Sunday, February 28, 2010

The most contented sound in the universe

Scooter munches his way through a year old burn

Now I don't prescribe to too many notions of how to live a better, longer, happier or more fulfilling life as I have noticed that most people that prescribe to such notions are usually just the opposite. The secret to my happiness lies in good genetics, good fortune -lucky to be surrounded by the friends and family I have, and from the unique ability to derive great pleasure and solace from the very simple things in life.

If things get too stressful I tune out the hub-bub and brouhaha of the modern world and picture myself supine on a mountain hillside, a warm summer sun washing over me, a light breeze to chase the bugs away, and the sound of my horse grazing contentedly nearby. There is something so soothing about the rhythmic chomp of a horse as he makes his way through a meal of mountain grasses that the mere thought of it completely relaxes me.

The only downside to becoming so relaxed, especially if you are still in the mountains, is the sheer panic that ensues when you awake from the equine induced slumber and you find that your horse has wandered off. It is a long walk home and very un-cowboy like to arrive three hours after your horse does.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

To rant or not to rant

 
the omnipresent plume of the pulpmill

 I hate it when one has to wrestle with great moral dilemmas. Twice I had started to write a great blog article - bemoaning the fact that our local editor is apparently backing the "gassification" plant proposed for Kamloops. For those not in this circle - the plant is for waste disposal of creosote soaked railway ties. The argument against is that the burning of the creosote will be nasty for us citizens and result in three eyed trout that will be really hard to catch. The argument for is that science will save the day and that "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA" - or in this case what's good for the backers of the project is ultimately good for Kamloops.

The dilemma is that one can not be against the "gassification" plant without also being against the pulp mill's continued attack against the air quality of the valley. That's where the dilemma comes from. Back in the day I was quite happy to write software for major forest companies that fed the pulp mill and in effect I participated in saying that the cost to the environment was worth the sheckles that fed my family for at least three months out of every year.

The real debate going on right now should be about the direction that Kamloops wishes to go. One can never trust the science behind these plants as being definitive; history is too full of instances where things, once thought safe, turned out to be not so good for you  - blood letting, DDT, thalidomide and Reality TV, to name a few. So if it's not a matter of science it has to come down to a matter of dollars and sense (yes sense not cents): Are the extra dollars in the economy worth the sense of unease that we are running an industrial waste operation within the boundaries of the city.

Myself, I think it would be a great project if they could reroute the emissions from the pulp mill through the burner and kill two birds with one stone and hopefully not provide us with too many three eyed fish in the process.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bite Me



So I am going through some of my old video footage and I come across this one. It's a mosquito that is feeding on my hand. It was as much a test of my will power as it was about getting the shot for the camera.

As you can see there were a few mosquitoes out that day. I have found it's all a matter of mind control. If you can get your head into a certain zone, the mosquitoes really don't bother you. When you think about it - their bites is really not all that painful. When you allow them to annoy you though - you are in for a world of hurt.

Just remember - that first frost of August, and they're all gone. Yes I did say August, because up in the mountains that's when you get your first frosts. I think there is a short period at the end of june and the first couple of weeks of June that are usually frost free.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A blast from the Past

 
Mara mountain -park at red circle

When I've missed an entry or two in my blog it is because I am busy with either - working at the computer (working on databases or websites for clients) or I am off hiking (working off the weight I put on while grazing at the keyboard).

This past couple of days has been a bit of both. Yesterday my buddy Gerry Shea and I went for a hike up Mara mountain. Yes the same Gerry Shea who is the noted author (whose first book should hit the shelves in a couple of months) and longtime chum whom I have known since "peace" and "far out" were considered "hip".

Anyhow, Gerry and I agreed that an easy hike was in order for a couple of old guys coming out of hibernation so we decided upon Mara Mountain. Mara is within the LacDuBois Provincial Park and is a great place for people looking for a hike close at hand. Admittedly, Gerry and my ideas of what constitute "easy" may differ considerably from that of the reader and you should make your own determination as to whether or not you should attempt the hike.

Getting there is easy if you have a 4x4 with high clearance and no fear of heights. The road to our jumping off point is not maintained and I think the plan is to eventually let it get so bad that people just quit using it. Which is fine by me but until then I will make use of it. To get to this road, turn north off of the Red Lake Road just after the railroad tracks and stay on the dirt track until you come to your first cattle guard. Park off the road but don't venture onto the grasslands as that's what the park is here to protect.

