Friday, April 30, 2010

Scrabble anyone?

what was the score?

Scrabble, or as we like to call it "Fight in a box", is a great game for those long winter nights. Actually it's a pretty good game anytime but there are many other outdoor interests that seem to trump the game throughout the summer.

My grandmother was an avid scrabbler and I can remember sitting around the huge kitchen table playing with her and my aunt and uncle. Having about 8 words in my vocabulary at the time I was at a distinct disadvantage but I was content to wait for the letters "P","I" and "G" to appear so that I could try to spell hippopotamus - the more astute will figure out that spelling was not my strong suit.

As the years progressed I improved marginally and now realize that there is no "G" in hippopotamus - unless you are using it as a verb of course. You should also have surmised by now that playing Scrabble with me makes for a long evening.

My best scrabble game ever I recorded in the above photo and I doubt that I will ever have such good fortune ever again. As my father was wont to say "Even a blind pig stumbles on an acorn now and then".

My question to those that have the power to figure out such things - I haven't found it on the net yet - is to figure out what the highest possible score a person could make in a scrabble game. The secondary challenge is to find out what the single largest score on one play could be. For an interesting read check out this Slate article on the highest score in club play.

Prizes will be awarded but the prize list has changed slightly - that thing that was moving around in my pack is no longer moving so shall now be offered as a second prize instead of a first place award. The first place prize will be  my Edgar Rice Burroughs biography.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The smell of formaldehyde" - or "As the twig is bent"

RW Ritcey and Herb Green

I was sifting through my copious volumes of photos this morning, looking as I do for inspiration for something non-typical to write about when I came across this photo. In it are Dad and his friend Herb Green both of whom have changed remarkably little in the almost 50 years that have intervened since the photo was taken.

What struck me as interesting, apart from how well the two friends have weathered the years, was the similarity of the items in the photo to what I have surrounding the heap of papers that make up my work station. Sitting above my desk is a dissecting microscope fairly close in vintage to the one pictured above and a grizzly skull sits on a shelf off to my left - I'm assuming the skull in the photo is a grizzly simply by the size. And while my collection of jarred specimens is not nearly quite as impressive or orderly as those in the picture - the interest in the collected items is similar.

Dad was one of the first scientists to study the flora and fauna of Wells Gray Park and, as the daycare options were limited in those days, we kids got to tag along. At a very young age we were exposed to things like tagging moose and the subsequent picking of "moose ticks" off of all the participants in the exercise. And as we were living smack dab in the middle of the wilderness at the time, a lot of Dad's projects followed him home and we were raised concurrently with an interesting assortment of study subjects that quickly transformed into family pets.

Apart from our strange collection of critters one of my earliest memories is of the smell of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde was one of the most common preservatives back in the day. Everything from embryonic moose to giant water beetles would find their way into jars of the stuff to be preserved and studied at a later date or sent off to provincial collections down in the far-away Victoria. I was always fascinated by the specimens hovering in those liquids and for some reason never pictured them as being recently demised but instead could always picture them as running or swimming about in their natural world.

To this day, if I get a whiff of formaldehyde my mind goes back to my childhood and one specimen in particular - a yellow bellied marmot. Now the animal itself was not preserved in formaldehyde but it had been stuffed and I don't know if the hide had been cured in formaldehyde or what but it definitely had a different smell to it. The specimen had quickly become a surrogate for a stuffed toy that had been left behind when we had moved to the big city and I would cart that thing everywhere with me. We must have been quite a sight for our neighbours - that strange red-headed kid from the mountains, toting around that dead animal. Much to my dismay though, I had forgot my stuffed marmot outside one evening and the neighbourhood dogs tore it into a million pieces - bits of my marmot were scattered up and down the street. Without my trusty, but admittedly unnerving-to-others companion, I was forced to start making friends with the city kids and I started to make the long transformation into a "townie." But that is a subject of a whole different posting.

I still love to poke and prod about the natural world but now I find the digital camera and video camera are good alternatives to the jars of formaldehyde or stick pins.

"Lippy" the moose -dad's project and my buddy!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yellow canoe - emerald waters

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

I had a very good English professor at UBC way back in the dark ages, I think shortly after Shakespeare had packed it in and just before disco, whenever it was it was a long time ago. She had taught me many things but one thing she had told me was that the mark of a good poem, such as The Red Wheelbarrow, was that after reading it - would you ever be able to think of white chickens without the red wheelbarrow?

I think, had she not told me that, it would have been very easy for me to think of a white chicken without that damnable wheelbarrow but now I am forever linking the two.

So, good reader, I present my own experiment. After reading, the Yellow Canoe, and some ten years hence, let me know if you can ever come across the term yellow canoe without thinking about the emerald green waters.

The Yellow Canoe
by Frank Ritcey

so much piled
a yellow
top heavy
with beer
slicing through
emerald green

yellow canoe on Clearwater Lake

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not another contest! Yep another contest.

So I'm very excited about this latest project I am working on and I thought I would share some of the excitement with you my loyal reader(s) - I never know whether to refer to you in the singular or the plural - but today I am assuming that there will be many following the post because it is a Sunday evening and not much good on television.

