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

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!

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

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!

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.