There is no trail or route to Mara and you can just head off towards the peak. Mountain climbing is great for the directionally challenged - as long as you are going up you are going in the right direction. Coming down is a bit more challenging: while mountains have only one peak, they have an infinite number of points that could be considered their base. Please remember where you parked your vehicle.

If you approach the peak from the west side you should be alright. Getting too far to the south will put you into some very tough terrain and you may fall to your untimely demise - or get some real bad boo-boos as you tumble off the not too stable side-slopes.

Take lots of water especially from about January-December as these are the dry months in Kamloops.

While it is an arid area there is still lots to see. Over the years I have seen: mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, gopher snakes, rattlesnakes, chukar, blue grouse, eagles, all types of songbirds, wood ticks and - "wait a minute, did you say woodticks" interjected the attentive reader.

"Yep, woodticks" replied the sage old mountain man as he picked one of the creepy crawlies from his neck as if to make an exclamation point with the squirming arachnid. Wood ticks are in good numbers in the Kamloops grasslands and one should watch out for them from about March through June. While I haven't been killed by one yet, they do carry a lot of nasty diseases and you should be careful to ensure that you are properly de-ticked at the end of a hike.

Our hike yielded no wood ticks and few photos as it stay gray and gloomy until we got back to the vehicle. Maybe we'll see you out there hiking around some day.

 
Gerry on bluff looking at Kamloops lake


(above)Gerry taking more pictures of grasslands 
(below) Me walking softly and carrying a big stick

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hunting at the bottom of an ocean

Fossils on an un-named mountain in the Northern Rockies

I was making a painful, frontal assault on a large mountain that lay between our camp and "Billy Goat Basin". We could have ridden around the mountain but that would've meant catching and saddling horses and I figured that the net savings in time would be negligible. The mountain turned out to be a lot steeper than the view from camp suggested and I was looking for excuses to stop and rest.

It was on one of these rest breaks that I noticed the fossils sticking out of the rocks. Scattered throughout the talus slope we were crossing were thousands of fossils of ancient sea creatures. It made me stop to ponder the vastness of time. Here we were, hunting goats and standing on what was once an active sea-bed. Had our ancestor's even crawled out of the primeval sludge at the time that these sea creatures lived and died on the ocean's floor?

It also brought to mind why I was out there - not just to get a goat, but to breathe the free mountain air and to soak in all of the wonders that nature presented in this vast untouched land. I am pretty much positive that no one had ever visited this fossil bed before my arrival and could bet dollars to donuts that no-one has been there since. It makes one glad to know that there are still places out there that are yet unexplored and holding secrets for others to find.

 
Height of land - Northern Rockies

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cowboy Coffee and Cowboy Poetry


Cowboy coffee cooking up on the Chowade River

You know I've always thought the adjective "cowboy" was really just synonymous with bad. Hence, cowboy coffee was just bad coffee and cowboy poetry was just bad poetry. I guess that's why I have gravitated towards it.

But the more you get into cowboy poetry the more you realize that there were some, and still are some, incredible cowboy poets. I challenge anyone to read through "The man from snowy river" and not feel that euphoria when the kid rides over the side of the mountain and catches the herd safely on the far ridge. That comes from more than knowing rhyme, rhythm, and the mere mechanics of alliteration - it comes from having lived the life and having connected with the subject matter. It's why I struggle with so many of my heroic poems but am rather adept at writing poems about food, bad luck, and being "throwed".  

I do want to give you one of my latest poems as it captures my affinity for the gaudy retro shirts of the 40's and 50's. It's called

The hundred dollar shirt

I could’a spent the money
on booze or girls that flirt
But there’s nothing like the feeling
Of a hundred dollar shirt

The girls will often leave ya
And the booze just makes you hurt
But you’ll never be mistreated
By a hundred dollar shirt

Oh, I could’ve paid the feed bill,
Or squared up with the vet
But the smell of fresh pressed cotton
Why a fellow can’t forget

With its brocade and its buttons
Why it’s better than dessert
And I’m prouder than a peacock
In my hundred dollar shirt

So when you’re feeling beaten
Whipped by life’s relentless quirt
You’ll find the perfect pick-me-up
Is a hundred dollar shirt

Bright and gaily coloured
Fresh pressed straight off the rack
More like a million dollars
You got hanging on your back

And when my race is over
And they lay me in the dirt
I’m sure you’ll see me smiling
In a hundred dollar shirt

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Using the camera to explore nature

 
Vermiculata - that's the latin name for this moth


 Vermiculata up close and personal

So I took this picture of a moth. It's a Vermiculata of some type or at least that's what I've been told. The truth to be known I probably wouldn't know a Vermiculata if it came by and bit me in the . .  . Well you get the idea, I'm not really much of a Lepidopterist but because of my camera, I can take a picture of something interesting - get onto the internet and search the image - or go to a chat room - or post a note on a Google Group - and before you know it, I know it!