Anyways, I have been working on a developing a set of models for predicting population growth of introduced species based on different assumptions. Now I know this has been done half a billion times by half a billion scientists, and that some of those scientists have spent a fair bit of time and effort in developing their models but I figure half a billion and one models can't hurt. So I've started playing around with some formulas and came up with this first equation to show what a population could do, when you have a high reproduction rate, low mortality and no limits to growth. You can think of Cane Toads and Australia to give you the type of scenario that I am presenting.

The exponential growth of an unchecked high reproduction rate and low mortality

As you can see from the graph, that although all of the coefficients in the equations are constant, the resultant population explosion is exponential (that is because we apply these constants to the previous breeding cycle's product - and in effect have an exponential equation). The equation that I use is very basic, where we determine the new additions to the population by: IP*SR*BSR*BR*(1-MRY) and add that to the existing population, after accounting for mortality IP*(1-MRA). There is some other stuff going on in the real equation - to account for things like rounding up to account for fractions of species which doesn't work in the real world - but this is the basic equation to tell you what a population would do if there were nothing else to consider. I will explain that:
  • IP=Initial population and
  • SR=sex ratio (what percent of the population is female) and
  • BSR=breeding success ratio (eg. how many females in the population get bred)
- the rest will become clear after the next model.

Since we all know that a population can not grow exponentially forever, I adjusted the model to allow for a feedback mechanism that accounts for a limit to growth. This limit is what is called the "carrying capacity" of the ecosystem. So my new model employed a dynamic feedback structure to one of the coefficients to say that when the population grew towards the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, the birthrate would fall off as a result of increased stressed to the pregnant females.

Again, although this is a simplistic model, it does demonstrate the idea of a limit to growth and how one can represent it in a relatively simple equation.Over the next week or so I will adjust the equation to account for catastrophic collapses (as when there is a drought) and then try to find a dataset that I can test my equation against.

Now for the competition: The first person to explain what all of the variables in the following equation stand for: IP*SR*BSR*(BR-(pop/UPL*BR))*(1-MRY)+IP*(1-MRA) will win your choice of a "Rounders and Sinners" CD or "the thing that has recently quit moving around in the bottom of my backpack."

For those not interested in hurting their brains on the sharp corners of logic they can kick back and watch an outing with the Kamloops Naturalist Club.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wheeler Mountain Madness

 June checks out one of the secret caves

Jean - don't step back!!

So I was going to post the usual collection of stills from a hike, I and a small group of friends made on Thursday. I was also going to make up, I mean relate, a story about what we did.

Instead, my friend Loyd, who had accompanied us on this outing, was doing double duty as a hiker and a videographer. He put together this collection of clips of our day in the mountains and I think it worked out very well. I've added a couple of shots from the trip just to round out the post. Details of the hike can be found in my upcoming Trail Guide, tentatively entitled: "Frank's Seventeen Secret Places or, I wish we hadn't gone there!"

The only comment I would like to make about the video is that at the outset you can hear me pointing out the location of "buried Indian treasure." The story behind the treasure goes back to the days before the term First Nations was popular and was taught to me by an old timer in the North Thompson. He'd related the story about how he, as a child, had come across a First Nation's encampment in the hills out behind their pioneer homestead. He spent the better part of his youth exploring and digging around there looking for buried treasure. It was only later in his life, or so he related to me then,  that he realized the buried treasure was not buried but instead the real treasure was the knowledge of how to live as one with the land as did the First Nation's people. This story has always stuck with me and I always make a point of looking for that real buried treasure whenever I go out into the wilderness.

Now I will make one more comment and then I promise to just let you watch the video. Some of my fellow hikers didn't quite believe all of the natural wonders I was pointing out - even June didn't believe me when I showed her the "Death Camas" that I had eaten - and I knew no one believed me when I was pointing out "that bunch of coyote pups over there!" so I just had to ensure that the coyote pups made it into the video. Maybe next time they'll listen to their guide :) :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

I found it!

Didn't post yesterday as I was off on an adventure in the hills - I will publish some photos of that hike tomorrow but for today I will post a little clip I had been looking for for quite some time.

It is a little clip I had of a beaver doing some work on his dam. I don't know why, but I get a kick out of the video every time I see it.

Fortunately Loyd had been down the other day to come on the hike with me and he'd brought along one of his hard-drives and he happened to have a copy of my beaver in the pond series and I was able to retrieve this segment.

Here it is and I hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mountain Therapy

I came across this little goldmine of shots from my time in the mountains while I was looking for a 30 second clip I had of a beaver cutting down a tree. Okay maybe tree is too big a descriptor, but  it was definitely larger than a sapling. That is not the point, and I digress, the point is I came across this great little collection of shots, and they happened to fit nicely to three of my favourite songs from Loyd’s and my CD, Rounders and Sinners.

As a gift to my friends and loyal followers I have put the video and audio together and offer it up as a bit of mountain therapy. If you are still stressed after watching and listening to this clip you probably should seek out some type of professional help or perhaps you should consider taking up drinking.

