; no fuss, no bother.
    I figure this is analogous to putting horse shit on my vegetable garden, as I did this spring: a good thing that plants enjoy.
    Anyway. Over the past few years I’ve started to notice that some people – the ones that don’t just ignore the issue and don’t mind if they annoy the other walkers -- don’t sweep up after their dogs. Instead, they activate their little poo bag and collect it, just like they would on any city sidewalk or in the park across the road. This makes a certain amount of sense in a locale like the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands, in that there are garbage cans prominent at the road access to every trail.
    Although why it’s better to bag and consign to the dump, where the nice biodegradable bag cannot degrade is not really clear to me. (And, just in case you were wondering, we know the bags in the garbage containers do go to the dump and are not merely a central depot for the poo fairy to pick up, because we’ve seen the City crews emptying the bags. Although of course I suppose it’s remotely conceivable, if we consider all possibilities, that the City crews and the poo fairy have a relationship. Based on what I’ve observed of City crews, however, I don’t think this likely.)
    But then it slowly intruded on my consciousness that poo bags were starting to appear beside the trail, or in the bush. This makes no sense, I reasoned, unless something or someone wants the poo preserved: why else would you wrap it in plastic?
    Well, I’m no archeologist or theologian, able to reconstruct entire civilizations and belief systems from the most basic of artefacts, but I can construct a theory if given sufficient evidence. And yesterday I made the discovery that makes the theory I’ve outlined possible:
    You will notice that the bag is blue, so highly visible. It was also right beside the trail, so no trouble to find. I figure that, when the poo fairy family undertakes the poo collection, it’s a bit like hunting Easter eggs: you always have to put some in places where the little ones can find them. The rest are more difficult, tossed well back from the trail and black, or brown, or green, to make them more difficult to find.
    But of course we do find them, untouched by the autumn rains, just as soon as the leaves depart in the Fall.
    By then they’ve become highly visible. I guess that’s just in case the poo fairy family missed them on previous rounds.

    Speaking of poo, you know that question you ask when someone asks a question so obvious it need not be asked?
    Specifically: Do bears shit in the woods?
    Well, ironically the question isn’t as obvious as all that, because it depends. My observation is that bears aren’t that fussy about where they shit, so the accurate answer is: Bears shit where it’s convenient for them.
    There are several resident bears behind the airport, where a 15-year old Eli and I now walk most days. He’s no longer interested in them, being too old, but I am, and I’ve noticed that, at this time of the year you can frequently see bear tracks, and occasionally get a glimpse of bear, but never see bear poop. I assume that’s because they’re eating vegetable matter and dead things, and those are accessed in remote areas, far from where we’re walking.
    However, come blackberry season, the evidence of bear will be right in the middle of every path and road we walk, because the blackberries grow right next to the old logging road. We’ll also encounter bears regularly, because they’ll be unlikely to abandon their position in the berry patch just because there are occasional people and dogs around.
    When Eli was a younger dog he and I often went on long rambles, one of which took us by logging road to near the top of Menzies Mountain, just north of Campbell River. It was blueberry season. You couldn’t miss the fact that there were bears about because, although we didn’t see any, there were literally hundreds of bear dumps in the few kilometres we traveled. I’ve never seen such a collection in so relatively short a space before or since.
    Clearly the bears of Menzies Mountain had figured out that it’s a lot easier to go from one berry patch to the next by road than it is to fight the underbrush cross-country.
    And clearly those bears, at least, shat on the road, rather than in the woods.