Wednesday, September 11, 2019


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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

About Nanaimo

   Nanaimo, an unassuming city on Vancouver Island mostly known to those of us who do not live there for being a ferry terminal connecting us to the delights and horrors of Vancouver, has been in the international news recently. 
   Naturally, they like the attention, particularly the new Mayor, Leonard Krog, who hasn’t had this much attention since he was a government cabinet minister some 20 years ago.
   The first splash of notoriety, a story covered by all the major news sources, emerged this spring, when Canada Post issued a series of postage stamps celebrating famous Canadian desserts: butter tart, tart au sucre,  blueberry grunt, saskatoon berry pie, and, of course, our favourite, the Nanaimo bar. 
   This turned into a kerfuffle, and hence became newsworthy, when people actually familiar with Nanaimo bars noticed that the proportions were all wrong. 
   So what does the image on the stamp look like? It looks like a slice of cheesecake, that’s what, and that’s not the Nanaimo bar we on this coast know.
   Naturally I assumed some graphic designer back East was responsible for this travesty, so was not impressed to discover that the contracted studio is actually in Vancouver. However, further research led to the actual artist, who is the noted food painter, Mary Ellen Johnston from South Carolina, so my suspicions turned out to be justified after all.

  Then came May 5, when “Nanaimo” went to the polls for a federal by-election, and the Green candidate won for only the second time ever in a Canadian federal election, thus doubling Green representation in the House.
   Naturally Green promoters are ecstatic over this result, crowing all manner of future election success. 
   But I wouldn’t put a penny on either Paul Manley retaining the seat in October (although he could) or the Greens expanding their representation in BC (although that could also happen). 
   Here’s why:
1.  Nanaimo-Ladysmith is a new riding, created from 2 older ones, Nanaimo-Cowichan, handily won by Jean Crowder of the NDP in 2011, and Nanaimo-Alberni, won equally handily by James Lunney of the Conservatives. 
   In 2015 Sheila Malcolmson of the NDP won Nanaimo-Ladysmith with only 33.2%, the lowest percentage win of any riding in BC in that election. 
   In other words, the common knowledge that “Nanaimo is an NDP stronghold” is just wrong in the case of this riding, even though it has “Nanaimo” in its name.
2.  Paul Manley, who won this time (37.3%) came fourth with 20% in 2015. In that election he had wanted to follow his father, James Manley, who represented Nanaimo-Cowichan for the NDP in the 80’s. However, his outspoken views on Palestine scuppered that hope, so he became a Green.
   In other words, what happened this time was that the NDP vote (23.1%), and the Liberal vote (11%) collapsed from 2015, and many of those voters went to Manley and the Greens instead. 
3.  The Conservative vote went from 23.4% to 24.8%, hardly a factor. The party was, however, very happy with John Hirst, an “associate manager” at Sun Life Financial in Nanaimo, and he claims he’ll win next time. Expect him to try again in October.
4.  By all accounts the NDP candidate, Bob Chamberlin, was a splendid candidate, a vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, experienced politically, and well-spoken. However, he is from northern Vancouver Island, a first-nations person but not Salish, as are the aboriginal voters of the riding. He had no obvious connection to the area.
   I don’t think being aboriginal prevents candidates from being elected for the NDP or the Liberals, but I don’t think it helps either, particularly after the hash Jody Wilson-Raybould made of being the Liberal Attorney-General/Justice Minister. (By way of consequence, I don’t anticipate another aboriginal cabinet minister in the federal government for a long time. And I think the electorate, some of which is never very far from overtly-racist where aboriginals are concerned, has become or continues to be chary of aboriginal politicians, particularly those like Bob and Jody who take leadership roles in aboriginal politics.)
5.  Michelle Corfield the Liberal candidate who got 11% at least lives and has a career in Nanaimo, although her band is in the Ucluelet area. She is also active in her band’s politics, which will not have helped.
   Did the Liberals imagine they had a shot at taking this riding? The Prime Minister never got closer than Tofino.
6.  It may be coincidence, but by now it will be obvious that two white guys came first and second, followed by an aboriginal guy and, far behind, an aboriginal female. Draw whatever conclusions appear appropriate, as I obviously have.
7.  By-elections are almost never much of a barometer of voter intentions during a federal election. For one thing, that campaign is still (in spite of the poisonous anti-Trudeau ad campaign presently underway) on the margins of most voters’ consciousness. By September things could be vastly different; by then we could be deciding whether we want a repeat of the Conservative politics and policies, the widespread rejection of which the Liberal campaign of 2015 exploited so effectively, or another term of the present Liberal government. Or a minority government of either stripe.
   In any case, many of us will be voting not for what we want, necessarily, but reacting to what we definitely don’t want.
   And even more of us will in effect be voting for the Prime Minister we want, because that’s how the world sees us.
8.  Unless something miraculous happens, I think the NDP is in deep trouble federally. Electing Jagmeet Singh as leader has not helped, not even in BC. Not even after he won his Burnaby seat, which, because he won it in a by-election, he could well have trouble holding. He’s obviously a competent politician, but he doesn’t, as far as I can tell, inspire, and NDP leaders need to inspire to be effective. The turban doesn’t help, probably not even in Sikh-dominated ridings. So I think every sitting NDP MP and every 2019 NDP candidate will have his or her work cut out for her or him, and most will lose.
   The number of sitting NDP MPs who have decided to retire tells the story.
9.  The story of the 2019 federal election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and many other ridings is likely to be decided by where the NDP vote goes, and I’m still betting that when the crunch comes and it becomes clear that the Conservatives and Andrew Scheer are the likely alternative, and not the Greens, most of it will go Liberal, just like it did in 2015.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Hopefully the last on this theme

Before we confer political sainthood on Ms Wilson-Raybouldt for “speaking truth to power” and “telling her truth”, perhaps we could consider the hypocrisy of a Justice Minister who objects to the Prime Minister and his staff talking about the politics arising from her decisions but apparently feels comfortable questioning the judgment and policies of the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister in public. (

Monday, February 18, 2019

Another try

Let us do a little thought experiment: Suppose that Prime Minister Trudeau had, instead of Ms Wilson-Raybould, appointed Randeep Sarai (also a lawyer, also from BC's lower mainland, but obviously neither aboriginal nor female) as Justice Minister. Suppose further that he had been shuffled, for whatever reason, from his portfolio into Veterans Affairs just after the Globe broke the SNC-Lavalin story.
Would anyone be crying "scandal"?