For the naturalists out there here’s a fun exercise. Take pen and paper in hand and jot down the names of all the plants and animals you can identify over the next 9 minutes.

Kick back and enjoy!

Please note:

Those wishing to purchase a copy of the CD that the soundtrack is from can click here to see the ordering information. If you would like a copy of the DVD, in full and glorious colour with the re-mastered soundtrack, email me at and I’ll send you the address to send $15 to – that’ll cover the cost of the DVD, and the shipping and handling.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The owl and the pussycat

 Parent and two owlets

So I go on my Monday night hike to Kenna Cartwright Park with two goals: get a little exercise and to get some video of the Great Horned Owls in the area.

Now I have only heard of the location of these owls from two different sources - my daughter and at a Kamloops Naturalist club meeting, with both accounts making me confident that I know where the owls will be hanging out. In fact, the instructions are so precise that I spend twenty minutes filming a tree with what looks like a owl sized cavity. At about 21 minutes I surmise that I have the wrong tree and proceed to get my exercise as I wander aimlessly about looking for the birds.

Fortunately a friendly biker happens by and seeing all of my equipment asks if I am here to photograph the owls. I answer in the affirmative and then proceed to the unmanly chore of asking directions. We are standing about 20 meters from the tree and he points it out and leaves me to my filming.

It was very relaxing, laying there in the tall grass, picking ticks from the back of my neck and watching the antics of the owls. While there is not a lot going on, it was very nice to be able to be out there, communing with nature, just a 5 minute drive and a short walk from my house.

The video and pictures I got were only marginal as the light was poor and I was more interested in enjoying the moment than capturing the moment. I, like MacArthur, shall return, and when I do it will be armed with a lunch and a lot of video tape.

Short post

Kamloops Naturalists watching for Sandhill Cranes

It will be a short post today as things are a little hectic.

David Williams is coming by with his macro lens to take pictures of ticks and a water beetle. I’ve got to transfer my video from yesterday’s hike. I’ve got to work on some practice writing for the upcoming nationals. I also have to get a bunch of yard work out of the way.

You will notice there are more “I have got to-s” than there are “I did-s” so the balance of power is against me.

The hike with the naturalist club yesterday was a grand affair with lots of cranes, geese, eagles, hawks and other items of note in the natural world. The group size was perfect, about 20 or so and the weather was likewise perfect. Nice blue skies and a good breeze to keep us cool and the migrating birds whipping along with a favouring wind.

Off this evening to get some owl footage so hopefully that works out. Promise to post much tomorrow.

 Sage buttercup

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lens Envy

Allen with a monster lens!

pregnant Mule Deer- notice bulge in her belly, back left.

Well, we had a great day yesterday - I took my friend - David Williams, my father - Ralph Ritcey, and the president of the Canadian Association of Photographic Artists - Allen Bargen out on a photographic safari in the grasslands of the interior. Safari sounds much better than simply saying "driving around, hoping we would see something."

Luck was on our side and we were afforded some great opportunities with bighorn sheep, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmots, vast vistas and a multitude of songbirds and raptors.

Now Allen has "shot" animals from Africa to Alaska and has the equipment to get the job done right. Father and David have equipment that is considerably better than your average photographer would pack around and I have the digital equivalent of a "Brownie" point and shoot. It was fun none-the-less as I gave up on the photography part early on in the trip and got to concentrate on finding things to "shoot" and making up fun facts about the area.

I had warned Allen that having my father along would greatly reduced my ability to point out interesting facts about the flora, fauna and other un-natural history of the area as my father can be a stickler for facts. I, on the other hand, find facts to be terribly limiting when one is trying to inform or entertain. However, between father and David providing the factual information and I providing the other type of information - sort of like the Entertainment Tonight type of information - we managed to present an interesting introduction to the grasslands of the interior.

As it was, Allen managed to shoot close to 600 images and I got an hour or so of passable video - video which I will post here shortly. Hopefully I'll be able to get a couple of Allen's photos to post here to show people what a really good photographer can do.

Now to go work on my solar panels - which will be featured here shortly.

Wolf lichens on old growth Douglas Fir

Now we pause for this commercial message from our sponsors

only 743  742 left

My friend Marc Mackenzie just gave a plug for Loyd's and my CD on his radio program out of CJSR 88.5FM Edmonton and said for folks to check my blog if they wanted to purchase so I am posting this little bit of ordering information:

Rounders and Sinners: $15.00 includes shipping and handling to anywhere.
Email me: and I'll send you my mailing address.

And now back to our regular scheduled programming . . .

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Secret Places

 the secret Burl forest

my daughter, the tree hugger!

I keep threatening to write a book called “Frank’s Secret Places.” The downside to such a book of course is then the secret is out – the upside is that you get to share something. Now the joy from sharing a secret place is one of the greatest feelings there is. I guess it would only be second to the joy of seeing your children born or winning a free coffee at Tim Horton’s.