Not only does the camera allow you to identify things it allows you to study your subject in great detail. Take this specimen for example. When you zoom in on it you notice some interesting things.

First, I noticed that its proboscis is about the length of its body. On us that would mean a tongue that would reach to the floor. It would also make for interesting mealtimes as you wouldn't have to keep asking your children to pass the jam or eggrolls - you could snag pretty much anything within a 2 meter radius of your chair.

Secondly I noticed that this insect appears to have multiple eyes. While I know that arachnids quite often have multiple sets of eyes, I have never heard of it in moths. Now that gives me something to research - are these real eyes, pseudo eyes to trick predators, or perhaps adornments to make the ladies stand up and pay attention. It gives a person lots to think about - and while I know I could turn my thoughts towards solving third order differential equations or solving cold fusion - I think pondering the wonders of nature much more fruitful.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Maybe not the Olympics

 
Canada Winter Games Brandon 1978
 
Okay, I have to admit it - I did watch the spectacle of the Olympic opening ceremonies. I figured if we're going to be in hock for the next 39 years to pay for it, I might as well get my money's worth.

It did bring back memories however of my own attempts at athletic greatness. Blessed as I was with no physical coordination, an unmanly aversion to pain, the upper body strength of a five year old girl, and virtually no cardio capacity to speak off I was naturally limited in my choice of sports.

While at university I wanted to be a "Letter man" - which back in the day was the accolade afforded to people who made a University sponsored sports team. Being the scholarly type I researched all manners of sport and picked the one with the fewest competitors and by dint of statistics found something that I would have to rank amongst the top ten in. That would have been the case of course had not another junior joined the team and relegated me to a lowly 11th position.

I stuck it out however and through my athletic prowess and through a particularly violent flu outbreak which struck down 90% of our Sabre squad I was chosen as part of a three man team to represent our province at the Canada Winter Games.

Now the sabre is one of the three fencing weapons used in the sport, the other two being the foil and the epee.  The sabre, until the plane touched down in Brandon Manitoba - the home of the games that particular year - was also the only weapon I had never held. I had however seen a number of Zorro movies and being of strong Viking descent I figured it couldn't be all that hard.

The lesson in it's use was short and sweet: it's a cutting tool - you cut people with it and try not to get cut yourself in the process. Of course the weapons we were handed were a much tamer cousin of the real sabre but could still inflict a nasty welt if administered with enough force. Apparently in the refined world of fencing it was not consider "de riguer" to try to chop off your opponent's appendages but instead we were supposed to merely affect a "touche a droit" which was the way they recorded a "touch to the right". I never did learn the term for the "touch to the left" as it seemed I was the only one getting "touched".

I had been beaten badly by one of the Quebecois in my first round and was to come up against a Newfie in the second round. I sized the "bye" up and he was a towering specimen and carried the swagger of one of the Viking explorers from years gone by. We were both standing there watching another pair of fencers go at it when he made a comment to the effect that this wasn't what he had signed up for - he wanted to do some real sword fightin' . I agreed, and in the spirit of the games we agreed to our own terms of engagement - it was obvious we weren't going to win anyhow so we might as well get one good sword fight in before we got sent home.

We were called onto the piste (which is french for the mat) and we squared off. Normally there is a lot of footwork and dancing about, but this was not to be a normal match. We planted our feet and began an exchange of blows that brought to mind the "Ballad of Abdul Abulbul Amir". Steel hissed as it sliced through the air to crash against steel as we parried, thrust and chopped at one another.

We fought with a fervor and exuberance of two opponents who were truly enjoying a good fight. I, like a lumberjack hacking at a great Western Red Cedar and he, like a sealer on a bashing spree with a four foot club. Neither gave an inch nor requested a reprieve. I broke two sabres on that man. He broke one sabre on me and managed to break my thumb.