Friday, February 15, 2019

Letter to the Globe

The editor:
Now that so many commentators have decided the shuffle of Jody Wilson-Raybould is both a feminist and an aboriginal issue, with the clear implication that she was consequently politically untouchable, one wonders whether we will ever see such an appointment again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Another (very mi9nor) diesel adventure

On Sunday, as I was pulling up the hill just outside our house, the car burped. Then immediately resumed normal operation. But the yellow engine icon came on, and that means "take it to the dealer".
Except it was not there on Monday, so I assumed a temporary aberration.
However, it came back yesterday so I phoned for an appointment. In any case it was also due for routine maintenance.
The car and I were at the garage in Courtenay by 10 this morning; I was told it would be about two hours.
As usual.
Got out my laptop and read all about the Jody scandal, from numerous points of view. None changed my own.
Just before noon Michael, the service manager, came to tell me that they'd found the problem, and the resolution would be replacing the intake manifold, which would take not less than 3 hours and they had one in stock. The good news: the fix was a belated part of the emissions fix, so it wouldn't cost anything.
I decided my day was hooped anyway, so rather than reschedule, told him to have his technician go ahead.
Took myself to lunch at the pub, came back, finished the paper, and was done by 2:30, home by 3:30.
The car runs like a top, just as it did before I took it in.
But there's no engine icon.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The boy in the hat

The picture in question — the video, actually — electrified social media over the weekend. In it, a white high school boy wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, confronts an older Native American man who is beating a ceremonial drum and singing a Native song. The encounter took place Friday on the National Mall. The man was there as part of the Indigenous Peoples March. The boy was with a group from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky that was participating in the “March For Life” anti-abortion rally.
The man sings. The boy smirks. Some of his classmates mock the Native man. Someone yells, “Build the wall!” And there was, for many of us, something starkly symbolic in all of it, something that spoke of American fracture.

And there still is, because even in the story that the boy has been telling — the story that’s supposed to exonerate him and leave him with “nothing to apologize for” he is still the one who escalates this into a confrontation.

The students began what they described as a school spirit chant to drown out the black men. Tensions were high. And into this cauldron of ideology and identity stepped Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old elder of the Omaha people and a Vietnam veteran. His aim in walking through the crowd, he said, was to settle things down. As he told The New York Times, “I stepped in between to pray.”
The crowd, he said, parted to let him through. All except for the boy, since identified as Nick Sandmann, a junior. Phillips said the boy blocked him when he moved left. When he moved right, Sandmann did the same.

In a written statement, the boy denied blocking Phillips. “To be honest,” he wrote, “I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”

But the boy in that video, smirking, trying not to laugh, is not startled or confused. He looks, rather, entitled and smug.
If you’re walking down the sidewalk and someone steps directly in your path, refusing to move, and when you try to step around them, that person moves to block your way, which if you is causing a confrontation? Sandmann is just a Pool Patty who happens to have a PR firm and media connections.

Excerpts from a column by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald commentary by Mark Sumner, Daily Kos

I used to be a high school teacher. Admittedly I’m not American, and my culture isn’t either Kentuckian nor American Catholic.
Consequently, I don’t understand this story at all.
OK; I get that they’re from a Catholic private boys’ school, and that their values might not be mine. Nevertheless.
This took place on a Friday, when schools are normally in session. The boy in question is obviously young, apparently a “junior”, which in our system makes him a Grade 11 student. In our system Grade 11 students aren’t considered sufficiently civilized to send off on their own, and certainly not in a group.
So I have some questions:
1. What is the point of sending a group of teenaged boys from Kentucky to an anti-abortion rally in Washington DC? Field trip?
2. Who allowed them to wear those hats, which immediately identified them as Trump acolytes? What point did their supervisors, assuming they had some, think they were making?
3. Where are the supervising teachers?! Doesn’t this incident make a mockery of the Catholic in their school name? Doesn’t it speak volumes about the school? Would you send your kid there?
4. The Reverend John Stowe, Bishop of Lexington, apologized for the incident and made the relevant case:
"It astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life- threatening policies," he wrote.
5. So it is interesting that the Most Reverend Roger Foys, Bishop of Covington Diocese, would have a different take, illustrating where his moral compass is set: "We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it," Foys wrote. "I especially apologize to Nicholas Sandmann and his family, as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal."
6. There’s still no apology from Nick Sandman, the boy caught on camera most prominently. Instead, his parents hired a PR firm, and everyone spun. Interesting life lesson, that.
7. I haven’t been able to find any statement by the school or its administration. Except this, an email to parents:
“The incident that took place at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. is being fully investigated by an
independent third-party investigator. Based upon and following an investigation, we will be taking the appropriate action regarding this matter,” the email reads. “Please know that the administration is currently working with the Diocese, local police departments, and local authorities to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”
8. Mind-boggling, I’d say, and totally foreign to my experience of some 35 years in public high schools.