Whenever I take someone to one of my “secret spots” I love to watch their face light up as the true grandeur of the place sinks in. I’ve shown friends: canyons, caves, waterfalls, twisted forests and moss covered alcoves that you won’t find in any guide book or tagged on GoogleEarth. The response is almost always the same: “You dragged me out here to see this?” The term “Philistines” I think most often comes to mind.

Truthfully though, most of my friends, at least the ones I drag any distance from civilization, are impressed with my secret little showcases. One such place is a small piece of spruce forest, perhaps two or three hectares in size, located on the east slopes of the Northern Rockies. Just a short distance from our base camp, I discovered it one winter day while snowshoeing about, in an unsuccessful attempt to wear off the half pig I had consumed for breakfast.

This forest is unique in that most of the trees display numerous burls. The burls are outgrowths that result from a fungal infection and give the forest a whimsical look. I took my daughter up there one summer afternoon and we just poked around, seeing what hidden shapes or stories we could get the trees to offer up. It was a special afternoon and that forest offered up treasures far greater than one could ever get through 3D glasses and seven viewings of the forests of Pandora.

I'm off early to the mountains tomorrow so probably won't post until I'm out of the hospital. I'm woefully out of shape and figure it will be an hour or two on a defibrillator before I can type again.

Keep your cinch tight!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Turned down more times than a pork sandwich in Tel Aviv

regression analysis anyone?

Periodically I write something serious. Which is what I am afraid I am forced to do today. I was starting to write my seventy fifth application to the local university, an establishment at which I would dearly love to hang my hat, but I have stayed my pen. Unfortunately I have to resort to the archaic term referring to the pen as we have not yet come up with something as poetic for the keyboard.

I know I possess all of the attributes needed for the job: university educated, heaps of computer experience from teaching through to programming, I’ve been a teacher, writer, publisher, software designer, and First Nations liaison and although you wouldn’t know it from looking at the pictures of me, I can actually perform non-linear multiple regressions and interpret the same with about the same finesse with which I can throw a diamond hitch. Although, I am getting a little rusty in both these days. But it is that dichotomy of abilities that is getting me into trouble.

I can picture the HR department at the university doing the original screening and a cursory google of prospective applicants. Google my name and you will see “cowboy Frank” and not “computer geek Frank”. It is just that pictures of me figuring out “ordinary least squares analysis” are far less interesting than a picture of me high atop the northern Rockies looking out on thousands of square kilometers of wilderness.  Consequently, the stories and pictures of me that get published are of someone that even I would have a hard time picturing in an office working on the latest Power Point presentation.

I have been slowly re-inventing myself however, but it is a long process. I have initiated a number of projects with the local naturalist club which, apart from being great projects, will help flex my managerial skills. I’m doing some database programming with the City of Kamloops and think I’ve got a pretty good report with the folks that work there. I’m also working on some freelance programming but I would much rather be an employee of the university – so that is my quest from here on in - that, and keeping my “outdoor/adventurer/writer/Frank” persona alive.

The biggest part of this challenge now will be to write a blog that is interesting and fun for my readers – which means pictures and stories from my wild side – and writing something that will not send HR people scurrying for cover. Perhaps a secret identity? That’s why Clark Kent had to put on the goofy glasses, just so he could get a job! So the next time you see me with glasses – don’t let on that you know me okay. It’ll be our little secret.

Outdoor Frank - alter ego of Computer Geek Frank

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to rewrite Snowbird and other Canadian Classics

and yes I know it is a Ptarmigan and not a snowbird but it was all I had a picture of

Okay, in the spirit of open source coding, which is all the rage with programmers these days, and which I mention to show that I am multi-dimensional and not just a sex symbol/cowboy poet/CSIS undercover operative type, yes, in that spirit I offer the following lesson: How to re-write a song.

The first thing is to listen to the song for the phrasing, or meter of the song. If you aint got the meter you aint got nothing. Simply substituting syllable for syllable won’t do it – you need to make sure your new words make sense when substituted in the original meter.

Next is to watch out for internal rhymes, or double barreled rhymes which are as important as the end rhymes. An internal rhyme would be like Snowbird’s “If I could, you know that I would fly away with you”. A double barreled rhyme would be rhyming “highway” with “my way”

Now that you have a feel for how the original was composed you need to choose your subject matter. I like to use musical irony – that is to juxtapose inappropriate material to the tune. If a tune is light and airy, write about something dark and dreary. If a tune is deep and philosophical write about something whimsical.

I also like to keep a few of the lines as close to the original as possible so it anchors the listener’s perception of the new song with that of the original.

As an example I took Anne Murray’s light and bouncing “Snowbird” and rewrote the tune about running over the neighbour’s cat.