I actually don't remember who won that bout but I do know that we set a record for breaking sabres and drew an uncomfortable amount of scrutiny by the various officials that were trying to preserve the sanctity of the sport.

I do know that my goal of become a letterman was quickly fading and it would be another ten years before the opportunity for true athletic greatness would present itself (see below)

 
Iditabike - 1988?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pa - the water's risin'

 
Hemp creek in full flood - circa 1967

 Okay, haul up your suspenders for this one, cause it might get pretty deep by the end of the story.

Raised as we were, in the outbacks of British Columbia, our choices for entertainment were limited. We had a monophonic record player and a well worn copy of the Sons of the Pioneers, we had beagles which you spent as much time hunting for as hunting with, and we had gramma’s kitchen table. The table itself wasn’t that interesting but the people that gathered around it in the evening were a colorful lot.

Uncles, who drew the musical straws in the gene pool, could play guitars and sing. Gramma would play the fiddle when she wasn’t tending to the prodigious amounts of food she would have to prepare for our crew, and those of us who couldn’t sing, play or cook, would end up telling stories.

I don’t know who to attribute this following story to but it was always told to me as being gospel and I repeat it as such. There was a father and son team of trappers a few valleys over that were by most accounts two of the least motivated people in the history of the great Canadian fur trade.

I shall call them Joe and Little Joe, and just so as to keep it straight, Joe was the father and Little Joe the son.

Joe and Little Joe were out beaver trapping one beautiful spring day and as was their custom had stopped along a grassy knoll along the creek and had stretched out for a mid-afternoon nap. Little Joe, awakening after only a half hour or so of slumber turned to his father and remarked:

“Pa, the water’s a rising”

Joe’s response was the now legendary, “Yep, I reckon we’s a goner!”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Praise the Lord and pass the Gun Powder Biscuits

Gramma (Jennie Helset) in her kitchen

One of Grammas’ favourite sayings was, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” I think that was her way of saying, while it is good to invoke help from above, it doesn’t hurt to do what you can for yourself. Not only did gramma have a pretty sound outlook on life in general she was also an incredible cook.

These baking powder biscuits she would make, we children would refer to as “gun powder” biscuits. We had, even at that young age, more experience with gun powder than baking powder due in no small part to an understanding uncle who would facilitate any experiment with explosives that we wish to undertake.

These biscuits make a great addition to a hearty stew or are appreciated wherever good gravy is served.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbs baking powder
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter

Mix all dry ingredients and then cut butter into the mixture. Mixture should be a little coarser than corn meal. The tricky part comes when we add the water. Slowly add water and continue to lift the water through the mixture with a mixing spoon. It takes a little practice but your mixture should be considerably thicker than a pancake dough and hold together in a large ball but have a wet look to the ball. Start with a cup of water and then add in tablespoon increments til the right consistency is reached.

Grease 9 holes of a 12 seater muffin tin and drop the mixture into the 9 spaces. Bake for 12 mins at 375 and then finish off with about 2 mins with the broiler going. Watch it closely as they can burn quickly. You only have to do that 5 or 6 times and then you’ll remember to watch it like a mother hen and her chicks.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A major undertaking . . .

 
It's a long way to Saskatoon


getting closer

the view from up here



Okay, it's pretty sad when the biggest part of the hike is the running around the house trying to find where you last hid your hiking boots.

But that's how it was this morning as I can't seem to remember where I'd last stashed my boots at the end of the hunting season. I had to settle for a pair of my steel toed work boots. Boots which I am happy to say were up to the task.

Daughter Lisa, and her friend, Nick, agreed to toddle up the hill with the fat old man that I have become. Fortunately for me, they had been out partying most of the night and had some of that zip that young people exhibit worn off of them. The hike up Kenna Cartwright Park is a very pleasant one and I was glad to see so many vehicles in the parking lot.

There is nothing to comment on the hike except that you go up hill, stay on the access road/trail and eventually you will be rewarded with one of the greatest views of Kamloops. I'll provide the google map below for those of you that would want to take this stroll one afternoon - allow yourself 40 minutes to an hour for the round trip - any longer than that and maybe you'd better lay off the cerveza and tacos.

take the North Copperhead exit off of Hwy #1 and hang a right, a louie and then a dogleg and you're at the parking lot

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bird brains

 
Waxwings over Tranquille


It was bugging me. Really bugging me. My friend, Doug Butler had seen a flock of waxwings out at Tranquille and said there must have 2,000 or so in the flock. I saw the same flock and thought it must be closer to 200. Or at least it might have been the same flock, but as it was two different days at two different times, so it might have been two different flocks.