The original goes:

Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green
The snowbird sings the song he always sings
And speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring

When I was young my heart was young then, too
Anything that it would tell me, that's the thing that I would do
But now I feel such emptiness within
For the thing that I want most in life's the thing that I can't win

While mine goes:

Beneath my  left rear tire, cold and dead
The neighbour's tabby pussy cat lies with a broken head
No more will we awaken when he sings
I’ll hide him in the snowdrift  and leave him there til spring

When I was young I had a kitty too
Anything that I would tell it was the thing it wouldn’t do
I  have so much resentment deep within
If  you use just wits against a cat you know you never win

Now if they give us Snowbird to rewrite in the finals we will all be ready

Smudge was a great cat - and no I did not run him over

A bear by any other name

this is a bear

this is not a bear

A post from an old friend brought back what I thought was an amusing tale. He had heard my story about the worst advice I had ever received and his recollection of a similar incident jogged my memory. I had been wondering where the worst advice story came from and it probably found it's roots in the following story.

Jim and I had gone for a backpacking trip into the wilds of Wells Gray Provincial Park and I had brought along my trusty dog "Tess". Now Tess was trusty in terms of you could trust her to eat whatever wasn't tied down. She was also a very good companion and would warn you when bears were around. Her warning signs were usually a hasty retreat or to squeeze in between your legs in the mistaken belief that you had some magical power over bears.

Anyhow, Jim, Tess and I were camped on the banks of the Murtle River and were enjoying life immensely. Fish were rising to the fly, bacon was cooking in the skillet and cold beers were getting colder in the fast running mountain water. We would fish hard through the day and then retire to our little pup tent alongside the river to catch some much needed sleep.

Tess figured, that since it was called a pup tent, that she should sleep inside and would curl up on top of my sleeping bag as there really wasn't a lot of room to spare. The first morning, about 4:30 or so, with the daylight just thinking about creeping into the valley, Tess had got up to go out for a patrol around the tent.

I must have been awoken by her movements and in those foggy moments of wakening, I looked out to see a dark form on all fours walking beside the tent.

"BEAR!" I yelled with enthusiasm - Jim, who had been peacefully dreaming about fishing, bolted upright with the speed that one would expect from an Olympic athlete. At that point I realized it was only Tess, just said "Nope, dog." and immediately went back to sleep. Poor Jim's heart must've developed an arrhythmia of considerable proportions because he couldn't get back to sleep no matter how much he would try.

I have received considerable ribbing from that day forward mainly about my inability to distinguish between the not so dangerous Golden Retriever and the more aggressive Grizzly Bear. We never did see a bear that trip but it has always been referred to as "Frank's bear trip"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The party's all over

Marc and I off to Winnipeg

where the magic is made

the magicians: Anshuman Iddamsetty and Peter Morey - and if it isn't Peter then it's Paul Hodge, and if there had been a Mary on the staff then it might have been Peter, Paul or Mary but I was really zoned out at the time so my deep and profound apologies for screwing up on the names - someone from CBC could post a comment as to the proper names. I'm pretty much screwed now as the man controlling the sound board pretty much has your fate in his hands. Just found out that it is in fact "British Pete" and my brain isn't total mush - and that I have just set a world record for the longest photo caption on a blog.

Well that was so much fun I had to pinch the girl beside me on the plane to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I wasn't, but she was and that's what led to all the trouble in the first place.

But let's not talk about that, let's talk about my trip to Vancouver and the western semi-finals of the Canada 2010 Canada writes competition. That, of all the competitions I have entered and not won, except for the gold in a triathlon that had no other competitors in my age group, was the best of them all.

First the production of the show was incredible. I will do another blog when I can properly mention everyone by name but I am afraid of missing someone, or getting a name wrong which is worse. They took four people from the general population with limited performance experience and inserted us into a very tightly timed show format - and everyone hit their marks. Okay so now I've got the names, the credits are as follows: Brent Bambury, host; David Carroll, senior producer on GO and writer of Western semi-finals;  Peter Morey, producer, GO; Anshuman Iddamsetty, program assistant, GO;  Paul Hodge, broadcast technician. And then there's Jill Walker, whose title I don't have but it must be pretty close to something like Person Who Does Everything under the Sun - she made everything run so smoothly behind the scenes that we didn't have time to be nervous or to get into too much trouble.

The judges were perfect for their job - each was a master of their craft and knew how to be honest without being too "Simon Cowell". It was just so cool to be able to meet people like Mina Shum, John Mann and Sugar Sammy. John is a master lyricist - his performance of the rusty knife song was bang on for those of us that grew up in the era when playing "the splits" was still allowed. Mina will be getting my three hundred screen plays next week before she can get the restraining order in place. Sugar Sammy - google his act on Youtube and you'll be hooked - just a warning to the women though, he is a player - he made two dates with audience members while on stage, and I don't know how many after the show.

The other writers were really interesting people that loved to write and you could tell that in our conversations off stage. Marc is an extremely talented wordsmith. He knows just which words to use to convey not only action but to evoked the right emotional response - a true craftsman. Evan is a passionate writer. His punk band, The Isotopes, plays punk rock songs about baseball and he says: everyone writes about love - why not write about something that you love. Marissa's Zombie song (which you can see on her page on the GO website) shows her to be a kind and caring person - even for the undead. Hopefully her songs will go platinum one day so that all can enjoy her humour.

And I do have to talk about the audience. It is true what they say - CBC listeners are the nicest people in the world. Everyone of the people out there came to have a good time and were extremely supportive of the show. They laughed and applauded even without the laugh and applaud signs which are necessary with some of those TV game shows. Everything you hear on GO is real, well,  except for the trap door but they are working on that.

The show's host Brent Bambury is amazing. He gets everyone's name right. He memorizes an hour and a half show and if something goes too long or short he can improvise with the best of them. I never realized how intense the pressure is to ensure that there is no dead air time on a show like that.

After the show, Brent opened it up to a question and answer session and the audience stayed for another half hour and asked some really good questions. Brent and the producers made everyone feel a part of the production and it was all in all a great time.

I think I have run out of adjectives as I have used "great" and "amazing" eight times now so that means it is time to sign off.

I promise my next post will be a lot more interesting as I notice my vial of wood ticks that I had by my keyboard is missing a lid. The great tick hunt begins.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Okay I'm a big fat liar

Me at CBC

Had to break down and make one more quick post. I made it into the big smoke and wanted to share a couple of quick pictures.

The producers at CBC are great - they make a fellow feel right at home, but they did ask me to return the pencils, pens and staplers which I really thought were complimentary. Actually it was quite an experience to be inside the CBC building and see where everything goes on in terms of putting together the news and all of the shows we love to listen to.

The writing went well I think - I just sort of blanked out when they set me in front of the computer and then I came to out on Georgia Street somewhere.

On to phase two of my plan which is to go out and enjoy the bright lights of the big city. Maybe some bravery in a bottle will help me with calming my nerves - or maybe it will just make me really hungover. Probably the latter but one should never jump to hasty conclusions.

Where it all takes place

So I lied!

 The fire around which I like to sit and tell stories

Okay, maybe lied is too strong a word, but I did say I wasn't going to post another blog until my return from Vancouver - triumphant or otherwise. But events have conspired to such a degree that I thought I had best write this last entry.

So in preparation for the writing contest I thought I'd best buy a pair of glasses so that I might be able to read what it was that I had written. My eyesight, up until 78 days ago had been very good. Then one morning I awoke and the crisp clear words I used to read had become no more than fuzzy little ants scurrying about the page. Every now and then they would morph into legible words, but more often than not they were just fuzzy ants.

It was then that I started wearing glasses. Just readers mind you, as I can still spot the neck hairs on a mule deer at some 200 paces. Close up work is an entirely different matter.

I had a pair of dollar store glassed but I thought one should always have a backup set as one would not want to lose the competition due to poor eyesight - far better to lose out due to lack of writing skills and then blame the glasses. Anyways I went to the local druggist and bought a pair of readers which, upon a cursory exam looked adequate.

Now that I have them on at home however I am starting to understand how a fish in a glass bowl feels. I now have 340 degrees of peripheral vision. Unfortunately anything but that directly in front of these portable microscopes is badly distorted - somewhat akin to a very bad trip on LSD - or at least how they used to portray acid trips back in the 70's public health films.

So now I must return to the store and get a pair that are a little less intense. These I will keep for studying molecular biology or starting forest fires.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's show time!

 I'm off to the rodeo!

The astute reader will have noticed a decided increase in the number of postings to my blog. That is because I believe the story about the violinist who stops and asks a New York policeman - "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The reply is the now famous: "Practice, practice, practice"

So I have been practicing, practicing and watching Star Trek re-runs. Hey - I'm not a machine.

I have written ads for wet-dog scented deodorant, movie pitches for horror movies set in Nakusp, blogs about Buddhism, and I have just finish rewriting every song penned since 1957. My songs need a little work however if we are not allowed to make reference to animal guts or anti-social behaviours.

The practicing, for those of you that have just stumbled onto my blog, is for my trip to the Big Smoke and my participating in the Canada Writes 2010 competition. Due to a series of bureaucratic mishaps and a friend of mine hacking the CBC mainframe, I managed to end up on the shortlist of writers competing in Vancouver.

While this competition will obviously not vault one to the dizzying heights of the Canadian Literary world it would, none the less be a great honour to show one's ability to the rest of the world. And it would be really nice to show my fifth grade teacher that yes, you can still make it in the world, even if you can't write within the lines.

Actually, all of my teachers were great. In looking back I can't remember a single bad teacher in the public school system. They were all very dedicated people and for some reason I think they felt the need to take me on as a project - sort of like that one bronc that could never be rode - they all took it as a challenge to try to get some knowledge, no matter how small, to actually stick in my head.

So you won't see a blog entry until I come back Saturday from my trip to the city. If I win you will most likely read nothing else until the finals in Winnipeg. If I lose and don't advance you will probably never read the letters CBC again in my blog. Which will be very hard as I will have to think up whole new spellings for my 24 letter alphabet.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Who lives and who dies?

Her days on the range are numbered

Who lives and who dies? As a devote Buddhist omnivore I believe that all life forces have equal value and that really irks the anti-hunters that I know. And yes, I realize that there are very few of us devote Buddhist omnivores but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist.