I took the above photo - and started crossing the birds out one by one - just to get an accurate count. My best guess of that flock was, now wait for it. Nope I want you to guess first. The total was 928. That's a lot of plucking. I had seen a couple of flocks like this on the one day , so it is very likely that Doug was bang on in his guestimate of flock numbers had the two flocks joined up.

Next question - how many seeds on a dandelion head?

 
My cipherings to figure out how many

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When we were young and foolish

 
Lippy the moose - the one on the left - and young Frank

Although my official birthplace is listed as the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, I've always considered Wells Gray Provincial Park as my real birthplace; it is after all, the place where my first real memories are from. At the time of my youth, my father was a young wildlife biologist who had taken to the verdant valleys and majestic mountains and whatever other alliteration you might wish to impose upon a reader. My mother was of the pioneering Helset clan which had literally hewed wood and drawn water in the area long before the coming of roads, paved or otherwise.

Life in the mountains was about as idyllic as it could be. Our neighbours were characters that couldn't be described, no matter how talented the biographer, nor captured, no matter how vigilant the constabulary.

My father was always bringing home another subject for study and we would quickly adopt it as a pet. It wasn't til we moved to the big smoke of Kamloops that I realized that not everyone had a moose for a pal and that carting around a stuffed marmot was not an acceptable substitute for a teddy bear.

The years spent growing up in and around the wilds of Wells Gray afforded me considerable fodder for my yet to be published memoirs. As soon as I find the lost manuscript I will share a few of the short stories from the collection, tentatively entitled: "Tales from the dorkside"


The wreck in the meadow

 
Frank crossing the Graham river on Rebel

Wreck in the Meadow

It was a hot lazy day in the Meadow,
And we’d just sent out for an order of grub
We’d ordered up all types of vittles,
And booze enough for a tub

Our Smithy, Ole Blackie, was chosen,
To ride into town for the trip
Cause he was the only one willing,
And we knew won’t stop for sip

30 years he’d been off the bottle
“It’s the Devil’s own milk, sure” he’d say
And then, launch into his sermon
That would last, the rest of the day

So there we was, just a waitin’
A watching the hours drag by
Our taste buds in sweet ‘ticipation
Of the coolness of beer, rum or rye

But now, the bells of Big Meadow are ringing
For the pack train was now coming in
And out in front was the lead horse
The big bay that we called Gunga Din

But there wasn’t a rider upon him
His saddle was eerily bare
Just a note, on an old piece of birch bark
Instead of ole Blackie was there

“Boys I’ve fallen,” wrote Blackie
“We’ve had one heck of a wreck
It looks like I’ve gone and done it
Cause I think I’ve broken my neck.”

“No need to hurry,” he added
In penmanship more of a scrawl
“Cause I’ve kept some medicine with me
And it eases the pain from the fall”

Then like a hammer it hits me!
“Ride fast boys, we haven’t a second to lose!
Blackie’s fallen - but “off of the wagon”,
And he’s got the horse with our booze!”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Now let's try this

"Cowboys and Indians" by Mark Francis

Sorry, just a test of the system. I am trying to see what I can or can not accomplish in terms of programming with this blog. Right now I am trying to see what it would take to link to another site to run a piece of code I've found. Uncle Jim might be interested in this link, or perhaps cousin Patrick, it's a neat little snippet of code for creating jigsaw puzzles and you can try out the puzzle by clicking here.

I know I said I was finished with the Francis family's websites but the revision keep on coming. I'm off to have a city hike - very boring compared to a walk through big meadow but my butt is starting to approach the size of a medium sized draft horse and I must get mobile. When I get back, I'll put the finishing touches on Mark's Website, add an exciting new original by Tim, and update some pricing on Dorothy's prints.

I would like to mention that the code for the puzzle was created by a company called "somefrogs"  and they have been great to work with. I'd downloaded their free code, had some problems installing it, and when contacted they had a fix to me in no time. You seldom get support like that, even for expensive software. When the time comes for me to purchase the components I need for my next project you can be assured that I will check with them first to see what they have to offer in terms of commercial software. You can check out their site by going to www.somefrogs.com