My argument goes like this: whether you are a big eyed harp seal, a slow moving cow, a creepy bug scuttling under a rock or if you happen to be a tree in a forest – you are by definition, a living thing and have a life force associated with you. You also have a place and purpose in the universe at that particular point in time. That place and purpose is beyond the ken of any but the most conceited or those too dull to understand that we cannot possibly fathom the depth of existence. We would not expect a bug to comprehend fuzzy logic or how know to program the tv remote. Neither should we expect our own kind to understand our place or purpose in existence.

Some of us eat and some are eaten, there is no morality involved in that equation. The morality is in how we conduct ourselves in the process. The wolf will kill and eat and not make a moral decision. The wolf will not however, go out of its way to kill something that he or she has no intention of utilizing. I like to think of myself as that wolf. I kill or hire someone to do my killing but don’t set up a dichotomy as to which life forces I will respect and those which I will ignore. I have killed moose and have spared spiders. I’ve swatted mosquitoes and liberated ticks. I’ve eaten carrots and planted trees. My view is that it should be purpose, not prejudice that determines our actions.

Yes, I feel triumphant and saddened when I make a kill. I lack both those feelings when I buy hamburger at the local grocery and it is that disjunction that I find most disturbing about modern society. Those that will rail at me for killing my own food will not bat an eye, and in fact, some take great glee, in killing an ant or a spider that is doing nothing but occupying a piece of the self-righteous’ territory.

Eat that hamburger but spare the spider.

Quick - get the raid - it's not in the same phylum as us!

Tick Talk

 a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

On my last hike into the mountains with my buddy Gerry Shea the noted author of hiking books and co-conspirator in the great "Contact Explosives" caper I think I mentioned that I was hunting for ticks. Maybe I didn't mention that but I should of.

Now I have to make a mental note to myself at this point - okay, maybe I'll just make a blog entry instead as that mental note thing wasn't working out too well, couldn't find a pencil - but the note is that I should blog about Gerry's discovery of an underground manual that circulated back in the early 70's. That manual told how to build all types of very dangerous, and thus very cool, explosives. We successfully made our way through almost two of the recipes before Gerry was whisked off to the emergency ward at RIH with shrapnel wounds. The manual was lost to time and we have since mellowed. Anyways, the long version of the story is quite good but I think I may have given away the ending, but I didn't mention the part about the police chase, the swim for freedom, or the encounter with the one-armed fugitive - so there is probably enough material to keep a reader interested if I work it correctly.

But that was a pointless detour from my tick talk. As I had mentioned I was out searching for ticks as there had been considerable discussion about the arthropods on the naturalist chat line of which I am a member. I had vision of me going out with my tee-shirt tied to a stick and collecting great quantities of the animal so that I could then expound ad-nausium about how to collect ticks. To the untrained eye it looked like a yeti was running about waving a flag of surrender. To the trained eye it looked pretty much the same.

After 6 hours of hiking and collecting I had zero ticks to show for it. Stopping off at my folks place after the hike though, I did get one that was crawling up my neck. Back at my abode, my daughter retrieved one that was crawling up my door and away from my discarded tick trap.

What was interesting to note was that my ticks were two different species. I had both the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick and the Dog Tick. At least that is what I think these are as I am no entomologist but a cursory exam of the literature suggest that is what these are. The one will fetch sticks and the other yodels so that pretty much clinches it.

I was trying to get some photos when my herd of captives tried to make a break for it. Since the other members of my household have some strange aversion to getting the various diseases that these ticks carry I had to spend the better part of the day rounding up the escapees. In the end I was still one short so I made a cut out of a small piece of brown paper and put that in the vial with the others. No one is going to look close enough to notice the switch and I can get on with important things.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wheeler Mountain

 Gerry on top of ridge

see - two inches to spare!

Gerry's pic of the chimney

My hiking buddy and longtime friend, and now famous hiking author - Gerry Shea - and I had a great day hiking up in the fringe land between the grasslands and Pine bunchgrass/Douglas Fir forests of the upper reaches of Wheeler Mountain.

The day started out very windy and overcast and ended up very windy and clear. The wind and cooler temperatures proved to be a godsend as it was a considerable hike up the mountain.

All in all it was a great day, we got out in the fresh air, got plenty of exercise and got to go play like kids up on a rock face that I had often looked at and just never had the opportunity or ambition to hike to.

Others contemplating the hike should of course all of the normal warnings about hiking/climbing on unstable rock formations but then you know all of that already. Getting there is simple, take the first dirt road to your right after crossing the train tracks on the Red Lake Road on your way out of Kamloops. Drive up hill as far as you can go - make sure you are in a four wheel drive vehicle (oops that should probably be the first thing) - get out and hike towards the large rockface to the north west. There is no trail or preferred route, just get out and explore.

Animals of note were: a pair of chukar on the top of the rock face, a dusky grouse on the lower slopes, and more deer sign, the polite way of saying deer poop, than I have ever seen in one area. The deer love to bed down on the tops of these rocks as it affords them a great view for approaching predators and numerous escape routes.

The hand!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A walk down Memory Lane

No going barefoot in the Hemp Creek valley

I had been working on a major rewrite of one of my many unpublished works, this time to get the word count down to 1,500 so it would qualify as a "Children's book". Now I had employed the editorial help of one of the most talented writers I know, my aunt, who can spot a mixed metaphor or a dangling participle from 80 paces.

We both were commenting on how times have changed. When we were growing up (my aunt being but a few years older than me) children's books were any book that our parents would read to us. One summer my grandmother read us the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - a chapter every evening before bed. Ours was a large extended family and all the gathered throng, from three to thirteen, would listen intently to the wonderful adventures of that free spirit. While we all had experienced the freedom of Huck Finn and would think nothing of building a raft to float the Mississippi we couldn't get our heads around that barefoot thing. I suppose being raised in the mountains where there is snow - or chance of snow - 8 months of the year, going barefoot isn't something you'll experience too often.

While we had many of the modern inventions: fire and the wheel, we lacked things like electricity, phones, neighbours and traffic. Television was only something you read about in the weekly paper. Consequently we made our own entertainment. Fortunately half of the family were very talented musicians and singers, the other half (of which I was one) had no talent in these matters but made a great audience for the performers.

I came across this Youtube video of Mother Maybelle Carter and it so reminded me of my grandmother that I thought I would post it. Gramma Helset would, after a day that usually began around 5 in the morning and ended around eight at night, after the dishes were done and the bread was out of the oven, would bring out her fiddle and play and sing for us children. She knew all the great tunes: The Red River Valley, When it's lamplighting time in the valley, and any song you could name or hum a bar from she could play.

But I have wandered far from my original thought and that was that we sell our children far too short these days. We assume they have short attention spans so we pander to that notion, and in turn, create children with short attention spans. The average shot in a TV show nowadays is 2.3 seconds. Okay, I made that number up but it is pretty close to being true. Bombarded with that type of visual stimulus day in and day out, no wonder we can't have kids sit through and enjoy the likes of Tom and Huck.

Here's Mother Maybelle, take a deep breath, slow down and enjoy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Iditabike - The Idiotbike - The I did a hike

 me after 180 km. on a bike at -40

I was interviewed by one of the producers at CBC today and was asked what my proudest moment was. I had to think about it for awhile and it finally came back to me - the moment I lay my bike down at the finish line of the Iditabike. There by my lonesome at the Knik Lake Bar, I swaggered in and ordered my first beer. I had just finished 320 kilometers of quite possibly the hardest bike race in the world and I was going to celebrate.

I had given up beer - and any type of alcohol for that matter - the day I decided I was going to train for, enter and complete this ultra-endurance ride in the frozen wilderness of Alaska. Most of my reasons for entering were purely practical: my brothers said I couldn't do it and as we had all been drinking heavily when the conversation came up I had to argue that I could and because one should never back down from an alcohol induced assertion I weaved into the house, retrieved the magazine with the entry form, dialed the number and signed up on the spot.

Since the entry fee was non-refundable I thought - What the heck - and started a rigorous training regime. That regime consisted mainly of reading books about people that had done really brave things and trying to avoid books that mentioned people freezing to death and/or being forced to eat their companions. I did actually buy a bike and rode it a few times but I knew that one did not wish to overtrain for an ultra-marathon as one should conserve his energy for the long journey ahead.

The race was quite an epic journey for I and the other seventy some souls that started. There were a few who did not finish, many who froze bits off, and some who laughed in the face of adversity (Those guys doing the laughing were also the ones who made use of Alaska's then very liberal laws regarding the cultivation and possession of marijuana).

The 320 kilometre race followed a portion of the same trail used by the mushers in the famed Iditarod dog sled race which was to run a week after we finished. The race conditions were favourable, -40 and very little wind. The trail was good in most places but there was one 80 kilometre section where we had to push our bikes.

The first leg of the race took me 24 and a half hours to complete and I was a little cold, cranky and tired by the time I made it into the checkpoint for the mandatory medical check and 6 hour layover. I ate three cheeseburgers there, bought two more - storing one under each armpit - to keep them from freezing solid - and to ensure no-one asked for a bite of my burger on the trail - and then headed off into the brutal cold that was the long Alaskan night.

I had some grand adventures on that trip - many of which I am sure must have just been tricks of the mind - tricks of a mind fighting to stave off death by freezing. The one thing I do know for certain though, is when I crossed that finish line, some 54 hours after having set out, I was ready for a beer.

Thoughtfully the race organizers had placed the finish line next to the last outpost of humanity - the Knik Lake bar. Because racers were straggling in over a five day period the race organizers knew that they could stay warm and entertained in the bar and that eventually we would all end up there anyhow.

The barmaid was great. She was marginally taller than she was wide and she had just informed one poor mountain biker from California, who had mistakenly thought he wanted a cooler, that "We serve whiskey or beer" and emphasized the point by spit polishing the glass she was holding. I ordered a bottled beer. She opened it with a flick of her thumb which was impressive because it wasn't a twist top.

I never got on a bike again for at least six months after that race. Any ride after that just seemed anticlimactic.